Archive for 2013

Christmas is just around the corner.  Everywhere I look, there are sparkling lights and festive decorations.  My own Christmas tree is in place; and now that my Favorite Child’s birthday is over, I will begin to add a lifetime of ornaments to the colored lights that have sufficed so as not to overshadow her celebration.  The gifts are ready for wrapping, and the calendar is almost in order for the joyful time of year when all of my children and grandchildren gather in one place — my place — at the same time.  There will be tons of chatter, unending hugs, and the sounds of laughter and the telling of the old stories that define us as a family.  New stories will be added; and by next Christmas, even the youngest children will find that they have become a part of the family’s history.  They will learn from our celebration and take in our traditions without even realizing what is happening, and I will watch as history repeats in the children of my own children.  I am excited and busy and indulging in my usual worry that it will never come together in time — but it will.  And I will watch the magic of Christmas and family and all that love dance in the eyes of the people who are dearest to me.

So why am I crying?

In the deep silence that lives at the very core of me, the music is muffled and the lights are a bit dim.  You see, one of Santa’s best helpers is not with us this Christmas.  My dad finally let go of this world in July.  Life has gone on, and I have thought of him often as new events have unfolded.  “Dad would have loved to hear that one,” I’ve thought more than once, and I’ve missed being able to pick up the phone and bring him up to date.  I know he’s in the loop — watching over all that transpires in his clan — but there was such joy in telling the stories and hearing his delight.  Christmas is especially hard.  Dad was such a great co-conspirator at Christmas.  He was the one who always wanted to know what I was planning to give each member of the family.  He was the great secret-keeper who shared my plans and built my anticipation of enjoying the surprises I had in mind for each person on my list.  In a way, he started it all.  Dad was the one, when we were children, who heroically delivered the tree on Christmas Eve.  I remember him pulling it into the house, needles dropping everywhere and snowy boot prints defining his path.  I also remember him bringing in giant boxes with gifts of clothing for my mother.  He would show them to me and then beg my assistance in wrapping them, thus beginning our life-long conspiratorial tradition.

This year the phone will not ring.  There will be no sound of Dad’s voice at the other end of the line, wishing me a Merry Christmas and wanting to know every detail of every reaction of every child on Christmas morning.

I wanted to write this today, because I know there are many people having the same sort of blue Christmas I am having this year.  I need to write this because for some odd reason, people see me as strong and stoic and able to get through difficulty unscathed.  I need for people to know that they are right — but that I still cry at every sappy video and every Christmas movie I’ve seen a thousand times.  I need for people to know that in the deep silence, at the very core of every one of us, there resides joy and sorrow and grief and loss and renewal and healing.  As I visit that place this Christmas and let my tears flow, I want to remember — and to remind you, my dear friends and family — to look through the mist and see all that dwells there.

I have visited this place more than once in my lifetime; and I suppose you could say that I’ve had some pretty big losses along the way.  I’m here to tell you today that it took some time in the deep silence to discover all the good things that mingle there with the bad ones.  I’m here to tell you that if you are visiting that deep silence for the very first time, do not be afraid.  You will be there for a time; but if you stay long enough, your joy will return, your sorrow will subside, and you will leave strong and renewed and ready to live the sort of life wished for you by the person you are missing.

I want to thank you for seeing me as strong, because it encourages me to remember that as time passes I will feel that way again.  I want to thank every person who shows me in every small way that they recognize who I am — so that I can remember, too, if I get caught up in my tears and forget.  I want to remind every one of you that you, too, are strong — in that deep silence that dwells at the very core of you.  One day the tears will stop, but probably not today.  But I see you.  And you are beautiful and strong and loved.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
     — Dalai Lama

The words of the Dalai Lama roll off the tongue so sweetly, so gently, so beautifully; and then life intervenes and challenges us again and again to live compassion.  I have had a busy Fall, as you might be able to see by my lack of blog time.  It has been one of those times when every minute could be scheduled three times over and there simply do not seem to be enough hours in the day.  I was rolling along at the speed of light, doing my best to streamline my schedule when a call came from my sister.  “I don’t want you to be upset, but I need to tell you something.  All of the blankets you made for Mom were lost in the laundry this week and nobody can find them.”

