City Spring ~ Country Spring

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I like to read the words of my friends who walk over grates on city streets. I hear the flack-flack-flacking of the train and the whirring of the subway. I smell the city and open my eyes into another world. There is a mass of passing faces and resign as I enter the wave. Vendors are busy and the streets are alive. The concrete is warming and I take my lunch outside. It is Spring in the city.

My friends like to read my words, as I drive the country roads with all my windows down. Old barns dot the landscape and there isn’t a face in sight. Six doe leap across the road ahead of me and I slow to watch them take long, graceful strides before ducking into the woods. The air is soft and cool and the fields hint green. The peepers have emerged from their winter hiding places and their song is the signal — it is Spring in the country.

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Subway photo: James Adamson 

Mud Balls in the Basement

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I can’t seem to let go. It’s not so much the practical things. It’s the words scrawled on little slips of paper. It’s the cement-hard mud balls that were rolled up by tiny hands. It’s the heartfelt message on a Christmas tag. It’s the smooth rock from a happy shore.

Bereft of so many of my own childhood memories, I have always clung to little things. I’m so obsessed with not losing something meaningful that I have been known to dig through my children’s trash as they purge their bedrooms. “WHAT!! You can’t throw that away,” I gasp, as I snatch it and add it to my pile.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not real big on ticket stubs or figurines.
It’s the more important things — like the little construction paper leaves we cut out at Thanksgiving time. Each of us would take one out of the basket, which sat in the center of the table, and write on it what we were thankful for. When the kids were little, they were always thankful for daddy and the dog.

Or it’s the notes — things that indicate who we have been in the world.
It’s the cards and drawings and well-used trinkets.

IMG_9839As a little girl, we moved across country and practically severed all family ties. Because the tiny fragments of family history that I could remember, were not underscored by tradition or cemented by rehearsal- they began to fade away and get buried in the intensity of the painful every day. While my propensity to collect things that bore meaning began long before I lost my mother, her sudden, violent death caused my inadvertent quest to preserve precious memories to grow more intense.

By the time we unlocked the door to Mom’s condominium, the crime had been solved and there was no one around. The bright yellow police tape, which barred the door, was the only obvious sign that anything had taken place at all. Mom had been brutally murdered and her body had been hidden in a closet in the spare bedroom. Ironically, the house was spotless. There was no sign of the argument that had led to her death. The broken statue that had crushed her skull was nowhere to be found and there was no sign of the gun. The bed was made, the cat was fed, and the dishes were done. It took us awhile to find the shadow in the chocolate brown carpet. It was just about the only clue left. Her blood.

As we began to open drawers and dig through closets, we searched desperately for something we could take away that embodied her essence — something that would allow us to keep her. Perhaps some private note that would unravel the mystery — something that was attached to her plaguing sadness. But there was nothing. No diaries. No special jewelry. No treasured trinkets. Only her smell, which was growing faint in the robe which hung on the back of the bedroom door. I tied the robe up tight in a plastic grocery bag with the hope that I could capture her fragrance there. She was a lonely woman. She had no friends that could tell the story of her heart.

Now, some 30 years later, I am thinking through a recent visit to my mother-in-law’s home. In her prime, Joyce was a proud and lovely woman — the consummate hostess, accomplished homemaker, and a keeper of treasured things. She is spending her final days waiting for heaven in the memory ward of a nursing home, unable to speak. Dad is still walking the halls of the house, but nothing is the same without her. As I ran my fingers over the things that used to mean something to her, which are still neatly arranged in her home, I realize her essence is fading. One day soon, all of the treasures that fill Joyce and Stew’s home will be disassembled and divided. If the stories aren’t told that are attached to the objects held dear, they will one day become items to be taken away in a box.

3229343087_c485ed07cf_bThen, as I sat in the middle of a heap in my own father’s basement, wading through the items he and my stepmother collected over the years, I contemplated what it all means. Sally died of breast cancer a few years ago and it’s hard for my dad to figure out what matters. What if he gives away something that could be meaningful to someone? How can he possibly muster the energy to sort through all the things that have no meaning to him without her? Cookbooks and sewing stuff, and bathroom junk, and pretty pictures, and little statues, and extra shoes, and bags, and jackets? There seems to be nothing that truly bears her essence.

