The end and the beginning

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Settle down and get comfortable – this is a long tale.

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

I usually give something up for Lent that I’ll really miss and look forward to getting back on Easter. For a middle Protestant with no tradition of Lenten giving-up, that seems like a neat part of the tradition. It reinforces the hard waiting and the joyful return. (Although after the year I gave up coffee, Adam asked me never to do THAT again. I had to agree. There’s hard and there’s almost missing your tax return date because you can’t fathom doing taxes without coffee to help you.)

At a graduation party for a dear friend.

At a graduation party for a dear friend.

This year, though, I approach Easter with both joyful anticipation and great reluctance.

You see, the week AFTER Easter will be the last week that my pastor will be my pastor. Rod, and his lovely wife, have been a more-than-weekly part of my life since the day I became an adult. With my history, I more or less know what month that happened. In August of 2000 – two months after I graduated – I married Adam. I was 21. He brought me home to a lovely, sunlit apartment in Roslindale that I had not seen before I crossed its threshold with the 23 year old I’d only had a few hours to call “husband”. We only spent a few hours in the apartment before we took a flight out of Logan to Greece, where we’d honeymoon. When we returned on a Saturday a week or so later, we were tired. Now I am Presbyterian. I was born in the mission field to missionary Presbyterian parents. I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church by a fire-speaking pastor on an equitorial Sunday. I have attended Presbyterian Churches my whole life. My summer camps that weren’t orchestral were Presbyterian. My sister, brother, mother, father and I are all ordained Presbyterian elders/deacons (actually I’m the only one)/ministers. So while I was LITERALLY in the honeymoon phase of my marriage, I wanted to start the married habit of attending church with my beloved new husband. And I wanted a Presbyterian church. But they are few and hard to find in New England, so that groggy Sunday after we landed I took the path of least resistance and we went to the Presbyterian Church 20 miles away that had been near Adam’s LAST apartment.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

I settled into the pews, fresh in my matronness and ring sparkly on my left finger, and the sermon was GOOD. And we were warmly welcomed. And there was a coffee hour in the finest of Presbyterian traditions. And it felt very right. And so the next week I also forgot to look up a closer church. And the week after.

We have attended that church through three different houses in three different towns. We have taught Sunday School and confirmation there. We have baptized our sons there. We have made life-long friends. We have taken solemn vows to love and teach the vibrant rainbow-line of squirmy children on the stairs at word for children. We have buried friends, and comforted the grieving. It is our church, our home, our family.

At Grey's baptism

At Grey’s baptism

For the fourteen years that span my adult life, there has been one person standing in that pulpit – Rod. That pulpit-relationship is where it begins, of course. Rod is one of the finest preachers I have had the chance to listen to. (And remember, I have attended services every week of my life.) He finds that difficult line between offering a challenge that makes me think differently, and sometimes change how I behave, but without go so far to challenge that in fear or recoil I stop listening. His sermons are academic enough to keep me interested, but relevant enough to speak to my heart as well as my mind.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

But the relationship – the friendship – goes far past the pulpit. Rod, his wife (who prefers her privacy) and I have shared dinner together. We’ve played music together. (He plays a mean piano – you should try to lure it out of him.) We’ve caroled together and sung rousing renditions of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to folks whose illness or debility means they have trouble leaving their homes. We’ve done skits together. We’ve attended countless committee meetings. We’ve sung hymns through late nights in long Presbytery meetings which have decided small steps in the question of whether the Presbyterian Church would be one that welcomes all people.

When the time came for me to give birth to my second child, Adam and I were in a bind. We have no family in New England. Michael was terribly sick with the lingering aftereffects of cancer – he would die only a few months later – and Laureen could not come to us. My parents were working and tied down in Seattle. We were only just coming to know our neighbors. Who would stay with Grey while I delivered our second son? A friend got the first call and overnight shift, but on the second shift, we called Rod. He came and stayed with Grey – a familiar and friendly presence. He even did the dishes. With both my sons, he was the first to come and visit the new life in the hospital room. Friends who saw the pictures asked, “Is that your dad?” No, it’s my pastor.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

So as I count up to Easter, with joy, I also count down to farewell, with very mixed feelings. I will miss Rod and his wife very, very much. In our church, when a pastor leaves, it is a real leave-taking. He will never lead another service from that pulpit, or chair another committee meeting. They are moving – not so far away that we’ll NEVER see them, but far enough that it will be rare.

