Tag Archiv: joy
The Feast of St. Nicholas, by Jan Steen. (via Wikimedia Commons)
You can’t have families without kitchens. Families are all wrapped up in kitchens, in the lines on the tile, mixed in with the paint on the walls, and sprinkled like rice in odd cracks on the floor. The family you grew up in lives in the cupboards. The one you have now is everywhere else. Sometimes things stay as separate as a quarter of a century. Other times it’s like a finger painting when the finger can’t stop. Lots of swirls but they’re all the same colour and you can’t tell where the lines are supposed to be between your life then and now.
Boy one came across the kitchen the other morning and somebody must have opened the cupboards. All of a sudden I wanted my mom to see how tall he was so much it hurt. That’s the thing. I don’t miss her at certain times of year, I miss her in my kitchen. She’s never even been there. Except of course the cupboards.
I do my best thinking in the kitchen. It’s not because I’m already there so much; I go to the kitchen on purpose to think. I do my worst thinking in the kitchen too. If I’m sure somebody isn’t home yet because they’ve died in a terrible accident, you can bet I’m cleaning out the toaster or whipping up some biscuits, possibly refilling the spice jars.
A kitchen is somehow the place that can hold the weight of your sadness, while keeping the floor polished (flour and sugar granules with a hint of barn boot work well) and ready for a happy dance. A kitchen is like a church with a reversible altar. You can sacrifice tears and laughter on the same day and nothing is awkward. Whatever you bring rises up and joins in with a hundred other joys and sorrows. Yours and other peoples brought to the same counters and sinks.
In my kitchen, I am an indentured servant. Long hours required. Gratitude optional. I am also a queen with magical powers. I choose whom to bless and whom to curse. At my fingertips are the ingredients with which I can turn a grumpy heart cheerful and vice versa. When my subjects behave, I feed them well. Albeit while puttering away in dribs and drabs at the leftover heart and tongue disposal project. (Thanks to an obviously confused butcher, we clearly have the heart of every lamb from four counties in our freezer.)
At our kitchen table we play, pray, plan and decide things together. Above all, we eat. Children’s positions are changed regularly in an ongoing attempt to divine the best possible combinations for conflict reduction. The perfect set up lasts about a week. Some days I imagine eating somewhere else. The porch. Anywhere spelled by myself. The kitchen says no thank you. It all belongs here. Messy love, indentured servitude and joy beyond all recounting.
Some prayers take a long time to answer. When I was 18 and couldn’t cry, I would beg God, please, please, just let me cry. Ache. Stare. Nothing. Seriously. I’m broken. Let me cry. Mostly, nothing. He must have been saying, “just a minute,” and I couldn’t hear it. At 42, I cry for reasons including but not limited to:
* School is not out yet. I cannot take another note about anything and I cannot pack another lunch.
* It’s the last day of school and I realize they will never be in that grade again. It’s gone forever. They’re growing up and they can’t go back.
* Someone else’s child I’ve never met just made a great play on the soccer field and everyone is high fiving them.
* My husband is late coming home from work and I worry something has happened to him.
* I startle a few seconds into watery eyes over husband’s demise to realize I’ve started making a checklist as to how we will manage. The guilt of starting a list before you know, the funeral, or an actual death, well it doesn’t feel so good.
* Girl two tells me she wants her hair like mine.
* I hear Boy one pick up her sister and call her pretty princess.
* Boy two says thank you to someone without me prompting.
* Girl one helps with dishes because she says she likes to be with me.
* I read about old age, childhood, loneliness, hunger, rejection, abandonment, joy, accomplishment, triumph, victory.
* I have no ideas. Life is flat.
* I have a new idea. Life is bursting with possibility.
* We weren’t able to have more children.
* There is too much laundry. It won’t go away and there are like a hundred years left until they’re old enough to leave home.
* One of the children is crying.
* The children are laughing so hard they are peeing their pants and I’m just so happy that they’re happy.
* I need quiet and I can’t get it.
* Everybody is distracted by other things and not into talking.
It’s getting downright mortifying the things that can flood the ducts and well up the throat. I think I can confirm not only God’s compassion but a wicked sense of humor as well.
