Category Archives: Gratitude

She Simply Needed to Rest

On the second night of my adventure to the beach, I lay tucked into bed with a book and five pillows. The hotel fan was set on Hi but I left the sliding glass door open to listen to the sound of the ocean.

My rest ended abruptly with an ominous THUNK followed by a frenzy of flapping. I peeked over the edge of the bed in fear that a bird had blundered into my space. But I saw nothing, and the room was quiet again. Had I imagined it in a half dream, like that falling feeling that startles me awake sometimes?

Another flapflapflap led my eye to the source. One large orange butterfly clung to the bright white sheet of the hotel bed. Something gentle that had wandered into a different world.

Gulf Fritillary at Tybee Beach

Gulf Fritillary at Tybee Beach

I scooted my hand under her feet–I decide it’s a female right away for no reasonable reason–but she flees from my touch and hops onto the sofa. I try again to shoo her towards the open door and back out into the dark night. She flies to the curtain, then up to the white coffered ceiling.

Safely out of reach of my helpful blunderings, she folds her wings together to reveal brown and opalescent white patches. As I stand on the sofa below her perch, I witness the moment when the energy of her body stills completely, as if she has flipped a switch to OFF.

After a while, I go back to my book and my bed, but I leave the door open all night so that she can return to the world if she needs to. I leave her unbothered so she can avoid the world if she needs to.

resting-butterfly

 

In the morning, the butterfly is still suspended from the ceiling, still folded. As I pack my bags, I make a mental note to carry her out onto the balcony before I leave. I couldn’t stand the thought that a harried hotel maid might swat at her. Someone else, with more on their mind, might see a bug instead of a butterfly.

I slip off my flip flops to stand on the couch but before I can lift myself up to reach her, the butterfly turns the switch to ON. With an orange fluttery flash that startles me from my wobbly perch, we both go tumbling through the air toward the door. She lingers on the railing of the balcony then takes off in circles of flight, off towards the sunrise.

Just like me, that butterfly needed a place to rest, a safe place to be still and turn the switch to OFF.

I’ve been off work this whole week, as a birthday treat to myself. I can’t recommend it highly enough! But even with the prospect of a week to do whatever I needed to do, I burned the first two days with errands and to-do lists. I voted, I donated outgrown clothes, I washed the car, I sold it. The pool project got finished and paid for. I polished that bracelet that has been needing attention. I got my toenails painted for the first time since July 4th. I bought a new car and read the manual to learn how the radio works. I bought the right kind of snacks at the grocery store and made sure the kids would have clean clothes for the week. I busied myself with getting ready to relax.

After two delicious nights on Tybee Island and hour after hour of reading and writing and laughing with old friends and eating shrimp at every opportunity, and taking naps, and sitting in the sun…I got back on someone else’s schedule and got myself to the dock to catch a ride to Ossabaw Island for a writing retreat.

I didn’t think I had a lot of expectations, but apparently I did. The island was still cleaning up after Hurricane Matthew. The air hung thick with mosquitos. There was no breeze. After the lush hotel bed, I was reduced to a bunk bed in a room with nine other women. Our lunch had gotten wet on the trip over. Someone drank one of my Diet Cokes that I had lovingly packed. There were many nice people and a couple who annoyed me right off the dock with incessant chattering. There was no place to hide except behind my rigid smile.

Oh, and that teacher I’ve been excited about working with? He couldn’t make it. There’s someone else and he’s perfectly skilled and kind and here, but I need a moment to adjust. I hit the end of my equanimity and I felt myself begin to flap, to wheel in crazy mental circles.

Like that butterfly, I needed a minute to myself.

I tried to go for a walk in the direction of the old tabby cabins, but the mosquitos threatened to carry me away, one drop of blood at a time. I walked around the corner of the wrap-around porch to find a place to cry but every Brumby rocker might invite a conversation. Finally, I grabbed my pack and walked back down the quarter mile track to the dock, the only stretch of this 24,000 acre island that I had already seen.