In the end, we all lay in our beds and face the end of opportunity. Our piles of stuff, no matter how well pared down, gather dust and go out of style. Much of what we hold dear will be loaded into boxes and hauled to Goodwill. So how do we capture the essence of what has been? It’s not the things we keep that bear meaning. It’s not the bed or the sheets, but it’s the warm place left by the breathing person who slept there. It’s not the after-shave my husband wears, but the way the room smells after he’s gone. It’s not the swing set, but the bare spots left in the grass from all the days little feet wore away patches. It’s not the field, but the path that runs through it.

So, through the connection of many dots, I have arrived at today. I’m going to approach the pile in the basement, and write down the stories that are associated with my little things. Then, maybe, I can let them go and my children won’t have quite so many boxes to take to Goodwill. They won’t have to wonder why I saved a little wooden box full of mud balls.

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Photo Credit: Locket photo by Paula Bailey

authentic love

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Authentic love moves beyond self-centeredness and into unabashed and unhindered otherness.
It isn’t motivated by personal gain
and will not to be soiled by jaded expectations.
It is clean and expects nothing in return.

Authentic love is the spark that is the source of flame.
It’s the wind that moves the trees.
It’s the nudge that bids us go
and the pull that makes us stay.
It’s the fierce swell of the ocean waves
and the soft kiss of morning dew.
It’s the very essence of God.

 

But, not yet have I reached that bright life or that white happiness – not yet.

The snow is deep this morning in Indiana. We live in a rural setting, down a winding road and over a single lane bridge. There are no giant snow plows that take passes over our narrow, private road, just a kind neighbor who pushes a plow with his yellow jeep. While the rest of the world gets cleaned up and dirtied with slush, we manage to stay deep and white and quiet. I lit a candle and sipped my coffee as I opened David Kanigan’s blog post in my beautiful, white cathedral.

At 50-something I can see myself in the mirror with more clarity than ever before. There is no brand of make up and no amount charm that can cover the trails that I have left behind, and I hear solemn echoes that beckon me to live with abandon and heal with completion. There is a longing which is so deep and a desire which is so fundamental… I must not miss what matters most. My quest is constantly crippled by the battle with my habits and by the distractions I allow to come seeping into my world.

As Mary Oliver says, “I would like to be like the fox earnest in devotion and humor both, or the brave, compliant pond shutting its heavy door for the long winter. But, not yet have I reached that bright life or that white happiness – not yet.”
Read on:

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Men and women of faith who pray – that is, who come to a certain assigned place, at definite times, and are not abashed to go down on their knees – will not tarry for the cup of coffee or the news break or the end of the movie when the moment arrives. The habit, then, has become their life. What some might call the restrictions of the daily office they find to be an opportunity to foster the inner life. The hours are appointed and named; they are the Lord’s. Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers. Divine attentiveness cannot be kept casually, or visited only in season, like Venice and Switzerland. Or, perhaps it can, but then how attentive is it? And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple…

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The sound of men

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God, help me to remember the sound of a house full of boys. How many years have I snickered in the other room as I listen to their crazy antics?

When they were small- it was wrestling matches on the living room floor and army outfits and light sabers.
Little Indian buddies racing through my halls.
All they needed was popsicles.

Then came the monstrous thudding feet, loud crashes,
deep voices and sudden screams.
There were drums and banjos, pianos and guitars,
constant ribbing and unspeakable male noises.
All they needed was burgers and pizza and chips, and anything else I could drum up for them to wipe out.

Now… too often it’s the jingle of keys and the zipping of a jacket.
It’s the kiss on the cheek and the slam of the front door…
It’s a bagel in a napkin,
though it’s not really needed.
And a wave from the road.

It’s a new noise. The rattle of dreams.
It’s big plans and carefully, crafted schemes.
It’s girls — no — women.
Gulp.
It’s the sound of men.

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Photo credit: Linus Bohman

Just outside the window…

 

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In the early morning hours, when the only sound is the quiet hum of the house, I open the window over my desk and wrap myself a little more tightly into my robe. The soft, cool breeze carries in a swirl of noise.

What’s left of the morning rain drips off the roof, tap, tap, tapping on the wooden porch beneath my window. Morning tunes, sung in all octaves, fill the air with layers of asymmetric artistry. Busy chickadees flutter and flap as they dart back and forth with bits of stuff for their nests. One brave, little fellow lands on the sill right in from of me- curiously seeking fuzzy treasure.

