Happy Father’s Day, Dad

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John0063It’s Father’s Day, Dad. We didn’t make a big deal about it when I was growing up…those were your wishes. A quiet man, and always one to redirect attention away from yourself, you didn’t need or want a day to be in the limelight.

Our relationship, Dad, aged well. We came to know each other better, to appreciate each other more deeply, as the years went by. Rare compliments exchanged, a few words of love spoken, but it was in your eyes I always knew I was loved. You delighted in me and my children, you even delighted in my dog. Your eyes sparkled as you laughed, sharing stories again and again of funny times, silly words, crazy predicaments you’d shared with my kids as they grew. And though you were a man of few words, you showed my kids how much you cared. Once, when Alec had saved and picked out a fire truck at the general store, you brought him home only to learn that he’d changed his mind and wanted the other truck on the shelf. Many granddads would have worked to convince the 5 year old that the one he’d chosen was just fine but not you. You patiently took Alec by the hand, loaded up the truck and headed back to the store to exchange it.

You loved my dog. No sooner would I arrive at your house than you’d ask “where’s my swell puppy?” and in she’d come to greet you. Her favorite place was tucked in next to IMG_0081you in your recliner. When your days were growing shorter and your strength was waning, Kyrie continued to wedge right in next to you and there you two would be, your hand resting gently on her back as she dozed at your side. For one of your birthdays I had a friend photoshop a picture of you and Kyrie–an image I’d imagined–you and Kyrie walking side by side down a road in France to “Aire du Chien Blanc”–the place of the white dog. So I made it happen in a picture. You were delighted.

And on this day when we celebrate fathers–a day you downplayed while you were alive–I celebrate you. Kind, gentle, so very smart and funny, I miss you Dad. We all do.

Memorial Day bike ride

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The heaIMG_5279dy aroma of fading lilacs fills my nose in batches–in and out of clouds of fragrance. After the recent rains the earth is jungle-y–lush and spilling with scent and color and sound. Those fading lilacs give way to siberian iris, to spiderwort, phlox, to a rainbow of bearded iris.

My familiar bike ride around the lake is ever new as the earth continually sheds one face for another. Today’s ride began in a light sprinkle, chilly and fresh on my face. The Waunona Way stretch is a painter’s palette of gardens–color, texture, scent–hard to keep my eyes on the road. A new shelter coupled with obvious care and attention at Esther Beach has vastly improved what used to be a smelly stretch of the ride.

Stretching into the busy-ness of John Nolan drive, the Memorial Day Bratfest folks are setting up, the ferris wheel already turns, and remnants of last night’s party remain along the path. On the causeway, along the lake edge, a muskrat glides silently along, happily nibbling on a leaf as it swims.

As I ride along in front of Monona Terrace, a flood of people fill the path and I need to hop off and ride my bike. What is the language they’re speaking? Croatian? Serbian? I can’t help wondering what event preceded their happy walk along the lake. Smiles exchanged all around as I remount my bike and ride on.

Through neighborhoods where friends and lovers stroll with their dogs, talking, greeting one another in the quiet way of a relaxed Sunday morning. A tai chi student mirrors his teacher in the grass along the lake. A man baits his son’s fish hook.

My favorite hill propels me down along the edge of Olbrich Park where Veterans for Peace have set up their annual Memorial Day installation reminding us of the American lives lost in recent wars. The tiny monuments would fill every park around if they tried to reflect the total lives lost in these senseless conflicts. Each year the tombstones multiply, silently speaking volumes of the wars that seem so far away on a peaceful morning in Madison.

Life encapsulated in a hour, it seems–joy and beauty and tenderness and sorrow–with everything deserving attention.

 

From my father’s point of view

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I visited my mother last weekend, savoring time away and time with her in her little cottage on Lake Michigan. “A little piece of heaven” she and my dad used to say, when referring to their once summer home, turned full time residence upon retirement. They bought the place when I was in middle school, a little cabin they could get to in the space of an hour and fifteen minutes, making it easy to have weekends or even a day away from their home in Waukesha. My mom would spend whole weeks up there sometimes, with my dad commuting from the hardware store he owned in Pewaukee. They simply loved the place.