Ossabaw Island, 2 p.m.

Ossabaw Island, 2 p.m.

Just like the butterfly, I blundered into exactly the place I needed to be. Out on the dock, there was a cool breeze. No mosquitos. A wide blue sky. Space to breathe. Silence. Except for something big in the water that surfaced, flopped, and disappeared before I could spot it. Peace and quiet, rippling across the water and across my worried mind.

I folded myself and tucked my wings together. I hung there in quiet, as DNR trucks unloaded, a kayaker paddled by, a couple pulled up to the dock and unloaded. The chatter passed and quiet returned, every time.

After a while, with my wings recharged by rest, I went back up the dirt road to join my people. Good people, curious people, brave people who crossed the water to find a community of writers. We each stretched our wings and began to see where they might take us.

My neighbor on the dock.

My neighbor on the dock.

Tight Shot/Wide Shot: Dark and Stormy

Two years and four days ago, I wrote a story that got great reaction: Tight Shot/Wide Shot. In a few photos taken around my palatial showcase of a home, I illustrated the disconnect between what we share with the world (the carefully posed tight shot) with what we actually live in (the messier wide shot).

I had another moment like that this evening, when the stress of the day drove me to spend the last of my weekly Weight Watchers points on a mixed drink. This beautiful cocktail is called a Dark and Stormy:

14100378_10208868495582704_8490821825284651910_n

Dark and Stormy: Gosling’s Black Seal rum from Bermuda mixed with the strongest ginger beer you can find. Serve over crushed ice at sundown.

Richard and I discovered this drink in Bermuda, at The Reefs. We two damn near perfect vacations there. We planned to get married on the pink beach beneath the cliffs. Every evening at about sundown, we would mix up a couple of soda bottles filled with Dark and Stormys then drink them in the hot tub on the side of the cliffs.

Yeah, that was a while back. Waaaaaaay back. Today, I mixed my Dark and Stormy then took it outside to the deck to take a deep breath while the Ore Ida french fries cooked in the oven and some turkey burgers sizzled on the indoor grill. I took it outside in hopes of getting a little sip of Special and Exotic and Vacation because today has been a whole heaping dish of Another Damn Monday.

Tight shot: I could have shared the photo and left you thinking that this is what my life looks like.

But writing and sharing isn’t about the tight shot. It’s about the wide shot:

Real life pool

Those towels are from Saturday, which was the last day that the pool wasn’t too green for swimming.

Sooo glamorous.

By 9:30 this morning, I had already been up for 3 hours but still late for work, because I had school drop off, a conference with Carlos’ special ed teacher, and a booster shot appointment at the veterinarian for the kitten. Which cost me $80 and five minutes of crying in my car because when Biscuits got scared before the second injection, the vet said, “Settle, settle” to her and it hit me right in the heart because Daddy always said “Easy, easy,” when an animal started to panic.

I got to work in time to get caught in a pissing contest between two smart and capable people who have very different expectations. Work these days feels like so much of life, where the things I know how to fix I’m not allowed to fix and the things I’m supposed to fix I don’t know how to fix. But there was lunch with my friend and a free cookie and for a little while, we talked about writing and ideas and how it all comes together. We walked in the sunshine.

I got some stuff done, because I’m a bitch and bitches get stuff done. Because I was so good at getting stuff done, I left late to get my kid so the whole way down the staircase I switched from victory to guilt.

I gave hugs and kisses and answered questions about imaginary worlds and puberty and what’s for dinner. I corrected math homework. I started the laundry and added chemicals to the pool and I forgot to call the water office about our $400 bill from last month. I looked through the mail and worried about college savings accounts, small bank failures, neighborhood meetings about schools, and the half-life of our 18 year old mattress. I worried that we weren’t doing anything special for Labor Day. 

