Consider: What We’ve Lost. . .or Not

Dear Friends,

In my twenties it was walruses.

“I’ll never become an expert on walruses.”  That was my wistful thought when I made the decision to move to Montana, fresh from college seminars on post structuralism, moral beauty, and environmental imagination. I had just spent six months in Tanzania, where I’d gained a passable ability to converse in Swahili, a taste for ugali, and a love for the bushbabies who clattered rocks off my metal roof each night. The world seemed excessively open and curious and I seemed full of agency.  I believed implicitly in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

I’d never cultivated particular interest in walruses, so giving them up as a possible life career caused me little more than the passing thought: here is a direction I won’t be going.

IMG_4680One door shut.

But all others seemed to gape open.

I’m nearly two decades beyond the time when I ruled out walruses once and for all.  And life looks incredibly different from forty as it did from twenty-two.  Less branching possibility, more prescribed probability.  Fewer trips to faraway continents, more trips to the grocery store.

Recently I read Amor Towles’ novel, Rules of Civility.  In the book’s final pages the narrator reviews her life.  As she thinks about her husband, her career and the life she built in New York, she reflects, “I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me.  And at the same time, I know that right choices are the means by which life crystallizes loss.”

I took a photo of that paragraph because I wanted to have it down just so.  Like Towles’ narrator, I love my life.  I feel the fit of each significant life choice and harbor no doubts about them.  I thrill when I walk out my door and think again for, perhaps, the thousandth time, “I can’t believe I get to live here.”  And, even so, I’m cognizant of the losses – all the walruses along the way – that indwell each gain.

I don’t mean this as lament; rather as stock-taking, as faithful render of life as I find it.  And there’s something compelling about all these losses.  They pile up not like so much inanimate dust, but like little flints that sometimes, when struck just right, still spark with latent energy.

As Towles’ narrator stands on the balcony thinking back on the right choices through which her right choices “crystallized loss,” she says, “I knew too well the nature of life’s distractions and enticements – how the piecemeal progress of our hopes and ambitions commands our undivided attention, reshaping the ethereal into the tangible, and commitments into compromises.”

The idea of piecemealing life has such an honest ring.  While I want my life to hum with the passion of worthy commitments, the groceries in the fridge persist in disappearing, my kids grow out of their soccer cleats, they clamor for homework help.  Bills arrive in the mailbox requiring payment. And that bathroom is not going to clean itself.  Life feels way too tangible and all too compromised.

But then, from somewhere deep inside something ineffable sparks and flares.  At times, these sparks seer and blister – things have gone by, doors are shut.  But sometimes these sparks seem to glimmer with a hint that all things treasured up in one’s heart are never gone, that all the branching profusion, though seemingly pruned years ago, is suddenly found miraculously intact.

in the snowIs it possible for both to be true?  Does the spirit obey its own physics – wherein things coming and going are all mixed up with one another, wherein losses are real and, at once, never truly lost?

Friend, whatever walruses you bear, bear them well and with love.  For we are all complex, expansive beings, and our hearts are immense and capable of holding much.

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction.  Thank you!

Self, Social Media, and What’s Real

Dear Friends,

This week, I suddenly became terribly sick of myself.  Let me explain—I’m not sick of the self who hikes, writes stories, reads with my kids.  I am sick of my facsimile-self, the one I trot out on social media platforms and in letters to editors and bookstore owners.  In the midst of promoting my first picture book, I am making myself literally nauseous.

This practice of being real with myself and others—I thought I had it figured out after the tumultuous, navel-gazing teen and early-twenties years.  And I’m thrilled that I’ll soon hold my first picture book.  But as a person who hates yammering on about her own work, the endless self-promotion required of writers these days makes my stomach churn.  It’s like gazing into a mirror too long, like snapping too many selfies (like the endless shots I find of my tween on my phone). In a culture where we’re trained to post carefully selective snapshots of our lives, I’ve been wrestling with this question:  How do I remain authentic in a society where, to get things done, to promote, you must adopt a certain measure of—well, if not deception, then slant?

