Category Archives: Gratitude

Hope on the Last Day of the Old Year: Everyday Magic, Day 912

I’m perched on this lovely porch on the last day of the year, at least the last day according to the Jewish year, which ends at sundown. The wind and crickets thread sound through the Osage Orange tree, leaning over the driveway with its heavy hedge apples (think lime green brains the size of grapefruit). A few hummingbirds dive-bomb each other on the aerial path to the feeder. I’m comfortable in a hideous chartreuse recliner with iced coffee within reach. It’s just another beautiful edge-of-summer day in Kansas for me, but for many it’s far more heartbreaking and threatening.

I think of people in central Mexico, working frantically to unearth possible survivors from collapsed buildings from the 7.1 earthquake yesterday. I’ve watched videos of people coming together in the streets, crying in each other’s arms, or staring at buildings that have sloughed off into big piles of concrete and steel.

I think of thousands in Puerto Rico, right now, enduring Hurricane Maria, which hit the island as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 mph. I imagine the terror so many must feel right now as the winds batter their homes or shelters, bending palm trees horizontal and tossing cars across flooding parking lots. At the very least, they might be worried about having enough water and food, knowing how likely it is that they could face weeks or longer without electricity; at the most, their lives might be danger because of storm surges, crumbling buildings, and mud slides.

I think of millions in South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Guam, and many other places living with the searing threat of nuclear attack due to two immature and reckless leaders, one in North Korea and one in America, talking trash about the other and escalating a historic conflict. With rhetoric about destroying these countries and many more, those within easy reach of missiles bearing nuclear warheads must be living with overwhelming fear as the war of words builds.

Meanwhile, the fires in the west burn millions of acres of forest and change the faces of many a gorge, valley, and mountain. Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar has led to hundreds of villages being burned to the ground. People throughout various chains of islands and many on our mainland are still without electricity, or are busy with the sad work of stripping out of their homes all the water-logged furniture and family treasures.

Fire, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria), and war rage on, sporadically or worse, and much of it (excluding the earthquakes) due to the worst of human behavior: ignoring or denying the effects of climate change, and escalating the conflicts between tribes or nations to the point of no return.

It’s the end of the world as they know it for so many, human and otherwise. It’s also, as seems to have been the human habit, a time for the best of our beings to come forth. People in Texas made human chain to transfer elderly people out of flooded homes, thousands (or tens of thousands) of people driving to Texas or Florida to help with feeding, clothing, rebuilding, and reconnecting electricity for those in need. People in Mexico worked in the hot sun for hours, then all night, and still continue today lifting shards of concrete, digging with their bare hands, and listening carefully for one trapped beneath. I think of my brother-in-law in Florida, an electrician, who has worked long hours in the heat along with countless others to restore power for many communities. I marvel at the photos of humans throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas who lost everything, but also gave every ounce of their energy to rescuing others. A cruise ship ended its trip early, giving passengers the option of staying on to help evacuate islands in the path of Hurricane Irma, and over 70 vacationers did just that along with many cruise lines that sent ships and cash to the islands. Firefighters in Montana, Oregon, Washington, and other states worked themselves to exhaustion doing dangerous work to save lives and places.

At sunset, we cross over into the new year, but millions around the world have been forced to do this already, leaving behind all that was lost in the old year. For them, and for the blessings we can be when we reach out to help those facing the end of their worlds, my deepest wish is that we find hope in action that shows us what we’re capable of. Let us mend what’s broken, lift who and what is fallen, and act always on a love for life, and all that being and staying alive entails. L’shanah Tovah — a good and sweet new year — for everyone.

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Putting the New Poetry Book to Bed: Everyday Magic, Day 905

It’s called “putting the book to bed” when you turn in your final version of a whole bunch of pages about to be published as a real, live book. Ten minutes ago, I put Following the Curve, my next book of poetry, to bed, tucking it into an email, covering it with kisses, and wishing it well. It was a long time coming as all books, and especially poetry books are. That’s because I find that poetry can be almost infinitely revised — there are thousands of ways to break a line, add or subtract punctuation, change a word, or kill a darling (editing out a beloved line because it’s not needed).

To celebrate, I write this blog post, and I share the ending poem from this new collection:

Your Body is a Conversation With the World

What are you waiting for? From the first air

in the first room, while a winter radiator breathed

enough warmth for your your mother,

the world was chatting you up.

You gasped, you cried, you waved your tiny hands

for the ocean you left, and the story laughed itself silly

in each cell until it multiplied into millions more

marching to or denying the heart’s measured drum.