Mom has suffered with dementia for more than ten years now.  When Dad died last summer, Mom was moved to the Alzheimer unit in her retirement community.  Although my sisters live nearby, I live 1500 miles away from her Florida home.  Mom no longer talks on the phone.  Actually, Mom only talks in person some of the time.  When Dad passed away, I lost my communication link to my mother as well; and the small lap afghans I had crocheted for her took on greater importance to us.  You see, when I make a blanket for my mom, I crochet lots of love into every stitch; and I deliver it to her with a note that reminds her it carries the hugs I am not there to give her each day.  I honestly don’t know whether Mom connects with my sentiments or whether she really remembers who I am; but it makes me feel better knowing the words have been said.  It mattered a whole lot to me that Mom had the blanket I made for her birthday and the one I made for Christmas, and it mattered a ton to me that she had the one I stitched last summer for her new life in her new room without her sweetheart.

Lost in the laundry.  I can’t begin to tell you all that went through my mind.  How could three blankets just be lost?  Had someone liberated them for their own use?  I tried to push down the anger I felt, but my sense of betrayal and loss was huge and my empathy for Mom’s loss of her security blanket that always was with her,draped over the bar on her walker, made my stomach feel empty and hollow.

Needless to say, every moment I was not juggling two other responsibilities suddenly was taken up with the job of crocheting a new blanket – STAT!  It has been sent on its way and soon will be delivered by my sister to its new home on Mom’s lap.  As always, it will wrap her in a hug from her eldest daughter.  I suppose you might say that the problem is solved, but the challenge to my compassion outlived the creation of a replacement blanket.  How do we find compassion when we have been wronged by others?  How do we begin to forgive when someone has stolen the love we intended for someone we hold dear?  How do I deal with the idea that someone else is wrapped in my mother’s hugs?

I tried, in my anger, to imagine who might want Mom’s blankets.  Maybe someone else had a loved one in Mom’s condition.  Maybe someone needed a blanket for a baby — they use wrappers of a similar size.  I began to think of the people who might be warm and cozy under those blankets, never knowing that they had been intended for someone else.  Then I thought of my Mom, so very old and very frail and very distant in her mind’s state of confusion.  I thought of her when she was young and vital and vivacious and full of compassion for others.  I could hear her voice, now silent to me, firmly stating that maybe someone else needed those blankets as much as she had needed them.  I connected for a moment with the memories of the way she showed us how to be compassionate; and suddenly my heart began to melt.  I feel better now, knowing that Mom may have a new hug from me very soon; and that makes it easier to let go of the others; but I will answer the challenge to compassion and picture what I know is true — that if my mother, or her daughter, were to meet and understand the need of whoever now owns those stray blankets, we would gladly reach out and give them a hug as we tucked them into their warmth.

Tonight, as I snuggle under my blankets, I will conjure up a dream of old folks and babies and mothers and daughters who all need a warm hug from another human being — or at least a blanket with love built into every stitch.  I will close my eyes and remember the mother who taught me compassion.  I will honor that part of her as I picture her warm and toasty, wrapped in a hug from her daughter.  Good night, Mom.

Mean Inconsiderate Unthinking People Suck Do More Damage Than They Realize.

And what are we supposed to do about it anyway?

Today has been a day for remembering man’s inhumanity to man.  The first message I received was from a friend — one who spends all her time and energy working at shedding some light on  her world.  Her combination of artwork and words — Bone Sighs — bring encouragement to people who need it, recognition to people who walk similar paths, and a special brand of light that illuminates the darkness.  I suppose that when you shine a special sort of light, it has a way of attracting darkness — perhaps the sort of darkness that craves illumination — but darkness, nonetheless.  Perhaps it attracts the sort of darkness that wants to not only borrow your words, but claim them as her own.  Perhaps it attracts the sort of darkness that, when confronted and asked to respect  your words, launches a campaign to publicly accuse you of stealing her work and to only back down when presented with the fact that the material is copyrighted.

Unthinking people do more damage than they realize.  Translate that any way you like.  I only know that when my own light is forced into the darkest corner of the room, it appears brighter than ever.  And I know that the minute a speck of light begins to shine, darkness no longer exists.  With the support of friends and fans and people who seek light and truth, I know that my friend’s light is filling the entire room once again.  As soon as the light of truth was shined by those who knew it, the darkness retreated and could do no more damage.

