Everyone in the Wrong Places

On a table in the living room
there is a gray ceramic bowl that catches
the light each afternoon, contains it.
This is the room we turned into
the room of her dying, the hospital bed
in the center, the medical equipment
against the walls like personnel.
In Maine, once, I rented a house hundreds
of years old. One room had been
the birthing room, I was told, and I sat
in that room writing towards the bright
new world I am always trying
to write into. And while I could stop
there, with those two recognitions
of endings and beginnings, I’m thinking

of yesterday’s afternoon of errands.
My father and mother were in the backseat,
my sister in the passenger seat,
and I driving. It was like decades ago
but everyone in the wrong places,
as though time was simply about
different arrangements of proximity.
Sometimes someone is in front of you.
Or they are beside. At other times
they are behind you, or just elsewhere,
inconsolably, as though time was
about how well or badly you attended
to the bodies around you. First, we went
to the bakery. Then the hardware.
The pharmacy, the grocery. Then the bank.

~Rick Barot “Of Errands”

For a time, my husband and I were the middle of the proverbial family sandwich – the meat and cheese with condiments while our aging parents were one slice of bread and our young children the other slice. It was such a full time of always being needed by someone somewhere somehow in some way that I barely can recall details of what those years were like.

Mothers with daughters sometimes note the irony of being in the throes of menopause while their pre-teen is adjusting to menarche – we pass on the fertility torch.

As I sort through boxes that have been stored away for over a decade from my mother and mother-in-law’s belongings to find things to help our son’s family get settled in their house, I realize that time could be measured in bowls and vases and casserole baking dishes. They are passed to the next generation for another lifetime of use. We start out being fed, then we become the provider, and wind up being fed ourselves in the end.

I want to forestall that time of becoming dependent again as long as possible. For now, I want to hold my grandchildren’s hands as I try to keep them safe in an unpredictable world. Someday, I may need them to help hold my hand once I lack the strength to walk unaided.

Turn turn turn – there is a season. Turn around and everyone has changed places, blessed to still walk alongside one another for as long as possible.

Great Grandma Emma, granddaughter Andrea, great-grandson Zealand, photo by Andrea Nipges

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Where the Sun Never Sets

In this kingdom 
the sun never sets; 
under the pale oval 
of the sky 
there seems no way in 
or out, 
and though there is a sea here 
there is no tide.
For the egg itself 
is a moon 
glowing faintly 
in the galaxy of the barn, 
safe but for the spoon’s 
ominous thunder, 
the first delicate crack 
of lightning.
~Linda Pastan, “Egg”

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:
it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly

while remaining an egg. 
We are like eggs at present. 
And you cannot go on indefinitely

being just an ordinary, decent egg. 
We must be hatched or go bad.
C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

I try hard to be the good egg-
smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
yet ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
blending in,
not making waves.

It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.

A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
extends daily.

It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.

Nothing can be the same again:
the fragments of shell left behind
must be abandoned as
useless confinement.

Newly hatched
and transformed:
now there is the wind beneath my wings.
I’ll soar toward an endless horizon
where the sun never sets.
and stretches beyond eternity.

I will no longer be merely ordinary.

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The Sea Inside

The first woman who ever wept
was appalled at what stung
her eyes and ran down her cheeks.
Saltwater. Seawater.
How was it possible?
Hadn’t she and the man
spent many days moving
upland to where the grass
flourished, where the stream
quenched their thirst with sweet water?
How could she have carried these sea drops
as if they were precious seeds;
where could she have stowed them?
She looked at the watchful gazelles
and the heavy-lidded frogs;
she looked at glass-eyed birds
and nervous, black-eyed mice.
None of them wept, not even the fish
that dripped in her hands when she caught them.
Not even the man. Only she
carried the sea inside her body.

~Lisel Mueller “Tears” in Alive Together

From weeping salty seeds or leaking a flood of amnion,
we begin life afloat in our very own sea water pool
and someday depart amid tears of grief flowing over us.

We left behind the sweet waters of the garden
desperate for saline soothing and healing of our wounds.

Destined to bring salt to the rest of the world,
we flavor through our flowing tears, if that’s what it takes.
From the beginning, immersed in salt water,
all our days we seek healing as we weep in joy and sorrow.

