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

The nose pickers

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By the time fourth period rolls around, it’s going on 2:00 and the 4-6 year old children are tired. When I come in, I know I have about 15 minutes to teach the most important parts of my lesson before I start losing them to the play things that surround us in the room. Fortunately, my theatrics are good and the children are enthusiastic. We learn about birds, their homes and their habits. The children sit up on their feet, in tiny blue chairs, and prop their elbows up on the octagonal table that they surround. They are fabulous. At this point in the day, all the hair is marvelously messy — bows are askew and many shoes are untied. They stare at me, wide eyed, as I talk about the size of a hummingbird egg or where an eagle makes it’s nest. The children gasp audibly as they imagine that the woodpecker can actually eat a frog and the red tailed hawk can swoop down and pick up a field mouse with it’s strong talons.

It’s a sweet time… well… except for one thing — and can I just be up front here?
They pick their noses.
They pick. their. noses.
And when I ask them if they need a tissue, they sweetly look up at me and say no.
When I suggestively hand them a tissue- they daintily hold it in one hand, while they pick with the other.
When I whisper to them discreetly, “Please use your tissue — don’t pick your nose,” then, one little darling in particular, will turn her head and bend down a bit in order that she may pick in private.

This drives me to distraction and it’s terribly hard to continue with my lesson whilst suffering through the inner squirm. Since I only have a very short time, for the sake of whatever children are not picking, I have to continue teaching, in spite of whoever is picking.

We always listen to the sound of the bird and then we scroll through bird pictures on my iPad.

Then comes the question — and it always comes.

“Can I swipe it?” And a little finger comes for my iPad.

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.

Success…

I was told that I must work myself out of the job somewhere along the line- I just never fully understood the ramifications of such a success.
I’m somewhat familiar with the phenomenon;
I have watched my friends feel their way through the murky waters,
laughing while in tears;
resigned, yet determined.
Another life revolution.
Another season that comes without beckoning.
A successful release.

A silent game change for one of the most underrated, yet essential workers on the planet- the successful repositioning of mother.

Mother: the assigned life-giver, the assigned tender of tender shoots, the assigned protector of fragile bodies, the assigned cultivator of hearts and nurturer of souls.

 

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Photo credit: Jessica Garcia©2008

It doesn’t matter how many women I have seen walk this path and it doesn’t matter that they have lived to tell the tale- the experience still comes fresh and unfamiliar.

My life has been intricately and intimately woven into the lives of my children.
The inevitable unraveling comes with a tug and a pull, which results in a dull pain and an occasional sting. I find I’m not quite ready, no matter how many warnings I have been given.

It feels like being tied to a post- I vaguely know what’s coming and I watch it roll in, like tendrils of acrid smoke, and I brace myself.
I am to breathe deeply before being released.
Released into a new reality.
My position is suddenly redefined.

Now, quite shockingly, I feel like an old type-setting machine which has been relegated to the corner.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I served faithfully and quietly as: Executive-in-Chief, Staff Administrator, Assistant to the President, Facilities Manager, Human Resources Manager, Event Planner, and Queen?

And, wasn’t it just yesterday that I served- maybe not so quietly- as: janitor, chef, counselor, medic, seamstress, decorator, chauffeur, and friend?

Yet, somewhere along the line, I managed to go from knowing everything- to knowing nothing; from being better than anyone at everything- to being rather less than satisfactory in my employment of skills.

Culturally, ‘mother’ is a job title assigned very little merit.  The serious pursuit of excellence in the execution of a mother’s duties is not considered worthy of accolades;
so it falls relatively low on the list of important achievements.
But God does trust women with a great and magnificent responsibility.
He trusts her to conceive and carry life,
to grow and nurture life,
to train and model life,
and finally, to let go of and release life.
The choice to fully embrace the role of motherhood with passion and intentionality is the highest achievement.

Ironically, in the end, mother isn’t given a letter of termination- or a severance- or even a security walk to the exit.
She is ultimately beyond and above that, trusted to be wise,
to laugh and weep,
and to keep walking with a more mature poise than when she first began.

Decades have passed,
my hands are worn and wrinkled,
and my eyes have grown wise…
I have worked long, grueling hours for the high payment of joy and tears.
I have given it all, mind, body and soul…
But now, it seems it’s time.
Like something out of an epic movie, I’m to be locked outside the gates of the city I helped to build.
I’m to follow the well-worn path that leads to the sun, which is setting on the horizon. Time to close this chapter of the book and begin scrawling in another.

I will be called back an undetermined number of times, to serve in my newly structured position. My technical expertise will be required on an as needed basis.
I am now consultant, sub-contractor and outside-insider.
Come closer- stop.
Stop- come closer.
And if these gyrations aren’t enough,
I am to know precisely when to keep my mouth shut.
God, that’s very funny.
You really have trusted me with the big stuff.

I hear the screeching of the tires- it’s time to get out of the car. There is to be no outward display of emotion at this point. I am just supposed to get out, keep moving, and carry on.

Mind you, I have not been dismissed as beloved mother and friend, and I have not been sacked as trusted and wise counselor… but I have reached the place where I have successfully worked myself out of a job.

My jacket buttoning, and brussel sprout cajoling days are over.
My teenage counseling services are almost unnecessary and my constant stream of advice is no longer welcome.
It’s on to the next chapter.
So, like a modern-day Mary Poppins, with a heart stuffed full of treasured memories like an old carpetbag, I take my first barefoot steps down the path ahead,
both laughing and crying,
resigned, yet determined,
ready for the next adventure.

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Photo credit: Rel Luttrell©2014