Category Archives: Life
The best representation I could find of the family this week . . .
I don’t know how someone thought to put the music in this second piece with the Peter Paul Rubens picture, but I’m glad they did. To me it captures the juxtaposition between the hundreds of dances we do and our profound longing for deeper meaning and reality. We engage in the here and now, and yet we sense something beyond us that is bigger and more beautiful. We reach for one another, twist and turn. Meanwhile in all the jostling, the shape of divine love walks among us whispering an invitation.
This last offering was a recommendation from my oldest who says it’s the beautiful piece out there.
Sometimes you’re going down the road certain. Then suddenly it hits you: you’re going the wrong way. This is not my metaphor. It was part of an apology and an about face I once listened to. Ten years later, I still see that man in my mind explaining how he’d been so sure until he realized he needed to stop and start going the opposite direction. The details of the speech are long gone but that single idea comes back to me when I need it.
Yes, I want to whisper when his words echo in my mind. Yes. It’s true. Sometimes a path is clear as day, until you wake up to see that you’ve been standing on your head. Or that the traffic coming toward you on the one way street ought to be telling you something.
This is me right now. Yesterday, I was firmly headed one direction only to see it was the wrong one. I wish this was a story of streets, where cars turn around and nobody gets hurt. But it isn’t.
With increasing frustration, I have pushed a certain someone on quite a number of points. A friend tells me I am the queen of hyperbole (although she stopped short of a capital Q and it hung in the air like a question as to whether this was a good thing). So stripping my own words naked of all disguise, my communications to said individual have boiled down to this: You are not trying, you don’t care, you fail to please or impress me, ergo you disappoint me, ergo who you are is not acceptable.
The alarming number of “you” statements storming about left me unmoved as I laid in bed at the end of my rope with the not caring and the not trying. The image of the man in khaki pants, blue oxford open at the neck chose then to visit. “Suddenly, like right between the eyes, it hit me, bam. We’re going the wrong way,” he tells me for the 300th time in ten years.
My situation has nothing to do with the khaki man, but hearing his echo stopped me long enough to see what I didn’t see before. The person driving me to distraction (around the bend and back again with forks in my eyes), that person could not care more if they tried. And as for trying, they’re doing quite a lot of that.
One minute, execution or a scathing descriptive poem are vying in my brain for top spot in the apt responses category. The next minute, I’m rubbing my eyes wondering if they’d been covered with scales. The other person’s previously invisible efforts now seem impossible to miss. I feel quite a bit undone. I am teacher, a mother, and a reader of studies and books. I don’t want to be the person devoid of mercy for someone trying hard. who cares so deeply. Yet I see in hindsight what a tiny box I’ve put them in, while throwing up my hands that they fail to keep the windows clean.
On the face of things, nothing has changed. Inside, that familiar first responder of my bosom, madness, has been sat down firmly and its mouth taped shut by sadness. This is an opposite of sitting stagnant hopelessness thing. Sadness that demands one steer with a will towards mercy is a friend.
I took this picture on a lazy canoe ride with my husband this summer.
It feels like we’re all in some form of taking off at the moment.
Girl two has been there done that with being little. She’s big and you can see it, or she’ll scream her head off. (So to speak. It’s just an expression. Mostly.)
Girl one has her eye on the growing up prize, sneaking dress shoes to school instead of sneakers and wrapping herself in fancy scarves whenever possible.
Boy two is turning twelve soon. Unlike his sisters, his dreams of flight do not involve growing up. Rather, they involve making himself more unique than he already is. I was informed recently that he has invented a new hairstyle he calls, “the elf.” He explained the elf to me proudly while preparing it for school. I quote, “the whole entire point of it is to make your ears look like their sticking out as much as possible.”
Boy one is in grade 11 and eager to be as old as possible as soon as possible. Nothing makes him happier than answering the phone and having to explain that he is not his dad. His wings flap madly regardless of wind, lift, or splash, stopping only when he falls unconscious to his pillow each night.
As for me, I’ve been pulled into some local initiatives I care a great deal about in the form of that dreaded beast, the committee. I am a bit over my head at times as to how best to contribute. Whether a committee can effectively take off on this one, or if the conjunction of multiple dragging webbed feet defeats (no pun intended) the possibilities, is a question. The group of ducks that took off en masse prior to taking the picture at the top of this last brave soul flying off on his own was certainly spectacular. Does it follow that if ducks can fly together, people with a bit of trial and error can manage it too? The gamble of the committee echoes the gamble of our place in the universe. We can’t do it alone, but too many cooks spoil the soup. We aren’t all charged to take the same road, yet needing each other is an unavoidable agony en route to progress. My group flight attempts have temporarily grounded my ability to think creatively beyond the committees.