That’s what it takes.

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The Fog is Rising

I must go in; the fog is rising…
~Emily Dickinson, her last words

I have watched the dying
in their last hours:
often through the fog of waning breaths,
they see what I cannot,
they listen to what I do not hear,
stretching their arms overhead
as their fingers extend and grasp
to touch what is, as yet,
far beyond my reach.

I watch and wonder how it is
to reverse the journey that brought me here
from the fog of my amnion.

The mist of living lifts.

I will enter a place
unsurpassed in brilliance and clarity;
the mystery of what lies beyond solved
only by going in to it,
welcomed back to where I started.

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A Heart I Cannot Fathom

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom —
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.
~Jane Hirshfield from “Today, When I Could Do Nothing”

The other day, as I sat down in the grass to take pictures, I felt a tickle at the nape of my neck. I reached up, picked up something, and when I looked to see what it was, I found a tiny ant crushed in my fingers. Suddenly it felt like things were crawling everywhere on me, especially my scalp. I shook out my hair and clothes and found there weren’t any more ants. It was only one very unfortunate defenseless victim who chose the wrong place and time to inhabit me – unexpected, unwanted and unwelcome.

As a child, I was fascinated by the ant hills in the woods and fields of our small farm. I would track yards and yards of ant trails from the busy mounded colonies to tree trunks and other sources of food, watching the single file single-minded insects heading through all sorts of terrain to sustain their community. Having ants crawling on me wasn’t a problem then – they were part of my exploration of creation and sometimes they explored me.

How is your life, I wanted to ask.

Now as an adult, I confess I pay regularly for someone to come to the farm to spray around our house to prevent a resurgence of carpenter ants that threatened our foundation and walls some years ago. It works pretty well so I don’t have to deal with the reality of nature/creation invading my personal space. My wholistic acceptance of my co-existence with ants ends at my front door. No welcome mat for them, thou shalt not trespass.

I don’t seek to fathom their heart or a felt need to find food.

So now our country is embroiled in the polarizing issue of whether to protect the defenseless when they are unexpected, unwanted and unwelcome, especially when it may pose great personal risk to another. Many of those most upset by the judicial decision have a voice to protest today because their mother let them live, even though their conception was unexpected, unwanted and unwelcome. They were not prevented through prophylactic means, they were not squished in an intentional self-defensive move.

They were indeed part of creation.

They are living and whole and as angry and anxious as I was when I thought I was crawling with ants.

How is your life, I want to ask. How is it to feel what you are feeling right now?

I fathom your beating heart and that of a mother’s loving heart of selfless sacrifice.

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The World’s Most Sensitive Cargo

Go north a dozen years
on a road overgrown with vines
to find the days after you were born.
Flowers remembered their colors and trees
were frothy and the hospital was


behind us now, its brick indifference
forgotten by our car mirrors. You were
revealed to me: tiny, delicate,
your head smelling of some other world.
Turn right after the circular room


where I kept my books and right again
past the crib where you did not sleep
and you will find the window where
I held you that morning
when you opened your eyes. They were


blue, tentative, not the deep chocolate
they would later become. You were gazing
into the world: at our walls,
my red cup, my sleepless hair and though
I’m told you could not focus, and you


no longer remember, we were seeing
one another after seasons of darkness.

~Faith Shearin, “Sight” from Orpheus, Turning

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

~Naomi Shihab Nye “Shoulders”

Recent headlines reflect a touchy cultural debate about child bearing and rearing in our post-modern society:

who has control over whose body and for what justifiable reasons,

when life begins and when its loss is a death to be mourned
or if intentional, could be considered equivalent to murder,

babies without access to adequate nutrition due to a formula shortage while some shame mothers for not breast-feeding,

who determines what schools can teach at what stage of development, whether vaccines should be mandatory to attend,
and what books children can have access to in the library.

There are controversies about our country not guaranteeing paid parental leave and automatic free day care, along with government subsidized health care, and whether we coddle our kids too much or too little.

Some are convinced we should avoid child-bearing since people are destroying the earth and adding more people will only hasten our demise.

