Spending the Day with Wonder

Wonder is my grandson. He is a running, talking, eating, sniffing, grabbing, singing, lunging, throwing, two-legged, two-handed, two-year-old with a seemingly boundless supply of both energy and curiosity coupled with a an imaginative and fearless questioning of everything.  I mean everything.

Spending the day with Wonder is an education in how to live. Everyone is his friend. He doesn’t know how the curly-headed little girl at the playground voted and he doesn’t care. He can create a rousing game of PJ Masks with almost everyone, and they are all on the same team–interconnecting to “save the day.” He delights in a Charms Blow Pop for lunch and left-over pumpkin pie for breakfast, but he also gobbles eggs, butter-topped bagels, and barbecued pork with equal vigor.

He notices everything, that one.

So yesterday morning, I noticed everything Wonder-style.

We sat on the sidewalk and traced orange stripes marking power lines. We slapped the corresponding orange and yellow flags on their spindly wire posts.

We threw sticks in the creek behind Pat’s house and kicked hundreds of leaves up into the air.

We ran. And ran. And ran. You see Wonder taught me yesterday that it doesn’t matter how dorky you look if you run, running feels good.

We pulled a thick dead branch from underneath the leaves and stood it up well over our heads and let it topple over the side of the creek.

We held hands. Wonder’s hands are small and warm.

We tossed squirrel-halved walnut shells into rippling water.

We sang silly made-up songs because that is a specialty of mine.

We talked about white cars and blue cars and Cat Boy (Wonder is a huge fan) and Po’s 1990s era red Ford Ranger and Christmas and the way leaves sound when you crunch them into the ground.

We noticed Cardinals and Robins and Dark-eyed Juncos and Sparrows, and did I mention the leaves–they were everywhere beneath our feet and in our hands and still floating down from the trees or hanging onto stark limbs waiting for a big wind.

We found a very old stone deer in a pile of leaves, and before I knew it, Wonder took a ride! Continue reading

Elizabeth Barrett Browning–On Love

51 years ago today, my parents were married. 25 years ago today, my oldest daughter, Isky was born. Two days ago, my husband’s mother, Grace, died after a long illness. I’ve been thinking about how the ways these three life events come together–how we can celebrate the whole of a lifetime by honoring the weave of love.

Here is a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that calls to that love.

Sonnet 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.





Briefly it enters . . . Jane Kenyon

It’s Friday. Much cooler today than it was yesterday. I’m inside, but my feet are cool in my flip-flop slippers. Does anyone use the word thongs anymore for flip-flops? I first typed “my feet are cool in my thongs” and realized that folks would wonder why my feet were slipped into my underpants. Does anyone ever say underpants? Is a thong considered underpants?

Even if the above questions are appropriate for a woman my age–born after the underwear/thong revolution, I’m getting off track here. Another time, perhaps.

***

With Easter only a few days in the past, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and church and religion and spirituality. There is so much I do not like about organized religion/Catholicism, and yet in church on Sunday morning all the perceived separation I feel on a regular basis (perhaps more regular after the November election) slipped away. It dissolved in the choir’s one-voice. I don’t always feel that way in church. Sometimes I feel it when I’m out walking–suddenly I am the birds singing, or the tree budding out, or the dandelions growing up between the sidewalk cracks.

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks, a poem by the late Jane Kenyon reminds me that the heart of love is this very oneness. I am sharing a couple of lines here, and  hope you will follow this link to read the rest of the poem:

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….
**

Beauty Begets Hope: Missing Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I have not survived against all odds.

I have not lived to tell.

I have not witnessed the extraordinary.

This is my story.

And thus begins the cool-as-hell encyclopedic memoir of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a book that changed the way I think about writing and living. The book is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and it was published to acclaim in 2005. The copy I hold at this moment is not the first copy I’ve held in my hot little hands, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Since the day I opened the pages to this book, I’ve been shoving my own copy into others’ hands–“You have to read Amy Krouse Rosenthal,” I say. “She is one of my favorite authors.”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died March 13, 2017.

