Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I'm taking advantage of one of the last, unseasonably cool summer days.  I'm sitting on the back deck with my kids happily swirling around me, doing the same thing I'm doing but in a different way. I don't know what to write about...but I am outside and have a moment to write and...something will come to me.  I hope.

Oh!  Something came to me!  Well, not something. Someone.  Charlie!

We live in the woods on a secluded lot at the end of a dirt road.  When my introvert husband and extrovert me first drove up to the property, we both agreed it was the best place ever to be a kid.  It was where we wanted to raise our kids.  We live 45 minutes from Washington, DC, but our kids can wade in the creek, build forts, listen to frogs and crickets and quiet. Lots of quiet. Like it or not, there is a whole lot of quiet at our house.

Until the neighbors moved in, that is.  On this quiet dirt road we hit the neighbor jackpot a few years ago when a family of six moved in.  Three boys and a girl!  And they seemed to have moved here not just from another place but a different time period.  We met all of the kids before we met the parents...the kids trickled over one by one whenever they wanted.  If they heard our kids playing, they came right on over to play, too.  They seemed not to have read the small print about calling first, checking with the mom first, property lines, and constant parental supervision.

I loved that they didn't know all those rules.

Don't tell the other three kids, but Charlie is our favorite.  Charlie is the second over at his house, but in our house he comes first.  My three kids fight over him openly and subtly, competing for his beaming smile and sweet attention.  He's older than but still patient with all of them.  We all are happy to see him emerge through the woods, trot over "Hay Hill" (the hill that divides our woodsy yards), and smile a hello.

Within minutes, his younger brother and younger sister also rustled their arrival, trotted down Hay Hill, and now I'm watching a pick-up baseball game happen.  Their mom texted me to say she's prepping for dinner, so I'm going to send them back as soon as we head inside to eat our dinner.  But for right now, there are six kids happily playing ball, with tall trees for an outfield, and little parental supervision,

Summer is sweet.  Summer is even sweeter when mixed with great neighbors!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Old Journals

Volume two of my three India journals
I'm working on an essay about a past experience, so I dug out some old journals to search for my entry on the exact experience, and to remember the general setting in which I had it.  Lucky me had the time, the inclination, and the foresight to journal about any and every thought that flew through my head, every experience I had, and lots of little and big reflections about love.  Lucky me that my handwriting is quite legible.

I went to India almost twenty years ago. Last night I sifted through my first impressions of the complicated city.  The unfinished buildings. The people washing themselves in the puddles on the street. The muted tones of slums, the bright colors of saris, the wide range of skin color. Streets full of revving engines, honking horns, yelling drivers. The air thick with exhaust and pollution. My wide eyes, open ears, and curious heart took it all in.

I wrote down everything.  In the back of each volume is a list of books read while writing it; the pages are full of quotations that mattered from those books. The Solitaire Mystery, Sophie's Choice, Catch-22... My life could be counted and measured in pages read.

Written down with much detail and smile-worthy gusto is my first encounter with my old German beau, a handsome, young medical student whose aunt was a Sister of Charity. Mathias' heart was soft and hard all in the same moment. From my comfortable spot on last night's expensive bed, I could see more clearly how hardened he was to parts of India, but how deeply he cared for the people. The journal is filled with trinkets, postcards, sweet sayings from him.

My time in India meant many things to me.  Calcutta was a city where two extremes coexist in a single place. The suffering of the patients at Prem Dan mingled closely with the joy of the Sisters who worked for them. The crazy busy-ness of the roads, full of cars full of successful businessmen happened right next to a family quietly, almost lazily sleeping on the sidewalk a few feet away.

On those pages, through my wordy reflections, I tried to figure myself out and make sense of so many things. I smiled kindly at the glimpses of a different version of myself, and quietly honored those strong threads of self that never changed one bit.

I have changed so much, and haven't changed at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Attending a wedding when your marriage is in a tired, old, sensitive stage is tricky business.

No one up there in the wedding party is any of those things. They are young, energetic, and their sense of humor is fully in tact.  They are all considerably younger than I.  They sport matching outfits, smooth foreheads and trendy platforms. I have sensible flats, worry lines, and graying hair. One or two of the bridal party is married, but they are still newlyweds, that cute stage when you're madly in love and willing to forego personal rectitude for marital harmony. I think I was there once.

