Making melodies out of the humdrum.

Friday, October 1, 2010

On Reading and Social Working

I went to a high school in a small town just northwest of Boston, Massachusetts. Looking back, the whole experience was pretty edgy. I don't use that adjective lightly or loosely. I'll explain how it fits.
I, for one, was edgy-- not so much in the trendy, hipster way, but in the anxious way. Besides the fact that it was a bit of a zoo back at the ranch, (thanks Mom and Dad), I was pretty high-strung about grades and extra-curriculars and college--making sure that if I couldn't be # 1 at everything, then darn-it I would be closer than ever. (Read: buzz-kill. And I wasn't a was better that way.)
However, My teachers were edgy in all those free-to-be-me ways that make life light. Many of them were young and athletic and fresh out of college, wide-eyed and ready to do their part. Among the cool clan, was my English teacher, Ms. Baldwin. Every word she said was smart and perfect. She went to Swarthmore for undergrad and was dating a tall and dark Harvard academe. She also wore these purple scarves a lot, and sometimes at the lunch table we'd talk about providing her with some accessorizing support but then again what did we know? We were fourteen year old girls. And besides, she liked her purple scarves, and probably wasn't afraid to.
Ms. Baldwin lifted words off the page for me. The really wooden English terminology like "plot-line" and "past participles" that we poured over in the eighth grade didn't matter in Ms. Baldwin's class. Now, it was the ideas that mattered so when we read, everything mattered; the nuances, the analogies, the authorial intent, what the characters said and didn't say...
And so it was, "" In class we got to flesh out the ellipsis. Recognize the gaps. The beauty of the literature suspended it all quite perfectly. My job then, was to connect and align the ingenuity of all that the author didn't say and makes something of it...something new and mine. The potential of my artistic license and the rich meaning in the text’s logic balanced me. All was well. While just a year ago, I was pulling my hair out over a stupid "grammar police" project (that was the name of the assignment, and ever since I'm convinced grammar is nothing but a power trip...), now I was weaving together glory alongside Sidney Carton and facing my mortality in Ms. Havisham's eerie home (Thank you, Mr. Dickens).
Suffice it to say, I took Ms. Baldwin's feedback rather seriously so I still cringe when I remember the way she spoke into my sweet little ego one ninth grade afternoon. We got our papers back on Mondays, and she had returned mine, with a "See Me." "See me?" I thought. I had worked so long and hard on this paper! And I think, in the midst, of shedding new light on the"Raisin in the Sun" metaphor I may have found the answer to world peace. I knew Ms. Baldwin was tough...but so was I! I wanted an A...not a "See Me."
I walked up to her. "Hi," I said. "I got this 'see me?' " I showed her what she had written. Ms. Baldwin went right in: "So, you have this thing with words, Sarah, " she said it and set her coffee cup down, ending the thought. I felt so embarassed. She kept going. Crap. "You have really great ideas, but why don't you just write what you know? Say what you mean. And be direct." After a bit of conversation, some humbling instruction and a gracious second chance, I walked away from Ms. Baldwin's desk and down the C-wing of Masconomet Regional High School, dejected mostly because I knew she was right. I had work to do if I wanted to be any good and for better or for worse, I desperately did.
I still have this obsession with words and all their bells and whistles- the metaphors and the analogies and the hyperboles. I like to make things pretty with adjectives and to cozy on into new notions, ideas and characters the way Jane Austen does with sounds like "felicity" and "undulating." In high school, I worked to follow Ms. Baldwin's instructions, to make myself a writer and to use words to say what I meant and to mean what I said. In college, I became swept up in the ethereal postmodernism of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. It was all very enlightening and most of the time left me asking totally pointless questions like, "What are the limits of language?" "What is form?" "What's in a word?" As an English major I wrote these heavy theoretical papers intrigued by the greater meanings of novelistic form and structure and how that linked to the social sentiments of the time. Somehow World War I always wormed it's way in there too. I know, I know, it all sounds really cool…
Now, I'm a social worker, out of school over a year now, and yup, I'm still a logophile. I had wordy love-fests in grad school too, only this time it was with family therapy orientations-- I found some I liked, and I wrote papers that probed the nature of therapy, therapeutic technique and psycho-analytic theories. I guess that's all well and good, and indeed, communication is at the crux of a lot of helping. And words, in turn, are at the crux of a lot of communication.
But, I'm learning, much to my dismay, more words are not always the point. What about un-wording? What about silence? What about the fact that some things, that are so rich and unsearchable, are made too small by our words? If I were to write another English paper, this is what I would call it: “How stories of suffering make us silent.”
My work as a social worker is a lot like the small scope of work I've done as a reader-- except it's infinitely more real. In the work I do now, there are gaps to fill in, just like there were when I attempted to pull apart the post-modern canon. There are notions, and ideals and thematic elements that inform the questions I ask and the conclusions I draw. But this time around, the gaps and unspoken truths are not in between humorous characters or signature dialects. The gaps are human ones- raw and fleshy. True and sorry. And they leave us perplexed, longing for justification "Now what did this seven year old do to get treated like that?" I suppose I could look to the research (generational poverty, cyclical abuse, victimization, parents as batterers for example) to help give rhyme and reason to something that has none. And in fact, I do. To try and add things up is intuitive behavior for me and I think it's the point of a lot of my profession. But, when I’m in the moment and in my office, watching a small mouth speak very grown-up words, I must rely on the grace of silence that sits between my client and myself. I am learning to trust that the grace will come.
But it's hard, when I am so inclined to speak into things. The richest passages of my books are annotated several times over…my questions and exclamations dot the pages. I want to make more of them. And here is the tension of my job and my work which also feels a lot like my calling: “Is it okay to want to make more of someone else’s story?” To continue the metaphor, “is it okay to annotate a human life” And how much? When does it get obnoxious? I don’t know. I also don't really know what human margins look like, or if we even have them, but if we do, I think they are quite sacrosanct.
This year, I am learning that I do not need to holler into emptiness to ascertain an echo. I do not need to make music or chatter to fill the room even when everything feels far too vulnerable to be useful. Because usefulness (even though my very capitalistic, westernized, Protestant work ethic self cowers) is not the point. The point is loving presence. Compassionate non-judgement.
I know that social work is not the most academically rigorous or research-ready or competitive kind of work…it’s actually sort of at the bottom of all of that. But if hearts can be enlightened, which I think they can, I hope I let my clients make mine so, the same way my beloved book characters opened me up in Ms. Baldwin's class. But this time around, eleven years later, I want to feel opened and alive not because anything has been put together, or figured out, but because my heart has mustered the stamina to bear the mystery and the silence.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Fall in Texas is this catch-22 for me. On the one hand, I'm thankful to have (finally) stopped sweating (non-Texas friends, don't think I'm gross, trust me, it's unavoidable) On the other hand, it's still 90+ degrees; tweed jackets and boots necessitate the AC (what's the point, folks? let's keep wearing shorts), and besides that, the light is all weird. Has anyone ever noticed that? In Waco, the dusky light foreshadows October, but then I step outside and it's steamy. With a sigh of disappointment, I say, "at least it's not July." How is that for grateful?