On Maundy Thursday, Thane took communion with us for the first time. I finagled it so I could kneel before him to serve it. But then I also served Rod, who had blessed our cup and our bread. Then he turned and served me. And I was breathless with tears at the sacrament – a first and a last so close together.

Rod at word for children

Rod at word for children

Rod and his wife go forward to a new stage of their lives. I have told them that I’m a little jealous. They have finished with the stages of “should” and “ought” and “supposed to” and “had better”. They are now in the only stage of life where your labors are determined by what you would do, what you are called to do, what you want to do – and what you can do. A part of me feels like a parent with a graduating high school senior. I send them away from me and will miss them horribly, but would not wish them back to their old roles. The time for moving on is here.

So, Rod and Cathy, go into the world in peace and continue the service. What does our God ask of us but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God? May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all: today, tomorrow and always.

Benediction

Benediction

For any who have also loved Rod, we’ll be giving him a rousing BPC farewell with a huge International Dinner at 6 pm on Saturday, April 26 2014. The next day, Sunday April 27th, will be his final service with us and will be followed by a massive coffee hour I’m hosting. So come.

Gabriel

bflynn:

I’ve thought a lot about little Gabriel with the story of Jeremiah Oliver (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2013/12/28/family-community-search-again-for-missing-fitchburg-boy/8X4J8TfzNlKJoBcd0HYtEK/story.html). It does not reassure me that Gabriel is well and taken care of, somewhere. I think I’ll always wonder.

Originally posted on My Truant Pen:

Spending my lunches at daycare (theoretically nursing Thane, but in reality just giving both of my boys big hugs and playing with them) has reminded me of Grey’s first year, when I did the same thing. There was a little boy at daycare name Gabriel. (Long “a”, like “Gah-briel” not “Gay-briel”)

Gabriel was about three at the time. The age Grey is now. He had big, dark eyes and curly dark hair. He also had behavior problems and didn’t talk. He would throw violent, inarticulate fits. He grew to really like me, and I to like him. He would stand next to me when I nursed Grey, and I would talk to him. I would ask him questions and, unfamiliar with child development, be contented with the few words he gave back to me. His face lit up when he saw me. I was afraid for him. Rubertina does her…

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An adventure of 12,000 steps

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The last line of the love-note reads, “PS. Cats are already eating flowers. Disaster may ensue. Mea culpa.”

My husband left us for a weekend of gaming, leaving behind a clean kitchen and bouquet of flowers. The boys and I have consoled ourselves with his absence by watching “Back to the Future” last night. This morning, cold and gray but bearable, I hatched a plan.

Tragically, the super cool headband was lost on our sojourn.

It started by winding our way through familiar streets and over long-used routes to Oak Grove – starting point for many a foray and adventure. I held Thane on my lap to keep myself warm (I underestimated the temperature by a layer for myself) and quizzed Grey on Boston’s history. Once on the Orange Line, we whirred past miles of new construction and gleaming buildings rising out of graffiti-strewn rubble, and on to North Station. I know the North Station area very poorly. I’ve spent hardly any time there. So we carefully picked our way across streets, swimming up-current from a horde of Bruins fans come to see them play the Flyers (Phlyers?). I found the Starbucks that was a necessary first stop, and then we discovered the soaring, twirling pathway across Storrow Drive to the Esplanade.

A gray day, but above freezing means it’s worth playing!

