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Posts Tagged ‘comfort’

summer sunset view porch

I hear a bird chirpin’ up in the sky
I’d like to be free like that, spread my wings so high
I hear the river flowin’, water runnin’ by
I’d like to be that river, see what I might find

—”Bird Song,” The Wailin’ Jennys

I stood at the kitchen sink late one night last month, plunging my hands in their purple rubber gloves under the stream of hot running water. I was tired from a long workday, answering emails and wrangling story assignments, and a long evening at home, taking care of other tasks.

I reached for a turquoise sponge, scrubbing bits of food off crusted plates and greasy pans. My smartphone sat on the ledge above the sink, playing this song on repeat, Heather Masse’s voice lilting along the familiar lyrics. Every time I hear her sing it, I can see her in a blue dress, swaying onstage at the Indian River Festival in PEI, three summers ago. My shoulders drop, and I exhale.

My musical taste tends toward the soulful and quiet: most of my favorite musicians are singer-songwriters who tell true stories with their notes and words. (The notable exception to this is Hamilton, but I tend to eschew the driving rock beats and funky mashups my husband loves.) I have a particular fondness for a handful of bands and solo artists, whose words and tunes have wound around my heart, knit themselves into the fabric of my soul.

This year, I’ve found myself turning often to a few beloved songs, as a balm, a solace when the world is too much, too fast, too insistent, too loud. I’ve begun to think of them not simply as my favorites, but as grown-up lullabies.

We sing lullabies to children, of course: to soothe a fractious baby or smooth a fidgety toddler’s way toward sleep. My nephews ask, over and over again, for the songs they have heard all their lives: “Edelweiss,” “General Froggie,” “Three Little Kitties.” My dad used to sing the latter two to my sister and me: his mother, my Mimi, also sang them to him and his brothers when they were small. (I love that these old folk lullabies are three generations strong in my family.)

It’s been years since anyone sang me a lullaby in the usual sense. But these days, “Bird Song” and a handful of other quiet, lilting songs are my lullabies: they soothe my anxious soul when the hurt and the frustration are beyond logic, beyond explaining.

Some of them are gentle folk ballads, sung by the Wailin’ Jennys, Grace Pettis, Hem, or my college friends Alex and Kara (known as the Light Parade). Some are old hymns that live deep in my bones: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” or “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” Some are the last remnants of the Christian pop music I loved as a teenager and have never entirely outgrown: words from Nichole Nordeman and other wise voices. And a few are newer songs that periodically lodge in my soul: the Magnificat, in particular, never fails to soothe me, and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West” has a kind of distant magic.

These songs aren’t an instant cure for what ails me, or the world: I know singing a few verses won’t heal all wounds. But they are a salve for my weary soul, a way to quiet my running mind and gentle my anxious heart. I sometimes find myself matching my steps to the rhythm of these familiar voices, or swaying slightly as I stand at the kitchen sink, as though I were rocking a baby to sleep.

I’ve come to believe that grown-ups need nurturing too, and we often have to provide it for ourselves. These lullabies, and the peace they bring, are saving my life these days.

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daffodils succulents florist

After the first week the girls of Patty’s Place settled down to a steady grind of study; for this was their last year at Redmond and graduation honors must be fought for persistently. Anne devoted herself to English, Priscilla pored over classics, and Philippa pounded away at Mathematics. Sometimes they grew tired, sometimes they felt discouraged, sometimes nothing seemed worth the struggle for it. In one such mood Stella wandered up to the blue room one rainy November evening. Anne sat on the floor in a little circle of light cast by the lamp beside her, amid a surrounding snow of crumpled manuscript.

“What in the world are you doing?”

“Just looking over some old Story Club yarns. I wanted something to cheer and inebriate. I’d studied until the world seemed azure. So I came up here and dug these out of my trunk. They are so drenched in tears and tragedy that they are excruciatingly funny.”

“I’m blue and discouraged myself,” said Stella, throwing herself on the couch. “Nothing seems worthwhile. My very thoughts are old. I’ve thought them all before. What is the use of living after all, Anne?”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I turned back to this exchange between Anne and Stella recently, while slogging through a stretch of cold, grey days. I’m fighting a head cold (as Anne does elsewhere), and my very thoughts, like Stella’s, have felt old. It might not be November around here, but biting winds and swirling snow in early April are just as depressing as a cold fall rain.