The judgement and harshness of the debate is enough to discourage parenting at all for those who are ambivalent to begin with. For those who long to be parents but still have empty arms, the debate seems heartless and selfish, as they wonder if and when a chance to love their own child will ever come.

Having waited long years ourselves with empty arms, and then were blessed with three of our own, I can say with assurance children are the most sensitive cargo we’ll ever bear and carry and love – there is no future without children cherished above one’s own wants and needs.

After seasons of darkness, we must look each other in the eyes and find each other worthy to exist and do whatever it takes to guarantee it. We must be willing to sacrifice, carrying one another like precious cargo. We were created for no less than this.

Just checking to see if she is real…

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Acknowledging the Abyss

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.
~Vladimir Nabokov from Speak Memory

I think Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss.
That’s why babies howl at birth,
and why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.

At the end they don’t want their hands
to be under the covers, and if you should put
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture
of solidarity, they’ll pull the hand free;
and you must honor that desire,
and let them pull it free.

~Jane Kenyon from “Reading Aloud to My Father”

Great Grandma Emma, granddaughter Andrea, great-grandson Zealand – photo by Andrea Nipges

Great Grandpa Harry holding baby Emerson, photo by mama Abby Mobley
Great-Grandma Elna and Noah

And once, for no special reason,
I rode in the back of the pickup, leaning against the cab.
Everything familiar was receding fast…

Whatever I saw
I had already passed…
(This must be what life is like
at the moment of leaving it.)
~Jane Kenyon from “What It’s Like”

The farther I am down the road, everything familiar seems to be receding fast. What I see on my journey, I have already passed by as I watch it disappear into the horizon.

I too often mistake this world, this existence,  as the only light there is,  a mere beam of illumination in the surrounding night of eternity, the only relief from overwhelming darkness.  If we stand looking up from the bottom, we might erroneously assume we are the source of the light, we are all there is.

Yet looking at this world from a different perspective, gazing down into the abyss from above, it is clear the light does not come from below –it is from beyond us.

The newborn and the dying know this.  They signal their transition into and out of this world with their hands.  An infant holds tightly to whatever their fist finds,  grasping and clinging to not be lost to this darkness they have entered.  The dying instead loosen their grip on this world, reaching up and picking the air on their climb back to heaven.

We hold babies tightly so they won’t lose their way in the dark.  We loosen our grip on the dying to honor their outreach to the light that leads to something greater.

In the intervening years, we struggle in our blindness to climb out of the abyss to see vistas of great beauty and grace as we pass through the shadows of our lives.  Only then we acknowledge, with great calm and serenity, where we are headed.

Ben packaged in a paper bag by Grandpa Hank
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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: I Will Rise

Underground is where life begins
My heart will rejoice in the hiddenness
Beyond the burial there’s a resurrection

~Kristene DiMarco

 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption…
Galatians 4: 4-5

“In the fullness of time” is one of my favorite expressions to remind myself that God’s timing is not linear so much as it is spherical – we find ourselves in the midst of His plans, surrounded by Him rather than journeying from point A to point B.

The sowing of the seed,
its hidden growth underground,
its taking root and sprouting,
its dependency on the soil and water and sun to rise up,
its development and maturation and fruition,
its harvest and completion
to feed and become seed yet again.

It is a circle, not a line.

I must rise boldly when He calls me forth from the darkness.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

In the quiet of the morning
When no one knows and no one needs to know
You speak to me, You give me strength
There’s nothing like the secret place

Underground is where life begins
My heart will rejoice in the hiddenness
Beyond the burial there’s a resurrection
Your will be done in me In the stillness all around
You are working all the details out
What’s in me will grow someday
I trust Your timing and Your ways

Underground is where life begins
My heart will rejoice in the hiddenness
Beyond the burial there’s a resurrection

Your will be done in me
Oh let my roots go deep
I will rise, I will rise
He holds the time that I will rise
I will rise, I will rise
He holds the time that I will rise I will rise,
I will rise God through my life be lifted high I will rise,
I will rise God through my life be lifted high
Let Jesus rise,
Jesus rise God through my life be glorified

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Left to Her Own Abandon

Sometimes when you’re in a dark place
you think you’ve been buried,
but actually you’ve been planted.
~Christine Caine