I served french fries because the locally sourced organic okra rotted AGAIN while I dithered over finding a way to cook it other than frying us all to death. I cooked with low sodium, reduced fat, slim bread and fucking french fries in hopes that my son will eat something that isn’t a cracker or a chip. He didn’t eat any of it. He doesn’t eat anything but his pants are too small. Which reminds me that he needs clean uniforms. And who ever thought that white shirts were a viable option for kindergarten uniforms? OxiClean, that’s who.

Screen time and vitamins and grams of protein and signed behavior sheets and kitten fights and french fry guilt and work emails and steel wool scrubbers and fabric softener and bills and …and underneath it all I feel that pull to write, to make something, to create. To make something other than dinner. To create something other than a finely crafted email.

So I made a drink and I stepped outside. When the wide shot hit me and my brain started chasing all the things I needed to do to make that wide shot perfect, I narrowed my focus. I brought it back to my breath. To my senses. To the cold wet glass in my hand. To the bite of the ginger and the warmth of the rum. To the smell of the neighbor’s cut grass. To the sparkle of sundown through those pine trees that I was looking at when Richard told me that he needed to know I would be happy again one day, after he was gone.

I drank it all in.

Know How to Receive This Gift

I owe y’all an update on the kitten! If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know the surprise ending (spolier alert: WE GOT A NEW KITTEH!) As with just about everything in my life, this adventure got me to thinking Big Thoughts that I like to share through Barely Adequate Words.

As soon as I wrote that blog post about the kitten in the tool shed, the kitten left the tool shed. And like the 100% sane and stable person that I am, I  started thinking, “Great–now that I’ve told everyone about the kitten, Huck probably ate it. This is all my fault!”

Nevertheless, the kitten showed up again. Turns out, it was living under the deck, in between the decking boards and the tin roof of the screened porch down below. I caught a photo of the teensy baby one morning when it came out to explore the sourwood tree. One golden leg like something out of a classical myth…

kitty tree

And then I made the mistake of giving Vivi my phone as a distraction at lunch and she saw the photo.

THE CAT WAS OUT OF THE BAG!

kitty vivi

Operation Kitty Katcher was launched about 20 minutes later when we got home. We deployed cheap tuna fish, long crinkly ribbons from Vivi’s birthday balloons, leafy twigs, and flashlights after dark. Vivi sat on the deck with her tablet in hopes of catching a photo. We got close a time or two, but kitten was too wily.

kitty ribbon

We dropped chunks of tuna fish through the railing and onto the tin roof below. Slowly but surely, the kitten began to trust us. I taught Vivi to tap the spoon against the wood every time she fed it to call the kitten out. We brushed our fingertips against the kitten while it ate. We wiped tuna fish on our fingers and eventually the kitty licked them clean.

kitty catcher

It was so stinking hot that weekend. Yellow jackets like tuna fish–did you know that? Me either. But we kept at it.

At one point, Vivi said, “How do you think the kitten ended up here?” I told her that Nana said Papa sent us the kitten. “I know that’s not really what happened, but I like to think of it that way,” I told her. Vivi knows I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. Her thoughts flickered across her face then she smiled, “I agree with Nana–I think Papa sent us the kitten.”

We sat there together with our arms contorted through the deck railing, dangling our stinky fingers over the edge in hopes of luring the kitten out. “Well, even if Papa didn’t actually send us this kitten, he taught me everything I know about catching kittens. He taught me where they hide and how to feed them and ways to get them to trust us. He taught me that it’s good to take care of hungry little kittens. So in a way, Papa is part of us getting this kitten.”