The next message I received was from my daughter-in-law.  She worked the night shift last night, bringing care and comfort to some elderly folks who need a little light in their lives.  She came home to a house where her family already slept and fell into bed so she could be up bright and early with her three little ones.  What she discovered when she got ready to take her daughter to school was that someone had driven down their street, under cover of darkness, and shot out windows in cars.  Her minivan was minus its rear window.

Unthinking people do more damage than they realize.  Translate that any way you like.  I suppose you could make excuses and say that whoever did this had no idea that they were hurting a young family whose parents tagged in and out from work to support their kids.  I suppose they had no idea that these young parents had scrimped and saved  and would have used the money the vandals wasted on gas to buy groceries.  I suppose they had no idea that they were messing with the vehicle that responds to emergencies as their daughter with medical issues travels from appointment to appointment and emergency room to hospital.  And I suppose you could say that they know nothing about deductibles and the fact that the glass repair will have to be paid out of a tight budget.  Unthinking.  Blind.  Acting under cover of darkness, these people hurt total strangers in a way that took the wind right out of their sails.

What darkness does not understand is that the light always wins.  Darkness has no strength, no tenacity, no ability to stand up after being knocked down and find its center again.  What I wish the darkness knew was how easy it is to shine.  I suppose the chances are slim that the (ir)responsible parties will see these words; but what we’re supposed to do about it (anyway) probably has little to do with them.  What is important to learn from the times when (yes, I’ll say it) Mean People Suck, is that we must outdo their meanness with our kindness.  Wherever there is hurt, we must heal.  Wherever there is disappointment or discouragement, we must uplift.  Wherever the darkness decides to take up residence, we must shine our light.

Unthinking people do more damage than they realize; but we who live in the light bring more healing than we realize.  We must join forces against the darkness and simply say, “Enough.”

It is Halloween, and soon the neighborhood children will be knocking at our door and hoping for a treat rather than a trick.  A light, spitting rain has begun to fall, and it may make the evening a non-event.  This whole day has been overcast; and even when no rain had started, the streets and sidewalks looked damp.  It is a perfect day for the Eve of all Hallows, at least in my world; because this is the day that my very core vibrates with a song of endings and of laying to rest.

I live under the Gregorian calendar; and like the rest of my contemporaries, I celebrate New Year’s Day on January first.  Still, there is a part of my DNA, hidden deep within my bones, that knows today is the day of endings — the day to lay the year to rest.  If the weather allows, I will build a small fire in the fire pit and watch it burn.  I will place the parts of my year that need to be relinquished in its flames and give thanks for them as I watch them fade to ash.  I will sit in the silence that is broken only by the crackle of the fire and the whisper of the veil as it grows thin in the Autumn night.  I will listen carefully for the voices that play in my heart — the voices of those I have loved, and who have loved me, and who now live a hair’s breadth away in a world we find mysterious.  I will listen to the mystery and let my heart play the sound of their voices as the fire reminds me that their physical beings have been consumed.  I will sing a song or two — a melancholy one that tells my longing to reach through and touch them again, and a celebratory one that conjures the memories of times when we laughed and touched and lived together.

When the fire has turned to embers, I will light a small candle and carry it inside to bring light to my table.  I will laugh at the way that my DNA, hidden deep within my bones, urges me to bring the fire inside and see that it keeps burning through the long, dark winter.  I will shut the door tightly so that no breeze can enter and blow out its flame.  I will watch as it burns through the coming day and hold onto the chance to honor those I love and bask in their closeness.

When the day is done, and the candle has finished its burning, I will straighten my calendar once again and return to the cycles of the world where I live my days; but the whole winter long, I will feel the warmth of the fire that has followed me home on this dark Halloween night.

I must go now.  There will soon be small goblins and ghosts appearing out of the darkness.  I must prepare the glow sticks I have waiting for them.  There is something in my DNA, hidden deep within my bones, that compels me to send them into the darkness with some light to lead their way.  Tonight is the night when darkness and light dance their dance of mystery.  Tonight my spirit twirls to the music and follows the light across the divide and back again.

