I see you.

WE SNUCK OFF to Nashville for a quick-turnaround trip, something I mentioned in my whirlwind-that-was-December post. A little thing happened there that’s hung in my head, tugged at my heart, that wants to get worked out and put away in a neat little reconciliation package. But try as I might I haven’t been able to make that happen. I’m wondering if writing about it here will help.

The morning was cold (it being December) and we’d gone for a brisk walk: Leslie, Jan, Bonnie and I. We were staying downtown so a couple of blocks and there we were on Broadway. We moved along, window shopping a little, stopping once to look at a dizzying array of boots. But mostly we just walked, getting our blood pumping, doing our best to keep our winter bodies warm.

There were a number of people on our route making their homes on the streets. Each was huddled, it being cold, it being early, still two or three spoke as we passed, asking low for money. There is nothing comfortable about this situation for the passersby and, I expect, for the asker. “Do not make eye contact,” is the thought that came to mind, “it’s better to not make eye contact.” And so I breezed past, as if he/she was not there. As if in my world, he/she did not exist.

(I will pause here briefly to state the point of this post is not a debate on the complicated plight of the homeless, nor on the protocol that is most helpful, or not. I hope you will forgive me that.)

Still I want to say I found it difficult to simply walk by. Not because of the ask or the money; personally I believe it is a better practice to financially support the organizations that are dedicated to providing meaningful help to people in such challenging situations. I’m talking about the practice of walking past without so much as a tiny bit of human-to-human acknowledgement. “Whatever circumstance has brought you to this,” I want my eyes to say, “you matter.”

I did not do it, though. I moved on by, my eyes looking another direction, feeling that type of contact was too much of a risk.

THREE BLOCKS LATER we came upon a couple of well healed young men who were clearly at work, taking a sidewalk survey or hawking a tour or promoting product or business. I watched them as they did their delightful best to get the attention of anyone within earshot, hoping for a stop, hoping for an audience that might result in a purchase. There was exactly zero chance any of us were interested in doing this, so as we got closer once again I turned my attention away meaning to sail past, meaning to Not Make Eye Contact. I did not want to extend an invitation, or–worse yet–agree to a closed deal before I even knew what I was buying.

Down went my head. Brisk moved my legs. Then I thought:

No.

Heck no.

I will not act impervious. I will not walk past and ignore.

I raised my head, looked right to the eyes of the young man (which were quite beautiful, as it turns out) and offered a quick good morning. And I kept walking, as we all did.

It was as if lights flashed all around him. Ding, ding, ding, you could hear the universe say, and he moved fast to catch up, relentless in tracking us–and me in particular–with his offering.

I turned to him, even more curious now.

“I’m not interested in buying,” I said. “I was just curious what would happen if I made eye contact. They tell you not to, you know.”

The young man picked right up on this, saying, yes, what I want is your eye contact because that gives me an opening. Then he moved right on into his spiel.

“Don’t you think it’s a shame?” I said, as soon as I could break into his pitch. “Us being conditioned that way, I mean? Believing that in the world today, to make eye contact with a stranger is to offer some sort of unwritten contract.”

Again he used this to further his pitch.

I, myself, was getting on a roll. “I think it’s part of what’s wrong with our culture,” I went on. “We walk down sidewalks believing the best thing we can do–the responsible thing, in fact–is to ignore each other, to remain as detached and distant from strangers as possible.”

(He was not giving up.)

“Anyway,” I said. “I hope you have a nice day.”

“Are you sure I can’t interest you…” he said, and our group moved on.

LIKE I SAID, I keep thinking about this dilemma. It has lines that are black and white. It has lines that are gray. And it extends to most everyone on the street, people (just like me, or you) who are simply moving from Point A to Point B, who pass each other by without so much as a glance because it feels too risky, too invasive, too…what, exactly? I keep thinking about that young man–enterprising and determined as he was (which I do respect). I wonder. Is there a way? Can we look at each other, and see?

I don’t know. But I hope it’s something I will have the courage to test even in tiny, tiny ways. We are human, after all, each and every one of us. And at our core we all, I believe, long to be seen, and heard, and known.

XXOO

taking stock

I AM A PERSON of resolution. I love nothing more than a full list of prioritized intentions and a clean, white January slate on which to write them. I mean: What can be better than a fresh start? A new beginning? An opportunity to do it all better?

