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Posts Tagged ‘love’

stronger together heart graffiti three lives

“She couldn’t change the conditions, she couldn’t deny her awareness, and she couldn’t stand in the way of death or love. The only thing to do was to keep moving, to do something, to show courage, to give everything she was capable of giving.”

—Donia Bijan, The Last Days of Café Leila

I came across these words last month in Bijan’s gorgeous first novel (out April 18), and they (especially the second sentence) have lodged in my heart and stayed there. I have kept trying to figure out what to say about them, but I think they are exactly right on their own.

Street art spotted on the wall of Three Lives & Co. in the West Village, a couple of weeks ago.

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iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Last January, I chose gumption as my one little word for 2016. I was partly inspired by Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday, above – I love watching her discover her own gumption with the help of her friend Arthur.

I’ve been choosing a word nearly every year since 2010, when I chose brave and it sparked, catalyzed and helped me navigate all sorts of big changes in my life. When 2016 began, I was still in the throes of the job hunt, and I chose gumption as a way to pump myself up for the challenges I knew were coming. (As you may have noticed, 2016 also brought all kinds of challenges that I – and a lot of other people – didn’t see coming.)

Some days in 2016 – a lot of days – gumption simply meant getting out of bed and dealing with the day’s vagaries, at work and at home. But it often meant much more than that.

This year, gumption meant speaking up in meetings at work and church, contributing my ideas and asking questions. It meant carving out a place for myself at two different temp gigs at Harvard, then coming back to the first office in a more permanent role. (That was an adjustment in itself, though I am delighted to be here.)

This summer, it meant taking the leap to a new apartment: packing, moving, unpacking, adjusting to a new neighborhood and lots of resultant shifts in my routine. (It also meant heading to NYC, by myself, for three hot, humid, glorious days in mid-August when I couldn’t take the moving chaos any more.)

hibiscus iced tea journal

All year, gumption has meant sending that email, making that phone call, asking that friend to meet up, admitting that hard or vulnerable true thing. It has meant asking a lot of questions about my work (day-job-related and otherwise) and my place in the world. It has meant riding the emotional roller coaster of the election season, and bracing myself for what comes next. It has meant learning how to do a lot of new things, and it has meant summoning my courage, over and over again.

Sometimes I wondered if gumption was really the right word for this year: at times survival, or barely hanging on, seemed more accurate. But I also saw the flip side of gumption this year: the lightness and laughter that often pop up during hard times, when you least expect them.

I think of gumption as a combination of lightness and grit. And while the trials of 2016 required plenty of grit, the year also brought some much-needed levity, mostly via my loved ones. My husband, my coworkers, my friends and the children in my life (my nephews and my friends’ kids) made me laugh and helped me look for the silver linings. I may have chosen gumption as my word, but the words community and belonging (and Darwin’s) ended up choosing me.

I’m still thinking about my word for 2017, as we ease into a new year fraught with (more) challenges and change. I’ll let you know when I decide on a word, but meanwhile, I’d love to know if you have a word for 2017, or if you had one for 2016. Please share, if you like.

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ornaments light book

Somehow, we’ve landed in mid-December, which is proving both twinkly and hectic, as per usual. Here’s what’s saving my life, as we move through the last stretch of quasi-normal days before the Christmas break:

  • The Sylvia Plath poem from which this post takes its title.
  • “O Come O Come Emmanuel” (the Civil Wars version), on repeat.
  • Hot, spicy chai and a buttered English muffin from Darwin’s in the mornings.
  • Striped dress + black leggings + boots + scarf + magic green coat = warm, stylish winter uniform.
  • Sunshine and blue skies, even when it’s frigid out. (Related: walks in the fresh air, any time I can get them.)

charles river cambridge sunset

  • A couple of evenings in a friend’s living room, eating popcorn and drinking mulled cider and reading Advent poetry.
  • Snatching time to write in the library before work, and exchanging smiles with the security guard.
  • Yoga classes whenever I can squeeze them in. (Namaste.)
  • Krista Tippett’s On Being interview with Mary Karr, which is warm and wise and so honest.
  • A much-needed catch-up with a friend over hot chocolate the other day.
  • The particular blue of these early December mornings, glimpsed from the bathroom window.
  • Pumpkin chai from David’s Tea, brewed strong in a purple travel mug. Plus one of Molly’s scones and a crisp apple, every morning. (See also: not overthinking it.)

darwins sign winter snow

  • Twinkle lights: on my desk at work, on the trees in Harvard Square, on my two Christmas trees (one big, one tiny).
  • A few pages of Winter Solstice before bed, even when I can barely keep my eyes open.
  • Community of all stripes and in all places, from church to work to my daily rounds in the Square. It has been a turbulent year, to say the least, but I am deeply grateful to have found several places where I know I belong.

