Possibility

I’ve sat down to write here a few times — or composed ideas in my head at least. I never seem to make it here to string things together into something cohesive. I am still here and doing a million things, but just not updating this blog or social media much these days.

This week has been our Fall Break — in a school system where we start on August 1st, this makes sense. I’ve been swimming, swimming, swimming for the past seven weeks, and I am finally coming back to the surface to catch my breath. We were holding steady at 94 degrees every afternoon here in Georgia until yesterday when suddenly fall arrived and brought us 75 and cloudy. I think maybe the very best feeling in the world is the feeling that change is coming.

Possibility is more energizing than the feeling that comes when you actually arrive somewhere.

The kids left last Friday afternoon to go to their dad’s, and they didn’t come home until Wednesday morning, so I had a glorious five days alone. I completed all the usual “vacation” tasks that teacher-moms do (like cleaning out closets and washing the car and catching up on grading) but I also got eight hours of sleep on those nights, and it felt like there was nothing but space around me and in front of me for that few days. I needed it badly. August came like a freight train, and did September even happen? I guess it did, but I can hardly remember. The new job is going well, and I’m so glad I made the switch, but it is also busy from my 5am alarm until 8pm when the kids go to bed. Not a moment left unattended in that time at all.

I was listening to the latest Rob Bell podcast last weekend, and he said something about “building a cathedral of time” and that phrase just stuck inside of me, fluttering around a bit and letting me hold onto it to claim that idea. Time is the most precious thing in my life right now, that thing that I can never quite get enough of somehow. It will not hold; I cannot keep it. But I think the thing I am getting far better at as I age is making use of the time that I do have and just letting go of all the rest. We can sink deep in only a few hours, if we try.

The second half of the week flew by, of course, as it always does when kids are in the house. They played with neighbors and built forts made of boxes and towels. And then yesterday we drove an hour northward to the mountains to go apple picking and followed that with a stop at our usual pumpkin patch.

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Autumn is such a welcome change in Georgia where summer drags on and on and the heat begins to feel like a wet blanket that will never leave. It’s hard to believe we are heading into the final stretch of 2019 already. This year has been big for me in ways that, in hindsight, seem pretty unbelievable. I saw a meme the other day that referred to this as the last 3 months of the decade, and it woke me up a bit to a perspective I did not see before. Where was I ten years ago? A whole different life. But I cannot even begin to count the ways that this one is more fulfilling or the gratitude that I have for the way my path has meandered to unforeseen places and is still moving with a force of its own. Next week will mark a decade of motherhood for me, and above everything else, I feel so thankful that these two have shaped me and that they are the center of my story.

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Autumn always feels like a rebirth. I cannot believe this year. A job change that signified a monumental shift for me, some travels just the three of us, an incredible writing workshop that has given me an ongoing community I feel lucky to have and destined to find, and (though I haven’t mentioned this yet here) a literary agent for this book that is trying to be born. These big things were made of the tiniest steps in the smallest moments. My progress toward this life I want has been so slow and steady that it’s easy to forget that I am moving somewhere. But then I take the rearview of the past decade and wow. How could I have ever imagined?

Building my cathedral of time one step at a time, and the life that called to me for so long is taking shape around me. I am not so sure that time heals all wounds. But what I know for sure is that time will eventually reveal to you what is yours when you listen to what calls for you and stay true to that voice. This is only the beginning, but already I am feeling it again — that possibility is sweeter than arrival when you are on the right path.

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There are 7 more days left in the school year, and my kids are on overdive. Something fun happens everyday – Field Day and end of the year countdowns and yearbooks and cupcakes.

Last weekend, I hosted 19 kids for Norah’s sixth birthday party, and somehow the house is still standing.  We had donuts instead of cake and invited kids over in pajamas for breakfast, sending them all home by noon. When two o’clock rolled around, my two were somehow ready to play again and headed out on foot in the neighborhood to see what was happening. 4pm found me in a rocking chair on my front porch where I could vaguely see and hear the lemonade stand to supervise but not have a heavy hand. Every now and then, I could hear Norah’s voice yell, “Come get your LEMA-LADE!” This is one of her last pronunciation errors to hang on, and I selfishly don’t want it to fade.