I love a wild daffodil,
the one that grows
where she’s planted—
along a wooded highway
left to her own abandon,
but not abandoned.
Her big yellow head   
leaning toward or away
from the sun. Not excluded
but exclusive, her trumpet
heralds no one, not even
the Canada geese—
their long-necked honks
announcing their journey. 
She’ll be here less
than a season, grace us
with green slender stems,
strong enough to withstand
rain and spring’s early chill.
And when she goes,
what remains she’ll bury
deep inside the bulb of her,
take a part of me with her
until she returns.
~January Gill O’Neil, “For Ella” from Rewilding

Our farm was homesteaded by the Lawrence family over one hundred years ago — soon afterward, someone decided to bury daffodil bulbs scattered around the yard. All these decades later, dozens of faithful heralds of spring still come up as the sun and extra hours of light call them forth. Some years they bloom in February, but most typically they wait for a more predictable welcome from the weather in March.

They are very tender, easily injured by a strong wind or late snowfall – mostly an old antique variety of fluffy double blooms, but some traditional trumpet blossoms still come up called forth by the trumpeting of the geese and swans passing over far above them.

For me, their blooming with abandon is inspiration in faithfulness and persistence, especially because of the 44 weeks per year they remain silent and buried out of sight. I have a general sense where they will appear each February, but am still surprised and impressed when they do push up through the ground. I walk around them carefully, knowing I could crush them with one firm inadvertent boot step if I am not cautious.

Once the daffodils are blooming, they encourage my hope and a promise of the spring just ahead. When the blooms wither and fade, the green spiky stems must gather the strength the bulb needs for another cycle of dormancy, so I mow around them to allow as much time as needed to replenish before disappearing underground again.

I still don’t understand how these gentle blooms somehow manage to pull me down with them into the bulb, waiting my turn alongside them while buried deep in the dark. Perhaps it is because God plants each one of us here in His holy ground, to await the ultimate wakening that calls us forth to bloom everlasting.

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Our Weary World Transformed

I watch the great clear twilight
Veiling the ice-bowed trees;
Their branches tinkle faintly
With crystal melodies.

The larches bend their silver
Over the hush of snow;
One star is lighted in the west,
Two in the zenith glow.

For a moment I have forgotten
Wars and women who mourn,
I think of the mother who bore me
And thank her that I was born.
~Sara Teasdale “Winter Dusk” from The Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale

The towering tree spreads his greening canopy —
A veil between the soil and sky—
Not in selfish vanity,
But the gentle thrush to shade and shelter.


So it is with love.

For when we love,
Simply love,
Even as we are loved,
Our weary world can be transformed.

The busy thrush builds her nest below —
A fortnight’s work to weave and set—
Not for herself alone,
But her tender brood to shield and cherish.

And so it is with love.

For when we love,
Simply love,
Even as we are loved,
Our weary world can be transformed Into the Kingdom of God!
~Charles Silvestri “When We Love”

We are in the midst of a week-long late winter arctic blast of cold wind bending and breaking trees, even taking down an old apple tree in our orchard last night. Our seed feeders are swinging back and forth so violently that hungry wild birds struggle to hang on for their breakfast – they have to fight the northeast winds for their food.

The news headlines also freeze my heart, bringing back memories of old “cold war” threats and posturing of 60 years ago. In this more modern time of global communication, Ukrainian citizens directly in the line of fire become very real on our screens – people with work lives and families and views from their windows shared with the world as they anxiously wait for Russia’s shoe to drop upon them.

I freeze at the knowledge that my commitment to feed the birds in my backyard can’t begin to compare with the weary and war-torn world’s inability to keep starving children alive around the globe – in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen and other unstable places.

I cannot forget our helplessness to love, cherish and protect the young when they are casualties of the destructive web of politics and power.

May God’s love transform our world,
turn our political platitudes to prayer,
bring about a thaw to build bridges, rather than gulfs,
between old enemies.

May love thrive in the nests and homes of parents
who commit to love, cherish and sustain their offspring
no matter where they live on the globe.

May I start right here, in my own frozen back yard,
caring for the young and vulnerable within my reach,
and hope my reach may stretch far beyond my grasp.