So a prayer for my readers inspired by my realities of late:
May your flights be long and brave, your takeoffs and landings smooth. Should you find yourself on a committee, may the patience of Job be yours, and may the dragging of all the webbed feet end in a thoroughly soaked miracle of grace.
And another small prayer for flight by committee
photo compliments of morguefile.com
My husband looks forward to Sundays from September to January with great anticipation. Watching NFL games is like reading poetry for him. Unfortunately, his poetry does not fit softly around the edges of my preferred Sundays (quiet slow spaces and outside time).
In the early years of our marriage, I spent considerable energy perfecting my approach to the epic battle. He for his part developed an outer disposition impervious to assault and especially predisposed to withstanding a battle irregardless of intensity. The matter of Sundays is one for the long game.
I don’t fight about football (this is the goal), I plan parallel things that are infinitely more fun. I’ve taken kids for walks, tennis, and canoeing, organized cookie making and board games. This past Sunday held promise of two or three options until they all fell through. Disappointment sat with us for a minute or so and then a rather epic response occurred.
When my brother and I were young, we would bike with friends for miles to the top of a very large hill. The very last house where the road ended belonged to a couple from our church with a boundless supply of ice cream cones on hand. We never asked, but they always offered and the thrill never wore off. Some thirty years later, the rides remain bright in the fabric of our legends. So to follow suit . . .
Boy one was away. That left me with a seven year old and an almost 10 and 12 year old. We didn’t have a hill, but we had a goal: 22.6 kilometers and ice cream when we got home (14 miles for the unmetric friendly). My contingency plan for failing young legs was a drive by from the NFL man after an hour and a half of cycling. (Our destination coincided with his father’s superior NFL cable package so there was no worry of him minding the wait for those of us who went the distance.)
The first seven km was our roughest road. The traffic was fast and staying well out of the way involved plowing our bikes into thick gravel 482 times. After that, it was an absolutely perfect fall day. The voices asking how much longer until Dad came by to pick them up went silent. We saw a mailbox shaped like a miniature barn. we saw a house set back from the road we’d never seen before (even though we go by it every day). We passed three bee hives and a lot of dogs, none of whom chased us. We discovered that if you drive your bike over a dead frog, it can make a popping sound and that persons equipped with easy apparatus for road side peeing can stop twice in one bike trip for that purpose, even though they went before they started just like the rest of us.
When my husband came by as planned to pick up the weary, all proudly declined. We biked over brand new black top on a fairly deserted road and followed Boy two’s lead by reaching out with our toe to touch the orange striped construction barrels on the berm as we rode by. (Myself, I prefer the sound of toe tapping construction barrels to popping frogs.) We arrived together, proud as can be of our accomplishment, rested, snacked, then loaded our bikes in the car and went home for ice cream.
After this the moral of story and the point of the long game falls apart. Glowing with pride but rather tired, we sat contented without trying on the couch beside the NFL man (who was cutting up apples), to watch the little men in their helmets running around the painted lines and plastic field.
picture compliments of morguefile.com
Girl two approached my kitchen sink with a question.
Is tube vision a real disease?
I asked to have the question repeated.
Girl one and are arguing and I want to know if tube vision is a real disease.
Light dawned on marble head. Do you mean tunnel vision? I asked.
Yeah. Tunnel vision. Anyway, is it a real disease?
I explained that the way she’d heard it was an expression. A minute or so later she was back with an empty toilet paper roll held over her eye.
See, Mom? Tube vision. I have tube vision. She left laughing, the tube still over her eye.
I sat down and wrote her a letter for another day.
Dear Girl two,
I don’t want to scare you but the truth is, tube vision is a real disease. Just like a cold, everybody gets tube vision once in a while. Just like cancer, tube vision can take over your whole life.
The dangerous version of tube vision is pretty much an adult disease. People wait a long time to become grown-ups. They are very happy when their teacher and their parents stop telling them what to do. But then they find out that instead of three people telling them what to do, there are almost a hundred (people who make you pay taxes, your boss, your boss’s boss, your boss’s boss’s boss, people who make you buy snow tires, house insurance, car insurance, people who make you redo the tile around your woodstove … the list is very long). That is annoying, but not as annoying as the fact that the things everyone tells you to do when you are a grown-up are easy things. All the hard things, no one tells you anything. You have to figure them out by yourself. This is the basic job of being a grown up: get up, do what people tell you, guess the answers to really hard questions and go to bed wondering if you should have guessed differently. As you can imagine, the stress of all this can cause tube vision.
