Tag Archiv: hope

The buzz of the impractical

DSCN1113

 

To our great satisfaction, our bees remain alive. Hive #2 is vibrant and buzzing madly. Hive #1 (which we worried about due to our human error) is not nearly as vibrant as the other, but it is alive. Buoyed by these wild achievements,  :)  we are with trepidation and a little excitement expanding our partnership. A friend is getting out of the bee business. Weather permitting, we are picking up two more hives over the weekend. Or should we get three? We can’t decide.

A brief list of the things I know:

  1. We don’t know very much about bees.
  2. We might not have what it takes to stick with it. Continued investment into something which has yet to produce a jar of actual honey is questionable.
  3. Bees are the only place where Boy one and I meet as two people who can’t do it without the other person’s help. In the rest of life, he’s struggling to find his feet in ways that don’t require stomping on other people’s heads. With the bees, it isn’t like that. I read, ask questions, try to figure out what we aren’t thinking of that we should be. (My most remarkable ability is that I can do something at an undesirable time because it needs to be done.) I am also ten times as afraid of the bees as he is. This is not a secret, but he never mentions it. I don’t tell him he has to do all the things that make me scared, he does them without me saying anything. 80% of the physical work on the hive is done by him. 100% is done by him until I observe that the bees are calm and work myself up to an approach. This doesn’t bother him.
  4. Boy one never self selects to do the next thing on the bee list. But when a teacher asked his class to fill out descriptors of themselves, he wrote down: trombone player, soccer player, beekeeper.Boy one is a mirror image of my quick, sarcastic, best defense is a good offense, approach to interpersonal conflict. In the winter I proposed a contest. We put a chart on the fridge. A point if you could respond to harsh words with a gentle reply (actual unfairness not required, just the perception of harsh). Boy one loved it. (When he started losing he found a ball and bounced it behind me one day for five minutes waiting for me to snap so he could come back with a gentle reply.) We kept at it for a weeks, awarding points to each other with grace. The whole thing reminds me of the bees. Where losing could still be winning.
  5. At the hives we’re not young man and a forty-two year old privileges/duties dispenser. We’re two people trying to figure out the art of bee keeping. One of us understands that it will probably prove beyond us. The other is a non-cheque writing optimist, with no concept that failure is standard practice for more than half of life’s experiments.
  6. What we are doing is not practical: but there might be more to it than honey.

 

 

 

Dress Up

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

My younger kids are especially crazy about dress up. They beg to play almost every day. They will clean things to get a yes. If I say no, they somberly depart, collect a costume each, then descend the stairs to beg if there is any way they can at least put on the costume in their hand. They solemnly pledge not to touch a single other item from the dress up tub should I say yes.

There is probably a justification for not allowing someone to wear a ballerina dress or plastic armor over their clothes, but I can never think of it when they look so plaintive. I leverage a small task and inevitably say yes. Maybe because I get the thing about dress up.

Dress up is an invitation to become our dreams, to experiment with what our dreams even are. To be someone else and to become more ourselves. The only one of my kids not in love with dress up right now is the only one not quite sure how to sit in his own skin. Trying to figure out a walk and a talk he can call his own, he’s dressing up alright, but he doesn’t know it yet.

Holy week is a drama. In some places it’s official with passion plays or musicals. Other places it proceeds without mention. Which is too bad because Holy week is an invitation to dress up. Wrap yourself in deep sorrow, unanswered longing, and uncertainty about the future. Try on doubt, worry, wonder, hatred, love. Leave them on the floor, pick up anger, joy, fear, hesitant faith, despair, and unrelenting hope. Look in the mirror. Pick through the piles and try it all on. Laugh, cry, throw your voice, get help with the zipper at the back. When you realize it’s broken throw a cape over it and go out anyway.

You look around and it’s all so much bigger than you. Heavy burdens that you carry are reduced to what they are: some things in the  midst of a vast multitude of things. A lot of people don’t fit their shoes quite right. Missing buttons, rips and tears. There’s a whole world of people sporting costumes like yours.