Your body watches the moth on the other side

of the screen, drinks the water from the blue glass,

and jumps in its sleep, so much dialogue in this

continuing tender reckoning of bare foot on gravel,

whippoorwill telling the ears of nightfall.

You’re always in conversation about how you’re not

a separate animal but a talisman of your own place

alongside the freeway and the prairie,

each step another word, each shrug another question

for the lightning bug caught on the ceiling,

the cat leaping from refrigerator to your shoulder,

the wind or its absence evident in the still grasses.

The answers may knock you over or have nothing to do

with the question you’re pacing across the day.

Time tells its stories through your body,

so yoked to this love that it cannot stop singing.

The Everyday Miracle of Rainbows: Everyday Magic, Day 904

I didn’t see my first rainbow until I was 12 on the day my newborn brother died. In the middle of our house stuffed with grieving relatives, my younger brother and I quietly sipped soup at the kitchen counter early that evening until I noticed something strange and beautiful in the backyard. Within seconds, all of us were outside, amazed by a perfect arc over our house while my grandmothers, first in Yiddish, then in English, hugged us and said this was the miracle God gave us after taking our brother.

Why I didn’t see a rainbow until I was 12 was because I wasn’t looking, not having imagined rainbows were possible in real life. Growing up in Brooklyn, then central New Jersey, there were also a lot of buildings, trees, houses, and shopping malls in the way.

After I married an rainbow whisperer, able to read the sky and aim us toward wherever the most likely rainbow is, I learned that rainbows, especially in areas of the country prone to late afternoon storms, can be everyday happenings. “Not rare but precious,” Ruth Gendler wrote about beauty in her book Notes on the Need for Beauty. Nothing could be truer of rainbows in summertime Kansas, where mountains and an excess of trees don’t get in the way.

How to see a rainbow? When the sun is nearing one horizon, and dark clouds fill the other horizon, look carefully at those dark clouds directly across from the sun. Although I’ve slept through many early morning rainbows, I do catch early evening ones. When our often southwest-to-northeast storms have moved past us, and the setting sun breaks through its western clouds, poof! There’s a rainbow somewhere.

Meteorologically, we know light , reflected, refracted and dispersed through water droplets, cooks up rainbows. Looking at the meaning gets more tricky although symbolism abounds bout light piercing darkness. After the flood, the crew, animals and humans, on Noah’s arc witnessed a helluva rainbow, which we can call a symbol of hope, miracles, redemption, new beginnings, and according to the tale and film Finian’s Rainbow, our heart’s deepest dreams coming true (check out Fred Astaire and Petula Clark singing “Look to the Rainbow”). Living in Kansas, we can never escape all manner of Wizard of Oz references (step outside of the state, and someone is bound to say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”).  But of course, we also claim one of the best rainbow songs and singers of all time — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by the ever-vibrant Judy Garland, who yearns to get the hell out of Kansas until she escapes. Then she yearns with all her being to be back under the rainbow.

Yesterday, walking into the Merc to buy a bunch of zucchini, one vibrant curve surprised me. As I stood at the entrance to the store in wonder, I pointed out the rainbow to a woman about to shop also. “Look like God has given us!” she said while starting to cry. “Yes,” I answered her. We both stared into the rainbow, taking many photos with our phones, which alerted would-be shoppers to stop and look up.

Driving home, it was rainbow slivers and half-arcs all the way until  a full rainbow, so vibrant and stunning that I couldn’t help but back myself up into the chigger-and-tick-filled tallgrass to take more photos. I remembered how the arc is just part of the full circle of a rainbow, which puts me in mind of a song Kelley Hunt and I wrote called “Miracle” with this chorus:

A round rainbow is called a glory.

What you survive in life is called a glory.

You never see the arc of it until after the storm.

To see the whole miracle, you have to hold on.

The workaday miracle is where you belong.

Last night’s rainbow, like the first rainbow I ever saw, soared over my home, reminding me again of the everyday miracles we’ve given, and also how we can never see the whole miracle until after the storm.

A New Year to Be Kind: Everyday Magic, Day 885

I know the Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness, but it took a while for this truth to catch up with me. As I get older, it overtakes me: intelligence, creativity, initiative, even happiness and many other qualities, without kindness, are hollow at best, dangerous at worse.

