I have a long story I will tell some day about what led me to this camera and what I am doing with it. But for now lets just leave it at this. It is healing my heart in a profound way, helping me bridge a divide between resentment and gratitude. I have spent a lot of time wondering how to jump this river, how to get past a blindness, a stubborn wall. This camera is teaching me how to see.
It has long been a dream of mine to own a good camera and to learn to take pictures. But it was also not something I had been contemplating seriously until…well…I did.
Everyday since I got it I have taken pictures of that which I love. And I have been blown away by beauty–seeing people and the simple things in my life as though for the first time. It is a practice right now. This learning to see. On this rocky road fraught with obstacles I don’t know how to navigate, it is the only way I know to breathe into gratitude.
Something profound is shifting in me and I can only whisper a sweet alleluia and prayer of thanksgiving.
When I was young, just 25 or 26, a flimsy bit of a thing, fresh and new, her desk was next to mine. I could whisper over the insubstantial divider to her when I needed her and she was there. Her gray curly hair pulled up in concentration, she would look at me over the glasses perched just so on her nose, the glasses that hung round her neck and pressed against my heart when she hugged me, and she would laugh or sigh or just listen.
Her voice is like a warm soup to me, a hot steaming mug of tea with honey, exactly what is needed to soothe my broken optimism, my raw and new frustrations. She judges nothing, has heard it all and always always answers my frailty and mistakes with love. We walk our lunch hour away, circling the streets of power, lost in conversation that tumbles like a fast moving river over stones, in her fluent English, in her native Spanish, back and forth, like birdsong. I tell her things I uncover from my heart and she looks at me in amazement…”Que chevre” she says, slow and drawn out and deep inside for the first time I know I am. When we are together I know that I am precious, beloved. I call her my second mama. I drink wine at her home and cook with her, sing revolutionary songs and build circles of sisters.
I buy a house down the street and around the corner from hers. But before we have a chance to be neighbors she rents that house. Heads out on an amazing adventure in organizing that takes her and her husband all over the Western hemisphere. Organizing in South America, Central America, caring for her old ones, welcoming granddaughters. She sends a beautiful handwoven tablecloth for my wedding. She pops by one Christmas to hold my fat baby. But then in the crush of life, she fades away An occasional email, a phone conversation from far away, the everyday and in the moment takes hold of my attention. I let her go without even realizing it. I lose her.
I walk by her house on the way into town and I wonder where she is. “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” I sing under my breath as I smile in the direction of the threshold that once promised comfort and silliness. I smile as I think of her, her missions, her work, her goodness touching the far corners of the globe. I think of all the young women who will stitch themselves back together in the circle of her arms. I think they are lucky.
And then, suddenly, she is there. In her yard. After more than 10 years and three continents, moving boxes back home. And suddenly she is there walking through the door to come to dinner, kissing the fat babies who have grown into lean kids. Suddenly she is there, her warm smile as radiant as the Puerto Rican sun that birthed her. “OK girls…tell me…” she says and I wonder how we cover 10 years over dinner. But when you speak the language of a heart, just a few words are all that is necessary, stories can be told with knowing looks and a sentence, data transmits almost instantaenously and we are, in a heartbeat, caught up and giggle as though that long pause had never transpired, as though she had held my hand (and I hers) through the journeys of the last 12 years.
Her hands are like butterflies that flit about as we laugh and tell stories, thrilling me when the land for a moment on my hand, my shoulder, my face. She has come home. And so have I.
Yesterday I was rear-ended. I was on my way from taking Max to hockey camp, on my way into work. A little bit ahead of schedule but still later than I liked. I drove the route that I thought would involve the least amount of traffic, the one that would be me there the quickest. I was ready to turn onto the road that would carry me in the direction of work. I was stopped, waiting for the cars to pass me when it happened.
I was jolted, a bit addled, not entirely sure what had happened, momentarily confused. I sat for a moment that felt like a lifetime before getting out of my car. I checked my bumper I wandered back to my car. I sat down. Still in a fog, not entirely sure what to do.
