For Monday, a Poem…

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Over several assorted Mondays this fall, I have gathered with a motley, seasoned, gorgeous collection of women. We have brought our various hurts and glories and peculiar ways of seeing to the table. A dining room table. One that has served up many a delicious repast in times past, and times yet to come. Here we have feasted on story and laughter and poems. We have lived in and out of one another’s lives. Words have nourished us; challenged and strengthened us; and sent us back into our everyday lives glowing, like Moses, betraying that we have been in the Presence.

Today we are done. For a space. And already I miss it. The very idea of it.

So I am carving out a space here for poems, on Mondays, just because. Favorites. Some from my Creative Lectio class, and some from life, and all the craziness of life, and the beauty that is ache and can only be conveyed in the strict economy and the intense potency of the poetic line.

And you may love it, or you may hate it. And that’s ok. But I challenge you to read it before you decide. Read it out loud. Let the words swim in the air and travel back to you across space. And see what it means. To you.

For today, one of the more meddlesome poems we read this fall. Meddlesome in that I have not been able to stop thinking about it, because it is so wondrously lovely and deep. Of Rilke, one of my favorites.  A poet who speaks a heart language that pierces me to the very entrails of my being.

Ill Matched Threads

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth–
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you.

In the softness of the evening
it’s you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

Rainer Maria Rilke

My profound gratitude to Nita Andrews and Patsy Clairmont who have poured so much beauty and truth into my soul over the past year in our Creative Lectio experience. I love you both.

When Little Birds Fly the Nest

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It began at birth, really. Even while I held my baby girl in my arms for the first time, while the scent of her was becoming an imprint in my brain and tiny tendrils inextricably wound themselves round my heart, the dance of separation had already begun.

A push and a cry and a snip of a cord were the first steps.

Over the next few years we cheered her on as she learned her own peculiar military style of crawling, then took her first steps. We video taped her telling stories at her second birthday party. She learned to feed herself; dress herself. She spent an hour away from us. Then a night. Then several days at Mammaw’s house in the summer. And I cried as we drove away. This crazy mix of pride, and joy, and loss.

And she learned, and grew, and thrived.

We wrote wonderful stories with those years. Travels and explores. Slumber parties, butterfly gardens, secrets, friends. She took photographs and wrote poems and learned to cook, and bit by bit the young woman she was made to be revealed itself.

And she was lovely.

There were growing pains. All of us figuring out how to walk in new seasons. Conflict. Anger. Tears.

But from that, a deep knowing. An understanding stamped on all our hearts of what it means to love one another relentlessly. To fail one another. To forgive.

She finished high school. She got a job. Or two. She bought her own clothes, did her own laundry, dreamed her own dreams. She collected classic films, artisanal teas, and gourmet cooking implements. She cooked us some fantastic meals.

And then, my baby girl had a baby girl of her own. And she grew some more. We watched her love this little one fiercely. We saw her make sacrifices. We saw her rise before the sun, work hard, spend wisely and save. She was driven to make a good life for her daughter.

Today, Kelsey is buying a home. And over the next few days, she will move all her belongings out of our house. And she will wake up somewhere else. And I have never been more proud of her. Never.

And my heart hurts.

Just a little.

I help her pack things up. She hums like she always does when she is happy. And this is so right. And I would not wish it other for a minute. But our family as it has been for a very long time will be no more. And I am grieving that.

And thinking about birds. Who do this every year. And giving thanks that I only have three.

Incidentally, Jake is going with her. As, of course, is Kenzie. So our household of six is becoming a household of three.

New season.

Godspeed, dear ones. Fly far and true. I love you. Always.

