Always turning

I miss writing here.  A year has flown by, full of change and turmoil and so much love, too.  We are six days away from turning back to the light: some people find it surprising that I feel the winter solstice is a far more optimistic day than the summer solstice, but I do.  I’ve written at length of my family’s long-time love for and celebration of the solstice.  It’s Adrienne Rich’s words I feel most keenly at this time of year:

… we are moving towards the solstice, and there is still so much here I do not understand.

I have loved those words since I wrote my senior thesis in college on Adrienne Rich, and every year they continue to speak to me.  They say something a little different each year.  They always remind me of another quote (Adrienne Rich and Don Henley are funny paragraph-mates, I think every time) that I think of often:

… the more I know, the less I understand.

And yes.  I understand so little.  As I move deeper into midlife, there is so much of this world that I’ve seen, and still so much unseen.  I’ve always been fascinated by why certain words and memories rise in our minds when they do, and today the quotes and words that are surfacing are all about that we can see and that we can’t, about loving this world even when we don’t understand it, about how much surpasses our ability to fully grok (one of my favorite words) it.

The closing of each year offers a moment to reflect, and I think everyone should take it.  When I look at our lives, so much is the same as it was a year ago, but that belies the work and change that happened as well.  We are still in the same house, we are still a family of four with two much-loved grandmothers and a small tribe of nieces, nephews, brothers, and sisters.  We have the same two jobs, which we are fortunate to like (Matt) and to truly, deeply love (me).  And we are still, blessedly, healthy and safe.  And we are still reading about rising covid cases and unsure what the future holds.  That’s one constant, right: the uncertainty of tomorrow.  A parent’s sudden death will remind you of that, I can speak confidently here: nothing is promised.  Say what you want to say since who knows if you’ll have another chance.  Say I love you.  Hug.

And so much is different, too.  Whit drives now.  Grace graduated from high school and is in both college and the last year of her teens.  We have a dog that we all adore.  We almost moved to the suburbs in 2021 but decided ultimately to stay where we are and to renovate our small city home.  My mother moved out of the large home she and my father shared for 30 years to a smaller one-bedroom condo around the corner, which entailed a lot of pruning, cleaning, sorting, and giving away.  I’m so happy she made the move, but it was no small feat.  Hilary and I spent a lot of time together this spring, laughing a lot and crying a little as we unearthed memory upon memory.

As always, the border between light and dark fascinates me.  I have long been drawn to the edges of things, to the liminal.  I think it’s not an accident that I’m a mid-August baby, born right as summer quietly begins to turn to fall.  Next week, right at the moment of the deepest dark, we turn back to the light. I know better than to say 2022 is going to be “our year” or to really focus on any kind of specific hope (hope has always been troublesome to me as a concept, because it’s so quickly attached to a singular outcome, which can be so problematic).  What I want at the close of 2021 is to honor all the changes, transitions, and joys of this singular year, even as we acknowledge what the year lacked (much travel, seeing a lot of people, Dad).

Grace sent me a photo last week of something she’d seen in DC that said “this too shall pass.”  Said it reminded her of me.  And it reminds me of my father.  He always said that, and he was right.  The good and the bad.  It’s all transient, always changing, always turning.  Life itself.  All we can do is pay attention to the swirl around us.  And give thanks for the opportunity to be here.

Thank you.  Happy holidays. I hope to write more in 2022.

 

Endings and beginnings

This time of year is always bittersweet for me, never more than right now as Grace prepares to leave for college.  I took 11 boxes of LEGOs to their nursery school yesterday, and being in the building brought back such vivid memories.  It was – and is – a truly magical place where Grace and Whit were privileged to begin their school days.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about Cambridge Ellis School and we were lucky to be parents there for 5 years (3 for Grace, 2 for Whit).

Being there yesterday thrust me right into the whitewater of memory, where then and now collapsed, where the past feels animate, where I can’t believe how much time has passed.  This happens to me a lot, and this time of year particularly.  I’ve written about it before – about the word commencement, about how as the world flowers we wind down school years, about the paradox that’s contained in the word “commencement.”  We end and begin, at the same time.  When children – or ourselves – graduate, yes.  But also every day.  The words I wrote years ago, which all still resonate, are below.

