To Live in This World

for Gabe at the start of his season

 

When he was about 7, Gabe said to me, in his odd, precise way, “Well, you aren’t often wrong.” He wouldn’t say that now. Just shy of 9, he’s seen many things go wrong. Yet there is a growing sense that some important things are being set right. Being made new, made whole. Leaves are falling, but there is also a harvest coming.

GabeGPP1

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“It was like, we were all okay. And that was nice.”

Hello friends, and happy change-of-seasons! A small story for you, and a hope that you will read and perhaps even write in to share your thoughts!

I ride the bus to work with a lady who has a very odd conversational style. She tells me long, tedious, repetitive stories, the subtexts of which are that she is easily overwhelmed by relatively simple things, like how to pay her Comcast bill (mail it and waste a stamp or drive it to the office?), or figuring out how to use the printer at work. Yet the sub-subtext is that she is really trying to stay positive in the face of these tasks, and to pass this positivity on to others.

suncloudsOften, in the middle of her long stories, she’ll pause and say something totally stunning and totally out of context. For example, we had been talking about some film she was having developed at Walgreens (does anyone actually do this anymore?), and she stopped, looked at me and said, “You are making exactly the right choices you need to be making for yourself at this moment.” I briefly wondered if her eyes were going to roll back in her head or if she would start speaking in tongues, but she just carried on with the film story.

Sometimes her messages aren’t as abrupt, but they still feel a bit like unexpected and useful rays of clarity. A few weeks ago, she was describing, in great detail, where she was going to have her new TV installed (by Comcast), and as we got off the bus to walk to our offices, she said, “Today is going to be a positive day and we will feel good about helping other people!”

Indeed.

A day or two ago, she was relating an experience involving an evening of Scrabble, a person with paranoia, and a disgruntled family member. Then she just stopped and said, “It was like, we were all okay. And…and that was…really nice.”

These odd semi-non-sequiturs are like small, clear bubbles of human truths that rise up from mundane narrations of everyday life, and I appreciate them each time. Yes, I could easily imagine how all of a sudden, in the midst of a game of Scrabble with some only questionably sane people, one might be struck by the feeling that, no matter what, we really are all okay. And not only is that feeling very nice; sometimes, it’s all you need to keep you going.

What small experiences cause you to pause and remember what matters to you? Strange, odd, funny, poignant, moving, simple…whatever they might be…what recent moments have given you perhaps just the briefest glimpse of something that felt real and important. I’d love it so if you cared to share!

In this spirit, today’s poem is by Mary Oliver, from her 2006 book, Thirst. This collection is something of a deviation from previous works, and definitely worth checking out if you’re a Mary Oliver lover. I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, I love hearing from you!

All love,

Leslie

Praying
by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

the last end of summer daisy on my walk to the bus stop

the last summer daisy on my morning walk to the bus stop

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Filed under faith, gratitude, hope, listening, poetry

A Mystery Which Will Never Happen Again

For J as he goes

The first time I saw him was in the watery black and white sonogram image; there, like a string of pearls was his spine, curled inside the inky blackness that was me.

On a summer day when he was four, he ran across the green grass of the backyard, his brown skin as alive as any animal’s, and there it was again, that spine, so straight, so fluid, and there were no words, only a primal shock of recognition: something that was mine and not mine.

Later he sat upright at the piano, those straight shoulders and his long, deft fingers, so deliberate on the keys. Whatever he was creating was pulling him farther and farther into his own world, someplace only he could hear. It was like watching beauty become itself.

Now, I watch as he cycles away from me, then stops, turns back and waves, then rides on. He moves with this same lithe, fluid strength, not a boy, not a man, but some exquisite creature somewhere in between. That spine, those shoulders.

I can tell myself that I grew every cell of his body inside of my own, but I know that I am lying, and using words to bridge the unbridgeable distance that began to grow and widen the moment his cells began to divide, and divide, and divide, until they became everything that he would need to become himself.

____________________________________

now all the fingers of this tree(darling)have

and now you are and i am now and we’re
a mystery which will never happen again,
a miracle which has never happened before–
and shining this our now must come to then

by e.e. cummings

 

IMG_0106

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God Saw That It Was Good, Not Perfect

A few weeks ago, riding home on the bus, I saw a young Asian man waiting in line at the bus stop. It was the end of the work day and people wanted to get home, which, when you commute from campus to almost anywhere in CU, takes at most 20 minutes. But I suppose there is some degree of pressure around this time of the day.
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The young man was wearing a brace on his leg, as if perhaps he had recently injured himself. And as he moved through the line to get onto the bus, he hopped the entire way on his other leg. Hopped. It made me smile and feel quite sad at the same time, because I thought, “This is what we do, right?” Instead of just accepting that we need to WALK SLOWER, we hop, so as not to inconvenience others around us.
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Psychologically, mentally, emotionally–we choose to hop in the name of normalcy. “Nope, don’t mind me, I’m all good. No problems here!” Crash.
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It’s so hard to accept weakness, imperfection, difference, and whatever mental and physical oddities that separate us from others. But that’s mostly because we believe that they separate us from others. What a dangerous and lonely illusion.
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Last night, I ran into someone I’d been thinking about for days and I’d been wondering how to get in touch with her. Then I turned a corner at Meadowbrook Park and there she was. We started talking, and she started telling me about some of the things she’s been thinking deeply about lately, then she said, “I’m sorry to be so direct. I just feel the need to be direct.” I love people like this, especially since I did something so embarrassingly and disastrously public in the not so distant past, and it’s made me a bit intolerant of pretense. There’s just not enough time for it. We all have so many more important things to do, namely, the work of being ourselves.
__________________
wimanI’m slowly making my way through poet Christian Wiman’s “My Bright Abyss.” It’s not easy reading, but it is tenacious and extraordinary, as is his story. He fell radically and deeply in love, then soon after was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Bill Moyers has done a few lovely interviews with him that I am happy to recommend.
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Below, one of my favorite passages thus far:
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“What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all. The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seemed to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself like a thorn in your heart until all you can think about is plucking it out. Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it” (Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss, 29-30, emphasis in original).
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Faith is coming to praise the fact that there will never be one right way to do anything. Creativity expert Eric Maisel says that consequences are not the same things as mistakes. And R., currently occupying the place of chief angel in my life often says, “Goddamn, just freaking EXHALE, y’all!”
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And finally, Rumi, who I feel certain would strongly discourage hopping in favor of allowing one’s self to simply walk more slowly:
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“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi
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Walk, don’t run. And above all, please don’t hop.
________________
All love,
Leslie
hands-waiting-300x208