May you know the love of the angels, deep as the ocean, steadfast as the stars
   — Author unknown

When life upends our routines, we often feel as though we have lost our ability to be productive.  Our daily tasks seem lost in the hubbub of new demands; and it is easy to judge ourselves for not being attentive to our daily activities.  I have been feeling that way lately, as my sweetheart’s recuperation, my new job, and the beginning of our last school year as parents have distracted, demanded and challenged my time away.  It has been ten days since I made my last blog entry; and it is difficult not to judge myself for that after so many years of daily writing.  Before I begin today’s piece, I just want to remind you not to limit yourselves by the routines you establish.  That is not to say we should live at random and without purpose — rather it is to say that there is purpose to be lived in places we have not yet reached and not yet imagined.  Let us hold fast to our commitments, but let us also be willing to step outside the comfortable places we have built and know that there is adventure to be lived in places unknown.  Perhaps those new places will be the next portion of my life.  Perhaps I will find myself returning to this place I love when the winds have settled into a pleasant breeze once again.  What is important is not that the breeze is always gentle, but that we allow the wind to blow us away from the things we know now and then.  It is then that we discover — or remember — what is important.  This blog is important, because I believe it is vital for each of us to tell our story; but it is in the departure that we sometimes reaffirm the truths we long to share when we return.  It is good to stop by here today, because I have a story to share.

The last blog I wrote, ten days ago, was an expression of gratitude for the outpouring of love and prayers for my granddaughter, the amazing Cheyenne.  Chey had been ill and in the Childrens Hospital; and countless people came together to pray, to support, to love this child of my heart.  She is back on track again, and we continue to enjoy her exuberance, her sweetness, and her wisdom that goes far beyond her years.

Those who follow the daily quotations and photos I post to Facebook probably have noticed that the past week or so has been a tribute to angels.  There is a good reason — in fact there are so many good reasons for this — that I have come to share a remarkable story with you today.

When Chey was still in the hospital, waiting to come home, I heard from a friend.  This friend is someone who has been blessed and burdened with an intuitive ability to empathize and to heal.  She was calling to check on Cheyenne.  They had met when Chey was only a tiny little girl; and this dear woman has carried Cheyenne in her heart ever since.  She wanted to tell me that when she was doing her healing meditation and prayer, Cheyenne had appeared to her.  And she wanted me to know that my little granddaughter was surrounded by countless angels who were wrapping her in healing and light.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  Here I was, worrying about what might happen and wondering about the outcomes, and all the while there were angels busy at watching, protecting, and healing in a dimension where worry has no place.  No week spent philosophizing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin could have jolted me back to the awareness that we are always surrounded by beings who want to help, to assist, and to heal our humanness.

It is profoundly simple.  There is little else to say.  Within another day, Cheyenne was on her way home and back to living her not-so-ordinary life.  Without the sharing of my friend’s story, I might have thought we were very lucky to have the crisis end.  In the context of her willingness to share, I knew that luck was only a euphemism for something so powerful and so divine that we shield our eyes from it and duck away into our humanity rather than to look head-on into the work of God.  I have been very quiet these past ten days, because I have been thinking of the angels — of Cheyenne’s, and of my own, and of yours, too.  Never forget that they are with you.  Never lose sight of their presence.  Look to them and be thankful.  Feel their healing touch and be renewed.  Sometimes we need a major crisis in order to remember that we can look to our angels on the most ordinary days; so please remember them when life is smooth and peaceful, too.  When have the angels lifted you up?  When have they touched your heart in a way that has grabbed your attention?  Remember to share your stories with others, because we all need to be reminded from time to time that every one of us is loved — as deeply as the ocean, as steadfastly as the stars.  It was through the telling of her vision of Chey’s angels that my friend reminded me to appreciate my own.

“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”
   –French Proverb

My heart is filled with gratitude today.  My heart remembers with amazement and awe that a simple request for people to pray for a child I love brought more than sixty responses of support, of love, of healing light, and of prayers.  Sixty.  And only a handful of those people ever have laid an eye on my granddaughter, Cheyenne.

