Old Habits Die Hard

The truth is, I don’t quite know where to begin, but I think last night’s trip to my local office supplies store is as good a place as any.

If I still have any faithful readers of this nearly invisible blog, they will know it’s been months since I’ve written any thoughts in this space. They’ve been months full of gain and loss, of travel and home, of joy and sorrow. Life seemed youthful when chasing my children’s children and well up in years as I relived and released some of our family ties to England.  I’ve been running just to enter the ON ramp of life, never mind travel down the fast-moving highway. It was good to take a little slower road to my errand of last evening.

The quiet, orderly aisles of folders, pens, paper, markers….all served as a poignant reminder of so many trips taken these past 20+ years. My kids and I would easily fill a tote or two with supplies from the various school lists that had been unearthed from backpacks and waved across the kitchen table. One might ask, “Surely you don’t need school supplies now that your youngest is a rising junior in college?” But can’t my answer still be yes? Why can’t I pick up a couple (of those sometimes elusive) graph paper notebooks, or a box of unremarkable black ink pens, or the (predictable) thin box of 12 more colored pencils? I could add those in fairly good conscience, right? Wasn’t I also adding two really great pens and very cool gum pencil-top erasers for myself, and crayons for the grandkids? Those erasers are going to rock.

I returned this year with a smaller bag but the treasures inside were no less valuable. They make me contemplate the passage of time, this present intensity at home and at work, the gift of two more babies due and the miracle of each day. What troubled times seem to greet us each morning, or when we return from a day at the office!  I pray for this world. And perhaps, just perhaps, now that I’m restocked for the start of the academics’ new year, I can begin to look down to the bottom of my dry well. I know there will be some life-giving water: the time and rest I need to water this blog, and I hope, to still myself to hear all that I have been shown, given, and received.


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Make Way for Goslings?

This post was supposed to be entitled “UpTick,” a nod to my husband and to signal the increased vigilance now required on pets and selves after all this rainy cool weather. But a sighting this morning out the shuttle bus window as it wound down from the Station usurped this idea. It was a picture-perfect moment that inspired both fear and hope. Where else but in Boston could one find a live enactment of that classic Make Way for Ducklings,[i] with just a slight substitution from among the class Aves, phylum Chordata?

The intersection where this parade of parent geese and 8 goslings occurred is one of the busiest on the route. At least 4 roads join under one of the antique trolley bridges for the Green Line. I didn’t notice the proceedings until two riders pulled their smartphones to capture the odyssey. Thankfully the geese had chosen a moment when most of the traffic lights were red; a Boston cab was staring right across from their small line. Where could Michael the policeman be? Would some other native Bostonian leap from a car and hold the traffic until they crossed? Perhaps a tourist or two would come to the rescue: they must have read the story, right, or perhaps they even made a pilgrimage of their own to the statues in the Common yesterday?

Since our bus turned the corner, I may never know.  I had to look away anyway: even the idea of harm to animals gives me a knot in my midsection and it’s only getting worse with age.  I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed hard the little family would make it back over the roads to the Charles for their morning swim. Surely everyone nearby would have noticed what was happening. They would know the book, right, and be ‘read in’ enough to recognize the scene and pause in their journeys to do their part, to wait and let the geese walk by?

Please tell me it happened that way. We need some light and hope and goodness on these darker days.

[i]  McCloskey, Robert. Make Way For Ducklings. New York: The Viking Press, 1941.

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High Tide and Slow Pace

Today the sun shines some light and, I hope, some warmth into our small patch even if only for a day. It’s been a whirlwind of weather and ‘doings’ and most people would like to shed their rain gear and heavy outerwear. At my house we’ve been slowed by a sprained calf muscle, a rolled ankle, and general malaise. But the dog walk before the rolled ankle provided a wonderful sighting: there atop a tree, a bald eagle sat, just watching and waiting for the next thing to happen.

