gratitude, Life and Randomness

we never know until we look back

How has half of June passed me by already? Summer days usually trail along a little slower than the rest of the year, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. I want to bottle it up and slow it down.

Last week was full of swimming lessons and sweaty outside play and sleepovers and late night movies and the first few red tomatoes from our patio. Then the kids left for Father’s Day weekend and the week ahead, and I am home with a long to-do list and suitcases to pack for our upcoming beach week. I’ve been reading Ron Rash’s Burning Bright which is painful and beautiful. He has an amazing talent for writing stories of struggle in ways that are honest and true.

I also ran across this photo piece and accompanying essay published in the NY Times for Father’s Day. The writer lost his father at 4, and I lost mine at 5, and so much of the details in this piece may differ from my experience, but the core of it runs parallel for me. He explains that “My friends’ fathers were present but seemed ordinary in comparison. Mine was absent but felt mythic.” That word, mythic, is one I haven’t placed on my own experience, but it is well chosen. I can remember once, years ago, a man I worked with was asking me about losing my father, and when he learned I was so young, he said something like “Oh, so it’s more like a void for you then?” I remember I responded with a pause and then “yeah, I guess, but I don’t know. Void doesn’t seem like the right way to say it.” But now that I have found mythic, that is it.

All those tiny, ordinary details become larger than life somehow. That he grew up on the beach and would happily swim much farther from shore than most sane people would. That he was a musician. That he had more culinary drive and talent than anyone else. That I ended up with a tattered copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam that belonged to him. That he gave me my middle name minutes after birth because I just look like a Katie Mae, he claimed. These little details would likely be inconsequential if he were still here next to me as I write this. But now they stand like mythic guideposts that sketch a frame of who he was.

We all do this with people when they die. They grow somehow to stand at more mythic heights. But I think we do this with certain periods of our lives as well. Hindsight filters our view. Memory is a curious thing.

I heard a RobCast episode recently where he was elaborating on that Old Testament moment in Exodus where God tells Moses you will never see my face; you will only see me as I go. The harsh reading of that almost sounds like God is taunting Moses, but Rob Bell’s discussion gave me a different perspective. It is only ever in the rear view mirror that we see the full beauty of everything.  We can try to feel it as it comes, and there is something to be said for presence and being conscious in the moment. But there really are just some things that cannot be fully revealed until later — as Cheryl Strayed says in that beautiful essay I love so much, “It’s almost never until later that we can draw a line between this and that.” It’s one of the most frustrating and the most incredible things about life, I think.

Bell says, “If it all came to you at once, it would fry your circuits. You’d be a wreck, a puddle on the floor. So the nature of a spiritual experience is that you want all the answers and you want it to be clear … the sense of where this is going or what to do next, you don’t want that. But what is the other option? That suddenly you have arrived? That would sear you to the bone. The way it works is that you are given the next thing that you can bear. You are shown enough to open you up … It’s a profound truth about the nature of spiritual experience. The way that it works is not big dramatic moments on top of a mountain… even that is just a glimpse … the day by day revealing.”

These might seem like two entirely separate things – the mythic portrait I carry of my father and the slow frame-by-frame revealing of the life I firmly stand in now, but in ways, I think they are the same thing. In both cases, it is only ever in the end that we see the whole mural, all of the colors and all of the lines and how each piece connected to another to build something beautiful. Parents do this when they look back at days when their grown children were younger. Long-term couples do this when they look back at their early days together and the little moments and stories that led to love. Eventually we see it in all of its beauty, but maybe right now one little glimpse at a time is enough.

I don’t know what this summer will be for me when I have the distance to see it for what it really is. Maybe it is when I am weaving my story on the page one line at a time or maybe it is when I am creating something else that it’s finally time for. Or maybe it is simply rest and sinking my heels in a little deeper and making slow progress on all of the tiny pieces of a life well lived that is uniquely mine. We never know until we get there, and for once in my life, I’m okay right here as I rest in the unknowing.

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Georgia Love, gratitude, kids

from this angle

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.

Georgia Love, gratitude, summer

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.

Georgia Love, gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood

looking forward, looking back

We’ve been busy this week. It’s Thursday somehow – though I feel like the week just started.  Life is happening so fast, it seems.  In light of many changes for me this year, it is especially unsettling if I think about it too much.  If I close my eyes for a minute and think back to being 29 years old as a stay-at-home-mom with a toddler and a house (two houses ago now) and a husband and what I assumed to be a predictable life plan stretched out in front of me, it makes me dizzy to even think about the speed at which life has changed for me.  It catches me off guard sometimes, to look around at what I’m encountering every day and know this is my life. Right now. It’s happening now.

Norah is going to a little “ballet camp” this week at my hometown dance studio.  It’s a 30 minute drive to get her there, and it’s not a practical solution for a busy school year schedule if she chooses to dance in the future, but for a summer camp, it’s worth the extra trouble to see her learn from my old instructor and interact in that same environment where I spent years growing.  I was helping her get ready in a tiny pink leotard and twisting her wispy hair into a bun on Monday morning when I realized that this is it. Life is happening – not at all the way I planned it, but that almost doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s still my life, my one shot.  And it’s happening now.  The day I found out I was having a girl, about a dozen moments filled my head, and this was one of them.