Now, I’ve lived in the greater Boston area nearly 14 years, in three different places. As any Bostonian must, I have many times traveled the storied route up the Charles from the Zakim to Brookline, passing past the hallowed markers of the Hatch Shell and Citgo sign. Since my first son took his first steps, I’ve passed the parkingless playground and thought to myself “That looks fun! I should bring my progeny here!” On beautiful days where the sky was blue and the Charles was sparkling with waves and white sails and yellow-sculled boats, and the grass between the road and the water was hopelessly green… I’ve thought how pleasant it would be to stroll up the river.

The zipline was awesome. The kids didn’t need us to tell them to take turns, but lots of parents hovered by the line anyway.

And I’ve never once, in that twice-seven-years, set foot on the Esplanade. So harsh has this winter been that 45 degrees seemed like a downright invitation to make today that day.

I pondered “right or left?” at the bottom of the stairs, finally trusting that there was far more Esplanade to the left and I’d hit something fun if I went that way. My youngest son danced errantly up the path in front of me shouting out numbers that represented the score of some sidewalk game whose rules only he knows (but which apparently involve not stepping on cracks and stepping on anything interesting that is not a crack). My serious-minded eldest took long strides with wide eyes. We saw the very cold boaters on the water. We noticed the pile of their brightly colorful shoes like a spiral on the gangway. We dodged runners and bikers and inline skaters – all faster than we were. And then we finally came to that playground I’ve eyed for years and my sons broke into flat out runs to get there as soon as possible.

Both boys fell on this contraption, but it was designed in such a way that the falls were minor.

And it was WONDERFUL. I recently read a story which has influenced me greatly about Adventure Playgrounds and the disservice we do by trying to make even play risk-free for our children. (Which, yes. I got a call from the Stoneham police a few weeks ago because I let my 8 year old walk two blocks to a used book store by himself. I asked the officer if my son was behaving appropriately and he said he was. Which left me sorely wondering why he thought I needed to be called. I digress.)

So here, in this marvelous playground with soft, bone-friendly falls and risky-feeling fun and other children, I found a spot sheltered from harsh April winds and watched my sons be boys.

The swing did required someone else to push, but the boys just loved it.

For two hours they played. The scaled heights, and fell. They rode the zip line and struggled to return it to the next kid in line. (It was really interesting to watch just how many of the parents “handled” this difficult task for the kids. I watched Thane struggle to pull it back. And I watched him succeed. And I watched him stand a little taller at having done a difficult thing, a right thing, and having done it himself.) At a break in the play, I pushed the boys on this fantastic dish-shaped swing. Grey slung his arm around his brother and they both lay in a sunbeam swinging together – eyes closed. Thane sang a little song to the rhythm of the swing.

There were many paths to the top – some easier and more obvious than others.

A game of hide and seek broke out among the bigger boys, and Grey disappeared behind a wall. I watched his small hand snake out to draw pictures in the dirt as he waited to be found. Thane became fascinated with a wooden climbing structure – color so warm to a winter palette. He was frightened of a particular gap, and drew back afraid. I heard him cheer himself, “I’ll see if the drop hurts.” He took a big breath, swung out again, and dropped. Dusting himself off, “It didn’t hurt at all!” The next time, he crossed the chasm. Moving further around the perimeter, he came to a really high part he could not swing across. He gathered his courage and belly-crawled across a log so very high that my breath caught in my throat. I had to stop myself from singing out “Be careful!” He inched, so scared, across the great gap. He got to the other side. “Mommy, come get me down!” “Thane, you can get yourself down.” And he did. And once his feet were rooted in solid wood chips once more, he immediately went to go do it again, and again, and again. He never got blase, but he did get better.

The section to the left is the high chasm upon which Thane tested his courage and found it strong.

Finally, we got hungry & cold. I struck a path in towards the Common where I knew we could find sustenance. At the end of our blood sugar rope, we found a bistro and had noodles and orange juice and laughed in a lit window of a corner building, hundreds of years old. I showed them the Starbucks my father and I had visited some 19 years ago when I came out in the middle of a blizzard for my college tour. The august establishment was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and I realized that I had been there so very long ago.

I was here 19 years ago with my father, before I decided on the college where I met the father of these two fine young boys.

