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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

autumn sunrise window view trees

I say this every year: I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving. But the weather has turned seasonably chilly, and the signs – including turkey stickers at a wine tasting I went to last week – are everywhere.

Every year mid-November, I perform a few annual rituals: I buy sweet potatoes and chop pecans for the casserole-cum-dessert that is my favorite Thanksgiving dish. (No marshmallows for me, thank you.) I double-check the sign-up list for Turkeypalooza, our annual potluck celebration in the church basement. I shiver as I hurry down the Cambridge streets in my green coat, watching the golden leaves dance and fly off the trees. I queue up the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” and hum Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude.”

This November, I’ve been doing a few new things, like listening to Richard Blanco discuss Merwin’s poem in a recent WGBH segment. I’ve been thinking about how some of my best friends, who moved to Idaho this spring, won’t be with us to celebrate Thanksgiving, for the first time since we all moved to Boston. I’ve been trying to come to grips with the realities of the last year: many things have changed, or been thrown into sharper relief, since the 2016 election. And I’ve been thinking about Wendell Berry.

The title of this post is a line from Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It captures my own struggle over the past weeks and months: how to choose joy, find the silver lining, set my face toward gratitude, while looking steadily at the sobering and often horrifying realities of this world.

It is easy – so easy – to become sad and overwhelmed and terrified by the headlines: natural disasters, infighting and cruelty in Congress, so many stories of horrific sexual violence in this country and elsewhere. Closer to home, I have friends and loved ones who are navigating bad news every day: surgeries, budget cuts at their workplaces, losing beloved pets, struggling through breakups, depression, job hunts. Sometimes it’s a battle to get up and face the day, to consider these facts without becoming paralyzed by them.

ankle boots leaves

I forget, sometimes, that the bright parts of life are just as factual as the tough parts: that the blessings, like my florist’s smile and the taste of Earl Grey (served with good cheer by my folks at Darwin’s) and the arc of a bold blue autumn sky overhead, are as real as the worries that tug at my heart. They are all part of this life, the beautiful and the terrible, the joyous and the disheartening. Sometimes the weight of the darkness threatens to pull me down. But the goodness, the light, is also always there.

“Ask the questions that have no answers,” Berry urges his readers. “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Like all the poets I love, he urges me to pay attention, to keep up the hard and honest work of taking care, to look for and celebrate the sharp, sudden beauty of these days. “Laugh,” he says. “Laughter is immeasurable.” And again: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

This is the challenge, as Lindsey wrote so eloquently last week: to acknowledge the sorrow, sit with the grief, call out the wrongness and work to change what we can, while actively seeking the “glimmers of joy” in our days. To be joyful, though we have considered all the facts – even the ones that make us cringe or roll our eyes or weep. To give thanks for what we have, what we enjoy, what (and whom) we love. For the blessings we have worked for and for those that come unasked, unbidden.

I am finding gratitude, like so many other things, complicated these days. But I also find it important, even vital. This week, before (and after) the turkey and the pies and the hours in the kitchens (mine and others’), I will be choosing to give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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tulip hyacinth leaves spring
Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

 

I love Collins’ work, but had forgotten about this poem until my friend Louisa shared it at our book club last fall. Now that we are into spring (however fitful and rainy), it feels like the perfect time to share these lines with you.

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

(more…)

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magic is something you make brushstrokes

My one little word for 2017 is magic.

After a year that required all the gumption I could muster – which is to say, I frequently felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails – I wanted something different for 2017. I thought about vitality, which Ali chose for her word a few years ago, or rest, which I could certainly use more of this year.

Mostly, I wanted a word to help me live more fully into my everyday. Since I started choosing a word with brave back in 2010, this practice has become a way for me to pay better attention to my life. (Fittingly, attention was my word in 2013.)

I also wanted a word that would spark a little joy. 2016 was a hard and scary year, and I ended it completely worn out: exhausted, anxious, weary and fearful (though also deeply grateful for some good changes). There are lots of challenges ahead in 2017, I know, and I want to face them with bravery and hope: to walk forward expectant and unafraid.

All this reminded me of something Elise Blaha Cripe wrote a few years ago, when she chose magic for her word: “magic is something you make.” (The image above is from her site.)

Elise noted that magic doesn’t just happen to us, though it is there for the noticing: it often results from our choices, from the work we put in, from the way we choose to see the world. I was reminded, too, of Ali’s post from last year about making our own magic. Her post was related to the holidays, but I think it applies all year round.

Magic also feels a little sneaky, a little unexpected – like a much-needed antidote to the grim realities we’re all facing. To be honest, it also feels a little frivolous, and I wondered if I should choose something more grown-up and respectable. But then I remembered: I am always arguing in favor of the small things, the tiny, often overlooked moments that can turn a whole day around.

lamont quad light sky

The scrap of blue sky, the vase of red tulips on my desk, that first sip of hot, spicy chai in the morning. My favorite green coat, which has become my winter trademark. The pendant stamped with brave that I wear around my neck. The simple, small pleasures of daily life, and the lovely moments of connection with strangers and friends. Those “spasmodic tricks of radiance” are everyday magic, if anything is, and I firmly believe we need to notice them and also work to create more of them.

After I decided on my word, I went downtown to meet a friend one night last week. I got off the train early so I could walk through Beacon Hill, making my way down a dark, quiet, twinkly Charles Street with a cup of Earl Grey in my hand. And if I needed any further confirmation of my word, it came in this sign, spotted in a shop window: perfect words from one of my favorite writers.

presence wonder eb white

Wonder and magic are closely related, and I’ll be looking out for both of them this year. In a world that often feels fraught and dangerous, there’s still a great deal of light and loveliness to be found. I invite you to join me in looking for magic, and in making a little magic of our own.

