A brief sampling of what I do when the rest of the world is asleep.
Home is where the jonquils are
Ours is a closely-knit neighborhood where I am kept apprised of the activities and health status of all current and former residents of this small, suburban enclave. The subdivision was about 30 years old when we moved in 15 years ago, and occupied by a combination of original homeowners and young families. If you were not an original owner, your home was nonetheless identified for all time and eternity by their name. Therefore we moved into the Denny’s where we will continue to live until we move and sell the Denny’s house to someone else.
When we moved in, the gardens were overflowing with vibrant color. The neighbors tell me the woman of the home, Gay, spent from dawn to dusk in that garden, and it was evident. She walked me around the property, pointing out which plants were perennials and which were annuals (facts that were spontaneously ejected from my brain despite a true desire to retain them) and which ones would need pruning that fall.
She was a traditional woman, proper yet full of warmth with an obvious longing and love for her three grown daughters. The inside of her house was as impeccable as the gardens, with framed photos and medals from her children’s high school track & field events proudly displayed on nearly every square inch of papered walls.
Probably the biggest legacy Gay left behind, in terms of the physical nature of our home, was the overabundance of daffodils and jonquils — nearly 500 of them — that she planted in clusters throughout the property, the largest occupying a huge, oval expanse of ground in our front yard.
We moved in during the fall, so I didn’t see the daffodils until the following spring, though neighbors hinted at their breathtaking beauty. These folks did not exaggerate. On the heels of the pink weeping cherry blossoms came this sudden rush of golden color—fallen pieces of sunlight—gracing our yard and causing passing cars to slow to a hushed stillness just to take it all in.
“I see Gay’s daffodils are popping out already,” commented a neighbor at the start of this past April. I’m happy to call them Gay’s daffodils too, because if she hadn’t planted something that returned with great certainty every year, I can guarantee there wouldn’t be much color going on in our yard.
Then I got the news of her untimely death. So I did what anyone with a brown thumb and a knack for empathy would do: I dug up three clumps of daffodils, stuck them in plastic bags, took them to the funeral and gave them to the daughters, now grown women with their own families.
“I thought you should have some of your mother’s daffodils for your yards,” I said. The response was an unexpected outpouring of gratitude. A week later, I received probably the most literate letter I’ve ever received from the oldest daughter who emoted that my gift was probably the most thoughtful thing she had ever received.
She then asked if one of her sisters could come over and dig up some jonquils as well. They were planted, she explained, at the same time as the King Arthur daffodils, and having some of those come up each spring as well would complete the memory of their mother.
We arranged for her sister Linda to come by the next Saturday morning. I helped her dig up some of the heartier jonquils. As we dug side by side the conversation was measured.
“I had forgotten how full of shale this soil was,” she mused.
“I wish your mother’s green thumb had been passed on with the house,” I joked.
Then I invited her to tour her former home. She stepped in tentatively. As we walked, we talked about the white pine floors that ran through the house, preserved pristinely under the shag carpeting of her childhood. She was relieved to see the dining room nearly the same as she remembered, and sad that the pink and blue chicken wallpaper in her bedroom was nowhere to be found. The quirky doorknob in the hall bathroom. The baby grand where hers stood. The swinging butler doors in the kitchen – they were still intact. Some familiarity amid the unsettling changes.
It’s a cruel exercise trying to return to life as you knew it. The seasons revolve, taking and giving. Linda left that day with a heavy heart and a handful of jonquils. I hope she is surprised every spring with return of the jarring golds and yellows first planted by her mother decades ago. Just like I’m thrilled every year when they re-emerge in our yard – here at the Denny’s house.
April, 1998 – A walk with Katie
Once I thought the real world was an office. Now I know it’s the open spaces of our time, wherever and whenever they happen. One of my favorite things to do in those open spaces is take a walk with my little girl. I suddenly allow myself the freedom to give her time. Time to do the things three-year-olds do.
Like squat down and play with the little stones that gather at the end of the driveway. Lift and sift. Throw them and watch them blow in the spring breeze. This is what it means to be three and to not have to wonder what time it is. To enjoy endless afternoons of sunshine without a thought for what you’ll do afterwards.
“Mommy, I have some good news: the ants are back.”
“I didn’t know they left.”
“Yeah, they go-ed away when it rained. But they’re back now and I’m talking to them.”
She sees things I don’t even remember looking at. And it’s more than simply being closer to the ground. There’s a true groundedness to her life. For this slice of time I try to focus only on her.