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Who knows what the future holds and if she will choose to dance long term as I did, but it was one of those out-of-body moments I’ve discussed before when it makes you catch your breath a bit.  This is real. This is life.  I’m gong to remember this.  Happiness catches you off guard when you aren’t looking. How am I thirty-four years old and dressing a tiny ballerina for her first lessons?  I don’t know.  Where the past decade of my life has gone is a mystery to me. So fast.

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I’ve thought a little this week about nostalgia and that lens we tend to use when we examine the past.  I can’t believe it was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this post.  Looking back now, I remember that night and all its details (only because I wrote them down here), and it feels like a thousand lifetimes ago.  I feel so much older and a little wiser but mostly just weathered and broken in.

I can’t help but wonder what lens I will see this summer through – as I look back years from now.  I know what stings now might not be most memorable in the future. The scrounging food from the freezer to make cheap meals as I’m still paying off attorney bills.  The cluttered garage and late-night painting projects. The almost audible, heavy silence I can hear when kids are gone and I’m still not quite used to it. The itchy newness of all of it.  I’m wondering if I will look back and see those details, or maybe only remember the sweetness of a new chapter and the exciting newness of being alone and the thrill of possibility.

I don’t know what I will see as I look back, but I do know this is pivotal.  This is meaningful.  This is life happening as quick as it ever has, and it feels long now as I look ahead and can’t imagine my way forward and what that reality will look like.  But I think in the grand scheme of things, so to speak, this is a moment in time, only a little one.  And though it is really, really hard not to wish this time away, I am trying to feel it all.  To see it all.

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As Norah was at ballet today, Jude and I spent some time at a local spot we’ve grown to love.  It was fun to play with only him for a while. One of those moments when you look at them and they seem all grown and fearless; it’s amazing really.  I’ve blinked and we are here.  There is only one summer I will ever have when they are 3 and 5, and I am in this moment in my own life.  I don’t want to miss it.  Today is all I have right now.  Every day is new, and I don’t know how long this period will last for me.  Something tells me, like every other season of my life, the things I will miss the very most are the things I don’t even notice or cherish right now.

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UntitledI’m exploring and observing new terrain everyday.  I have no idea where it will lead, but it has to be somewhere good, right?  (I’m asking mostly for reassurance as I look at unfamiliar waters.)   I bought my mom Glennon Melton’s book for Mother’s Day, and I was flipping through it before I wrapped it up.  There’s a chapter when she describes her sister’s divorce and the transition period before her sister moved on, and she explains, “Now we know that in order for love to be real and true and good, you need to have had your heart shattered.  We know now that a broken heart is not the end of the world, but a beginning.”  I’m not always sure where I am on that timeline, and maybe it’s a fluid thing.  But I think I’m moving a bit from shattered pieces to new starts, and I will look back at this summer as the beginning.

gratitude

nostlagia

I’ve been listening a lot lately to the Frederico Aubele station on Pandora.  When I’m in the car alone, or cleaning the kitchen during the nap time scrub-down, or on the elliptical at the gym.  I don’t understand a word of what it says, but it is soothing and inspiring in just the right ways.

 

I sent a text to my friend to tell her about this latest obsession, and I explained that it led me to feel like I was in Vicki Cristina Barcelona which we were obsessed with about 5 years ago when it first came out.  I still love it really, just without the newness of when you first discover something.  Anyway, she immediately responded that the particular film would always remind her of our little group of (at the time) work colleagues  and our many moments and conversations at a particular happy hour spot.  On the whole, I love my life now – of course.  But sometimes you just get a whiff, so to speak, or a particular memory trigger that throws you right into the depths of nostalgia so hard it grips your stomach. A song, a scene in a film, a certain restaurant or smell.  It can be the smallest detail, but it’s a domino that has you suddenly longing for a certain time in an almost tangible way.

 

Certain periods and moments are so pivotal that you expect to recollect them years later – graduation ceremonies, big vacations, your wedding, the birth of a baby.  But what continues to surprise me are the moments that seemed so mundane at the time, but you still long for them later.  I mean this particular time that we were talking about with the discovery of my new Pandora station doesn’t seem like something I’d ever necessarily long for again – 26 years old and working my butt off on grading and lesson plans, married and living in the suburbs, enduring the annoyance of 32 ninth graders everyday.  And I wouldn’t want to repeat that again for longer than a few hours, but somehow the message shines through.  That time is over, gone.  It will never be again.

 

It’s such a reminder to wring dry the everyday moments I have now as well.  The mundane of today will feel so special in a few years when those days are over and not to return again.  Today is the summer solstice.  The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  June 21, 2014 will never happen again.  We had zucchini noodles and shrimp for dinner.  The kids played happily with a puzzle while I sipped a margarita and stirred at the stove.  They splashed at bath time.  It remained light outside well past 9:00, and now I am covered in a fuzzy blanket on my couch, writing and thinking and looking forward to sleep.  I am 33.  This won’t happen again.

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Through all the mundane – the poured coffee, the laundry piles, the tiny toys and clothes scattered everywhere – I’m trying to remember that the extraordinary is never felt in the moment itself, but nostalgia tugs so strongly later.

 

There’s a Linda Pastan poem I hold on to and re-read from time to time that relates to this.  If only we can recognize the happy as it happens and not years later.

 

The Happiest Day – By: Linda Pastan (from Heroes in Disguise)

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.