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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

summer sunset view porch

“Lately I’ve been waking up at 3 a.m.,” a friend admitted in a group email last month.

It was only a passing comment; we were talking about when we find time to read, and she confessed to snatching an hour here and there during her nocturnal wakings. But the 3 a.m. comment caused a quiet thump of recognition, because for months, I have been waking in the night, too. A flurry of responses from the group confirmed it: we’re not the only ones.

I think it started for me last summer, as I switched jobs, moved to a new apartment and grieved over several national tragedies. It has continued, off and on, through the fall and winter: the election and its fallout, significant stress at work, many other challenges in my life and the lives of people I love.

Late at night, I often find myself in bed with my journal and a pen in hand, pushing my glasses up on my nose. I keep the lamp on after my husband rolls over and closes his eyes, trying to write my way toward a peaceful place, taking deep breaths so I can turn out the light and head for sleep.

Some nights I can dive into a book, lose myself in a good story or some luminous poetry. Other nights, I need to trace the swirling thoughts, get them out of my brain and onto the page. Then I can try to sleep. But I often – though not always – end up wide awake, at some ungodly single-digit hour of the night.

My friend lives six time zones away, and our fellow nighttime wakers are scattered across the country, but it still comforted me, somehow, to know I wasn’t alone in this. The next few times I woke up in the middle of the night, I lay listening to the whir of traffic outside, thinking of my friends, wakeful in their houses, in Illinois or North Carolina or Maine. It made me feel better to picture their faces, even though I knew the fact of our communal waking wouldn’t solve anything for any of us.

Madeleine L’Engle, one of my patron saints, begins her memoir The Irrational Season with a similar image: the silhouette of Madeleine herself, standing at the window of her apartment on the Upper West Side, holding a mug of hot bouillon on a dark morning in early winter. She peers out the blinds to the street that is never quite silent, the building across the way whose lights never all go out at once. She sips her bouillon, savoring her small rebellion against the tyranny of the clock. “I enjoy these occasional spells of nocturnal wakefulness,” she says. “And I am never awake alone.”

I’m not always so sanguine about my own nocturnal waking, though sometimes I can turn over and fall back asleep, or think about something comforting (including my friends, awake in their own houses). Sometimes I get up for a drink of water, walking around the wicker chest at the end of our bed, down the darkened hallway and glancing out the bathroom window, at the streetlights one block over, or a winking star. (After eight months in this apartment, I can finally walk through it in the dead of night without crashing into anything.)

“I do not think we talk enough about how every one of us / Has shuffled around the house in the middle of the night / Worried,” Brian Doyle says, in a poem aptly titled “Three in the Morning.” A few lines later, he adds wryly, “Sometimes there is zero / To be done except shuffle around wearily.”

Sometimes, I might add, there’s not much to be done except lie there a while, taking deep breaths or running the lines of an old hymn through my head. The anxiety doesn’t always dissipate, though sometimes it quiets to a background hum. But it does help, usually, to think of my friends, or of Madeleine at the window with her mug of bouillon, watching the slow nighttime life of her neighborhood. If I am awake, and especially if I’m worried, it helps to know I’m not alone.

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stronger together heart graffiti three lives

You Have to Be Careful

You have to be careful telling things.
Some ears are tunnels.
Your words will go in and get lost in the dark.
Some ears are flat pans like the miners used
looking for gold.
What you say will be washed out with the stones.

You look a long time till you find the right ears.
Till then, there are birds and lamps to be spoken to,
a patient cloth rubbing shine in circles,
and the slow, gradually growing possibility
that when you find such ears,
they already know.

—Naomi Shihab Nye

I came across this poem last spring, in Shihab Nye’s collection Words Under the Words. I posted it on Instagram at the time, and have thought of it occasionally since then – mostly when I’m remembering how glad I am to have such ears in my life.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry on Fridays here this month, as I do each year.