We wandered the common (wondering if any historical cow dung was still to be found there) until we chanced upon one more playground. There was much less playing before disaster struck in the symptom of a torn thumb nail – truly a painful injury.

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a nail.

A cold quick journey to Downtown Crossing, then home again, 12,000 steps later.

I was thinking, on our journey, of this same time a year ago. Last April I took the boys to the Circus on a Saturday that Adam was aikidoing. It was, not to sell it short, one of the worst times I’ve had. Thane threw an epic fit, refused to watch half the circus and at the end I carried him a mile over my back kicking and screaming to the T. I despaired of ever adventuring again with him. But over the course of this year, my four year old has grown to a much more mature five year old who was indefatigable and cheerful the whole time (Two-hundred niney-two! Two-hundred-ninety-three! He counted his points the entire trip.) My eldest, sorely injured as he was, was a solid and cheerful companion.

How lucky I am to get to have adventures with these children as they grow!

My sweet sons

De visione mundi

bflynn:

A passionate call from a 19th century-turned-tongue to lovingly call for Evangelicals to repent from their error.

Originally posted on The Steampunk Vicar:

Rather distressed of Heart, I have been reading of the travails of that redoubtable Charitie, World-Vision. I will admit to a Confusion of Feeling engendered by these Trials. I know World-Vision of old, having served there as a Volunteer, and knowing that my Father’s Employment was for some Years centered there. Too, there is good Work that is done in the Name of the Christ by these Agents of the Gospel. Much of Povertie, Strife, and Sickness is eased by their Care and Wealth, and their Dedication to the Cause of the Betterment of Humanitie cannot be doubted. This, of course, provided that, by Humanitie, you mean those Persons whose carnal Desires fit neatly into the Box provided by the Moralitie of my era, and none of your own.

I write, however, not for World-Vision – I am, past my own Historie, indifferent to the Rise or Fall of one…

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April Fools!

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The mad prankster strikes again!

I woke up this morning to find this menacing visage staring back from my erstwhile toothpaste-smile-free bathroom mirror. Of course, this morning I woke up with a certain alacrity usually missing from my morning hours. A door burst open, shedding light into the snoozy darkness of our bedroom. “Mom! Dad! It’s 9 am!” Adam and I immediately levitated two feet above the sheets and initiated a midair synchronized panic – one of the rarest forms. “April fooooools!”

He was permitted to live because it was 6:58 am and we were getting up in 2 minutes anyway. Plus, this kind of thing is good for the heart, right?

Downstairs for a good ol’ bowl of cereal in purple milk (my contribution). In the car on the way to school, my usually suave second grader effused, “April Fools day is my favorite holiday! It’s just a day of cheerfulness and energy and good fun!” I have to agree with him. We are now in the apex, the absolute height of April foolishness. My guitar was mistuned. Many long discussions happened about what the best “alternative” filling for an Oreo would be. (Mayonnaise? Avoid cookies in our house this time of year.) Some prankster *ripped a hole* in the sheet of toilet paper to be used next. THE HORRORS!

Google joined in the fun, as it so often does, inviting me to enhance my gmail experience with Shelfies. I sadly didn’t listen to NPR, so I didn’t get a chance to be completely taken in like I was with the epic “Coffee Pipeline” debacle. I have personally retired from the trade after my epic accomplishments in the “It’s twins” announcement when I was pregnant with Grey.

I’ll second Grey’s notion – I love April Fool’s day too.

So, what about you? Did you get any great ones off today? Do you love it, or do you find it, well, foolish? What’s the best prank you’ve ever been part of, as pranker or prankee? And why does such a non-commercial holiday persist in our culture?

Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art winter

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Hope in trying times

So, in case you hadn’t heard, New England has become Narnia under the reign of the White Witch: always winter, never Christmas. Tomorrow is supposed to start out in the low teens and there’s a major nor’easter heading our way for Wednesday, which at least will cover up our dirty old snow with nice clean snow.