Kids, woods, frogs, or a river to watch and listen to, these things (or things like them) can prevent tube vision. They are also effective treatments. Healthy people require quiet places. In order to stay healthy, people also need to be interrupted with the laughter of the unexpected. People with tube vision can recover if they see a bird try to catch a bug through a screen and stop to watch it cock it’s head confused that the fly is right there but somehow not going into its beak.
People have tube vision because looking through a tube makes the world smaller and less scary. Problems feel smaller when you look through a tube. That is the reason that everyone, including you and I, will get tube vision. Sometimes we might not even want to get cured of it.
The reason to get rid of it is that the world is scary but it is also full of laughter and surprises. Tube vision can’t make scary things go away, it can only make them feel like they’re not there. But by making everything so small, tube vision takes away our windows to surprises and laughter.
Kids are good medicine because they are experts at putting the windows back. That’s how they help grown-ups not get sick from tube vision. You have always been good at that. And you guessed it: tube vision is a lot like looking through a toilet paper roll.
photo by nasirkhan, compliments of morguefile.com
My head is full of refugees. What will come of it, I don’t know. They have been sitting on my heart growing heavier. With public sympathies engaged for the moment, I can’t stop thinking that now is the time to do more.
One of the little oddities of me is the terror worry that occurs any time I cross a national border without my children. The shape of my fear is that something will happen and I will be unable to get back. My head fills with elaborate scenes of the end of life as we know it. Me, trying to find north, walking and walking, whispering over and over again to my children (who cannot hear me) not to give up. I am coming. If I am breathing, I will be coming.
I’m not sure why this happens. I read a lot of WWII stories growing up. Maybe a disproportionate part of my psyche is filled with the possibility that life can change radically in a very short space of time. Whatever it is, enough of me knows that the current likelihood of being separated from my home and family is small., So far, I can still get out the door with reminders to myself that I live in an affluent nation at peace.
In contrast to my reality, the UN Refugee Agency reports that there are more displaced persons in the world today than at any time in history. Numbers are expected to rise. In fact, Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. The numbers beg for response. Refugees are always pouring over borders in far away places. But this is different. The numbers stare off the page in the faces of families and children. What can we do?
Corrie Ten Boom, my life time heroine comes to mind. A clock maker, quietly taking Jewish refugees into her home for hiding until they could be transported to safety. But how can I follow her lead when the refugees aren’t in my yard? What do I even have to offer?
These are my questions and complaints to God. It’s not the pictures circulating in the media (most of which I haven’t seen); it’s the pictures in my head. I list ideas for God of how I might help followed by all the reasons why they won’t work. There is great frustration in having a burden laid on one’s heart about which one feels hopelessly ill-equipped to do very much.
I sat down to write today’s post with the wry comment to God, that it would be hard to write since all I could think about was the refugee crisis, but I obviously couldn’t write about that.
To which either my head or the stubbornly quiet God of my seeking said, Why not?
I started to give the reasons then realized there weren’t any. I don’t have the answers, but neither does anybody else. There is no single simple solution to the refugee crisis, but perhaps because it has no choice, the world is at least awakening. The more people who hear the cries of the displaced, the better. I don’t have the answers, but I have questions nagging at my insides.
Who is our neighbor? What can be done, here, now, in our time? What would we here be pleading and hoping for, if it was our land torn by civil war, and devoid of justice, safety, and access to basic resources? What would we pray, if instead of a future, we could offer our children only conflict, chaos, and despair? How might we become part of the answer to those same prayers rising now from other lips?
picture compliments of morguefile.com
I am teaching grade 4-6 math this year. When I was asked, I agonized and stalled, then worried that I’d made the wrong decision. I didn’t want it to take too much away from my already limited writing time.
Math and I have an odd relationship. As a kid, I was quick out of the gate to “get,” that thing called math. Learning math was a physical rush. Numbers felt comfortable and friendly in my head. Patterns peeked smiling from all kinds of places.
Life happened and I began to see and believe that “real” math people innately understood things I didn’t. There was an “it” they had that I lacked. I still loved patterns and numbers but our friendship was private.
Grade seven math was the first class I was ever given to teach. The head of the math department was a legendary calculus teacher. That year it was my nervous lot to teach his son. Several times the legend found me. Each time I expected to be discovered for my lack of realness. “You’re a born math teacher,” he would say. I told him of the myriad English courses, but not a single university level math course to my credit. “You’re a born math teacher,” he replied unphased.
