Monday, November 29, 2021

Transitioning

My stepfather Al is dying. Like all humans, he’s been dying since he started living. But he’s truly at the end of his life now. In a week he’ll be 94. He’s got no cancer, no heart disease, no kidney or liver failure. He’s just very old and he’s dying.

I grew up without religion and never learned what happened after death. I wasn’t taught that there is a heaven or hell. I wasn’t taught about reincarnation. So I’ve made up my own belief system based on my personal life experiences.

As I sit on the sidelines watching Al moving into death, I find myself feeling a mix of emotions — a sadness at the thought of him no longer being here with us, but a sense of comfort knowing that he is going somewhere where I can still find him.

These past few weeks Al has moved more deeply into what is called “transitioning.” Transitioning — what a beautiful word. For transgender people, it means moving into a gender that feels more natural, more true to their being. For older women like me, it means moving from brown or blond or black or red hair to gray, the color that is meant for our older age.

For Al, transitioning means moving from this earthly realm to something different. He’s gone from active — eating, watching the news, talking to us — to a quieter space. Now he sleeps almost all the time. He’s moved inside of himself. I envision him gathering his energy, holding it close, wrapping it up, as his physical body slowly releases its grasp.

My father died 25 years ago at age 56. He was sick; filled with cancer. When he died he wasn’t ready. My brothers were still so young, just 12 and 14. They weren’t ready. I wasn’t ready. My father wasn’t ready. His transition was choppy, interrupted by the constant need to stay in this realm. I remember even the day before my father died I didn’t believe it would happen.

The further away from my father’s death I get, the stronger I feel his presence. As my sadness for my loss has taken up less space over time, my father’s spiritual presence has had more room to show up. I feel him all the time. I am not deep in grief at losing him anymore and so I can feel him come to me in other ways — memories, feelings, and unexplainable coincidences.

Al’s transition is very different from my father’s. In the stillness of Al’s body now there is a shift. The life force as we know it is slowing down, chugging along with minimal strength while a new energy moves its way through him , touching every part of his body like the stroke of a magic wand. Eventually, Al’s whole body will tingle with this new energy. He will have moved from alive to dead; he will have transitioned.

The dead part is just a stopping point, a place where we can say goodbye to the physical body, to clearly delineate the transition that’s been made. But I don’t believe it’s the endpoint. I never have. I will be sad when Al dies. When I imagine him gone I feel tiny cracks in my heart, little aches of missing his alive presence. But Al is ready to go, and I have faith that he’s transitioning into a good place.

I know so much more than I did those many years ago when my father died. I know that Al will come back to me in different, unexpected ways. I know that, like with my father, as my sadness of losing him becomes less potent, Al’s presence will grow stronger in my life. He won’t be here, on this earth with me. I won’t be able to hug him or hold his hand. I won’t be able to talk to him and hear his voice. But I’ll feel him. I’ll know he’s still here with me.

Postscript: Al died minutes after I finished writing this story.


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Now That's My Idea of a Party


Last weekend my partner Nancy and I hosted a 109th birthday party. Between the two of us this year we turned 109. Nancy’s dream, when she was a kid, was to be a Harlem Globetrotter or a professional diver. For the last few decades, she’s turned her focus to becoming a master roller skater.

A few times a year Nancy resurrects her dream. We’ll go skate outside along the lake or at the park. This year we rented out a roller rink and invited all of our friends to join us for an evening of skating. 

The party was from 6–8 pm on a Sunday night. We made cupcakes, ordered pizzas, and packed a cooler full of seltzers. The folks at the rink would take care of the rest of it. I was excited about the party but, as always, I felt a slight pit of anxiety at the thought of being in a big social situation. 

I’m better in small settings — just a few close friends where everyone can hear what the other people are saying and settle into a conversation at a natural pace. In large groups, I always clam up and worry that I’m taking too much of someone’s time or that I’m too dull or annoying.

