Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My granddaughter S is soon to be nine years old. I remember the day her parents brought her home from the hospital. She was squalling at the top of her lungs as my son handed her to me. I took her in my arms and held her to my heart. She quieted immediately. That was the beginning of our special bond.

A few years later S was snuggled next to me on the sofa. Her new little brother J was on my lap. We were watching Dumbo for maybe the fourth time and had just gotten to the part where the circus elephants make a circle to keep Dumbo out when suddenly S knelt and put a hand on either side of my face. “MemerĂ©,” she said, “we need to talk about something.”

I looked into her earnest little face. “What do we need to talk about?” I asked her.

“Love,” she said. “It’s like this. When you love somebody, just because someone else comes over to play and you play with them, it doesn’t mean you don’t love the other person as much, right?”

I wondered what had brought this on. “I think I know what you mean,” I told her. “Last time I was visiting, your cousin came here and you went off to play with her. It didn’t mean you loved me any less.”

“Yes,” agreed S, “and just because J is sitting on your lap, it doesn’t mean you don’t love me, right?”

Ah, so that was it. “S,” I told her, “when you were born, I got to pick you up. I could feel your little heart beating against mine and I fell in love with you right then. I will never, ever fall out of love with you.”

“Did you feel J's little heart beating when he was born and fall in love with him, too?” she asked.

“I did,” I told her, “but that doesn’t mean I love you less. My heart is big enough for both of you, and for lots of other people, too.”

She snuggled back down beside me. “Good,” she said.

Later that evening, when S and I were holding hands while we drifted off to sleep, I thought about love in all its various forms. We’re born with a need to be loved and the capacity to love in return. All our lives we need to be surrounded by love, and if it isn’t there, something in us turns up missing. Because love is so vast a concept, it’s hard to pin one definition on it. It is always greater than the sum of its parts, is more than the respect, the trust, the caring, the delight, and the tenderness that go into it. And here was this tiny morsel of humanity, holding my hand and worrying about how much she was loved, how love could be divided and not be less than whole, and how she could share the affection of those she loved and not come up wanting.

The next morning she told her mother, “You know what, Mommy? MemerĂ© picked me up when I was born and she felt my heart beating on hers and BAM! That’s when it happened. We fell in love!”

Her mother looked at me and smiled. “I’m glad, S.”

“Me, too,” said S and she grinned up at me.

And that’s the way love should be – we should all hold our hearts against someone else’s and BAM! Think how big our hearts would be then.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One October Day

Today was a parting gift from summer. Temperatures soared into the 70s and the air was mild as milk.

Here and there patches of brilliantly colored leaves reflected the sunlight.

Clouds floated in the pond's mirrored surface.

Leaves that have fallen cover the lawn and line a path to the pond.

Fairy roses and purple asters still bloom in the side garden but the patio's border flowers have drooped or died.

Soon enough the winds of winter will blow through the naked trees, setting the branches a-clatter. Today, though, they whispered softly, charming the leaves from the trees to whirl and dance and drift.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lesser Gods

Reading Barbara's recent post about gratitude set me thinking. There are times when falling on your knees and giving thanks to whatever huge life force you believe in is good and necessary. But there are other times when that seems overmuch; a simple thank you to a lesser god would suffice. The Ancients had a solution for this. They had a pantheon of powerful deities that oversaw the general running of things while the everyday and commonplace was left in the capable hands of nature and household gods. Here are some ordinary miracles that I’d like to thank the lesser gods for:

- Corn flowers and Queen Anne’s Lace nodding together in a late summer breeze. Coming unexpectedly upon the juxtaposition of their blossoms, palest of blue against snowy white, can send my senses reeling and make me feel as though I have just been handed a bouquet.

- A cat in my lap or a dog’s head under my hand when I’m sad. I made it through a divorce with the help of my dog Chester, a massive beast who made it his mission to soothe by being there. He cried when I did so that I didn’t have to do it alone, and by demanding affection, he made sure I didn’t forget how to give. Parker, a lap cat if there ever was one, lets the tears fall where they may but insists on grinning when I pet him, reminding me that where tears end, smiles begin.

- Unexpected words of praise. One of my former students burst into the classroom between periods one day and threw her arms around me in a boisterous, happy, bear hug. Then, turning to the startled new students she crowed, “You’re lucky! This teacher rocks!” She was back out the door before they could respond, but I had a big silly grin on my face for the rest of the day.

