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Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood’

candles ashmont vigil

Metal and glass, granite and flame: I snapped this photo at a small vigil in Dorchester last Sunday night, in the wake of the awful events in Charlottesville.

I’d seen a list online of vigils in the Boston area, so the hubs and I hopped on the trolley to the Ashmont T station (about a mile from our new house) to join about 50 people in a quiet show of solidarity and peace.

I wasn’t sure whether to go: I am wary, in these uncertain days, of doing anything just to make myself feel better, when none of this is about me at all. I didn’t go so I could tell people I’d gone; I was shy even about introducing myself to others who were there. But it still felt important to show up, to stand with other people in our new neighborhood who care about justice and peace, and who understand that we are all culpable in this long story of hurt and hatred and injustice in the country we love.

We chanted Heather Heyer’s name; we sang a verse of a song about peace and carrying burdens together; and afterward, a few of us stood around chatting, learning each other’s names: Patricia, Johanna, Orin, Rachel, James, Lizzie, Kathleen. I left feeling still heartbroken, but quietly buoyed up.

It felt so small, hardly worth mentioning – but worth doing.  I share my experience here, in case you are wondering if the small things you’re doing are worth it, or in case you need an idea of how that might look. Because showing up – however that looks – always matters. I have to believe that.

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cedar grove gardens

This weekend, the hubs and I finally visited Cedar Grove Gardens, the gorgeous garden center that’s a short walk from our new house. I crave beauty, green growing things, flowers and feeling at home in the place I live, and our visit there provided all of that.

herb garden back porch plants

I now have an herb garden on the back porch, and I could not resist one more geranium. (Apparently “geranium, mint, rosemary and basil” is my version of “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”)

geranium red pot back porch flower

I also crave welcome and safety (don’t we all?), and am thinking about ways to provide it for others, in light of the horrifying events this weekend in Charlottesville.

I am furious and heartsick and I have no idea what to say or do, but as Karen said, I’ll figure it out. Because we all must. Hatred and bigotry should have no place in this country, and it’s high time we rooted them out. We must (I keep saying) be of interest to each other, and act like it. Starting now, in whatever ways (small and big) we can.

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darwins chai cup creamer coffee shop cambridge ma

10 a.m.: One medium chai latte, to go.

12:30 p.m.: Half a Longfellow sandwich (ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, sliced Granny Smith apples and spicy Dijon mustard) on sourdough. With salt and vinegar chips in a bright turquoise bag, if they’re available.

3:30 p.m.: One chocolate-dipped butter cookie, shaped like a heart, shamrock, Easter egg or autumn leaf, as the season dictates.

These are my usual orders at Darwin’s, the cafe down the street from my office. Sometimes the particulars vary a bit: I’ll add a buttery scone to my morning order, or splurge on a chocolate-glazed peanut butter cookie in the afternoon. If I’m feeling healthy I’ll swap the chips at lunch for a fruit salad, and on frigid days, I’ll often order a bowl of the daily soup, with a hunk of baguette for dipping.

I’ve worked in the same neighborhood for three years, and been an occasional visitor to Darwin’s for most of that time. But over the last year, I’ve become a regular. And it has brought me more pleasure than I could have dreamed.

I’m over at Art House America today waxing rhapsodic about my love for Darwin’s, and what it means to be a regular. Please join me over there to read the rest of my essay.

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harvard yard memorial church view

Here is part of the truth about working at Harvard: it took a little while for it to feel like mine.

I admit to being a little intimidated – as one might expect. Harvard is storied, prestigious and often complicated to navigate, geographically and otherwise. (Harvard comprises more than a dozen schools, which each function as semi-autonomous units, but there’s a lot of cross-pollination, and some policies and procedures are university-wide.)

memorial hall harvard

I was fortunate to find a “home base” right away: my office at the Ed School’s campus on Appian Way, two blocks from the heart of the Square. I had colleagues who made me feel welcome and tried to explain the ins and outs of working for a unit within Harvard, while still being part of Harvard as a whole. (Confused yet?)

blue sky appian way

That first winter, I set about exploring Harvard Square, starting with familiar ground: Crema Cafe, the Yard, Memorial Church, the Harvard Book Store. Gradually, I added to my store of knowledge: shops, cafes and restaurants; the bank, the post office, the florist. I peeked into Widener Library, daring to check out a few books and DVDs. I soaked up the bits of Harvard lore I heard from colleagues and student tour guides, and I memorized dozens of acronyms related to offices and units across campus. (Harvard loves an acronym.)

And yet.

For a long while, I stuck mostly to my small patch of the Square: my office, the Yard, my favorite cafes and bookstores. I was a little shy about going farther afield. This is a big place, and it’s easy to get lost, or to feel intimidated when you’re heading to a new part of campus. There is so much to absorb, so much to take in, about this place and how it works. It can be hard to feel like you really belong here.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

Two and a half years in, I still feel these things occasionally. But by now, Harvard also feels like mine.

My work this summer has taken me to parts of campus I’d never seen before: the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Design, the Center for Astrophysics, the brand-new Launch Lab over at the Business School. I’ve spent a few afternoons in Lamont Library and found my way to numerous new-to-me offices and buildings.

All the while, I’ve continued to frequent my favorite places: Harvard Yard, green and summer-lush; the Harvard Art Museums, full of objects both fascinating and beautiful; Appian Way, still my center of gravity here. And I have realized again what I already knew: I love this place, this landscape, this institution, down to my bones.

I never expected to work at Harvard, or to fall in love with it the way I have. But I am grateful to be here, retracing familiar paths and discovering new corners of campus. It can be complicated, sometimes maddeningly bureaucratic – and the intimidation hasn’t all disappeared. But my Harvard staff ID and my heart say the same thing: it’s mine.

