That’s my kid, skateboarding in the parking lot of my junior high school. We got some sandwiches at Roma ‘cause I can eat sandwiches again since I’m no longer gluten intolerant. Which is one double negative I’m not too unhappy about.

I went to school in that building, looked out those windows, dreamed of the day I would be free from that place, and now I’m watching my kid skateboard that asphalt, eating chips from the shop I grew up getting my lunch from. And I couldn’t be happier.

Life is funny like that. And time isn’t linear, in case you were wondering. It’s one big, fat, juicy circle.

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Sigh

At first I thought I was doing really well. I walked him to security, hugged him, told him everything would turn out fine this summer. It’s funny how we do that, right? No one ever says, I’m skeptical about this endeavor … you may have made a bad call. I love how we’re all eternally optimistic. Outwardly, anyway.

I backed off as he moved through the line, then walked to the bathroom, where, mid-pee, the schmaltzy canned public music system started playing Teach Your Children, Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young? Not sure).

Awesome. You who are on the road must have a code that you can live by and so become yourself blah blah blah. Thanks Great Universe, sometimes you’re not quite so generous with your coddling. I know, I know we are supposed to let them go, but sometimes I just want them to stop going, to stay a little longer, to not get in the car or on the plane!

Once he was so little.

Once he was so little.

I walked down the stairs, across the street, up the stairs and to my car. I was parked on the top level of the parking garage, so I decided to wait to watch his plane take off, scheduled for departure at 1:17.

The number 117 has been showing up all over the place lately. It came to me in a dream recently in which Coco and I were in a swim race together. At the start of the race I couldn’t move my arms, but I could kick, so I just kept moving forward until all my body parts started working, then we were in synch; we swam beside each other and finished at the same time, both of our hands touching the side of the pool at 1 minute, 17 seconds.

Also, there are random things, like my post box number and my Fordham email. Angel Number 117 suggests that you are on the ‘right path’ on your life’s journey. The angels support and encourage you with your life purpose, and you have good reason to be optimistic about your chosen direction or path.

Totally awesome. Thank you, guides and spirits. The Magic Eight Ball probably says It is certain, too.

Just look at them and sigh …

Just look at them and sigh …

I read for a little while, until I heard a plane heading out, 1:17. I got out of the car and looked up. It was his, Jet Blue, headed south then west. I watched it roar off from the airport and I thought, My heart is on that plane, in the air, moving away from me standing here. Nate … headed to Minneapolis, unfamiliar territory, for the summer, not sure what the coming weeks will hold, at that funny place in life, in-between study and practice; chomping at the bit and scared of the unknown. My heart is on that plane. That was, of course, when I started crying.

Funny thing to watch a part of yourself flying away.

I always think that I’m one of the parents who does it well: releasing my kids into the wild to let them fend for themselves. I’ve watched the mamma birds, I know how they nudge their little ones toward greater freedom. And those guys are little! They’re so little when they get the heave-ho.

Nate is wrestling with all of the big questions, so I gave him David Brooks’ new book, The Second Mountain. You should read it, too. It supports a bunch of the things I believe to be true about life, placing ideas about what to do with our days in the context of two mountains. The first we climb as we take on all the responsibilities and character traits we think the world expects of us (ie, we focus a lot on self). If we’re lucky enough to get to the second, via a tragic life event or an awakening, then we begin the real work of life, which can be painful, draining, usually not very lucrative but a deeply satisfying existence focused outside of self, on the needs of the world. The work of the soul, if you will. Brooks talks about the commitments we make, to people and ideals, to place.

I watched the plane go until it was just a speck in the sky. I thought of Sam, embarking on his summer internship in Reno. He keeps saying that it’s going to be a lot of work and that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Good, I tell him, That’s just what you want right now in your life.

Some days it feels like we’re all inside a snow globe and the world is being shaken, over and over. For a long time it felt scary, worrisome. Terrible decisions being made by the powers that be; the extreme weather, world-wide; illness and death in every direction. It all felt very unsettling. These days it just feels weird. The world is a very weird place these days. There may be cycles of this kind of stuff in our world’s history but I’m too lazy to become a research scientist; I’m just willing to bet this isn’t the first time a whole lot of strange stuff went down on Planet E.