Still, being the sap for setting and place and nostalgia that I am, when I remember my leafy Massachusetts hometown my heart skips a beat. Autumn was a peaceful and still sanctuary of a season, even though the foliage was ablaze and the colors ran wild. My mom, with her beautiful knack for ritual and celebration, made a tradition of leaf-walks. Together, we would go in the woods behind my house and crunch through the leaves the maples had let go. We would hold hands and hum songs, and in between, I'd tell my mom all my secrets. I was a pretty private child, but for some reason, the crunching and the humming made me spill. It was all sort of magical. I would ask her what her favorite color leaf was, and without fail, she would say, "yellow like the sun," and I would say, "I like the orange because it's a mix."

On top of the trees, and the leaf-walks, and the leaf-piles that dotted our yard, there was the hustle of the season. Autumn is a season of intention, purpose and energy. For better or for worse, this is my stuff of life, so I welcomed their seasonal arrival even as a young child. The lazy days of summer are over! I get to go to school! And meet more people! And do more things! And work hard! It's true and a little pathetic. My own neurotic harvesting, if you will.

But now, as a grown-up girl, beginning my fourth year away from my bright and dear East Coast Autumns, I am thinking about the way the falling leaves and the rising harvest-time shape the season. The beauty of the trees is also their downfall. Come December, the maples are skeletal and scrawny, and the leaves, glorious just a week ago, are gone. Thanksgiving is over. We have planned and gathered. We have prepared and stored. We have begun new routines and they have quickly become dull. Now, the light has gone away and the frost has come. There is a natural lull and winter covers things. And in Northern New England, that covering is for, well, a long time. We have no choice but to release the things that we had worked so hard to maintain (like the manicured yard), and just settle in—we don’t hold our breath.

So I think about these things as I am carving out my corner of the world. I think about the losses that I must endure, and continue to endure so I can mature in the way I seek my God and find myself and engage creatively with others. Letting go has something to do with release and release has something to do with freedom and freedom, for us small human beings in this great big world, must include a bit of surrender. I mean really, for those of us that think we are in control of the universe, who are we kidding? So, might we live life with the passion and the zest and all the rich color of Autumn herself, but might we let it go as easily and as naturally as she does? Might we give in and give up and surrender to the attachments that keep us from running wild and ablaze? Might we let go of the things that keep us running ragged well past harvest time? Might we move on from the things that make us one solid color instead of a blended and vibrant hue? Let us be alive! And when winter comes, let us be alive still.

I'm not sure how well I ease in and out, or up and down or over and under life's transitions. It can be rough, to let go of the people and dreams and notions that we harvested. But, I believe it's necessary. Let's face it: no one wants to welcome a seven month freeze, but you know what? To do otherwise would be to ignore what's there, and delusion, when caked on too thickly over the years makes us all crusty and hard-headed and a bit like a toddler.

One thing I know: Loss is hard, but when we give, just a bit, it begets wisdom, just like the changing season begets the budding crocus or the burnt leaf or the first snowfall. We are thankful that grace, once again, has arrived unanticipated, against all odds and all at once. And all the sudden we are down on our knees again, knowing that life is good and life is fleeting. And we let life in.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ode to Mary

So, I have been reading a whole lot of Mary Oliver, lately. Out loud. I know it’s sort of weird, but I love reading everything out loud. It moves me more to hear it spoken, and if I know one thing about myself, it’s that I desperately want to be moved. So, before I close my eyes at night, I have given myself up to collections of poems like “Thirst” and “Redbird” longing for some kind of transformation; if not before my head hits the pillow, than at least in my dreams.

Now, I have never met Mary, but I picture her as this totally graceful, soft-spoken, flower of a lady who loves the things around her without hesitation. And really, that’s what her poems feel like to me, the greatest love songs to all the things in this life that lighten her load. Sometimes it’s a memory, or a red-bird, or her dog, Percy. No matter how simple her subject, the under-current of her words resound a great and even infinite, “yes!”

The funny thing is, I want to hush these poems to myself. Or sing these poems to myself. Or, if I had a baby to rock at night, I would lull her to sleep with them. For words that beget such exclamation, such a “yes!”, it would make more sense to scream a poem like "Redbird", but I think Mary does things differently.