That summer I signed up for a university Calculus course hoping to convince myself that he was right about me being a born math teacher. The first class was only housekeeping, but I could feel the thrill of math in the air. I sat down that night eager to read the textbook, but none of it seemed real. Just little exercises for the sake of exercising. Was there even a point? For a pop quiz the next day someone began pouring blue water into a bottle. “Write the function of the blue water going into the bottle,” said the monotone grad student conducting the class.
This moment came with a great deal of clarity. I didn’t care even the tiniest bit what the function of the blue water was. I left and found a course whose functions interested me considerably more (a women’s studies course, if you’re curious).
Meanwhile, anytime I was asked to teach a math class I said yes. The irony was always that, as much as I love teaching English (and I really did love it), I was always a better math teacher. I privately debated the possible existence of a born math teacher with no knowledge of higher math. A 2003 book, “The Myth of Ability” by John Mighton, said it was more than possible, so I made it my bible and never looked back.
Math is about magic. Teaching math is about inspiring magicians. Unexpectedly back at a chalkboard, I’m not sure how all the balancing will work. I’m 80% through my novel’s umpteenth rewrite. I have the blog and have other writing things on the go. But fifteen minutes into the first math class I knew that sometimes magic trumps time. People in love don’t worry about the time spent together that could have been used for other things. Teaching math is like that for me.
My concession to reality is to keep County Road 21 postings to twice a week. The number of typos and grammatical errors may trend upwards.The times I can’t manage a post may increase. But in the long run I believe that my writing and teaching math will make fine friends.
So here’s to the magic!
Lawn mowers are my life long love affair. The roaring drone of the engine is ironically all about quiet. Sometimes I sing, or not. What I never do is hear who did what to whom, or what anyone needs, wants, or is looking for. My lawn mower is a portable combination church, library, nature sanctuary, divine telephone line and therapist all rolled into one.
Before this summer, I mowed the fields when the lawn wasn’t big enough. Sincere men tried to explain that this was not what the ride on mower was designed for. They were missing the point. Twice we had to have the blades replaces half way through the summer. The fix it man could not understand how a lawn could be so hard on a mower. But it wasn’t the lawn. I was traversing a field/pasture/premier breeding ground for frogs, snakes, praying mantises and mice, and swerving accordingly for any sighting of small life. The whole farm sits a few inches above bedrock. What can I say? Sometimes it sticks up.
This year we have bush hog, “to do the fields properly.” This is a mostly blessing. But the bush hog has to be officially hooked up in some kind of grand manner and then grandly unhooked and parked just so in order to fit everything in the barn. The bush hog cannot be summoned because I feel the yearning to mow rising to fever pitch. The current lawn mower is slower, coughs, squeals, and after it’s years of service, mows drunkenly uneven swaths . . . but it does not require advance notice to use it. The old girl still gets a go at the open spaces if no one is looking when the lawn is not big enough by half.
Farms can fill you with joy and overwhelm you with discouragement. It was a day of the latter a few weeks ago. Bee hives were not thriving. Ditto for apple trees. Ewe #3 did not get pregnant this year. Small but promising garden was demolished by a hurricane of cows. (When they couldn’t reach to eat any more off the tops of the tomato plants, they knocked down the fence and ate everything except the weeds to the ground.)
I finished the lawn and finished the apple/bee yard. It wasn’t enough so I started in on part of field covered in thistles. Ruining our beautiful, previously pristine field, thistles. I imagined the farm in a few more years. No bees, dead apple trees, and the pasture an unwalkable sanctuary of thistles. We would have to name our farm Thistledown.
I began mowing a hopeless protest through the four foot high sea of thistle. After four or five passes, I stopped for a honey bee. I looked closer and laughed. Honey bees were everywhere, inches apart from each other, buzzing in and out of endless thistle flowers. For the bees, the thistles were a paradise of flowers a short flight from home. The kind of thing a beekeeper would plant on purpose to help them.
I stopped mowing, happy. The thistle looked beautiful. It could stay, even multiply. Grace tickled my heart asking what other thistle things of my knowing might be secretly brimming with the stuff of honey.
The Walk to Work, by Jean-François Millet. 1851
The black flies always drive me out of the woods by June. This is usually the end of my quiet walks for a few months. Not expecting much, but missing the walking time, I tried a route along the road this year. It was different than the woods, but to my surprise, I really liked it. On lucky days the litter and the cars are fewer, but regardless, the sky is always bigger.
My mom was a walker. Often by herself, but almost everywhere we lived, I remember places that we walked together. She probably got it from her parents, who walked twice a day, often for a good two miles, well into their eighties. When I picture my mother or grandmother, I picture them drinking tea or taking a walk.