But we all happen to be right her right now, it’s our moment, right? The questions isn’t why all of this weird is stuff happening; the questions is what do we do about it. How do we respond?

Brooks is not afraid to admit, in his book, that he was once a jerk: aloof, invulnerable, uncommunicative. “I sidestepped the responsibilities of relationship.” The sins of his life were, according to him, sins of omission: failures to truly show up for people, sins of withdrawal: workaholism, conflict, failure to empathize, failure to express myself openly …

Not surprisingly, it all eventually came crashing down and, after a period in the wilderness, a time of reflection and rearrangement he emerged enlightened: If there is one thing I have learned over the past five years, it is that the world is more enchanted, stranger, more mystical, and more interconnected than anything we could have envisioned when we were on the first mountain.

In the eloquent parlance of my childhood … No duh.

Apparently it was Brooks’ religious curiosity that set him on a path toward illumination, one that included a couple of mystical experiences—one of them in Penn Station at rush hour—a second shot at marriage and a deeper, more meaningful engagement with the world.

Curiosity will do that, by golly. I hear there’s something going around called sober curious. People maybe wondering what it’s like to give up drinking but aren’t quite ready to fully commit, afraid, perhaps, they’ll miss out on some really important slice of life. Sure, if feeling like crap the next day, getting suckered into spending your money by those who see no harm in the liberal use of the word craft, gaining weight and taxing your liver are a slice of the good life to you, then yes, you are most definitely going to be missing something. Otherwise a ginger ale in your hand will have the same effect when you’re sitting in a bar or standing around at a party. If you think for a minute that a drink turns you into a more interesting person and that’s what’s keeping you from moving from curious sober to committed, think again.

But that’s a different story for a different day. I’ll save it for June 23 when I tell you how great it’s been to live for eight years without booze. For today: hug your kids then make them leave, venture out, take risks, write home. Trust that your curiosity is leading you where you need to go. Read a good book, one with paper pages. And if you’re still on the first mountain, you might want to consider the view from over there. Godspeed.


Bonds

Joe and I had the same birthday, which, when I discovered this, gave me infinite glee. I don’t know why I love this, the shared birthday thing, so much, I just do. It gave us a kind of foundation—born on May 19—we had the bond people seem to feel when they share an entrance point into this world. I don’t know about you and your birthdate, but I’ve met a bunch of people along the way who are May 19-ers, and it has nothing to do with Facebook, either. I actually know these people from living in the world: Taylor Watts, my high school boyfriend; Lisa, also from high school, who grew up to become Kyle’s mom; Ben, my tall and eloquent birthday twin, who brought me homemade granola and tapenade the other day; Elaine who baked a cake for everyone at church on our birthday; and Joe, who was in hospice care for four years when I had the honor of being his volunteer. Which meant that I visited with him and his wife, Inez, on a regular basis.

It’s breaking the rules, of course, to name names of those in hospice care, but Joe died two years ago in March and Inez and I are just plain friends now, not hospice friends. I visit with her when I can, which, given that I’m rarely in northern Vermont, is less and less often. I do, however, like to check in around May 19, partly because I like to see how she’s doing around difficult anniversaries and partly because I love her.

Mostly because I love her. And also because I loved Joe. On Sunday I put his glasses on the pulpit. He gave them to me, though I can’t remember why, now, except that Joe was always giving away everything he had. He didn’t have any money but that didn’t stop him from making you take everything within reach when you were leaving: cookies, puzzle books, pens. You simply were not allowed to walk away from a visit with Joe empty-handed. I probably didn’t have my readers with me once and so Joe let me borrow his and then he probably insisted that I take them with me.

Joe and Inez really had nothing, by societal standards. No money, no real estate, a car that was barely running. They did not take vacations or go out to eat in restaurants. Nor did they complain or wish themselves out of their circumstances. They loved each other, deeply. They had both lived incredibly difficult lives, found one another after much heartbreak, pain and loss, then devoted themselves to caring for each other.