This is the first kitten I’ve had in my lifetime that wasn’t handed to me by my father. There were allllll those kittens when we were growing up–Slick, Jasmine, Farrah, Wildfire (I gave my cats stripper names). When I was out on my own and ready for another heartbeat in the apartment, he found Jane for me. The most beautiful meanest butterscotch bitch you ever reckoned with. I thought she might be lonely when I started working full time, so I went back to see Daddy. He reached blindly into a cage of stray gray tabbies and put Mr. Kitty in a box for me. Jane bit him on the neck as soon as he climbed out of the box then she spent the next 15 years hissing and spitting at him. When Jane and Mr. Kitty both passed on, and Richard’s Nixon followed a year later, I went back down to Griffin for Thanksgiving and came back with Rufus and Jinx. Someone had thrown Jinx in a trash can when she was three weeks old, and Rufus had been dropped off in the parking lot. Daddy got an earful when Rufus gave Vivi ringworm right before school picture day. Anyway, I’ve had a good run of cats, thanks to Daddy. But now I’m on my own. And my daughter has been begging for a kitten. I’m the grown up in charge of kitten procurement now.

There are two things we can do for our children. We can give them gifts, and we can teach them how to receive gifts. My dad did both. He gave me kittens. He also taught me how to see kittens as a gift. How to receive another mouth to feed with joy and a light heart. How to see a kitten as an increase in love, not an increase in burden. How to spend a sweaty Saturday stinking like tuna fish and getting a crick in my neck because my daughter wants a kitten to love on. And her mama can give her that gift.

On the Monday before school started, I pounced.

kitty carrier

It’s a girl. She was Socks for a couple of days. She was Sammy Socks for a while. But she does that thing that kittens do–kneading her front paws back and forth with her purrbox cranked up to 10. One time I asked Daddy what the clinical name for that motion was and he said, “Makin’ biscuits.”

Meet Biscuits.

Thanks, Papa.

kitty puzzle

kitty biscuit portrait

The Long Growth: There to Here; Green to Gold

“I looked it up–we need to get a male and a female,” Richard said as we stood over the muscadine vines at Cofer’s. I picked up a gallon size bucket with a thin green vine growing inside. I held it up above my head and looked at the bottom. “This one must be female.” I picked up another container. “Shoot, this one must be too…nothing dangling under here!”

He shook his head and smiled at my silliness. “Seriously, how do you tell the difference?”

He stretched out the narrow white label that was tied around the base of the vine. “Here we go–this one has an M. Look for an F.”

We paid a lot of money for those straggling vines. That afternoon, we planted them on either side of the small archway in the backyard that had been built by a previous owner. I remember wondering if the plants would be close enough for the male and the female to matter or if the vines needed to intertwine. Once the roots were buried in the clay, the vines barely reached to the bottom of the trellis. We tied them up with some twine and left nature to do its thing.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

 

Its slow, slow thing. Nature’s veeeeery slow thing.

Richard died before ever getting to taste a muscadine from those vines. We stood under that bare archway after our wedding, with vines that still hadn’t reached waist high. I neglected the yard that summer, and the next. But the vines kept growing.

It took years for them to creep up and cover the top of the archway, their male and female tendrils twining together at last. After about five years, I spotted tiny fruit, but the birds got every grape.

I’ve never pruned it, fertilized it, watered it, nothing. Just let it be. One autumn, when the leaves changed color, I noticed that the muscadine vines had grown all up in the redbud tree next to the arch. All that growing, at long last.

But last weekend, while cleaning the pool, the light hit the vines just so and revealed heavy bunches of golden grapes. I couldn’t stop smiling. I stood under the dark shade of the covered arch and ate those sweet muscadines right off the vine. I made a basket with the tail of my t-shirt and picked all I could reach.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

That thick pop of the skin and the sudden sweetness. When I was a kid, I used to buy a pint of scuppernongs every year at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair from Owens Vineyard. Back then, I’d enjoy the juice then spit out the pulp to avoid the seeds. I’m older and wiser now, and as I stood there in the shade of those vines we planted thirteen years ago, I enjoyed every bit of the grape.

It takes a while.