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longfellow garden radcliffe yard

Two weeks ago, I left the house early and caught a less-crowded-than-usual train, arriving in Harvard Square well before I had to be at work. I walked across Harvard Yard to Memorial Church, which hosts Morning Prayers every weekday during term-time from 8:45 to 9 a.m. (I had been wanting to try it out, but hadn’t yet managed to arrive early enough.)

I stepped inside, almost holding my breath, and slipped into a pew as the strains of the opening hymn rolled around me.

Golden sunlight spilled through the high, clear glass window behind the chapel, paneled in richly carved dark wood, and through the larger windows to my left, falling across the high-walled box pews. I listened as a graduating senior gave a brief, brave speech about navigating an unexpected pregnancy during her time at Harvard, and the ways in which it has made her a stronger, more compassionate person.

I bowed my head and recited the Lord’s Prayer along with the two dozen or so others present, then stood to sing the final hymn (“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”). The minister gave a familiar benediction from Jude, the favorite of a minister friend back in Texas. I watched the choir, fourteen lanky undergraduates in black robes, process out, then made my way to my office, three blocks away.

The whole experience, bathed in light and music, felt like a gift, like a windfall of grace.

In some ways, every workday of the last three months – since I started my new job at the Harvard Graduate School of Education – has felt like that.

I had a nodding acquaintance with Harvard Square (thanks in large part to its lovely cafes and bookstores) before I started work at the Ed School, as it’s known around here. But I did not know it intimately, the way I knew my downtown neighborhood after working there for two years. Three months in, I am still discovering all sorts of new pleasures.

The morning walk to the office from the Red Line, down Church Street (if I want to stop at Starbucks) or down Garden Street by Cambridge Common (if I want to smell the lilacs blooming along the fence). Lunchtime treats from Darwin’s or Crema; occasional trips to Lizzy’s for ice cream. Browsing sessions at the Harvard Book Store or Raven Used Books. Long walks, wherever my feet take me, or quiet moments in the small sunken garden next to my building. The light through the two large windows in our office suite on the “garden level,” and the cheery camaraderie and frequent laughter of my colleagues.

irises longfellow garden

It all feels like a gift, like a windfall of grace.

I have struggled at times to feel at home in Boston, to feel safe, to relax and exhale. But this green, quietly bustling corner of the Harvard campus already feels like a home. Like a place to belong. A community to settle into (especially as we celebrate our graduates this week). It feels like a neighborhood to keep exploring and making my own. And I am so deeply grateful.

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I adore open windows – though, growing up in Texas, it was often too hot or too cold to push up the sash and let the outside air in. This summer, however, we’ve been reveling in our open windows (except for the occasional downpour, when we rush around shutting them all). The other night, J suggested I make a list of the sounds that drift in through them, so here it is:

1. Conversations in languages I can’t decipher. (Our neighborhood has a large Asian population.)
2. Snatches of conversation in English. (Which I can usually decipher.)
3. Fire sirens. (The fire station is two blocks away.)
4. Bouncing basketballs, rasping skateboards and the shouts of high school boys. (Usually together.)
5. Dogs barking.
6. The occasional airplane, headed for Logan, or from Logan to parts unknown.
7. Car and truck engines (we live off a busy street).
8. The wind in the trees and around the eaves.
9. Occasional music (though we never can find the source).
10. My husband blasting his music as he drives up, then shutting his car door, locking his car with a beep, and singing as he comes up the driveway.

What do you hear out your windows?

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I find it a bit ironic that, since moving to the biggest city I’ve ever lived in (the population of greater Boston tops 3 million, blowing all my previous residences out of the water), I’ve become a member of a tiny church – the smallest church I’ve ever been a part of. (I grew up in big Southern Baptist churches; attended one of the biggest churches in Oxford while I studied abroad; and regularly served on the worship team for a church in Abilene whose members numbered around 1,000.) I don’t know how many folks are actually on the member rolls at Brookline, but on any given Sunday, we number from 25 to 40 or so in the pews. I wondered, at first, if I would feel weird, perhaps exposed, to be part of such a small community. And the verdict, a year later, is: I love it.

Every weekday morning, I squeeze onto a commuter train with hundreds of other workers, all known to their families and friends but anonymous to me. I work on a campus of several thousand students (though Emerson is a smallish college compared to some of the big universities in Boston); I see hundreds of people during my lunch break every day, few of whom (if any) I recognize. I know some of our neighbors by sight but none of them by name. And so, amid all this anonymity, I need a neighborhood.

The joke at Brookline is that if you come three times, you’re a member – which means we recognize your face; most of us remember your name (and hopefully other details); and we want to put you to work. With so few of us and no full-time paid staff, we all pitch in to mow the lawn, make the coffee, bring snacks before worship, organize events, read Scripture, serve communion, etc. At most large churches, you can blend in for weeks or months if you want to – at Brookline, there’s no blending in. And while there are some days I’d rather blend in – if I’m feeling tired or sad or a little raw for some reason – I’m always grateful to arrive at church and be greeted by people who know me.

I grew up in a mid-size Texas town where you literally cannot go to the grocery store, go out to dinner or (especially) go to a high school football game without running into someone you know. After a year or so, my college town was the same way (especially since I lived there for eight years in all). I know it will never be that way in Boston at large (though the good folks at the Brattle, Thinking Cup and some of my other regular haunts recognize me now). But I’m so thankful, in the midst of this big city where I often feel anonymous, to have a place where I’m recognized, hugged, needed, seen, known. Brookline is my neighborhood, and I am deeply grateful.

Where is your neighborhood? Do you know your actual neighbors – or are there other places that serve as a neighborhood for you?

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