“To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…
He hath made everything beautiful in its time.”
~Ecclesiastes 3:1,11

 

*Painting by Cari Humphry

pity party. admit one.

i am doing my damnedest to find the silver lining, but all i see are clouds.

it started at 4:30 when i woke up from a nightmare about url renewal. for my blog. apparently i have to pay for that now. and i already pay monthly for a blog where i rarely write anything, and when i do only 3 or 4 people read it so what’s the point? and there was once this idea about being a writer. and what was that anyway? a calling? a gift? some wish to be immortal because my words might survive me?

so i do what any rational individual who is in the beginnings of a funk would do. i get on facebook. where i am reminded that i am nobody’s best friend. at best, i am 6th or 7th on pretty much anybody’s list. and i wonder what it would be like, just once, to be introduced as someone’s best friend. and the thing is, i have more intentional, more vulnerable relationships now than i ever have. but still, i am always somewhere down the line. why is that? what is wrong with me?

and i have these amazing kids.  most of the last 21 years of my life has been about growing them up. and i have never resented that or thought that anything was more important. and i am good with the fact that they are growing up, and i feel like i have done as much as i could to release them and speed them on their way. but sometimes, i wish my words counted for more in their lives. and i wonder what it is that i have really taught them anyway.

and it seems like so many people are counting on me for something, and sometimes i feel like i am letting all of them down. and i think i would like to run away. for a while. to some place where nobody needs anything and i can’t mess anything up and for a minute i would be enough. whatever that means.

i spend my morning cleaning up the kitchen. again. i look at the crumbs under the kitchen table and the dust on the furniture. i clean poop out of the bathtub and pee out of the rug and i wonder whose life this is i am living.

i broadcast my gloom to everyone. i write a tweet. i rewrite it. i look at it. i feel like i am in middle school. i think of rants that all of my children have had on facebook at one point or another, and about the fact that sometimes i was the object of the rant and how i wondered what they were after when they wrote it. and i wonder what i am after. do i want someone to validate me? do i want them to be sorry for me?

mostly, i think, i want to know that i am not invisible.

maybe that’s what they wanted too.

so i vomit all these words onto a page because that’s the only thing i know to do with them. and i send them out into the world because, after all, i am paying a pretty penny for that prerogative. and probably tomorrow, when i am sane, if i am sane, i will wish i could somehow get them back.

but it will be too late.

and maybe that’s just as well.

 

Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim

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If all you ever see is a photograph, you can’t help but sense something of its grandeur. You will understand it is unlike anything you have ever known. You will marvel at the colorful layers, at the jagged edges and curious shapes, at the blue of the sky.

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If you stand on its edge…well then. You will feel something in you grow larger to meet it. You will breathe deeper, stand taller, and your soul will begin to sing. Your eyes will try to fasten on something familiar; something to keep you from dancing off into the abyss. And the deep gladness you feel for the gift of being here, even once, will astonish you.

A breeze blows up from the canyon carrying silence. A silence that is ancient and raw and wide. You watch sunlight paint the stone in brilliant washes, while pockets of shade keep certain secrets to themselves. You strain to catch a glimpse of the river, but the cold, dark Colorado is elusive unless you walk the rim trail to the west. There you will see fragments of its sinewy form and, if the air is still, hear the thunder of its rapids.

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But if you dare to dip below the rim…then, my friend, you truly begin to know her. You feel the grit of her against the bottom of your boots. The deep plunge of her walls becomes a memory in your muscles. And the play of sun and shade are something you wear on your skin. You are becoming part of her; your footprints in her soil, her dust on your skin. As the rim recedes further and further into the distance, you are astounded that the river is still so far beneath you. And the enormity of her becomes a visceral, ponderous reality. You rattle around inside her like a bead in a washtub.

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She whispers secrets to you. She shows you stones of vermillion that break open to centers of verdigris. And you walk on the green dust. She startles you with clumps of yellow wildflowers, purple asters, piles of snow. You look up to see a bighorn sheep perched on an impossible ledge, and pass a rattlesnake curled against a stump. You feel the wind that blows up off the Colorado River. You hear the shimmer of the aspens.

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She will test you. She will ask questions of you. Questions about motivation and fortitude and what it means to truly love. You may taste pain and despair on her behalf. She will prove that there is more to you than you know. And she will provide companions on the journey. Companions who encourage and tell stories, commiserate and give advice. And if you manage to climb out on the other side, you will understand that a part of you is hers forever. That you are wed to this place, to this endeavor, to the blood and sweat and heartache of it, to the wild extravagance and the glory.