Holy week is a week that’s going somewhere. There’s a parade and you’re in it. Every outfit you’ve ever worn or wanted to wear is invited. Nothing is too awkward, outrageous, unsuitable, or simple this week. Attired accordingly, Quakers, transvestites, prophets, priests, professors and prostitutes, we are all on the float. Swept along towards a mystery we cannot possibly understand.

On Friday the pile of costumes will be collected to make a hill. On top of the hill a naked man will die without a costume. Before he does, he will look at us and smile. We will realize then that we are naked, clothed only in his love. Naked and in love, we will wait the rest of Friday and Saturday.

Sunday in awe, we’ll dress slowly as ourselves. Every one of us resplendent, honest to God children of the King.

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

For the Story Tellers

The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea. Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 - 1663)

The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea. Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 – 1663)

I had naked tea last week. A friend and I talked storytelling (that wasn’t the naked part) and then sitting in a donut shop, we quietly told our own. Naked is better with a tea cup than without, but given one cup of tea and three places requesting coverage, it isn’t easy. If the tea weren’t so hot, the best solution may be to keep the cup moving in a triangular blur, but the thought of burning tea is scary, so you take your chances, keep what you can behind the cup, and trust that your uncovered self can manage an hour of exposure. (The value of a practical imagination for diversion in the midst of emotionally difficult subjects cannot in my mind be underestimated.)

Awake in the night with no tea to consider,  I wondered a question whose answer I have debated for years. Why do we tell our stories?

There are all the noble reasons people say they write . . . to save everybody else, etc. but I take those pronouncements with a grain of salt. They may well be true, but the only thing one can reliably say about preachers is that they preach.

Ten years ago and even five, the desire to tell my story was almost a burning. Then I put the pages in a drawer and gave them a time out. To my surprise, the words took to what I thought would be a brief sabbatical and requested an indefinite one.

Why now, I also asked in the night after my metaphorically nude tea time, do I want to forget my story?

The next morning I wrote a sincere list of reasons in favor of forgetting. It ended with, I don’t. I can’t. Even if I could, I wouldn’t.

My desire for written memoir is either dead or deeply dormant, but that isn’t the same thing. I don’t wish to remember out loud very often. But sometimes is good. When the children of Israel escaped safely through the Red Sea, Miriam wrote a song to tell the story. She named the terrors of the past to be present to the joys of her new unfolding reality. Deliverance foresees a future. Telling our stories assumes we were delivered for a purpose.

Writer, Andrew Solomon tells a story of an experience in Senegal where he tried a traditional treatment for depression. At one point of the day long ceremony, he was asked to repeat the following:

Spirits leave me alone to complete the business of my life and know that I will never forget you.

I like that quote. It captures both my reticence towards gazing backwards for too long and my conviction that remembering is a gift. I found the musical celebration below after I’d written about Miriam above, but ending with it helps say what I’m trying to say. We may tell our stories with tears but telling them dares us to dance.

 

 

Listening to Advent

single_candle

My already slow march toward sainthood has suffered repeated setbacks lately. There is limited pleasure in observations of my shortcomings at any time, but failure set to Christmas music can feel especially glum. I’m not sure it’s even the season that’s getting to me right now as much as the fact that I’m trying so hard and still not spreading peace and joy like dew drops from my wings.

I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing that makes me feel quite so hateful as when I try to be loving and end up being the worst side of me in the middle of it. Examples abound. In case my explanation has failed the clarity test, I’ll share a recurring one.

Loving act:  Extra nice breakfast prepared. Many loving thoughts and warm affections fill me as my feet step lightly through the kitchen. Delicious test: Flying colours. Presentation: Strong. Nutrition: Check. Tra la la la.

Worst side of self races to the fore: I react to the dawdling, complaining, and habitually tardy with acts of war.

Realization hits: I started out to bathe people in love and my irritation and anger is now dripping from their hair.