Chey is now six years old, and her life has been one that has called us to kindness, inspired us to hope, and filled us with delight from the very first day we met her in the NICU at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia.  People who would focus on her medical chart might see her as leading a challenging life, but those of us who love her simply see a little girl who is delighted by the joys of living.

From time to time, we are reminded that Cheyenne is built differently, that it has taken more than a dozen surgeries to put together her little body, that an overnight pump still delivers a large part of her nutrition, that her childhood will be spent in tweaking and improving and balancing her health so that she can go on twinkling for a very long time.

Those of us who love this little girl tend to forget that there is anything different about her — unless you consider her extraordinary kindness and compassion and joy something different, which it is.  We celebrate the whole package that is Cheyenne, because we know that it’s likely that her extraordinary spirit is connected to the extraordinary challenges that make up her life.  Those of us who love her know that there is something miraculous about the way that such a gigantic spirit can fit into a body that is just over three feet tall; and not one of us has escaped being humbled by her enormity when it comes to embracing every single day.

And so we are jolted when reality intervenes and our precious little ray of sunlight is overcome by another challenge.  There is not one of us who wouldn’t trade places with her and spare her another round of poking and prodding and repairing; but we do not have that choice.  And so when the time comes for more reality, we turn to other people and ask them to surround her with a thousand candles that make her light even brighter.  And yesterday, she was bombarded — and so was I — by the prayers and healing energy of more than sixty people I know as friends, or friends of friends.  I read every single message sent on Cheyenne’s behalf, and the words and love and prayers made me feel thankful and strong.

Today the words have escaped my mind.  The crisis has been averted, and life goes on; but as my mind turns to other things, my heart remembers.  And my heart is grateful.

I think we sometimes underestimate the power of love and prayer and healing energy when a whole bunch of people become intentional in joining together out of compassion.  Sixty people, and those were only the ones who responded to me.  Multiply that by the number of people in our large family and others who love Cheyenne, and I would venture to say that there were hundreds praying and willing her back to health.  I would venture to say that there were many hearts that filled with gratitude at the news that Chey could go home and sleep in her own bed again.  It is through letting that gratitude carry us to another and another opportunity to fill the hearts that suffer that we discover our connection to our brothers and sisters.  It is through sharing our compassion that our hearts begin to remember and our world is healed.

Today the words that defined yesterday escape me; but my heart remembers and it sings with gratitude.  I turn back toward the people who offered their support, who held their tiny candles, who encircled Cheyenne with love and hope and compassion, and I let the gratitude fly.  I hope your hearts will remember how I feel right this minute.

 

“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”
  — Eleanor Roosevelt

Autumn is here, and the leaves are blooming with wild color.  There is an aroma in the air; and if change has a scent, I imagine it is the same as the musky smell of Autumn leaves falling to the damp earth and beginning their journey home.

For the past four years, I have spent the month of October as the Little Old Lady Who Lives in the Woods, reading a story about not being afraid to wagonloads of preschoolers and elementary students.  I would sit in my little house — a shed, really — and watch the subtle changes of Autumn arrive from one week to another, one day to another, and one minute to the next.

This year the Pumpkin Patch has closed.  There are no hay wagons, no pumpkins, no gourds, and no Autumn magic to be shared with the little ones.  My awareness of Autumn has lost its sharpness, as my days are spent in town.  I no longer have access to the magical feeling that maybe I really do live in that tiny house, listening for the familiar growl of the tractor engine that heralded the arrival of visitors from town who just happened to be fortunate enough to run out of gas in my changing woods.  I sit in my own house, with the traffic flowing by.  No one stops and asks for my gas can.  No one stops to hear my story.  No one’s eyes light up when I toss a handful of colorful leaves into the air and let them fall for a second time.  Change has come to my world; and although a piece of my heart will forever reside in the tiny cabin with woodpeckers stopping to knock on the trees outside my door, it is time to move on.  And I have.

Eleanor Roosevelt is right.  Life is to be lived; and we cannot fully live our lives if we are stuck in the past, no matter how sweet those days might have been.  Some experiences last only a second, some last a day or two, and if we are really lucky there are those that go on for years of sweetness before they are done.

