Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

M has learned this game, the little song, the circle-dance, the falling. She has learned to sing (not all the words, of course) and twirl and fall. She has learned to pretend "Ring Around the Rosie" with her little figurine toys. When "we all fall down," she tosses the toys magnificently. Theirs is rather an epic fall. 

I am sitting in a dark bedroom, waiting for a toddler to fall asleep (this is a new struggle--falling asleep alone). Several blocks away, a handful of the members of my faith community gather to receive ashes from J's hand. I know how he presses those burned palm fronds against foreheads, the gentleness with which his finger imposes the reminder, the tenderness of his words, the seriousness and kindness of his liquid brown eyes. I know, as well, the cracks and roughness of his skin, evidence of the dishes he washes, the diapers he changes, in our household--in other words, I know the love more than most. 

But still, I wish I could be there, hearing the words, singing the songs, commemorating the day as more than just one more in the busy hubbub of cooking and grading and sweeping the floor. 

These early parenting weeks and months and years are a joy (I've never laughed so much or felt so drunk on the scent of another human's skin), but they are also consuming. I am amazed at those who can parent small children and regularly blog. Not all bloggers are employed full-time elsewhere, I remind myself, but I didn't even find the time during my year-long maternity leave! I find myself spent by early evening--and then I almost always still have work to do. I find that I am learning new patience, and new self-forgetfulness, and new asceticism. I find that time moves both more quickly and more slowly. I find that I am faced in a whole new way with the fact of mortality: Please, keep her safe. Please, keep us safe so that we can keep watching the wonder of her life unfold. 

Which is to say, I suppose, that the crucible of parenting is another form of Ash Wednesday, day in and day out: a humbling, quiet bearing in one's body the reality of limitation, the inevitability of a return to dust, the preciousness of fragile life, the longing for more. My forehead is not marked tonight, but my body is marked; my life is marked. We all fall down--and we all long and hope to get up again. 

Amen and amen. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

the year I gave up dusting


Two months ago I moved into a new house, as old as I am, and I have not yet dusted it.

I have not even tried to wage a war against the fingerprints on smooth surfaces.

I have not yet organized the books at my bedside. They lie haphazard on shelves, trembling with readiness to fall over.

Life is thick and fast, like the rapid freezing water that runs in a river beside the road that winds from Josh's birthplace to Yellowstone National Park, mountain water that is both beautiful and terrifying. Life rushes me on like a little twig in that water, but I am buoyed up, at least. We are buoyed up by dinnertime hilarity and family kindness and the southern light that falls through the house's front windows.

I have been silent in this space of late. My energy must pour into a tiny person and a big job and the life-swimming. But I wanted to say: hello. Hello from here.

And I wanted to remind myself of the gratitude that suddenly grips me at points these days: for the rumbling hum of the furnace kicking on; for the neighbour's crimson-tipped Maple; for the perennials I have inherited in beds around the house, and the way they fade and wither and promise all manner of surprises come spring.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

mercy?

The world is heavy with grief, thick with sorrow, thrumming with holy anger and laden with despair. I sit in a suburban Canadian living room, embroiled in my own tiny life's stresses, and wonder how to move my limbs and grin at my baby when she wakes from her nap, because how can we breathe the beautiful air, even, when the earth is so overcome?

I am talking about Ebola hemorrhagic fever. I am talking about the Mount Polley mine spill in B.C. I am talking about Ukraine. I am talking about Gaza. I am talking about Iraq. I am talking about Mike Brown, the Missouri teenager who should have started college this week but was killed by a police officer in truly dubious circumstances.

Online today, many of my friends are publicly mourning Robin Williams, who took his own life yesterday at age 63. I am sad about Robin Williams, a talented actor whose work especially touched my own generation. The suicide of a well-regarded celebrity is a strong reminder of the terrible grip of depression, even in the life of a successful individual. And as a middle-aged white male, Williams exemplifies the population most at risk for suicide in the United States these days.

But the fact that Williams is trending on social media today, including among my own circles, makes me wonder about our attention to this and not that. We feel socked in the gut by a loss of one of our own. I'm talking about white Americans here.

I've also been curious about the number of my friends using the Arabic letter "N" (for "Nasrani," or "Christian") on social media. The news from Iraq is horrifying, but Christians are not the only populations being targeted by ISIS. Aren't Christians meant to long for peace and justice among all the dispossessed?