That Monday morning, I woke with a feeling of space between my heart and my gut–an uncomfortable space, a feeling of emptiness and dread. I’m anxious by nature, so I’m not new to this feeling of floating doom, but often I can point my finger at some insistent and persistent doubt or worry bubbling just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

And no, I’m not claiming to have powers of clairvoyance although I believe there is something of a mystic in all of us, but when I heard the news, I knew that emptiness was a direct and physical reaction to Amy Krouse Rosenthal leaving this world.

If you are a reader of my blog, you know that I am a fan. If I lived in the Chicago area, it is likely that I would have been a stalker sort of fan, haunting Amy’s favorite book stores, hanging out at The Bean hoping for a glimpse of the coolest writer ever. As it is, living in the southern portion of the state, I only made it to see Amy once, and it was one of the best days of my life because even though Amy was sick, she was full of life.

On her website, Amy describes herself as someone who likes to make things. In her life, she made 30 books, numerous short films, a couple of TEDx talks, three people she loved a lot, and beauty.

We weren’t friends although I did have the great pleasure of meeting her on August 8 in Chicago. Amy, who was sick with ovarian cancer at the time, held a book-coming-out party for her delightful new memoir-of-sorts, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

I’ve said it a million times, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life changed my life. I didn’t like it at first, but then to my surprise and delight, I loved it, I was enchanted, delighted, curious, I wanted to know how she created this outstanding record. It’s beautifully constructed, and the structure is inspired. I have read it over and over because it reminds me  that cynicism is overrated. It reminds me to be genuine and earnest and honest. I thought I might never love a book this way again.

And then Amy got me again with Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy with a group of giddy early readers of the book. I read it on the beach with sand on my hands. I didn’t expect to like the texting component as I don’t love texting to begin with, but it grew on me immediately. My phone was sandy and sticky because I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to hear the wine glass sing, to put a message in that bottle, to hear Ted Koch read his poem.

Amy’s memoirs aren’t like other memoirs. They are like walks through her brain on any one day. We get to know her through her thoughts. These memoirs are brain maps.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to write this blog post since the moment I learned of Amy’s death. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be worthy. I want it to be enough, but if I learned anything from reading Amy’s books and listening to her TEDtalks, from watching The Beckoning of Lovely over and over it is this–“Make the most of your time here” NOW, “Make do with what you have” NOW, “Beckon Lovely” NOW because NOW is more than enough. NOW is the right time to live, love, post on your blog, kiss your kids, eat another piece of blueberry cobbler, take a walk, sing with the Dixie Chicks,  watch that big bellied robin in the back yard.

So here I sit with my grief and my gratitude for Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I write.

A couple of months before Amy died, she went on a train to think, and she asked folks for things to think about. I was feeling pissed and depressed and anxious about the election results, and I wrote to her:

I have been thinking a lot about the place of beauty in the world. I’m wondering if it’s still important to put flowers in vases or set the table nicely or make art. And I’m a writer, so this is a big question. But sometimes I wonder—do we have time for all this stuff when things could get so bad?

I was a teeny bit self-pitying at that point, but Amy went on that train, and she wrote back.

Martin Luther King advised “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” Even in this time of doubtless disappointment, when I witness something beautiful—a tree, a string quartet, the face of a loved one—what I feel is hope.

She wrote a lot more than what I share above, but I want to focus on that hope. Beauty begets hope.

It’s not too much for me to remember. Beauty begets hope.

A couple of nights ago, a friend and I made the most of our time here now and we got tattoos. Beauty begets hope.

A yellow umbrella for Amy and a reminder that I’m enough, what I offer the world is more than enough.

It’s a lesson I may have to learn now that it’s tattooed on my arm.IMG_2479

 

As usual, I want to give you a pair of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books, so if you leave a comment, or send me a message, I will enter you into a drawing.