The stranger who hit me got out of her car and came running. “I am so sorry” she said. “Are you OK?” I swallowed my initial instinct to wave her off with assurances that I was fine. I wasn’t entirely. “I am a bit wigged out” I admitted. She was near tears. And pregnant. “Me too” she said and I noticed how frail she looked, how shocked and sad . We moved our cars out of the intersection and into a church parking lot.
When I stepped out of my car, that second time, as my head and heart cleared I knew the only response to this situation was gentle kindness. She was OK. I was OK. We were both scared, both shaken. We both needed nothing but understanding. The only response was to wrap my arms around this stranger, hug her hard and tell her it was all OK, that all would be well. To soothe and be soothed.
We fumbled for our information, talked about her baby to be born, begged each other to go to a doctor. We hugged some more and talked about how pregnancy will make you cry. We consoled one another and spoke our gratitude for being OK. There was no accusations about sudden stops or not paying attention. There was no defensiveness. We both instinctively knew that it would help neither of us to rehash what had happened with a goal of assigning blame. The accident was over. Now there were just two people in a messy moment, with each other on the side of the road, in a moment of confusion and fear, in full realization that kindness is the only thing that would fix the situation.
Later in the day we called each other’s cell phones. “What did the doctor say?” we asked. “How are you feeling?” We were happy to learn that all was well, continued to speak words of kindness and empathy. I hung up feeling warmed and cared for and not at all hit.
How often do we bump into people, only to inflate like puffer fish, spiky and defensive, fearfully protecting ourselves from the wrath that might come in response to our mistake? How often are we bumped into and lash out–out of fear, out of hurt? How is violence simply an outgrowth of that–our hurt, our fear, our need to protect ourselves, spiraling out of control?
What would happen if we instead shifted out of defensiveness and into kindness, even when we are slammed from behind unexpectedly. Even when we make a mistake that could cost us? What if we forgot all our fears at the moment and just breathed out kindness. What miracles could occur? I can’t stop thinking about how our world might be different.
As I stood on the side of the road with my arms around a stranger I thought how lucky I was to be given the gift of connection that day. Here was a beautiful human being, vulnerable and rushed and a mama just like me. We might never have met, might never have realized that the person driving behind me on that busy road was so kind. I might never have been tapped on the shoulder to be reminded how kindness changes everything.
Every connection starts with a bump, some harder than others. Human connection starts with a touch–how we chose to react will determine whether we destroy or care for one another, will determine the fate of our tribe.
Its an important lesson to learn.
1. That I really don’t know much.
2. But actually, if I listen to my heart, I can always find the way.
3. That waking up a 4:30 am to catch a morning flight to the meeting so I can stay at home for the swim meet is always worth it.
4. That every thing changes and nothing stays the same and the harder we hold on, the faster it slips away.
5. Breakfast for dinner is always acceptable.
6. Kindness is learned just like language–by imitating your parents.
7. Laser tag is actually a fun thing to do on a rainy winter night.
8. Physical affection is like water–kids can die without it. Unlike water there is always an infinite amount flowing as long as we pay attention.
9. Board games are a great invention.
10. Making an itunes playlist of favorite songs and saying “we need to work until the music is done” is a great way to make chores fun.
11 Especially if the chores are the kind you can do while dancing.
12 When doing chores, it is really critical to make space for dancing.
13 Fear is kind of like a fog that dissipates as soon as you acknowledge it and give it its due.
14 Italian ice is generally not an acceptable dinner but sometimes when it is too hot, its ok to say “just this once”.
15 Noone is ever too old to be read out loud to.
16. Chores are great for self esteem.
17. Creating a regular practice of being quiet for a time is helpful for everyone in the family.
18. There are days, weekends and even whole weeks at a time when chores need to go out the window.
19. Bubbles are fabulous to store in the car and pull out when you are stuck in crazy bumper to bumper traffic.
20. Sometimes, your role is to be the center of your kids universe. Sometimes it is to be the captain of a team of other people who will show them the way.