The tides on this week’s walks have been very full, and something about their appearance and our enforced slower pace has caused a few moments for reflection. It’s like the world needs some rest…just to catch its collective breath, and ensure that we really are moving forward from Easter and not backwards through Lent again to another Ash Wednesday. I thought I had my periscope up, looking for Easter people and the season of light, but on most days since, I’ve had head down, shoulders drooped and am just trying to take the next step.

So on this sunny day, I hope the high tide lifts a few more boats than just mine, and that this enforced slower pace will spur me to do the next task only, free from the sense of the other ten waiting my attention. It will warm up, yes?  We will hope for less violence in our world, right? May this late cold spring turn to early warm summer soon, and may our steps be put right and carry us forward.

Bald eagles really do rock.

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“Lean on Me”

OR so sang the singer last week at the substitute chai latte shop there in the Square. The rain was drizzling as it had done for so many days; sleepy commuters and workers were lining up for a morning brew. It all seems a bit far away now as we pull into Salem station this Monday morning: those on the platform are standing three deep. But hearing that tune provided a moment of warmth, and leaning just a little into the counterspace as I waited for my brew provides some lift into the wet wings.

Happily this week will offer much more sunshine. Besides full of rain and cold last week was the first after our return from a long trip made to say a final goodbye, in death, to a close family member. Many opportunities presented themselves in which we could choose to lean on those around us, and we did. In many ways, this mutual dependency extends here, at home, amongst those in whom we put our trust, whether stranger or friend. Surely it’s good to remember this.

We live in a tumultuous time. On bad days we feel the truth there is no guarantee we will be here tomorrow to do the work in front of us to do. On good days we long to seize the moments in which we find joy and purpose. Yesterday’s small fire to burn the first of the season’s brush was an example: tea in hand, snacks on the table, clear sky above and the  garden mess reduced to a clean pile of ash. Part of the charm is the simplicity; the moment both made and given on which to reflect: have we important work to finish and love to give and, if so, are we getting on with doing it?

Spring is upon us and we long to, and soon will, leave all the trappings of winter behind. May the fresh coming of life lead us forward into comfort and peace. We all could probably use, and give, much more of both. Like the night heron I see fishing out my train window, I guess we better get going.

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Lenten Life

Perhaps if I scrolled through earlier posts I’d find previous descriptions of my present experience: Lent arrives, it seems good to “take on” some kind of new discipline (this year’s was to stop and DO anything I breezed by and said I didn’t have time to do-very interesting!) and then things happen, and I, or we all (perhaps) find we are living Lent and not just following a new rule.

Tomorrow we fly to England to attend the sad business and grief of my only brother-in-law’s sudden and unexpected passing. I recall the Prayer Book bidding, “Send us out to do the work You have given us to do.” Even as I ride the morning train into town after the brief, ice crunching dog walk, I know in a matter of hours life will tumble into a time warp. These winter scenes will melt away. It will be early spring in that southwest and although always on the colder side of cool, Spring will be trying to ready us for its arrival. Past griefs and joys will flood our souls, and we will ponder our small role in a vast but particular cosmos.

Everyday things like new laptops, check-ins from the kids, the news from our grocery store (Murphy’s cleaning supplies have been added: amazing) –all these pale. News of others’ losses steams to the foreground of thoughts and prayers. It’s been another season of losses in the lives of those around us, and now this family loss joins us with them in a sad but common fellowship.

While it might be good to wish everyone a loss-free Lent, it might be better to belatedly hope room can be made for moments of reflection.  Shall we look behind or around us for courage, and ahead of us in gratitude? It is good to have another day to live and work here, in service and love for others.

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Shadow of Grief, Arm of Joy

It’s been a very cold start to the week, a real taste of “deep winter.” Various extra bits of clothing litter the kitchen, holiday mail (happily) keeps trickling in, reminding us we now owe everyone a note of some sort and there is general confusion over everything due to the refrigerator dying. A 16 year veteran of a household of six (more or less) as kids came, left, came back, left again, it got us through our absence for Christmas and the last child’s extraction of wisdom teeth. As soon as that last ice pack was applied, the freezer, then the body, began to leak, warm, and clearly declare its work finished. Given the weather, it’s the perfect time to loose this appliance, but it has involved some dashing about with a thermometer checking on bins in the attic and coolers in the van. I’m not sure why it will take three weeks for our new choice to arrive, but since no one really buys ahead for a refrigerator, it is what it is.