- Rain at night. Weather is often prayed over but for me a gentle rainfall at night, hearing the pattering of drops on the roof like a lullaby and snuggling down under the covers all warm and dry and sleepy, can be as pleasurable as waking to sunshine.

- A good meal. Eating is always a necessity, often a pleasure, and sometimes a downright experience. It’s the pleasurable times we should make note of, the everyday meals we should be grateful for, thanking whatever household god keeps the refrigerator running and reminds us we’re almost out of ice cream.

- Books. Where would we be without words? Without a language that lets us communicate with one another? Without our stories – the ones we tell ourselves and the ones we tell others about what our lives mean? For that matter, what would we be?

- Friends. Companions. Fellow travelers. We’ve all met people who touch our lives and our hearts in some way, who help us to become better people just for knowing them.

- Small favors. I'm grateful when my car starts the first time I turn the key, when I find unexpected money in a pocket or when I have a good hair day. I'm delighted when the last bit of milk in the carton hasn’t yet gone sour, or the weatherperson said rain, and instead the sun is shining.

It’s the little things, we say, that make or break us. Perhaps if we gave them more of our attention, more of our appreciation, we’d break less often.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Belief Is A Personal Thing

“Life is life and death is death,” he said. “All the rest is human detail.”
A philosophy teacher I had in the 70s.

The huge sugar maple on the corner is exuberantly orange though the trees around it are still leafed in green. I lie back on my glider swing and watch white wisps of cloud sail before a high wind that does not reach me on here on the ground. I listen to the silence left behind by departed songbirds and summer bugs, and remember those words spoken years ago by a philosophy professor. My twenty-something self rebelled mightily against his words, sure that he was simply jaded and that with youthful zeal and diligent study I would prove him wrong, prove that life had meaning assigned by something bigger than ourselves. But now, amid the lazily spiraling leaves, the swift clouds, and the deep, autumnal silence, watching death approach cloaked in vibrant yellow, blazing orange, and sonorous purple, I think he was right. And thinking it makes me feel as peaceful as this autumn afternoon.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Day of Wings

This has been a day of wings. Even before the sun had a chance to burn through the dawn mist, flocks of Canada geese made their noisy way over my cottage. I stood on the doorstep in the cool, damp air and listened to what I could not see—dozens of pairs of beating wings.

The geese are gathering on the pond across the road, feeding and resting and greeting each other after a summer of breeding and raising their young. There are hundreds of them. They rise from the pond on beating wings and splash down again, ducking their heads beneath the water. In the mornings they leave for other ponds, and for fields of cut corn, gleaning spilled kernels to nourish themselves for their flight south. Late in the afternoon and into the early evening they return, great vees of them clamoring and honking, filling the sky with their indecipherable handwriting.

Later in the morning, as I was deadheading the last of the geraniums and clipping the rose bushes, I heard a commotion in the top of the huge cherry tree. Blackbirds were gathering there and as I watched, hundreds more settled into the surrounding locusts and pines, all squawking and chirping until my ears were full of the sound. Then, at some signal I could not decipher, the hundreds rose as one, and the sound of their wings was like a huge secret whispered to the sky.

The cheerful morning wake-up, wake-up of summer birdsong has been absent now for a month or more. The little birds that winter over, the chickadees, a few starlings, the juncos and nuthatches, twitter from roadside bushes and the branches of the lilac near my door, but morning music is now the province of the crows and the jays. The crows congregate in family groups, shouting news to one another across the yard or from high in the pine branches. The jay’s call is strident, a sound that cuts through the warm stillness of late afternoon like a squeaky porch swing.

It won’t be long before the sound of wings is gone. The Indian Summer days will pass too quickly, and before we know it, the still, cold days of early November will give way to rain and then to blustery winter winds. Instead of wings, the air will be filled with the whisper of snowflakes. But while the golden days last, I will stand on the doorstep in the dawn and listen to wings I can’t see. I will hoard the sounds of blackbird and goose, of crow and jay, to play back in the deep of December.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I'd Quit if I Could

“…what (the discovery of) Ardipithecus tells us is that we as humans have been evolving to what we are today for at least 6 million years."
C. Owen Lovejoy, an evolutionary biologist at Kent State University. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/10/01/oldest.human.skeleton/index.html

Six million years and we STILL can’t get along! Six million years in the making and where are we? On the brink of self-destruction, standing firm with our missiles and our bombs and our carbon emissions, unable to listen, unable to hear, unable to control ourselves, unable to share. Have these things been wrong with us for all 6 million years? Will we never learn?