21. There is something magical about trading cards. Especially hockey cards.
22. Sleep is really important. It can change everything.
23. No one knows my kid the way I do. Noone who knows how to respond like I do. But still, its useful sometimes to see him through the lens of the other people who love him.
24. It is really important to model trying new things and being ridiculously unpracticed at them.
25. Teaching my son to to learn from his failures is more important than teaching him to succeed.
Play along with Jen by making your own list on your blog or facebook and link to it in the comments in Jen’s post over at PBS!
Glass of tequila on the table, just a squeeze of lime and two ice cubes. Glass of tequila and an orange cat sprawled on my lap. Work clothes still on, even the sandals, moving through the evening not a moment to change. Oh look, there is a stain on my dress. My glow-stick bracelet from a favored child’s birthday still glows bright orange–a color of canned sunshine.
The humid air thick with the smell of French soaps brought as a gift from a Paris summer weekend while I walked a dog in the heat. Some of the lights have burned out. Shadows hit the walls in interesting ways. I could watch them dance all night if I wanted–me and my glass of tequila, with the cat on my lap.
But sleep is coming fast unless I keep writing and then sleep will never come. Blow out the candles on the altars–trust that angels or altar gnomes will keep my prayers while I sleep. Close the computer. Stop now. Stop now. Stop.
That sometimes the most beautiful innocence can be born from deep suffering, desperation and ugliness
That nothing is ever one thing and even the most exquisite joy and breathtaking beauty can be punctuated by sadness and loss and even the most heartbreaking grief can be tinged with a rosy kindness
That laughter and silliness and ridiculousness is sometimes the only answer to heaviness
That my heart will whisper to me exactly what I must do next
That angels most certainly must exist
That I have sisters who I will walk with and they will not leave me and I will not leave them because our paths are intertwined whether we like it or not (though we mostly like it)
That love (not sappy silly love by lionness roaring love) is alchemical — it is the magic ingredient and while it sounds so trite its true
That the youngest among us are extremely powerful and hold all the wisdom that we forgot
That miracles are like tsunamis and leave disasterous messiness in their wake and it is a saint’s job to clean up what comes behind, physically hold the wounded together to sutcher their souls.
Saints also bring lemon cake and stand on chairs tip toe to hang paper hearts from the ceiling
My heart is feeling both full and heavy today after standing with my arms spread wide open in a thunderstorm and letting the rain pour down. I would love to know what you know now–let our collective wisdom carry us.
Standing on the edge of the pool I am blown away by these kids, the ones who swim like lightning, the ones who make it all seem so effortless, and the ones that struggle through and push hard. The ones whose googles fall off and keep going anyway, the ones who shave seconds off their time. I never could do anything like that when I was a child and so their movement, their ease, their courage, their dedication, their endurance seems magical to me and at the end of every event, I want to celebrate them, jump up and down, kiss them on the head and bless them–exclaim to the world that they are a miracle.
Instead, I tell them their time as they climb out of the pool and whisper something like “great swim”, “that rocked”, “great focus”. The quiet encouragement is what they need right then, as they make off to celebrate or lick their wounds or jump up and down and scream their heads off for their teammates. So I tell them their time and sneak in a silent blessing, a quiet alleluia for their growing up, their personal victory.
This swim is something that is theirs alone.
No parent, or teacher, coach or teammate pulled them along or won for them. But man, how they all did yell.
It is gorgeous to watch them, the kids lined up along the deck, screaming and cheering for each other. They hover behind me, their teammates, and they say things like, “wow–best time ever” to the kid who came in last, the one who is improving steadily steadily week after week. Every kid is made to feel a rock star, a prize fighter, a hero in the moment of their struggle. It makes my heart swell to think of all they are learning. To think of how kindness and encouragement flow like water here. To think that this is the real strength training, here at the poolside.
Every personal battle is just one swimmer in a pool–moving as gracefully as she can. Hoping to keep it together, do a little bit better than last time. He is racing against himself. No one can do it for her. No one else will make or break this for him. And yet he knows that the cheers, the yells, the high fives and the hand to pull her out of the pool are what keep her going hard. The team and their love–it is what allows each swimmer to pull the strength out of his belly and do one more stroke.
