Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t have by now. Whatever the world is going to do to him it has started to do. With a pencil and two Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and grapes he is on his way, there is nothing more we can do for him. Whatever is stored in his heart, he can use, now. Whatever he has laid up in his mind he can call on. What he does not have he can lack. The bus gets smaller and smaller, as one folds a flag at the end of a ceremony, onto itself, and onto itself, until only a heavy wedge remains. Whatever his exuberant soul can do for him, it is doing right now. Whatever his arrogance can do it is doing to him. Everything that’s been done to him, he will now do. Everything that’s been placed in him will come out, now, the contents of a trunk unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light. ~Sharon Olds “The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb”
This is the season for graduations and commencements to the next phase of life, when students move into the adult world and don’t look back.
As a parent, as an educator, as a mentor within church and community, and over thirty two years as a college health physician witnessing this transition many times over, I can’t help but be wistful about what I may have left undone and unsaid with the generation about to launch. In their moments of vulnerability, did I pack enough love into their hearts so they can pull it out when it is most needed?
When our three children traveled the world after their graduations, moving beyond the fenced perimeter of our little farm, I trusted they left well prepared.
As a former school board member, I watched our students, parents and teachers work diligently together in their preparation for that graduation day, knowing the encompassing love behind each congratulatory hand shake.
When another batch of our church family children say goodbye, I remember holding them in the nursery, listening to their joyful voices as I played piano accompaniment in Sunday School, feeding them in innumerable potlucks over the years. I pray we have fed them well in every way with enough spiritual food to stick to their ribs in the “thin” and hungry times.
When hundreds of my student/patients move on each year beyond our university health clinic, I pray for their continued emotional growth buoyed by plenty of resilience when the road gets inevitably bumpy.
I believe I know what is stored in the hearts of our graduates because I, among many others, helped them pack it full of love. Only they will know the time to unpack it when the need arises.
And now, this year, I find I am “graduating” as well, moving away from a regular clinic work schedule to whatever waits for me next. I cleaned out my desk yesterday, carrying the detritus of three decades back home with me, including a packed-away glass “tear drop” I somehow earned ten years ago for “exceptional effort.” All I really remember about that time in my professional life are the shed tears that award acknowledged unbeknownst. It was a fitting symbol for what I had been through during a hard year.
I’m not exactly climbing on a bus with my lunch packed to go to summer camp, but it feels a bit similar as I enter this new phase. I’m nervous, I’m sad, I’m excited, I’m exuberant, so much like all the graduates I’ve seen commence over the years.
And best of all for me, summer camp is right here on the farm, peanut butter sandwiches included.
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Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower—but if I could understand What you are, root and all, all in all, I should know what God and man is. ~Lord Alfred Tennyson “Flower in the Crannied Wall”
Am I root, or am I bud? Am I stem or am I leaf?
All in all, I am but the merest reflection of God’s fruiting glory;
I am His tears shed as He broke into blossom.
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Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. ~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead
It is ordinary time, in the church calendar and in my life…
As I am covered with Sabbath rest quiet and deep as if planted in soil finally warming from a too long winter~
I realize there is nothing ordinary about what is happening in the church, in the world, or in me.
We are called by the Light to push away from darkness, to reach to the sky, to grasp and bloom and fruit.
We begin as mere and ordinary seed.
Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary than an ordinary Sunday.
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The talkative guest has gone, and we sit in the yard saying nothing. The slender moon comes over the peak of the barn.
The air is damp, and dense with the scent of honeysuckle. . . . The last clever story has been told and answered with laughter.
With my sleeping self I met my obligations, but now I am aware of the silence, and your affection, and the delicate sadness of dusk. ~Jane Kenyon, “The Visit” from Collected Poems
As we slowly adapt to evenings spent with family and friends again, taking off our masks to actually witness the emotion on a familiar, now unveiled, face:
There are smiles and laughter again. We are trying to remember how to be ourselves outside the fearfulness that contagion wrought. More important: there are tears again. And wistfulness. And regret. And longing.
This delicate sadness happened – even to those of us who were never directly touched by sickness. We will never be the same, never so light of heart again, remembering what this past year has cost.
It is a slow transition to dusk. We sit together now and watch it come.
Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars… don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones. ~H.Jackson Brown Jr. from “Life’s Little Instruction Book”
Life is a marshmallow, easy to chew but hard to swallow. ~Francis Bacon
And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop. ~A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner
Always, no sometimes, think it’s me But you know I know when it’s a dream I think I know I mean a yes But it’s all wrong That is I think I disagree
Let me take you down ‘Cause I’m going to Marshmallow Fields Nothing is real And nothing to get hung about Marshmallows Fields forever ~with apologies to John Lennon and The Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever”
It’s marshmallow harvest season once again, just in time for this long holiday weekend’s camp fires, scary ghost stories, roasting sticks, chocolate bars and graham crackers.