And I grew up loving it too, and my kids as well, attending “Grandma Camp” in the summers–a week with grandma and grandpa, roaming the woods and the beach, creating time capsules, making up endless games in this space of great imagination. My children, adults now, move in the cabin and the space around it as if wearing a comfortable sweater that they can find and put on with their eyes closed, it’s so familiar.

Though nestled in the woods behind a dune, the house affords a view of the lake through the trees, offering a protected vantage point to observe the lake’s moods which are many. Calm swells to crashing waves, brilliant aqua to steel grey, the lake’s face is ever changing and mesmerizing to watch. From the windows in the living room, my kids could tell if the waves were big enough to warrant getting out the boogie boards and throwing themselves into the surf.

The best views of the water are from the living room and over the years, we’ve each found our place in that room. I’ve always sat in a big down armchair, which I share with the dog, while my father always sat across the room in an old recliner that my mother tolerated. My kids shared the couch, battling over whether one of them could lie down, leaning on one another through movies and conversation. My mother floats, always a good hostess, to the unoccupied seat, making sure everyone else is comfortable. Since my dad’s passing in 2014, my mom has settled into a cozy chair which has moved once or twice to different locations in the room, always with a little old table nearby holding her journal and her books.

When I woke up on Saturday morning last weekend, I found my dog right in the middle of the seat we normally share, sound asleep. Coffee in hand, I made my way across the room, to the chair that now occupies the space my dad’s recliner used to hold, facing the east windows to the lake. It was early and the morning sun flooded the room. Once settled, I really let myself register my surroundings and for the first time, really took in the view that my dad enjoyed upon waking–the sunrise over the lake, the hummingbirds at the feeder, the dew glistening in the morning sun. I thought about the months near the end of his life when we made a decision together to move him home from the rehab center and engaged hospice to visit him there. He would sit in this space and drink in the view, endlessly staring out the window.

Now I see, I thought. This place filled him. A bright, witty gentleman, my dad’s tastes were simple but yet, looking out on the view that was so much a part of him, I understood the depth of that simplicity. This was all he needed–the quiet beauty, ever-changing, of the world around him, enjoyed from his seat in the cozy house, in a tiny cabin on the shore. He would check the weather and report in to my mom, who would record it every day in her journal. Passing barges were noted along with visits from deer and other forest neighbors. Together they would observe the detail of the natural world with its rhythm and variety, and that was enough.

And in that moment, as I sipped my coffee and shared my dad’s view, I knew exactly how it could be enough. A little prayer escaped my lips as I asked to hold this within me in those times when the world seemed to be moving too fast–let me hold this view, this beauty, this simplicity as a touchstone to bring me back to “enough”.

 

Finding our Way

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astro6You know how sometimes in a rush hour time you find that sweet spot?–that perfect timing that lets you slide right into traffic and move quickly to your destination against all odds? Yesterday wasn’t that day. Driving home from work–west side of Madison to the east–I stepped, or rather drove, right into it. Traffic crawled and me, along with it. I adjusted my radio to NPR for the day’s news and settled in. This was going to take awhile.

Leading the day’s stories was the coverage of Donald Trump, speaking from North Dakota, thanking those delegates who had helped him become the “presumptive nominee”. Six more months of this, I thought as he already took cheap shots at his presumed opponent, despite the fact that neither has officially secured the party’s nomination. Sigh. I am saddened beyond belief that our country has come to this–that someone who so embodies hate and divisiveness could potentially lead our country in this time when so much grace is needed.

But on to the next story.

Doctors Without Borders working in South Sudan, the next story focused on two doctors working with children. The reporter interviewed a Dutch doctor as they walked through the makeshift clinic, situated in a war zone with the constant sound of gunfire in the background. These children suffer mainly from malnutrition and many from malaria. They spend most of the interview at the bedside of an infant named Nyenyowni. Severely malnourished with a case of malaria on top of that, the reporter finds out later that this child of only 15 pounds is 3 years old. Later on in the story, Nyenyowni dies. The doctor notes that perhaps she should list “born in South Sudan” as the cause of death. The reporter can barely tell the story, crying at the scene, and the doctors step away from the microphone to take some time to breathe through the intensity. The story ends with the mothers of the children singing Sudanese songs outside of the clinic, singing and clapping for those who are still alive.