It is a ridiculous practice, mostly. This I know. Yet every year I cannot help myself. And as the sun set yesterday, its last time in 2018, I pulled my journal from my backpack and sat down to make my 2019 resolution list.

so long 2018

A funny thing happened. A new thought came to me.

What if, the thought began. What if you first took a few minutes to consider the things you accomplished this year.

But that’s notmy little mind argued.

What if, the thought insisted. (It was clearly not listening to me.) What if before you write (1) LOSE TEN POUNDS (2) EXERCISE EVERY DAY (3) DRINK MORE WATER for the tenth year in a row, what if you made a list of the things you did this year that you are proud of?

I can’t do that, I thought, that’s not the exercise. I picked up the journal, 2019 bearing down.

I turned to a new page. I watched as my mechanical pencil wrote across the top:

It started writing, and writing and writing, and things came out like Loving Daddy well through Alzheimers (#1); Doubled down on writing (#2); Discovered I am Enneagram 9 (#9); Took Eliza’s advice (#13). On and on the listing went, coming easy and fast, filled with memories and reminders of the things that made up my days, of the things that, to me, mattered most.

Sweet Aunt Nancy
#14. Sharing this beautiful mountain with so many people we love.

THERE WILL BE a 2019 Resolutions list, you can be sure. And it will go on a clean white sheet right up front in my brand spanking new orange bullet journal. (Lose ten pounds will again hold Spot 1, I can promise.) But for now I am content, fully satisfied, soaking in the fullness of my 2018 review; considering, for the moment, the surround of the many things (great and small and very small) that make up a year, that make up a life, that are the work of life, itself.

XXOO

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the counting of days

It starts around…oh…October 25th, 26th, or thereabouts. A trio of birthdays, then Halloween and Eliza’s birthday, then Tim’s. Then Thanksgiving and the wild, wooly full-on race to Christmas.

Every year I swear I will SLOW IT DOWN and sit for a minute, quiet.

In reverence. Experiencing Advent, full and in bloom.

But there is so much to be done! The prep, the parties, the shopping wrapping giving. Endless cooking (and cleaning). All those sweets.

Hugs and giggles and good, good cheer.

(A quick little jaunt to Nashville, dropped into the mix.)
Amy Grant. Vince Gill. The Ryman, yes we did.

I am reminded, once again, of my mother’s year-after-year petition (at which I inevitably rolled my eyes, and at which–I am sure–my daughter does now): Hurry up and get here so Christmas can begin.

Finally she did, and Colleen, and Preston and Ellie the dog, and we lit candles at church, and we sang Silent Night, and we got home to a house filled with happy and love and joy. And there were cocktails and holiday snacks and a rousing game of Train Dominoes. We laughed, and laughed and laughed.

Then the stockings came down, and the lights went out, and there in the dark I thought of the many gracious blessings brought on by this holy night. I gave deep, heart-filled thanks.

And I thought of people everywhere who at the very same moment are hurting or afraid or alone, and I thought how, to so many, this season is overwhelming in a different way. How it must magnify pain, how it must bring sadness into clearer focus. I held them close, and I prayed.

I named those I know, and I prayed.

And I closed my eyes, and slept, and morning came, in light.

The promise fulfilled.

Once again, the promise fulfilled.

XXOO

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Darkness, and Light, and Advent

 

It is a practice that brings depth to the season and calm to my soul; a daily watching for the promise that when darkness surrounds, light is to come.

This is Advent, to me.

It’s what we all want, is it not? What we need? To hang on? When life is hard, when the world is overwhelming, when its demands, its sorrows, its hardship are too much for a person to bear: We are loved all the more. We are seen, treasured. Cared for.

 

 

Light is to come, that’s the promise.

Watch for it, hang on for the glimpses, in Advent.

XXOO

 

I’m looking for light each day, and sharing it via Instagram. I’d love for you to join me. Share, if you want, with the hashtag #lookingforlightTDG. I would love to find each other and share, with your blessings, some of those images on The Daily Grace. 

 

One. Two. Three.

 

I was in my studio one morning recently when I looked out to see this.