And hosting is always the worst for me — so much responsibility to make sure everyone is happy. Plus, I’ve been so busy lately with my new job that I hadn’t really had time to prepare for this skating party. Besides making cupcakes I hadn’t really done anything. At the last minute, I borrowed some bellbottoms and a cool polyester shirt from my teenage daughter and put on some sparkly eye shadow.

We got to the rink at 5:45 pm — just enough time to lay out the food and put on our skates before the guests arrived at 6 pm. The DJ pumped the jams as Nancy and I warmed up and got our skating legs going. By the time the first guests arrived at 6:05 pm we were comfortable and in the groove.

Because we had to wear masks at the rink I couldn’t wear my glasses so, as people checked in at the front, I couldn’t tell who was arriving. I could only greet people as they joined us on the skating floor and got close enough for me to see them. I’d wave as I passed them or as they passed me. It was perfect — there was no awkward hello, how are you, thanks for coming. There was no standing around navigating how to deepen or end the conversation.

It was amazing. People skated off and back onto the floor throughout the night. Some people just hung out on the sidelines and watched the skaters. But I stayed on the skate floor for almost the entire time. I was safe there, free from uncomfortable chit-chat. It was the perfect escape for my host anxiety syndrome.

My favorite part of the night was the limbo where the rink host invited everyone to the middle and we ducked under the pole as he lowered it one rung at a time. We all lined up and went one by one, trying to scrunch our bodies down so as not to knock the pole.

Kids almost always have organized birthday parties. The parents plan it and the kids follow the activity plan. But as adults, we rarely do that. We force ourselves to sit in little clusters making conversation. No wonder we have to ply ourselves with alcohol! It’s hard work and, at least for me, kind of stressful.

I love it when the host has a plan. A few years ago a friend hosted a mock Great British Baking Show for her fortieth. Another friend hosted a pentathlon for her fiftieth. One year at a family Thanksgiving we spent the weekend painting watercolors between rounds of Bananagrams. These structured group activities are my favorite. They are truly fun and relaxing for me. 

And the rollerskating party was too. It was fun. It was light. It was easy. It was joyful. And it was all of these things because we could just let go. We could NOT talk about work or parenting or caretaking our older parents. We could NOT talk about politics or COVID or climate change. My friend Megan texted me afterward, “There’s something about going around in circles to music and lights and puffs of smoke that make me forget all my worries!” Exactly!!!

As the evening wore on there was a natural exodus. Little group by little group, people got done skating. They turned their skates in for their street shoes. They put on their coats and waved goodbye. Nancy and I were the last ones off the skating floor. After two hours we felt done too. The goodbye was as unawkward as the hello. Now that’s my idea of a party.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Be Like the Bird Watcher

 


For my partner’s birthday yesterday, I coordinated an Introduction to Bird Watching class with the two of us, two friends, and a guide. It was a cold sunny morning and we gathered at a local horticultural center to wander among the trees and ponds. 

The first step was a lesson in properly using binoculars. Though we have a few pairs of binoculars, it turns out I’ve never used them correctly. To focus the left eye you close the right eye and use the center dial. Then, to focus the right eye you close the left eye and adjust the lens with a moveable ring on the right side. Once each lens is separately adjusted the binoculars work as they are supposed to — bringing full focus into whatever you are trying to see.

The next step is finding the image you are trying to focus on with the binoculars. Before using the binoculars you have to detect the image itself with your natural eyes. You have to place it in space before you deepen your focus on it. 

This was a big lesson for me. In the past, I’ve tried to find the image — the bird, the boat, the bloom — just with my binoculars. That technique has left me feeling like I’m watching a video produced and directed by a baby. Our guide told us to find what we are trying to amplify first. Then, keeping our eyes on the image, bring the binoculars to our eyes. 

