Attracted To

I had a job interview the other day and it was pretty funny. In part because I hadn’t had a kind of sit-down, respond to these very job-interviewy questions situation in some time. I found myself wanting to respond to pretty much every inquiry with some version of “Lady, I’m almost 54 years old …”
I can do pretty much anything.
I’m not going to even bother taking a look at a job I don’t think I would enjoy … I’m too old for that.
No, I have no problem working to solve personality conflicts … I’m almost 54 years old.

It felt funny, when I walked out, exiting an interview in my little interview outfit. First I ran into someone I know and we had a nice conversation. Then I got in my car to drive a few hours south for a funeral, so I had some time to think about the whole thing: the weird culture that’s perpetuated in most corporate environments; the “we do this because this is how it’s done” mindset, all the rules and regulations governing the work life of the people there. The plastic flowers, phony artwork, windows always closed world.

I didn’t really want the job, but I keep feeling like I should get a job, be more practical, live a more traditional life, that sort of thing. The universe seems to have other ideas for me, though, because it has yet to hand me a job like that one; a few days later, when I turned my phone back on after the post-funeral lunch, I listened to the message from the woman who interviewed me telling me she had offered the job to someone else. I was partly deflated and partly relieved.

PC.jpg

Yesterday I spent some time sitting and talking with a gentleman named Peter who had come to visit someone in our little town from Zambia, where he and his wife run a school for disabled children. I had gotten to know him a bit when he spoke in church on Sunday: one of fourteen boys; no father present when he was growing up; shot in the leg while committing a crime; in the hospital a change of the molecules of his heart and a commitment to serve the world. Peter showed me a couple of videos of the work they do there, the people they serve, the “least of my brothers,” that sort of thing. I found my heart racing, tears welling up. That is were I want to be, I thought to myself, rght there, with those kids.

It’s not a job, per se, but all of this truly begs the question … how do we live our lives? And for me it goes down into the subterranean layers of things … how do we live our lives after we have fallen in love with God and can’t not see God in all of this madness?

Nothing is really the same after something like that is embedded beneath your skin and in your heart: Infinite love is planted within humans and all of creation. Everything is attracted to everything: life is attracted to life; love is attracted to love; God in you is attracted to God in everyone and everything else. This is what it means for everything to be created in the image of God. God placed this alluring attraction of life toward life in everything that God created.

That’s Richard Rohr talking about this life: Once we allow the entire universe to become alive for us, we are living in an enchanted world. Nothing is meaningless; nothing can be dismissed. It's all whirling with the same beauty, the same radiance.

I mean, come on, what do we do with that? How do we live with that idea, that sense of things and still … sit through a job interview? In a room full of fake flowers?

The only thing I can do now, at my advanced age, is pay attention to the responses I have to the things that are presented. This is what we call a gut feeling. After the interview I felt a certain sense of dread at the prospect of going to work every day of the week inside a building.

I felt a certain sense of elation imagining myself hugging those children in wheelchairs and cheering them on in their victories.

I have struggled with this for a long time now, how to live a life of service, of presence, of ministry, and how to pay the bills, too. I don’t have it figured out yet. It has been, however, the deep and abiding generosity of friends and family that has allowed me to keep doing the things I love doing: being present for people in their time of need, walking with people through dying and death, writing about all of it. The accepting of that generosity has been part of the story for me. There is nothing more humbling than needing help and nothing more light-filled than the impulse of people in this world to give help, to offer what they have. It’s a full-circle act of love and a very important part of the human journey.

Fifty-four on Sunday and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. There is no wisdom-marinated re-cap coming from Camp Melissa this year. I’m tired of the rain, I keep saying that my love affair with Vermont has ended and maybe it’s so. Julianne and I had a nice chat late last night in which we started scheming about running away, to Mexico, Denmark, Switzerland. We were only half-joking.