She weaves the stuff of life together in such a way that simple truths, like regret and pebble beaches and springtime stand on their head and the acrobatic result is, well, her poem. It’s all perfect and at ease like a gymnast would be, and I wonder why I didn’t think of it like that, because surely, like all true things, it’s been there all along.

Thank you Mary, for showing me the things that have been there all along. And when I speak it aloud? It becomes more of the music that it frankly, already is. It's delightful. Perhaps all of this- this business of art and infinity and invention, is part of what you mean when you tell us to “go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” After all, how could we not?

Monday, July 5, 2010

These Four Walls

Recently, my roommate and I moved to a new residence. There’s nothing quite like nesting afresh (in a good way) and nothing quite like moving in Central Texas heat at the end of June (in a bad way). It was a scorcher, but the day had an end and the new apartment was ours, so we did what we could to keep lifting the boxes. At the end of the day we sat on a hardwood floor, slurped some popsicles and drank Chardonnay like soda-pop. We drank and dreamt and talked about important things, but I’d like to think that the fluidness of that hour or two- the swish-swash of cooling off and settling in as best we could was the most important thing of all.

It seems that most people, including myself, make big deals of homecomings and housewarmings. Betty Crocker’s business. In part, I believe homemaking is a kind of christening. Gladly, I break such sacredness into the humdrum because it’s graceful to name the ways in which we belong. After all, good belonging, sounds and feels a lot like beloved- and really, what else is there? If I can say I’ve belonged to one or two or three beloveds and they’ve belonged to me, I think I would feel quite complete and quite…well, in love.

So this has got me to thinking: when we talk about homecoming, I want to already be home. Am I terribly impatient? I find myself scheming how it is I might nest all at once. Picture: Banana nut muffins baking, while the cable guy is doing his thing. In between batches, I’ll send out my change of address emails and swiffer the floor because the rug I ordered should be delivered any day now.

Or was it on backorder?

This hasn’t happened (yet), but I think it could. Such compulsion isn’t very cozy, but it happens to all of us in and on our own time, probably because waiting is sort of a bitch. And sometimes I think all good paintings, novles, songs…soul-food really is about the angst-old question of human-hood: “could this be home?” The redemptive part that keeps us reading and listening and looking (and from slitting our wrists) translates to: “well, let’s make it home for now.”

I don’t know if this angst is good or bad or healthy or unhealthy. Maybe it’s just plain dramatic. Drama queen or not, I feel almost-home-ness a lot, and the feeling is pretty real. I know that’ s sort of a paper-thin response. Sorry. Elusiveess helps me to hold things lightly- throw up my hands, and say things, like “it is what it is.” And at the end of the day- this is what it is: me and my friend, settling in just as best as we can; cross-legged, delirious and thankful for sweet popsicles and sweeter wine.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Last night the wind blew late at night by the pool, and it was relief from the hot, still daytime air. I sat with my friend on a chair and drank a single Blue Moon. One for me, one for her--we only had two left in our fridge, and it's better to share favorite things. Sometimes, this particular friend calls me by my last name, "What do you think about that, Viviani?" There is a certain completeness to her questions when she ends them with my name like that. It makes me feel important like a storybook character or something, and I actually breathe before I get all chatty and grinning like usual. I've found I trust myself more when I'm this way, breathing rather than rushing, and I rather like it.

I attempted to explain how the past couple of months I've dwelt with the idea of unified thinking and presence. The richness of contemplation and the few people I've read who articulate it so well- Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr in particular have occupied my thoughts lately. Their work is all over my nightstands and their most poignant thoughts scratched on scrappy pieces of paper, sometimes making it into my journals. Their words are with me because I want them to guide me, but mostly, reading them just feels like eating bread. This morning, I read another anecdote of Merton's that summarized things just so-- and it seemed to fit and move and push things to greater completion. He wrote that a most insightful Zen monk once told him that the greatest lesson is how to "open and close doors." Open and close doors? I thought for a moment. My mind immediately went to some metaphoric interpretation. I swear, I could stand for some concreteness in my life. Doors. Is he talking about opportunities? Managing them? Losing them? Finding them again? I love that sort of spectacular game. It's quite opportunistic and not at all the kind of soil in which wisdom roots itself.

No, Merton was not talking about the doors of opportunity. After all, spirituality is hardly spectacular- it's mostly simple. He was literally referring to opening and closing doors. Not flitting about. Gently closing, gently opening. Looking and waiting--quite uninterested in finding. Remembering that perhaps patience is everything. Breathing, rather than rushing, and trusting that the night-breeze and the moon-rise come, even when the earth has been hot and still all day long.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Today it is Easter.

It has been a whole month of springtime since I last blogged. Easter has come and gone, and this year it felt right.  Its rightness, may very well have tumbled out of my pressing necessity for rebirth in this particular season of my life.  And quenching necessities of the spirit, for better or for worse, add miles of gratitude to our very temporary and immediate outlooks. 

So, while Easter's calendar date is off of our world's radar for the time being, I'd like to write about it because I continue to feel it.  And yes, I know that as Christians, Easter really is the whole point of, well, everything, so resurrection is something we should practice everyday, like Wendell Berry says. But it just seems that the more I try, the more I wear these caked-on patterns of thought until something too sporadic and too beautiful for me to contain overwhelms me.  I know I've spoken about this before. Usually it's community or prayer or bits of Scripture, perfect simplicity,  sweet melodies or laughter that make the sanctity of this Resurrection real to me.  You know, the sacred things that the monks write about and are sacred for good reason. But sometimes, on a more non-conventional note, the things that clear the mud from my eyes, are the springtime wildflowers. 