I have these moments where I cannot believe it is May already, almost half the year gone. Cannot believe that I have two elementary schoolers who dress themselves and have ideas and friendship dynamics of their own and see their own world as limitless and completely safe at the same time. This is a Golden Age for us, and I am not unaware of that. I am grateful for it daily. Time is the only constant and it is rolling faster than I’d like.

I was talking with a friend recently about the messes and the joys of summertime, and she explained her sentimentality with all things summer with her own son. I get it. When I look back at my own childhood, it is somehow always eternally summertime. Hours and days of no structure at all and playing in the woods with my cousins and my sister. Watermelon, popsicles, bright red tomatoes.

We have a nature trail that runs behind the homes in our neighborhood, and the kids love to walk it all the time. Jude and his gang have built a fort of sticks and limbs and an old tarp. When he described this to me over dinner one night a while ago, he told me it was “a proper fort, Mom, a real one.” I don’t ever use that word in that particular context —  proper. There are moments when you step outside the frame to see your kids evolving in their own worlds. He lead me over there a couple of weeks ago to show it to me, and he’s right. It’s a proper fort, complete with an entrance and stones to line its edge.

Two weekends ago, they invited friends over for Sunday morning pancakes, and we went walking along the trail after breakfast. We got to a clearing lined on one side with honeysuckles, and the smell took me right back to something like 1989 when I’d run along the path between my house and my grandparents. I stopped and showed them how to pluck and string a Honeysuckle to get a drop of nectar on your tongue. They were enthralled – all four of them – and stood along the edge of the vines for a long time, plucking and stringing for that tiny drop.

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My kids have a childhood so very different from my own in many ways. They have Kindles and know what a smartphone is and see a globe much smaller than what I saw. We are settled in the suburbs with a small green square of grass and only three of us in this house. But there are ways it echos my own childhood, too. Lemonade stands and long summer days and dirt under your fingernails when you finally come back inside after hours of play. Fort building and honeysuckle eating and other kids to explore with.

It feels good to stand here on the outside and watch them build a world of their own. And I can see from this angle how deeply colored the aisles of memory are, knowing one day they will walk past a patch of Honeysuckle and be taken right back to the place we are now. This is my middle and their beginning, and it is such a sweet spot when I look through that lens to see the rolling hands of time as something that both pushes us from place to place and sometimes dissolves into nothing. Some things are eternal.

summer story

I’m refusing to do that thing teachers do – that summer countdown that we have in the back of our minds that chases us throughout July and August.  It is June 9th around 6:10pm — that’s all that matters, not how much time has passed already or how much we have left. Just right now.

As I type this, the dog is snoring at my feet, and I hear the dryer tumbling with sleeping bags I just unpacked from the car. I spent some time with the kids at a state park a couple hours away, and now I’m home to loads of dirty laundry, sore legs, and a cooler to clean. But it was worth every bit of trouble.

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We arrived just after lunch and unpacked our things and then took off on one of the waterfall hiking trails. I was a little nervous about Norah’s tiny legs handling the rocks and stairs required, but she did so well. It’s funny how something you don’t foresee as a problem brings a meltdown when you least expect it, and every now and then, they can surprise you equally on the other side of things and completely exceed your expectations. Parenting is so unpredictable. I’m learning that more and more as the years roll by. You just jump and hope for the best.

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We spent hours in the woods exploring Cloudland Canyon, making our way over wooden bridges and around rocks piled high and lush green everywhere. The breeze from the water plus the shade made it such a welcome break from the Georgia heat. When we made it to the end of the trail, we decided to stay a while. The kids claimed rocks as their own to sit on while we watched and listened to the falls, and they collected moss and snails in little bug jars before letting them go again on the way back.
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At one point, Jude said, “Mama, this feels like a movie.” It made me laugh, but I knew exactly what he meant. That way that nature can catch you off guard for a minute with just the perfect slant of sunlight or a breeze at the right moment. It makes you want to pinch yourself in that surreal beauty.