I find mercy in the rhythms of everyday life. My heart is heavy with news of a Dutch priest and psychotherapist, who chose to stay in danger and solidarity with the people of Syria whom he has been serving for decades, killed three days short of his 76th birthday. That was ten days ago. This week, a bombing at a Catholic school in Damascus, Syria, killed a nine year old and injured 45. My heart worries and aches for the people of Ukraine. Rwanda is observing remembrance, of the awful genocide twenty years ago, and remarkable steps toward healing and reconciliation since. Holy week marches on.
Girl two has become fascinated with St. Rose of Lima. She knows little about her, the name, “Rose,” is the focus of adoration.
“What’s Lima?” she wanted to know.
I told her it was a city in Peru, the same place a close friend of ours is from.
Girl two’s eyes lit up. “Does that mean,” she said breathless, “that St. Rose had brown skin too?”
“I think it does. Does that make you happy?” I ask.
“Yes,” said Girl two. “Brown skin is so beautiful. And it sparkles. Especially in the sun. You have to see it in the sun. I love the sparkles so much.”
Fear despises difference. Love sees the sparkles.
Spring has sprung the coils in the children’s brains. Boy two has been on a rampage of neglected duties. A few days ago he came to me with great sincerity and measured tone.
“I have a question,” he said. “I have brushed the horse and fed the chickens. I’ve collected the eggs and put away my school things. I’ve emptied the ash and practiced my piano. Is there anything else I need to do, or I have I done enough to be iddal now.” (think “little,” with no “l”)
I blink while my brain works to solve the puzzle of “iddal.”
“Is it possible that you read the word, ‘I. D. L. E.’ in a book and you are trying to pronounce it?” I ask. “Because you say the word with a long I. Idle.”
“Iddal. Idle. Whatever. So have I done to be idle now?”
Mother Teresa, who surely saw more than the average share of the world’s pain, said that “love begins at home.” We are all of us insufficient to alleviate the needs of so vast a world. It is a crisis of immensity with a place to start. The radical promise of Easter.
In barren fields, things unexpected grow. The world disintegrates and love is made new again. Hope, peace, joy, rise rediscovered, and renewed.
I will be taking a few days off from the blog, back on Tuesday, next week. In eager expectation and gratitude, may we walk toward the hope that is Easter. And may we be iddal long enough to hear the ballads of miracle and mystery that bid us also to rise up.
Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As I write, the children are upstairs dancing. Three of them. No reason. Out of the blue, one said, “I’m going to my room to dance. You guys want to come?” I think our musicals kick off on Friday night has us feeling artsy. “Sound of Music,” was a huge hit. (Juvenile search for free, legal music to download has begun.) The singing/no speaking dinner was grand. We’ll do it again and give it time to develop. One was too shy. The others had a grand time. Five year old quite enjoyed her attempts at vibrato. A highly recommended activity, I say.
Maybe it’s a small thing to hear my child look up from reading a book and announce a desire to dance. It makes me happy. My own love of dance is hampered by the requirement to move my body without a plan. I remember going to a concert once. Nothing fashionable, just a marching band on a lawn. I loved it and I wanted to clap with the music. Most everyone else was. I was inside the sounds of trumpets and flutes, cymbals and drums, I wanted to be part of the song.
I don’t remember if I was eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . but I couldn’t do it. I pictured myself picking my hands up off my chair and putting them together, but I was too afraid to try. Not sure how to start. Worried that everyone else knew how to clap in time, but I might not.
Since that day, I have learned to clap to music when I want to. For a time, I could mostly line dance (thanks to help from anyone who would go over the simplest things with me just one more time). Line dancing had the beauty of set moves to follow, but that skill has gone the way of things.
My joyful dancing, the kind without a plan, has been with my children. I danced with them as babies when we were alone. Later my children began asking me to dance. About kids and dancing, I hold to the following to get me through the occasional requests to participate:
1. It matters more that they learn the freedom and joy of dance, than it matters that beyond the confines of my imagination and the walls of our home, I have known neither.