What’s saving your life this December? Please share, if you’re willing.

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Remembering George

 

water clouds light

“Why is it so hard to acknowledge that we all walk through life with grief for which there is, today, no compensation?”

I read these words on Christie’s blog last week, at the end of a summer that has held chaos and change and all sorts of upheaval. Transitions are difficult, no matter the kind, and they bring with them their own, often bittersweet grief. But Christie’s words also came as I, and many people I love, are mourning the death of our friend George.

I always find it hard to write about these losses, not only because of the sadness, but because it feels impossible to convey the life, the spirit, of a person through a handful of sentences.

I could tell you that George was the music minister at my family’s church in West Texas for 23 years. I could tell you that he was a talented, accomplished musician, always willing to highlight and encourage others’ gifts while modest and humble (to a fault) about his own. I could tell you that he had four children, a wife he adored, five grandsons and dozens – no, hundreds – of friends. But all that would go a short way toward honoring the memory of the man himself.

George came back to Midland to work at our church (where he had grown up) when I was in the fourth grade. His son Wade is the same age as my sister, and they became firm friends. George directed the Sunday morning choir, in which my mother sang; the youth choir, in which my sister and I both participated; and the sweeping, elaborate Easter pageants that were a formative part of my teenage years (and which came to involve my entire family).

For years, George led worship at youth retreats and Vacation Bible School, at candlelight services on Christmas Eve and at four services every Sunday: three in the morning, one at night. He managed pianists and organists, praise bands and orchestras, pastors and PowerPoints, thousands of details no one ever knew about. His fingerprints are all over that building and that community: quiet but indelible, the definition of the word faithful. But my favorite thing about George was this: he always had time for everyone.

“A friend told me he had the greatest capacity for love [they had] ever seen,” George’s wife, DiAnn, wrote on Facebook recently. “He belonged to everyone.” And it’s true: George had as many things to do as most of us (maybe more), but I never saw him turn away anyone who had a question or needed a smile. During all those rehearsals for summer musicals and mission trips and Easter pageants, I never saw him lose his temper. If I close my eyes, I can hear his clear tenor voice and see his practiced gestures, guiding us through ancient hymns, nineties praise songs and soaring choral anthems with his signature humor and grace. He loved his work and he loved his community, and I am – we are – so grateful that he was ours.

“Time is cruel because it carries us so far from the people and places and things we have loved and lost,” Christie wrote in that blog post. In a certain sense, George is far away from us now: death has a way of creating distance. It feels final and inevitable, and I know it will come home to me again, some Sunday when I’m standing in those familiar pews and he isn’t there. We grieve, and we are right to do so: it means we have loved.

Grief is complicated, and so is faith: I don’t pretend to have any answers about what happens after we die. But I believe, and hope, in a time when everything will be made new: when, as Christie wrote, “all the fragments of our lives, all the broken bits and pieces, will be gathered up.” I know George believed that too, and I hope to see him again one day.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I am grateful for all the songs you taught me, and I will keep singing them until we meet again.

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atomic weight of love book sunflowers

I was humbled by the thought that our lives, however briefly, had touched. I thought about how lives bump up against each other, whether for moments of superficial conversation in line at the post office or a deeper enmeshment. […] How much meaning should I ascribe to knowing a stranger for the moments it took for me to donate to a V-book [war stamps] campaign? What were the evolutionary implications of kindness?

—Elizabeth J. Church, The Atomic Weight of Love

I came across these lines recently in Church’s stunning novel about the life of Meridian Wallace, an ornithologist who studies the behavior of crows. They reminded me powerfully of that Elizabeth Alexander poem, the one I have carried with me during a spring and summer fraught with personal changes and national tragedy:

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

and are we not of interest to each other?

Every time I turn on the news, there is more heartbreak to absorb and to bear: shootings by and of policemen, black families afraid for their lives in the U.S., refugees struggling to find a safe place to land, military unrest in Turkey and political turmoil in Britain. I have wept and I have ached, and I have wondered, What now?

I have failed, so far, to come up with any answers except this one: we must stop reacting to each other out of hatred, disinterest and fear.