In the Atlantic article “How to Hire Fake Friends and Family,” Roc Morin interviews Ishii Yuichi, the founder of “Family Romance,” a Japanese company that hires out actors to anyone who is willing to pay enough.  Say Thanksgiving rolls around and your prospective in-laws are looking forward to meeting your mother.  But she’s embarrassing: chews tobacco, swears audibly, shouts about politics.  Worry no longer!  Simply hire an actor who will play the perfect mom.  Yuichi has played the parts of loving fathers, acceptable husbands, perfect boyfriends.  His company has provided supportive colleagues, fall-guys, even healthy partners (complete with cheat-sheets of memories) to lonely people whose spouses are suffering dementia.

While Yuichi admits to occasionally feeling badly about long-term gigs (he’s been playing father to a girl who fully considers him her real father for years now), he defends his company by explaining that providing short-term comfort for people in an unjust world is legitimate.  As for being deceptive, he points out that culture is already on that bandwagon:  “I believe the term “real” is misguided. Take Facebook, for example. Is that real? Even if the people in the pictures haven’t been paid, everything is curated to such an extent that it hardly matters.”

But today, wearied from too much time on social media, I know that it does matter.  It matters deeply to me that I am known and know others in a real way.  As I walked down a sodden path in the park with my dog, I finally articulated exactly how I felt: lonely.

Of course though social media is new, the tension between appearance and authenticity has always been an issue.  Van Gogh spent much of his life wrestling between the poles of who he was (many dismissed him as a ne’er do well) and the pressure to appear successful.  In this letter to his brother, Theo, he vacillates between begging his brother to understand him and defending his authentic, searching self:  “What shall I say; our inward thoughts, do they ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney, and pass on their way.”

I love to think of the fact that many years later, I, with countless others, come to warm myself at Van Gogh’s soul as I read his letters.  In his words, often wrenching, often beautiful, I find a friend.

Sometimes our feelings of isolation go deep, beyond the reach of friends, and today at the park I felt that. So I told God: “I am lonely today.  Sit with me, please.”

And as I write to you today as honestly as I can, without tipping the camera to block out the pile of laundry on the floor or turning my face to show you my ‘best side’ or trying to convince you to buy something, I invite you.  Today, slow down; be present to yourself and to others.  Pursue genuine, authentic, communal soul-building.  Step up to the hearth, take a deep breath, and warm yourself.

Peace,

Kim

P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction!  Please leave a message–and thank you!

Consider: Moondust, our Longing, and the Infinite

Dear Friends,

On Wednesday, as students straggled into school, hungover from Halloween candy and the revelries of parading late in their costumes, the STEM teacher and I aired the documentary, “The Last Man on the Moon.” This documentary chronicles the life of Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, the last of America’s lunar landing expeditions.

To say I have even casual interest in space science would be a generous stretch. While I’m awed when the occasional Hubble Telescope photo crosses my path, I usually glaze over when reading sentences like the one at the bottom of the previous paragraph. As a writer of realistic fiction, my imagination is decidedly terrestrial. I’m lit up by human stories and expeditions to that vastest of interiors: the human heart.  

So I was ready to pass a sleepy morning in the company of pacified 7th and 8th graders and if I gleaned some space science knowledge, so much the better.  What I got instead was a fascinating exploration of the paradoxes and emotional minefields which no rocket shot can shake from the human heart.  Perhaps it was the extremis of being an astronaut — literally out of one’s element, suspended above the world — that dialed up the volume on the constant human scuffle between loneliness and connection. “I felt that all of humanity was with me on that mission,” Cernan says of his first spaceflight with Gemini IX. And yet later, when looking back at his three days on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission, the Earth rising like a blue pearl in the distance, he spoke of incredible loneliness.  Accompanied by all humanity and yet, at once, all alone: Isn’t this a striking picture of our perennial condition?  

On the lunar surface, Cernan traced his daughter’s initials in moondust. This heartfelt act of bestowing what he cherished most to that distant surface struck me. It was as if marking her initials there made them timeless, delivering them to a place where moth and rust cannot destroy. And yet, his relationship with his daughter and wife were fraught; sabotaged by the intense singular focus of his career, marked by his absence. “You think going to the moon is hard, try staying home,” his wife reflected on watching the broadcast of her husband out there on the spearpoint of human technology. Eugene Cernan made it back, but ultimately his marriage didn’t survive. Some frontiers are too vast to cross. Some journeys end with loss.

