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It has been pouring rain for days here–a warmish/coldish gray autumn rain. It is washing everything clean, helping the leaves to let go of the trees, helping the streets to be clean. Something about the rain this time of year makes my heart swell with gratitude. Here are a few other things that are breaking my heart wide open:

1. Walking by a library today and peering in at the stacks–rows and rows of books and magazines and the smell of old paper. The fact that the library exists makes my heart sing in a way that is embarrassingly geeky.
2. Dinner with three dear girlfriends at Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe. Sitting back and listening to three such beautiful women talk.
3. Chai tea. Warm and frothy.
4. The kitten curled up on my lap while I type. This amazing kitten who will sleep tightly curled up with Max all night, bathing him in adoration.
5. Sitting with an amazing gift from the Universe, sent by design to help me open up to abundance.
6. Singing a lullaby to a soulsister having a miserable day.
7. The smell of Max’s hair after his shower. The way he says my name when he is half asleep.
8. The sounds of the rain, fast and furious and constant on my roof, on the windows, in the trees.
9. An amazingly beautiful duvet cover purchased for practically nothing that fits my room perfectly and might just be the Meggy-est duvet cover on the planet.
10. Walking through a downpour this morning under my amazing red umbrella feeling safe and warm and protected.
11. The fact that I have art, created by people I love, all over the walls of my house.
12. Good books that keep me company while I ride to work on the metro. In my backpack now: Oliver Kitteredge and The Gift of an Ordinary Day.
13. Candles. On my altars, in my room, warm and bright. I will light one for you, ok?

Witch hazel tree

When I arrived home from Boston after my birthday trip to the Mother’s Plunge, it was late. We pulled into the driveway and the automatic security lights came on. Like a spotlight they shone directly onto something new.

In my front garden where there had been nothing before, a tree stood. A beautiful tree with a cluster of slender trunks all reaching up to the sky, like a yogi greeting the sun. It was new but it looked as though it had always been there.

A half hour later I stood in front of it with my friend Edamarie, a garden designer who had placed it there, a gift for my birthday. She told me it was a witch hazel. Every healer needed a native healing tree in her front garden.

I have come to believe that everyone who shows up in my life is a teacher, and this tree, no less has much to teach me.

Witch hazel, so strong and flexible that its wood is used to construct bows: teach me to bow to life as it is, to bend not break.

Witch hazel, used to calm inflammation and wounds: teach me to gently take the sting out of life, to soothe those I come in contact with.

Witch hazel, which is so connected to the earth and magical. Witch hazel with your branches used to make divining rods and to discover underground water and energy: teach me to pay attention to the treasure underfoot.

Witch hazel, winter bloom, which only blooms after letting go of its leaves: teach me faith and to bravely let go so I might blossom.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
is a field. I will meet you there.

-Rumi

I spent my birthday being born again. Learning again the wisdom that I knew as a 3 year old running barefoot in the grass, but forgot. Learning again the wisdom that I knew as 6 year old lying on her back staring up at the clouds, watching them shape shift and drift by in the breeze.

This moment. This moment is all we have. And attention to it, that is love.

I discovered many of the principles of what some call “mindfulness” and others might call “Zen” in the immediate raw days, weeks and months right after my marriage blew apart. They rose up like ancient wisdom I once knew, as though an angel whispered them in my ear, a miracle. I didn’t really know where I learned it but I clung to that wisdom like a life raft.

The only way I knew how to get by during those awful weeks and months was literally minute by minute, breath by breath. The only way I could keep moving forward, mothering my child, doing my work was by placing my attention — every last ounce of my attention–on exactly what I was doing right there and then in that moment. The only way I knew how to quiet the voice in my head that screamed “Failure!” was to focus on exactly what was in front of me–what was unfolding immediately and literally in front of my eyes. The fluttering of the pages of the book, the smell of the old car, the pile of dishes, the sweetness of the breeze, the voice of my boss asking me a question. Paying attention to what was immediately in front of me saved me from my self. Paying attention gave me my life.

As life evened out, became normal and no longer raw and fierce, I retreated into old habits and started to live my life back in my head. I would lay awake dissecting the day that had past. I would stumble through my morning my head on dreams and hopes and aspirations that were so very far away that I started my day full of yearning and sadness, mourning the “not yet-ness”.

And then, life would kick me in the butt, leave me flayed wide open and I would remember — just one more breath. I only need to stay here for one more breath. With each exhale the world shifts. Every inhalation is a beginning. I moved through my crises that way.

I have been on a pendulum swinging from being awake to my life as it unfolds breath by breath to sleeping through it while my mind ruminated on a future that might never come to pass. The swings have been exhausting and some might say unnecessary, even if the circumstances were inevitable. I was tired–and even more so tired of being tired.