I moved to Boston six summers ago from the plains of west central Texas, where I had lived nearly all my life. I’d heard that people in the Northeast were cold and unfriendly, and I was unsure how to carve out a place for myself in this bustling, unfamiliar city. It took me a long time to build a community here, to form real bonds with colleagues and friends. It took me even longer to start reaching out to others without fearing rebuff or dismissal. I cherish the friendships that have grown from that slow work: the brilliant women in my book club, the far-flung but genuine community at our church, my coworkers at various offices around Harvard.

When I read these lines about kindness, though, I thought about a different group of people: the ones whose lives bump up against mine in small but important daily ways.

The florist in Brattle Square, who always has a kind word for me when I go in to buy tulips or roses. The mail guy I used to work with, who would pause on his daily rounds to chat about Boston sports or the weather. My elderly Italian landlords, who live downstairs from us. The woman who makes the delicious tamales at the farmers’ market, tops them with freshly made salsa and calls me mi’ja. And the coffee-slinging, sandwich-making crew at Darwin’s, most of whose last names I don’t know, but whose smiling faces and cheerful banter are a regular and indispensable part of my workdays.

I am fascinated by the idea of all these lives constantly bumping up against each other, against my life, as I go about my daily routine. I am even more fascinated when I get a glimpse into one of their stories, when I break out of my self-focus long enough to truly connect with someone else. More and more, I am convinced this is the only way to begin healing the deep wounds of our common humanity: to listen, to look, to pay attention to one another.

It takes no work at all to encounter other human beings: we are surrounded by each other constantly, especially those of us who live and work in cities. But it sometimes takes work, and it always takes intention, for us to engage one another with kindness.

I’m not sure about the answer to Meridian’s question: I don’t know what the evolutionary implications of kindness would be. But they have to be better than the results of racism and hatred, fear and indifference, that are tearing our nation apart.

I know that smiling at a stranger will not solve the problems of the world: finding a better path forward will be the work of years. But kindness and attention must be where we begin. We must – I will keep saying it as long as I have to – we must be of interest to each other.

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Eight years

high line selfie nyc

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, the two of us, it’s that marriage isn’t always easy, and there will be times that try us without mercy. We will sometimes – maybe even often – disagree, and things and people and events will come along that test our courage and resolve, and that’s when we will turn to the memory of this precious time together, and the knot we are weaving to bind us into one.

—Beatriz Williams, A Certain Age

I came across these sentences last month, when I read Williams’ glittering novel about tangled love and secrets in 1920s New York. My path to marriage – thank goodness – was not quite as dramatic as that of Sophie, who writes these lines to her sister near the end of the book. I met my husband on a quiet college campus in West Texas, and I married him on that same campus, nearly six years after we met (and almost five years after we started dating). We were starry-eyed and stubborn and impossibly young – and we have been married, as of yesterday, for eight years.

Eight years is a long time and not a long time, all at once. It is not quite a decade, but it is long enough that we have formed certain habits, learned and unlearned certain things, built a solid (I hope) foundation for the rest of our marriage and our lives. By virtue of meeting when we were so young, we have been together for a good chunk of our lives. But eight years is also long enough to learn this: things change.

I am married, in some ways, to the same man I met when we were 18. He has the same dark eyes and wide smile, the same clear tenor singing voice, the same love for sports and his family and me. I am also the same, in some ways, as when we met: I have green eyes and freckles and a deep love for books. I read and write both to make my living and to make sense of the world. And one fundamental thing is also the same: we love each other, fiercely and deeply.

But eight years is also long enough for a lot of change to happen. We have both changed jobs, finished graduate school, moved across the country and changed jobs again (roughly in that order). More importantly: we have both learned and grown as people, which means that our relationship has evolved. There have been times – including the past year, when I was job hunting – that have tried us without mercy. And life has tested our courage and resolve.

The work of marriage in these years has been about building a life together, yes, but it has also been about giving each other the space to grow and change. It is hard for me sometimes to admit that our life looks different than I thought it would, or that we are both allowed to change our opinions – and then that change might require some reshuffling. Like anything that is expected to endure, a marriage has to be both strong and flexible. That is, as I once heard Lauren Winner say, “hard and holy work.” And it is ongoing.

Here is the other side of that coin, though: marriage is sweet. It is deep and rich and nourishing, and it is often a lot of fun. I am grateful to be married to someone who makes me laugh, who always has my back, who gets me in ways I don’t have to explain. We love to go adventuring together and we love to stay home. We love being us, even while we are still two separate people. We love our life together. And I am grateful for it all.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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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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