…the hard roads are the ones worth choosing

Been thinking about my father lately.  Even more than usual.  Been listening to Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, where this line jumps out …

…the hard roads are the ones worth choosing
Some day we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile.

These lines remind me so much of Dad.  He felt firmly that value was correlated with difficulty.  I remember a conversation with him about this and I made the argument that just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s the best.  He looked at me quizzically and clearly disagreed.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because I think in my heart of hearts I do agree with him.

Just thinking about Dad, and hearing those words, and remembering this beautiful view from my wonderful visit with Grace this weekend.

 

Thank you

I have had THANK YOU on my mind the last few weeks.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

-Meister Eckhart

This line was in our holiday card several years ago and I think of it every single day.

I feel overcome with gratitude lately, for the road that led me here and for all the complex realities of life right now.  Maybe that’s what midlife is: a sturdy awareness of our gifts even in the midst of days that are dark or challenging.  I’m thankful for so much.  For the snow.  For my young adult children, who make me laugh and make me proud and make me excited to see what’s coming next.  For my husband, who has been by my side for so many years.  For our dog, whose presence has been an unmitigated joy even though she barks too much.  For walks with friends.  For my wonderful, incredible colleagues that it’s a privilege to work with every day.  For my dearly beloved closest friends, the true native speakers who know who they are.  For the many, many years of family dinners, and the routine and familiarity of sitting down together most nights.  For pink and red M&M chocolate chip cookies.  For our Peleton.  For my sister and mother, whose steadfast presence in my life means the world.  For my father, who I miss daily.  For the lengthening days.  For the heartache and challenge that helped me appreciate all that is beautiful here.

My maternal grandmother was my first grandparent to die, in 1997.  She was the only grandparent not at our wedding, and I wore her wedding ring. Her husband, my grandfather, was with her when she died and his last words to her were “thank you.”

I cannot think of a better thing to hear at the end of one’s life.

 

Around here lately


Phew!  It’s already February.  Wow.  January 2022 was kind of a blur.

We all got COVID.  Kids were asymptomatic (but both had to miss school for between 5-10 days depending on individual school rules).  Matt had a mild cold for 2 days.  I had a real cough for 2 weeks but was otherwise fine, never had to miss work or anything.  I’ve had worse colds.  I’m grateful we all have antibodies now!

Whit turned 17.  We celebrated with … dinner the three of us, based on the update above.  He is a great sport.  The evening of Whit’s birth remains among the most sacred hours of my life.  I labored mostly alone with him and it was absolutely holy.  Feels like yesterday, but also like a different life.

All my amarylises bloomed.  Also my paperwhites.

It snowed a lot.  We got about 18 inches I’d guess but due to winds and blowing there were some drifts way deeper than that.  Matt and Whit were in Vermont skiing so I did a lot of shoveling.  The photo above is our back stairs.  I’d shoveled them less than 2 hours before this photo.  It came down fast.  I like a storm though I’m ready to be able to walk Phoebe in sneakers again so it can melt now anytime.

The day are much longer now – it’s light at 5pm which feels like a huge blessing and positive sign.

How are things in your world?

 

Favorite books of 2021

It was a good reading year.  I read a lot of plot, too, and recently discovered James Patterson (I have a well-documented love for Linda Fairstein, David Baldacci, Michael Connelley, and John Grisham, and Patterson joins this pantheon).  But thought it was interesting to reflect on some of my favorite reads from this year.  I’m interested in what you loved, too!

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr – without question my #1, by a mile.  I adored this book.  Adored, adored, adored.  As I said on Instagram, “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.”

No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) – Kate Bowler – I loved Bowler’s first book and this one even more.  It’s a gorgeous exploration of what you learn and think about when you suddenly contemplate dying in your 30s.  I underlined so many passages.  This is a beautiful book.

Great Circle – Maggie Shipstead – This was my #1 of the year until I read the Doerr this fall.  Shipstead’s book is a soaring story of strength, resilence, and pursuing a dream, and the arc of a flight over the world echoes in the narrative.  Just glorious.

A Children’s Bible – Lydia Millet – This slender dystopian novel packs a powerful punch.  I’m still thinking about it 6 months later.  Completely haunting.

Monogamy – Sue Miller – I loved this story about long marriage and midlife, and particularly loved that it’s set not just in my home town but in my actual neighborhood.  Even more thrilling is that Dani Shapiro is writing the film adapatation!  I can’t wait!

The Paper Palace – Miranda Cowley Heller – I found this book profoundly evocative of my childhood summers near Cape Cod, and I also think the central question, of the one who got away in the context of a happy and contented marriage, is very interesting and not frequently explored.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted – Suleika Jaouad – I found this book inspiring and gloriously written, and it made me look around my ordinary life with (even) more awareness than usual.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell – I absolutely loved this book’s exploration of Hamlet from another angle, and the observations O’Farrell makes on marriage and the ways that grief and memory echo through our lives.

What were your favorite books this year?  

Disclosure: these are Amazon links

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.