IMG_6799

2017 Eclipse–when we were all lost in wonder, if only for an hour

I’ve been thinking about Gene Cernan and the moon a lot over these past few days. In what ways does loneliness and deep human connection nudge shoulders in my life? How much I want what I most love to be lifted above time, to be kept safe from the world’s corrosive effects. But even now, while I have breath and life, am I giving the earth-bound, time-bound things I love my full presence?

On August 25, 2012, Gene Cernan climbed the steps to the pulpit at Washington National Cathedral to eulogize his friend and fellow astronaut, Neil Armstrong.  “Neil, wherever you are up there, almost a half century later, you have now shown once again the pathway to the stars…You can now finally put out your hand and touch the face of God.”

I, for one, don’t know much about pathways to the stars. I’m the type who firmly stands with Robert Frost when he says, “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” But Cernan’s words over his friend’s casket resonate all the same. I hear in them a rich longing for the infinite resolution to all our finite journeys. No rocket can lift us there–yet daily, we are invited on this most daring expedition.
Peace,

Lindsay

P.S. You can watch the entirety of Cernan’s moving eulogy for Neil Armstrong here.

Consider: We are made to celebrate each other

Dear Friends,

girls with leaves in handAs a writer, I care passionately about words.  As my church’s artist-in-residence, I share prayers and mediations with congregants, choosing words with painstaking care, knowing that what comes out of my mouth has the power to comfort and deepen or distract and harm.  As a mother of three girls from elementary to high school, I am a vigilant moderator of words.  Just yesterday, I took my eleven-year old aside for the umpeenth time, locked my eyes with hers, and said, “You may not say hate anymore.”

In this cynical time when public insult is only one tweet away, I found it encouraging when my husband came home from a conference and told me that the facilitator had closed with a blessing.  The facilitator, who is from an Indian-Kenyan heritage where benedictions are an integral part of life, read a blessing that invited its listeners to move from self-protection to vulnerability and love for others.

In a country where our right to free speech is protected by law, I often feel as though words feel cheap, bandied about thoughtlessly.  But what we say flows from who we are, and that makes each word pregnant with meaning.  Words start wars, end relationships, rip through families.  As I endlessly tell my children, we are responsible for every word, however thoughtless, that leaves our lips.

But what about words chosen intentionally with love?  Why are we so often dismissive and cynical of gentleness?  In our preference for biting satire and one-liners, have we created a desert devoid of genuine kindness?  Have we as a culture forgotten how to bless one another?

“In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.  It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. . .It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast,” Celtic mystic and priest John O’Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.

I have found nothing more powerful than words carefully crafted in love and imagination.  No matter what your spiritual background, this is a heritage we can all share, a common language of blessing.  You don’t have to be a writer or a poet or a priest.  Beginning to bless another person can be as simple as pausing in the midst of a hectic day to say to a friend or colleague, “You do good work;” “You are a delightful person, and may you find delight today;” “May you find courage in this hard situation.”  These are profoundly powerful to hear.  We are parched for authentic, attentive words.

So often I neglect to bless others because I am weary; I feel I deserve to receive and have nothing left to give.  But in the act of blessing others, we create streams of grace that flow over the giver and the receiver:  “The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us,” John O’Donohue writes.  “Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.”

This week, though I am at turns blinded by cynicism and wearied by life, I hope to open my eyes to see whom I can bless.  Authentic, simple love: it is the center of who we are.  Let us not forget that we are made to find beauty in others, to name it, and celebrate it.

girls in leavesSo this week, may you be enfolded by transforming goodness, and may you have the courage to open your arms to others and to speak in wonder and love.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  This week, I highly recommend:

this interview between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue (one of my all-time favorites on On Being).

this reflection by Parker Palmer– “The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice” which includes this amazing quote from Mary Oliver:  “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

this lovely blogpost I serendipitously stumbled upon by farmer and family physician Emily Polis Gibson, which reminds me that blessing others is also (and should often be) a silent gift, a benediction of attentive listening.  Check out the quotes to the right of the post–there’s a beautiful one by T.S. Eliot included.