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We made our way back to the campsite to roast hot dogs and s’mores and wait on the sun to set. I reserved a yurt, and it was pretty magical for them, I think. Our own little space to hunker down for the night with a few games and toys they brought along. There was a playground in the middle of the campground, and I could see it from where I stood when cleaning up after dinner, so I told them they could go play. There were other kids there from Florida, passing through for a night or two. I could hear them making little introductions and sharing details about their day.  Crickets were loud, and the big full moon was rising, and it was such a simple moment of perfection for me. Here we are – the three of us. These two little humans with their own personalities and their own memories forming.

You can’t always predict what will stick on the surface of their own nostalgia years from now, and who knows if this week’s little adventure will stick for them, but I know it will for me. Sometimes what it takes to find the magic is to strip everything else away, and we did that this week in a way that delivered beyond what I expected.

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We slept to the sounds of the forest and woke up when the sunlight came through to meet us. It was 60 degrees or so this morning – which feels like a vacation from southern heat, even when it only lasts an hour or two. I’d packed some strawberry muffins I’d made earlier this week, and we ate them bundled up on the porch with a little iced coffee I’d packed for me.

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Once we got moving, Jude was begging to explore an attraction or two in nearby Chattanooga, so we spent a little time there before coming home. Sometimes the very best seconds of a summer are the ones you didn’t plan that carefully.

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I ran across a post on Instagram the other day that said something like every summer tells a story, and I reflected a minute to let that sink in and realize it was true. Most of us can look back on childhood or adolescence or college years and define time by certain summers and what they held for us.

Two summers ago, I was flailing through this new life alone and hardly coming up for air in all the itchy discomfort. Last summer was spent with my grandmother, and I have so much gratitude it all happened when I was away from work and could be there, but it swallowed up everything in those months, and I will always look at summer of 2016 as a time defined by her. So now here I am — just here, with these two and the life we know. It took me a long time to get here, and it is not a final destination, but it just feels like such a welcome oasis. It doesn’t take much at all to make it magical these days. I’ve made it through a storm that lasted long enough that I don’t ever think I’ll take for granted times of shelter like this.

The full moon rose to meet us last night as we put out the campfire and went in for bed – another serendipitous event I didn’t expect or plan at all. In old Farmer’s Almanacs, the June full moon is called the strawberry moon, a marker for all the sweet ripening fruit that’s there for the picking this time of year. I couldn’t help but see the connection in my own timing as I laid down alongside Norah last night, her little head on my shoulder and our tired bodies resting after a long day.  This life, this season, feels good and strong and real and true and like nothing else but its own self.  I’ve waited a long time for what is simple and ripe and sweet.  It feels so good just to be here.

rise up rooted

It’s easy to forget the way life used to be as we sit in the comfort of 2016’s America. I was talking with someone the other day about the McMansion trend happening in the suburbs. The vaulted ceilings, enormous shiny kitchens, three fireplaces in one home – all of which are rarely used and operated by a light switch. Look back even one generation ago, and these traits would have been rare and now they seem commonplace or stale.

My grandmother grew up in a tiny house with her four siblings. Two bedrooms and a kitchen whose walls you can almost touch with both arms if you stretch far enough. Her mother lived there until she died at the age of 92, and the house is still standing. It’s adjacent to my grandparents’ home, and I noted when I wrote her obituary that she was born and died on the same family span of property – a story that almost never happens anymore.

In the front of that tiny house, stood an old tree that shaded the yard and stands central to my childhood memories of family gatherings and Sunday lunches. Shade in the thick Georgia heat as we’d gather with long tables strung together, one right after the other, and food all the way to the end. Homemade ice cream and cousins and games of tag. Afternoons when we’d begin spread all over the yard and slowly move folding chairs to the shady spot as the sun spread a little higher and hotter overhead when the hours wore on.

A limb fell from the tree last week, and as it turns out, much of it was partially rotted, as trees often do with the passage of time.

