Things I Love Lately

Wow … it’s been a minute!  I’m eager to hear what you are reading, thinking about, and loving lately.

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr’s latest is my favorite book of many years. This is a simply extraordinary tale, which does that most exalted thing books can do: touches on what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being in the world. I loved All the Light but I ADORED Cloud Cuckoo Land. This book is about books, about language, about the power of story to inspire, protect, and keep us. Run don’t walk. Absolutely remarkable.

Andrew Garfield on grief – Wow.  Just wow.  This is an extraordinary video that made me weep and made me nod and made me feel grateful to be in this world.  Perhaps because of the point below I am feeling particularly porous this week but I think everyone should watch this (and if you know me you know how resistant I am to watching video on the computer). Thank you to my friend of many years Meghan Jarvis for pointing me to it.

Thanksgiving – The sunset above was from the other night, no filter, from my office window.  I shared it with these words on Instagram: This will always be an emotional week for me. Four years ago Thanksgiving was the last time I saw my father. On 11/26/17 he died suddenly of a suspected heart attack. Thanksgiving was already our family’s big holiday – for decades we celebrated at my parents’ house in Marion with between 25 and 40 people, two turkey, ties, toasts, and an after dinner walk to the yacht club. And in 2017 it was especially sentimental because we had just lost Matt’s dad. On thanksgiving day I posted lines from one of my favorite poems, by Merwin: “and we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is.” It was about to get a lot darker. And I kept waving and saying thank you. Still am. I remember my last conversation with Dad, which was about books. Thanksgiving looks different now – this year we will host, and it’s going to be a lot smaller. But the themes of family and tradition and loyalty and love remain. And for that I’m so, so grateful.

Grace is home!  Grace surprised us on Friday night and is home for a whole week which is heaven.  I love having both Whit and Grace at home.

 

Nineteen

Dear Grace,

Today you’re nineteen.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I love being your mother more every year.  This year was full of transition and more than a few challenges.  You weathered a strange senior year with a lot of covid restrictions (“jail” is an analogy I heard a lot).  You spent several days quarantining alone an hour away from home when you had covid and it was during those days that you hear from most of the colleges you’d applied to.  You showed grit I’ve never seen before and it made me so very proud.

Over the summer you worked two jobs and it was probably more than you’d have chosen but you did it.  Then, the start of college was tough when you were randomly placed on the secondary campus which is a 15 minute drive away.  But you figured out a way to advocate for yourself and after Dad found a senior housing dean you took it upon yourself to meet with him and to make your case.  You got moved to the main campus.

It is a sheer joy to watch you fly, Grace.  You have maturity and poise and a very good sense of what matters.  You call your grandmothers every couple of weeks.  You write thank you notes. You look people in the eye. You are organized and hard working and your executive function is off the charts.  You’re still figuring out what your one guiding passion is and our conversations about this remind me of mine with my father when I was your age.

My amazing Grace – thank you for making me a mother all those years ago.  I adore you and I couldn’t possibly be prouder of you.  I’m so glad I can spend today with you.

Happy 19, GBP.

Cross-country metaphors

My Google Photo memories are full of xc  photos in the autumn.  Grace ran starting in 6th grade and varsity starting in 8th.  I have a lot of photographs and I miss watching cross-country meets.  I maintain it is one of the purest of the sports.  I always loved that it was also one in which you cannot buy an advantage.  Unlike so many other sports, there are precious few clubs for middle and high schoolers.  Being from privilege doesn’t help you at all.  You lace up.  And you go.  All you have is your mettle, your commitment, your legs, and your heart.

It’s also a sport full of metaphors.  I wrote about these metaphors over the years: how to handle the races that don’t go according to plan, the importance of who you run with and pace yourself by, managing the anxiety before a race and learning that the worst part is the minutes before the gun goes off, and the grit required to just keep going, no matter what.

And cross-country also offers my favorite parenting metaphor: you start out up close.  You cheer from right beside your child as they take off.  You watch closely.  Then they go into the woods and you lose sight of them.  And you keep cheering.  You trust they’ll emerge from the woods.  And you’re still there, cheering, watching, waiting.

I don’t know a better analogy for parenting a teenager, I really don’t.

Google reminded me of this photo today, and I feel nostalgic for the running days.  And grateful that I was there for so many of them.

Gravity is grace

All that passes descends,
and ascends again unseen
into the light: the river
coming down from sky
to hills, from hills to sea,
and carving as it moves,
to rise invisible,
gathered to light, to return
again. “The river’s injury
is its shape.” I’ve learned no more.
We are what we are given
and what is taken away;
blessed be the name
of the giver and taker.
For everything that comes
is a gift, the meaning always
carried out of sight
to renew our whereabouts,
always a starting place.
And every gift is perfect
in its beginning, for it
is “from above, and cometh down
from the Father of lights.”
Gravity is grace.

-Wendell Berry

Read this on First Sip today and love it.

The river’s injury is its shape

We are what we are given and what is taken away

sunrise. sunset. onward.

September 1st.  Matt took this photo over Marion Harbor this morning.  It looks like a sunset, right?  But it is the sunrise.  And that confusion feels not-coincidental to me lately.  I’m home, as is Whit.  Grace is at college.  Whit is back at school.  Matt and Phoebe return home this evening.  We are full steam ahead into the fall season.  But I feel like I’m in the whitewater of transitions, overwhelmed by all the things that are different even as I’m anchored by those that remain the same.  Things are ending and things are beginning and it’s understandable, I think, that sometimes I confuse the sunset for the sunrise and vice versa.

Maybe this time of year is always exhausting.  I suspect it is.  A return to “real life,” with all the formality and structure that implies, comes with some adjustment.  This year in particular the summer felt a little weird – a lot of changes (Mum moving out of the house she and Dad lived in for 30 years, Grace heading to college) and a fair amount of emotion too.  But also so many moments of levity and joy: countless family dinners on the back porch and elsewhere, Grace’s graduation party, a family swim to the line, many walks with Phoebe.

In short, everyday life.  In all of its mundane glory.

I think it makes sense that I feel out of sorts and tired.  I’m trying to let myself just be that way rather than fight it.  The next few weeks will be very busy at work and I’m grateful that I got to take Grace to college before that began.  I’m thankful for my family’s continued health even as I worry about this scary new surge.  I know how lucky we are that both children are in in-person school.  So, so much good fortune.  But still, so much to worry about and so much to absorb.  As the Weepies say and I hear in my head all the time: the world spins madly on.  And it does.

Thank God.  And damn it, at the same time.  Time’s relentless forward march is both blessing and curse.  Nothing lasts forever.  As Dad told Grace after her other grandfather died (and before he did), the only thing to do is to reach out and grab the future, even if it hurts.  This too shall pass.  Heartbreaking, deep truth.  The best and the worst moments are all transient.

I’m going to make that sunrise my screensaver for the next little bit.  And remember that it’s a beginning.