P.S.S.  We are profoundly thankful for all of you.  As always, we are excited to expand our wonder by hearing your comments and recommended reading!  Please share either in a comment on our  blog or on Facebook, or contact us here.

Consider: Reclaiming Our Attention

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk through a beautiful fall afternoon. Our dog nosed at animal trails and loped through a stand of golden aspens. The afternoon, in all respects, was gorgeous, the sort of full-color fall afternoon you know will soon be memory. My husband looked up. “Do you know what the weather is going to be tomorrow?”aspens

I stopped in the middle of the trail and automatically reached toward my phone. Some part of my mind halted. “Don’t do it!” I said to myself. I pulled an empty hand back and picked a spear of grass instead, twirling it between my fingers. “No idea,” I answered my husband, “we can look when we get back.”    

Sustained attention, we all know, is under assault. I recently listened to an interview about “the arms race for human attention” with former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris. This interview was darkly illuminating about the persuasive psychology upon which internet content and smartphone applications are built. Far from neutral, the technology which frames our lives is engineered to maximize habit-formation and addiction. I feel moderately aware that my attention is being hijacked, and yet I still tune in to the ever-ready supply of constantly refreshed newsfeed, headlines, and emails.

We each have an inner garden to cultivate. Our hearts and minds, our brain space, our attention, are ours to tend. This work is our birthright. And everyday, I sell some portion of this birthright for meager return. Today I sold it for one trip to Facebook, nine or ten worthless checks on my email, and several swipes on national headlines.

I want my attention back. I want my inner garden to be rich with rare and exotic flowers cultivated over years of patience, effort, and considered attention. In this era where statistics show the average attention span has dropped below that of the common goldfish, I can’t assume that reclaiming my attention will come easily. Literally billions of dollars are arrayed against it.

Recently I came across this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains… But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.”

As I read this quote, something stirred inside. My modern mind feels abuzz with lists and worries, with reminders and to-dos. It couldn’t feel further from Aurelius’ trouble-free retreat. Yet it is within my power to retire into my own soul, to journey deep into that wilderness. Though billions of dollars clamor otherwise, each and every moment, the choice to make such a journey is mine.

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S.  What is your answer for leaving the constant buzz and “retiring into your soul?”  We really want to know!  Leave a comment here or (ironically) on EHH’s Facebook page, or send us a message.

Consider: This Good Work of Ours

Dear Friends,

Recent events have wound me tightly.  I’ve been worrying over my middle school daughter’s ineptitude with homework, fretting over a new lump in my breast, mourning the passing of our neighbor’s dog, and opening my newsfeed with a pit in my stomach.  On Monday morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, reflecting on nuclear war, undone English assignments and mammograms, my heart began to pound.

“I am battling the approach of a panic attack,” I realized.  I’m not alone.  In her article, We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation, Sharon Salzburg tells the story of Jeanine, who wakes in dread to the news on her phone. Fearful that she will miss anything, she lives her day agitatedly glued to a screen:

“She would not respect herself if she turned a blind eye to the painful truths of the world, but the world breaks her heart.  This habit does not do anything to help her change the things she is so concerned about.  In many ways, it substitutes for action.”

I found Salzburg’s article right after reading about the devastation in California.  Okay, I thought, time to shut my computer.  Time to act.  But how?

My vocation lends itself to contemplation more than action, which is often a source of much consternation for me.  Growing up in a family of do-gooders (in the best sense), I struggled with my identity.  I felt as though I was put on earth to find beauty, to listen to it, to write it.  Such work is so often unquantifiable (hundreds of pages scrapped, hours of quiet seeing and being that seem to help exactly no one).  And though my work takes me right into the middle of suffering, my actual output can feel ineffectual and insignificant.

But this work–writing and being–is what I have been given to do.  So this week, I took action.  I met with people and laughed, prayed, talked and listened.  I went for long walks in the woods.  I knelt down next to my dog to see the world from her eyes.  I stopped to wonder at the way the sun lit golden oak leaves.  I made an appointment for a mammogram.  I helped my daughter with her homework.  I said goodbye to my neighbor’s dog and then I picked a bouquet of flowers from my fading garden for their family.  I did laundry and made dinner and wrote.

