Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meditation from my Morning Run

I admire the sidewalk sweepers
in their crisp, clean clothes
At dawn

The world made new
by their quiet attentions
heads bowed to the task.

There are few cars at that hour.

Very little noise at all and I can hear
my labored breathing,
the press of my shoes upon the pavement

When I think to take my headphones off.

I admire their attentions.

The care placed upon appearances
The soft swish of the needles
The rhythm of the brooms.

My rhythm is more insistent--
--faster, farther, more more more--
no goal in mind but speed and

The sweeper's goal is fraught
with failure, every day
a new mess to clear. And yet

They carry on,
Spartans at the gate
Of a sleeping city.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Horrible thoughts I have in response to an innocuous but disturbingly frequent stranger-observation

  • "Thanks. She's smart, too! Quick, Syd, 9 x 6."
  • "Thank you! She's funny, too. Syd, tell 'em the one about the priest, the rabbi, and the goat."
  • "Yes, she is, but not as beautiful as her sister, who we keep in an oxygen-rich tank and feed only blueberries and sheep's milk. Really, you should see the other one."
  • "Wow, thank you so much! She was genetically engineered for optimum bone structure and flesh tone--we did a good job, huh?"
  • "You should see her routine with the scarves and flaming batons--it's really something."
  • "Yeah, but she's a real dud in the personality department. Oh well, guess you can't have it all."

Friday, August 5, 2011

3 Poems by Mary Oliver

Empty Branch in the Orchard
To have loved
is everything.
I loved, once

a hummingbird
who came every afternoon--
the freedom-loving male--

who flew by himself
to sample
the sweets of the garden,

to sit
on a high, leafless branch
with his red throat gleaming.

And then, he came no more.
And I'm still waiting for him,
ten years later,

to come back,
and he will, or he will not.
There is a certain commitment

that each of us is given,
that has to do
with another world,

if there is one.
I remember you, hummingbird.
I think of you every day

even as I am still here,
soaked in color, waiting
year after honey-rich year.

Summer Morning

I implore you,
it's time to come back
from the dark,
it's morning,
the hills are pink
and the roses
whatever they felt
in the valley of night
are opening now
their soft dresses,
their leaves
are shining.
Why are you laggard?
Sure you have seen this
a thousand times,
which isn't half enough.
Let the world
have it's way with you
luminous as it is
with mystery
And pain--
graced as it is
with the ordinary.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass

Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe my soul needs.

And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we
Congratulations, if
you have changed.

Let me ask you this.
Do you think that beauty exists for some
Fabulous reason?

And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure--
your life--
what would do for you?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Evan, On Your 3rd Birthday

My sweet boy,

You are 3 years old today. Right now I'm sitting in the dining room of Aunt Kate's house, writing this letter and listening to you play Legos with Ethan and Archer. Uncle Ryan is playing his guitar and every once in a while you stop what you're doing to dance around the room. You are so full of joy, sometimes it's hard to sit back and watch you play without reaching down to kiss and hug and squeeze you. In fact, I'm going to have to take a break from writing this letter to do exactly that. Be right back.

Okay, done.

Evan, you are an amazing little boy. Last year I wrote about your gregarious nature, how self-possessed you are, how focused you are on anything that catches your attention, how passionate you are about the things you love. This year I've watched all of these qualities grow and expand; you are so fiercely loving--a quality you share with your mama--and it's incredibly exciting to watch you share that passion with the people in your life.

Your best friend is J. You've been knowing him since the two of you slept in adjoining cribs in the infant room at Abeona House. I wrote in an earlier post about your love for each other and my fears about whether and when the world would try to rob you of that love. So far it hasn't happened; though you are very very boy, through and through, whenever anyone mentions J. you are very quick to tell them that "J is my best friend. We love each other and give each other kisses and hugs."

During parent-teacher conferences a couple of months ago, your teacher, Ms. Aliza, and I discussed your natural tendency to lead (you do share a birthday with our current President) and she told me about a classroom management technique she'd recently developed that involved first telling you about the task at hand, then sitting back as you instructed the rest of the class and shepherded their compliance. She'd recognized your natural ability to lead and came up with a clever and creative way to channel it. I still get a kick out of watching you boss around kids who are twice your size. The funniest thing is, they always listen.

And speaking of size, you are very tiny. This only adds to your charm and makes it super easy to constantly cuddle you. Daddy and I are looking into some bonsai cultivation techniques.

You are absolutely obsessed with Legos. The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is climb out of your crib and head for the Lego table in your room, or downstairs to root through your Lego buckets. You go to sleep each night with two or three Lego guys (who must always carry some kind of weapon or tool). You entertain yourself for hours and hours, building minifigs and spaceships and castles and boats and various means of entrapment for "bad guys." Your favorite movie is "Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers" and we've watched it so many times that our entire family can quote large sections of the dialogue ("Rock monsters?! Why does it always have to be rock monsters?!") So strong is your passion for this particular toy, as well as your devotion to a certain football team, that for Halloween last year Daddy crafted a fabulous costume for you...

...Saints Lego Guy!

You have a keen interest in sports, particularly baseball and football, and you have fabulous hand/eye coordination. Your fine motor skills are freakishly strong and you are very affectionate. You love for me to hold you and luckily, you are still small enough for me to do so pretty much constantly (okay, okay, so the human bonsai thing is actually a pretty nasty business but can you blame me? You are just so unbelievably adorable).