This spring, I have become well acquainted with the stretch of Highway 6 between Waco and Bryan/College Station.  My Aunt and Uncle live on a ranch just outside of Bryan, and I had been before, but it has seemed more beautiful than ever these past couple of months.  Either Texas is growing on me or I just wasn't looking carefully enough before, I'm not sure which. Regardless, when I go to see them, I might as well have driven down Highway 6 with my hazards on; slowing down, speeding up, looking to the right and to the left, even pulling over on the shoulder to run through the fields for just a minute because how could one not? Yesterday, I got to drive home from Houston on this sacred stretch of highway with someone who was first my roommate, but now, has become a dear friend.  We had been separated for the past four months while she was off on an adventure, and I deeply missed her and also her company, care and the way she would do things for me, like leave the light on.  

We drove yesterday in an off-and-on kind of silence, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that we were filled with reconnecting, prayer-like songs on the radio and, of course, the bluebonnets.  And in this perfect and peaceful space between what feels like the end of an ending and the beginning of a beginning, I felt words like Hallelujah from the inside out. And in this very subtle way, Hope, and all of its attachments- goodness and mercy and lovingkindness are truer than they were yesterday. Resurrection has been practiced effortlessly because today it is Easter, and tomorrow will be too, and it satisfies. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Push and Pull

I have been listening to this song lately called "Big Strong Girl" by Deb Talan.  The title feels like a bit of an afterthought, for such an esoteric piece (no offense, Deb) but I sure am glad that I didn't overlook it.  I am a total sucker for Itunes' whole, "listeners who bought this, also liked...".  Gets me every time, and that's how I found this one.  Sometimes, my playlists are better for it, sometimes, it makes them feel a twinge off (who is this? where did this song come from?) Anyways, "Big Strong Girl" has it made it to many-a-playlist this spring season, and with it the other songs in the playlist line up with an easy deliberation, kind of like the way you need that corner puzzle piece for the big picture, or, the point, to emerge. 

It's no secret that letting go is rough. And in so many words, and rhythms, and melody and all the other things that make music flow straight to our gut, that's what this song is about. "Don't push so hard against the world" she sings,  and then onto a bit about "laying down the best made plans." All of this-- this forgoing of the very home-made plans that pull us out of our beds and into the shower, and onto the day that we hope to nestle into with our good intentions is quite counterintuitive.  And when we are forced to forgo, oftentimes by some great tragedy outside of ourselves, we are ridden with the kind of angst that leaves us writhing and senseless like a two year old who says he can do it himself when hello, he wet his pull-ups last night.  

But, the way this song really hits me over the head? Aforementioned "big strong girl's" exhaustion.  Sure, grief is tiring- the tantrums and the kicking and the like. But the song speaks  of a dogged e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-o-n.  I see this very vivid image of a young woman heaving the world up a hill. Her "world" looks more like a boulder, but it's green-ish and blue-ish, maybe like a globe-boulder? Kind of lame, I know.  But she's being kind of lame. You know why? Because the true world is all around her and she's missing it. She is trudging up and through this perfect bucolic scene- meadows and breeze and well, life.  Her trudging isn't natural. No, not natural at all to keep pushing when all of the Earth is calling you back to it. And quite frankly, big strong girl, it's kind of arrogant to ignore it.  

I'm learning that so many important things in this life are governed by a push and a pull. Relationships. Intimacy. Being a mother. Being a daughter. Listening. I'm no expert, but my hunch is that there's a lot of: two steps forward, one step back. Push n' Pull. It sounds like a game, like a see-saw or a teeter-totter or a slip n' slide.  And it sort of is I guess, a dance maybe, but like the Latinos will tell you,  you have to feel the music to dance the music. In other words, you must let go.  Make yourself a conduit to something bigger and greater-- whether it's the rhythm of the tango or self-sacrificial love, it seems like you just kind of have to go with it, into it that is, to know when to push and when to pull. 

Big strong girl on the hill? She wasn't really going with it, she was going against it, like the song says.  And because I am, in so many beats, the girl on the hill, I beg God for mercy and wisdom when it comes to the ol' Push n' Pull.  Breathing in and breathing out helps.  It sounds trite, but please don't clump my thoughts with the whole yogilates, simple living, "just breathe" tag-line. Richard Rohr, one of my favorite Christian speakers and teachers says that breathing gives us everything (life) out of nothing (emptiness). Everything out of nothing? There's a juxtaposition for you. But juxtaposition or not, it's really no matter. We breathe and are filled. And there is air all around us so we mustn't fret. 

So sometimes, when I sit still in prayer all muddled by life, I get pulled in.  Pulled into grace that makes me so satisfied with things like truth and peace and hope.  And in these enveloping moments, to think that I could ever get all bothered and pushy? Well, that would be as intelligent as voluntarily cutting off my air supply. And that's just it.  Grace is the air we breathe on the meadow-y hill, in the midst of heartache, or swishing our partner to the tango. We cannot help but be born into it like we are born into life itself.  Thank you, to the God who makes it so, and thank you, that getting pulled in is, in these moments at least, as natural as, well, breathing.  

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I remember the summer of 2006 very well.  June, July and August left Richmond, Virginia in a muggier standstill than I had bargained for.  I had left college, gone on, graduated as almost-22 year olds should, but for some reason I felt more certain that college had indeed, left me. Wiser people encouraged my melancholy self that summer with true words, the gist of which went: "The best is yet to come."  I shook my head certain that the best was over, and sincerely wondered whether life would ever get better than freshman year tailgates.   I guess tailgates were once so perfect because I was present to the novelty of being free and me and on my own more than ever before.  Still, I didn't quite know what I was about other than, well, the tailgate. Suffice it to say that I'm not so sure that shell of an ideal was enough to thrust my entire future onto like I did. Wise people that summer: thanks for your patience with me.  