Yesterday we saw twenty-six bird species ranging from the Canada Goose to the Yellow-Rumped Warbler. I couldn’t capture the detail of every bird we saw, but I was able to bring into focus some things I’d never seen before. With the binoculars used properly, I could see the copper belt on the female Belted Kingfisher. I could see the distinctive flat bill on the Northern Shoveler. And when we got close to my favorite bird, the Great Blue Heron, I could see, as she stood still as a statue, the wispy white chest feathers like two tiny watercolor brush strokes. 

At one point our guide said, as a few of us struggled to find the Kingfisher who was calling to us but making herself hard to find, “Try just closing your eyes and listening for her. Sometimes if you can’t see the bird you can hear it.” I tried this technique a few times on our walk. My ears aren’t trained like hers (yet). I couldn’t find the specific bird we were searching for by her sound, but I was able to hear other birds in our midst by closing my visual senses. And in closing my eyes everything felt more peaceful. There was so much there, even in the absence of sight. 

Lately, my life has been busier than usual. I have three KanBan boards going — one for each job and one for my household. The number of tiny post-it notes I have moving from the “ToDo” to the “In Progress” to the “Done” columns is overwhelming. The point of the KanBan board is, of course, to help me move through multiple tasks, but the overall result is a sense of feeling out of focus. In the maelstrom of multiple to-dos, there is an absence of being present with myself. My focus is all over the place.

Bird watching yesterday felt like an invitation to come back into focus — an opportunity to close my eyes and imagine all those neon one-inch squares of to-dos being carried away by the wind while I brought tiny birds into focus, one by one.

The experience made me think of Anne Lammot’s book Bird by Bird. In her book she shared a story about her dad coaching her brother through a school project about which he felt overwhelmed. “Just take it bird by bird,” the father told the son. It’s an invitation to slow down and take one thing at a time. In this step by step approach big, seemingly insurmountable tasks become possible. 

This morning I took a walk along the lake in my own neighborhood. I spotted a Hooded Merganser and a Double-crested Cormorant. I didn’t have my binoculars but I was able to recognize the birds from afar and bring them into distant focus. In slowing down and bringing each of them into focus I was able to connect with that feeling in myself. 

While bird watching yesterday I saw lots of birds, one by one, over the course of a few hours. Each bird I looked at through my binoculars looked entirely different once I brought it fully into focus — more detailed, more beautiful, more complicated and alive. And though we saw twenty-six different birds, my mind didn’t feel harried or chaotic at the end of our time. I felt calm and peaceful, focused and clear. 

Tomorrow I’ll go back to work, back to my KanBan boards. The lists on my boards are important. They help me meet my responsibilities and feel a sense of mastery in my work. But they also overwhelm me. I’ve been looking at the boards the wrong way; I’ve been trying to see the whole board at once instead of focusing on one task at a time. Tomorrow I will look at those post-its differently. I’ll look at them one by one, taking my time to bring each one into focus. Bird by bird.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

What's in a Gift?

 

When I was a kid I used to sit facing away from my twin sister when we got gifts. Sometimes we’d sit back to back as we opened the presents so neither of us would see the gift first. My twin and I are not identical. I am and have always been six inches taller than her. When we were kids I was very shy and she was radiantly outgoing. In our high school days, I was a swimmer and she was a star actress in the high school plays. Though genetically we were only as similar to each other as we were to our younger sister, our main identity was always “one of the twins.”

I’ve always loved giving gifts, but, because of my early twin years, I’ve never liked receiving them. I hate my birthday and every year I grit my teeth and wait until the day is over. When I meet someone on the street who has young twins and I tell them I’m a twin they usually ask if I have any advice. “Do not give them the same gifts,” I always say, “And, give them separate birthday parties if you can swing it.” 

Giving gifts is an opportunity to show another person that you are thinking about them, that you care about them. For the gift giver, it’s a chance to say, “I saw this and it made me think about you.” The gift tells the story of how the giver sees the recipient.