It is absolutely true that by this stage of life one most certainly should be able to do pretty much anything, and one should … do the things that bring actual joy and satisfaction, even if it’s risky, even if it makes no sense, even if it goes against everything your parents told you you should do and everything the world deems important or worthwhile or necessary. I know a bunch of people who got sick and died in their 60s. Part of me wonders about the environment, the possibility of toxic build-up in our bodies; the possibility that plain old living is killing us. I don’t assume I have another twenty or even ten years left. I don’t assume much of anything in regards to how much time we get to do this thing and, too, I’m pretty sure that the ones who have the most trouble leaving here, accepting the idea of their own death, are the ones who lived their lives in a way that didn’t feel authentic. We ain’t got forever and our very own heart knows how we should live. Pay attention to the resistance; pay attention to the tears.

I have a feeling you won’t find me inside any buildings, especially not ones with plastic flower arrangements. No, if I had to guess I would say that the chances are far greater that you’ll find me on the dusty fields of Zambia, playing a version of soccer with kids who walk with crutches, or wherever the next big hurricane hits, sitting with someone who has lost everything. I seem to have been born with a compass inside that sets me in the direction of pain and hardship and I’m learning to be OK with that. I’m not really sure what else I’m supposed to do with myself in this radiant and infinitely enchanting dance of life.

Thank you, all of you, for all of the love all these years. xomo

summer.jpg

Wedding

They’re not young, one might say they know better, but that’s the thing about love. It’s a persistent, tenacious bastard, love. It seems it will continue to look and look until it finds the right perch.

I know one young woman who is experiencing her first big heartache. “How do people do this?” she asked, through the tears of sorrow and loss. How do you start all over again, knowing about the pain?

It’s a fair question. I don’t have the answer. Our hearts seem to never stop moving toward love.

service.jpg

Sometimes I get to marry folks; sometimes I get to photograph them. This was a particularly great one because it was just the two of them. The three of us, actually.

They could not stop smiling, laughing, touching, kissing. And the weather was perfect, too. They did the thing, said the words, gave each other rings, then we wandered around taking pictures, talking. I thanked them for loving each other so much because the world needs it so badly, the radiant energy that true love gifts to everyone and everything around it.

light.jpg

We went to Arlington to the covered bridge. “It’s the second most photographed thing in Vermont,” the farmer who lives nearby told me. “What’s the first?” I asked. “I don’t know, “ he said. “Well you should probably find out,” I told him while the newlywed groom was using his phone to call the tow truck.

Their cute little car, a 1970 MG broke down when we had finished all of our photography stuff and were getting ready to head back to Dorset.

bdown2.jpg

They were probably tired, wanting to get back to the inn and take their fancy clothes off, maybe, but had to deal with a brokedown car. I watched carefully during this part because you can tell a lot about a couple when they have to respond to a small crisis, solve a problem.

They were kind, so kind to each other. Helpful, patient, tolerant. Resourceful. I drove her back, he waited for the tow. Told them I’d be happy to take them home to Saratoga the next day, we were going anyway, but they made it back to their new married life on their own, just fine.

hands.jpg

Maps

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed.       -Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck"

view.jpg

Us

Marion took a picture, but she’s not clear on how to send photos from her phone, so you will have to use your imagination.

We were all sitting around a big, round table in the corner of The Barn tavern where the fireplace is. When I arrived Lee and Marion and Nate and Gretta and Coco and Luke and Abby were there.

I have written about these things before, but some of you may be new to our ultra-modern family dynamics, so buckle up.

Marion and Lee are my former in-laws from my first marriage, when I was married to Scott. Nate is my son from that marriage. Abby and Luke are the children from Scott’s second marriage, to Phoebe. Coco is my daughter from my second marriage, to Richard.

Gretta is Nate’s girlfriend, from Minnesota; she goes to school with him in Montana. This is her first visit to Vermont.

Mark and Margaret and The Barn.

Mark and Margaret and The Barn.

I had been away for two days, officiating at yet another fucking funeral and giving love and support to an old and dear friend. I had missed a bit and so when I arrived I went around the table and hugged and kissed everyone. Shortly after I got there, Ashley joined us.