Whenever life feels big and small all at once like it did then, I am comforted by the presence of children. Maybe because their lives are big and small too.  They are tiny and trusting and needy in a very small way, but their promise and the life they bring is great. That summer, I had two little ones by my side, five days a week.  At the time, Walker was four and Mckenzie was two and I took care of them as best I knew how. I remember the routine things that chipped away at those hazy mornings.  Mostly, it was Walker's "why's" that went like this: 
"Sarah why are we taking the green car instead of the big car?"
"Well because your mom has the big car, and remember I always drive the green car." 
"But I like the big car, better." 
"Walker, I'm sorry but if we don't drive the green car then we'd have to walk to the pool and that wouldn't be very fun." 
"Why...why...we have to walk to the pool and that wouldn't be very fun?"
"Well we'd have to walk to the pool because we'd have no other way of getting there and it wouldn't be very fun because it's one hundred degrees outside." 
"Why...why...why...wouldn't it be very fun because it's hundred degrees outside?" 
"Well, because when it's one hundred degrees outside we'd get really hot and sweaty." 
I'd think he was quenched. 
"Yes Walker?" 
"Why are we taking the green car?" 

That was before we had buckled up. 

If you're thinking that the on and on drove me b-a-n-a-n-a-s it didn't. I'm not trying to sound like I have such a way with kids or anything, it's just that Walker was a bit of kindred spirit, so I had extra patience. And that summer, with my looming future and all, I felt the "why-oh-why?" too. This circle game was round-a-bout yes, but so are true, four year old questions. He didn't have enough agenda to make them all straight-shooter and intentioned.  And the point was, after all, the questions. Beyond that, I learned, somewhere down into July, that my point to Walker's questions was this: telling Walker that he asked good questions, no, rather: "Walker you HAVE good questions," because until he spoke them out, they belonged to him, so:  "Thank you! Thank you Walker for asking me such smart questions," that must mean that:  "You, YOU are smartest four old I know," so now, as we are driving down River Road, almost to the Westwood Club, he feels safer, I can tell, and sits up taller with every: "Walker, I hope you ask me more questions."

Because you see, in between his little, jumbled up four year old ways were much, much bigger questions, that somehow, someway, were sneaking into my 22 year old questions that I felt only lying on my back in my bed, in the dark, blinds drawn. "Am I worth answering?" "Will you still love me if I ask one more time?" 

There is something tenacious about doubting-- even abrasive. Just trust! I had heard, before.  But sometimes I cannot. So I speak from my heart with questions that are real and sincere and of me, oftentimes so much so that they break my heart.  So I've found with this risky curiosity, that the doubts soften, and we live into them, growing softer and stronger.  

I cling to children that are growing into their questions this way like my four year old friend. The ones that are shedding their doubts, their defenses and their fears that they might get in trouble or go unnoticed.  They are undoing themselves so they might know how to tie themselves back up again. Please, let us encourage the undoing and not silence it. They are growing strong in their very vulnerability. An opportunity and window of existence that if we must re-create later in life, well we, just must.  Discovery and awe are too much a part of being human to just exist over it completely.  But if we're honest, it's most natural for our children.  Sacred even.  

So, let's remember to be curious with children, for children, to our children, even.  We do not have all the answers. The moment we think we do, we have drifted too far from our four year old self into a straight-shooting, rather planned out, small-windowed world. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010


In the midst of a wonderful sharing and caring kind of conversation, I told my friend that I don't know if I can really recall a true miracle.  The spectacular kind, I clarified. Which is, when we are talking miracles, kind of the criteria, right?  

Courtney looked at me for a second: "What woke up this morning?" 

She spoke naturally but not glibly-- her suggestion for my miracle question was in earnest. It struck me the way the strength and simplicity of youthful insight strikes me. I am reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her eloquent appreciation of dogwood trees becoming in the springtime--overnight even. Like the lilies of the field.  The effortlessness is breath-taking, and breath-bringing at the same time. And given such a juxtaposed and full mystery, which is perhaps the crux of a miracle, faith flows to feed and nourish the faithful. Satiated, we hold hands and pray and love each other and do other sacred things like celebrate and dance and wait and break bread together. But even more than these things, which could, at the risk of sounding sacreligious be mistaken for Woodstock circa 1969, we are pregnant with the memory of a faithful God who has delivered His people.  So, we are expectant the way a woman at 32 weeks is expectant. And in this great expectancy, fragrant with the presence of God, miracles become among us.  A kind of immaculate conception. How fitting. 

Tonight, I am grateful for a God whose presence and Light, Wisdom and Word press into us in such a way that we cannot mistake Him. And what's better is that His Glory does not come down because of  our toil and sacrifice. It comes down because it has before, and it belongs here, and it's delightfully radiant and, quite simply, it's time.

And all at once, just in time, the frost is gone. The dogwood trees are in bloom. 

I have no other words for such great hope except:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Stuff of Life

The hardest paragraph for me to construct in an essay is the introductory one. I am cautious with my creations. I figure with openings, excitement is high, contentions are low and like my tenth grade world history teacher preached: "You never get a second chance at a first impression." Ten years later the exhortation holds less weight.  I've found expectant first impressions coincide with all sorts of judgement, and eager first impressionists have a tendency towards convincing masquerades. The collision of the two, if you ask me, is altogether futile: "Here, let me accept you for who are not." Ex-hausting.

Regardless, the idea of heartfelt beginnings still moves me more fully than the idea of completion, or to a fault, being. Restlessness. Adventure. Movement (Commitment issues). When I hear "All Aboard?" I take care to make sure I'm on it-- usually just in the nick of time, a little frantic, but shortly thereafter quite convinced that yes, this is where I belong after all.