Autumn seems different this year.  The subtle changes are not my main focus; and the ones I see when I walk through the park seem abrupt.  The evolution of Autumn seems less smooth and more abrupt.  Perhaps my own sense of loss at the ending of this special part of my life is playing itself out in my own recognition that my life’s season is moving toward Autumn as well.

New adventures have come my way, and I gently lay the Pumpkin Patch to rest.  As much as I want to embrace it and hold it tightly, I know from sad experience that I must empty my arms of its beauty and allow it to melt into the earth with the Autumn leaves.  Only then will my arms be wide open and available to embrace something new.  As much as I would like to have just one more moment of this wonderful part of my life, I know from past times of letting go that something just as wonderful lies just around the corner and waits for my embrace.

Life is to be lived; and until we relinquish the things that are done, we cannot begin to imagine the beauty that lies ahead.  Whatever change comes our way, we must be willing to release our hold on one experience before we can fully live another.  And so, unafraid, I gather all the courage that has come my way through the changes I have known and step forward, anticipating what lies ahead.

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”
   — Charles Dickens

Last week I made some soup.  As I sat working at my computer, the aroma of it simmering on the back burner of the kitchen range permeated the entire downstairs of the house; and my delight spilled right over the edges of my own simmering pot and into a social media post, “Chicken veggie soup already simmering.  Ahhhhh, lunch!”  Making soup is such a wonderful adventure.  From the moment the first water hits the pot until the last spoonful is scraped from the bottom of my bowl, I just find myself completely engaged in the process that slows me down, entices me along, and finally warms me with the comfort of soup in my belly, with plenty to spare.

A notification arrived on my computer.  Someone who had read my post responded with the words I love and dread:  “Share the recipe, please!”

This is where the whole business of making soup gets complicated.  There are many recipes tucked away in my files, neatly lettered and with exact measurements noted so that when I am gone, someone new can construct a memory of the good things that sometimes come out of my kitchen; but soup is different.  Dickens said it.  There is a difference between construction and creation, and the soup that comes from my kitchen is not made from a recipe.  It is loved into existence.  Rather than try to construct a recipe to share, I thought I would take a minute or two and share with you the process of loving soup into creation.

When I was a young girl, maybe ten or twelve years old, my mother made the most wonderful soup.  I didn’t fully appreciate it then, because vegetables were way down my list of foods worth eating; but I remember watching her pull together a bit of this and a touch of that until she ended up with a simmering pot of aromatic delights that filled the house with a splendid vapor and reminded my stomach that dinnertime was near.  As I grew older, my tastes became more mature.  Soon I found myself wanting to recreate my mother’s magic in my own kitchen.  I asked her for the recipe, and she told me there was none; so  I simply closed my eyes, loving the soup I would make before a single ingredient was chosen, and opened my heart to the art of soup-making.

It would be unfair and not at all helpful if I were to stop here, because not everyone who wants to make soup grew up in my mother’s kitchen.  In the absence of a recipe, I will offer you a framework.  Just as each painter requires a canvas, a palette and some colors to mix, each soup maker will need some basic ingredients.  There is a science involved in the mixing of paints, and there is a science involved in the assembling of a pot of soup; but what matters in the end is the love the painter brings to his artwork and the love the cook brings to her pot of soup.  Without that love, you can construct the same thing again and again; but with heart wide open, you can take your creation to new levels of deliciousness every time you cook.

Here are some of the things that do not change when I make soup:

I always begin with four cups of bouillon — chicken, beef, or vegetable — to match the meat or lack of meat that is the basis of my creation.

I love to make soup, because I love to cook; and when I cook, there are leftovers.  It is usually what is left in the refrigerator that determines the flavor of the week’s pot of soup; although I have been known to cheat and cook some loose ground beef or a new breast of chicken if the leftovers are sparse.

Whatever meat I plan to use is chopped into small pieces and added to the simmering broth where they can flavor each other while I work.

Next comes half of a medium-size onion and about three ribs of celery.  These are minced and added more for flavor than for substance.

Potatoes are next — five or six of them, cut into small cubes.  I don’t bother to peel them, and I think the skins add some texture, some fiber, and some nutrients.  I cut them small enough that a piece of potato would not be a whole spoonful of soup.  I picture a spoon and try to fit onto it in my mind all the flavors I would like to enjoy at the same time.