Despite my gloom, I smiled as I read Anne’s reply to Stella: “Honey, it’s just brain fag that makes us feel that way, and the weather. A pouring rainy night like this, coming after a hard day’s grind, would squelch any one but a Mark Tapley. You know it is worthwhile to live.”

I know in my bones that Anne is right: this life, with its myriad frustrations and joys, is entirely worth living. It’s full of things to savor and enjoy. But I’ve still been feeling more like Stella: “Oh, my mind agrees with you, Anne. But my soul remains doleful and uninspired.”

I’m falling back on all my tried-and-true lifesavers: daffodils for my desk, daily trips to Darwin’s for chai and chitchat, sweet clementines peeled and eaten mid-afternoon while I take a break from work email to catch up on blogs. But I’m also remembering what Stella says a few lines later: “I begin to feel that life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

For that laughter, I’m relying on my people: my snarky coworkers, my goofy husband, the silliness that ensues when we gather around a friend’s table on Sunday nights. (Full disclosure: I’m also cracking up at James Corden’s Crosswalk musical videos and the occasional episode of Modern Family.)

When the skies are grey and the to-do list is long, I’m trying to remember: life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it. That laughter – even if sometimes it comes perilously close to crying – is what’s saving my life these days.

What’s making you laugh in these early spring days? (And when will the sunshine come back?)

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south portland st brooklyn

One of the delights of visiting and revisiting a city: there are neighborhoods that become yours.

Last month, the hubs and I spent our third weekend in Fort Greene, which has become our favorite pocket of Brooklyn. I’d just spent three days at a conference in midtown and I was ready to get out of the bustle and glitz, to a tangle of quieter streets where people actually live. Coming out of Manhattan, even dragging all my luggage, felt like a much-needed exhale. And coming up out of the subway onto Fulton Street – even into a cold winter wind – felt like coming home.

We rented the top floor of a brownstone near Fort Greene Park, and spent the weekend popping into our favorite places and discovering new ones. It was the kind of travel I adore: the new and novel blended with the comforting and familiar.

We didn’t even discuss where to go for dinner on Friday night, but headed straight to Madiba for bowls of spicy lamb curry with raisin-studded saffron rice. When we told our hostess we were headed to the farmers’ market in the park the next morning, she laughed. “You’re practically natives!” And, indeed, it felt wonderful to stroll the stands and buy a cup of steaming apple cider and a scone the size of my fist. We perched on a bench and sipped our cider, watching dogs and children running in the cold, crisp air.

k-j-ft-greene-park

I’d made a short list of places to revisit, and we hit all of them: Greenlight Bookstore, the winter Brooklyn Flea market, the wonderful Greene Grape and its adjacent wine shop, and the bagel place on Lafayette Avenue. We ate Sunday brunch at Walter’s and strolled up and down the streets we love. But we also visited new coffee shops, turned down unfamiliar corners, ate guacamole and huevos at Pequeña. And we did something I’ve long wanted to do: took the gorgeous walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

brooklyn bridge cables sky

New York, more than most cities, offers endless new discoveries, and I am surprised and delighted by it every time I visit. But I also love that certain parts of it have become mine, or ours. Fort Greene welcomed us back, and I’m already looking forward to our next trip there.

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sunset sky west texas

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

I don’t know much of Kenyon’s work, but I love this poem, with its simple imagery and the quiet comfort of the last lines.

April is National Poetry Month, and I have been sharing poetry here on Fridays this month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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rocks waves blue sky two lights state park maine

Every once in a while, usually when I’m not looking, a line from a hymn sneaks into my soul and lodges there, like a bird building a covert nest under the eaves of a house.

This happens with non-religious music too (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift), but when a hymn lyric sets up camp in my consciousness, it becomes a kind of mantra, or a kind of prayer. Last December, during Advent, it was my favorite four-part version of the Magnificat. This winter, a Lenten hymn caught my attention, and I hummed it over and over as we plodded toward Easter.

memorial church interior

This fall, it’s a line from a hymn I’ve known for years: God of Grace and God of Glory.

I’ve sung the several verses of this song all my life, in the big Baptist church where I grew up and in various other churches since then. I know most of the words by heart, and I love them all, but one line in particular has burrowed into my mind and soul lately:

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.