Captured by beginnings, I remember the way books start. Not only can I quote Jane Austen's "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" all too readily, but there is something to Koslow's, "When I imagined my funeral, this wasn’t what I had in mind" (The Late, Lamented Molly Marx) or Nylon's "A warm day in December, 2007 proved me nuts, and an idiot, again" (Guts). Just last week, I glided through Barnes and Noble as I often do, and this one-liner gripped me: "Face it: creative people had lonely childhoods." I couldn't tell you the title or the author, and this particular opener came back to me most fully just this past week as I sat and listened to Daryl Scott, the father of Rachel Scott recount the day he found out his daughter was murdered in the Columbine High School Massacre.

Mr. Scott spoke about his daughter, her death and her memory with such candor and grace, that the whole symposium moved me to tears (yup eight straight hours- mascara, down my face). Given the way he spoke of her, I could tell that at seventeen, she was an "old soul." More distinctly, a sweet young spirit through which the delights of youth and vitality were not lived out vainly as they so often are, but instead with great intention and fervor. I just hope I might live into such a condition someday. 

Even ten years after her tragic death stories of companionship, camaraderie, service and friendship still float in. "Rachel was my only friend," says one boy with special needs, "we didn't hang out a whole lot, but I knew she cared. She always patted me on the back in the hallway, and that just meant a lot."  It seemed that her very presence ministered those words we all long to hear: "You are not alone." "Her killers," her father explained, "were brilliant and authentic and not "bad" kids, but they were very alone."  In the midst of master-minding the shooting, Eric Harris wrote in one of his journals something to the effect of: "I am hoping that no one reaches out to me, because they might just pay attention and things might change."  

So here is my plea to myself and to you and to all the people in between-- the ones who clamor into the limelight, and the ones who fall off-stage: Let us care for one another! Please? Our individualized and driven plans that vibrate our Blackberrys and determine our cares are really quite weak. We just love them, that's all. Geesh, I cringed a little bit when I threw away my 2009 planner.  It's not my diary, for crying out loud, it's most basically a recount of my productivity and as a good Westernized, Americanized, Capitalism-ized citizen, I think it should be sacred. 

Heavens to Betsy. Someone please help me to love my neighbors and not my schemes. Help me to forgo the striving and the control and the go-go-go lest I forget to pat my friends and Rachel Scott's friends on the back. They might not be in the way, persase, but they are definitely out of the way.  The way. My way. Same thing. (Kidding). 

Are we strong enough to need each other? To comitt to each other? To give in to each other?   To co-author entire chapters and stories and series, rather than abandon each other halfway down page one? How else do we choose each other? And if we do not choose each other? Than we are right back where we started. Alone, unchosen, clamoring like we know where we are going, when we really just want to be in the arms of a friend.

For the sake of our souls, swallow our pride, let us be friends. Community kind of friends. If that exists. I'm still figuring it out. Beginnings are sweet and unexpected but it is walking through the nitty gritty that gets rid of the lonely. And if you can get through chapter one of the nitty gritty, you can get through chapter two and on like that. And unlike the starts and finishes of books-- when you get to the ending, community begets new beginnings. New beginnings with old friends?  Surely this is the stuff of life. 


Sunday, January 31, 2010


I don't really think that much about what I blog after I blog it. I  just write it so its enough of me to feel truly out of me, yet far-flung enough from myself. You know, I've learned that if everything is too close to my own home, everything I write feels a little lonely and self-indulgent.  If I look out when I write, my between the lines have an easier time reading, "Well come on! Tell me what you think!" And I try to remember that that's the point. 

Anyways, all this to say, that the idea of place I gathered myself in last week has stuck with me post exhalation-- just like it shouldn't.  I'm still taking it in; in deep breaths that is, place and all. Here's what I 'm thinking:  Place leaves us, and still, we live in its loss.  It's morbid, but like most morbid things it's quite a big part of being alive. Still, who wants to say: "This was my home, my corner of the world, but now, may it rest in peace."  Not me.  

Pardon me while I go against my grain and make a concrete analogy: this weekend I house-hunted.  I looked at a beautiful home with all kinds of personality, which are, of course the best kind. It was flipped several times.  You've seen one like it before, I'm sure. Three decades ago, the owners made her over.  Two decades ago, they gave her another little face-lift, tucked some things away, clipped some things to their liking.  Now, she still retains much of her original 1947 charm, but she had been re-constructed, essentially demolished so she might be canoodled and attended to in ways that her original self would not even have beget. And now in 2010, she looked perfect for her owners, who actually said to me: "We wish we could pick it up and take it with us."  

To find, no, I think I might mean soak up place, we must re-fashion ourselves without losing ourselves. Quite like my dream flip-house I saw this weekend:  Post-war sturdily built American dream home? Yes. 2010 whimsical garden bungalow for Sarah to be inspired?  Yes. Both at once! And she didn't lose herself.  I wish I could BE the flip-house, let alone BUY the flip- house. (And for the record, this house was completely out of my price range.  I already cried about it) 

But quite unlike flipped homes which we can comfortably manipulate: "I like the dining space, the dining space has worked well for us, it's the kitchen that we really need to change," when the seasons shift and we leave the harbor for the horizon, sometimes we must. just. let. go. We cannot pick up all things even the close things, and take them with us to new places, lest we become the anxious hoarder type. Perhaps the spirit stays with us, but let's face it when we start saying things like spirit, we're talking about dead things in kind of a pretty way.  Beautiful maybe. But still, dead. 