Fresh carrots are wonderful, and they make veggie soup incredibly sweet!  I slice approximately the same quantity of carrots as potatoes and add both roots to the soup next.

People say that soup is savory.  Close your eyes and think of the herbs that you enjoy most.  What are the flavors that you and your family savor?  Add those flavors along with some salt and some pepper to suit your taste.

Add a large can o f diced tomatoes — or at this time of year, some seeded and diced fresh tomatoes to equal about a quart — and watch your broth take on the beautiful color the tomatoes add.

Now the fun begins.  Hunt through the refrigerator for those half-servings of vegetables that were left over from your meals.  Toss them in and think of how this new adventure is bringing them renewed flavor.  Think of how wonderful it is to use every bit of the food at your disposal rather than waiting for it to grow  mold and throwing it away.  In the summertime, I save ears of sweet corn and cut the kernels off at soup time.  There is nothing like the crisp sweetness of those tiny bits of corn to wake up all the flavors it touches.

Finally, add a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and let them simmer until they share their flavors with the broth and the broth shares its goodness with them.

Play with the ingredients.  Think of what your family loves best.  Are you fans of green beans?  Then add some extra beans.  Do you love the pungent flavor of cabbage?  Then slice some and add strips to the pot.  Let it boil, and then turn the heat down to a simmer.  And wait.

Linger in the kitchen and give thanks that you have a kitchen.  Give thanks that you have leftover food that can make lunches for a week.  Clean away the remains of the work you have done and give the pot a stir or two.  Love those veggies as they circle away from your spoon, and then let them simmer.

Let your gratitude grow as each breath you take brings the amazing smell of homemade soup and the promise of a delicious meal.  Love the soup that you have created, and don’t stop loving it simply because your work is done.

When I thought of a recipe for soup, I immediately thought of Dickens’ words.  You probably wondered whether you would be learning to make cabbage broth or gruel when you opened this post; but I think it takes knowledge of the fruits of a loveless world for someone to understand the difference between constructing and creating.  I suspect that Dickens might have been a soup maker; and I think he knew that the most important ingredient in any great dish is love.

 

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower”
     — Albert Camus

Those of us who pay close attention to the cycles and seasons have had quite a wild ride this year.  Some years, there are leisurely transitions between winter and spring, spring and summer; but this year, the changes have landed with a thud and demanded to be noticed.  They certainly have grabbed my attention, and now summer has turned over the year to autumn in a tug of war that ended with the first yank of the rope.

As I rode to the farm stand for tomatoes and corn yesterday, I was stunned to see that nearly every tree had at least a splash of color among its leaves.  My drive toward the mountain that is the backdrop for my son’s house showed me a whole mountainside that already had turned fiery orange.  And today, as I came through the park, I was showered with hundreds of leaves as they fell from the trees lining the path.

My thoughts roamed to last year at this time; and I remembered days in the woods near the pumpkin patch, spent hoping that the leaves would change colors soon enough for the visiting children to feel all the color and wonder of autumn.  I remembered looking each day toward the mist-covered mountains and waiting for some color to replace the green.

Now my thoughts turn to the year that soon will end.  I think of the way that the snow of winter was here one day and melted into mud and sunshine overnight.  I thought of the way that all the spring trees bloomed at once so that I had to whirl my head from side to side in order not to miss one bit of the wonder that usually unfolds over weeks of days.  I thought of the way that summer stepped right on top of spring and set everything to growing almost before the roots had time to take hold of the earth.

Now, as the leaves of autumn begin their yearly display, I feel a sense of urgency – urgency to step outside as often as I can, to record in my mind’s eye all the color and beauty and ending and dying before some avalanche of winter comes crashing down in the night and sweeps it all away.

I pick up a fire-kissed leaf from the sugar maple that stands near the baseball field where the season has ended.  I twirl it back and forth and try to understand what it is that I am feeling about this year of abrupt changes.  Perhaps it is about getting older and about understanding that the cycles that once seemed timeless now move faster than ever.  I think about my own changes – some gradual, and some abrupt – and as I enter the autumn years of my own life, I want the colors to unfold slowly and quietly and gradually, so that I can savor each one and let its beauty embrace my soul.

