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.

Memories and ghosts

I’m heading down to spend the 4th of July holiday with my children and husband, my mother, and my sister and her family, as we do every year.  We crowd into the house, which has at least one too few bathrooms for all of us.  We watch and cheer at the town’s old-fashioned parade.  We line the kids up for group photos, which used to feature at least one person crying and now feature at least one person being a little surly.  I used to dress the children in matching 4th of July pajamas, but that’s no longer happening.

This year there’s an echoing hole in the center of our experience.

We spent last weekend at Mum and Dad’s rambling house by the ocean, where we’ve spent so very many weekends.  I have been expecting the summer to be full of landmines and memories, and last weekend that proved true.  His absence colors everything in that house.  Sure, his absence colors my experience in general, but it is never more true than in that house.

That house where I brought Matt to meet my parents for the first time, a month after we met, in January 1998.  He and Dad were reading the same book (let me assure you it wasn’t an airport New York Times bestseller – rather a textbook-style book, about two inches thick, about the history of Europe).  After that weekend, Dad said to me, “Well, if he had only lived in Europe for a stint, I think he’d be perfect.”  To which I replied, “Did Matt not tell you about the two years he lived in London before business school?”

That house where Dad glanced at me as I walked downstairs in my wedding dress and turned back to the US Open.  Sampras was in a fifth set!  “Dad,” I remember saying with a sign, “We do have to go.”  To his credit, he turned the TV off then.

That house where Mum and Dad hosted Thanksgiving for over 30 people for more than two decades.  Where Matt and I pulled up, with a sleeping Grace in her carseat in the backset, on Thanksgiving morning 2002.  I have intense, vivid memories of that drive, arriving in front of Mum and Dad’s house, leaning against the headrest of the car, looking into the front windows through which I could see Dad in his bowtie.  Matt’s father was still in a coma after his heart transplant.  I was deep in the weeds of post partum depression.  The rest of the day is a blur, but I do recall with crystalline detail looking through the windows from our navy blue car as we parked.

That house where Grace and Whit lived with Mum and Dad for several summers, growing into themselves, developing their own relationships with their grandparents, learning to sail and playing tennis.  Where Dad and Whit took the boat out alone, where Dad and Grace went out to dinner alone, where we spent more nights around the dinner table than I can count.  Where for many years, Mum blew out birthday candles with all four of her grandchildren as Dad looked on from the other end of the table.

That house where, very often on a weekend morning, Dad and I were the first people up.  I’d bring him a cup of black coffee and he’d glance up and say, “well, thank you!” before turning back to his book.  I sat in the other room, reading, and could feel the pulse of him in his red leather chair.  The same red leather chair where he held Grace and Whit as infants, and where he later read to them.

That house where I had my last conversation with my father.  That house where I talked to him, hugged him, and saw him for the last time.  It was another Thanksgiving with over 30 people there, including this year’s foreign student (my sister and I have long maintained that it is the presence of someone we’ve never met before is what makes a Thanksgiving truly real). That house from which we went for our usual after-dinner walk on Thanksgiving, which wound home through the boatyard, Dad and I walking in silence among the boats, up on stilts for the winter.

That house where we gathered for Dad’s funeral. Where a few special family and friends gathered the night before to have dinner, solemn and laughing at the same time, where memory swelled into a present, tangible thing.  Where Matt and I retraced that same walk, the one we always do, early on the morning of the service.  Where Tennyson ran through my head, as he often does.  Where the old sailing friend of Dad’s quoted the same lines from Ulysses as he struck the canon as the crowd gathered for ceremonious colors in Dad’s honor.

And tomorrow, back I go to the same house, for the week with everyone together.  It will be the same in many ways and of course wildly, terrifyingly different in one enormous one.  All we can do is hold onto each other and proceed. Red and blue and white.  Fireworks and memories.  Ghosts around every corner, as well as memories of laughter and joy.  It’s still Mum’s birthday.  We are still together.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides.


16 years


16 years ago last Friday Matt and I were married.  As you can see above, it rained during the ceremony and after before clearing into a gorgeous night.  We were so young then, just babies, full of optimism and suntans and grand plans and high hopes. So much has turned out precisely like we planned it, and so many things have been surprises from left field.  I’d wager that the surprises have been more glorious and (when not glorious, often) more full of learning than the things that have gone according to plan.


the night before your accident, August 18, Vermont

So … this anniversary looks a little different than we’d perhaps expected.  Last year we marked 15 with a dinner with our children (a detail we took some teasing for, but one I am happy about).  I’ve made a few jokes about how we’re focusing on the “for worse” and “in sickness” vows this year, which is perhaps uncharitable.


The truth is, Matt, I’m wowed by your attitude and your positive spirit. See above for a text exchange of ours before your surgery.  Kelly Clarkson has been a refrain in our house in the last weeks.  This has not been fun for anyone, least of all you, and you remain undaunted.  Your behavior in the face of this challenge does a whole lot to remind me why I fell in love with you in the first place.  Thank you for that.  Only 4 more weeks in that brace!!