But for me, because I’m a twin, the receiving part of the experience got tainted early on. It was always tangled up — especially when we received the same gifts — in the confusion of what they saw in me and what they saw in her. 

Growing up, on holidays and birthdays when the time for gifts arrived I always choked up. What would I get? Would it be the same as my twin? And if it was, was it more suited to her than to me? I could never see clearly. I always read into it — that she was loved more; that they understood her better. 

I remember in seventh grade Tracy Latimore gave me two tiny glass animal figurines (one lion and one bunny) from the Hallmark store. I don’t remember what she gave my twin sister, but it was something completely different. I felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and connection with Tracy. She knew me. She could see that I was different from my twin sister. She gave me a gift that reflected me alone, not half of a whole.

The Christmas of my freshman year in college my mother gave me a pair of leggings and an oversized sweatshirt. It was 1991 and that was the style. But I’d misinterpreted the gift. I cried my eyes out and locked myself in the bathroom for an hour because all I could think was that she thought I was fat. No matter the gift, she really didn’t have a chance.

Another year, just after I’d bought my first house, my mom sent me a set of tea towels with mushrooms on them along with a bag of dried shitakes for my birthday. I have always hated mushrooms. I pick them out of my food and reject them from my pizza. But my twin sister loves mushrooms. Maybe Mom mixed us up. But that was a crappy birthday. It brought me back to the days as a young twin, being lumped into a duo instead of being seen as an individual with different preferences, interests, and feelings.

A few years ago I started a list in my household — first on our phones, then on the wall — for my partner and my daughter to write down things they want. It was mostly for me so that, at gift receiving time I wouldn’t have to face the anxiety of getting a gift that would spin me back into my childhood despair of being misunderstood and unknown. 

This year on my birthday my mom sent me a check. She’s learned, I guess, over all these years, that I can’t handle the gifts. And my daughter and partner gave me things from “the list.” I’d managed to manipulate my family into catering to my birthday drama, but the day was still riddled with confusing emotions. 

My favorite gifts to give and receive are homemade. When I get a gift that someone has made themselves — cookies, bath salts, a poem, a plant they grew from a start — I think about the time they gave, a little piece of themselves. And even if I don’t use bath salts or like the flavor of cookies, I love the feeling I get when I get the gift.

Last night, the day after my birthday, my daughter and I went to Goodwill. I am working on a homemade present that I’ll give for Christmas and I needed some notions. Wandering around the store I felt excited and happy planning this homemade project.

On the way home in the car, I told my daughter (again) how much I loved the poem she’d written for my birthday the day before. She told me how she wanted to save money for a car. “I don’t really need any gifts,” she said. 

“Why don’t you tell your grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles that you don’t want a gift this year — that you are saving for a car?” and, I threw in strategically, “What if we just do homemade presents in our house this year?” 

“That sounds good,” she said. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt happier than I had all day.

Friday, November 12, 2021

You're Giving Me a Heart Attack


The other day the mother of my daughter Lucia’s friend Jane called me. I don’t know her. We’ve said hello at a soccer game and texted a few times to coordinate where the girls are sleeping over on the weekend, but we’re not really friends.

I miss the days when I knew the parents of Lucia’s friends. I miss dropping her off and picking her up; coming inside to say hello or goodbye. Once Lucia started high school the parental meet and greet fizzled out. The kids were more independent. They made plans on their own — more informing the parents than making a plan with our help.

I’m used to it now but often on the weekends when Lucia is sleeping at a friend’s house I worry. When Jane’s mother called me the other day, I was surprised. When I picked up the call, I asked right away, “Is everything okay?”

“Well, ah,” she said, “Jane isn’t answering my calls and Jane’s friend Mary called to tell me that Jane’s car broke down. I don’t know why Jane isn’t calling me herself. I keep trying her and she isn’t picking up.”

I wondered too. There was no school the next day and I knew the girls had gone to soccer practice and were then going to go to a party. They had been hanging out at my house just a few hours before the call.