Ashley is … the adopted, though I don’t think officially, daughter of Mark and Margaret, who own The Barn and are my former brother and sister-in-law and dearest friends. They welcomed Ashley into their family several years ago, as a friend of their daughter, Olivia (who was working at the restaurant this night) and as someone who simply needed a loving family.

It doesn’t end there, believe me. This funky little bunch in our tiny corner of Vermont has somehow turned out to be the poster family for how to make it work when things fall apart.

And if things do anything in this life, they fall apart, that’s for sure. Somehow we’ve figured out how to mop it up, with a whole lot of forgiveness and love. And humor.

So Gretta has come to make a Vermont visit, to meet up with a friend who goes to UVM and then to head to Europe for a little while. Naturally, everyone wants to meet her, get to know her. And, of course, it’s when someone from the outside is introduced to this circus that it becomes glaringly clear just how funny and unusual it is. Imagine Nate explaining … this is my sister from my dad’s second marriage and there’s my mom over there, she’s chatting with the person my uncle and his wife adopted when she was a teenager and there’s my sister from my mom’s second marriage and she’s playing a game with my brother from my dad’s second marriage.

My son’s magnificent girlfriend, Gretta, with former husband’s son, Luke.

My son’s magnificent girlfriend, Gretta, with former husband’s son, Luke.

Labels. They’re useless.

Quit calling yourself this, that or the other. You box yourself in, limit your potential. Quit needing to pigeon-hole someone into a space just so you can feel more comfortable with who they are to you, in there. I’m not anyone’s ex or former or current or even future. I’m Melissa. And I love you all, even when you make it hard for people to love you. And I’m gonna keep extending the grace of my love to you even when endings via legal paperwork are part of the story. Sure, it’s not always going to be easy and a lot of times it’s messy. Who cares? We’re all just a bunch of people trying to figure all of this out and after a bunch of decades or maybe more we die and the whole thing is done. I’m in my mid-fifties; I may have fifteen good years left in me. That’s nothing. I’m not gonna waste it carrying grudges or holding tight to what didn’t happen. That nonsense makes you sick. Literally. I’m in this today and all these people around me, they are as beautiful as beautiful gets. You better believe I’m gonna figure out how to keep loving them, being with them, sharing this weird and often very hard life with them.

Imagine us there, all around the table: Grandpa Lee telling stories of his times at sea. Marion taking pictures and talking about her mother; Luke too adorable for words, at 12. Abby and Coco stretching out, heading to high school next year. Ashley and I catching up on her life in Asheville, Olivia stopping from time to time for a brief check-in. We ate dinner together, laughed a lot, asked questions, told stories, made plans. And then we all got up and danced.

There was this amazing guy with a banjo and a harmonica on the stage playing his music, so we all got up and danced together—us, our family.


The Breathing

I thought I might do a little pre-emptive strike on Mother’s Day and write about it now, four days early.

Full disclosure: this time of year is a happy time for me because my birthday is one week after Mother’s Day. I find that it’s nice that it’s all smooshed together into one fine spring week: having been born and having borne a few kids. I didn’t come here to bemoan all the commercial hubris of the day; I’m into it.

Also, if anyone asks, this year I want an oyster knife.

3lake.jpg

In previous years I have taken Mother’s Day off from church, but this year Nate and his lovely Gretta will be home from Montana just this weekend and I want them to have the churchy experience, so we’ll all be there. Plus we have a new musician joining us with his guitar and he’s singing some Johnny Cash and other favorites of mine, plus we have a visitor from Namibia speaking. Also, our beloved Patty is home from Singapore and Joy is giving the sermon so I can sit with my kids and just listen. There is a lot going on on Sunday morning that I wouldn’t want to miss. Come to church and celebrate with us if you can: 9:30 in Pawlet.

three copy.JPG

Truth be told I don’t really know where to begin when I think about writing about mothering. Do I talk about my mom, tender and loving, kind and caring, present and accounted for? Do I talk about what it felt like to become a mother? What it felt like in my 30s, my 40s and now my 50s? How it’s changed over the years as I’ve watched my kids stretch out in every way imaginable?