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millennium falcon interior empire strikes back

Recently, the hubs and I saw Rogue One, which was fantastic and heartbreaking. It made me laugh and cry, like The Force Awakens and the original Star Wars trilogy. (We won’t talk about episodes I-III.)

In fact, we loved it so much that we went straight home and watched A New Hope, sitting on the couch with takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant. (This was New Year’s weekend and yes, we do know how to party.)

Watching those two films meant, of course, that we also had to watch The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite) and Return of the Jedi. We haven’t rewatched The Force Awakens yet, but I’d like to.

I love so many things about these movies – including the snappy dialogue, the ingenious technological devices, the frequent flashes of wry humor and the way R2-D2 always saves the day. But this time, I noticed something about when, and why, they made me cry.

There are moments in all three original films (and also in Rogue One) when a small, motley crew of rebels, who have usually gathered hastily from across the galaxy in response to a distress call or a preemptive strike by the Empire, must decide to go into battle. It usually looks like a fool’s errand: what chance do a few fighters have against the Empire’s sleek, massive fleet? Or, as a pilot says to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, “Two fighters against a star destroyer?”

The Rebel forces often seem scruffy and disorganized next to the Empire’s sharp lines of identically clad soldiers, and they know: bravery is no guarantee of success. Sometimes they’re receiving their marching orders when they are already under attack. But they always choose to face down the enemy, and they choose to do it together.

None of these moments are climactic in themselves: they happen before Luke makes the kill shot to destroy the Death Star, before the Millennium Falcon and her crew escape the Cloud City, before the final showdowns (there are several) in Return of the Jedi. They are the small decisive moments before the big battle scenes, when the rebels look each other in the eye and say: let’s do this. Together.

They know the stakes; they know they might not make it out alive. Some of them don’t; the death toll in all four movies struck me forcibly this time around. But they are willing to fight for the cause of freedom and justice, and they will walk into the mouth of hell itself – or fly straight toward Darth Vader’s ship – beside one another.

As C-3PO helpfully points out more than once, the deck is often stacked against them: the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field, for example, “are approximately 3,720 to 1!” But Han Solo and the rest aren’t interested in the odds: they’re going in. Together. And it makes me cry every time.

(Image via Google)

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peony candle

I read this line last month in Krista Tippett’s gorgeous, luminous book Becoming Wise. It is from a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. In the wake of this weekend’s tragedy in Orlando, it has been with me like a heartbeat, thrumming quietly but insistently through my veins.

I talk a lot, lately, about my deep love for Darwin’s, the coffee shop down the street from my office. I am there so often – for chai or lunch or an afternoon snack – that I know at least half the staff by name. Several times a week, I stand in the lunchtime line that winds around the wine racks and past the ice cream freezer, and exchange smiles and hellos with the folks I know: Al, Kiersten, Ariel, Justin. If I’m lucky, my friend Gamal is working the register, and he always has a smile and a good word for me.

I have spent much of the past year not knowing quite where I belong: shunted between different offices, learning the ropes of two temp gigs while searching for the next right thing. I am both shy and introverted, and it’s hard sometimes for me to reach across and connect with new people, especially when I’m not sure I will be welcomed. (My first couple of years in Boston were hard and heartbreaking in that way, and it’s taken a long time for me to believe that people here want to know me, or be known by me.)

Especially during this year, I’ve been grateful for Darwin’s, and for other places of sanctuary and welcome in my life. The teams at both my temp gigs are full of smart, warmhearted people, and I’m lucky to have other folks to lean on: my husband, my family, a few treasured close friends.

And yet.

Relishing, and appreciating, the existing friendships in my life can’t be enough. Not when we wake up over and over to news reports of violence and tragedy, perpetuated by people full of hate and fear of those who are different from them. I can’t let my shyness – or my perceptions about any group of people – override my simple human responsibility: to be interested in others, and to treat them with dignity and compassion.

I am straight. I am white. I can’t imagine the discrimination experienced by some of my friends who don’t fit those descriptors. But I can – I must – be interested in them and their stories. Not as tokens or examples, but as people – complicated, messy, gloriously individual.

