Before the adults we call our children arrive with their children in tow for Thanksgiving,
we take our morning walk down the lane of oaks and hemlocks, mist a smell of rain by nightfall—underfoot,
the crunch of leathery leaves released by yesterday’s big wind.
You’re ahead of me, striding into the arch of oaks that opens onto the fields and stone walls of the road—
as a V of geese honk a path overhead, and you stop—
in an instant, without thought, raising your arms toward sky, your hands flapping from the wrists,
and I can read in the echo your body makes of these wild geese going where they must,
such joy, such wordless unity and delight, you are once again the child who knows by instinct, by birthright,
just to be is a blessing. In a fictional present, I write the moment down. You embodied it. ~Margaret Gibson “Moment”
On this day, this giving-thanks day, I know families who surround loved ones fighting for life in ICU beds, others struggling to find gratitude in their pierced hearts when their child/brother/sister/spouse is gunned down in mass shootings, or too many tragically lost every day to overwhelming depression, as well as those lost in a devastating three year pandemic.
It is the measure of us – we created ones – to kneel in gratitude while facing the terrible and still feel touched, held, loved and blessed, to sincerely believe how wide and long and high and deep is His love for us — even when we weep, even when we mourn, even when our pain makes no sense.
God chose to come alongside us and suffer, rather than fly away. He knew being alive ~just to be like us at all~ was His blessing to last an eternity.
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Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor. Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster. Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup. Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins. Don’t even sew on a button. Let the wind have its way, then the earth that invades as dust and then the dead foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch. Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome. Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry who uses whose toothbrush or if anything matches, at all. Except one word to another. Or a thought. Pursue the authentic—decide first what is authentic, then go after it with all your heart. Your heart, that place you don’t even think of cleaning out. That closet stuffed with savage mementos. Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever, or weep over anything at all that breaks. Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead who drift in through the screened windows, who collect patiently on the tops of food jars and books. Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything except what destroys the insulation between yourself and your experience or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters this ruse you call necessity ~Louise Erdrich “Advice to Myself”
I am a messy person, coming from a long line of messy people. My paternal grandmother never had a clear kitchen counter, or a dining room table without piles of books and papers, spilling over with knickknacks and half-completed craft projects everywhere. I loved the chaos of her house since the messes left behind by her grandchildren weren’t as noticeable. I always felt at home, as if I was not being constantly monitored as a potential mess about to happen.
During this past (very hot) week, in our own home some sixty years later, we have grown from two residents to twelve with a lovely reunion of our children and grandchildren after four years of living far-flung and unable to gather. With four children under six years of age together, our house became even more of a whirlwind than it ordinarily is. I took no photos to demonstrate this, but trust me, the floor was covered with all manner of organic and inorganic matter most of the time. This was bliss, as long as I didn’t step on something sharp or suspiciously slimy in my bare feet.
The biggest surprise was a very early morning, about 4:30 AM, when the house was still dark and quiet except for our ten month old grandson who had not adapted yet to our time zone, so was up early for his breakfast. As I tiptoed quietly into my <very messy chaotic> kitchen to retrieve something, I noticed a good sized dust bunny on the linoleum floor and bent down to pick it up to toss in the trash can. To my surprise, it leaped away from my fingers!
It kept jumping away and when my eyes finally focused in the early morning light, I realized it wasn’t an escaping dust bunny, but a tree frog covered in dust fuzz from my less than tidy floor. It must have come in the house from the perpetually open front door and hidden under a piece of furniture, being transformed into a furry froggy Frankenstein.
I caught it and carried it outside into the morning dawn, setting it free into the chaos of the world outside, rather than coping inside with my insufficient housekeeping. No, I didn’t think to get a photo. Oh, well. Some things you just have to take on faith.
After all, my heart has been leaping and rejoicing all week to have our family under one roof for a brief few days and whether the house was clean was simply a secondary concern. It actually is not a concern at all.
You can’t clean out a mama’s heart; it carries so much over the years that may need sweeping and scrubbing, but this was not the week to worry about it. My worth is not in what I own or how pristine I keep things, but in the depth of my commitment to those who I am given the privilege to know and love.