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On Saturday, October 12, the state of Arizona re-opened Grand Canyon National Park to the delight of a great many federal employees, and to visitors like us who poured across her threshold that very day. On Sunday, October 13, Mike and I hiked from the south rim to the north by way of the Kaibab trails. It is one of the hardest and most rewarding things either of us has ever done. Due to some unexpected health issues, we did not return to the south rim on foot as planned, but rode the last north-south shuttle of the season back along with 4 other rim to rim hikers.

The hospitality we received on both rims and the sweet companionship of fellow hikers on the trail were unforeseen gifts. The long, leisurely hikes we took along both rims on the days following will linger in my memory as golden morsels of grace. My gratitude for the health and strength to undertake such an audacious task is without bounds. And the knowledge that so many friends and family were following our story and cheering us on magnified our joy immeasurably. To all of you who provided kind words of encouragement, and especially to those who offered hospitality in our hour of need, thank you.

My heart is full.

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When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

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, excerpted from “When Death Comes”

Toward Something Grand…

Grand-Canyon

Two weeks from today I will wake on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mike and I will rise before the sun, eat a hurried and simple breakfast, make one last check of our packs, board the 5:30 hiker’s shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead, and commence our descent into the canyon. Over the course of 7 miles of switchbacks and twists and turns we will drop almost 6,000 vertical feet. Another 7 miles across the canyon floor will bring us to the Bright Angel trail where we begin our long climb out of the canyon.

This is the second day. A return to the South Rim where our adventure began two days, and 47 miles, before.

But the journey began even earlier than this…

We have dreamed of doing a rim to rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon for several years. We began researching and planning in earnest just over a year ago, reading blogs and websites of the crazies who have done this before and lived to tell about it. We made reservations 13 months out, the earliest opportunity, and began training 6 months ago.

Training has looked like this: Long hikes with packs once a week, increasing in length to a total of 23 miles and one back-to-back hike in the Great Smoky Mountains of 28 total miles. Lots of cross-training, running, walking, yoga in between. A major focus on nutrition, particularly during these final weeks. Scrupulous attention to packing to make sure we have everything we need and not one ounce more. Testing out foods and hydration on the trail to see what works and what doesn’t.

Everything that goes in my pack is in a stack in my closet. Nuun tablets to add to my water for electrolyte replacement. This I will alternate with a combination of chia seeds (which help with hydration and supply protein and Omegas) and peppermint oil (which helps oxygenate the blood). Pistachios, almonds, dark chocolate m&ms, dried cherries, sesame crackers, and rice crispy treats for fuel. (Add to this boxed lunches we will pick up at Phantom Ranch both days.) Gloves, hat, ear band, and fleece for the below freezing start. These I will bail by the time we get to the canyon floor which can be as much as 30 degrees warmer. Lavender oil for skin irritations, disinfection, sleep, etc… Sunscreen, bug repellent wipes, flashlight, moleskin, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, water purifier, Chacos, extra socks, bandanas (multi purpose), rain gear, and my phone. Almost half the weight of our packs will be water; 100 ounces, roughly 6 pounds.

grand canyon leavesThe leaves are coloring on both rims. The beauty will be staggering when we go. This, along with the cooler temperatures, is the reason we chose to go in the fall.

That decision, as it turns out, may have been costly.

Because today Grand Canyon National Park, along with all our national parks, will close. An early and unfortunate consequence of the government shut down. Compared to federal employees who will be trying to figure out how to feed their families, while our illustrious leaders posture and dig in their heels and refuse to compromise, our loss seems small.

But right now it feels really big.

The North Rim Lodge and most of the North Rim facilities close for the season on October 16th because snow will soon make the road into the park impassable. If we do not go on time, we do not go at all.