But… it’s actually been a few weeks since our last major pummeling. Granted those weeks have been icy cold, but the spots that sit in sunlight have shed their coats of ice. (Meanwhile, the shady places where people shoveled snow to are still glacial wonderlands.) Today, a few days into the theoretical spring, it got up to 50. All across New England we contemplated shorts and tank tops in celebration.

The Flynn family made our way the library this morning – on foot. We usually go on Monday nights, but Grey had finished book 1 of a series and was dying for book 2 (which tragically is not out yet). Still, it was a strange novelty to walk across sandy, beach-like sidewalks with hardly any ice patches the two blocks to Andrew Carnegie’s gift to Stoneham. After we restocked the boys, I thought I might show them that there were actually *other* parts of the library than the kids’ section. We found one particular spot, and Grey begged to let us stop and read there. “Don’t throw me into the Briar patch!” I thought. He settled down with a graphic novel. Thane, our new reader, pulled out a Suess, and Adam and I paged through a book of Maurice Sendak’s art.

When Grey finished his book, we headed further. The next sunny, cozy patch also tripped up my eldest. I was a little less of a pushover this time – the little one had been very patient, but he was ready for action! So Adam and Thane went back home while Grey and I read in sunbeams.

Apparently this one is about zombie goldfish.

We made it home eventually. There was lunch, and Fate, and reading, and laundry. It started to rain, which made me happy because liquid water, but sad because hiking. Then it stopped raining which made me happy, because hiking.

Although the paths were muddy and the wind was cold and there were almost no hints that it was not just a thawing patch in January, it was glorious. We walked and climbed and joked and looked and felt the sun on our face. We got a tiny bit lost. We found the Panther Caves and talked about the Mountain Lion that might be hiding there and came up with six names for Mountain Lions where there should only be five. (Mountain Lion, Panther, Jaguar, Cougar, Catamount, Puma – we know we are wrong)

It was glorious.

Having been watching the new Cosmos with the boys, I became obsessed with finding a Tardigrade and seeing one for real life. So I swiped some vernal pond water and moss to see if I couldn’t find this mythical, ancient beast. After some dinner (mmmm Five Guys), we pulled out a long-disused microscope. Adam and I made slides out of plastic packaging, using an aluminum plate to spot interesting stuff while the boys had a soap-fight in the bath. (Note to self: they’re never actually old enough to leave alone in the bathtub.)

Prepping the slide

Prepping the slide

We didn’t find a water bear, but we did score a little devilishly fast water flea, a microscopic worm, a beetle, new moss roots, a weird looking seed and a something that had tiny creepy ticks embedded in it. In the immortal words of Calvin, “There’s treasure everywhere.” Adam and I came to the very scientific conclusion that we need a better microscope because we want one.

So there it was. A Saturday perfect in its Saturdayness, full of all the things you think you are going to do with your children before you actually have children. Better yet, for me it was bookended with breakfast in bed (my husband is kind and loving) and practice on both trumpet and guitar. There are many days that are much harder, when you feel the color seep out of your life and perspective – turning it to a black and white version of a WWII prison camp movie. This week was a hard one for me, for many boring reasons. Next week will hopefully be better, but not warmer. But today? Today was glorious.

Our Lady of Good Voyage

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Between me and the sea

I work in Boston’s “Innovation District” – an area once known for cheap parking and crime that is now sprouting office buildings like mushrooms on a rotted log after a rainy spell. I was drawn off my (hip, brick-lined) street today by a mobile blood drive across from the Courthouse. For the first day in forever (months at least) it was warm today. The receding glaciers left moraines of gravel across parking lots, revealing spaces long since lost to history along with cigarette butts, lost mittens and Dunkin’ cups. With the gleaming high-rises of the financial district to my left and the persistent pounding of construction cranes to my right, I crossed to the Courthouse.

When I got to the blood-van, however, a sign on the door indicated that they’d taken lunch early and they’d be back later. The breeze felt warm instead of wicked. I took the longer way back. With the shiny new Vertex Pharmaceutical building – newly occupied reaching out across Fan Pier – to my left, I turned my eyes to what looks from behind like one more forgotten brick warehouse, destined to eventually become a hip office space.