Are you following a word this year? (I know I asked this question last week, but feel free to share if you haven’t already.)

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On kindness

on my left print friends bench curly girl

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

This quote has been variously attributed to Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren (the pen name of a man called John Watson) and many others. I’m not all that concerned with who said it first, but I’ve been thinking about it often lately, because it’s saving my life.

I am fighting a couple of hard battles right now: navigating the seemingly endless job hunt and enduring another long, hard winter. I know I have much to be grateful for: a loving husband, a staunch and supportive family, all the basic physical necessities, so many good books. But life these days is tough. And kindness – often from people I know, but sometimes from total strangers – is making a real and tangible difference for me.

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a breakfast sandwich at Darwin’s, and my order got lost in the shuffle – so one of the baristas gave me a free (heart-shaped) cookie while his co-worker apologized and started making my sandwich. I’m often in there for lunch too, and I look forward to the chitchat with my favorite staff members as they ring up my sandwich and chips. Even a brief exchange about the weather, which has been reliably crazy recently, or a laugh about nothing at all, can turn my entire day around.

I’m reaching the end of a temp gig I have loved, and a work acquaintance asked me last week, “What’s next for you?” “I don’t know,” I admitted. He said he’d keep an eye out for writing gigs for me – and he’s far from the only person who has made that offer. On a cold, gray day in the middle of a week of bad news, that simple gesture made me want to weep with gratitude.

After a difficult meeting last week, I found myself in tears in the middle of my office – not a situation I’d have preferred, but I couldn’t help it. Two of my colleagues supplied hugs, tissues, laughter and encouragement. I’ve only known these women for a couple of months, but I was – and am – so grateful.

As I am on the receiving end of kindness, I’m trying to remember to extend it to friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. These small gestures have bolstered me up as I fight my own battles – so I’m doing my best to pay it forward.

When has kindness made a real difference for you?

(Image from Curly Girl Design – a dear friend bought me this print a few years ago.)

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merry and bright

christmas card 2014

From our household to yours, the happiest of holidays.

I’m taking the week off, friends. See you back here next week.

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brookline advent sunday

On Saturday morning, after Turkeypalooza, J and I went up to the church to decorate for Advent. Our friend Bob had made his annual nursery pilgrimage to pick up the wreaths, pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen, but it turned out the nursery workers forgot the greenery. So we set out the flowers then, and put the greenery up the next morning, right before service started, as people drank coffee and greeted guests and chased their kids around the back of the church.

I wandered around with flowerpots and a roll of packing tape in my hands, dirt and pine sap on my fingers. We did not start remotely on time (though we never do, if we’re honest). And J was fighting a chest cold as he led singing. But the notes of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” soared through the building, as hopeful and aching as they are every year.

On Monday, I made it to Morning Prayers for the first time in months, slipping into a high-walled box pew in Memorial Church as the choir sang. I recited the Lord’s Prayer with the other congregants, and stumbled through an unfamiliar Advent hymn. As I walked through Harvard Yard on my way to the office, I hummed a different tune: Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free…

I’ve pulled out my Advent book, Watch for the Light, for what I think is the 14th year. It is a little battered by now, and I am not making myself read every single word this year. I am dipping in when it suits me, turning to favorite pieces by Henri Nouwen and Kathleen Norris and Gail Godwin, letting their words wake me up, letting them sink in and rest a while.

christmas tree

We’ve put up our tree (above), hung the stockings and mistletoe, bought our annual supply of mint M&Ms, even wrapped a few gifts. But even so, things still feel hopeful, expectant. We are easing into Advent, trying (always trying) to pay attention, to savor a bit of stillness in these days before the exaltation of Christmas.

I am turning to the words of Isaiah and the Gospels, clinging to their promises as to a solid rock in an unsteady world:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

I have heard those words all my life, and I know I still don’t understand their full meaning. But every Advent, I try to slow down a little, and listen.

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Waiting for Advent

advent church window flowers

“I’m ready for Advent,” I told my husband over a week ago.

I didn’t mean I’m ready for Christmas – not yet. I love the Christmas season, from the music to the decorations to the cozy, twinkly evenings in and the anticipation of time with my family. But over the last few years, I’ve also grown to love November, this glorious last gasp of fall before winter sets in. I relish the golden leaves, the achingly blue skies, the slow turning of the year from light to dark (while waiting eagerly for it to turn back again).

orange trees leaves cambridge graveyard

However, Advent – that time of waiting with deep longing and anticipation for the birth of Christ – could not be more welcome this year.

The news has been bad for several months now. I suppose the news is always bad, particularly if you go looking for things to worry over. There are always wars and rumors of wars, political unrest in our own country and elsewhere, poverty, famine, natural disasters.

But between the tragedy in Ferguson, the Ebola epidemic, ongoing crises in Syria and Ukraine and elsewhere, and many smaller struggles in my own life and the lives of people I know, it’s been a tough few months. We are – I am – in desperate need of some good news. And this is where Advent comes in.

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we wait for the ultimate good news: the birth of the baby whose life, death and resurrection would divide history into two parts – before and after. The words of the angel still make me well up, even though I’ve heard them a thousand times: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

This is good news of the very best kind: God coming down from heaven, touching earth, making his home among us.

But we have to wait, as the Israelites waited thousands of years for the birth of their Messiah. Every year, we have to wait again. And I’m already impatient to begin that waiting.

I’ll be waiting with the help of some familiar rituals: the singing of “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” the tree-trimming and gift-buying, the reading of a few beloved books. But first I have to wait for Advent to begin. And in that waiting, there is a deep and radiant joy – because I am waiting for what I know is good news.

Advent starts on Nov. 30 this year. I invite you to wait with me.

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