So this morning, I remind myself of all the beauty we have seen this summer on the trail. Of birds and bears, of snakes and squirrels, of an extravagance of wildflowers. Of unplanned adventure. Of long conversations with my husband. Of the dreaming, which for me is always half the fun. And though I still hope Congress will astonish all of us and figure something out quickly and we can proceed as planned, I am learning all over again that sometimes the journey itself is the end.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.~Ursula K. LeGuin

 

Into the Wild…

It was supposed to be just a simple training trip. The Warner Parks had given us some good hill training, but we needed the physical and mental fatigue of long sustained miles of up, and significant altitude gain, in preparation for the Grand Canyon. So we headed to the Smoky Mountains for a couple of back to back hikes.

IMG_5348It was 2:00 in the east by the time we hit the trail to Rocky Top. Ten minutes in we had our first surprise. Mike was in the lead, but I saw her first. “Stop,” I whispered. He continued. I grabbed the back of his shirt and said, more helpfully, “It’s a bear.” He stopped. We were already closer than advisable so we backed up a little. Then the first baby tumbled out of the brush. We backed up some more. But not so far that we did not see the other two come chasing after their brother. They rolled and played, bounded and pounced, and mom mostly ignored them. They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere, so we just watched. And I tried to remember if I had any food in my pack that was not wrapped. Anything that might make me smell tasty. Once they finally left the path, we began to move tentatively forward, keeping an eye on them. As it turns out, they were keeping an eye on us too. The little guys stretched up onto their hind legs to see the tall funny looking people with humps on their backs. Mom, though, had apparently written us off as harmless. Good.

We climbed, mile after mile, practicing our rest step, hydrating frequently, stopping occasionally to remove our packs and relieve our feet. When we connected to the Appalachian Trail, the path began to go down, then up again, then down, as we moved across the crest of several mountains to get to the one we were after. This was more mentally fatiguing than you might imagine. It is difficult to give up altitude painfully gained, knowing you are about to have to climb it again. But then there was the up that was only up, and we ascended past the trees and onto the rocky crest and the world opened up all around us and it was so glorious that I thought I would gladly do it all again, though, in fact, I can’t imagine that that would have even been possible, but in that moment you feel invincible and will promise yourself almost anything. We dropped our packs and spread our arms and let the wind cool our hot, weary bodies. And it was so quiet. And still. And lovely.

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The descent took roughly half the time. Still, darkness overtook us. We pulled out flashlights, listened as the song of crickets joined the gurgle of the stream, dodged a few diving bats, and tried to remember exactly where it was that we saw the bears. Mike wondered aloud if they locked the picnic area where the trailhead was located at night.  As it turns out…

We suspected we were in trouble when we saw no other cars. We knew we were in trouble when we drove up to the gate. With the padlock. As we tried to figure out exactly who one might call in such a situation, I got out to see if just maybe the padlock was not locked. I suppose some ranger had gotten tired of being dragged away from his family to rescue crazy hikers who did not bother reading signs about parking areas closing at dark. Thank God for that. I slid the padlock out, Mike drove through, and I carefully replaced it just as I had found it and breathed a thank you to kind, practical human beings everywhere.

After a shower and a late supper, we looked at the forecast one more time before setting the alarm for an early wake up. No change.

RAIN

A light mist fell as we commenced our ascent to Mount Leconte. We congratulated ourselves on our fortitude and thought how silly we would have felt for backing out for something as innocuous as this.

Though the Smokies are littered with waterfalls and cascades of every sort, Rainbow Falls is the tallest. That, and the rainbow it produces on sunny afternoons, are its claim to fame. But as a general rule, the output is rather meager. As a general rule…

IMG_5375A couple of miles in, the rain picked up considerably. We pulled on rain jackets and carried on. We noticed how the colors of the leaves became more intense when wet. We looked out through openings in the trees at a world swathed in mist. We gave thanks for the canopy that withheld much of the water. Several streams crossed the trail. There were log bridges for a couple. The rest were crossed by stepping on larger rocks that stood above the water. We remarked early on how even the trail itself looked like a dry creek bed. As we neared the top, it wasn’t dry any more. Rivulets of water had begun to course down the center of the path. A curiosity. A slight inconvenience. For now.