It was no warehouse, but instead it was a time capsule.

You can smell the sea from where I stood, corralled and calm as it is in Boston Harbor. The land grows to claim the sea more every day. That Mary once gazed across waves. Now she gazes at a gleaming lobby full of Important People. Behind her are hid the detritus and debris of a liminal space caught between three ages.

I had the strange feeling that I was the only one who could see the traffic cones and signs hidden behind the outstretched hands of the Mother of God.

Now, I’ve seen this chapel before. But I’ve never gone in. A tentative Calvinist, I sauntered up to the front door, hoping I looked like a tourist. A sign said, “Open 8 am to 8 pm during Lent”. Yes. It is Lent. I stepped in. No one waited there. There was no sound, no lock, no bar. A single lone candle flickered in the votives. I thought of the great Catholic cathedrals I had seen during my European travels – whole walls given to the glimmering lights that each represented a prayer. Only a handful of votives even had candles to be lit. An optimistic sign said, “Donation $1″. When I lifted the placard to place my small offering in it, only two quarters told the tale of a desperate prayer. No sons or brothers must be on the sea today. No wives worried their unborn babes will never know a father’s voice. No sisters left behind in this chapel by the sea.

For the safety of those upon the sea

Heretic that I am, it is Lent. I walked up the center aisle of the lonely chapel. The pews were cold and worn, with discarded programs and handouts. The tile peeled away at the corners. Cobwebs hung at the edge of stained-glass windows with pictures of dark apostles striving to calm the waves. One window had been removed to make way for an ancient box air conditioner. This place would be hot in summer. In the front of the church was placed a reading for the day, from Isaiah:

“For, as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilising it and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.”

I stopped to pray in a sunbeam, then left. I noted as I left the rusting bars over the windows of the rectory. Once, this place had been a home to desperate prayers for safety as tall ships raced before winds across the unknowable oceans. Then it had been a bastion of God in a dismal and dingy strip of garbage-filled land – a beacon of light against darkness. Now it was left behind and valued only as a relic of historical interest and sentimental value. Where the door had once borne the name of a man of God who served there, that name is covered with black tape and replaced with a ten digit phone number. How long, oh Lord, before this too becomes a bistro that “seeks to foster collaboration and entrepreneurship for the business leaders of tomorrow”?

Gleaming skyscrapers, union trucks and rusted bars on windows. This is Boston.

I wondered if this church might be a metaphor for The Church. From central importance to struggle to irrelevancy in 100 years. Is that the story of the 21st century Christian? Is our service spent? Does our tile peel? Do spiders add their artistry to our historic stained glass windows? Is our piano out of tune? Do our candles go unlit, our hymns go unsung and our prayers go unattended? Do we matter anymore?

That there is Good Friday. The guttering candles and the fading hope. I do not believe that the people in the tall buildings that hem in the chapel need God any less than the fervently praying betrothed once did as her lover pushed off the dock. Faithful hands laid out the scriptures to be read. Faithful hands opened the door and say the mass. I think we have not yet found our idiom – our way of telling our need to God and hearing a loving response. We do not light candles. But we do hope that the whispers of our heart are heard.

I do not know what the Easter of service to God will look like in our generation. Perhaps this Easter Eve will be grim and long – the active persecution of the apostles replaced with the corrosive disdain that marks so many of our public conversations. Perhaps it will flourish and be full of the creativity and joy and expression that mark our generation. Perhaps it will be profoundly individualistic. Perhaps we will so miss being with each other in our profound individualism that we will collaborate and innovate together in service to God and to man and to creation. It is even possible that the denizens of those high towers will find themselves drawn to a sunlit pew on a Tuesday noon to light a candle and say a prayer.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing

Oil and ashes

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The southern point of Cozumel

I really love writing, and I love writing this blog. I have watched it fade over the last few years with chagrin. There was a time that I wrote many times a day – back in the Livejournal days of my youth. Then at least once a day. Then at least twice a week. Once a week. Once every two weeks is more or less my current schedule. There are many causes. Sometimes I think the longer form I employ on this blog is a mistake, since it calls me to be more thoughtful and write better. I am tired of my own autobiographical story: I went somewhere. I did something. The kitchen is dirty. The children are joyful. My friends fill my life with adventures. I prefer my own writing about thoughts – about the noticing of the world. I like the way my eyes work when I gaze at life on your behalf.