 

 

Three bluebirds fussing it out

 

 

over claim to one nest. (Nobody giving an inch.)

 

 

I think I’ll just cheer everyone on!*

 

XXOO

*I would like to amend my POV. I totally agree with my friend, Rosie, who commented below. I do hope the kindest bird wins.

 

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Thanksgiving and Tradition (Redux)

This post first appeared on The Daily Grace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. So much has changed in the time since. All of the grandparents have passed on. Eliza is 26 (and living in another state). The memories are still warm, however, and so I repost it every year in honor of my mother–my tradition, I guess you would have to say.

I pray your Thanksgiving is filled with all the things that bring you joy and comfort.  XXOO, Cathy

 

THE PAST THREE NIGHTS I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice over which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in our formica-countered kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking, I wonder if we will remember next year?

 

IN MY FAMILY TODAY—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.

 

Eliza, in blue, Party Girl in The Nutcracker

 

I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.

 

at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

 

AND SO, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

As it is tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.

 

 

all the leaves are brown

WE’VE COME TO THE MOUNTAINS for a long, slow holiday week. My sweet Eliza is here, a glorious treat, along with Ellie, the dog; Little Bit, the dog; and Tim, husband extraordinaire. We’d hardly gotten the groceries put away (this took a minute–there was a car load) when Eliza announced she was headed for a walk with Ellie and any takers were welcome. Of course I grabbed my boots and coat and off we set, we three.

We didn’t talk about anything in particular. There has been time for that lately, my adult child making the difficult decision, recently, to move on to a new job in a new city. There are new priorities. How grateful I am for the honor of helping her work through that process; what a gift that is to a Mom.

 

 

Ellie ran. And ran and ran, in the cold crisp air. We marveled at her strength, her excitement and spirit.

 

two sweet girls

 

 

OF COURSE WINTER has come to this high ridge. The trees are bare, the colors are browns and greens and grays. We were making our way back toward home when I happened to glance right, down the old Ogle Meadows Trail. It’s a view I’ve seen a million times, a trail I’ve walked a hundred. But in this moment things seemed different, somehow, the offering something new.

 

 

It called to mind a blessing I hadn’t considered in a while.

How lucky we are that seasons change.

That leaves fall and light shifts and a new view opens before our very eyes.

 

yes, how lucky we are

 

It’s something I want to remember as we move through these last days of November. As we approach the reverence of Advent, and December with its sparkle and expectation. I want to notice as the world offers itself anew in a thousand different ways, large and small, grand and ordinary.

I will keep watch.

 

XXOO

 

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An unmooring.

IT’S BEEN A LONG WHILE, friends, since I’ve visited you here, deep summer filled with such highs and lows it’s difficult to get my bearings. I’ve found it hard to write, impossible to imagine how I’d ever find the words. There has been so much sadness. And joy, overwhelming joy, and kindness and grace and gratitude, coming along in grand sweeps and sways.

A roller coaster, proverbial as that is.

There is no need for a detailed accounting. It is enough to say my dear Daddy, who spent his last years in a fiercely determined fight not to let demon Alzheimer’s get the better of him, finally succumbed. The last weeks were awful. Wretched. A NOBODY-SHOULD-EVER-HAVE-TO-GO-THROUGH-THIS kind of time. But also, an open state which gave us some of the funniest, most tender, most beautiful moments we ever spent.

 

one of our last visits

 

And there were the sweet days following, remembering, with my brothers.

And the outpouring from Dad’s broad and beloved circle.

 

THERE HAVE BEEN a thousand other worthy-of-mention occurrences over the same period. I spent a few glorious days at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop–the highest of highs–where the focus on craft (and particularly that of the talented and generous Michael Parker) impacted my writing and clarified the tough requirements of the dreaded novel edit. (I regret I was called away before Nikky Finney‘s keynote. It would have been a great honor to meet her.) During this same time many, many dear friends faced mountains of sorrow and stress. There has been an unusual frenzy of sickness and loss and change. Still others are dealing right now with the wonderful/horrible transition of a child leaving home. I will never, ever discount the deep emotions that result from this college drive-away; it has been seven years for me and I swear, it still hurts.

And yet.

And yet the fog lifts, time and again.

 

with my Daddy … July 15, 2018

 

THIS, THEN, is what became of my summer.