Inside her mind, everything fits. The leaves are flapping their wings because they want to fly. The remnants of spring blossoms that collect in dust piles by the curb make perfect pillows for squirrels. The cloud that was a dinosaur just turned into a rabbit.
“Look at me, Mommy!,” her bouncy curls glowing in the sun. She’s created a new dance step as she hops from foot to foot with near-perfect 3-year-old precision.
Sometimes we race, and I know if it’s not this year, it’ll be next that she beats me to the finish (and I’m not slow). She climbs to the top of Pride Rock.
“Where shall I jump from, Mommy?”
“How about the highest place?”
The highest place is all of ten inches from the ground, but it’s another challenge to be taken, and, because true winning occurs through lots of tiny triumphs, it’s a big step.
She brings me a stone she’s been saving during our walk. Her little hand opens up to reveal the evidence of a fiercely determined grip. I am to share this stone with daddy and baby.
There are many such gifts that now pervade my person. I can reach inside any jacket pocket and find crumbled, dry leaves that were presented to me with pride. Or hats from acorns or those thingys that fall from birch trees. The pockets that once felt like satin are now lined with wonderful, gritty things. The stuff that real life is made of.
The ground is slit wide open
And stuffed with the entrails of our existence
Then zipped back up
A ragged quilt of earth-colored corduroy
Bloated and sickly
Bumpy and unnatural
A sacrifice to the garbage stream
That smokes of shame
And conceals forever from our sight
The blight of our excess.
Ode to a dying queen
Stately, golden bands of fur
Adorn your noble crown;
A daunting figure, strong though frail,
Still none can bring you down.
I look on you and wonder
Of the worlds you ruled on earth –
The places that you traveled,
The children that you birthed.
O silent, suffering royal
I bow to you in reverence
And take in one last fleeting joy
Before you take your severance.
In reflection and in honor, I,
In silence hail to thee,
O mighty, regal, golden, glorious,
Flying, dying bee.
I have lived innumerable years
No death no disease no
To pluck me from my
Coveted complacency or to
Rock my rootedness in this transient place.
Are just around the corner.
I feel it like you sense the rain.
Too long it’s been since
The searing pain that slashes the gut
Has made me spring up to notice I’m alive.
I have come to worship
The Familiarity of Things.
Routine has become my religion.
I breathe the smugness of knowing
Tomorrow will be the same.
At least for today.
I dance around the fire that is prayer.
Basking in the seduction of its power
Darting from spark to spark
Never daring to touch it
Like scratching around an itch
Or staring somewhere
Near the sun.
The devil’s in the dance—
That frenetic power of possibilities
That taunts and electrifies
And keeps me on the outer rim
With what could be.
God is in the true immersion—
Once inside the fire
A strange and soothing heat fills
(Not devours) me
A reasoning yet creative power
Holding me while I release.
Cardinals in the Snow (Haiku)
Two brazen females
Tread on squirrel terrain for food
Feathers outsmart fur.
Birds shriek at twilight
Piercing the air with vibrance
Colors rush skyward.
I think of how freely God wants to give us peace and how laboriously we work to reject it.
Ten things I have learned from putting puzzles together with my children:
- If you put the border in place, it’s easier to assemble the inside pieces.
- Sometimes a piece you think HAS to work simply doesn’t.
- Sometimes a piece you think HAS to work does work, just not in the way you thought it would.
- If you try every possible way and it doesn’t work, it’s probably not the right piece.\
- Sometimes you’re just wrong.
- When you’re stuck, get up and have a snack and try later.
- Sometimes when you see a piece and know exactly where it goes, fitting it into that perfect spot is the most gratifying thing you’ll do all day.
- Subtle changes in color give you clues about where the pieces should go.
- If you’re not having fun you should stop.
- Finishing up a good puzzle is infinitely more rewarding than doing pretty much anything else classified as enriching.
Someday all the things we deem important—all the jobs we get paid to do that involve managing things that people live and die by—will go away. All our pride, our things, our ideas about what’s real, will go away, leaving nothing but the truth. I can’t see it all now, but I know it doesn’t at all resemble what we’ve constructed.
The Hibiscus blossom blooms only one day. It’s the short and glorious career. The Teach me the measure of my days parable. The blaze of glory. The celebration of tenuous and fleeting beauty. If we knew we only had a day, how would we live it?