Today is Ash Wednesday. I sit in my high attic – the elevation makes the stars brighter and dims the noise of the city downstairs. Through these higher, unsullied windows I watch snowflakes like tourists lost in back allies change their minds in their dance between roofs. I’m listening to Russian Orthodox liturgical music, which captures Lent very well for me. I do not recognize the words, but the vast number of voices – so low and so high – sound very sincere, and as though they really know the darkness of Lent. The older I get, the more I love Lent. Maybe more than Christmas, or Advent, or even Easter. Many of the meaningful parts of the Christian calendar have been co-opted by culture. I love Christmas, but not as a Christian. I love it as a child reborn. I turn to Lent and to Pentecost for the depth of contemplation and the spirit of fire I need to bring even a hint of Christ into my secular life.


I was very diligent in getting and organizing my pictures from Cozumel. I did that the first day I was back. I was less diligent in sharing them with you. Probably because I intended to write a novella on the topic of Cozumel, but what somehow aware that would be uninteresting.

The pictures are here.

The summary is this: Such epic vacations carry with them a hope and expectation out of line with the fact that fallible humans will undertake them. I went to Cozumel primed for it to be imperfect, especially with children. I was gallantly rewarded with behavior better than I thought my children capable of, relaxation, love, laughter, snorkeling, adventures and joy. It more perfect than such things can be expected to be.

There was a moment when I went snorkeling with Grey. He asked me to hold his hand as we went out, and fighting against the hard current, I held it tight. Unsure of his courage in deep waters, we went further and further out – more aquatic wonders opening to our eyes – until we hovered above a sunken wreck. There I was with hot sun on my back, small courageous hand in mine and flocks of brilliantly colored fish swimming in uncannily perfect formations through untread stairways. And for a moment, my life was perfect.


How are you doing? Do you lament over the longness of the winter? Do you look forward to the quietness of Lent? Have you had a perfect moment? Do you miss me?

The Eastern coast

A vignette of brotherhood

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My sons lie sleeping together in a jumble of blankets and pillows and Legos and stuffed animals.  Grey’s hand in sleep reaches out to touch his brother’s shoulder; a sleeping assurance that he is not alone.  I know someday, perhaps soon, they will be too old and too self conscious for that shared jumble. But I can hope they will always be able to reach a hand to each other, to be sure that they are indeed not alone.

image

PS their grimace was for the flash disturbing their slumbers.

Sad to say, but I’m on my way

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A fortnight ago I picked my careful way through icing puddles to the nail salon. I drove, even though it is two blocks away and I had time, because the sidewalks are nigh impassible. I asked for a pedicure, and picked a completely unprofessional, unseasonable, inappropriate robin’s egg blue. I watched ice skating and slalom while my toes were transformed. I carefully covered them in layers of thick socks and sturdy shoes for my homeward journey. It seemed impossible to me, in that moment, that there would ever again be a time when my toes would willingly encounter non climate controlled air.

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A week ago found me rising at 3:30 in the morning, and pouring my dressed-before-bed children into a taxi, which wound in the predawn darkness to the airport. (Which airport was absolutely chock-full of other parents with other tired children.) My sons both blew my mind with their exceptionally awesome behavior on the first flight to Houston and the second, down to the small island of Cozumel – just across the channel from the playground of Cancun. The island is very small – a teardrop off the cheek of the Yucatan. We stood in unaccustomed heat in an outdoor line. The returning travelers looked tanned, relaxed and sad to be leaving. The pale and pasty newcomers, waiting for immigration, had anticipation writ large across our tired & dark-eyed features.