By the time we reached the summit, our breath poured out in clouds of vapor and there were bits of ice in the rain. A fire burned in the lodge. We poured the water out of our boots, wrung out socks and jackets and hung them over chair backs to dry, and snuggled up to the stove. We devoured our lunch and drank our weight in coffee and hot chocolate. The memory of that warm coffee would be a comfort to me for some miles after.

Tearing ourselves away from the fire was painful. Shoving my feet back into those cold, wet boots made me want to cry a little. But it’s amazing how quickly the body acclimates. We started back down the way we had come, but we soon recognized that a considerable change in the trail had taken place while we rested. The rivulet was now a stream four or five inches deep. We straddled the path walking on its sides where we could, occasionally finding large rocks in the middle, avoiding stepping into the water at all costs. We would eventually give up on that.

The first water crossing was the worst. It had occurred to me by then that the rocks we had crossed on before might be difficult to find now. It had not occurred to me that they would be buried under a foot of roaring water tumbling headlong down the mountain. We walked up and down the creek looking for a place to string together rocks and make a crossing above water. It was not to be found. We dared not cross on the higher rocks for fear of being washed off and carried over the cliffs below. So we walked behind them figuring that if the water took us, the rocks would stop us. The freezing water came up to our thighs. We held our breath and held onto one another and pushed through to the other side. My heart was filled with gratitude and my boots were full of water.

Mike made me jump across the second stream. I didn’t think I could do it. We were jumping from one wet, mossy rock to another and it was a big gap and the pack made me feel like a rhinoceros on stilts. But he would not let me be a coward. He jumped first and did not die. He promised to catch me if I fell. I also did not die. I was very glad about that.

We continued to dodge water in the paths until the last mile and a half or so. It was mentally exhausting, all that navigating. It took us as long to get down as it did to get up. That never happens. But, we were rewarded by a view of the falls that most people never get. People who were only hiking as far as the falls were turning back because a couple of the water crossings were on that side of the falls. Perhaps we would have turned back if we had started then, I don’t know. I am glad now that was not an option.

As a training hike, it was far more effective than we planned. We learned a lot about packing for rain and are making some adjustments in our gear. Though the Grand Canyon is in the desert, sudden thunderstorms are always a possibility. As an adventure, it exceeded anything we might have hoped for.

Mike said to me, “When I am old and can’t remember anything any more, will you tell me the story of how we almost died but didn’t?”

“Yes, my love, I will.”

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls after

Rainbow Falls after

Man With Bicycle

I can’t stop thinking about the man with the bike. I passed him last night as I walked along the harbor in San Diego. He was not the first homeless man I had seen during the evening. There had been dozens. I suppose San Diego’s mild climate makes it a favorable place for those who must shelter out of doors. But it was the bicycle that arrested my attention.

Presumably, all that he possessed was contained there. Everything was thoughtfully arranged and strapped with great care. Flattened two liter bottles were pressed against the outside and I wondered if this was how he collected water. And where he found it. But, mostly I wondered, “How does he decide what goes on the bike?”

How would I?

I thought of homeless men I have sat at table with. Men who are part of the Room in the Inn program in Nashville. Of how ordinary they are. I recollected just how few things have to go wrong for someone to end up on the street. Why him? Why not me?

And if it were me, what would I try to keep with me?

If I could…

My grandmother’s quilt lovingly stitched during the cold months of winter? Photo albums that tell all our stories? They would be too heavy. I would have to pull the photos from their pages; maybe pack them in a plastic bag to protect them from the rain. What of the tiny clothes I sewed for my babies? They would be impractical. But how to give them away?

