Saturday, June 27, 2009

Burn Brightly

"Life is no brief candle to me. It's sort of
a splendid torch which I've got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
- George Bernard Shaw

It's reassuring to me to see these words spoken by someone else... to know that I'm not the only person who lives with an almost compulsive urge to wring every moment out of my life.

I often analyze it... try to decide why I'm out there grabbing at moments when those around me don't even seem to notice the days passing them by. Yes, there are some 'logical' reasons. My dad died rather suddenly when I was 13... he was only 40. I learned at a young age that tomorrow was never a guarantee... and that the moment I was living in was the only one I was truly sure to ever have. My mother lived life with a level of joy and enthusiasm that was certainly contagious... she still lives life that way.

But there's something more... something that drives me... not in a negative way... just a quiet voice reminding me to value each day... to treat those around me with gentleness and kindness... to love deeply... to take risks... to have fun... to go for the dreams. I have been blessed to live a life for the most part free of fear... something that I have generally taken for granted... but as I grow older I realize how rare that truly is.

It merely is... a precious gift that I've been given... and I hope that it never changes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Blackberry Cake

I am blessed to be one of those people who remember the minutest details about even the most trivial of experiences for an incredible number of years. I'm thankful for that because all of those memories have so many things associated with them... and they remind me to look at other people through different eyes... and hopefully to see what their hearts are feeling regardless of what their actions are saying. I think that this is in some ways an inherent characteristic... but more than that, I think it's a learned habit. My mother taught me to cherish the moment from the time I was a tiny thing. She could turn even the most routine thing into something special... something unforgettable... something full of value and meaning.

I grew up in a small town in Northeast Tennessee. Behind our house... over the fence... there was a pasture where cattle grazed in the summer months... beyond the pasture, a creek bubbled along... and beyond the creek, a hill gently rose. The hill was a mix of so many different worlds... some forest, some grassy field, a pond, wildflowers... and mountains of wild blackberry bushes.

"Wouldn't a blackberry cake taste wonderful today?" Those words would leave my mother's mouth on a morning during blackberry season... and of course, my mouth... and my brother's... would immediately start watering. Before we knew it, we were begging "Mama, can we puhleeeeeeze go pick blackberries?!?" And off we would go... pails in hand... to gather blackberries on the hill. We made up the rules as we went... you were only allowed to eat one blackberry for every five you put into the pail... if your pail got full you had to help the other person fill theirs... and you would never, ever tell Mama that you'd been in the pond!!

We'd come back to the house, the proud bearers of buckets of berries. Mama would immediately herd us to the bathtub... then slather us with lotion to combat the sunburn we'd inevitably managed to pick up. And we'd settle in amid the scents and sounds of first a blackberry cake being made... Mama singing as she mixed... and then the incredible smell as it baked. As it baked, my brother and I would sit with the mixing bowl between us... using our fingers to capture every last drop of the delicious batter... whispering about the frog in the pond... and the cow whose tail we'd teased... and the dead tree we'd hidden secret messages in... treasuring the secrets only the two of us shared.

An entire day of memories built simply because Mama said "Wouldn't a blackberry cake taste wonderful today?" And because Mama was (and still is!!) a very wise woman with a repertoire of brilliant questions like that, there are decades of memories... and memories still being created.
My mother gave me so many things I value... and she still adds to that treasure chest... and the most precious of those things are things that I can't put my hand on. They are the memories... the joys... the love... the sureness that in this world there is someone who cherishes me and believes in the person I have been... and am... and will become.

I love you, Mama

Milestone Moments

For most of my life, I've been aware that 'stuff' doesn't have a lot of value for me... or so I believed. I still don't put a lot of value on material things... or financial excess... or the general population's definition of success. But I am becoming more aware that I nurture a sort of reverse materialism deep at my core.

I still have a set of possessions that I take pride in... possessions that in many ways define who I am... and possessions whose loss I believe would impact my sense of self in a huge way.

No, I don't accumulate money in the bank... I'm not driven to be at the top of any career ladder... I don't think that my home has to be decked out in the very best of everything... and I have a personal aversion to 'labeled' clothing... no incredible art collection. None of the things that generally identify a successful member of society.