It was nine years ago that I last came to Cozumel. I was gravid in pregnancy, and longed for the weightless relief of warm waters. I noticed the changes as we took the short taxi ride from the airport to the resort (a new one – I discovered the one I’ve been to twice before is in the midst of a major remodel, which explains why it had no rooms available).

We are at the Presidente Intercontinental. Even the driveway made me feel like I was about to experience something rather more luxurious than my standard expectation – which was true. Our room is small, with two full beds and a fine carpeting of Legos (to make it feel like home). Strangely, there was no lamp on the balcony (the phrase “you get what you pay for” usually refers to what happens when you cheap out. In this case, a more-expensive-than-I-would-have-liked vacation has come along with excellent service and facilities, and within moments sent two guys to figure out how to get a light on the balcony.) But I have watched warm pacific waters through a peek-a-boo curtain of palms every day here.

I have taken somewhere between a bajillion and a quadrillion pictures (discovering that the lighting conditions on tropical beaches are actually quite challenging for people pictures and also that my children have come to see me as unwelcome paparazzi when I have a camera in hand). The resort has a fantastic child care offering (paid for as part of the overall price, which I appreciated), so all the days but two Adam and I have gotten to snorkel together, as we have on romantic vacations since we got married. We visited Mayan ruins and watched the wild, unchecked waves of the Caribbean. We saw many, many, many iguanas. The boys played in the sand, learned to love the pool, learned to swim way way way better and learned absolutely nothing about effective bargaining techniques. (Ask me about the shark tooth necklaces!)

Today we coaxed Grey, who had spent days snorkeling in the pool and avoiding the ocean, to join us for a snorkel. I was entirely prepared for it to be beyond his courage. It can be intimidating, seeing the vast seascapes of the ocean unfold as an unknowable world before you, the colors fading in distance. When we encountered a barracuda in the first five minutes, I was entirely prepared for a hasty retreat. As we, holding his hands, pulled him further away from shore and towards the coral-encroached sunken ship, I could hardly believe his courage held. But it did. We saw so much together. It was a moment past what I could have hoped for, where the vistas of his dreamscapes expanded. He also devoured, in a heart-warmingly familiar way, “The Westing Game” For a day or two there, any question pointed his direction was answered with an “mm-hmmm”. I loved seeing his sun-burnt nose stuck in a book. For all he was an early reader, I have had trouble moving him into chapter books. He prefers the easy familiarity of comic books. I hope that an affair or two with a good novel might change that.

Thane is, as ever, indomitable. Fearless in the water, he started the week nearly drowning himself. A pool noodle added just enough buoyancy for him to not drown mostly. Towards the end of the week, we just put him in a life jacket and let him go in the pool. (Actually, his wonderful caretaker Keri thought of that first. The Kids Club here isn’t just Screens R Us. She takes them to see the iguana habitats, and to go swim at the pool. Thane refused to join us twice today because she was helping him sew a very cool alligator puppet.) He also loved hanging out on the beach (I wonder how long it will take before he has no sand in his hair?) He and Grey have been amazing brothers this week. I just loved seeing his excited face and bouncing eyes above his third cup of strawberry yogurt every morning – so full of joy and wonder and gratitude.

While I was writing this on the porch, a fire dance broke out on the beach below. So cool!
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I’ll post again once I go through the pictures. When Adam and I came here last, we had a film camera. This time we took pictures on: my good camera, my old point-and-shoot, Adam’s phone, my phone, my iPad. It’s funny how many changes a decade can bring.

We prepare our return back to our land of cloudy skies and gales. I confess to being unenthused by piled snow, chill drafts and stinging cheeks. I prefer the nuisance of sunscreen. But I feel thawed, rested, invigorated. I have connected strongly and deeply with the people I love most in this world. I have visited the Summerlands from the heart of winter, and won a respite from the seasons. I’ve seen lionfish and stars and smiles. I return to my labors with a lighter heart and darker skin.

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