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White tears are decorative

White grief is distant

White guilt is optional

White promises are broken

White passion is fickle

White skin is thick insulation

And a most effective cushion

To smother a human soul.

Child-Woman

I closed out another journal this morning. Here’s an entry from earlier this year, written after a particularly painful evening of parenting.

Oh ten-year-old girl with the rages and rolling eyes, the cry and play of a child, the body and mind leaning towards adulthood. You are loved, and lovely. You are unpredictable, awkward, unkind, collapsible. Headstrong, indecisive, brilliant and naive.

I, young one, am your mother. I am wise and baffled. Patient and irritated. I love you. I do not always like you. I am not old and wise enough to never feel pain at your unkindnesses. (No, that’s not where wisdom would be found. Love feels the pain. Wisdom – and love again – can reach beyond it, to embrace you, to envision you in truth, a child-woman writhing in growing pains.)

Sleep tonight, my small darling. Sleep and be refreshed. You are not in-between two realities. You are fully functioning, smack-dab in the center of one reality, this one, the reality of your living self at age ten-and-one-half. And I am honored to know you here and now.

I was looking for something to publish on my blog this past week, sifting through years of my own unpublished essays and blog post drafts. But so much of that stuff is just . . . stuffy. It sounds suspiciously like my 16-year-old self’s idea of a wise old college professor. It uses big words and tosses around hefty ideas.

That’s okay. But I’m just not so interested in that right now.

I’m interested in the sugar snap peas growing in my mother’s garden, and the ensuing stir-fry I plan to cook for her tonight, while the kids and I are here visiting for a couple weeks. I’m interested in good beer, and good stories. In easygoing conversation, lively music, and running errands by bicycle. In relaxing with a good book, also in my mother’s garden. In the moments I spent last week with my aging Grammy, when I sang to her and she told us stories of her youth, and I saw tears in my aunt’s eyes, and the fireflies lit up the woods behind the house as we said goodnight, and I felt the strange strength and beauty of that fragile moment supporting all of us who were present there together.

I mean to say, I’m interested in things that don’t accommodate big words and hefty ideas very well. I’m interested in the everyday things that are happening now, while they’re happening. In the people who are living now, while they’re living.

In the actual stuff of life, at the very heart of all the stuffy things I have to say about it.

There will come a day

When you view the grocery store circular with anticipation

Its expected suspenseful arrival each week

What will the free item be?

How much will avocados cost?

And isn’t there something you’ve been needing but couldn’t quite name

Imploring your attention from these glossy pages?

In those days

You will find yourself

Sitting across the table from your lover of accumulated years

In the Chinese buffet or the Mexican restaurant

With little to say

That you haven’t said already

In one way or another

And, past the days of longing glances,

You will choose handheld devices

And plans for the next week

To fill the mundane gap between you.

 

When that day comes

Take up running.

You will surprise yourself

With the power and endurance

You’ve already built up.

You’ll go to bed eager for the morning

You’ll wake

Bound out into the dawn

Pound the pavement

Breathe and sweat and move

Everything.

Don’t ask yourself

Whether you are running away

Or running to catch up

Or running towards some forgotten hope.

Just run.

Trust me on this.

The kids wanted a fire after dinner. My habitual “no” rose to my throat and then fell before making any noise. I would have said no, I don’t make good fires, no, you need to get ready for bed, no, we don’t have time, no, I don’t want to deal with the mess, no, no, a thousand times no.

But a lifetime only has room for so many yeses, and I had been filling my opportunities for yes with way too many nos, and what did I have to lose anyway?

Yes, I told them. Luthien got the s’mores ingredients. I hauled out the lighter and newspaper, and built a sorry little leaning firewood tepee in the firepit. Wadded the newspaper, lit it, threw in some tiny sticks. Repeated several times, then several more. Tiny blazes flamed up and died down, but nothing really took for good. Still, we roasted our ‘shmallows and made our s’mores with the heat we did manage to produce. And my anticipated failure surprised me with its adequacy.

Bedtime came. The firepit seemed barely hot, a little smoke puffing here and there. I decided not to throw any water on it because we might want to have a fire the next night, and I didn’t want to soak the unburned wood. My firewood tepee stood unharmed, sheltering the fluttery newspaper ash below it.

Pajamas, toothbrushing, potty, prayers. Kitchen cleanup, dishes. An hour later I opened the back door to toss something in the recycling bin, and a blaze of orange caught my eye.

My “fire” was crackling away, blazing and burning and looking, smelling, sounding for all the world like an actual backyard fire might do if an actual person who knew something about making fires had started one.

The wind had picked up in that hour, and it had done what wind does in combination with fuel and heat. It had breathed on my little backyard offering and transformed it into something larger than my adequacy.