 

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God Is a Street Fighter. With Sharp Elbows.

Poetry, like God, does not dwell in the periphery of life. And like God, poetry is “a street-fighter, with sharp elbows” (David Whyte). Both poetry and a relationship with something greater than yourself demand awareness. And awareness is essential to staying alive.

90WoundednessSo when I ask, “When was God present in your life today?” it is an unsentimental question. I am asking you when you felt the shared woundedness of being alive and the rawness of connection, without which, we don’t have a chance.

Was it when you got into a cab, and the driver, a woman you know, said, “I apologize for being late. I lost my son. I mean, he died. I mean, he was shot and killed. Two weeks ago. And I just, you know, can’t wrap it around my head yet. So just bear with me.” Was it then, when you prayed for something–anything–to come in and fill the space around such a precious, agonizing, searing expression of human experience?

Was it in the persistent kindness of a friend, someone whose insistence on reaching you finally made it through your self-absorption and woke you up, again, to the awareness that our most disastrous fuck-ups and heartbreaking struggles are also the openings that allow us to be on the receiving end of extraordinary kindness?

Was it when you confessed some huge, complicated, emotionally overblown nonsense that had taken up residence in your head, and the friend who was listening looked directly at you and said, “Girl, that is some sick-ass shit you’re doing to yourself. Just stop it.”

wounded heart

When did God show up and make it possible for you to stay here, right here, today, awake and aware? And where do you need help with this? Is it in the phone call to a sick friend you’re afraid to make? Is it in all the small things that, when combined, make your state of mind become a state of mindlessness?

Ask for help. Ask for courage. Ask boldly, as a “child of the king.” Help comes, breathing space into the impossibly tight corners, the frozen lungs. And in your own inhaling and exhaling, you will help someone else remember to breathe.

Enough

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life/
We have refused
Again and again
Until now.

Until now.

by David Whtye

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Extravagant Promises

In what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “The Big Book (1945),” there is a lovely passage about how life changes in recovery. These changes are referred to by AAs as “the promises.” One of the promises is that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” You really don’t need to be an alcoholic to get a leg up on this.

Of “the promises,” The Big Book says, “Are these extravagant promises? We think not.” The purpose of this statement is to reassure people in recovery that recovery itself is not extravagant, i.e., not beyond the bounds of reason or of what is deserved. That it is possible.

But recovery is in fact extravagant, in the very best sense of the word. In the same sense that Sacha Scoblic uses the word “lush” to describe her sobriety (her pun very much intended). Any life not deadened by apathy or constrained by fear is lush, luscious, extravagant.

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A Series of Open Windows

Being in early recovery from hard or traumatic things leaves you with a thin skin. The good thing about that is that it makes it easier for the miracles to enter.

1.

I was sitting on a bench last week waiting for a bus and next to me was an older man who, in a superficial sweep of his appearance, I assessed as either homeless or slightly mentally ill.  After exchanging the regular bus stop pleasantries (is the Grey West late again today? Do you think it’s going to rain?), he asked me what I did and I asked him what he did. He told me that he had gotten his GED and was planning to go to our local community college to study real estate.

sunmoonThen he told me that he was waiting for his woman, whom he loved, but she didn’t treat him right. “She’s out running the streets and she has other men in the house when I’m not there. I love her but I don’t think she’s going to change.”  They’d been together four years. I agreed that it wasn’t likely that she would change. He was thinking about ending things with her in December because he didn’t want to start a new year with her. Then he said, “I just don’t think you can love something and hurt it at the same time. That’s like living in daylight and in darkness.”

2.

copyright Daniel Ischenko

copyright Daniel Ischenko

A beautiful young woman spent the last several years drinking 2-3 pints of vodka a day until she realized that she was going to die if she didn’t stop. She also believed that it was possible that she would die if she did stop. Now, 18 months after her last drink, she is so radiant that it’s almost hard to make direct eye contact with her. She works as a gardener, and I believe it’s possible that her own energy causes plants to shoot up right out of the ground. She told me that even when it feels like she is living hand to mouth, her life now feels like “a series of open windows. Even when I see a door closing, the next window is already opening for me.”

3.

I recently had to disclose something about a very bad relationship decision that I made to a lovely, gracious woman who is 30 years older than me. I would have strongly preferred not to discuss this with her but I’m supposed to be honest whenever possible these days, and I really had no choice. As she sat sipping iced tea on my couch, I started in on a somewhat sanitized version of the not healthy relationship decision, then she stopped me with a gentle wave of her hand. “Oh, you don’t have to explain that to me, dear. I made the same mistake with my divorce accountant. And I didn’t even like him.”

People and their stories are the windows that open ahead of me; one small miracle at a time, we remember that we are on our way home, and are in very good company.

An excerpt from the song, “Everything is Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. Listen here. 

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

cardinal

 

 

 

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