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The cousins are coming! Cousins, cousins. Here come the boys. Bedlam, mayhem, noise, noise, noise. Blow up the air mattresses, hide the breakable toys. Cousins, cousins. Here come the boys. ~John Forster and Tom Chapin“Cousins”
When I was growing up, I got to see my cousins at least once or twice a year but never lived near extended family. It was always an exciting day when the cousins were coming for a visit, or we went to see them. Now as adults, I have sadly lost touch with several of them.
I’m particularly envious of the close relationships between cousins growing up on the same farm just down the road from us- essentially they live interchangeably between one house or the other. What a great way to grow up, with two families who will take you in whenever you want a change in scenery or siblings. If you are fighting with a brother or sister, you can hopefully find compatible cousins a few hundred yards away.
Our children have produced two sets of cousins who had never met due to COVID restrictions on international travel but were familiar only as faces on a screen. Today they were able to play together in the same room in our ordinarily quiet and boring home —-at times it was mayhem and noise noise noise, but wonderful happy giggles and games will happen over the next week. We hope this can now happen much more often.
It is a perfect time to treasure these family ties between our grandchildren. And create as much bedlam and mayhem as possible!
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It’s an early summer day, going to be a hot one. I’m away from home, I’m working; the sky is solidly blue with just a chalk smear of clouds. So why this melancholy? Why these blues? Nothing I’ve done seems to matter; I could leave tomorrow and no one would notice, that’s how invisible I feel. But look, there’s a pair of cardinals on the weathered table, pecking at sunflower seeds which I’ve brought from home. They don’t seem particularly grateful. Neither does the sky, no matter how I transcribe it. I wanted to do more in this life, not the elusive prizes, but poems that astonish. A big flashy jay lands on the table, scattering seeds and smaller birds. They regroup, continue to hunt and peck on the lawn. ~Barbara Crooker, “Melancholia” from Some Glad Morning
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
I lay awake last night worrying over our son and his family’s ten hour overnight flight from Tokyo. Our two young grandchildren arrive today after 30 months of pandemic separation – to them, we are just faces on a screen.
We go soon to collect them from half-way around the world where they said a sorrowful sayonara to grandparents and family there, arriving here to a new life, new language, new everything, with their worldly belongings in suitcases.
From the largest city in the world to our little corner of the middle of nowhere.
I will watch them discover for themselves the joys and sorrows of this world. When I look through their eyes, I will be reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
I do not need to do anything astonishing myself. Astonishing happens all around me.
The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did… I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. ~Mary Oliver from “When Death Comes”
Today, as always over the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing. A handful of the living come together for lunch and then a slew of the no-longer-living, some of whom have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.
It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, an alcoholic grandfather I barely remember, my grandmother whose inherent messiness I inherited, an aunt who died of lymphoma as a young child, my parents who separated and divorced for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.
It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging. But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be. There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and grandchildren to ponder.
The world as it is remembers the world that was. The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration.
All in good time.
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Echo of the clocktower, footstep in the alleyway, sweep of the wind sifting the leaves.
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning harvesting the sky.
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer of entrances and exits, midnight whisper travelling the wires.
Seducer, healer, deity, or thief, I will see you soon enough– in the shadow of the rainfall, in the brief violet darkening a sunset — but until then I pray watch over him as a mountain guards its covert ore
and the harsh falcon its flightless young. ~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)
When we think of those who wait for us on the other side, including our baby lost before birth 38 years ago…
We pray those from whom we are parted are loved as we have loved.
I know God will watch over all these reunions; He knows the moment when our fractured hearts heal whole once again.
I will see you soon enough, sweet one. Soon enough.
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The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did…
I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. ~Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
Today, as always during the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing. A handful of the living come together with a slew of the no-longer-living. Some, who have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.
It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, my alcoholic grandfather (who I remember as a very old man) who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age I am now, my grandmother from whom I inherited inherent messiness and the love of things that bloom, my parents who divorced for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.