Result: I hate everyone I know. The Grand They has made me do this. The Grand They continually conspire to make me fail and they are exceedingly good at it. If it weren’t for them I would love everyone with patience and gentleness, possibly even me.

Resulting result: An overwhelming sense of failure salted for flavour with hopelessness

 

So goes the Advent slog on this side of the fence. I’m not feeling as depressed about it as I was. Probably because I got good and mad about something yesterday (again in the midst of planned lovefest for an undeserving segment of mankind). I was more justified than usual, ergo more mad than usual. Then an unlikely bystander was ridiculously kind and generous and I was invited without words to set aside the anger and return to the lovefest.  It didn’t feel logical, but it felt possible.

Advent whispers, if we watch for them, if we let them, at odd intervals, strangers and babies light candles in the dark to save us.

Advent whispers that life might be more like soccer than basketball (one or two goals scored in a game as opposed to seventy or eighty). Missed shots are just directives to shoot again.

Advent says a little louder, despite the occasional evidence to the contrary, we need each other too much to bother with all the hating. Better to load up on matches and start striking. We don’t light our own candles, we light each other’s. Whether in a lifetime we manage one or ten for someone else is largely not up to us. But best to go down trying, with soot marks on our hands and wax dripped down our fingers, aiming for a thousand.

 

Navigating Failure

 

An English Sloop Becalmed Near Shore the Shore.  By Francis Swaine

An English Sloop Becalmed Near Shore the Shore. By Francis Swaine

I have been working up the courage to write about failure. The latest rejection on my fiction novel came. (Thank you again for the social media supports to my efforts.)  I thought of writing lists of all the failures in my life. Maybe numbering them and tacking this latest one on the end. Couldn’t see anything beautiful about it so felt a little tongue tied.

I thought about starting a new blog to write about true, depressing, ugly things, but no. If you fail at beautiful, you can keep trying. If you fail at ugly and depressing .  . . well, it would be hard to get back up after that. (I am not without a practical side in these matters.)

The desire to write about failure is practically burning in me. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on the subject. Whatever the questions end up being, I’m pretty sure the answers are in tears and laughter. I know this because when I cry, things are better afterwards. Also because when crazy things happen (that have nothing to do with not being able to make your dreams come true) I laugh and afterwards things make more sense.

We were sitting at dinner. Most of us were eating, because that’s what normal people do at dinner. Sort of the reason they sit down I’m told. I have to clarify because while I birthed 3 eaters, I also birthed a stirrer . . . as in someone who stirs things.

I would try to remember what it was she was eating that night that she didn’t like except the list of underappreciated foods to pick from is too long. I’m not a fan of picky eating. The kids can all have one food they hate, everything else, they eat at least a bite of.

After half a meal of stirring, Girl one was getting restless. A bite or two went down the hatch and her idea light went on. “I could be a sword swallower when I grow up,” she said. She took another bite. “Seriously,” she said. “I trained myself on so many things swallowing them whole. I bet I could do it.”

—-

And lastly . . . putting Girl two to bed last night we got to talking about monkeys who apparently don’t leave their trees very often. This led to discussions of a practical matter and a little gem I have to say I did not see coming:

Boy one did that before

Did what?

Peed from a tree.

A long time ago?

A time that was close to today.

Are you kidding me?

No

Thank you

You’re welcome. (Batted eyelashes. Smug and satisfied smile.)

—–

My almost fourteen year old has been peeing from trees. Seriously, failure to publish children’s novel may not be my biggest crisis. I’m not exactly laughing on that one, but it has me good and distracted.

Mighty

white_footed_mouse2

I keep up with the news in bits and snatches. Children who cannot eat, mothers who cannot get medical help for their families, fathers who cannot protect them, these things weigh heavily on me. It does not take much for the enormity of the world’s suffering to overwhelm me. I don’t know the answers to children neglected by people with the physical resources to do better. Everywhere I look, life is about things. People seem worth less every day in the craving to fill emotional spaces with things. When we cannot have things, we have pictures of things. Virtual things. Pretend things. Anything, just not living breathing, uncontrollable love and life.