I toss the leaf into the autumn air and watch it dance to the ground.  A sudden breeze touches the top of a nearby tree and sends its topmost leaves flying upward, defying gravity.  That is the sort of leaf I will be, I think.  I will catch the breeze and soar above the treetops; and there I will look down on the transition of another year.

I close my eyes and let the breeze kiss my face.  I take a deep breath and smell the musky scent of autumn leaves, as fragrant as any flower in spring.  With a skip and a hop, I dance on my way, fluttering through autumn and soaring on the breeze.  I will come out again tomorrow and not miss a minute.  That is how one must live when Autumn is in the air.

“Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”
   — Pope Paul VI

I am not afraid of dying.

I used to be afraid; and when the subject would come up, I would speak the words of denial, “Don’t worry about that…it will be a long time before you have to think of dying.”

My great-aunt Essie became a permanent member of our household before I was born.  She had come to visit when my older brother was born and never was able to return to her family home.  The heart problems she suffered from would be easily repaired today; but nearly seventy years ago, medicine was limited.  She spent most of her time in bed; and we spent a significant amount of time visiting in her room, keeping her company and watching tv with her.  Essie often would talk about death.  She had lost her father when she was only eleven; and when her mother died ten years later, Essie took her place as head of their family, caring for her brothers.  Her brother, Clyde, was only fifteen when he died of tuberculosis.  They were sitting together under a tree in the yard when he suddenly exclaimed, “Oh!  How beautiful!” and breathed his last breath.  Essie wanted us to know that death was not an ugly thing.  She wanted us to know that she would not live forever and that she was looking forward to finding out what her brother had seen in his last moments.  From time to time, Essie would call us girls into her room and spread out all her old-lady jewelry on the foot of her bed.  “I want you to have this when I am gone,” she would tell us, and we would all cry.  “You’re not going to die, Essie…you will live forever.”  She told us that nobody lived forever; and she made me promise that I would not be sad when it was her turn to leave.  She extracted a promise from me when I was eleven — that I would not cry at her funeral and that I would sing her favorite hymn.

Essie died on my birthday in 1979.  I kept my promise and sang at her funeral.  Every year on my birthday, I think of my dear Aunt Essie and all the matter-of-fact lessons she taught us.  It seemed cruel that she would die on my birthday, but her timing was impeccable.  Thirteen months later, my boys went out to play with the neighborhood kids.  In the midst of all their fun, my son Brett ran into the path of a slow-moving car.  He died that day and turned my universe upside down.  In the days and months and years that followed, I  often thought of the stories Essie told about living and dying.  I thought of how unfair it seemed that I should outlive my little boy whose energy and love of life had just begun to blossom.  I thought about the happy times we had together and how the memories all triggered such deep sadness now that those times had ended.  I thought about Essie, bedridden a good bit of the time, but eager to do whatever she could to help during the good times when she had a bit of energy.  I thought about how she continued to live in spite of all her losses and in spite of her illness; and I realized that I had no choice but to live the life my son had not survived to live.

I used to be afraid of dying; but my great-aunt and my little son taught me there is something worse to fear than death.  I no longer fear death.  What I fear now is forgetting to live while I have the chance.  It took me nearly thirty years to really open my eyes to the precious gift of every new day; and the loss of the people I have loved has allowed me to find a truly full and abundant sense of gratitude for each new day.  Each morning, when my eyes open, I say to myself, “Yes!  Another day!  I get another day!”  Each new morning is a celebration; and I am grateful every time I see another sunrise.

Yes, we all are dying; but I hope more than anything else that we are living each day in ways that leave our mark on the lives of others we touch.  Because Essie was not afraid of dying, she offered me the gift of understanding what it means to be truly alive.  She often put it quite simply when she would say, “Eat when you’re hungry and drink when you’re dry.  If the Devil don’t get you, you’ll live ’til you die.”  We thought it was a cute little ditty back then; but it carried a ton of wisdom.  Yes, we all are dying, but we have a chance to live in spite of our mortality.  So eat when you’re hungry and drink when you’re dry; and above all, don’t let the Devil — the doubt and fear — rob you of a single chance to live until you die.