Feeds:
Posts
Comments

harvard yard banners chairs

  • 32,000 folding chairs set up in Harvard Yard (a few of which are pictured above).
  • A 60% chance of rain on Commencement day, which did not – thank goodness – come to pass.
  • Ten honorary degrees conferred, including one to opera singer Renee Fleming, who sang “America the Beautiful” on Commencement morning in Harvard Yard.
  • 701 brand-new graduates from the Graduate School of Education, the corner of Harvard where I work.
  • $24,400 (and counting!) raised by 78% (a record percentage!) of those same 701 graduates for their Class Gift campaign. It will go toward financial aid for next year’s students.
  • Three times now I’ve stood in Radcliffe Yard and watched our graduates march in. The sight chokes me up every year.
  • Eight maps attached to the lanyard I wore around my neck, since my job was directing graduates during the processional.
  • Two student friends I got to hug on their way in, and one I found afterward in the melee of families, friends and flapping graduation robes.
  • Countless cameras, tweets, tears, Facebook posts, bottles of water, proud family members, and rounds of applause.

Some of this pomp and pageantry is unique to Harvard, and some of it is common to universities the world over. This is an archetypal place, at once beautifully distinctive and deeply familiar. And I am so proud to be a part of its Commencement each year.

Congratulations to all those who graduated. We salute you. We believe, as the Ed School’s dean, Jim Ryan, said yesterday, that you all are going to rock. We know – because of what you have learned here, but more importantly because of who you are – that your work, and your presence, will change the world.

Most of all, we are proud to know you, and grateful to call you our own.

willow tree light public garden boston autumn fall

I remember understanding what a brutal thing it is to be the bearer of truly bad news – to break off a piece of that misery and hand it to other people, one by one, and then have to comfort them; to put their grief on your shoulders on top of all your own; to be the calm one in the face of their shock and tears. And then learning that relative weight of grief is immaterial. Being smothered a little is no different than being smothered a lot. Either way, you can’t breathe.”

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

This insightful description of grief – and the heartbreaking process of dealing with the practicalities of death – stopped me in my tracks when I came across it this weekend. I was even more surprised to find it where I did: buried in the middle of a frothy, sassy chick lit novel.

Midway through The Royal We (which I loved, by the way), its narrator, Bex, loses someone important to her and has to fly from England back to her hometown in Iowa, to be with her family and to grieve. And while I have never (yet) lost a close family member, this description of grief hit me right in the chest – because I know what it’s like.

Nearly eleven years ago, just before my junior year of college, my friend Cheryl – a member of the group with whom I’d spent the previous semester studying abroad in Oxford – died in a car crash, the week before school started. It wasn’t the first time I had lost someone I loved, but it was the first time I’d had to deal with the sudden, unexpected death of someone close to me. And it was the first time I had to deal with the details of tragedy as an adult.

From the moment we found out about Cheryl’s death – late on a starry, sultry Texas evening, all of us congregating in the front yard of a house near campus – my Oxford group stuck together. We sat up most of that night telling stories about Cheryl and Oxford and our time together, finally drifting off to sleep, draped over futons and sprawled on the living room floor of a house shared by four of my girlfriends. The next morning, those of us who were able – including me – started making phone calls.

I don’t remember how many times I gave the bad news that week. I do remember the gasps of shock on the other end of the phone, the blatant disbelief, my reluctance to say the awful words. I wasn’t as close to Cheryl as some of the others were – but I learned, as Bex does, that the relative weight of your grief doesn’t matter. We were all hurting, and trying to bear the pain in our own ways.

We piled into a string of cars (including mine) to drive down to San Antonio for the funeral. We sat and watched the Summer Olympics in stunned silence, needing to be together, trying to come to grips with the loss of our friend. We wept, or clung dry-eyed to each other, and wondered how this could have happened to us.

Every time I lose someone I love, I flash back to those days in West Texas, and the awful responsibility of sharing the news with my friends, making travel plans, trying to handle questions for which I had no answers. I wasn’t at the center of that sorrow, but I remember how it felt to share it, to bear it together. So this passage from The Royal We made me say simply: Yes. Me too. I know what that’s like.

Not bad for a (mostly) lighthearted piece of chick lit.

palm trees san diego

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I hopped a plane to the West Coast. After a long, bitter winter and a packed early spring, we’d planned a much-needed getaway to see our friends Allison and Duncan, former New Yorkers who moved back to their native state a couple of years ago. This was our second trip to see them in San Diego, and it was utterly lovely.

We stayed again on Coronado Island – walkable and gorgeous. We ate Mexican food four times in three days, including burritos from Clayton’s and fish tacos from Allison and Duncan’s favorite food truck. I snapped a photo of this pennant at Seaside Papery, because the sentiment was so perfect.

tacos pennant

We wandered down to the beach at least once a day, even though our first full day there was chilly and rainy. We dipped our toes in the Pacific, and came home with sand on the soles of our sandals and in the creases of our jeans.

toes beach san diego

Last winter, on our first trip to San Diego, everything was new. Neither J nor I had ever been to SoCal, and there were fresh delights around every corner. This time, we made sure to revisit some favorites – like Clayton’s, the beach, lunch at Burger Lounge, and browsing the gorgeous Bay Books. It felt good to savor some things we already knew we loved, as well as exploring some new neighborhoods (and trying a few new restaurants).

