Dear Grace and Whit

Dear Grace and Whit,

For the last week or two I’ve been thinking about the things I hope you’ll remember from this time.  About what I hope you’ve learned, or had reinforced, during these surprising and disorienting months at home.

Family is everything.  Your roots are deep.  We have sat down for family dinner for 60 plus days in a row.  Without fail.  We ordered in once, but have cooked every single other night.  Family dinner is sacrosanct to us now.  We laugh, we talk, we give each other “compliments,” sometimes we’re snippy.  I have never been unclear about the fact that the three of you, you and your father, are my absolute priority in this world.  There’s something holy about the four of us being together, just us, and that’s always been how I feel.  In a very real way this time has been a tremendous gift to me, found time together, and I hope you have been reminded of how strong our bonds are and of how firmly you are supported here.  I know we are all sick of each other.  But we’re also so outrageously fortunate to have each other, and I hope that rises to the top of your memories from this time.

Do the right thing.  It hasn’t been easy, staying at home, but here we are.  Putting the greater good ahead of our individual needs is without question the right move (frankly, always) and in this case that’s what we’ve done.  I know it’s sometimes frustrating particularly because you see other people making different choices.  But that’s our family’s priority.  As things shift, so will our willingness to tolerate risk – that’s already beginning.  I know you’re excited. But it’s important to note that for the duration of the Stay at Home order that’s what we did.  Period. We aren’t above the rules, and neither are you.

As I’ve said a million times, how you act is more important than what you say.  That’s been clear in this pandemic.

Find something to laugh about.  The humor that has come up during this time has saved me, honestly.  I love the memes, the videos, the skits.  It is possible to find humor even in a dark situation, and to do it in a respectful way.  I firmly believe that.

Keep your loved ones close.  I think you’ve seen me connecting in a renewed way with those I love most. It has been very clarifying, actually, to see who I’m drawn to in this time.  It is possible to be in close touch with people even when you don’t see them every day. Make the effort. It’s worth it.

Pay attention. The world is so beautiful. I know you get sick of my rhapsodizing about the spring blossoms and the bird song, but I swear, there’s something so uplifting about going outside and witnessing it for yourself.  And yes, you can pull your mask down to smell the lilacs.

Do your work.  Dad and I are both still working.  Hard.  So are you both.  I’m proud to see how you have both engaged in this new model of education.  I know it’s not always comfortable, and it’s far from ideal, but you’ve both impressed me with your resilience and willingness to leap in.  Thank you.

I adore you both.  I hope you knew that before, and I really hope you know it now.


Thoughts on risk

I know I’ve shared the story before of when, as a sixth grader, I needed a parental note to ice skate at school without a helmet.  My father wrote a long, fountain-penned note that began, “recognizing that risk is an inherent part of life.”  I wrote a whole piece about this once.  I was absolutely horrified and that clause became one we tossed around jokingly in our family often.

I think it in my head a lot these days.  I also went looking this morning for an essay by an English professor who died this weekend, and I stumbled onto the document that Dad gave me when I left for college.  I haven’t read through these 14 pages in many years.  I did so with tears in my eyes, hearing Dad’s voice in my head.  What a gift: I feel like he’s in these pages, animate.  There are many sections that made me gasp and try to photograph them.  But there’s one that I want to share today.

Be at risk

Life is risky; but in the risk also lies most of the interest.  Our dearest desire in life is to feel fully alive and engaged. To risk, to strive, is to be alive in the fullest sense. We are drawn to people who are trying to do difficult things, who are, within reason, willing to tempt fate, to gamble on the future. By contrast, people who play totally safe are really unplugging, deciding not to play at life any more.

Being at risk is going sailing whatever the weather, going skiing even when it is foggy, as we did at Zermatt. Being at risk is moving to Paris with two small children and living over a Russian restaurant on Rue Brea. How much less meaningful the Paris years would have been if we had been living in luxury in the 16eme?  Being at risk means that we are more willing to try the new, rather than persist in the old, more willing to gamble on a new experience. As a result we will see more things sooner and have a broader pallette of options to choose from. 

So much of life right now feels risky, and it also feels suffused with the weighing of risks. I ache to talk about what’s going on with Dad, but I also know he’d have felt hamstrung and frustrated and probably as a man in his late 70s (by now) pretty nervous.  There’s not much I can add to Dad’s own words, but I wanted to share them.  I will read and re-read this treatise and ask both Grace and Whit to do so (I was just turning 18 when Dad wrote this for me, and she’s less than 6 months away from 18 now – a dizzying fact to realize).

As I wrote yesterday, I feel both of my parents alongside me right now (Mum often literally, on our daily walks).  Finding this piece that Dad had written to me just reinforces my sense that his example, his leadership, his voice remain loud and strong for me.  How grateful I am for that.

Happiest holidays 2019


Thank you for still being here and reading.  It means more than you know.  See you in 2020!

Much is Taken, Much Abides

I wrote a piece a while ago that I shared on Medium last week.  It’s probably pretty redundant for anyone who has been reading here – about Dad, poetry, Tennyson, Whit, loss, memory.  One of the reasons I go back and forth on continuing to write here is this sense that I’ve become a totally boring, repetitive writer.  Still, it’s a piece that means a huge amount to me, so I’m proud to see it up.  You can read the piece here, and the first part of it is below.  To add color to the particularly complicated and rigorous last year, Liz, who read at Dad’s funeral (one of two non-family members to do so) recently died herself.  I will attend her funeral next weekend.  Losses everywhere.  Much is taken.  Much abides.



Nineteen Years

9/9/00, Marion, Massachusetts

Today is our 19th anniversary.  I’ve written about Matt on this day for many years, and I feel a little bit like there’s nothing new to say.  In case you’re curious and have a lot of time on your hands: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

So, I’ll try to capture the last nineteen years, which have been simultaneously and alternately a lifetime and a moment, in numbers.

20 – length of our wedding ceremony, in minutes
5 – the amount of time we’d been in the church when it started pouring, thundering, and lightning, in minutes
1 – number of houses we’ve lived in
18 – number of years we’ve lived here
6 – weeks we’d known each other when we planned a 2 month trip to Africa
5 – continents we’ve been to together
19,341 – highest elevation we’ve been to together, in feet (summit of Kilimanjaro)
2 – children we have welcomed
40 – length of Grace’s labor, in hours
3 – length of Whit’s labor, in hours
2 – fathers who died in the fall of 2017
6 – grandparents we have lost since we met
1 – number of times I have beaten you at tennis
lost track – number of times we’ve run together as the sun came up – best way to start the day
0 – number of times I’ve eaten shellfish since we’ve known each other
4 – number of books that we’ve both read and enjoyed in 20+ years (our tastes differ)
0 – number of minutes that I slept on our four flights between Boston and Bali for our honeymoon
0 – number of our duffel bags that arrived in Bali with us for said honeymoon
45 – number of minutes that you slept while I was in transition at the end of Grace’s labor
6 – minutes per mile (you)
8.5 – minutes per mile (me)
2 – number of cars of ours that have been hit by tree branches falling in storms (one was totaled)
unlimited – how much I’m looking forward to the next 19