And I tried to love it all, like so many people have before me.  I take strength in the odd, unquantifiably wonderful lives of people like Van Gogh.  He never knew that his work would amount to much but understood that living in this world is a complicated, messy thing that has less to do with productivity and more to do with the immeasurable.  “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength,” he wrote to his brother Theo,  “And whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

At the beginning, and middle, and end of all things, this is my sacramental work, and your work too.  So if the world ends in a blinding flash while I am sitting next to my daughter at the kitchen table; if I am standing in a glade of young alders with my dog; if I am here, at my window, writing; I want to be loving fiercely all the while.  For I have found that living well in the mundanity of the day-to-day requires great courage and audacious love.

So wherever you are this week, whatever you are doing, may you have the strength to turn from fear to love.  May you choose to hope.  May you seek wisdom to do your work well.  And may you find joy in this good, infused world.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  What is the good work you have been given?  We would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment on our blog, Facebook, or send us a note .  If you’re on Instagram, use hashtag #thisgoodwork.  You can find our daily Instagram posts, with quotes from inspiring people and photos of daily wonder, at each_holy_hour.

P.P.S.  For further reading to help you in your journey this week, I recommend these articles:
We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation by Sharon Salzberg;
Vincent Van Gogh on Art and the Power of Love. . . by Maria Popova;
The Hollowness of Autumn Leaves Space for Light, by one of my favorites, Parker Palmer.
Oh, yes, and this one:  You’ll Never Be Famous, and That’s Okay by Emily Esfahani Smith

Something to Hang Your Heart On

On Monday afternoon, my daughter and I went to the airport to collect dear friends arriving for the week. As far as airports go, the Missoula airport is a quaint, quiet affair.  Before 9/11, my husband and I used to park our Subaru at the curb and leash our dog to the flagpole on our way to get visitors. Now a little more formality is required, but still the biggest thing about the Missoula airport is the taxidermied black bear rearing on its hind legs in the arrivals lounge.

This Monday, as Birtie and I found a place to stand in the loosely clumped strangers awaiting friends and family members, I noticed TV cameras and members of the press taking interviews.  A quick look at the arrivals board put the pieces together.  The flight that had just landed was from Las Vegas.

A reporter from the local paper spoke to a couple just in front of me.  The couple held each other tightly.  “We thought there were two shooters,” I heard the woman tell the reporter.  “It was chaos.”  She thumbed away a tear.

Birtie pulled at my hand.  “Why are they sad?”  It’s hard to know what to tell your six-year-old about a mass shooting, about these periodic and appalling ruptures to the incredible safety in which we are blessed to live, about the rank and frankly, bewildering, parts of human nature.

“They were at an event where some people died,” I said truthfully but not completely.  Fortunately, for once my inquisitive daughter didn’t have a follow up question and just a few moments later our friends’ Seattle flight arrived and, in a welter of hugs and joy and luggage,  we bundled them off into the blustery Missoula afternoon.

The next day I sought out the Missoulian.  On the front page was a photo of the people I had seen tearfully holding each other in arrivals. When the shooting began, they had managed to get their wheelchair-bound son to safety, before returning to help administer first aid and load people in cars and ambulances.

Like so many of you, I’m sure, I don’t know what to do with this past week’s news.  I feel a raft of emotions.  Along with hefty sadness and anger, I find myself deep in bewilderment. I know I’m not alone. The New York Times lead headline currently reads, “No Manifesto, No Phone Calls: Killer Left Only Cryptic Clues.”

I’ve been curious about how much we humans seem to need a motive.  We crave a storyline to help mitigate the psychic cost of such an event.  Mental illness.  Radicalization.  At the very least we expect a change in life circumstances of the perpetrator.  We want a reason to hang our hats and hearts on.

These past few days, I’ve been trying to hold myself in this space of unknowing. To notice how much a desire for a reason, is for me, a desire to bring order out of chaos, to stitch over a rent in the world.  Reasons are false bottoms.  For those of us not personally affected by this tragedy, reasons allow us to complete the narrative, close the book, look away.  They paper over the wrenching loss and instability that fracture this world.  Right now, I’m sitting with a deep and honest bewilderment, a tear I don’t want to seam over, a troubled story without an end.