Perhaps I’m particularly oriented this way right now because of having spent weeks helping Mum pack up from the house she and my father shared for 30 years.  Walking into that house is like walking into the past and I’ve spent almost a month marinating in those memories, in old photos, laughing and crying.  Photo above is one I had never seen but I found in the last few weeks.  There’s an undeniable ending as Mum sells the house, but a beginning too: her new life, hopefully less encumbered, more comfortable, ready to move forward.  I’m happy for her.

Four years ago, both of our children graduated on the same day.  From 6th and 8th grade respectively, from the school where they had both started as 4 year olds.  All four of our parents were there.  It was an emotional day, one of farewell and celebration.  I can’t help but remember it now, as we careen towards Grace’s graduation from high school (which, thankfully, we can attend in person!).  Yesterday and a lifetime ago.  As all experiences in life seem to feel.  As I get older, the weight of memory is heavier, which is a blessing – so much joy – and a challenge – so many things to mourn – at the same time.

Endings and beginnings.  Here we go.

**

Years ago I described the fleeting nature of time as the black hole around which my whole life circles, the wound that is at the center of all my writing, all my feeling, all my living.  Certainly that seems to be borne out by what it is I writeover and over again.  At the very midpoint of the year, the sunniest, longest days, I find myself battling an encroaching sorrow, an irrefutable sense of farewell.  The proof is in my archives.

The world bursts into riotous bloom, almost as though it is showing off its fecundity.  The days are swollen and beautiful, the air soft, the flowering trees spectacular.  The children gleefully wear shorts to school, the sidewalks are dusted with pollen and petals, and we round the curve of another year.  We start counting down school days, we say goodbye to beloved babysitters who are graduating from college, and I find myself blinking back tears.

Every year, I’m pulled into the whitewater between beginnings and endings that defines this season.  I can barely breathe.

It’s all captured in the event that so many of us attend, year after year, at this time: commencement.  It was my own commencements that marked this season, for years: from grade school, high school, college, graduate school.  And then there was a time when, though I wasn’t personally attending commencements, I felt their presence, sensed the ebb and flow of the school year.  It seems that my spirit and the very blood in my veins will always throb to the cadence of the school year.  And now it is my children who commence, who close a year and begin another, wearing too-long hair and legs, vaguely tentative smiles, and white.

Commencement.  Isn’t this word simply a more elegant way of describing what might be the central preoccupation of my life?  You end and you begin, on the very same day.  You let go of something and while that I-am-falling feeling never goes away, you trust that you’ll land.  And you do, on the doorstep of another beginning, a new phase, the next thing.

No matter how many times I’m caught from the freefall of farewell by a new beginning, though, I still feel the loss.  As much as my head understands that endings are required for them to be beginnings, my heart mourns what is ending.  That a seam of sorrow runs through my every experience is undeniable; it may sound depressing, but I genuinely don’t experience it that way.  It is just part of how I’m wired, and it’s never closer to the surface than right now, as this school year winds down, as we celebrate the beginning that’s wrapped in the end, as we commence.

These are the days of miracle and wonder

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

So much is changing.  Big and small.  Grace is getting ready to go to college.  Mum is moving out of the house she and Dad lived in for 30 years.  Whit is going to have his driver’s license soon.  We are thinking of moving a few towns over.  Matt and I are hanging on, holding hands as we navigate these transitions.  And I am so, so grateful for that hand-holding, much as I sometimes demonstrate irritation more than thankfulness.

A few things have spoken to me lately, amid the swirl of life right now.

Old photos of Dad as we unclutter at Mum’s.  In the photo above I feel like I’m looking at Whit.  I never saw it before!

So many wonderful old photos of Hilary and me as children, often with Mum and Dad.  I’m sharing them from time to time on Instagram, and one of my favorites is below.

Thank God for the Poets – Margaret Renkl’s beautiful op-ed in the New York Times made me both cry and feel like singing.  Her book, Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, is among my favorites of recent years.  This piece, like a few others before it, was sent to me by no fewer than 10 different people in my life, which made me so glad.  It’s like when people send me photos of the sunsets from where they are.  Small gestures like that make me feel both seen and connected, part of the grand human experiment, the pageant of this life.