And then there's the bride and groom.  The ones saying "I do." The two people who are blissful, smiling at each other and for the camera, seemingly focused on just this day, rather than the decades-long marriage ahead of them. They're at that exact point where most movies end--on an up note, at the riding off into the sunset moment, before the going gets too tough (and no one wants to watch it).

And then there's us--the small gathering about to watch the ceremony, then celebrate with them afterward.  Weddings have a strange mix of attendees.  On the one hand, there are single sorts and bubbly newcomers, blissfully unaware of just how difficult some of marriage will be. They are certain that their love will carry them through. They have lightness and levity; those lucky ducks have not yet had their faith and trust and vows tested.

On the other hand, there are the already-married sort in the crowd, who shake their heads just a little at these young bucks. I admit it was tough not to look down at them just a little, but I know it was out of jealousy.  I am living a version of Paradise Lost, having thrown away my newlywed innocence in a million different ways, and before I fully appreciated it.  I am almost pained watching others in their bubbly, innocent state, especially when I realize that their path, in part due to their choices, might not lead down that particularly rocky one I've found myself on these past few years.

Really, I want to become a smoker for the day just so I can maximize my cool, aloof jadedness by inhaling deeply, exhaling dramatically, keeping my eyes just half open, then busting out with the word on my chest: Fools. I'm not a smoker; I'm actually a kind woman with bubbly moments, but this marriage business turns me serious in two seconds flat. It's just that most people have no idea of the hard work that goes into a successful marriage.

So, what of this wedding? The identity of the minister is actually a surprise.  Cole is actually the goofiest of my cousins, the one with whom I've danced and laughed with for every year of his life, the funny, sweet, irresponsible brother of the groom.  The bride and groom have chosen him to marry them, and kept it a secret, in part (I think) because of those attendees I've described above (the camp in which I clearly sit) who see weddings not as a joke but a ritual-filled beginning of a serious commitment. I, too, have my doubts on this cousin of mine.  I love Cole like crazy, perhaps in part because we share a common trait: when the spotlight shines on us, we do practically anything to keep it on us.

I actually feel tense at the beginning of this ceremony, with my heart struggling to rid itself of the jaded thoughts I have. I try to fling those off so I can simply be present and be happy for this couple, but I am worried about how silly the speech will be in just a few minutes.  I cringe at the thought. I want to get it over with.

Soon enough, the time of the speech arrives.  My goofy cousin starts with the "Mawaige" line from A Princess Bride.  And the fact that Cole is talking and that it's not-so-serious does get everyone's attention.  But once he has our attention, he switches to a mode I've not previously seen from him: a mostly sober one, sprinkled with that humor that is wonderfully his and oh-so-necessary in this life.

My cousin Cole talks about how love is a choice.  The bride and groom are making a choice to love each other.  They made that choice many times in the previous years, but this is the biggest choice here at the alter, here on their wedding day.  But they (read: we) have to choose love again and again.  When the newlywed bliss wears off, choose love.  When tempers flare, choose love.  When you're not sure what your partner is thinking, choose love.  Again and again, we married couples have got to choose love.

In this moment, without needing any time to reflect, I know that this speech is wonderful. It is a surprisingly touching, goosebump-causing monologue perfect for both groups of attendees--those in the gum-snapping, blissful stage and those jaded, smoker wanna-be's like me.  Because it's also for those few in the crowd who have successfully made it past both of these stages, and are now into the longer, steadier state of love.  I can only hope that these couples who've been together twenty or thirty years have marriages full of more understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness than mine at my marriage's stage.

Wait a second! These couples are probably shaking their head at me, recognizing my own impatience for things to be better and work better and feel better! They are probably watching how I juggle through my exhaustion the responsibilities of a mom to three very young kids and, simultaneously, trying to maintain a loving and slightly fun commitment to my husband!  

This slightly wizened, very wise group has chosen love, again and again and again, and they can sit securely in their seats, knowing they made the right choice. I can only hope that by making that same choice again and again, as best I can, that I can sit in that group one day.