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It was taken down on Thursday, and I drove by yesterday. It’s a weird sight to see that house without its tree out front. The whole landscape I know so well altered and feeling exposed, naked. Raw nerves left open when they haven’t closed yet anyway. Change after change after change. It’s only a tree, I know. Except that it’s not.

So many ancient cultures saw trees as more than wooden branches. They’ve been associated with prayer and spirit and protection for thousands of years. It’s easy to see why that is when you look at an old tree. Its wisdom seems to predate and outlast our own. We watch seasons change and colors come and go on the branches. And after every change and loss in the landscape of our real lives, they just seem to watch and listen patiently – a reminder of both what is temporary and what is eternal.

I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I was raised, the things I learned without knowing I was learning them, the truths I absorbed. You don’t really think about these things because they become so second nature to you. But as is always the case with death, my grandmother’s passing has me digging back through the loads of memories buried in my own mind and realizing the ways they taught me what I needed to learn.

Do people do this anymore? Do they raise families in tiny homes and see abundance around them instead of need? Do they know third cousins as well as they know siblings? Do they sit on porches and under shade trees for hours on a Sunday afternoon and talk about things other than work or money or pop culture? I think the answer is mostly no, and that makes me sad but also grateful I’ve led the life I have.

I woke this morning to my daily Richard Rohr Meditation in my email inbox, and his subject line read “Rise Up Rooted Like Trees.” Yes, God, I heard you. I’m listening, I’m listening.

Rohr happens to include Rilke, who has guided me so much lately and tells us, “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused. … This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.” The Earth’s intelligence tells us that things rise and fall, live and die. It tells us that we can’t control what is before us, even with vaulted ceilings or three fireplaces. We forget this though. It is a daily struggle for me, in our modern world, to know that you don’t have to be happy all the time, that sorrow and grief have a place in our lives, that our inner landscape is far more important than our outer achievements.

Rohr expands on Rilke a bit by explaining that in nature, “Nothing stays in the same shape or form for long. Plants and animals seem to accept this dying. All of the natural world seems to accept the change of seasons. Nature fights for life but does not resist dying. It learns gravity’s fall, as it were. Only one species resists this natural movement: humans—you and me. … We are free to cling to our own egoic resources, to climb instead of to descend. But we must fall if we are ever to fly.”

You have to descend before you can ascend, don’t you? Reach deeper inward before you can expand outward. Walk through sorrow with honesty before you can feel real joy. You can only rise when you are rooted.

I’m grateful for the memories I have of lazy summers spent under the shade of that tree, the shelter it gave us for the conversations that shaped my life and who I’ve become. And I’m grateful for it still, as it fell and was hauled away in pieces. It’s teaching me the most important lesson in its absence. Let go, let go, let go. Life makes us shed our skin again and again. It hurts to become something new.

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beauty chaser

Our weekend was busy with celebration. My younger brother got married at a north Georgia winery, and as Norah and I drove over on Friday afternoon after school, I was reminded of how much I love my home state, even in the sweltering heat of August.

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North Georgia is so beautiful, and I never tire of it. Rolling hills as far as you can see and pines everywhere. I feel lucky to live where I do and have a web of family spread across a landscape that I love so much. I know the south has its quirks and limitations, but it is home like no other place on earth for me. Beauty everywhere.
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The rehearsal dinner was at a historic restaurant in a tiny town and featured fried chicken and mashed potatoes and squash casserole. The next day was full and busy with wedding prep. Both kids were part of the ceremony, and it’s sweet to see them dressed up and feeling special for occasions like this. As usual, Norah was ecstatic and energetic about her role in front of a crowd, and Jude was more reserved.

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There was a time in my life when I went to a wedding every month, I think. But it’s been a while, and as I reach my mid-thirties, these are fewer and farther between. I forget about all the preparation and excitement and jitters and tiny details. It was fun to be reminded of what it feels like to plan for such a special day.
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The kids didn’t have a clue, of course, about the tiny choices like flowers and music and bridesmaids dresses and the million worries that go into planning an occasion like this. But they did feed on the excitement which was fun to watch.