I did not speak to the man. It was late. I was alone. But I have not been able to stop thinking about him. Imagining him once swaddled and kissed by a happy mother, running with the carefree abandon of a little boy, dreaming dreams of the future. Maybe even as a young father cradling his newborn son. And now he sits, nodding, on a bench by the sea. All that is left to him makes two small bundles on a bicycle.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

The Hank Legacy

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He sits alone in a hazy shaft of spotlight, his fingers tenderly pulling a woeful tune from the strings of his guitar. A voice heavy with anguish begins to sing, “Did you ever see a robin weep when leaves begin to die? Like me, he’s lost the will to live. I’m so lonesome I could cry…” And my heart hurts. And all the lonely in my life seems to be wound up in this moment, this song, the lone singer and mournful strings.

She takes the stage like she owns it. “Hey, Good Lookin'” has never been so sassy, so strong. I feel the power of her voice reverberate in my chest and I wish, just once, I could know what it feels like to make a sound like that. Then the song becomes a duet and he gives it back to her line for line and it is the most playful, musical sort of flirtation and rivalry and fun.

Her voice is clean and clear, sweet with an unexpected warmth. And when she lofts into the high notes it is almost too beautiful to bear. The accompaniment is uncluttered. Simple. As it should be. “Please, don’t let me love you, cause I know you’ll be untrue.”

He can barely stay aloft on the bar stool. Sometimes he leans his head against the body of his guitar for support. He drags and slurs through “There’s a Tear in My Beer” while the whole cast tries to speed him on and we laugh until our sides ache and when I am sure it can’t get any funnier, it does, and it seems wrong to laugh at another’s misfortune and maybe I could stop except that the other guy starts playing the harmonica and it seems he is almost having to chase it down to play it and he is apparently as drunk as the other fellow and if they don’t stop soon I will probably wet my pants….

Four women exchange lines about love lost, then the instruments drop out, and their voices find harmonies and sail round our heads like wind and we are all wrapped up in it. “Alone and forsaken by God and by man. Oh Lord if you hear me please hold to my hand. Oh please understand.”

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These are just a few favorite moments from “The Hank Legacy: The Songs of Hank Williams”, an original musical review from Studio Tenn Theatre Company in Franklin. Hank sang a variety of styles and Studio Tenn honors this with their varied interpretations. The show includes everything from down and dirty blues, to rip roaring country bluegrass complete with pedal steel guitar, banjo, autoharp and a half dozen guitars, to tender acoustic ballads, to gospel tunes that make the heart soar.

Everything is artfully done right down to the set design. The show takes place, appropriately, in a honky tonk (where you can buy libations before the show and during intermission). I especially love the pendant lights made from Bulleit Bourbon bottles. The band is situated on a platform that amplifies the stomping of their feet when things get especially rowdy. And, there is a honky tonk piano in the corner that gets a real workout, especially on the heart wrenching “Lost on the River”.

Something must be said of the violinist who truly makes her instrument sing. It races and rollicks on the lively numbers, and it laments and very nearly weeps on the tragic ones. And her body is all one with the instrument and the playing is like dancing and I can’t not watch her.

The evening culminates in a gospel sing. Hank Williams loved gospel music. Like Elvis, he seemed to find a reverie there, an escape from his crazy life, a hope for redemption, peace. Everyone piles in on “I Saw the Light”. Guitars wail, the violin saws as though it will break, and  sweet gospel harmonies have our hearts throbbing with the palpable joy of it.

This is one of the most enjoyable shows I have ever seen. It was interrupted by no less than 8 standing ovations the evening we attended! It is that exceptional. At the end, I wanted to beg them to do it all over again. If you live anywhere close to the Nashville area, I strongly encourage you to see The Hank Legacy. In fact, even if you don’t, it merits a road trip. 🙂 It plays for two more weekends. Get tickets HERE. Just to tempt you, I offer this:

Photographs and highlight reel by ANTHONYMATULA. Sample more photos HERE and get a look behind the scenes HERE.

Be Kind

It is like a weight in the chest. Pressing in. Threatening to steal the breath. And you carry it with you everywhere; to work, to the grocery store, even to church. No one may ever know it is there. You wish you could forget it, lay it down for a moment. The grief is so deep. Sometimes you wonder if it will kill you.