For my birthday I went to Boston, to the Mother’s Plunge to go home to what I have always known and never stop forgetting, and always keep remembering, to return to the magic of my breath, to the loving embrace available when we offer our full attention. It was there that Maezen reminded me that we always arrive at where we need to be right on time, and that no matter how far off course, no matter how wobbly I may feel, each breath is an opportunity to move out beyond my head with its ideas of right and wrong and into the field where I live my life–where I wrap my mama’s arms around my boy, where I hold a grieving friend’s hand, where I bury my nose in the kitten’s soft fur, where I cook dinner, where I brush my teeth, where I make my bed, where I lift the clean laundry to my face and smell, where I dance like a wild woman, where I pull out the weeds, where I make the powerpoint slide, where I board the plane, where I live my life, exactly as it is. There is no other way.

And most of all, I learned that I don’t need to fall apart to remember. I can practice, every day, several times a day, just by sitting. For a few moments or more, I can practice. Its that simple. It won’t stop the wild winds of life from blowing, but it will keep me anchored like a kite and allow me to dance.

I have been silent for some time, taking in the sweetness of all the wisdom I remembered. Distilling it along with the gifts offered to me on my birthday. Like the opportunity to finally wrap my arms around a sister I had only known here, or the gift of a teacher who showed up right on time, or the peace of sitting outside and eating cupcakes with an old dear friend and a new dear one too.

My teacher hugged me and wished me Happy Birthday. Everyday is your birthday she told me. Every day we get born again. Every breathe a new beginning.

Happy Birthday to you. To all of you.

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Max’s self portrait

Last night I put you to bed and you were 8. You were 8 as I wrapped my arms around you and told you (again) about the day you were born. I told you even though you knew the story, knew it by heart. You know it so well that now you request that I add some dramatic flourishes to it to make it more interesting. You suggested that I add something like “When you were just a day old a band of ninja warriors attacked the hospital but you saved me and defeated every last one and everyone said, “Wow–that baby is strong.”

You are growing up–a fact that pains me and delights me. It is a pleasure to watch you grow into a person I never could have imagined when I held your tiny newborn self to my breast. You are a speed demon on ice skates and you have been able to skate rings around me for years now but you amazed us all this year in the pool when you took off and became a top swimmer in your age group. I can barely swim but you, you are mastering it. It wasn’t that long ago that you were afraid of the deep end. You are conquering this world in ways I never could have dreamed for you. Your dreams are your own.

You are witty and gregarious, polite and generous. And you are so grown up now. You do your chores now (almost) without complaint. You offer to buy Thai food takeout on days when I am exhausted, an offer I have yet to accept but touches my heart every time. You make jokes constantly, especially when the room is thick with tension or drenched in sadness. You have compassion for the most unlikely people, and no tolerance for bullies. While you like many people, and get along with lots, you pick your friends carefully. I like that about you. You are encouraging to your friends, your teachers and me. On difficult hikes you hold my hand and tell me I can do it, tell me where to put my feet so I don’t fall. You talk to me about your heart and things that make you sad.

And yet there is still a little boy there–a boy who sleeps with his stuffed otter and who comes into my bed for a cuddle. A boy
who needs to be held when he gets hurt. A boy who runs around in his pajamas all day if I would let him. A boy who still prefers to be read to, all cuddled up in my lap.

I feel the years slipping away and it dawns on me that your childhood is almost half way over. It makes me cherish every exhausting moment and take pause before I complain. No one teaches me the joy of living moment to moment the way you do.

When I think of you at 8, I will remember you running through the woods with Emma, making spears out of sticks, stones and duct tape and shields from discarded hubcaps. I will remember you making jokes to get out of being in trouble. I will remember you laying down with animals (dogs, cats and even horses) and staring up at the sky, or laying down with your feet in my lap asking for a foot rub. I will remember you using packing tape to attach pillows to your legs so you could play goalie in a good game of street hockey. I will remember you organizing endless games of sharks and minnows at the pool. I will remember you rolling your eyes at the preschool girls who annoy you even though they love you. I will remember you doing the unthinkable and cheering for the Flyers (just for the experience), listening to books on tape while you picked up the living room, and catching bugs in the woods. I will remember laughing with you so hard that tears poured out of our eyes–all because of a fart. I will remember a fearless negotiator who tried to bargain over everything from allowance to the number of vegetables he needed to eat. I will remember you getting your own key to the house, and getting your own kitten and getting a hockey stick with a real curve. I will remember you curled up with a blanket on the floor of the animal hospital emergency room because you had to be there when the cat was sick.

Last night I put you to bed and you were 8. This morning you woke up and you were 9. Time keeps marching on.

I love you my flubba wubba Maxidoodle boy. Happy Birthday.