It’s hard for me to talk about Mother’s Day without thinking about the women I know who have lost children, and there have been a bunch. I think this is because of the tenacity and the depth of love I have for my three kids and that to imagine losing one is unthinkable. If Sam or Nate or Coco were to die before me I think it would feel like I had lost a vital organ, a patch of gravity, the will to live. I think of those women every year when this weekend approaches and my heart aches for them even while it’s filled with gratitude for all that motherhood has given me.

Nothing and no one prepared me for mothering — not all the years I spent as a babysitter, not having a good role model, not thinking I was ready. I wasn’t. Mothering babies was far harder than I imagined it would be. Being the mother of two young men (23 and 21) is far more satisfying than anything I have ever done previously. Being the mother of a daughter (14) is where words begin to fall short as purveyors of sentiment. I truly have no idea how to convey how awesome it is, how maddening, how rich with all of the deepest emotions of life.

Everything about motherhood has been a complete surprise for me, every part of the journey.

Who are these people and how did they find their way to me? Watching them grow is like watching my favorite movie over and over: there is the cringey part, there is the nice setting, the good soundtrack, the surprising turn of events. There are the strong characters making me sad, causing me delight, the narrative that strips everything down to the bare truth.

What, who am I without them? A daughter, sister, partner, friend, pastor, writer, teacher, chaplain, photographer … all these things pale in comparison, with all due respect to all the awesome people who endow me with those roles. In the end, when the grave is dug, the ashes scattered, the last prayer lifted over the memory of me, all that will have mattered is that I was a mother.

So, yes, Mother’s Day. Sure, yes, fine, there are the greeting cards, the restaurant dinners, the cheesy floral arrangements. The schlock. It’s fine. It’s fine because mothers rock the world, literally. To use one’s body as a portal for new life, for the propagation of the species is badass and we all know it. We most certainly should take one day out of 365 and raise a glass to mothers, mothering, motherhood, the mayhem, the miracle.

parkour.jpg

In searching my memory for a story to tell of the three and me I am lost in a jumble of days: I recall us taking surfing lessons in Half Moon Bay, parkour in the streets of Stockholm, scrambling up a mountain in the Adirondacks, skiing in Colorado, driving through the desert, playing football at Thanksgiving, so many birthday cakes, trips to the emergency room, swimming in the sea, leaving the boys out west to start college, walking Daisy after dinner, lacrosse games, campfires, hockey games, pancakes, learning to walk, learning to drive, girlfriends, boyfriends, Teletubbies, high fevers, Halloween. The list is twenty-three years long!

The thing that I have loved above all the rest, more than the many meals, more than the many trips, sporting events, summer vacations … the very best thing of all is when I have had all three of them sleeping in the same room with me and they’ve all fallen asleep and I get to lay there and listen to them breathing.

That’s it; the three of them sleeping and breathing, all in the same room.

It doesn’t happen much anymore, the boys live so far away and are really men now, but it stays thick in my consciousness as very, very important. I remember when we bunked in a room together for my 50th birthday, in the Adirondacks. I remember when we were in California visiting Steve and Erika and we all stayed in one hotel room. I remember when Tommy and Stacey got married and we stayed with friends high on a Vermont hill, all in one big room. I remember the breathing.

It is the sound of everything to me, it’s the music of a thousand angels, the most comforting feeling I can have as the mother of three beautiful humans. It is peace, grace, security, love, the past and the future and whatever we’re doing then, in that place and moment. We’re harmonizing and vibrating together there under the cover of darkness and in the spellbinding quiet of the night. My kids remain life’s most delicious mystery to me and watching them reveal themselves is pure joy. But it’s those times in the dark when the only sound is the sound of them breathing, sleeping, dreaming, close by — for me this is the whole world.