But I do have a collection of things that I am somewhat dependent on. There's the drawer full of movie stubs... actually two different drawers... ticket stubs that remind me of the movies I've seen over time... and the people I saw them with. The box of show programs and concert tickets under my bed... with reminders of the trips that included those shows... again the people I was with... the dining experiences that preceeded the curtain call. On the bookshelf in the family room is a book my grandfather used to read to me from... it's nearly 70 years old... and tattered and worn... but my grandfather's hands... and his father's hands... touched and held that book as they read to those little people who were important in their lives. The two rocking chairs in my house are aged and carry marks of the years... but four generations of my family have been rocked to sleep in them and I hope for many more.

The salt and pepper shakers we use for everyday meals are over 25 years old... the enamel is chipped and worn. But they are reminders of the shopping trip that my mother and I made together when I first set out on my own... reminders of the talks we had that day and of the incredible sense of independence that she nourished in me.

The china in my china cabinet isn't valuable in terms of dollars and cents... still in my heart it is valuable beyond measure and will always have that place of honor. My mother was the first female in her family to graduate from high school and my grandmother spent her egg money to buy those dishes for the graduation dinner she had for the extended family after the ceremony.

I've spent years with a level of barely concealed scorn nestled in my heart for those who busily collect stuff and prestige in an effort to define themselves. Today I realize that my collection is just as treasured and coveted... my collection is of life experiences... reminders of the people and history that have contributed to the person I am today. It grounds me... reminding me of just how precious life is... and nudging me to keep making those milestone moments... no matter how small they may seem.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


It's no wonder that most of us see partings as negative. As children we are impressed with the idea that "goodbye" is a frightening word... an unknown to be conquered. It looms like a great black hole waiting to swallow us up. First there is the anxiety-clad farewell as parents leave us in the care of sitters... often perceived by a toddler as abandonment. Another goodbye as a mother or father leaves us on the steps of a schoolhouse to conquer a whole new world... one which to a 5 year old seems fraught with monsters of uncertainty. As we grow older we are confronted with the ultimate parting as we lose ones we love to death... a great void that seems to consume those around us. It seems that our lives become saturated with separations... each one leaving its mark on our own existence as we carry with us bits of a life that once was and is no more.

In looking back, I can see those 'goodbyes' as precious gifts... bits of freedom carefully doled out in precise amounts at exactly the proper moments. I have always believed that the greatest good I can do for my own children is to equip them to confidently go forth into the world secure in the knowledge of who and what they are. One of the ways toward this is through a series of goodbyes designed to strengthen and empower them for the time when they move into a life of independence. And though the pain of each letting go sometimes seems unbearable... out of love for them I force myself to continually nudge them from the nest.

Unfortunately, I seem to have placed that principle in a little box all its own labeled "For Children Only"... and in doing so, I've failed to recognize that children are not the only ones who deserve freedom. There are moments when goodbye is the greatest gift we can give to those we love... even greater than the love itself. Love can disguise a multitude of shortcomings, casting a light on our actions that can make even the most self-serving desires seem noble and good. We convince ourselves that we are all-powerful... all-knowing... the answer to the loved one's every need... the missing link that can grant eternal peace and happiness. And instead, in spite of abundant love, we are often the very barrier hindering contentment and well-being for those we care most about.

We cling to beginnings... births, new friendships, marriages... these are the things that we prefer to fill our treasure chest of memories with. But it is the sad times... the hurdles we cross... the pain we face with each loss... the partings... that do us the most benefit. They are the source of strength and character. The goodbyes are what force us to look deep within ourselves and see exactly who and what we are... independently. The goodbyes are what make us the people we are.

Often in saying goodbye, we not only sacrifice a part of ourselves, but also restore to the loved one a bit of themselves.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Borrowed Words

A friend passed these words to me ... a heart song ...

If You Forget Me
(Pablo Neruda)
I want you to know one thing.
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.
If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Broken Dreams

I certainly don’t remember submitting a request order for heartache. I’m convinced that had I requested such a thing I would definitely remember it … and probably be due for my next dose of medication … but surely remember it. Yet, here it is, in all its blustering, suffocating hugeness … sucking the air from my lungs, the color from my life, the warmth from even the sun.

Clearly this is a free gift bestowed by a humorless god in need of entertainment for his dreary life on Mt Olympus or in Asgard or wherever deities with too much time on their hands reside. Perhaps there was fine print there in the contract, disregarded in the eagerness and joy of surrender, overlooked by a heart already captured by joy … a heart that would have scoffed at the warning, no matter how large the print.