So.  Here we are.  It’s been rainy and sunny and stormy and certainly not dull.  I hope there are many more years ahead of us than behind, and I look forward to seeing what this 17th year holds.  I love you, Matt.

Fifteen years


How is it possible?  Fifteen years went by in a blink.

The years have been turbulent and placid, full of adventure and calm, one house, two children, visits to four continents, and over 50,000 digital photos.  We’ve had bad luck both hilarious and terrifying, cars totalled by falling trees that were struck by lightning (true) and children having anaphylactic reactions to nuts (also true).  We’ve also had extraordinary, miraculous luck, in the enormous form of a heart transplant but also in tiny ways every day.

We summitted Kilimanjaro together within six months of meeting, but as the minister said on our wedding day, Kilimanjaro is nothing compared to marriage.  And he was right.  It’s been a walk both more difficult and more breathtaking than I could possibly have imagined.  Our ascent of Kilimanjaro was marked by a golden late afternoon in the sun where you washed my hair for me and a long, slow slog to the top in a white-out blizzard.  Both of those experiences in a single week, along with more than I can count along the spectrum both meteorological and emotional.

Just like life.

I look at this picture and I’m struck by the palpable joy, by the deeply familiar place (we still go there most weekends of the summer, and each time I walk through this space I stop and remember the strains of Maybe I’m Amazed and this exact moment), and by how young we both are.  Young and optimistic and hopeful.  Fifteen years have sanded the rough edges off of us, there’s no question about that, as well as allowed some of our tendencies to harden into traits.  I hope there’s been more gentling than hardening.  Honestly, I think that’s a good a wish for a heading-towards-long marriage as I can think of.

I love you, Matt.  Happy fifteen years.  Here’s to well more than fifteen more.

Anniversary posts from past years are here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011


Time folds like an accordion


On Friday, Grace ran her first cross-country meet.  She was nervous, I was not there, and she did well.  She did really well. I met her after the meet and we went straight to the airport to pick up her dearest friend from camp, J.  J is the daughter of my old and dearest friend, Jess, who I met at the same camp, when we were 12.  Grace and J were born 12 weeks apart to the day.  Their firm friendship, independent from ours though inextricably woven through it, makes me happier than I can articulate.

While waiting to pick Grace up, I tweeted that I was collecting my daughter from her first cross-country race.  Lacy tweeted back, “This makes me teary. The colt legs, the pony tail. Late light on the towpath. Go, Graciegirl, go!” That message sent me immediately and viscerally back into the fall light with my friend, a fellow redhead, walking along the towpath, the autumn light on our head.  Then and now collapsed together and I cried, alone in the car.

Grace arrived, I met her coaches, and we headed to the airport.  As we walked in, Grace took off running, her cross-country jersey billowing behind her, her ponytail bouncing.  She’s nearly as tall as I am now, long and lean, all planes and sharp angles, full of energy and a blooming, hopeful tentativeness that is both familiar and, somehow, sad.  I took the picture above and stood, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me, as I watched her go.  Always, they are running away.  My own cross-country days, in the woods of New Hampshire, among trees whose leaves flamed and then dropped to the ground, felt animate around me, both yesterday and a lifetime ago.  It’s her turn now.  And rather than making me sad, it feels right.  I am grateful to be here to cheer her on.  I can’t wait to go to her first actual meet and to watch her take off, as my mother did so many years ago.

And the seasons, they go round and round …


We got to the gate early.  As I watched Grace wait for her friend I found that my eyes were brimming with tears.  When my dearest friend’s daughter walked off the airplane towards my own willowy tween, I remembered holding her as a newborn, her tiny self curled on top of my belly which was swollen with Grace.  Over and over again, memory confuses and confounds me with its power: how can that moment be so far gone, never to come again, when it also feels sturdy, still here?

I trailed the two of them back to the car, Grace still in her cross-country uniform, J carrying her own bag, their lanky bodies almost exact mirrors of each other, and thought that they are now the age that Jess and I were when we met for the first time.  I also remembered the day I first discovered I was pregnant with Grace, February 15, 2002, when the first phone call I made was to Jess.  I will never forget that conversation, my whispered, fearful question, and her warm, loving answer.  And from that day forward there were these two girls, whose lives I hope will be joined forever by what they shared even before they were born.  I imagine them when they are our age, hopefully still as beloved as they are now, and it makes me glad, relieved, breathless with wonder.

It is so much, all of it: my youth, then, her youth, now, running, the leaves turning, friendship, history, all that has happened before and is still here.  Time folds like an accordion, then kisses now and spreads apart again, and the past surfaces through the present from time to time, enriching it and reminding me of where I came from.  And always there is my startlingly tall daughter, running away, faster than I could ever imagine, her mahogany ponytail bouncing as the sun goes down.

Sometimes this life is so beautiful it is almost unbearable.

I wrote this post last weekend, but this morning it occurs to me that it nicely straddles September’s and October’s Here Year themes, time and friendship.