There is something very deep in us that leads us more emotionally connected to those who are like us: perhaps it's self-regard (we fear for ourselves, implicitly, when we see the vulnerability of those we recognize as reflecting us somehow), or perhaps it's an age-old tribal mentality. In any case, human history is shaped by the question of who is in and who is out, competition for resources between warring clans and nations.

But we aren't meant to just give into that impulse, right? We aren't meant to stand in solidarity only with those who look or dress or talk or live like we do?

Isn't there something to be said for resisting that impulse, for trying to nurture in ourselves a concern for those who are in various ways "other" from us? Which is to say, an American doctor's life has the same net value as a Nigerian housecleaner's (or an American housecleaner's, or a Nigerian doctor's)? Which is to say, the senseless death of a young black man deserves as much attention as the senseless death of a middle-aged white man? Right?

I don't have a profound statement or a lyrical conclusion today. These are just thoughts I'm thinking, as I mourn and pray and wish for something better in this world. Mercy, I suppose, is what I keep asking heaven for. Mercy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

home again

The day after returning from a long trip, all I ever want to do is sit like a bump on a log, maybe read a novel, with all my bags still packed and my fridge still empty. Maybe it's travel fatigue; maybe it's a desire to preserve that liminal space before jumping back into normal life; maybe I'm just exceedingly lazy. But it's my consistent experience after travel, warring with just a touch of drive to whirlwind around until everything is unpacked and tidy again.

But in our three weeks away, M learned to pull up on everything, which means piles of travel gear around the house are an invitation to disastrous exploration. And she's not as content with leftover chips for lunch as I am (or maybe she would be--but she shouldn't be). So: we are doing the laundry, emptying the suitcase, filling the fridge.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The tabernacle of reading. Childhood summers, the breeze sucking cotton curtains flat to screens then whipping, puffing them back away into the room. That particular still heat, demanding still limbs, still voice, but oh, the mind running, wandering, deepening into some Other Place. The cool library, the stack of books stretching from lowered palms to stabilizing chin, the repeats, the new finds. The languid mornings, the solitary afternoons, the delicious car rides long enough for a full chapter, the flashlit nights. The scent of ink and glue.

Welcome, July. Welcome, stack of books. I have missed you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

a desk

The days speed by to a soundtrack of lawnmowers and prairie wind, traffic edging over the 30km speed limit outside my window because the sun tempts drivers to propel themselves faster into the summer.

Just think! Summer! After six months of snow! Warm breezes, luxuriously long days, watermelon!

My life right now is all piles of books, nap time focus, glasses of water, chocolate wrappers. It is beans and rice, chicken puree, sweeping the floor three times a day. It is cuddles, long walks, introducing tomato plants to the fresh air.

My maternity leave is ending. It could last longer--blessed Canada--but I have serious work to do prepping new courses for next year. The symbol of this shift in life seasons is a proper desk, set up in front of the bedroom window. This was Josh's desk in Chicago, and it spent nearly a year in storage, but now the aesthetics must bow to function: I must have a place to scrawl my annotations, stack my folders, plot my lectures.

I do these things with sweet potato smeared on my knuckles and chickpeas smashed and drying into the shoulder of my shirt. But still, I do them.

How do we discover ourselves in the interstices of Before and Now and Later? How do we craft identities, fashion lives, out of recollections of who we were, and are, and want to be?

Daily practice, probably. Mixing up the bread dough. Sitting down to the desk. Popping back up again when called for.

Friday, March 28, 2014

five-sense Friday

hearing: traffic whirring by; upstairs neighbours talking (which surely means they hear baby's wake-ups in the night...poor neighbours!); slight hum of the computer, like a kitten in my lap only less wiggly

smelling: old snow, melt, mud; fresh bread cooling on the counter; cinnamony tea

tasting: said tea; extraordinarily garlicky hummus for lunch; almond muffins

feeling: almost uncomfortably warm in the car when the sun shines across my arm; the cool at the back of my neck when I put my hair up; the sandpaper of my knuckles

seeing: slanting slats of late afternoon light on the carpet; a twig-like tree out the window, just barely bending in the wind; the jade plant's very pleasant round bauble shapes, like a head of curly hair, framed just so by the window; baby toys scattered, now that said baby can take them with her while she rolls around