“Let me call Lucia,” I said, “They were just here and maybe she’ll answer her phone.” 

After a few attempts, I reached Lucia. She breathlessly answered the phone, “Mom, did you hear?” and proceeded to detail a story about how Jane’s car had died in the middle of an intersection and they were stranded. She told me how a man stopped to help them, jumping Jane’s car long enough to get to their Mary’s house. But just as they were pulling in to park, Jane’s car died again and they’d had to push the car another block to get it into a parking spot.

They were okay. Lucia told me that Jane was, at that moment, also on the phone with her mother.

I called Jane’s mother back to check in. Her voice was distracted and far away. I felt for her. I’ve been where she was in that moment. She was in the aftermath of intense worry. Behind the frustration and anger of not being able to reach her daughter, she had been experiencing a crushing maternal fear.

A few years ago Lucia didn’t answer her phone for hours while she was at a Halloween party. The images that went through my head — abduction, date rape, drowning, car accident, passed out from a head injury, alcohol or drug overdose — overwhelmed me. The inside of my head was like a boxing match of terrible possibilities. 

These catastrophic visions were all taking up space in my brain, occupying the airwaves so the most terrible thought of all — that my daughter was gone — couldn’t get through. 

It is the greatest fear, the one that is always there. That my child will somehow no longer be my child. That something horrible will happen when she is away from me and I will never see her again. It’s extreme worry, intense anxiety, yet I feel like it is totally normal. It’s what I imagined Jane’s mother was experiencing when she couldn’t reach her daughter.

My daughter is a confident, competent, independent young woman, and most of the time I feel like she is okay. I trust that, in most situations, she is going to be fine. But every once in a while that deep fear of the worst emerges. In those moments, the possibility that everything could go horribly, dreadfully wrong takes over. It’s like a mini heart attack — fluttering in my gut, clenching in my chest, and pressure behind my eyes. 

When the moment of panic is over, after I’ve confirmed that all is well with my daughter, there is still the residue from the experience. I feel drained, exhausted, raw with the emotion of almost losing her. In less than two years Lucia will be away at college; she will be far more out of touch than she is now. I’ll have zero control over her whereabouts or whether she contacts me to check-in. This time right now is preparing me for that more profound letting go.

Lucia is very good about staying in touch and responding if I reach out to her by text. But I’m also way better and letting her go a little bit further, for a little bit longer. I am building my threshold for being out of touch with her and letting her life be a little bit more of a mystery to me. I’m excited about her future and I know that from here on out most of her adventures will be without me. She’s ready for this next chapter and I have to be ready too. 

I notice a difference in my level of worry from years past. I don’t suffer the parade of terrible possibilities like I used to when I didn’t know Lucia’s whereabouts. But I still have moments. I know when Lucia is away at college I’ll still have little mini-heart attacks or worry. I imagine even when she’s fully launched, maybe even with her own family, I’ll have periodic heart-stopping worries from time to time. I don’t expect that feeling will ever fully go away. It’s just part of being a mother. 



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Welcoming Opposites

 

Last weekend I went on a retreat with nine amazing women. We spent the weekend in cozy cottages deep in the forest. We took a sauna, sat in the hot tub, ate amazing food, watercolored, did yoga, meditated, and wrote. And that’s just the big stuff. The tiny little moments of wonder, awe, and gratitude are too many to list. At one point we all witnessed, as if in slow motion, a coyote chasing a bunny. It was truly magical.

I came home on Sunday evening, unloaded my car, had dinner with my family, and went to bed so I could be well-rested for work the next day. Work. How could I ever go back there? After a weekend doing all the things I love with people who were also there to do things they love, how would I muster the energy to go back into the portal of bureaucracy and checklists? How would I sit through another Zoom meeting away from the trees and the coyotes and the bunnies?