While I am stripped and spotted with many flaws, the flaw I’m most ashamed of is when I’m unkind, that is, when I catch such moments. It’s easy enough to see when I lose my temper (mostly catalyzed by stuff with family, or any headline involving he-who-will-not-be-named-but-will-in-inaugrated-soon). But there’s also those micro-aggression moments when I’m dismissive or simply not aware of someone or something, and striving to be kinder means getting realer so I can do less harm in this world.

There’s also the issue of balance and boundaries. Sometimes I struggle with what the kind thing is to do when I’m struggling to take care of myself (an essential foundation for kindness). As an Olympic gold ribbon champion of overfunctioning, trying to decide how to be kind can stop me in my tracks, and often, there’s no clear answer. I breathe, and try to choose wisely, which inevitably leads me toward a hot bath before I leave the house, do the task, make the call…..or not. Being kind to my young adult children has a whole lot to do with doing less for them and conveying how much I know (or desperately hope) they will find their own best answers (although I often trip into offering more than enough advice).

There’s also what I label in my little head as “black hole people” who are so damaged and hurting that they need — or seem to need — every ounce of attention possible. As a former black hole person (hello, early 20s!), I can relate, but I know how being kind entails sustaining ourselves, finding and holding healthy boundaries (confusing since those fences have a way of moving), and in the whole complex enterprise, being kind.

There’s also the very quiet opportunities for kindness as many sages note when encountering someone who can do nothing to benefit you. I’ve failed at this infinite times, yet striving toward kindness means looking at what the moment offers. Do I let the person in a rush get in front of me at the food co-op? Do I listen to someone I hardly know tell me a long story when I’m tired and just want more pita and hummus at the party? Yup, it’s back to boundaries here, but kind ones communicated without an edge in my voice.

Falling out of balance seems to me to be one of the leading causes of jerk-aholism. I’ve noticed for years that with organizations I’m part of, when someone acts seemingly cruel and mean, it’s almost always because that someone is burnt out, exhausted from working without adequate support or recognition, running scared, and/or too isolated to see the ramifications of bad actions. The same is true for me when I’m unkind, and given how life has a habit of throwing more at us than we can deal with at times, it’s inevitable that despite my best intentions, I will screw up again and again. I’ll land on the floor where I’ll need to cultivate a bit more kindness toward myself for failing, then get up again.

Being kind is a state of being: it’s embodied, and we feel it in our bones and organs (just as cruelty can feel like a kick in the stomach). When my heart is wrapping around another’s heartbreak, I carry a visceral sense of sorrow and yearning. It’s not easy. It can be tiring too, but what else are we here for? I think of being at Aaron’s memorial service (see previous post) a few days ago, and how all of us were held together in the active love a community can make when holding together the impossible. We cried at how he died. We laughed at stories of his kamikaze skiing. We hugged on another. It was a kindness to have been there (to have gone, to have been so welcomed): a door open into the ultimate meaning of belonging and purpose. It’s a gift to be part of collective kindness.

And it’s a gift to practice kindness alone and with others, in the light and in the dark, and in the kindly-emerging one-of-a-kind present.

Remembering Aaron: Everyday Magic, Day 884

boyswithturtleshellYesterday was the shining memorial service for Aaron Calovitch, our friend who died earlier this month. Held in Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence, and officiated with great spirit and vitality by Rev. Michael Nelson, the service brought together hundreds of us to share stories (through Aaron’s friends Dave Johnson, Skylar Sterling-Simon, and Mike Doveton, and stepdad Frank Norman),  and music (via Aaron’s uncle Gary Frager — with accompaniment by Sue Frager, and Lana Maree Haas). I also shared this poem I finished just a few hours before the service about the Aaron that was and is still one of our own. Here’s also the photo that got me started on the poem, a scene from KAW Council many years ago featuring Aaron and some of his closest pals (Aaron is in the center). Aaron’s gone (at least in this way of being), but our love for him binds us together for many adventures to come.

One of Our Own

 

He’s one of our own: a golden-limbed boy,

one hand on his hip, the other holding an ornate box turtle,

his open face shining like the lake behind him,

everyone laughing until the camera shuttered,

and he flew back into motion. There he is in a canoe.

There he is running the woodlands balancing two prairies.

There is is, cutting carrots in the kitchen with women his mother’s age.

There he is in our arms, no shame in hugging anyone ever.

 

He is the boy who watched falcons lift off the naked limbs

of a sycamore while he stood still as fallen leaves.

He is the man who knew his sauces as well as his snakes.

He could track the arc of a great blue heron, swim

the length of the wide pond, and return home with a story.