You seem to be late everywhere you go. And you forget things. And you know people are frustrated with you and you wish you could think clearly but there are so many things to remember, so many decisions to make, so much that could go wrong, and a precious shortage of solutions. And you are tired. So tired. But sleep does not come. Will life ever be better than this? Will it ever be “normal” again?

I know this feeling. Intimately.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had in the past couple of weeks with friends who are up against something so big that it threatens to undo them. My heart hurts for them. Yet they get up every morning, get dressed, feed their children, and go back at it again. Their courage inspires me. And as I watch them walk in the world like the most ordinary heroes, I wonder how many of the people I encounter every day are carrying burdens like these…

She is making excruciating decisions to insure the compassionate and competent care of her mother who can no longer care for herself. Her mother doesn’t understand. She is furious.

She and her husband have completely reordered their lives to accommodate the unique needs of their precious son who they love more than life. It is a choice they make willingly. But it comes at a heavy price.

She wonders if the divorce was a mistake. But he has already remarried. And her children adore their new stepmother. She has never felt more alone.

Earlier this week, my friend Laura related this story:

This morning I mentioned to a check-out clerk at a local business how happy I was to see her back at work (she had been gone the last few times I had stopped in and I had missed her). As her eyes brimmed with tears, she shared that her daughter had died unexpectedly and she was just getting back after receiving custody of her grandchildren. We talked a few minutes longer until the next customer came to the register and she thanked me for asking about her a couple times. I would have missed such a blessing and an opportunity to share love with this sweet lady had I hurried in and out this morning like I sometimes do – a powerful lesson I won’t soon forget!

Today you and I will live our lives among people who are hurting, whether we know it or not. We have the opportunity to be dispensers of grace and generosity.

Let us be kind.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~Philo of Alexandria

Flight of Fancy…

The morning dawned cool and damp, like a renegade fall day. I knew it would not last. The atmosphere already strove to reclaim the cool along with the dew.

An accumulation of weeds had been tormenting me for days. Every time I crossed the porch or refilled the birdfeeders, they stared up at me with impudent faces, mocking me. I was glad to find an opportunity to attend to them, and even more glad that I could do it without being slathered in sweat.

hummingbird_butterfly_bushI buried the upper portion of myself inside the butterfly bush to get at a handful of offenders wedged between it and the iris. When I stood up to move to the other side, I found myself face to face with a Ruby-throated hummingbird. I immediately stopped breathing. I tried not to blink and even scolded my heart for beating too loudly. He was so close to me I could feel his wings beating the air. I don’t know what he asked me with his probing regard, but apparently he decided I was safe. He turned to a nearby panicle of blossoms and began sipping daintily from one tiny cup at a time.

My mind was racing like when you are in an accident or an almost accident and the whole of the world slows and your mind assesses the scene with surgical precision. I strained my eyes to see every precious detail of his beautiful body (which, incidentally, I took to be a female body at first for its lack of scarlet on the breast. I soon discovered I was mistaken.) I watched him move along the blossom like someone eating corn from a cob, a row at a time. Holiness hovered on his emerald wings and the heady scent of the blossoms might have been incense. I could feel the sacredness of this moment in my pores.

duel

Then I saw the other one.

He dived from the sky with a throb of wing and a pernicious squawk. The other rose to meet him and they hovered with their beaks only centimeters apart scolding, talking over one another. Neither was listening. One of them finally decided to retreat to the sunflowers, which seemed a reasonable and generous solution to me. But not to his aggressor. He pursued his enemy and they carried their dog fight higher and higher into the air until both of them fled.

And even this. Even the wild bravado of these young adolescent males establishing their territorial claims filled me with awe, and for a long time I could not stop looking into the sky at the very place where I saw them last.

I finally went back to my work, but there were a great many more visits from my winged friend, or friends, as the case may be. And this became just one more lowly, everyday experience shot through with the luminous. It happens all the time. Nothing is more common.

Be watching…

hummingbirds

*All photos (and the exquisite watercolor) harvested from other sources. I did eventually grab my phone to see if I might catch a shot, but the one time I tried, it frightened him away. I decided I would rather have his presence than his image. 🙂

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