Into all this came a delight in yesterday’s mail. For some years before my father died in 2006, he’d been the recipient of a class action suit involving one of his former companies and asbestos. He’d given clear testimony several times about his hands-on work in the 60s and 70s as an insulator. Suits were settled and fees were paid. When he passed away, my mother received these occasional checks. And when she died three years ago, I persuaded my brother that we should at least keep the option open. Why not?

Since then we’ve probably had 2 or 3 small payments come our way, and yesterday this happened again. When I saw the return address of the law firm I felt that sense of kindred family: here was Dad, reaching out! What a nice surprise! It was familiar and comforting to see his name in the memo line of the check. But when I read the issue date, it was more than that: the check was cut on my birthday last month.

I believe these are the moments when as the Good Book says, the veil is very thin. Through the shadow of grief, of which there is plenty to go around, there can come a real arm of joy. “They,” our dead loved ones, are not so distant! “We,” those left here a while longer, are not out of range! God in his mercy is alive and well despite what we see as the very real human condition. The painful parts of the situations around us are a truth, but not the final truth. They may lodge with us, but they don’t define us. They are not our final destiny.

On this “deep winter” day, this is more than just my hope and prayer. Somehow, but especially in moments like this, it’s my belief.

Thanks, Dad, for my birthday check, even across all this time and space! Miss you still, and love you.

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The Anthropology and Archaeology of a New Year

As our train whizzes into Boston this dark and rainy morning, I’d like to report on the first trip of the new year the local grocery. Happily, the normal pre-Pats game crush wasn’t there; probably many had stocked up the day previous. This grocery plays a fairly central part of our life: not only do I seem to be in there every other day, but I wrote a column about it in each issue of my now very infrequent family newsletter. Designed for children away at college back in the day, the “News from the Bucket” updates were very popular.

On this inaugural trip of 2017, a large carton of Oxy-Clean laundry detergent lodged itself in the exit doorway. Noticed by one of the cart wranglers, he asked a couple of people exiting whether it was theirs. Alas, no. He strayed a way into the parking lot and also found no claimants, but as I scanned for my car, I headed over to a likely suspect. Sure enough, this shopper had dropped her soap and, with a “Hail” to the wrangler still stalking other cars, I managed a match the soap to a grateful shopper.

I then headed to my car, unloaded, and seeming out of nowhere, a shopper appeared who kindly offered to take my cart back to the ranch. “Thank you, “I called, “It’s all in the community.”

On archaeology: Yesterday was the day for mopping the bedroom floor. In the process, I found myself staring into the gunk lodged in the crevice between two very old floorboards. As I pried out a dime, a bobby pin emerged. With that pin I retrieved 22 cents; 2 paper clips; 1 stick-on diamond earring; 2 short pencils and 5 lego parts. Just as I was thinking that with another instrument I could find more, I unearthed a half-rusted quilting needle. Now with two implements I continued this surgery. More legos, but perhaps some of more significance: a lego visor, a golf pin flag (no 72), a horn, and a car flame. I also found 3 small washers and a tiny, tiny Tricolor: surely a flag from a Madeleine sticker set from years and years ago. And the best find? A teeny tiny blaster, no doubt owned by Han Solo, probably missing from truly a galaxy far, far away.

At one point I wonder if I should leave all this material in situ: after all, these planks swell or shrink depending on the season. What if this material were holding parts of this old house together?

I decided to abandon the quest, vacuum the remains, and leave the full length pencil in place. It’s a new year, there will, hopefully, be another day. I also wanted to file away the note found tucked behind some of the many notebooks that need shredding. It read, “Take out nutty dog.. van at MBTA lot.  I trying to make the 10:05.” No time for even complete sentences that day, but on this day, finding such abundant evidence of people and the stuff of their lives, I am refreshed in gratitude for all of it, and I wish each of us a peaceful, life-full, new year.


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