He is the artist leaning into the refrigerator to find

what’s forgotten, then swirl and saute it into dinner for all.

He is the man mowing his grandparent’s yard before

watching the big game, and he is always laughter

around the fire, in the dark with friends,

or in the living room at Thanksgiving.

 

He is the blown-over bluestem next to one butterfly milkweed

in the loop-sided circle we made with him in spring

to offer up water, wishes, prayers for prairies and lives.

 

He flew through hard landings and delicate losses

to go somewhere else. Our present one, our gone beloved,

we love him fiercely as drought loves rain even if

what we knew of his flashing smile didn’t reveal

his flight path across the blue to the golden horizon.

He is a river more than a highway, and wherever he is,

wherever we go, we listen for the sound of wings.

The Day After Christmas: Everyday Magic, Day 883

The day after Christmas is a clearing and arrival at once on the other side of what too often has felt like a great divide for me (check out why Christmas has been like the Dread Pirate Roberts to me in this post from 2014). Emerging from a mysterious case of food poisoning or taking bad supplements or a weird-ass virus, I’m especially relieved to be on the shores of December 26 where I’m no longer crawling to the bathroom or tossing myself awake out of stomach-turning nightmares.

Beyond whatever kept me collapsing on my bed most of Christmas day, there’s the lightening of the weight of this holiday, the big Kahuna of mainstream culture, blasted from all directions for weeks leading up to it, while many of us labor and delight under its anticipation. This year, I got to labor and delight in setting up a tree to wrap in lights and and Hanukkah gifts, and string lights in assorted places around the house because who couldn’t use more light, especially this year? We also hosted Christmas dinner for the family, which I could only made brief guest appearances at between trips to dreamland.

Awake and grateful now, I meet a mostly-clear sky, and luxuriate in Kansas Public Radio playing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphony #5 in D Major after days of overcast choirs churning out carols. Our annual Hanukkah party awaits later today, and New Years is coming as well as many other ceremonies, including a funeral for a beloved community member, but for now, there’s a tiny celebration of landing on the other side of something — a holiday, an illness, a bout of pressure, a stretch of cloudy weather, and what is beyond I can name, but know is burning brightly in the center of my heart.

Wherever you are, and whatever wraps around you, I wish you a lovely and refreshing day-after, and a glowing and meaningful day of December 26.

Birthdays, Graduations and Charmed Lives: Everyday Magic, Day 880

img_2834A month ago, I found my old charm bracelet that my parents gave me in 1972. It had two charms to start me out, one for my 12th birthday and another for my graduation from junior high school with room for charms in the future, such as marriage, children, perhaps even grandchildren. In the time I grew up, it was common for women to have charms for rites of passage and other markers mapping the trail into and through adulthood.

I’ve come across this bracelet before, like a treasure lost in a pond that comes ashore haphazardly, and put it away again as a relic of my past. But this time I realized it was time to wear it again. The only problem was that my almost 57-year-old wrist was bigger than my 12-year-old one, so off to Goldmakers we went where Monty managed to somehow make a few new links, not easy given that each tiny link is entwined very fine strands of gold. When I picked up the bracelet the other day and put it on, it felt oddly familiar, and within hours, I remembered how its tiny, sharp jewels had a talent for catching on threads of sweaters and shirts. But it also felt great to wear probably my oldest material possession.

Over the past few days, I realized I didn’t need to add charms to mark occasions and game-changers over the last 44 years because “birthday” and “graduation” pretty much say it all. There are new beginnings to celebrate, births of insight, starts of projects, and the old refrain that to live is to continually begin again. There’s also constant graduations: what we’re finally able to finish, release, or shed img_2837because it’s done or no longer serves us. Of course, not all graduations are liberating: we leaves places and people who are home to us, we lose friends and relations to change or death. Time is one big graduation and birthday machine, churning out opportunities for moving on whether or not it’s our will or desire, and if we’re lucky, celebrations of hard-won leaps and landings. The irony of graduation is that another word for it  is “commencement,” new beginnings, which circles us right back to birth and birthdays. Like seasons that birth themselves, then die into the next season, every moment can be a touchstone, perhaps even a charm to remind us to open our eyes to the vibrant life — even if bitter, painful, tender, or grief-stricken — happening right now.

Tomorrow, on my birthday, I’ll wear my charm bracelet again and try to remember how  I’ve been blessed with a charmed life eve if it catches on my sweater and pulls out a thread here and there. And for all of us today, I want to say, Happy Birthday, Graduates! Keep on shining.