People who meet us together often consider my husband the quiet one. Depending on the situation, he can be happy to let me do the talking. But when it’s just the two of us, I can be lucky to get a word in edgewise. Without intending to this summer, we’ve made a habit of an after dinner walk together. It’s nice on lots of counts, but the biggest is how much easier it is to feel connected to each other.
There is something about walking that is hard to put your finger on. Cars, dogs, and people intersect our time without intruding on our space together. Curiously, the circle of togetherness feels both small and big. Walking with my husband, I feel connected to my mom, my grandparents . . . and it probably sounds crazy, but people in general. I walk, listening intently of course, to recaps of NPR, ESPN, etc. Meanwhile pictures of people walking amble through my head. Not just my heroes, the pioneers, but escaping people, exploring people, refugees. Mothers with babies on their backs, teenagers holding hands, tired people, laughing people, amazed people. All kinds of people go through my head. I think again of the man beside me. How much he drives me completely out of my mind. What a gift it is to be an us. The mystery of imperfect love. The kindness of slow time. How much simpler, easier it is to listen here on the side of the road.
Humans, I learned, walk about 3 miles an hour. A friend recently walked from Ottawa to Montreal, which took twelve days. Afterwards she was struck by the speed of car rides. She said all she could think sitting there was, “Why would anyone want to go this fast? You can hardly see anything like this.”
She’s right. You see things when you walk. You hear things. Walking alone, there are windows to wholeness and peace that pass my understanding. (Alone walking is where I bring my disordered fragments for realignment.) Walking together, a doorway opens between the separateness of souls. We walk, like breathing, without thinking about it. Unhurried space that is both ordinary and intimate. Gallons of water, misunderstood, assumed, taken for granted, criticized, and frustrated, have gone under the bridge (along with a few cats, some kids, missing tax receipts and a broken lawn mower) by the time we walk each day. It doesn’t all get said but it all gets sorted out. Because baptized in the shared humanity of 3 mph, we hear and see each other as friends.
The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1864. Public Domain
I started a piece called, “Fairy tales I tell myself.” It was about failed work projects and the fact that the idea of the children pitching in is a fairy tale I tell myself in order to make it feel like a team effort. I wanted to discuss the mounting level of fantasy required to plan a list of jobs (as if there were other creatures intent on their completion).
So a wee bit of cynicism, and “fairy tales” was not supposed to be a compliment. At which point, God laughed and hijacked my train.
Girl one lost another tooth. (A relief for the scales of justice as her sister’s teeth have been raining down like manna from heaven.) I thought a tooth fairy conversation was not far off, but I didn’t see it going the way it did.
I don’t know whether to believe in the tooth fairy, she said. I pretty much know there isn’t one. That’s what my friends all say. . . but I’m . . .I’m not completely sure.
The man in the red suit (who we don’t campaign against, but who’s never really caught on as a tradition for our family) came to my rescue.
Kids want to believe in Santa Claus, I said, because they want to believe that there’s magic in the world. That love does things so amazing we can’t explain it. A kid might find out that Santa isn’t real and worry that miracles aren’t true either. But they are. Someone might have made up the idea of Santa Claus but love really does do things so amazing we can’t explain it. So amazing that it’s magical like flying reindeer.
She didn’t say anything, so I kept brushing her hair.
What would be better? I said. To believe the tooth fairy isn’t real and you don’t feel dumb with your friends or to believe she is real and you don’t have to feel sad that part of what you imagined is pretend?
Girl one took these things and pondered them in her heart. I brushed hair that no longer needed brushing.
Your sister puts her tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy. Your brother doesn’t want to so he brings me all his lost teeth and I hand him some money. It’s okay both ways and the money’s the same either way. Which way do you want it?
I want to believe, she said.
I didn’t know how much I’d wanted her to say that until she said it. She danced downstairs the next morning waving the money that I’d put under her pillow myself. I saw her eyes and found it impossible not to imagine a tooth fairy with wings. Look what I got! she said. Girl two and I gasped with her.
Girl one wasn’t asking about the existence of the tooth fairy. She was asking if it was okay to believe in fairy tales. If it was okay to find in make-believe, things so true it made your heart hurt.
C.S. Lewis’s Narnia is that for me. I don’t expect to walk through a wardrobe in my daily life and find a different world (although I wouldn’t rule it out entirely). Rather, I expect that we may awake one day to the realization that where we are is Narnia. In the wordless places we see in part but are afraid to say, so we make poetry, and art, and music for each other to admit to what we know. That the trees have always talked, we simply haven’t heard them. That Aslan is real and on the move and without understanding why, that is precisely what we have been hoping and whispering so earnestly to each other.
We tell fairy tales to give back to our children what they give to us. That thing we so desperately need. Permission to believe.