These givers of my genes rest here in this beautiful place above Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains with shining snow beside them. It is a peaceful spot to lay one’s dust for eternity.
It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging. But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be. There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and grandchildren to ponder if they keep up this annual tradition of the cemetery-visit.
The world as it is…remembers the world that was.
The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration where we pray no one is missing.
All in good time. All in good time.
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We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog, still young then, running ahead of us.
Few people. Gulls. A flock of pelicans circled beyond the swells, then closed their wings and dropped head-long into the dazzle of light and sea. You clapped your hands; the day grew brilliant.
Later we sat at a small table with wine and food that tasted of the sea.
A perfect day, we said to one another, so that even when the day ended and the lights of houses among the hills came on like a scattering of embers, we watched it leave without regret.
That night, easing myself toward sleep, I thought how blindly we stumble ahead with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness! then we turn and go on our way again.
But happiness, too, goes on its way, and years from where we were, I lie awake in the dark and suddenly it returns— that day by the sea, that happiness,
though it is not the same happiness, not the same darkness. ~Peter Everwine, “The Day,” from New Letters
The traumas of the past may revisit me in the night as they linger in the fringes of my mind, ready to creep back into my consciousness in times of stress. When I feel vulnerable and weak, I remind myself that past darkness must not overpower my nights. I try to call up different memories to push the sadness or fear back to the periphery.
So I return to my visits to the sea.
During those halcyon days, I was surrounded by beauty, of peacefulness, of family come together in warmth and closeness. Those times we’ve spent on the coast are treasures to open when I need them — breathing deeply of the sea, hearing the rhythm of the waves and feeling the cool breezes once again on my skin.
The memories themselves become precious reservoirs of happiness – readily renewed and refreshed. The darkness is overwhelmed, no longer overwhelming. Instead, it retreats from the shore of my mind like a wave pulls back into the depths of an endless sea.
Just past dawn, the sun stands with its heavy red head in a black stanchion of trees, waiting for someone to come with his bucket for the foamy white light, and then a long day in the pasture. I too spend my days grazing, feasting on every green moment till darkness calls, and with the others I walk away into the night, swinging the little tin bell of my name. ~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”
This is not a usual summer, lacking boisterous gatherings of family and friends, missing our endless July outdoor meals~ instead staying in place, quietly feasting upon each gifted moment while close-crop grazing ’til I’m full up and spilling over, ready to someday again share all I have until empty.
You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear You’ve got to be taught From year to year It’s got to Be drummed in your dear little ear You’ve got to be taught To be afraid of people Who’s eyes are oddly made And people who’s skin is a different shade You’ve got to be carefully taught ~ Matthew Morrison from Oscar and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”
It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate. ~James Arthur Baldwin
If you’re white and you’re wrong, then you’re wrong; if you’re black and you’re wrong, you’re wrong. People are people. Black, blue, pink, green – God make no rules about color; only society make rules where my people suffer, and that why we must have redemption and redemption now. ~Bob Marley
We’ve got to be taught to hate. I was and so were you.
And not a one of us grows up without that sickening uneasiness about not belonging and not feeling like we fit in with those around us. We crave belonging and most of us seek to blend in.
Yet we are created in the image of God, in most ways more similar than we are different. We have created the differences in our own minds and cultures, not God’s Mind. Our fear of one another is purely man-made.
Yet hating and fearing the “other” is meaningless when we are already the “other.”
As more and more people have their DNA profiles done and discover an unexpected mix of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, we are gaining new brothers and sisters on the molecular level. Many are already blended; most of us are mutts.
I have a white friend who recently discovered a branch of family four generations back where a white man and black woman had married and had several children who could pass as white and married so other light-skinned people. Several children were darker skinned and married black spouses. Sadly, due to the prejudices of the time, the family separated along skin color lines and didn’t maintain contact. Now the descendants have discovered each other. Their family reunion portraits display a colorful spectrum of black to brown to pale white. None of them are “other” any longer when they all are “other.”
So let us celebrate the infinite gradations of Imago Dei, and the redeeming reunion of long-lost brothers and sisters.
And remember — we are responsible for what we teach our children.