What does it feel like to be alive? Living, you stand under a waterfall… It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit. I had hopes for my rough edges. I wanted to use them as a can opener, to cut myself a hole in the world’s surface, and exit through it. ~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood
Mothering can feel like standing under a waterfall barely able to breathe, barraged by the firehose of birthing and raising and loving one’s children, so much so fast. Few rough edges remain after child rearing — all becomes soft and cushiony, designed to gather in, hold tight, and then reluctantly and necessarily, let go.
I’m well aware, even after my children have grown and flown, my rough edges still manage to surface, like Godzilla from the primordial swamp, unbidden and unwarranted. I want the sharpness gone, sanded down by the waterfalls of life, and smoothed to a fine finish.
My children continue to polish me, now from afar. Time pounds away at me. I can feel it hitting, each and every drop.
Morning without you is a dwindled dawn. ~Emily Dickinson in a letter to a friend April 1885
Adjusting to our children being grown and moved away from home took time: for months, I instinctively grabbed too many plates and utensils when setting the table, though the laundry and dishwasher loads seemed skimpy I washed anyway, the tidiness of their bedrooms was frankly disturbing as I passed by.
I need a little mess and noise around to feel that living is actually happening under this roof and that all is well. That quarter century of raising children consisted of nonstop parenting, farming, working, playing – never finding enough hours in the day and hardly enough sleep at night. It was a full to overflowing phase of life.
Somehow, life now is too quiet, and I am dwindling.
Though now I know: despite missing our children here, they have thrived where planted. And so must I.
Each morning is new, each dawn softens the void, and each diminishing moment becomes a recognition of how truly blessed life can be.
…horses whose bellies are grain-filled, whose long-ribbed loneliness can be scratched into no-longer-lonely. ~Jane Hirshfield from The Love of Aged Horses
(originally written ~20 years ago)
Settling down into the straw, I am grateful for this quiet moment after a 12 hour workday followed by all the requisite personal conversations that help mop up the spills and splatters of every day life. My family has verbally unloaded their day like so much stored up laundry needing to be washed and rinsed with the spin cycle completed before tomorrow dawns. I moved from child to child to child to husband to grandmother, hoping to help each one clean, dry, fold and sort everything in their pile. Not to be outdone, I piled up a little dirty laundry of my own as I complain about my day.
By that time I’m on “spent” cycle myself and seeking a little “alone” time. I retreat to the barn where verbal communication isn’t necessary. Instead, I need to just sit quietly, watching what happens around me.
A new foal and his vigilant mama watch my every move.
This colt is intrigued by my intrusion into his 12′ x 24′ world. His mother is annoyed. He comes over to sniff my foot and his mother swiftly moves him away with a quick swing of her hips, daunting me with the closeness of her heels. Her first instinct insists she separate me from him and bar my access. My mandate is to woo her over. I could bribe her with food and sweet talk, but, no, that is too easy.
A curry comb is best. If nothing else will work, a good scratching always does. Standing up, I start peeling sheets of no longer needed winter hair off her neck, her sides, her flank and hindquarter. She relaxes in response to my efforts, giving her baby a body rub with her muzzle, wiggling her lips all up and down from his back to his tummy. He is delighted with this spontaneous mommy massage and leans into her, moving around so his hind end is under her mouth and his front end is facing me. Then he starts giving his own version of a massage too, wiggling his muzzle over my coat sleeve and wondrously closing this little therapeutic triangle, all of us “scratched into no-longer-lonely.”
Here we are, a tight little knot of givers/receivers with horse hair flying in a cloud about us. One weary human, one protective mama mare and one day-old foal, who is learning so young how to contribute to the well being of others. It is an incredible gift of trust they bestow on me like a blessing. I realize this horse family is helping me sort my own laundry in the same way I had helped with my human family’s load.
Too often in life we confine our lonely selves in painful triangles, passing our kicks and bites down the line to each other rather than providing nurture and respite. We find ourselves unable to wrench free from continuing to deliver the hurts we’ve just received. What strength it takes to respond with kindness when the kick has just landed on our backside. How chastened we feel when a kindness is directed at us, as undeserving as we are after having bitten someone hard.
Instead of biting, try a gentle scratching. Instead of kicking, try tickling. Instead of fear, try acceptance. Instead of annoyance, try patience. Instead of piling up so much laundry of your own, try washing, folding and sorting what is dumped on you by others, handing it back all ready for the next day.
Just settle into the straw to watch and wait – amazing things will happen.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver
As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life was.
Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life– I became the accused, rather than the accuser, failing to summon up life’s riches.
Thus convicted, my sentence followed: she would promptly give me chores to do. I learned not to voice my complaints about how boring life seemed, because it always meant work.
Some things haven’t changed, even fifty-some years later. Whenever I am tempted to feel frustrated or pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me. If I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every slant of light or every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His.
So – back to the work of paying attention and being astonished. There is a life to be lived and almost always something to say about it.
We can spend those minutes in meanness, exclusivity, and self-righteous disparagement of those who are different from us, or we can spend them consciously embracing every glowing soul who wanders within our reach – those who, without our caring, would find the vibrant, exhilarating path of life just another sad and forsaken road. ~Alice Walker from Anything We Love Can Be Saved
During these summer weeks of orientation of new college students and their parents, I speak to several thousand people, all looking nervous in unfamiliar territory among strangers.
They are about to embark on a road that rises to meet them and leads them to parts unknown.
I try to say, as I shake each hand, and give out my card with my personal phone number:
this too will be okay. This too will bless you. Even when there are potholes, uneven surfaces and times when you want to turn back to more familiar territory, you will find the road to your next destination fulfilling and welcoming.
In a hundred trillion years— an actual number though we can’t begin to grasp it—the last traces of our universe will be not even a memory with no memory to lament it.
The last dust of the last star will not drift in the great nothing out of which everything we love or imagine eventually comes.
Yet every day, every four hours around the clock, Debbie prepares her goat’s-milk mix for the orphaned filly who sucks down all three liters of it, gratefully, it seems, as if it matters more than anything in the universe— and it does—at this moment while the sun is still four hours from rising on the only day that matters. ~ Dan Gerber “Only This Morning” from Particles
For an orphan to survive, he or she must be adopted by surrogate parents whose love and dedication is fertilized by more than a cascade of post-partum maternal hormones.
This is a heart adoption, clean and pure and simple, a 24/7 commitment where each moment of nurture is about keeping this newest of God’s vulnerable and helpless creations alive.
Nothing else matters and nothing else should.
We too, each one of us, in a way we don’t always understand, are born orphans in need of adoption; we long to be found, rescued, fed, nurtured and loved.
We will never be set adrift in nothingness — Someone takes us to His heart.
Nothing else matters and nothing else should.
thank you to Emily Vander Haak and Lea Gibson for taking a few of these BriarCroft foal photos.
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is a way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself. ~William Martin from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents
Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity. ~John Ruskin
We know the solace in the ordinary as life throws flowers at our feet.
Ordinary is each breath, each heart beat, each tear, each smile, one after another and another.
We are offered the gift of each ordinary moment; only grace makes it extraordinary.