Broken hearts … those are doable … it’s the broken dreams that humble you.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


How does one explain the moving on … explain that it isn’t remotely about wanting to leave … that there are no greener pastures?

How do you explain that your heart is screaming to stay – to love one more day, to break one more time?

How do you explain that without this abiding passion your life takes on the terrain of a barren desert?

How do you explain the terror of waking alone in a bed meant for entwined bodies?

How do you explain that even with the leaving, the loving remains?

How do you begin to explain that without the leaving you lose yourself?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not Today

How she wished that just once … just one random day … she could have polished the golden wood floors to a level of perfection that would earn approval. She loved those floors… the magic that could be wielded with a floor buffer … wiping away the imperfections of another day … leaving behind a gleaming surface. Some days she would imagine the scuffs to be the miseries of her heart, relishing the moment of make-believe control as the brushes whisked them away. She cherished the heart freedom of a perfectly gleaming slate, free of any blemish or shadow or jagged edge.

Then there were the hours of patrolling the entrances to the room, guarding against little footprints … daring dust to settle … protecting the perfection … waiting in anticipation for the eyes of the one who mattered most. At last the car pulls into the driveway … a dog barks … a key rattles in the door … and he steps into the house ornamented with the aroma of pot roast and baking rolls.

“Oh … you didn’t get to the floors today?”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Writing is the balm that quiets my soul, mends my heart and orders my days. That has been the case for years, actually for decades of my life. It has often been the fuel that powers my struggles and triumphs and joys. Daily morning pages empty my mind of the accumulated clutter and produce a quietness and focus that propels me forward into each new twenty-four hour block. The days when that doesn’t happen lack the centeredness that I have come to depend on. Unfortunately those days have become more and more common over the last months. A notebook a month has been the long-standing goal with tidy stacks of twelve volumes each marking off the years, their multi-colored covers telling of the diversity of the moments stored within their pages. This year’s stack will be a shorter stack, missing volumes.

It isn’t that there has been less living in this year … quite the opposite, actually. There has been more, much more. It is that the living has been full of other things, more compelling things, dominated by the tyranny of the urgent. It isn’t that there are fewer words crying to find their way to paper; the words are still there screaming for release. But there are days when the path to the paper seems too long, too cluttered and too unimportant; those are the days that the words are tamped down, captive in the heart and mind.

Days of attempting to fit writing into orderly boxes dominated by word count goals have clouded my thoughts and slowed my fingers. The specter called “Grade Book” hovers over my shoulder, extinguishing each unique idea and merging my voice into one I don’t recognize … or always particularly care for. Topics filled with words like genetics, enclosure, monarchy and policies threaten to deprive me of all independent creative thought. I am learning, of that there is no question. Not only am I learning about topics that intrigue me, but I am learning more of the process of writing. Except where my heart used to overflow with words, now those words are dictated by concepts like content, organization, style, and mechanics. The experience that was once a spiritual journey has become an academic exercise. I know that it is an exercise that will aid in the journey when the time comes to resume my way along that path, but for today it is merely what needs to be done, one foot in front of the other.

The time will come when the words are allowed to flow freely again. Next year’s stack of journals will hold a full dozen volumes, with a full dozen months on the lines of their pages. Those volumes will not only carry the jumbled thoughts and stories of a mind allowed to wander freely, but also the appreciation of the freedom to simply write. And as an added bonus, as the words fill the pristine sheets, they will carry with them the knowledge gained in the interim. They will be more solid, more tightly written and more sure of themselves as pen meets page. The stories will have a more solid base, more focus on setting and character and a higher awareness of those who will read the words.

There are those who would say that discipline is the key. Wake earlier. Set aside blocks of time. Prioritize my activities. Sometimes those are words of wisdom … and sometimes they are only words. Each day can only hold so many moments and each moment only so many activities. Sometimes we must make difficult choices. So for now, I will study. I will focus on word counts and organization and mechanics. I will learn. I will expand my understanding of the craft of writing so that when the time comes for the words to flow freely again, they will flow in a richer and deeper pattern. Most of all, I will be thankful for the opportunity I have been given to be enriched by the learning of those things.

In the meantime, I am certain that this is how drowning must feel. Lungs too full of the wrong thing, too empty of the right and needed thing. Except this is my soul – full of noise, empty of light – grasping desperately for the feel of a new page beneath the pen in my hand. My soul knows, as always, that tomorrow is just around the corner and the blank pages will wait quietly for my return. Oh, and the words … the words will always be there.