I wonder, what might happen with your heat and fuel if the next time you were asked to start a fire, you said yes instead of no, if you did your best and then let whatever it became sit out in the open air on a starry night? What if the wind picked up? You just never know.

 

*Of course you should never leave a fire unattended, however pathetic a fire you think it is. I would have put the cover on my fire pit (it’s one of those metal containers with a grate that fits over top), but the tepee was sticking up too high for it to fit. I’d like to say I would have peeked at it again before going to bed, and thankfully that’s what I did. 

This right here. After 38.5 years of living and on my 16th wedding anniversary (happy day, Lover!), I deeply resonate with Seth Godin’s post about the infinite game.

What is the meaning of life? Godin answers it – “To play.” In Christian religious speak (and archaic sexist language), the question and the answer go like this – “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

In Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which took me the past year to read!), Pierre – a Russian aristocrat taken captive by the French – discovered the same thing after being freed.

(Aw, go ahead, sit down and read this little passage! I’ve highlighted my favorite parts for you skimmers, and added a couple explanatory notes in brackets. And I acknowledge that this passage also uses sexist language.)

A joyous feeling of freedom- that complete inalienable freedom natural to man which he had first experienced at the first halt outside Moscow- filled Pierre’s soul during his convalescence. He was surprised to find that this inner freedom, which was independent of external conditions, now had as it were an additional setting of external liberty. He was alone in a strange town, without acquaintances. No one demanded anything of him or sent him anywhere. He had all he wanted: the thought of his wife which had been a continual torment to him was no longer there, since she was no more [it hadn't been a happy marriage, and his wife had died while he was in captivity].

“Oh, how good! How splendid!” said he to himself when a cleanly laid table was moved up to him with savory beef tea, or when he lay down for the night on a soft clean bed, or when he remembered that the French had gone and that his wife was no more. “Oh, how good, how splendid!”

And by old habit he asked himself the question: “Well, and what then? What am I going to do?” And he immediately gave himself the answer: “Well, I shall live. Ah, how splendid!”

The very question that had formerly tormented him, the thing he had continually sought to find- the aim of life- no longer existed for him now. That search for the aim of life had not merely disappeared temporarily- he felt that it no longer existed for him and could not present itself again. And this very absence of an aim gave him the complete, joyous sense of freedom which constituted his happiness at this time.

He could not see an aim, for he now had faith- not faith in any kind of rule, or words, or ideas, but faith in an ever-living, ever-manifest God. Formerly he had sought Him in aims he set himself. That search for an aim had been simply a search for God, and suddenly in his captivity he had learned not by words or reasoning but by direct feeling what his nurse had told him long ago: that God is here and everywhere. In his captivity he had learned that in Karataev [a peasant who had befriended Pierre in his captivity] God was greater, more infinite and unfathomable than in the Architect of the Universe recognized by the Freemasons. He felt like a man who after straining his eyes to see into the far distance finds what he sought at his very feet. All his life he had looked over the heads of the men around him, when he should have merely looked in front of him without straining his eyes.

In the past he had never been able to find that great inscrutable infinite something. He had only felt that it must exist somewhere and had looked for it. In everything near and comprehensible he had only what was limited, petty, commonplace, and senseless. He had equipped himself with a mental telescope and looked into remote space, where petty worldliness hiding itself in misty distance had seemed to him great and infinite merely because it was not clearly seen. And such had European life, politics, Freemasonry, philosophy, and philanthropy seemed to him. But even then, at moments of weakness as he had accounted them, his mind had penetrated to those distances and he had there seen the same pettiness, worldliness, and senselessness. Now, however, he had learned to see the great, eternal, and infinite in everything, and therefore- to see it and enjoy its contemplation- he naturally threw away the telescope through which he had till now gazed over men’s heads, and gladly regarded the ever-changing, eternally great, unfathomable, and infinite life around him. And the closer he looked the more tranquil and happy he became. That dreadful question, “What for?” which had formerly destroyed all his mental edifices, no longer existed for him. To that question, “What for?” a simple answer was now always ready in his soul: “Because there is a God, that God without whose will not one hair falls from a man’s head.”

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,”

but the pastor’s daughter thought,

“people who live in glass houses shouldn’t,”

because her life felt like a glass house

a fish bowl or a zoo exhibit

and it made her uncomfortable

until she saw the best level of comfort available to her

could be gained by smiling politely at the onlookers,

a docile captive relaxing on the concrete.

 

These days almost everyone I know lives in a glass house.

The glass is made of backlit screens

and you can project anything you want there

a polite smile, a superior sneer,

an angst-ridden mask of mystique

a hip air of disinterestedness

while inside your house you push keys, click mice,

and wrestle with your death wish

for a stone to come crashing through

bringing down the house,

letting in the weather.

 

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