Back then I was young and willing to trust that this would lead to that. You look things up, you read the label, you plant things on the sunny side and you wait. And wait and wait and wait. I got swamped by life for all those years and I lost sight of the idea of grapes that we had entertained over a decade ago. During the growth years and the bird years and the years I was too busy with babies to worry about what was going on in my own backyard.

Then one Saturday I taste the sweetness that we had planted so long ago. From there to here. From green to gold. From all of that…to sweetness.

You just have to hold on and keep growing. It takes longer than I ever imagined.

Scuppernong tendrils

Scuppernong tendrils

The White Stuff

bird-678917_1280Q:  Do you know what the white stuff in bird shit is?

A:  It’s bird shit, too.

 

There’s no difference, y’all.

There’s no better part of shit that makes it not quite so shitty.

Just after Richard’s cancer diagnosis, my friend Karen and I were having a talk. Her husband has survived chronic leukemia for over twenty years. Steve has CLL–the slow kind of leukemia–whereas Richard had AML–the very fast kind. Karen and I were talking about the way cancer blows up your life in one KAPOW kind of instant. She said, “It’s like you’re at a party then being handed a big ole shit pie to eat while everyone else is having cake.”

We laughed over that, then she said, “At least they give you a spoon!” Karen, always the optimist. I’ve learned a lot from her over the years.

I was thinking about this story today with good reason. You know how you find that sweet sweet parking spot and think, “I am so lucky! None of these other suckers saw this sweet spot! Ha HA! I am GOLDEN. Score!”

Yeah.

poo_1And you come back to your car after work and find it covered in an explosive row of bird bombs…and realize that the empty parking spot sits directly beneath a comfortable perch of a powerline…and maybe those other suckers knew that?

So I spent a few minutes thinking about bird poop today, and the white part and the shittiness. Before I got too bogged down in the shit that came with that sweet parking space, I thought about the GOOD things that came my way thanks to that parking place. I got to walk to my office under giant pecan trees. My steps bounced over the squishy black mulch of a tidy path that winds past gardenias just warming up in the sun. I watched squirrels skitter to their trees and birds flit past.

I feel LUCKY every time I walk that path, into a job I love then back to my car to get to a home I love. So even if there’s a little bird shit on my car, that’s a small price to pay for all the rest of it.

Living is always going to be like that–there’s the greenish part of the bird shit and the white part…and all around it, the sky part and the tree part and the skittering part and the gardenia part.

It’s a question of where you choose to look. Bird shit is the price we pay for bird song and little robin nests filled with blue eggs. The worst parts of my life were still part of my life, bumped right up next to the best parts of my life. All or nothing.

Sure, I’ll park somewhere else tomorrow. Still enjoy my walk and smell the gardenias, but with a lesson learned!

revenge-statue-pigeon-poop-hammer-time-demotivational-posters-1339440871

 

 

The Memory Keeper

It’s pouring tonight and I can’t sleep, so I took my magical notebook and sat by the tree to listen to the rain.

Fred and Ginger, Innsbruck Austria

Fred and Ginger, Innsbruck Austria

This adorable pair smiled down from the top of the tree. Their names are Fred and Ginger (because they make such an elegant pair) and I bought them many years ago on a rainy night like tonight in Innsbruck, Austria. I chose them for their clumping big feet and his crooked smile. They are the hopelessly dorky and clumsy embodiment of how I felt when I went skiing in Austria. We were really there for Richard, who was a double black diamond, ski backwards down the mountain with no poles kind of athlete. I have been skiing exactly twice in my life: for the first time on a fraternity trip to Boone, NC and for the second time on the Stubaier Glacier 11,000 feet above Innsbruck….where they had the Olympics. Let’s just say it was inelegant. I prefer sports that include oxygen.