So it haunts us, these places we knew, the people in them that we knew even better and the way they fit together to make, might I say, a beloved Community.  I thought about this looking at homes today; the great and bittersweet tragedy of leaving a place where so much beauty has dwelled. Call me lame, but my brow furrows and my eyes fill, and I think, "Will good things happen again? Will the next place be as good?" Now, I try to remember really I do, that God has come, is coming, and will always come after me. How then, I ask myself, could joy be fleeting? Surely Goodness and Love and Kindness will follow me all the days of my life, like the Pslamist says. 

Surely! Surely. surely... 

There's that ellipsis again. Here is me, God, down on my knees again, praying the sweetest prayer that I know: Please, God, might I know deep in my bones that you are good? 

So I cry a little partly because I am sentimental and used to cry when my family traded in our old car for new, or when we took down the Christmas tree or when the blizzard of 1996 uprooted the blue spruce trees. But I also cry because it is tragic for beautiful things to fade away.  Isn't it? Especially a home. 

Anyone know Emily Webb from Thornton Wilder's Our Town? One of the best plays ever written. It's set in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire in 1901. I like it because the beautiful things in the play are the simple things- like the soda fountain and moonrises and heliotrope. I wish I knew Emily, but I guess even if literature world shattered real-life world I wouldn't get to meet her.  She dies in the play, and then her spirit comes back.  It was the most terrifying and painful thing even as I was reading it.  Dead Emily Webb watching over her beloved place. It is (was?) her home, but the timing is all wrong now. They have mourned her yet she is lingering. She is not supposed to be there, and mostly, we know this because no one can see her. Here, I think we can glean great insight: our home is a place we must be seen. And if we are not? It is, all too naturally, time to go. 

"Goodbye, Good-bye world. Good-bye Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you..."

The simple things are the homey things. And they will come again. And if they are already here? May we soak them up before we have to say goodbye. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Last May, I distinctly remember telling a friend over coffee that I think roots are important. And roots are important especially for things like seedlings, agrarians and weeping willows. They bring life! But I am talking about the kind of equally as life-bringing roots that are important to twenty five year old girls (yes, today I feel like a girl). That's right. It's another one of these dangling ideas I like to bat around: place, community and roots. I'm not sure if it's this Wendell Berry kick I'm on or what, but I've been aware of place for some time now, maybe dating back to that conversation last May.

Even for those of us who have jumped on the global citizen bandwagon, we still can't deny the currency, albeit urgency of location. Beyond our geographical latitude and longitude, there are the things that really matter: the grocery store two blocks down, the poor neighbor who goes by Cookie and asks me for my recycled cans, the sorority house next to her, and the irony of it all. Place grounds us, literally and figuratively, and I think most of us long for it because it might make a home. After all, The Secret Garden doesn't cozy on into its plot until Mary Lennox asks Dickon if she might have, "a bit of Earth."

So my place right now is Waco. And finding my personal place, or might I say, self in it? It's a wishy-washy thing I have going on, and usually, it creeps in like this:

Not long after I pay for my groceries, warmed over the friendliness of those acquantainces I side-hugged near the tortillas (still getting used to these tortillas replacing the baguette section let alone the awkward side-hugs), a much much cooler wave of indifference runs through me. Here I am in Waco... I think. And when these are my words, they are a little reticent and a little bored, but altogether uncertain. Note the ellipsis (a.k.a DOT.DOT.DOT). In these moments, the friendliness is just surface, and the DOT.DOT.DOT some mundane rabbit trail that I find myself wishing would, for crying out loud, find it's END. But you can't force an end any more truthfully than you can contain an absence, and right now for better or for worse, I feel quite swallowed by the dots.

Now I like feelings and all, but I'd venture to say this is more than a feeling (Boston, anyone?), and more like a nag. Some days the DOT.DOT.DOT pulls me to tears or to laughter or batches of blueberry muffins (the sifting, the mixing, the pouring, the's therapeutic). And some days, the DOT.DOT.DOT flows and flaps and tumbles in a way that makes me feel free-er than ever. On those days, I surrender to my, and I'm not sure why. My friend Courtney tells me it has to do with allowing for space. I think she's right. It does have to do with space and peace and listening to the God of the universe that is absolutely in charge. I certainly like my free and flapping self better than my compulsive baker self, she's just all thrown off by this ellipsis sometimes and in a hot second, she calls on this neurotic self that gets quite preoccupied trying to seal the deal. Freebird, please push out resident control freak. I know she's eager and persistent, but she's so dang annoying.

So, Waco, 31 N, 97 W, my "bit of Earth" you are also my ellipsis for now. But for now doesn't mean for always. And my free-spirit, somersaulting self is quite comforted by the obscurity of the ellipsis. She keeps me company here. I just have to find a way to keep her around.

I'm thinking e.e. cummings might help, he would have a poetic field day with this punctuation metaphor that nails everything down without actually nailing anything down at all. For those of you that know e.e cummings, or perhaps, know the know what I am talking about.

we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

-e.e cummings

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dream Catchers & Kaleidoscopes

Remember kaleidoscopes? I hadn't thought about them since, oh, 1994 until that is, this evening. Perks to working with kids: you get to re-experience all the kid things. We were playing with these kaleidoscopes at a local museum here in town which has, of late, expressed great interest in working with our agency.  I immediately remembered these friendly scopes once I saw them shelved in the optical illusion room.  They look a bit like party favors from far away, wrapped up in that bright glossy paper that says, "Pick me!"  So, I did.  The kaleidoscopes were the first thing I noticed, and the kids followed.  I selected a pink one, and the nine year old next to me stared inquisitively.  I think she thought I was inspecting an artifact. "Miss Sarah, what is that? Are you allowed to touch it?" I looked at her just as funny as she was looking at me.  "Yes, it's a kaleidoscope!" Again, but more emphatically, "What is thaaaat?" 