The grass is soggy and bright green. Robins land and bounce, cocking their heads as if to listen for the worms they spot and wriggle out of the soft ground.

Spring has finally swept over the land.

There are many days when the sky seems to boil and dark clouds roll; days when torrential rain forces the creeks to overflow, and large pools of water flood the low places in the terrain. Under the mud and muck, new life pulsates with wild energy.

A careful eye will see plants beginning to make their rhythmic rise from the soil. Finally, after a long, frozen winter in the midwest, gardens are being cleared and planted, and farmers are waiting for the perfect day to till and seed.

With the faithful entrance of Spring comes the annual invitation to join in the rhythm. A new day to dig, a new day to seed, a new day to water. A new day to release that which has passed, so that it can fortify that which is to come. A new day to work for the promise of a reaping.

Just outside the winter-stained window, there’s a noise that’s louder that the drone of this world; a ringing more urgent than the constant ping of the cell phone.

There is an offer to take part in a story so much more exciting than the one portrayed on screen.
It’s organic, it’s ancient, and it calls to our souls.
Arise and awaken, open a window and listen for the sound… new life is at hand.

Just Fishin’…

I don’t have many memories from childhood- but some of the good ones include fishing adventures. My Dad loved to fish- and funny- I don’t know if he ever actually got to do it, he was so busy fixing, untangling, un-snagging, and re-rigging our lines. I remember the air and the grass and the sound of the water. I remember how my Dad could expertly tie knots in the fishing line and how he would fearlessly grab a worm and split it in two with his bare hands.

As I got older, it was fun to sit and watch the men enviously change their rigs over and over as they watched us girls haul in the fish using only our water-logged “worm sundae’s” and a little patience. One day, Sally and I counted “Thirteen!” from the bank, while Dad was helping Grandpa, who was risking life and limb to rescue his lure from way up in a tree. Even then, in the midst of the worst of aggravations, my Dad would put down his pole to tie on my hooks whenever it needed doing.

I’m so thankful to both of my parents for helping me to develop a love for the outdoors. It was in moments like these- and many others- from camping to more simple backyard experiences, that I learned to talk to God and believe in the unseen. Things were very tough at home- but there was a place I could go- even if I didn’t understand the respite I would find there.

So this week, I have been fishing with the Wil-de-beast. Historically, he hasn’t cared all that much about fishing- but it now seems he has caught the bug. He wakes up in the morning thinking about the pole. He even missed a workout- which for him, is unheard of.

On the first day- the Wil-de-beast and I decided we wanted to try worms, so we dug up the field grass, right where we stood, with whatever implements we could find in the tackle box. Our most useful tool was the fillet knife- we were able to carve away chunks of ground and quickly grab exposed worms before they got away. Using a knife ensured that we had nice worm pieces anyway. This was sort of a trap-setting, living-off-the-land kind of thing and I’m sure the worms were juicier and the catch was sweeter since we extracted these babies from the earth ourselves.

This fishing fun led us to the Walmart store, where the Wil-de-beast spent an inordinate amount of time in the fishing aisle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so eager to plunk down ten bucks on his necessities; now I know why Grandpa was willing to risk his life up in that tree.

The beast has spent hours alone out in the not-so-easy-to-fish-in paddle boat exploring little coves and experimenting with different bait. He caught some big bass and some nice crappie- but he also caught the ability to enjoy the journey- fish or no fish. As I look out the window, and spot the boat tucked into a little cove, my eyes fill with tears as I realize these are hours spent with God. As he watches the water ripple and listens to the birds sing- there’s likely a voice speaking to his heart and it’s likely that the Wil-de-beast is talking back… and he thinks he’s just fishin’.

It’s these kind of little things that really blow me away.

The Little Things…
 I don’t know about you- but I find that details, business, entertainment, and connectivity can creep in and smother my creative impulses. If I’m not careful, I find that somehow I stop breathing- fail to hear the birds sing- and find myself dry and out of the stream. In these shorter posts, entitled, “The Little Things,” I hope to make a public effort to tend my private heart by recording a few of the little things that bring me life. Please join me in this adventure by taking a moment to record for yourself how you stepped into the stream today. What little thing did you intentionally do for yourself that makes you laugh, cry, or sing? What are you doing that makes you feel alive? Record them for yourself and share with the rest of us when you feel you can. I would love to interact.
Happy little things!
~Catherine