I won’t belabor the point, but the world troubles me deeply. I feel helpless and alone against forces ridiculously beyond my control. Enter a mouse.

My father was helping us fix a wall on our barn. I sent the boys out to clean out the straw and dirt shoved all along its edge. They came back excited. They’d found a nest of baby mice. Everywhere was ready but they’d left the nest area intact. Too late, the message came and another eager cleaner had finished the job.

I looked but to no avail. Through piles of dust and straw I searched, trying to find something still alive. There was nothing to do but continue. An hour or so later, my father pointed. Four feet away on the stone fence was the mother mouse come back for her babies. I wished there was a way to tell her that was too late. That they were probably already suffocated under one of the piles on the barn floor. Again, there was little to do but continue.

I didn’t see it myself. I went in to make dinner. But my father swears he saw the mouse come back as he worked, dig through the piles and carry living babies off into the bushes. I still don’t know if I believe it but I’ve decided I don’t care. Whether she found them or not, with my own eyes I saw her come looking. The chaos we created in her fragile world couldn’t have seemed any less overwhelming than the chaos of my own. She came back because her babies weren’t where they were supposed to be. She didn’t have a plan for the winter, the fall, or the rest of the week. She noted our gigantic presence, the destruction of her home and worried only about doing what she could do right then to be who she was made to be.

Oh mighty mouse, may your days be long, your food stores full, your babies fat, your nest restored. Smaller than my daughter’s palm, brave mother mouse, you give me much courage and hope.

Together on the wide, wide sea

file0009489495

Boy one came home unusually chipper the other day. He had happened across someone who compulsively turned open padlocks backwards and set closed locks to zero when passing lockers. Together they had raced the halls in a mad attempt to set every lock in the school to zero. Although he spent a great deal of time bemoaning the hallway they had failed to finish, the first words out of his mouth were, “Mom, I actually met someone like me. I’m not the only one.”

I was once a woman in her early twenties, at least battling depression. Post traumatic stress syndrome would have fit too. I was haunted by nightmares that paralyzed me, drained me of energy, and left me unsettled for days. Being objective about my emotions was an idea I could grasp but not put into practice most of the time. I tried to rise above my troubles, but my downfall appeared inevitable. I felt confused, hopeless and desperately alone.

I didn’t know anyone, including myself, comfortable with mental health issues, or knowledgeable about the need for help and where to get it. I sought advice, but for years did not find anyone who understood. I remember an older woman I spoke with. That she was a woman with a lifetime of fragile mental health was unknown to me. She was respected and admired. She was old and not dead yet. That was put together in my books.

I was in the habit of testing people on small doses of me, so I poured out enough troubles to relieve the pressure. I remember at first, I was irritated, wondering if she’d even heard me.  But what seemed at first a non sequitur, made a lot of sense.

“You know those stairs down the hall?” She had a bit of a southern accent. “When I stand at the top and look down, I know I’m going to fall. They’re so steep I don’t even like to think about it. Every time I can hardly move because I know am going to fall. But I stand at the top, grab the railing tight and step one stair at a time, two feet on every one. Takes me forever, but I get down. And I haven’t fallen yet.”

Lately, sadness and loneliness have sat their ample bottoms down on my chest and refused to move. Life goes on, but they are heavy and quitting tempts. Monday, I remembered the railing, two feet on every stair until I get to the bottom. Which reminded me that we are never alone. A long time ago, someone who didn’t know me or understand me, possibly accidentally, gave me really good advice. My stairs were different, but we were both afraid of going where we had to and it helped.

I picture her stairs and think. We are inadequate answers to each other’s questions, and insufficient medicine for each other’s pain. Yet out of the immense alone, what cannot be, is. In darkness for tiny seconds, we find each other’s arms and we are known. You too? Yes, me too. From imperfect and impossible rises us. We glimpse our belonging and for that moment, heaven.