2. Along with remembering me taller and wiser than I am, their memories of whatever odd moves I may try to incorporate into my dancing have the potential to undergo similar distortions if I can just keep smiling.
The marvel of it grows in me. My children are upstairs dancing. For fun. Maybe I was faking it to get here, but my children love to dance. Watching them, I see the shadow of small miracles. Of these I can only say thank you. Bow softly. Wonder at such good gifts.
photo compliments of morguefile.com
Once upon a time I was camping with a group of girlfriends. The man I was dating was nearby and invited me for a canoe ride. He arrived early.
Go, said my friends.
I’m still reading my Bible, I said.
Read it later. (They were very insistent.)
I wore my lucky yellow shoes and got in the canoe.
Let’s explore this island, he said.
Maybe later, I said.
The man argued poorly but steered the canoe to the island anyway.
There was a lot of consternation about where to land the canoe. There seemed nowhere flat enough to pull it up onto the bank.
Forget it. I’ll swim for it later, he said.
I protested. A spot was found.
Two bounding steps later, he was fiddling to get something out of his pocket.
It was making sense now.
Will you marry me? he asked and held out the ring to show me.
Yes, I said.
There was nothing else to say so we didn’t say it. It was like holding hands with Tigger from Winnie the Pooh as we walked up the path to find a rock to sit on.
We went from zero to sixty in opposite directions. He from frazzled and uncertain to the top of the world. Me from confident and assured to blithering idiot. Tigger sat down content. I sat down and an entire river system smashed every dam holding me together.
I cried uncontrollably.
I kind of thought it was going to make you happy, said Tigger a little worried.
I am happy, I whispered. Then I couldn’t talk. I was shaking inside down deep where you don’t let anything touch you. You don’t know how much more it can take in there, you just know it’s not much.
Tigger was relaxed and happy because he didn’t have a clue how dreadfully wrong things could go. Tigger was already so far into the sunset he probably wouldn’t even come back for a year or so. I didn’t believe in sunsets. Didn’t trust them.
An hour later I had stilled the terror enough to stand. The sun on the lake and the old pines sang something like a lullaby that I recognized. Pieces of the Canadian Shield jutting up all around reminded me that come what may, some things would remain solid.
I like remembering that day. It was the biggest leap I have ever been asked to make. Now it’s one of the solid things I go back to look at when it feels like too much is shifting around. Yesterday, Tigger cleaned out the chicken coop and got it ready for winter. Last night I asked him what he thought of a piece I had written. He hemmed and hawed to say he didn’t like it.
For some reason that made me happy. I woke up wanting to say thank you for those lucky yellow shoes.
Dear Birthday Girl,
When you were born, I was so afraid I was shaking. Outside I was smiling but inside I was scared down to the deepest parts of me. I wondered if God had made a mistake – not about you, just about letting me be your mom. I wanted you so much the words for wanting you couldn’t get out without closing up my throat and coming out in a whisper. But you were a girl. And a girl was me. And I didn’t have any idea how to be someone that you would want to grow up to be like.
You took care of that part, being so much yourself that I didn’t have to worry about you trying to be like me, I just had to love you. And that was easy.
I’m glad I got that little jean jacket outfit for you when you were a baby. Otherwise, I would have never seen what my kind of clothes looked like on you. As soon as you could walk and open drawers, you tore off anything you didn’t like. Only the frilly stuff stayed on, so I could dress you in what you loved or find you playing naked and search the premises for whatever reject outfit I’d chosen.
Here’s a picture of my favourite present you ever gave me. You made it for me when you were about five, wrapped in tissue paper in a box and you danced while I opened it.
“You’re going to love it. I made it myself.” And then leaping and pointing. “See! It’s a rosary. There’s the beads. And the cross. I got it off the bottom of a toy car. I couldn’t believe it. Doesn’t it look just like a cross?”
Eventually, when summer came and the sun got hot on my dresser, I found out that you had used molasses for the glue to hold it all together. Three years later, the top of the coffee lid medallion is still sticky. It was too perfect to change so I didn’t.
So much you have taught me, my curious, artsy, feminine, non-conformist.