The rises and falls, the scramble for footing.

The full surround of grace.

And still the loss. The deep, deep loss of my Dad.

 

XXOO

 

 

When You See The Light

 

We’re at the height of our powers, he said,

and we laughed,

 

 

we friends who’ve known each other for years,

friends who mostly know the truths.

 

Think about it, he said.

 

 

Our kids are grown. Our careers are built. We have money enough.

(He was being quite earnest.)

We’re healthy, functioning physically. We have our wits.

 

 

We can pretty much do what we want, and enjoy it.

 

Then this, which came at me like a ton of carefully fired bricks.

 

It’s not gonna always be like this, he said.

 

 

Now is the golden time. 

 

(Height of our powers.)

 

 

Let’s be grateful.

 

 

XXOO

 

 

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The Lenten Desert (redux)

I wrote this post two years ago but it all seemed new when the link randomly popped up on my Twitter feed a few days ago. The lesson is one of the most important of my life, and the fact I’d already forgotten is reason enough to share it with you again, here. On this day between the darkness and the light I pray the promise of Easter–and its sunrise fulfillment–will fill your heart and spirit.     ~ cathy

 

IT HAS BEEN my desert during this lenten season, my place of wandering. This is something I didn’t realize until this moment as I write this post, and it’s something that feels strange and awkward to admit, even to myself. But the truth is in these past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time online discovering an unfolding world of seekers who make keen observations about our profound need for grace and love and kindness in a crazy hustle world.

My journey began when, in rather typical and wildly random internet fashion, I came upon this sentence in a blog post last February. Since then it has stuck to me like brittle autumn leaves on a wool coat:

We come not because we must but because we may.

It was a story about an intimate Communion shared by Carolyn Watts and her spiritual director, a sharing of the bread and the cup that so affected the writer she wrote about it on her blog Hearing the Heartbeat. She went on to say:

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must.

Carolyn makes a beautiful point about her God-call to stillness, something that has become more than a practice for her, now a life center.

 

THE COMMUNION PHRASE HAS CLUNG TO ME, TOO, insisting I take it another place in my own world. The thought arises every time the “I must” sentiment enters my head or leaves my mouth: I have to finish this work task; I have to fold that laundry; I have to get that workout in. Ugh.  My day–every single day–is weighted down by a long list of I must tasks that define my attitude and my existence.

But here is my truth. How fortunate I am God has given me the ability to do these things. How blessed I am to be able to walk on the treadmill and participate in a Pilates class, that I have clothes to wash and a machine in which to dry them and a closet in which to hang them. I have a car that drives me to the grocery store where the shelves are stocked, where I simply need put things in my cart and bring them home to peel and chop and roast and eat, foods that nourish my body.

Oh, yes, what a privilege it is in this life that I may, rather than I must.

 

IT IS STILL COMMUNION, this being open to God’s presence in the ten thousand tiny tasks that make up my day, my week, my life. He is there and ready to meet me, this I know–not just on the altar, but at the kitchen sink, in my weed-filled garden, as I fill the car with gas.

Blogger Emily P. Freeman (through whom I found the Carolyn Watts post) encourages “small moment living” through a practice she calls Simply Tuesday. She writes,

Real life happens in the small moments we find on the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday holds secrets we can’t see in a hurry–secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls.

It’s a practice I want to emulate, and so I will join with Emily’s followers in posting “an ordinary moment” each Tuesday on Instagram and tagging it #itssimplytuesday. The point, of course, is neither the photograph nor the Instagram sharing. Instead it is the mindful attention required to notice and celebrate that which is so ordinary in a greatly blessed “I must” day.

 

bubbles
my nieces, in an ordinary moment I love

 

THERE ARE A MILLION other flavorful nuggets I’ve found as I’ve walked through this digital desert, a wonderful community of folks out there looking for grace in the everyday. What a gift it is to find them via the internet where it requires merely a click to connect person to person, heart to heart, soul to soul.

And that in itself is rather miraculous. Wouldn’t you say?

Not because we must but because we may.

Yes.

 

XXOO

 

ps: I adore Emily P. Freeman who, since I wrote this, has launched a sweet, quiet podcast that I promise will rebalance your soul. Find it here:

The Next Right Thing

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