Seeds

SONY DSC

Perhaps all of life is a book of small instructions. We “finished” putting in the garden on Monday, so I’ve got the seeds chapter on my mind. Seeds end up in the dark. In grit and damp they grow roots down and send shoots up. Reach for the light, the chapter says. You need it.  Despite the darkness, spread roots of you into the deeps of unknown. Somewhere, there will be water. No telling which direction or how far. Put out your roots knowing some will find little but trusting enough will be found. Meanwhile, aim for the sun. Getting up into the brightness is easier said than done, of course, but it’s the point of everything.

There is a lot I don’t know right now. Especially about writing, but about also about things with the kids, the summer, next year. The future will undoubtedly come, but it is as yet a stranger. Some days I have dreams the size of the sky, other days I plod along with the watering can, and weed without particular belief that whatever crests the dirt will be something I hoped for or simply something that grew.

Girl one’s eyes are haunting me right now. She’s been off in tears at my disapproval more than once in twenty-four hours. No good reason really. She gets out of bed too many times because she can’t sleep. Her sister fell over, seeming to indicate a violent attack, they both say now that Girl one was just standing there. The only days she has really been ready for school on time were when I was teaching and she was still in utero. Toothbrushes, clothes and book bags stand idly by, while Girl one can focus on nothing except her own magical, floating thoughts. All morning, every morning. So the opposite of Amen for me.

Her eyes beg the question of what I’m planting. A glimpse if I’ll take it, of what I don’t want. And a chance to aim for something else. Seeds of realization and longing plant themselves in me. I don’t know whether to water them or let them die. It is courage I lack, not desire.

Two things are true. One: the essence of a person’s nature doesn’t change much over a lifetime. Two: if a butterfly wing flutter can cause a typhoon halfway around the world, then seemingly infinitesimal choices in a person can surely effect all the change in the world.

Girl one confounds. She also delights me beyond words. I both wade in to reprogram the alligators, and watch admiringly from a distance at the strokes she’s taught them. When I don’t want to tear my hair, she inspires me. (She does after all befriend alligators.)

Seeds start out smaller than what they become. Sometimes smooth, sometimes awkward rootish things, they grow into something you can’t see when they’re planted. Sometimes they die unrealized. Sometimes they come out spindly and break in the wind. Sometimes though, they grow up and down, an invisible promise fulfilled and dripping with beans.

For my alligator girl, I’ll give it a whirl.

Being born

file0001304242757

It is no small thing to be born. We all got to do it once. Being born means coming very close to dying. It’s not always sunshine and beautiful. It hurts. And things die. People, lambs, chicks. Spring on a farm is a mini maternity ward. It’s new life, but there’s death in the air too.

Every day, it’s true that we could die. So could our children, our husbands, or our best friends, but we don’t like that in our air. We die when we have to, but otherwise we avoid remembering it exists. Mourning periods with different clothing, visible signs of grief are a thing of the past or a thing for other cultures. We don’t prepare dead bodies in their homes. As soon as people die, they’re whisked away to the funeral home until it’s time to bury them. I don’t think we are trying to be disrespectful, we’re trying to forget that life is fragile and death inevitable.

I watched some lambs be born with Girl two beside me. I didn’t know if the lamb, whose foot we saw go in and out and in and out before it finally came out, would be alive. Sometimes they are not. My daughter cheered when at last it emerged alive. But I think I found it more beautiful than she did when the lambs sputtered and cried, because I knew more about the thin line that separates survival from death. And the miracle that happens when something steps across it.

Death as destruction is rightfully abhorred. Death as cessation of life is a gift we do not comprehend. This also makes birth beautiful. Perhaps I am speaking for myself; I glimpse that death is merely the end of what we know, but most of the time, I fail to understand it. Yet birth, the gift of life, this I can comprehend. There was nothing. Now there is something. Breathing, moving, living.

In every birth, we celebrate our own. A tiny vision, fresh and new as the day we were born. Not yet resigned to anything. Happy to be who we are. Curious to see who we might become. A furious hope still clinging to our skin, we are a little bit born again.