Really? They don't know what a kaleidoscope is? I did say, 1994 not 1904.  And I am, Miss Sarah not Auntie Sarah or some other matronly title. Geesh. Besides, I always thought Kaleidescopes were cool-- if not for the toy, then just for the name.  It sounds like the title of an Iron and Wine song and after the final, melodramatic chord you would say to yourself, kaleidoscope? How was that about a kaleidoscope? And then, for all its obscurity, you'd download it from Itunes. Or at least I would. 

Anyways, completely tickled by my disbelief at their disbelief (sometimes I think I am way too transparent with these kids) they began to play too.  Pretty soon we were all looking through these paper-towel like tubes, saying "Oooo...Aaaahh..." Every once in a while, my little friends would nudge my side, "Wait Miss Sarah, I have to show you THIS one." Love them for that. And I would look and enthusiastically approve, and life was good, looking through these kaleidoscopes, all five of us lined up in a row. But sometimes, someone would want to share, want to show, and they wouldn't be able to "get it back." The colors, the pattern, the pretty thing they just saw, it was fleeting. "Sad!" I would say to them, and it was sad because I like to see pretty things, especially when someone else is showing them to me. 

So, herein lies the metaphor.  Do you see it?  Moments.  We remember moments because it's usually the moments rather than the days that are so sweet.  The light reflects, and the colors blend, and the patterns collide and...yes! That's it! We laugh!  We cry!  We hug!  We jump up and down. The moment is perfect, the stars have aligned.  And our little kaleidoscopes did this for us tonight: "Pretty! Perfect! Come, look!"  But then it's over, and we had nothing to show for it like the best dreams that we have nothing to show for when we wake up in the morning. Nope. We just hit snooze, roll out of bed and stumble to the coffee maker, almost like we didn't dream at all. My mom used to tell me that dream catchers were new-agey, but you know what, I totally want one.  

No matter how hard we might try, formulaic moments don't exist. We don't make them. I'll be the first to admit, as loosy-goosy as I can be, I can also be a mathematician when it comes to therapy (yes, this does cause great angst in my life).  I don't know where I picked this up but I'll often say to my clients: "Tell me about a moment when you were so happy."  Or, "Tell me about a moment when you felt so safe."  Some of my clients could talk for hours because it was just that good.  Instead of listening to them relay the emotion, the feeling, or perhaps, the cognitive processes they experienced (i.e. doing my job), I pull out my calculator. It's embarrassing how much my mind whirrs. Well, I think,  how could we make a+b+c exist in such a way that they are divisible by z and then, the equation is balanced! Client can have her moment back! 

I'm learning that this number crunching equals dumb and naive. No remainder. 

I'm not trying to be a downer or too hard on myself.  Really, I'm not. And sometimes, I like that I am moment-clinging even though the client is weeping because it exudes hope. And hope, even if wide-eyed and far-off feeling, is something to stand on at least.  But sometimes, it is therapeutic to remember how it once was. "That sounds really wonderful," I might say, and "Sad!"  Sad that you can't "get it back"like the nine year olds tonight. But maybe, just maybe remembering and sharing soaks up the memory. And soaked up memories? They might, with just a little mopping, turn into these drinkable dreams that run our cups over.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"Taking it all in," means different things for different people. Consider the great island of Manhattan. Some visit awestruck by the architecture and the swarms of bodies climbing into the same subway car.  We might, for example, count how many languages we've heard while perusing the MET, or how many indie-bohemian-chic boutiques hem in Brooklyn's corner. Others are more inclined to feel the energy, experience the rush, or ponder the meaning of one's small self between the hustle and flow of this insomniac of a city. Regardless of our processing preference, I've found most never fail to mention the pizza. Let's be honest- food is a sincere love. 

Which is why I'm writing tonight.  About sincere love.  Like pizza which is most concretely cheese and tomato and starch, and most abstractly an Italian art form, love is best when it's both.  It's entirely simple (mozz+tomato+bread) and entirely complex (who knows anything about Italian cooking?). Give me a brick oven pizzeria in the West Village and a four cheese pie? "Buon Appetito!" I'm in love. 

I haven't found him (you know, not to be cheesy but, "the one,") yet, but I tell myself he is coming as quick as he can. And maybe, just maybe, the hold-up has to do with the fact that he's been stumped by this mozzarella of a mystery too. I once experienced a break-up/breaking off/ending of a dear relationship (read: most painful), in which I pleaded with this person who didn't love me back to tell me why he ever referred to us as "we" if in fact, he didn't love me the way I loved him.  I know it sounds pathetic, but it was the real thing.  He would always talk about OUR plans and where WE were going and what WE would do and how WE were different than everyone else. Did he not understand the significance of these pronouns? "Everybody wants a we!" I cried to him.  It was sad. As he shook his head, I felt bare and I never wanted to see him again.  We did not go together anymore.
And that's what it comes down to doesn't it?  Belonging.  Even before the philosophical truth that love is this astoundingly simple and complex wonder of a thing like light or wind or water, we first understand that we belong to our beloved.  I am yours, you are mine. Not like a possessive ownership thing.  Ugh, no. Then it gets all objectified and twisted and narcissistic. But a BElonging, the long-awaited peace tailor-made to fit your longing.
I have found myself, these past few weeks, increasingly grateful for the complexity of my God's love for me. He is Abba Father, and Messiah King and Counselor Friend and the Captivated Lover of my soul.  Some nights, I am in such great awe that I might lift up my hands, or open my heart, or pray for purpose with greater purity and gumption than the night before.  Or quite simply, I might just thank Him that He is my shepherd and I am His lamb, and He is gentle with my stubborn bleating self. And I will roll over and sleep well. We cannot help but be found by the depth of His love. It seeks us out, beckoning, "Come, come, you belong with me."   What sweeter words do we know?