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I couldn’t get enough of my tiny groomsman. Little girls love to dress up any chance they get, so it’s no shock to see Norah running around the house in a dress for no reason at all lately. But to see Jude in a suit with a boutonniere pinned on? Slay me.
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After the ceremony, the crowd moved to the tasting area of the winery to eat and drink and talk as we watched the sun go down over the mountains. Norah danced and twirled with her cousins and stayed up way past her bedtime.

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The bride lost her grandmother just a few weeks ago, soon after my grandmother passed. There was a moment of silence for the two of them at the beginning of the ceremony, and the absence was tangible. We felt it. It is still so incredibly fresh and, in a weird way, it is actually becoming more painful these past couple of weeks. Like a wound that gets worse before it gets better. The surreal feelings wear off along with the high of the funeral and the million visitors and condolences. And then you are left with the reality that the person you loved just isn’t there anymore. It’s the weirdest thing, isn’t it? That this is how life works. That we lose people we can’t imagine living without and life just keeps happening anyway.

I’ve been revisiting Rilke a bit again lately, and in one poem, he explains “God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks us silently out of the night …Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” It’s such a comfort to know that no feeling is final, to know that everything passes eventually.

This last two years of my life have felt like beauty and terror again and again, sometimes in the same moment. I’ve become a beauty chaser, I think. Look for it, find it, squeeze it for what it’s worth. Squeeze out every last drop you can get. It’s there in the tiniest spaces when we are open to it.

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It felt good to celebrate that this weekend. I know that beauty lies all around us all the time, but on some days, it’s easier to see than on other days.

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You just have to wait out the rest of it sometimes, don’t you? I think it’s also Rilke who says, “Don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.”

Life never forgets us, and I know this. You just have to trust and wait and let it go on and on and on to whatever comes next.

 

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like a gift

My friends and I have had this weekend on the calendar for a while as a chance to catch up and do something fun. In the past few days, we decided maybe a North Georgia winery would be a treat, and we made plans for a tasting followed by dinner followed by staying the night at my house.

I wish I could somehow reach back to that person who was so itchy and uncomfortable in a house by herself. That person who was so scared and intimidated at a new life alone and trying to fit in new boxes. There’s this thing no one tells you about single motherhood after a divorce which is that it absolutely sucks sometimes and you think you might not make it out alive, but then once you get past the transition, your solitude will feel like a gift. You wake up. You suddenly have time again to do anything you want – to catch up with friends, to try something new, to dream and plan for what’s next, to invest in yourself. When you sink your heels in instead of trying to fly as fast as you can to the next chapter, you see it’s actually such an incredible place to be.

I woke up yesterday to the usual sound of the dog whining to go out. I let him out, brewed coffee, and took it back to bed with me. I read a little (a book that is not typical for me but I loved it) and drank a second cup of coffee in the bed, cuddled under my covers and surrounded by the quiet of a house that is clean, for once. I traded funny texts with a friend for a while and eventually got out of bed to do a little yoga and get in the shower.

When friends showed up in the afternoon, we piled in the car for a drive to the mountains just north of where I live and indulged in a wine and chocolate tasting at a small winery.

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After we finished, we sat outside for a while with breezes that were more generous than the usual July heat and then eventually headed into the small town nearby for dinner and hours of conversation. We laughed a lot. We walked around in the blue summer dusk after dinner and then piled in the car to head back to my house.

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This morning, I made waffles with sliced strawberries and we talked about big and small things until well past noon before realizing what time it was. After they left, I headed to my neighborhood pool to sit alone in silence, swim a bit, and finish my book. This afternoon brought a few house tasks and a quiet dinner alone and now some time to write so that I don’t forget all these tiny pleasures.

I wanted to round out my summer by reading a book about goal setting and “manifestation” which is a term that understandably makes people roll their eyes. It’s not as easy as claiming you want something and having it delivered on your doorstep. But when I dusted off the journal I used at the Jen Pastiloff Atlanta workshop last year, I see this list of things that felt so incredibly far away for me that have become my daily reality now: writing for an audience of connected readers, deepening my friendships, feeling comfortable and authentic as a mom on my own with my two, a sense of home and community for us, comfort in my solitude.