In the third story, a father and daughter are circumnavigating the globe in a traditional Polynesian canoe called Hokele’a, meaning “Star of Gladness”. The father is trained in the old ways of “wayfinding”–traditional navigation using the rising and setting of certain stars, the sun, the moon, passing birds. And when none of those is available, he relies on waves– the motion that the canoe makes as it climbs up over the wave, and he internalizes that as a rhythm. The story is luminous and well told.

I arrive in my driveway, changed by this encapsulated vision of our world. There are those who stomp loudly over everyone, concerned only with themselves, while the world suffers. People, corporations, capturing the media’s attention but certainly not reflecting the whole story. Working tirelessly is a cadre of those who step in to lend a hand in this tired world, saving one small life…or not…but they keep working–working so diligently, in fact, that they haven’t the time to talk about themselves or draw attention to their work.  And then, there are those who are the wayfinders, listening to the sounds and guidance that have led us for ages.

Let us be careful who we listen to.

 

Carried

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outstretched handI’ve been out of town for awhile. In Chicago with my son as he has (beautifully) navigates a complicated jaw surgery. We’ve known this was necessary for quite some time. We’ve listened to the list of risks and have taken it all to heart, knowing that while necessary, this surgery is downright frightening. Even in the days, weeks leading up to it I have felt myself preoccupied…drifting off to thoughts of what if’s and logistical questions–how’s this all going to go?

As a mother, even of a 27 year old man, this child will always be my little boy and the thought of putting him into a risky situation wakes me in the night, my brain a swirl of worry. But we needed to do it.

So I’ve been doing my best to align my ducks and prepare to be in the hospital with him, to let go of control and trust the gifted surgeon who would work with us. I’ve let go of schedules and obligations, keeping my eyes on the one thing that’s most important right now–helping my boy navigate this time in his life. There’s a dog to find housing for, there are responsibilities to delegate, there’s a busy nonprofit that needs to be tended in my absence. And knowing all of this, it’s necessary to be able to let go and trust that all will be well.

And truly, with each passing hour and day it’s as if angels are there, taking care of my boy and myself, helping us release what is not a priority and concentrate on our one job at the moment–helping him heal. As I sat in the surgical waiting room last Friday during the 8 hour surgery and additional 4 hours before I could see Alec, gentle nurse liaisons arrived and spoke with me, calling into surgery periodically to let me know that all was going as planned. During the 3 day hospital stay following the surgery, kind hospital staff and our normally fast-moving doctor sat patiently with us and helped us through the questions we had, acting as guides through unfamiliar waters.

At home people picked up the pieces of what I’d left behind. My dear friends took my little dog and when we realized that we’d be in Chicago longer than planned, another sweet friend stepped in and took over with Kyrie.

The Sewing Machine Project work moves continuously, with board members and volunteers working hard on machines and processes and new projects while I am away. When I touch base I am reassured that I’m where I need to be and there’s no need for worry.

It’s truly as if angels are just picking up the pieces of my life and carrying them, carrying us through this challenging time, leaving us free to concentrate on healing. I am moved so deeply by the words and kindnesses of so many and so very grateful for this time and the lessons it contains.

Considering Love

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hands and heartIt feels pertinent to look back as I set intentions for the new year.

Again and again, I find that the word that rises to the surface is Love.

In 2015 I learned a lot about Love. I learned that real honest love is messy–there’s nothing straightforward about it. I learned that love wears an endless number of faces–some that we recognize and many that are new. Love hovers around us patiently waiting, waiting for us to allow it to slip into the cracks in our skin. Love surrounds and holds us even when we don’t recognize its presence. Love buoys us when we’re drowning, slipping, clawing for the surface, asking only that we take its hand and allow it to hold us–not save us–but simply hold us.

