Books, grief, motherhood, summer

rhythm and echo

We are two days away from the end of the school year, and our pace has been non-stop. In a two-week period, I’ve dragged both kids to swim lessons, hosted a birthday party, and attended a pre-k graduation, an elementary school field day, a ballet rehearsal and recital, and a first grade awards day. I guess this is how May works when you have school-aged kids. It’s a lot.

The Georgia weather is heating up, but every now and then, we get a break with some cloudy skies and cool rain. I love where I live always but especially this time of year with so many things to see and do. We’ve been planting summer herbs and flowers this week, and we have a little patio tomato plant the kids check on every day. When dinner time rolls around, I have to work hard to convince them to come in. Late sunsets are driving our rhythm.

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The Dog Days will be here soon enough, but right now, warm sun feels like such a novelty. I am bone tired though. I think the adrenaline of this past month’s events has worn off a bit, and now I’m just exhausted. I have a lot of goals for my own self, but life lately revolves around these two in a way that doesn’t really leave space for my desires. It’s an eternal conflict for moms everywhere, and I’m not alone in this. But boy is it hard to make room for me sometimes.

I’m reading a pretty incredible little book right now called On Living, a hospice chaplain’s reflection on stories her patients have shared with her and her observations of what matters as people ready themselves to cross that bridge. It sounds sad as I’m describing it, but it’s not at all. It’s a reminder in the best and clearest way about what matters and what doesn’t.

The author reveals in an early chapter that she was surprised when she began that role to find that dying people almost always just talk about their families – more so than some big, lofty conversation about spirituality and the great beyond. She claims that people talk about their families at the end because “that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. […] This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.”

This week marks the first anniversary of my Grandmother’s stroke, and the first year of any tragedy is so hard. All those what I was doing last year and what I didn’t know then thoughts bounce around every day. And I’m expecting it to be this way a bit for the next month or so. It was a year ago that I wrote this post, and every word still rings true even though everything has changed.

It seems strange and confusing to be sitting on my patio today watching my two with sidewalk chalk and listening to their laughter with neighborhood friends – knowing that one year ago I was at the hospital and so sad and confused and disheartened. Life moves on, and especially as a mother, it fills up with all these tiny moments like watering patio tomatoes and setting the table and listening to explanations of sidewalk art and playground games. I guess what you eventually figure out is that the little stuff is actually the big stuff.  It grounds us and restores us and even defines us.

Last summer, I saw first hand the role of family as a way to talk about God and meaning and the way we create our lives. I saw how my Grandmother had created hers over decades of all these tiny tasks that probably seemed meaningless in the moment as she was doing them but echo so loudly now that she’s gone. I still hear it everyday.  I want the echo I leave one day to be just as deep and wide.

 

 

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gratitude, grief

broken open

Fall is over in a blink in Georgia, so I’m trying to take it all in. We are sleeping with the windows open, but I always wake in the middle of the night to feel a chill and then close the window pane and spread the extra blanket over the bed. I made our favorite soup last week, and I’m already craving it again. My school days are busy with the frantic pace of midterms and the grading pile that ebbs and flows, but I live for the afternoon light everyday. What is it about October light just before dinner that makes it so perfect? I wish I could bottle it up for January’s darkness.

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Saturday brought a soccer game followed by a visit to a local pumpkin farm. It’s a small family operation just down the road from where I grew up, and our families have known of each other for ages. On the way over, I texted my cousin that we were headed there, and she walked over from her house next door to the farm. It feels good to belong somewhere with a long history, but autumn makes you crave it even further. We all settle in a little more snugly, I think. In whatever ways we can.
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We ate popcorn and boiled peanuts, and I watched cousins get lost and found again in a corn maze. We took the hayride around the pond like we do every year and followed that with the long and important task of picking out the perfect pumpkin.

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My grandad came with us as he works pretty steadily lately to stay busy and occupied when he can. There is still a hollow spot in the space where she has always been, that lull in the conversation. It is so stark at their house especially, where Norah will wander upstairs when we’re there and say it’s because certain rooms “still smell like Grandmother.” And they do. The scent lingering everywhere – literally and metaphorically.

On the other hand, I’m also finding moments when it’s getting more comfortable in ways as well; her absence is a little more predictable and familiar now – which is always a scary moment in the grieving process. It almost seems like the person lingers and hovers for a while in a very real way. You can feel their touch and see their belongings and hear the voice and smell the scent. They are close for a while to gently ease us out of the solid presence we are so used to, and then they fade a bit so that the haze wears away from your vision, and you can handle what life is sending you next as you create space and possibility instead of loss. Everything she taught me is still here and even somehow distilled to a cleaner and more concentrated form. But her physical self isn’t hovering in the way it first was.

This is life. This is how it goes. Seasons change and leaves fall and people fade from our lives in that way they are made to do. Mary Oliver says, “to live in this world you must be able to do three things — to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” That is so much easier said than done. But here we are, four months after her passing, in the midst of a new season she has never seen. It looks both terrifyingly unfamiliar and newly beautiful all at once.

It’s also Mary Oliver who claims it is worthwhile “to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”

As I look back, heartbreak has broken me open again and again. It is never happiness and assurance and predictability that get you someplace new, is it? A decade spent in the classroom – first high school kids and eventually university students – gives me a special glimpse into that phase of life when you feel so sure about everything and everyone. When you assume that the path in front of you will unfold exactly like you see it in your mind’s eye. How funny that loss is what actually moves us on the path if you let it happen and feel it honestly.

Here I am in the thirty-fifth October of my life, and I’m seeing that you really are not capable of understanding that without a few decades on this earth. Life chisels away all the rough edges when we let it. It makes me look forward to the Octobers ahead as I will undoubtedly deepen and soften in ways I don’t yet understand.

Leaves fall and seasons change, and autumn is here to remind me again that nothing is permanent. It’s hard to wait on the hand of time to reveal the treasure to you, but it always does eventually.

Georgia Love, gratitude, grief

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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Georgia Love, Life and Randomness

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.

stephen wedding

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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Life and Randomness

what year seven looks like

Today is my wedding anniversary.  Seven years ago today I walked down the aisle, and this year we celebrated with an afternoon movie and dinner, a ritual that was commonplace a few years ago but is pretty rare these days.

He had steak.  I had spare ribs.  We splurged on a crabcake appetizer and not one shared but two individual desserts.  And coffee.

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Do you know how long it has been since we sat through a two-hour, child-free dinner? A long, long time. It was perfect.

It’s easy to feel a little “blah” sometimes about your current life. Not that you are unhappy, just that you are exhausted and comfortable and busy with a lot of the mundane things we do everyday. Food prep, laundry, clean, change diapers, nurse baby. Repeat. It’s easy to forget that lots of really special moments punctuate the everyday ones and that the everyday moments can be really special in their own way, too.

It’s been a good year for us. Year seven has been full of some great moments for my little growing family, for Scott and me.

Anniversary - year 7

It’s weird to wake up one day and see you’ve built a life together. It’s a very when did that happen? When did I grow up? kind of feeling.  I’m stepping out of the mundane for a moment today to recognize that gift and be grateful for it.  I’m lucky.