How could I possibly find the energy and discipline necessary to do all of the tasks that don’t inspire me? I woke up heavy on Monday morning. I felt the percolating excitement of the weekend already fading. “Noooooooooooo…” I groaned inside my head. I wanted to hold onto it. How could I get that magic feeling back? I spent some time looking through photos of the weekend. I shared them with my family and, as I scrolled through the images, I felt the flicker of a smile shining from my heart. 

But the retreat was over. It was time to go to work, down to my basement office, to my screen. I took a deep breath, poured myself another cup of coffee, and walked down into my daily reality. I don’t hate my job. I just really loved the retreat. As I worked through my lists, sat through my meetings, moved tasks across my KanBan board, I realized that part of the reason the retreat was so magical was that life isn’t always that way. 

On Monday morning the heaviness of my job felt more intense because I was emerging from the lightness of the retreat. And the magic and lightness of the retreat were amplified because of the heaviness of my daily life. 

The truth is that I like working. I like feeling productive and being busy. I enjoy the sense of completion when I finish a task. Once I got started working on Monday, once I opened up to that reality instead of focusing on the retreat, I found my groove. I got going and it was okay. 

It is by welcoming these opposites that we experience the wholeness of life. On the last day of our retreat, I found a fern frond. Half of it was crispy brown and dead and the other half verdant and alive. Together they made up everything — the alive and the dead, the soft and the hard, the light and the dark. 

The frond made me think of both my relationship with my mother and my relationship with my daughter. There is so much that is good in both relationships and so much that is hard. And all the parts are necessary for an authentic relationship. Both conflict and connection are required for growth to happen. 

My relationship with both my mother and my daughter is stronger because we’ve been through hard things. And my experience with the retreat was richer because I work hard and do the grind. And so it is with so many things in life. The green is greener because when we welcome the brown. 


Thursday, November 4, 2021

COVID Calm


Yesterday I was taking a walk on the lake. It was a cloudy, misty day and there weren’t many of us out there. I was trying to cram a power walk in before a meeting so I was speeding along the lake. I passed a woman who was moseying, seemingly without a care in the world in the middle of the day on a rainy Wednesday.

As I passed the woman I instinctively turned to see who it was. She was wearing a mask and a hoodie. She looked a little bit like she was gearing up to rob a bank. But I knew her. “Hi!” I said, surprised to see her in the middle of a workday. 

“Hi,” she said, from behind her mask.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“I have COVID,” she said. “It’s not bad,” she explained, “the vaccine really works! I’m tired but I just needed to get outside and get some fresh air.”

When she first told me she had COVID, I instinctively stepped away from her. But then, registering that she had a mask and we were outside, I righted my reaction and stepped forward again. 

We talked a little bit, normal chit-chat, not really about COVID. We didn’t talk about where she got it or who she might have exposed. We didn’t spend a lot of time on her symptoms. We talked mostly about her dog who’d recently died; about which neighborhood vet we liked the best.

We’ve turned a corner. There was a time when we all wore masks outside. We stepped away from each other all the time, assuming that COVID was everywhere. We talked about it constantly.

We’ve entered the era of COVID calm. The virus is out there. Some people get it. And, for the most part, those who are vaccinated seem to weather the virus well. But we’re not collectively freaking out anymore.

Ahhhh. Such a relief. Last week I went to a concert at a huge venue — thousands of people. Most were wearing masks, but many were not. They were drinking beer or eating snacks or just not wearing their masks.

For a moment, while at the concert, I thought to myself, “Holy shit, what the hell am I doing? This is crazy!” And then I calmed down. COVID is out there. I was certainly putting myself at greater risk by going to the concert. But it was a calculated risk. I am vaccinated. We have a vaccination requirement for public spaces in my state. I was aware, I am aware, that if I get COVID, I will likely be okay.

It is only in hindsight that I remember how crazy I was before. COVID was all I talked about. The other important things in the world — the climate, racial and economic injustice, sexism, homophobia — all that stuff took a back burner to COVID. 