 

 

The LOVE Is Already There

Last Monday, around 11:30PM, I received a private message from an old high school friend. She wanted to share with me the FB post of another classmate and friend of ours–a post that poked fun at folks like me who are using FB to stay informed and to connect with like-minded people looking for constructive and loving ways to protest the policies of the new administration. It was a clever, for sure, but snarky too.

I might not have answered if I weren’t determined to stay awake. You see, my 17-year-old daughter, Peanut, has Type 1 Diabetes. Lately her blood sugar has been dropping during the night. When this happens, I read or watch TV until her blood sugar numbers are in the safe zone. I have a nifty little app on my phone that alerts me to Peanut’s low blood sugars, and I had just returned to bed after watching my daughter drink a half a Gatorade, when my old high school buddy popped in on Messenger.

I was fatigued, and I had to stay up, and my heart began to race. I responded (not unkindly at first although eventually I did get pissy) and this unleashed in my old friend a bundle of ugliness.

I’ve been pondering this post for over a week now. In the meantime, I turned 50 and was the recipient of many lovely birthday wishes, an Italian cream cake baked by my mother an outspoken Republican and baker extraordinaire, and three champagne toasts. I attended a visitation for an old friend’s father and was sung Happy Birthday to by the lovely ladies cooking the funeral dinner.

I finished a book called Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hoschild in order to try to understand the whole “Make America Great Again” business. I remain baffled (but this might be mere stubbornness) although Hoschild’s book was both an illuminating and tender examination of the tremendous gulf between liberals and tea partiers and a call to action based on empathy.

I’ve had lunch with friends and lunch with daughters and lunch with mothers. I sat on the porch with my husband on an unseasonably warm day and we drank beers and willfully ignored the fact that it’s not supposed to be 65 in southern Illinois in February. I watched a bunch of 5th grade girls play basketball and grieved for those days when my own children played 5th grade basketball.

According to my Fitbit, I’ve logged 54 miles walking and pondering the conversation I had with that old friend. First I wanted to shine a light on her late-night rantings. I mean, who starts a mean-spirited political discussion with someone at 11:30 at night in a private message? I wrote (in my head) reams of scathing responses that were not empathic at all.

And then I waited. You see, she said one thing to me that evening that I want to focus on here. She wrote to me, in response to my latest blog post about love, “none of us, NONE are buying into your…’I love everything and everyone and every person.'”

She’s right.

That stings. Because I want to love big and expansively. I want to “love the hell out of them,” as Martin Luther King Jr. told his followers. I want to L O V E the way I believe we are intended to, and still I fall short.

I do NOT extend my love to donald trump or jeff sessions or betsy devos. I talk a good game about love because I really do believe in it. But let me tell you, there are days that I spend most of my time watching MSNBC and reading The Washington Post or The Guardian, and what I am filled with is definitely not LOVE. It’s a twisty, knotty, tangled derisive, divisive outrage. And there are days when it threatens to blow my head off (did you see how they silenced Elizabeth Warren as she read Coretta Scott King’s letter?).

So how can I in good conscious continue to write about LOVE?

In the days since my old friend took me to task for writing about love, I’ve listened to John Lewis’s interview on Krista Tippett’s On Being more than once. I printed the transcript from the interview, and I have scoured it for some formula that might help me love those I do not want to love–because that is part of the problem. I want to parcel love. NO sending love to those not worthy of such an elevated feeling.

John Lewis describes love as “a way of being” He contends that love is “a way of action. . . It has the capacity, it has the ability to bring peace out of conflict.” 

I can sort of wrap my mind around this. Love, not as an elevation of feeling, but as a “way of being” in this world. This is what I aspire to. It’s hard work. This sort of love demands presence. It demands that I open my arms to the world as it is, not as it should be or as I would like it to be. It demands that I look at the world as John Lewis does to believe that “the good is already there. The love is there.”

It’s just up to us to make it real.

 

**on another note, yes. I did turn 50. But the blog will remain The 49th Year. Keep reading and loving.