10497831_10204485078880026_3682962788673842328_o

Jumping Johannes, Salzburg Austria

This is Johannes, also from Austria. One year, I got a stomach bug on our Christmas trip. I was sick as a dog from Griffin to Gay to Atlanta to DC to Berlin to Salzburg. I crashed into the clean white sheets of a hotel room. The white plaster walls glowed with Teutonic cleanliness and order. I slept for a few hours and when I woke, Richard had returned from his explorations with a dinner from a schnitzel cart owned by a Bosnian family. He brought me soft cheese, flatbread still warm from the oven and an ice cold Diet Coke. I ate a bite and came alive again. The next morning, we wandered into a church square just in time to hear the carillon play “Silent Night.” The whole square stopped and listened as the notes rang out across the cold, clear air. That carol was written in Salzburg. The joy that I felt in that moment, feeling alive again after all that sickness, comes back to me when I see Johannes. I bought him in that square.

 

A pilot from Munich, a bell from Salzburg, Pere Noel from Paris

A pilot from Munich, a bell from Salzburg, Pere Noel from Paris

On that same day in Salzburg, we were exploring a part of the city wall next to the cemetary where Mozart’s wife is buried. We rested in little turret and discovered a bell hanging there. I asked Richard to take my picture pretending to ring the bell. And you can guess what happened next. I tugged just a little too hard and the damn thing went CLANGALANGALANG across the city. Oops. So I bought that little beaded silver bell to remember that moment.

And yes, there’s a black velvet Elvis painting on the tree, too. I found him in Maine, on our last trip together. My family has a black velvet Elvis that makes the rounds every few years at Christmas. G got him last year!

The Queen of the Ball, Munich Germany. The Frog Prince, New Orleans. The Cat King, Luxembourg.

The Queen of the Ball, Munich Germany. The Frog Prince, New Orleans. The Cat King, Luxembourg.

This elephant? She’s my favorite on the whole tree, of the hundreds of stories I remember every year. I found her in a shop in Munich and it was love at first sight. She was part of a pair, with a bull elephant in white tie and tails. I couldn’t afford both–she was almost $50. Richard used to tease me about my ornament mania as I collected them on trips. I knew he would give me hell if he saw how much this one cost. I gave him hell about smoking–but on this cold night, I said, “Why don’t you go outside and have a cigarette while I finish up here?” The owner of the shop spoke beautiful English. As soon as he was out the door, we shared a good laugh at men and the excuses she had heard to get them outside. I treasure this belle of the ball because she is so happy to be herself, so sure of her beauty, not in spite of but BECAUSE she is an elephant.

Putting her with the Frog Prince and the Cat King is new this year. I like it. With my old fake tree, I bent limbs and made her a little stage of her own. With a real tree, I had to find a sturdy limb to hold her, up high and off to the side in case Carlos or the cats brought the tree crashing down.

Grandmama Eunice's bell. Pink sand from Bermuda. A Star of David from Prague.

Grandmama Eunice’s bell. Pink sand from Bermuda. A Star of David from Prague. Scots Presbyterian from Charleston SC.

That blue glass bell? Daddy was warned not to touch it when he was a boy because it was old then. The ceramic Santa is from Paris. He always hangs sideways and seems a little judgy. I bought the Star of David in Prague to remember how I was moved to tears in the empty synagogues of the Jewish Quarter. Not every memory on the tree is a happy time. I have an angel that I bought in the gift shop of Johns Hopkins, and a little nest of robin eggs that reminds me of a quilt that hung on the wall in the chemo room there. It had the line from Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

 

That tiny white church near the top? It’s another memory that needed to be remembered, not for joy, but for solemnity. It’s one of the first ornaments I collected–when Fartbuster and I went to Charleston, South Carolina for our honeymoon. The church is Scots Presbyterian. During the Civil War, the church donated its bells to be melted down and turned into ammunition. After the devastation of the war, they decided to leave the bell towers empty as a silent reminder of all that had been lost. A quiet memory.

Well. I could go on. But it’s after 1 a.m. and tomorrow is a busy day.

May the memories that visit you at this time be quiet ones, filled with reminders about how wide the world is, and how welcome you are to explore it.