Though I don't ascribe that much relevance to astrology, I have found that certain astrological traits seem to apply in many cases; I have always felt firmly Saggitarian, and your Dad is definitely a Taurus. Sydney is Libra through and through and you, my sweet, fierce boy, are so, so Leo. And in astrological circles, Leo and Saggitarius are reputed to have an unparalleled chemistry. Your fire, your ferocity, your boundless enthusiasm and your magneticism just fascinate me; I really cannot wait to see what you become.

You have brought so much joy into our lives that sometimes I feel I can't hold it all. Luckily, there are so many people in your life who love you and the joy is theirs to share, you give it readily and fully to everyone around you. You are the sun and moon, my dear: light and warmth, cool and calm. I could never have predicted how boundless my love could be, how inadequate words can be, until you came along at 5:42 pm on August 4th, 2008, and changed everything. Thank you for choosing us, I promise we won't let you down.

Now put down those Legos and give your mama a hug.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

All Good People

In late childhood I went through a phase wherein I was obsessed with JFK; at some point I had found an old copy of Life magazine that was dedicated to the Camelot era and I poured through that volume until the pages were smudged and torn. My walls were peppered with photos of the late President and of Jackie O., whose sense of style eluded me (I was, and to this day remain, generally oblivious to style and fashion), and I cried regularly over photos of the graves of their son Patrick, who died in infancy. I read about policy and the crises of his presidency; I studied photographs of the assassination and when I closed my eyes at night, I tried to imagine I was Jackie O, standing aboard Airforce One in a blood-soaked dress, watching the new President take a dreadful oath. I was enthralled by the pageantry but in retrospect I think it was the lack of cynicism that I was most attracted to--their goodness seemed palpable, indisputable. All you had to do was study the looks on the faces of the mourners who were photographed in the hours and days after the assassination to know, with certainty, that JFK was a good President, a good husband and father, a good man.

Of course I had read the nonsense about his philandering. I can't remember if it didn't seem important at the time, or if I didn't understand it, or if I chose to ignore it so as not to disturb the fantasy, but for whatever reason, these trespasses did not disrupt my fantasy. From a young age I'd always been comfortable with moral ambiguity. I remember a bedtime conversation with my mother about someone who'd hurt my feelings at school; I distinctly remember saying something along the lines of "I don't think there is such a thing as a bad person, only people who do bad things."

I still believe this to be true, though distinctions tend to gain importance as we age, don't they? As children we're permitted a non-judgmental stance; as adults we're expected to have opinions, to take stands and sides and positions. Those of us who are more comfortable in the grey area are thought of as wishy-washy. There's a line in a song I love: I see that there is evil/And I know that there is good/But the in-betweens I've never understood. The lyrics are catchy but the sensibility is opposite my own; the in-betweens have always made more sense to me than the poles.

But here's the rub: I'm surrounded by good people. Not just good enough, as in never killed or maimed anyone, but straight up amazing, off-the-charts awesome. My husband's grandmother died a few weeks ago, just shy of her 93rd birthday, and at her funeral we heard stories about the clothes and costumes she sewed for her children and their friends, the wedding cakes she made (in her spare time), the ferris wheel my husband's grandfather built for the 4 kids in the backyard of their home in Luling. Another funeral I attended back in the Spring, for a man who died way too early of a rare degenerative disease, left me reeling for days, contemplating the astounding integrity of this man's life. And it made me think of Tom Sawyer spying on his own funeral, and how every kid who read that chapter must have been fascinated by this scene--not just the fact of our mortality but the prospect of so much focused attention, of so many people observing our last appearance, celebrating our life. And it begs the question: what will people say at the end of yourlife? Will they spew platitudes and sing a couple of songs and go back to the house and eat cheese and crackers, or will it be a standing-room-only, tears-at-the-podium, we-all-learned-so-much-from-this-life sort of affair?

I had a dream in college after listening to the Beatles for hours on end and watching too many episodes of Twin Peaks with my roommate. In the dream, it was raining and everyone was searching for the body of Penny Lane; the banker, who wasn't wearing a Mac, was running through the drenched streets with blood dripping down his arms screaming "Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes!" and I sat in the barber's chair, horrified, contemplating the scene, and the barber leaned over and whispered in my ear "It's not enough to be a good person."

It's not enough to be a good person. Now what is that supposed to mean? As parents we comment on our children's behavior, not their character; we talk to them about making good choices and we (hopefully) encourage a non-judgmental approach to interpreting others' bad behaviors. But how many of us really think about the accumulation of our behaviors and choices? How often do we let ourselves slide because we believe in our own intent, in our goodness? How often do we recuse ourselves?

Sydney and I are working on our way through the first Harry Potter book and she has tons of questions about the Dursleys and at one point, the other night, I just said something along the lines of "they treat Harry like that because they are rotten people." Normally I go to great lengths to explain the nuances of human behavior, but on that particular evening exhaustion got the better of me. Sydney was quiet for a moment and I had just resumed reading when she tugged on my arm and said "Mommy? I don't think the Dursleys are bad people. They just seem a little scared to me."