Peace,

Lindsay

Consider: Calling Across the Lake

kayakSince moving to the Pacific Northwest, I have come to believe that nothing is better than “messing about in boats”–if those boats are kayaks.  I love that first pull away from shore, the transformation of clumsy land mammal to gliding waterbird.

Some months ago, I escaped the busyness of my life for a camp near Mt. Rainier.  More than anything, I hungered to be out on the lake alone.  I pushed out my kayak, paddled into deep water, and waited.  For what?  I think I wanted the lake to give me something, though I can’t tell you what it was.

The lake did not fulfill my overly simple quest for “peace and quiet.” The wind stirred the trees, birds cried, my paddle dipped into the water.  Inside my head, voices shouted and whispered and cajoled.  Still, I waited, as I often do when I enter into a wild place, for some kind of gift, some kind of salvation.

But as the saying goes, wherever you go, you are there.  Even in the midst of that expansive beauty on the lake, I felt the margins of myself keenly.  Again, I was the self-conscious human, standing outside, looking in.  Small, limited, cosmically alone, I waited.

I am–and you likely are, too–the man in Robert Frost’s poem, The Most of It, who stands at the edge of a lake and shouts.  What does he hope for?  A voice not his own, a voice to startle him out of his weary self.  What does he receive, coming back over the water?  An echo of his own voice.  He thinks he keeps ‘the universe alone,’ and in this echo-chamber, there is no escape.

Sound familiar?

“Some morning from the boulder-broken beach

He would cry out on life, that what it wants

Is not its own love back in copy speech,

But counter-love, original response.”

What saves him, with sudden, unsettling crash, is a mighty buck that pushes the water and scrambles to shore, “pouring like a waterfall,” then ploughs through the underbrush–and is gone.

What saved me that day out on the lake were the ospreys that circled high, crying, and then plunged down into the water to hook fish in their claws.  I pulled my paddle and let myself glide, absorbed in watching the birds dive and call.  For just a moment, the multitude of things that clamor for my attention died away in the stunning scene before me.

This world shakes me from myself again and again.  Some days, of course, my walls are simply too impenetrable.  But I keep calling across the lake, waiting for that encounter with the Other.  And all I have to do, most of the time, is show up.  Whether it’s pushing out a kayak or simply stepping out on my back porch, this world so often rises up with is own startling presence.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  For a rather humorous behind-the-scenes glimpse of this week’s Consider, please visit The Back Page.

P.P.S.  We’d love to hear from you.  Please enter the conversation–suggestions for further reading, counter-readings of Frost’s poem–on Facebook or on the comments form on our blog. Or drop us a line.

Consider: All This Shining

Dear Friends,

I turned 40 this week, and in the midst of the lovely tumult of phone calls and texts, dinner with friends and well-wishes from many corners, my mother said something that crystallized my feelings about the day. “How did you get to be my age?” she asked.

I understood exactly what she meant. From a certain vantage point, there is a way in which time seems anything but linear. While days fly by, and years accumulate, the Self seems to somehow stand outside of time, to bend light in its own way. While I notice my kids growing up, my own discrete consciousness doesn’t age. My mind feels roughly the same as it did whenever I first tuned into its continuous stream. From this perspective, of course my mom and I are of one age.

A few weeks ago, I began teaching middle school language arts. “How do you know you are growing up?” I asked my eighth grade class as we launched our unit on personal narrative. Our school is K-8, and many of them have been enrolled since Kindergarten. “Look at you all!” I held up a picture of their Kindergarten class. “What did you care about back then?” The class was off and running. “Stuffed animals,” one said. “Remember how loooonng it seemed between each birthday?” another asked. “Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference between imaginary and real.” “On the first day of school in Kindergarten I tried to dig a hole through the Earth.” “I remember thinking that if I tried hard enough I could really fly.” These eighth graders with their lanky bodies and changing voices, had memories tumbling out of them.