I made my partner stay in an Air B & B after coming home from a funeral last year because I was convinced she had COVID. I was living in a state of constant fear and anxiety. And now I’m not. I’m calm about COVID. I’m still vigilant. I follow the rules. I weigh my risks. But overall I’m calm.

I’m grateful to be on this side of the COVID anxiety continuum. Yesterday when I saw my friend, my COVID positive friend, walking on the lake, I saw clearly how far I’ve come, how far we’ve come. COVID is not the monster it once was. It’s more like a persistent rodent, hanging around, feeding on loose scraps. If we put away all the food and plug up all the access points in the house, it won’t get in. 

People are getting boosters and the kids are going to be vaccinated soon. Things are only going to get better from here. It looks like maybe we getting to the other side of COVID. I still worry about the spread of COVID — about the many people who won’t get vaccinated. But I think even with those dumdums who leave the door open with old pizza and burgers on the counter, recklessly inviting the vermin in, we’re going to be okay. We’ve reached the era of COVID calm. 

COVID took us to the depths of fear and despair. It took us to a place none of us could have imagined. But we’re not there anymore. Maybe now we can focus on other things. We can put some energy into police reform and global warming, our education system, women’s reproductive freedom, and the insidious nature of social media. Maybe we can use this COVID calm, put it to good use and start to repair what is broken in the world. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Why I Wake Early

 

This morning I woke up at 5:30 am. I hadn’t slept as well as I normally do, but it wasn’t worth going back to sleep. The night behind me had been restless and I didn’t want to go back there. I looked through my window to the pitch black outside and felt the chill in our bedroom. I would get up, I thought to myself, and enjoy the early morning. Our dog Freckles heard me rise and scurried to follow me so he could get an early breakfast.

I love the quiet of the early morning. I tread softly so as not to wake anyone in the house. I made coffee and fed Freckles. Then I lit a candle and brought the candle and my warm mug to the living room where I sat on the couch and closed my eyes to breathe and listen to the silence for a few minutes. 

As I sat, enjoying the still sleepy feeling in my body and my brain, I thought to myself, “this I why I wake early.” I remembered one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems.

Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Normally I’m a famously sound sleeper and I don’t stir until my alarm goes off at 6:20 am. But I just started a new job and my head is full of lists and questions and shoulds and what-ifs. Getting out of a bed felt more like a relief than a chore this morning. Sitting in the dark with my candle and cup of coffee felt like, “the best preacher that ever was.” A few moments to settle into the stillness before the worries of the day began. It offered me a short time to connect with the magic of quiet and darkness, to simply, “be where I [am] in the universe”.

As I sat on the couch in the dark I could see the lights of cars far in the distance on the bridge crossing over the lake. I could hear a distant train whistle and periodic choppy voices of runners trotting down to the hill to the path along the lake. It was still too early to hear any birds. At this hour they were still sleeping.

Inside my house was utter silence. I felt such gratitude for this time of just being — no work, no parenting, no planning. Just being. The day ahead would be busy. I’ve put too much on my plate and I haven’t figured out yet how to manage these humungous servings. 

I know I’ll figure out this new job and the other commitments I’ve heaped onto my plate. I’ll learn that, instead of trying to ingest all the mounds of food at once, I can compost some and put some in the fridge to be saved for tomorrow or the next day. But I’m in a transition and I know the next few weeks, maybe months will be an adjustment. 

For right now though, I have these morning hours to keep me grounded. This is why I wake early. To step into the day slowly, to watch the sun come up and be held in “the great hands of light.” When my family wakes in an hour maybe I’ll be in the kitchen or my office or maybe I’ll still be sitting on the couch. But I’ll be ready for them, ready to start the day. “Good morning,” I’ll say. And I’ll really mean it. 

Work Life Balance

Yesterday while I was working I thought to myself, “I could do this all day long!” And that’s a good thing because that was the plan. I rece...