I was laid off from my job a few months ago. I have not wanted to talk about it here on the blog, but that simple fact has informed every day of my life since I received the news. The job search has been longer and more difficult than I expected, and I miss the purpose and the camaraderie of my former workplace. I’ve had some interviews and a few promising leads, but it has been hard. And it continues to be hard.

After months of job hunting – the relentless cycle of applications and rejections, the constant worry about whether I’m doing it right or doing enough, the loneliness that comes from missing colleagues and community – I am finding it difficult to pray. There are a host of reasons for this, not all directly related to the job search, but I can’t always make the words come, or even bring myself to believe that it matters.

But this quiet hymn lyric keeps coming to mind, both on the hard days and the not-quite-so-hard days. I catch myself humming it at odd moments, or I find the words floating through my head. (We also sang this song at church yesterday, because my husband – who plans our worship services – is evidently a mind reader.)

Both halves of this line resonate with me. “The living of these days” speaks to a broad swath of struggles and worries, both personal and societal. When I’m wondering how to face these difficulties, I’m always hoping for more wisdom and more courage. And when I’m too tired or too dispirited to form a prayer, this seems to be a pretty good one.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.

Amen.

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Frazzled.

It’s a mad week around here, folks. Full of exciting things: a wonderful folk concert, a book event, an evening of pizza and wine and Downton Abbey with friends. And full of crazy-making things: too many meetings, a two-day work conference, a 48-hour deadline on a work project made necessary by said conference. Gloomy and frustrating winter weather – no single-digit temps this week, but we have had rain, snow, slush, high winds and grey skies. Many of the things that preserve my sanity – routine, sunshine, spare time, home-cooked meals – are in short supply at the moment.

I am wishing (again) that I could fly to some exotic location, explore a new city or revisit a beloved one, leave the mundane tasks and damp, chill weather far behind. I forget, every year, what a long grey slog the Northeastern winter can be. (I think most people must, or they wouldn’t go on living here.)

But tonight, I came home and took off my boots and slid my feet into cozy slippers. I took a few deep breaths and made a pot of Tuscan sausage soup, and washed a sinkful of dishes. I ate far too many Dove chocolates, and a steaming cup of decaf vanilla black tea sits at my elbow as I write. And there are yellow tulips on my dining room table.

yellow tulips

I am trying not to be discouraged, to remember the words of Shakespeare, taken to heart by a certain Emily Webster: “Muster your wits; stand in your own defense.” And the words of Marcus Aurelius, which I discovered via Father Tim Kavanagh: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

The chaos will still be waiting for me tomorrow. But like Emily, and Mary Tyler Moore, and the rest of my heroines, I’m determined to make it after all.

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Gentle Reading

Life has been recently (I keep saying) full of challenges. Mourning my grandmother and then my cousin from a great distance. Struggling to write, in the wake of these griefs, sometimes terrified that my muse has deserted me, or that I’ll never write anything of significance. Missing faraway friends (though I am deeply grateful for the smaller circles that surround me here). Waiting through the long weeks of March and now April, through biting winds and chilly nights, for weather that truly feels like spring.

miss read books

My growing Miss Read collection

Sarah at Pink of Perfection asked recently what we like to read in the spring, and someone mentioned the novels of Miss Read, village schoolmistress at Fairacre (England’s answer to Mitford). I first discovered Miss Read in Oxford, and had read and enjoyed four of her Fairacre tales. That very weekend, I found Summer at Fairacre on a browse through Rivendell Books. I snapped it up and savored it, then found two more at the Brattle. And now I’m planning to make my way through the whole Fairacre series, and maybe the Thrush Green novels, too.

These books are the perfect comfort reading – well written, with a bucolic setting, a witty and lovable narrator, a colorful cast of village characters, a pleasantly meandering plot. They’re a blessed escape from my daily frustrations and larger troubles. Sometimes a dose of gentle reading is just what the doctor ordered.

the train to estelline

Breakfast with Lucy

Along the same lines, I’m enjoying the Irish Country Doctor series by Patrick Taylor – a perfect cross between Mitford and James Herriot – and the Lucinda Roberts trilogy by Jane Roberts Wood (the first book is pictured above). And, this weekend, I reread Jane of Lantern Hill for the first time in years. Now I want to live in a little cottage by the sea on Prince Edward Island.

What’s on your spring and/or gentle reading list?

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