We still haven’t made it to the zoo, but we did drive to Balboa Park one afternoon for a quick tour through the Museum of Photographic Art. They’re currently showing an amazing video project called 7 Billion Others, and we lingered until closing time. The project involves interviews with people from around the world, but also included this video mosaic screen – you can see yourself reflected in a mosaic of faces, which I thought was amazing on so many levels.

katie mopa video mosaic

We stopped by MooTime on Coronado for ice cream – before dinner! – on our last day. And, of course, we enjoyed every minute of being with Duncan and Allison: trading stories, sharing old inside jokes and creating new ones, sipping tea around the kitchen table, and catching up on our lives. I wish they didn’t live so far away – but if they can’t be close by any more, at least they’re living in a place I love to visit.

katie jer beach san diego

San Diego, you are lovely. We’ll be back (again).

Like a river

red tulips public garden boston

 

A spring night is a power that sweeps through the crowded sheaves of blooming tulips and pours into your heart like a river.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

I took a solo walk through the Public Garden the other night, after a long, full day that included a work event and an impromptu dinner afterward with a friend.

We tucked into a corner booth at one of our favorite restaurants, over bowls of creamy, savory soup and glasses of red wine. The evening was blue and gold, with a brisk west wind. I had forgotten my jacket that morning and I was almost cold.

After dinner, I walked through the Garden alone, to see if there were any tulips left. (The photo above is from a couple of weeks ago; the tulip season is vivid and glorious here, but short.) A few bright blooms still lingered on their stalks, and I snapped a photo in the gathering dusk. But what caught my attention was the sunset light, reflected in the water.

sunset sky boston public garden

I thought of the line from Doerr’s memoir, above, written as he tried to savor the gorgeous, fleeting beauty that is spring in Rome. Spring in Boston – capricious, tricksy, full of sudden cool breezes and unexpected bursts of color – is a surprise and an enchantment every year. I’ve lived through five New England winters now and am on my fifth spring, and I am still in love, bewitched, utterly captivated by the new life around every corner.

This is a packed time of year, for me and for nearly everyone I know. Harvard’s Commencement approaches (next week); work deadlines loom. Summer, with all its pleasures and its changes from the usual routine, is on the horizon, but it’s not quite here yet.

tulips-public-garden

I am walking through the middle of all this beauty, thinking about plans and to-do lists and so many meetings. I am busy and tired and a little stressed, but I want to stay awake. I don’t want to miss it. Any of it.

I am determined to keep paying attention, to let the power of these spring nights – and days – sweep through the tulips and blooming trees, and pour into my heart like a river.

parnassus books nashville

It’s no secret that I am a serious bookworm. I have a dedicated table for my to-be-read pile, a library holds list as long as my arm, and at least one stack of review copies waiting to be perused at all times. (Currently it’s two stacks.)

I read widely, and I like to think I read broadly. I love many different kinds of books, including (but not limited to) memoirs, mysteries, young adult and middle-grade novels, adult fiction (both general and literary), poetry, and popular nonfiction. My shelves on Goodreads are almost as full as my real-life bookshelves (which are bulging). I am always reading several books at once.

I have two English lit degrees, a constantly shifting calendar of review deadlines and a pretty good sense (I like to think) of what constitutes “quality” literature. So sometimes I think I “should” be reading only the high-quality stuff: shiny new literary fiction, classics that have stood the test of time, nonfiction books dealing with Important Ideas. And I do read all those things. But in the past couple of years – even before I chose it as my word for 2015 – I’ve noticed that I’ve always got at least one “gentle” book in progress.

What do I mean by “gentle” in this case? Sometimes “gentle reading” means a quiet, bucolic story, like Miss Read’s tales of village life, or the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Sometimes it’s a beloved book from childhood (I reach for The Long Winter every February). Sometimes it’s the next book in a favorite series, comforting because it deals with known characters or familiar territory. And sometimes it’s a totally silly “fluff” book – chick lit or a cozy mystery – that I choose not for its great writing, but for its fun and predictable plot. (I also can’t read anything too creepy before I go to bed – or I won’t be able to fall asleep!)

I still occasionally beat myself up about this tendency. Those reading hours are precious, and I do dedicate many of them to high-quality, often more demanding books. But sometimes I simply need to curl up with a good story whose main value lies in escape and entertainment. This week, for example, you can find me digging into Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (light mysteries set in 1920s England), and savoring Elizabeth Bard’s gorgeous second memoir, Picnic in Provence. (That one is gentle, but it’s so well written that it’s hardly a guilty pleasure.)

Do you read several books at once, too? Is there a “gentle” (or “fluffy,” or “guilty pleasure”) category in your rotation?

Spring List Update

tulips-public-garden

Back in early April (which feels like ages ago now), I posted a spring list. I’ve been working on it since then – so here, an update for you.

  • Bake my favorite strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I made it for a Sunday night potluck, and we all but licked the baking dish clean.

strawberry rhubarb crisp

  • Read some poetry. (Spring makes me long for Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.)
  • Watch the Masters. It was a great tournament, as always. 21-year-old Jordan Spieth blew everyone away.
  • Reread Jane of Lantern Hill, the perfect spring book. Love love love.
  • Knit something pink for my friend Abigail’s baby girl, who will arrive in May. I made her a sweet little dress.

pink sproutlette dress

  • Savor the new season of Call the Midwife. I’ve enjoyed it, though this season is heavy.
  • Go on a getaway with the hubs. We had a fabulous trip to San Diego, about which more soon.

katie jer beach san diego

  • Keep buying flowers from my local florist – tulips and daffodils, delivered with a smile. I’m in there twice a week.

tulips

  • Participate in Susannah Conway’s April Love photo challenge. I posted about a dozen photos. So fun.

Looks like the only thing I need to do is read some poetry. But that’s never a problem.

red journal chai darwins

A good journal entry – like a good song, or sketch, or photograph – ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

As a longtime journaler (I have boxes of old journals stowed away in a closet, and a stack of more recent ones teetering on a bookshelf), this passage from Doerr’s lovely memoir positively made my heart sing.

Happy Friday, friends. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,988 other followers