These are things I lusted after a year ago as such far away goals, but when I look at my life as it is now, every one of these things is my daily reality. Every one.

I’m not done yet. I have more to do. I’m ready for the next chapter, and I think it’s going to be a big one. I wrote a list today in that same notebook, and I trust that these things are coming for me. Moving in the direction of joy is the answer, I think. When you feel that stir of curiosity, that voice that says yes this is it, you have to do it. There’s that famous Rumi passage that claims, “What you seek is seeking you,” and you can feel it push, push, pushing when you follow your own calling. It’s incredible to see the way your heart finds its purpose, bit by bit.

There are so many things I will never be because that is not who I am, and the older I get, the less afflicted I am by the list of things I am not and the more interested I become in the list of things I am. There are so many dreams I’m fulfilling that only unfolded after a long, meandering path that no human could ever have orchestrated. If I made a list of all the seemingly random occurrences that led to my life unfolding in the way it has, I would never stop writing. One tiny thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. And eventually you arrive at a destination that feels like home. I had no idea this season would feel like such a gift.

 

soundtrack

I saw the Indigo Girls last night at the botanical gardens close to home. The amphitheater was fairly small, and listeners brought blankets and chairs to set up in the grass. It was warm, even after the Georgia July sun went down. The moon was bright, and the stars were out.

It was the seventh time I’ve seen them live. And as they began with a song that instantly took me back to 2004, I was telling my friend how crazy it is that it only takes a few opening chords on some of their songs to take me back to very specific moments in my life. “Galileo” and I’m in the back seat of a high school friend’s car while we sing with the windows down and eat Cherry Garcia ice cream we bought at a gas station on the way home from their concert the very first time I saw them. “Fill It Up Again” has me in my little grad school apartment writing papers I feared weren’t good enough and reading all day long on a Sunday afternoon. “Second Time Around” brings memories of a wiggly two-year-old and a big belly with another on the way and the quiet loneliness of a big house in the woods and a husband who was never home. It’s funny how music can do that, right? One chord or one line can take you right back and bring it all up again.

Their music has influenced me like no other, and it’s truly the soundtrack of the past 19 years of my life. They have one liners that work like mantras for me. We are better off for all the we let in.– Truth of the matter comes around one day. It’s alright. — The hardest to learn was the least complicated. — That’s the thing about compromise. Don’t do it if it hurts inside.  The list goes on and on. It swells within me in that place where good art resonates, and their words have woven their way into my own inner landscape and my life story.

As I listened last night, I was struck so much by the ways my life has changed. The long list of things I’ve had to let go. The ways I am still changing. But it feels so good sometimes to exhale and lean back in the arms of something constant.

In her Dear Sugar column, Cheryl Strayed claims, “Eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself at the age of twenty will, over time, prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true you will look back in twenty years and howl.” I have changed in immeasurable ways, but as I look back at my life in the grand rearview, I see that really all I am doing is returning. Those things I knew in my core to be true, they are still true. There are a million other things I believed that I now understand are false, but my core?  It’s the same. I’m just coming home.

Music feels like prophecy sometimes. They sang “Love’s Recovery” last night, a song I’ve sung along with too many times to count. I’ve always loved it, but last night she sang, “There I am in younger days, star gazing, painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be. Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection, my compass, faith in love’s perfection, I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen … Though it’s storming out I feel safe within the arms of love’s discovery.” And I heard the story of my recent life in exact proportions. It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? It’s that strange sense of deja vu that I’ve written about before. Those moments when I feel in my deepest places that I somehow both knew and did not know what would manifest in my life.

I came home alone to my quiet house and climbed in the empty bed with my dog snoring at my feet. I fell asleep to that familiar noise of crickets so loud that you can hear them through the window panes. Summer in the deep south is sweltering and miserable for some; it’s comfort to me.

I’m grateful for love’s recovery and the new discoveries. And the re-discoveries most of all. It feels good to be home.