to pay attention

My February calendar is a scary sight. The entire month does not present one “normal” week that follows our usual routine. Doctor appointments here and there – for me and also for the kids. A work conference that overlaps a couple of weekdays as well as part of a weekend. Not to mention the usual craziness that comes with kids stricken with cabin fever and sniffling in the usual winter fashion. Norah graciously shared her preschool germs with me, and nighttime sounds like a tuberculosis ward in our house. Cough cough, groan, reach for a tissue. On repeat for much of the night.

We are reaching for the smallest signs of spring. The kids and I walked to the playground to soak up some sun a couple of weeks ago when then weather surprised us one afternoon. When I arrived home tonight, neighborhood kids were already in the yard throwing a football to soak up a few last minutes of winter sun.

It’s when you are trudging through the hard stuff that you look intently for any little glimmer that shows you that warmth is around the corner. And it always is. It’s funny how those little seconds can push you through. The littlest break from something hard can encourage you to keep walking.

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I’m beginning a couple of weeks of a poetry study in my Research & Writing class. My throat is scratchy, and I’m tired. The temperature yesterday hardly reached freezing, and the wind was miserable. But as I prepped for class in my drafty office, I steeped some ginger tea and settled in for a minute to remind myself how much I love a good poem. How hard poets work to make it all seem simple, how they express the feelings that have no other name and no real language. I think what I appreciate most about poetry is its ability to boil down a single second, a single moment in time, a single image. It distills it until all that is left is its very essence.

It’s a skill I wish I could do more of in my real life. Only seeing this moment for what it is.

Tomorrow is a holiday for Jude’s school district, so the kids are away from me tonight. It feels strange and wonderful – but mostly just strange – to have a quiet house with no demands on a weeknight. I’m usually running bath water at this hour to get both kids cleaned up. Or cleaning the dinner dishes while checking off a manic to-do list in my head. Or packing Jude’s lunch while waiting on the dryer to buzz with a fresh load of clothing that needs prompt attention.

And tonight, I am here writing instead. Alone. Quiet.

I soaked in a steaming tub at 5:30pm and listened to music. I reheated our favorite soup that is leftover from Tuesday night. I poured a glass of wine and layered my favorite blanket on my lap to sit here and write a minute and see where it goes.

It’s so easy to look ahead at a list or a calendar or a monumental task that is waiting for me. And sometimes you have to look ahead to keep up. But to be here now, to see the immediate moment for what it is and nothing more – that is both a challenge and a comfort.

We were sharing favorite poems in class yesterday, and I read my favorite Mary Oliver – a poem that always reminds me what it means to pay attention.

 

“The Summer Day” 

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 

And really what more is there? To be idle and to pay attention. That’s where the golden light hides. Rumi says, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are 100 ways to kiss the ground.”

Even in the depth of winter, I’m kneeling and kissing. Poetry, homemade soup, music, silence. The beauty I love is what I do.

 

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