Falling asleep, drifting fading in and out. It is then, only then I remember. Sweet voice I hear you and then you are gone, faded into the night like a whisper of a dream sequence, like mist that rode in and then dissolved, blown away by quiet heavy air that came in when we weren’t looking.
I can smell the spring chill now, feel the perfume on my skin, it lingers to tell me that once upon a time I knew you, once upon a time long ago. The memory of you is left like a footprint. But no embodiment or ripeness to wrap my fingers around, no door on which to rap, no.
Waking to a memory of a memory of a memory–a reflection in a glassy pond in summer’s fading light at 9 o’clock in the evening as the frog’s croak out their love songs, by a gas station with an ancient stationwagon under sharp florescent lights which reflect the fumes and turn pretty girls into stone, by a hotel room on a country road an hour before curfew, in a driveway, bold girl wandering out in the night to say good bye and not let you leave not let you leave not let you leave. Curl my fingers around yours, drop my keys, not let you leave.
Having declared that I was going to show up here and write no matter what I find myself in a bit of a bind.
Perhaps I thought that that simple declaration would inspire brilliance? Perhaps I thought that if I simply pronounced it, the writing would come. Today, the very first day out of the box I am showing up here with no wisdom, no happy endings and certainly no magical stories. Damn.
Today Max is with his dad and so I don’t have to rush home after my paid work and jump into my work life as a mother and so I promised myself I would sit here for at least 20 minutes. As the day started to come to its close I thought of 100 or so different reasons that I really needed to just get going–errands that needed being run, chores that needed to be completed. I promised myself I would write tonight after Max went to sleep, after my guitar lesson…later.
Its amazing all the ways in which we sabotage ourselves, isn’t it?
I am wondering what THAT is all about? And what is the thing that underlies it all? Is it fear? Fear of what happens? Or fear that if I dropped all my excuses I would show up, naked (figuratively–I AM still at the office afterall) and be revealed for what I am–which is not quite a fraud, but also perhaps “not all that“? Maybe I might discover that when I eliminate all the excuses I am just Uninspired? I think about that a lot you know.
I know…I know…its silly. If any of you wrote or spoke those words aloud, I would be the first one in line to kick your butt. I am just saying.
Cause you know, what the hell do I have to say? I am just a girl. I value kindness. I love my kid. I love to play but can take things way too seriously too. I have known deep personal pain–though I am awed at how in the scheme of things how easy I have gotten off (knocking on wood now). My life has taught me a thing or two but its not new wisdom–really ancient wisdom–the kind of wisdom that the ancestors sort of hit their foreheads over while muttering things like “You just figured that one out Einstein…Duh…Kids today”. Most of the time I think I have shared all that I have learned, all that I know, my hour is over, time to get back to the chores.
I am not doing anything all that big or scary or Meaningful (with a capital M) right now. On some of my projects I am moving forward with the tiniest of baby steps and nothing new to report. Others seem terribly stalled. Along those lines, fitting my life into my life is a challenge and the only thing I hate more than that fact is the fact that I actually think that way. That for all my talk about being present, for all my embracing of now, for all the joy I can find in the smallest moment, I still think my life (the life I want) is still out there somewhere. That I love the life I have but that other life–the one I am moving too–well I am going to love THAT life so much more…
OK. Confessional closed.
In the interest of wrapping up here I will simply share this:
Five Things I Know:
1. Fresh picked lettuce tastes so much better than store bought.
2. Lemonade is much better if you shove a handful of mint in the bottle and let it sit a day or two.
3. Constantly editing myself to be the good girl is a bad habit. Its a challenging one to break. Its exhausting.
4. I could really use a hug today. Not because I am sad, or lonely or any reason like that. Just cause I like hugs. More than the average person I think.
5. I need to exercise more. Really. I’m not kidding. I saw a picture of me timing at Max’s swim meet today and I said, “Oh who is that super cute pregnant girl with the pigtails? I don’t remember seeing her on Saturday.” And then I realized it was me. And I’m not pregnant. (But at least I am super cute.)