Life is Sweet

Let’s have a moment of music appreciation today. This song got me out of a dark place today. Natalie Merchant, “Life Is Sweet”:

natalie merchant

It’s a pity
it’s a crying shame
who pulled you down again?
how painful it must be
to bruise so easily inside

It’s a pity
it’s a downright crime
but it happens all the time
you wanna stay little daddy’s girl
wanna hide from the vicious world outside

Call it seasonal depression. Or emotional fatigue. Or denial. I call it “dragging the wagon.” Today I was dragging the wagon behind me and in that wagon is every brave thing I’ve ever wanted to do and left short, every pound I’ve failed to lose, every person I ever disappointed, every dream I had that didn’t come true.

So who pulled me down again? The bruise inside, the one I work on and sometimes think I’m getting past. The fear of putting my heart into the vicious world and getting it shredded. The fear of running back for comfort to my daddy and him not being there.

Three friends have lost their daddies in the past week. And the story I haven’t been telling for a couple of months now is that I almost lost mine. It scares me so much that I can’t look at it straight on. My dad was very close to dying. He’s back now. He called me the other day to thank me for the orchid I brought when he was in the rehab place. We’ll eat turkey next week and be grateful.

I’m sad for Heather and Jonathan and Laura who are trying to find words to say goodbye and thank you and good job, Dad.

But don’t cry
know the tears’ll do no good
so dry your eyes

They told you life is hard
it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

10700549_10204326604998278_6333280427733818279_oThis weekend, I took the kids down to the playfort in the backyard and got choked up when I saw that the cherry tree had dropped all of its leaves overnight. One day, a globe of golden whispering leaves and the next day, a silent carpet over the frosty ground. Some trees, like my neighbor’s sugar maple, take weeks to shed their leaves, so long that we get kind of used the change. Others–whoosh and they’re gone in the first hard freeze.

That cherry tree was a wedding gift from my coworkers when Richard and I married. It stayed in a pot for months, waiting on the soil to soften up with spring. I got around to planting it after Richard died. It’s been especially precious to me now that my babies play in its shade. Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all it needed to grow.

For almost ten years, I’ve grown used to the miracle of that tree. Pink pom poms in spring, pale green leaves through the summer, then the golden show of fall. And every year, the shock of the day when it’s just gone. Bare and spare. Reminding me how suddenly everything can change.

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?
it’s high time that you decide
in your own mind

Dragging the wagon. Carrying all this fear and sadness around and not writing it out. Afraid to write it wrong or write it right. Trying to speak my truth but the hand over my mouth is my own. That’s why I found myself crying at my desk at lunchtime. “Life Is Sweet” came on Pandora and it took me back all those years to when I first loved this song and had no earthly idea how true it is. I sat there and cried because I’m so tired of wanting things to be different but not making them different. Time to make up my own mind.

mapleThere’s a red maple outside my office window, and as it’s been losing its scarlet leaves this week, more sunshine gets through. I sat there today next to the window, half of my tired body warmed in the light and half of it shivering. Natalie’s words calling out to me from my phone.

They told you life is hard

it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?

I closed my eyes. In the dark quiet there behind my eyelids, the left eye caught a reddish glow from the sun shining through. The right eye looked out into the darkness.

It’s high time you decide
it’s time you make up your own sweet little mind

With my eyes still closed, I turned towards the sun. I sat still and let it warm me. Just like my cherry tree, “Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all I need to grow.”

They told you life is long
be thankful when it’s done
don’t ask for more
you should be grateful

But I tell you life is short
be thankful because before you know
it will be over

Cause life is sweet
and life is also very short
your life is sweet

If you are the praying type, say a peaceful one for Ted and Heather, Stephen and Jonathan, Gary and Laura. And say a thankful one for Sam and Ashley.

Daddy, I’m glad you’re back. I love you and I’m grateful for you. Save me some turkey.