Alexander’s poem starts out being about poetry, as the narrator tells her students that poetry is “idiosyncratic.” But it quickly becomes about the human condition: “poetry is where we are ourselves,” she says. Her voice rises until it reaches the poem’s final crescendo:

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Yes. We are of interest to each other. We must be, if we are going to stem the tide of hate and fear that seems to be spilling out all over the place. We must remain interested in – and delighted by, and full of compassion for – each other. We cannot afford to do otherwise.

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kent haruf novels plainsong our souls at night

Every once in a while, a book comes along that knocks me backward with its quiet power. Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls at Night, is such a book: a story about ordinary people living simple lives, told in spare, melancholy, beautiful prose.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both elderly and widowed, live a block apart in a small Colorado town. They’ve known one another for years (though not very well), and both of them are lonely. Addie makes an unusual request of Louis: she wants him to come and spend nights at her house, lying in bed next to her, just talking.

Louis is surprised, but he agrees to give it a try, and they strike up a friendship – spending their nights in quiet companionship, telling each other the stories of their lives.

I’m at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Our Souls at Night. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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For our third anniversary last Tuesday, J and I decided to eat at home instead of going out. Since I work downtown and he works way south of the city, going out on weeknights can be a scheduling challenge – plus we’d just spent a weekend on the Cape with lots of eating out. So we planned a special meal of manicotti with tomato sauce and homemade blackberry cobbler (a summertime favorite).

We did have our special dinner (and it was delicious), and we did exchange cards and gifts and spend some time laughing and talking and just being together. But we also had a long, rich, deep Skype conversation with a friend who is spending a life-changing summer interning in New York, and later I talked to my parents and told them all about our Cape weekend.

This connectedness has been a hallmark of our marriage – time alone together interspersed with deep friendships, for both of us individually and as a couple. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our evening reminded me of a favorite passage from Madeleine L’Engle, in A Circle of Quiet, the first of her four memoir volumes:

It’s all right in the very beginning for you to be the only two people in the world, but after that your ability to love should become greater and greater. If you find that you love lots more people than you ever did before, then I think that you can trust this love. If you find that you need to be exclusive, that you don’t like being around other people, then I think that something may be wrong.

This doesn’t mean that two people who love each other don’t need time alone. Two people in the first glory of new love must have great waves of time in which to discover each other. But there is a kind of exclusiveness in some loves, a kind of inturning, which augurs trouble to come.

Hugh was the wiser of the two of us when we were first married. I would have been perfectly content to go off to a desert isle with him. But he saw to it that our circle was kept wide until it became natural for me, too. There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles have burned down.

I cherish this idea of keeping the circle wide – because it means we’re keeping our lives big, letting plenty of space and light into our relationship, allowing ourselves room to stretch and grow. There’s a balance to be struck, certainly, and we both cherish our solitude and just-the-two-of-us time. But I love the image of a wide circle, glowing with candlelight, making room for all the people we love and who love us.

How do you keep the circle wide in your life?

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The June prompt for #Reverb11 asked, “What can you let yourself off the hook for?” Which sounds an awful lot like gentleness, a favorite word lately, and comfort, my word for the year. So this prompt sounds awfully good to me.

I’m letting myself off the hook for…

1. Venting once in a while (because even if I chose something, I don’t always have to like it).
2. Having a style uniform instead of always dressing creatively.
3. Indulging in the occasional chai latte or other little lifesaver.
4. Not always washing the dishes right after dinner.
5. Having a little clutter in the guest room, and sometimes elsewhere.
6. Reading young adult books. A lot of them.
7. Losing my cooking/knitting/crafting/cleaning mojo once in a while. It always comes back.
8. Saying the wrong thing sometimes.
9. Not saying anything sometimes.
10. Getting distracted (sometimes).
11. Making progress slowly instead of quickly.
12. Being imperfect. (Which really sums up all the others.)
13. Ending the prompt sentence with a preposition.

What can you let yourself off the hook for?

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