We read the Billy Collins poem, “On Turning Ten,” which ends with these memorable lines:

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

“Now that you are older,” I asked my students, “what sidewalks of life have you skinned your knees against? What are the realities you bump up against?”

“We moved,” one student said, “and I had to start over with friends.”

My own son slyly piped up, “I used to believe in my parents.”

“Right, adults are fallible,” I nodded, adding that to the list on the blackboard. “You all have probably learned that by now.”

They laughed knowingly, these thirteen-year-olds pivoting on the threshold between childhood and growing up. I could almost feel their consciousness beginning to bend time out of shape.

Later, I thought about that Billy Collins poem again.  He’s right about one thing– there’s no denying the way we all bleed when we fall against life’s sidewalks.  Daily it seems, I watch my eighth graders skin their knees against the pavement of their tricky social navigations.

And yet, there’s all this shining.

Unlike the poem’s speaker, I still believe there’s light under my skin. It’s this quality my mother is speaking to when she asks, “How did you get to be my age?” There’s a luminous stream coursing through each of us and time bends in its current.

Peace,

Lindsay

Consider: Song in a Broken World

Dear Friends,

After a busy summer, Lindsay and I are settling back into school-year rhythms.  We’ve missed the practice of writing for Each Holy Hour and the camaraderie of exploring this good world with each of you.  We hope your fall routines are emerging with space for a cup of tea and a deep breath.  I wrote this reflection a few days ago, shortly after our summer ended in the sort of unexpected tragedy that marks all our lives.  Thank you for sharing this space with me.

It’s been a week since I watched my dog die, and today I am finding the business of living difficult. I am trying to summon my energy for tasks and goals. I am trying to make myself go for a walk, by myself.  Charley, our Jack Russell, was after all a dog, and I can live without a dog. But the truth is, I miss him terribly.

It doesn’t help that our sun glows red today from the fires devastating Washington and Oregon’s exquisite forests. Elsewhere, floods and hurricanes shatter livelihoods. As I watered my parched garden this morning, I pulsed with the ancient question: why do terrible things destroy good? Why does senseless violence pummel homes, devour lives, wreck hopes, and just last week, tear our beloved dog apart in front of my daughter Beatrix and my niece?

I haven’t been able to get the images out of my mind. As we walked home from soccer practice, a large, vicious dog appeared silently, took Charley in his jaws, and shook him until he died.  In the hours that followed, Beatrix kept sobbing, “Why did that have to happen?”

I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m sorry. It is the only refrain I can find in moments of tragedy.

What I see in this world is beautiful. What I see in this world is broken. What I know right now is sadness.

And yet. Last night, as Beatrix lingered over dinner, I suddenly thought of an old hymn we learned years ago at our Mennonite Church. Before I knew it, I was singing it out loud, locking eyes with my daughter.

My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Over the years, through bone-shattering tragedy that has destroyed people and places we loved with all our hearts, I have come back to that hymn. Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Today, once again, I hold both the reality of not-knowing, of grief, alongside this song my soul sings. It is a song shot through by the same sure joy I saw in our dog as he sprinted after a squirrel or snuggled next to Beatrix at the end of the day. It is the song that stirred us as a policeman laid his own jacket over Charley’s broken body.  It is the song of my sister quietly returning to scrub away the signs of brutality from the pavement.  It is a song I chose to hear, of being alive in a place where–despite everything–Love is Lord of heaven and earth.

Lindsay sent me an excerpt from Le Petit Prince a few days ago.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “Here is my secret. One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

Thank you, friend of my heart, for those words. Today, though my heart aches, I choose to return again to what is essential:  great love, a world shot through by beauty and goodness. How then can I keep from singing?

Peace,

Kim

p.s. Join us on The Back Page for a discussion about summers, dogs, and new responsibilities.  We’d love to hear your summer memories and your autumnal hopes! (Spoiler Alert: Kim is getting to know a beautiful rescue dog and Lindsay is busy with students!)

p.p.s.  We’ve still got a stack of lovely “Each Holy Hour” cards.  Please let us know if you’d like to find one in your mailbox.  Just visit the “Contact Us” page at our website and send us your address.  There’s no obligation and your information is completely private–it’s truly a free little gift of wonder.