Which is so full of both suffering and glory, of loss and love.  I wrote a text to a few friends recently that parenting was one long series of goodbyes, suffused with love.  And it is.  I think always of my friend Elizabeth’s annual Christmas card tag line: “an endless alleluia.”

Life is.  Now. Then. Always.  How lucky we are.

allowing you to walk your own path

Like so many of us, I’m finding this strange, unusual, unnerving time to be disorienting and also deeply introspective.  I think this is week 8, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the past and the future, as well as paying attention to the present in a new way.  I suspect we’re all thinking about changes we want to keep with us once the world “goes back to normal,” even as we suspect that it’s going to be a fundamentally changed normal.

I feel acutely aware of my parents these days, of the ways in which their example and inheritance shaped and formed me.  I feel my mother in my hands in the kitchen, and feel grateful for her ease and comfort around cooking that I know I inherited.  I sense my father in the ways I feel towards my children, in my fundamental belief that they are who they are and that many times the best thing I can do is get out of the way while staying nearby.

The other day, my business school classmate Chris Yeh and I interviewed our classmate Kwame Jackson for our podcast.  We ask everyone the same set of questions and since Chris and I developed them together it won’t surprise you that one thing we ask is about your favorite book(s).  Kwame cited a couple, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Since that day I’ve been thinking of a line from that book which I adore.  Way back when I wanted to publish a book about parenting tweens, this was my working epigraph.  It remains probably the best distillation of how I feel about parenting I’ve ever found:

My work is to give you what I know of my particular path while allowing you to walk your own.

Amen.  I’m not sure if these weeks have provided the distance that’s really required for truly deep observation.  So perhaps some of these reflections will change and mutate as time goes on.  But I am more and more conscious of my bias towards independence.  That’s been true of me since the beginning as a parent.  I remembered the story recently of holding 2 year old Whit on my lap waiting for him to get blood drawn.  Grace wasn’t with us, but the waiting room was crowded.  “Will this hurt?” Whit asked me in a tremulous voice.  I remember hesitating, holding his sturdy toddler self and wondering what to say.  I took a breath and said, “Yes, it will.  But it will be over.”  The parents in the waiting room drew audible breath and I felt like I’d done some abhorrent.  But I stand by my answer and it’s come to represent a lot of how I feel about parenting.

Hold them close.  Tell them the truth.   Share our own stories, but as just that – ours, not theirs.  Let them find their way.  Trust that they will.  I believe firmly that Generation Z (which Grace and Whit tell me they are) will save the world.  I really, truly do.  This is going to be make them resilient, not destroy them.

My work is to give you what I know of my particular path while allowing you to walk your own.

Friday April 17

Closing out week 5.  This is getting old.  And also kind of familiar.  Matt and I have gotten into a habit of walking after dinner while the kids clean up (!).  It’s a really nice way to close out the day.  Last night, as we walked (aside: it is still freezing in Boston, so I was wearing a parka and mittens, and yesterday morning I ran in the snow), Matt said something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.  “I don’t know that I believe in a greater power or God out there, but it’s kind of hard not to think in some ways this pandemic is something bigger than us saying STOP.”  It was actually the college process conversations we’ve been having that caused him to have the thought, but we went on to talk about the environment, and the way we live in general.

It is my devout wish that we emerge from this dark and difficult time with some things readjusted.  I really hope we do.  I suspect that this time will cause a wholesale re-thinking for a lot of us.  We live our lives at breakneck speed, which is wonderful in some ways and destructive in others.  I’m still fleshing out this thought, but I admit I find the notion of some larger power controlling all of this reassuring in some deep, fundamental way.

It feels correlated to say this is the the spring that I’ve most intimately noticed the arrival of spring.  Everything is bursting into bloom and the world is so beautiful right now (albeit cold).  Obviously I am paying attention in a new way.  There’s bittersweetness and irony in this beauty, too, but I’m trying to also just see the sheer joy in the raucous arrival of spring.

One more thing for your Friday viewing.  I watched the Andrea Bocelli concert on Easter, rapt.  My favorite part, of course, was when he closed with Amazing Grace.  The photographs of empty cities – especially Paris, London, and New York (two cities I’ve been proud to call home, and a third that is a second home) – made me weep.  I suggest everybody watch this.  Then watch it again.

Happy Friday, all.  How are you doing?  I’m genuinely asking.