Joe was one of the most kindhearted, gentle, generous people I have ever known. I would visit and we would sit at the little table in their kitchen and he often did a puzzle, man, was he a puzzle guy! He wore bright pajamas with loud prints. Sometimes he dyed his hair, blue or orange. Always, if Inez was out running errands while I was with Joe she would call, just to check in. And every time I was amazed by how kind they were to each other. How gentle. Somehow they had not allowed their circumstances to eat a hole in their humanity; they did not see the world as persecuting them, there was not some better life they felt they had been robbed of.

Joe had a prayer that was all his own and we held hands while he spoke it to me each time before I left. Fortunately I have a recording of it and so can hear his voice and his beautiful words when I need them. The prayer is of forgiveness and gratitude, so very Joe.

Joe’s death was hard for Inez and I knew it would be. They breathed each other’s breaths, were never far from each other in their tiny apartment (in a subsidized housing development). She suffered with him as he became sicker and sicker. Not surprisingly, after Joe died Inez was unmoored and found it difficult to find a reason to go on. I visited with her in the hospital once, after she failed at attempting to take her own life.

From there Inez managed to climb the steep ladder back to living. She moved from the apartment she shared with Joe into a different one, around the corner. A new and fresh space gave her a place to spread out her painting supplies, though she was not much interested in creating for a long time. Inez paints with and on anything she can get her hands on. I have seen her work on pieces of cardboard, scraps of paper. Her paintings remind me of Grandma Moses: simple yet enchanting scenes of the world around us. Slowly, slowly, she found her way into her new life. She started going to lunch at the local senior center, she bought a decent car, and she started painting again.

We laughed a lot the other day, sharing stories of the things happening in our lives. She told me about her neighbors there: This one is something … schizophrenic? This one drinks a lot … this one is developmentally disabled … but we are all friends she said, with genuine pride, We all watch out for each other.

I sat with Inez for almost two hours, the time went by unnoticed. I realized at some point that all these years later Inez and I are friends, too. What began as an official arrangement through a hospice organization morphed into a friendship over the years. We simply care about each other, we check in, we ask the questions: How is it going? How are the kids? And though Inez’s life is always pockmarked with challenges (knee replacement surgery last winter and a recent fall), she soldiers on. We both do; we have a lot more in common than not these days.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said to me as we hugged good-bye and she was right. Our troubles, our challenges over the years have had different hues and flavorings, but when you strip away the top layer, the settings of our lives, you find two people who are really just working their way through another day. How do we do this? we seem to always be trying to figure out.

Well. We paint and we write and take photos, in our attempts to make sense and meaning through creation. We find the folks who can walk with us through our days: it is so much better to be a we than it is to be an I. Going it alone only goes so far before the tank runs out of gas and you realize you missed something crucial along the way, possibly that hitchhiker back there who might have been able to help you out of this jam.

Inez and I sit and talk with each other, we hear each other’s stories. We care. Sometimes our lives are messy, sometimes there is more light. Sometimes things flow smoothly, sometimes we’re stuck, tired. Strip away the view we each have from our living room, what we are going to eat for dinner tonight, where we went to school, the jobs we have held, the clothes we wear. Strip us down from the places we have arrived at in this life and what you have is just two people, trying to make it through, laughing some, praying a lot, missing Joe, hugging it out.

The older I get the more it dawns on me that this is what it’s about: sustained commitment to something that matters. The enriching of a life through meaningful connections to each other. It can’t be done through texts, it’s not done particularly well long-distance and it’s not a fair weather proposition.

If the world is, indeed, enchanted by a mystical force, as C.S. Lewis put it, I sense that those forces are working hard to draw us into connection, not only with the gorgeous world in which we live, but into relationship with each other. Tenacious, tear-stained, shake it all you want, it ain’t gonna break bonds of friendship and love. I sense this why we’re here, to show up for each other, to hold hands in prayerful gratitude, to give away the extra puzzle book, to come a long way, together.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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