Love can be huge and mindblowing. Love can be subtle and quiet. Love can be dirty and messy. Love can sparkle quietly in a phone call from a friend at just the right time, in shared tears at something beyond words, in a touch that moves us to the core.

Recognizing Love’s depth requires listening. So often Love is more in what is felt than in what is said and in order for the message to come across it’s necessary to listen with everything in us. Love is rarely flashy and obvious, in fact when it is, I become suspect. As we all wish for and need love, those forces that want our attention and allegiance, recognizing Love’s power, attempt to take on love’s attributes in order to hook us. They tell us what we must do to deserve love. Be careful there. Because those forces will also warn us what will happen if we do not follow, using fear as a touchstone.  But our hearts contain the divining rod that separates fear and love. Listen carefully, trust your heart, remember that everything you need is already right here and that you always have a choice between fear and love.

I have learned a lot about love this year…the biggest lesson being that I have a lot to learn about Love.

Reset

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IMG_0166“How are we so busy?” a friend and I said to one another recently, “how is it that we cannot seem to find time to sit together and catch up?” We had to laugh at the thought. We are not high level executives, not running from meeting to meeting. How is it then that we find ourselves too busy?

It’s been going on for a month or so on my end. And all that’s happening is good. Of course, “good” in my book can mean new invigorating ideas and it can also mean deeper looks inside myself and contemplation of difficult situations shared by friends. But to me, it’s all life. It’s all important. It’s all good.

The problem is within my own head. Somehow these ideas and situations and commitments and yes, meetings start spinning and they become confusing and in some ways debilitating. The noise becomes too much and I am unable to focus, to concentrate, to think clearly. Meditation helps for awhile but then the noise picks up once again and the din gets close to unbearable. It hit a peak about two weeks ago when sleep was elusive, when my replies became clipped and the thought bubble above my head contained a pretty snarky array of comments.

It was time to hit the reset button.

An introvert through and through, I knew I needed time alone to do this. So I spent the weekend slowing down. This is not to say that I did nothing. It was more a mending of those foundational elements that add a nudge of angst to daily activities–physical work that needed to be done but also left room for my mind to loosen up and my heart to soften. I updated my computer’s operating system–it now runs faster. I washed all of the windows in my house removing dust and cobwebs that had accumulated for far longer than I’d like to admit. While I worked I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go, and I had to smile as I moved from window to window for in removing the film between me and the outside world I did the same thing for my mind and heart. As the day wore on and the light shown in from the bright fall day I became lighter as well.

Achieving reset is often more difficult than it sounds. And there is no “right” way to do it in fact, I’d guess that there are as many ways to reset as there are beings on the planet. And beyond that, each of us finds many ways to reset depending on the circumstances we face. Sometimes it may call for a solitary space, other times, a walk in the woods. Perhaps sitting around a table with friends. It’s up to us to sense what we need and answer in a way that feeds us but even as I write this I know it’s not that easy. The tricky part is that we can often sense that it’s necessary, we can see the signs as they build, but so often we struggle to find the heartspace or space in our calendars, that alchemy of body, mind, spirit and time which allows it to happen. It’s almost as if our hearts and minds must get to a breaking point, somehow moving us to stop and go deep instead of forward. And once we recognize the need we must find the time and space to allow ourselves to be mended.

My daily prayers take on a higher level of meaning when I hit these raw places for in asking for clarity of heart and mind I need to ask for help in removing the barriers I seem to erect which block spirit from moving through me. Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? We build up these barriers, shouldering on, assuming control, but in building these walls we push spirit aside and try to do all of the work ourselves and everything gets caught up and spinning rather than flowing through us.

By yesterday evening, my windows were clean, the 100 year old glass showing off its wavy pattern etched by rivers of time. Showered and wrapped in a blanket, I sat on the front porch and felt the peace that I’d been missing–mind quiet, heart softened.

And I am grateful that this weekend of resetting worked for me. Sometimes we step away, take a break, only to find that din still murmuring in the background. As I move into this new week I take this renewed openness received through resetting, and I find that the world looks brighter, more approachable, and more possible through my open heart and my clean windows.