After a year of isolation and loneliness, I am ready for our life together to begin again, seeking s’more to chew on, sticky, messy and oh so glorious.
I sit in silence looking out over the marshmallow fields, hoping the world won’t stop.
No, not ever again.
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The great thing is not having a mind. Feelings: oh, I have those; they govern me. I have a lord in heaven called the sun, and open for him, showing him the fire of my own heart, fire like his presence. What could such glory be if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters, were you like me once, long ago, before you were human? Did you permit yourselves to open once, who would never open again? Because in truth I am speaking now the way you do. I speak because I am shattered. ~Louise Glück“The Red Poppy”
What would poppies tell me if they could speak?
They would remind me that my existence is solely dependent on my Creator God who made me from dust, just like a seed. My color and fullness and growth is due to His sun and His rain and His breath blowing life and soul into me.
So I open slowly, eager to be known, to be loved and to love until the fire shining in the heart of me is like His fire, reflecting His glory.
And so I will shatter here — yet I know there is more. Even my God planted himself here, opening up His beauty, thrived, then died here, and raised from the dark here.
God shatters so I can thrive and flourish, to be ready to open again.
Forever and ever.
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The thrushes sing as the sun is going, And the finches whistle in ones and pairs, And as it gets dark loud nightingales In bushes Pipe, as they can when April wears, As if all Time were theirs.
These are brand-new birds of twelve months’ growing, Which a year ago, or less than twain, No finches were, nor nightingales, Nor thrushes, But only particles of grain, And earth, and air, and rain. ~Thomas Hardy “Proud Songsters”
Each year I watch the new hatchlings fledge and fly and feed, and marvel at how they know so young how to sing and survive. Last year they were mere elements and now they bring the world beauty and Grace.
They live as if all Time were theirs.
Now in my seventh decade, do I know how to sing and survive? Did I become more than the elements from which I arose?
Only thanks to the Maker of heaven and earth was I born to recognize Beauty and Grace when I see and hear it. And so I bring it here, now to share with all of you.
I live as if all Time is so precious, so fleeting.
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I have a small grain of hope– one small crystal that gleams clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.
I break off a fragment to send you.
Please take this grain of a grain of hope so that mine won’t shrink.
Please share your fragment so that yours will grow.
Only so, by division, will hope increase,
like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower unless you distribute the clustered roots, unlikely source– clumsy and earth-covered– of grace. ~Denise Levertov “For the New Year, 1981”
Years ago, my newly widowed sister-in-law was trying to bring order to her late husband’s large yard and flower garden, overgrown following the shock of his sudden cardiac death. In her ongoing ebb and flow with her grief, she brought to us several paper bags full of bearded iris roots resting solemnly in clumps of dirt. They appeared to be such unlikely sources of beauty, hope and healing: dry misshapen knobby feet and fingers, crippled-appearing and homely.
We got them into the ground late in the year yet they rewarded us with immense forgiveness. They took hold in their new space and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape. Over the years they have continued to gladden our hearts until we too must, to save them, divide them to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden.
This act– “by division, will hope increase”–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did: sending Himself to become dusty, grime and earth-covered, so plain, so broken, so full of hope ready to bloom.
A part of God put down roots among us to grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil.
Just so — our garden blooms so all can see and know: hope grows here from clustered roots of grace.
…The world is flux, and light becomes what it touches, becomes water, lilies on water, above and below water, becomes lilac and mauve and yellow and white and cerulean lamps, small fists passing sunlight so quickly to one another that it would take long, streaming hair inside my brush to catch it. To paint the speed of light! Our weighted shapes, these verticals, burn to mix with air and change our bones, skin, clothes to gases. Doctor, if only you could see how heaven pulls earth into its arms and how infinitely the heart expands to claim this world, blue vapor without end. ~Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation” from Second Language
“Heaven pulls earth into its arms…”
We all see things differently, don’t we? What seems ordinary to one person is extraordinarily memorable to another. How might I help others to see the world as I do? How might I learn to adjust my focus to see things as you do?
The world is flux; my delight and dismay flows from moment to moment, from object to absence, from light to darkness, from color to gray. Perhaps the blur from the figurative (or real) cataract that impedes my vision creates a deeper understanding, as I use my imagination to fill in what I can’t discern.
My heart and mind expands exponentially to claim this world and all the beauty has to offer, while heaven – all this while – is pulling me into its arms.
In heaven, my focus will be clear. It will all be extraordinarily ordinary.