Sometimes when someone gives you a gift not attached to a holiday, we say, “for no reason.” But I say, for the best reason of all!
She handed me the heavy object. I knew it was a book. So I knew I would love it! I gently tore off the paper to reveal the cover – “The art of soulful living.” “I saw it,” she said, and immediately thought it was perfect for you!” The book is gorgeous. Beautiful images. Elegant writing. But she saw me. She sees me. This is the greatest gift of all!
A season of giving is about to begin. And it’s fun, as it should be. But it can get hectic. Racing here and there. And I don’t want to analyze it, or suck the life out of it, but just offer a small reminder — really, when it comes down to it, we all just want to be seen. We want to be balmed and healed by the moments we give to each other — the moments we take to say — for you, I’m not too busy.
I learned to swim in the middle of winter. In Minnesota.
Every Saturday morning, our moms would drive us to the Central School Pool. In the locker room we unbundled from hats and mittens and coats and boots, into the unthinkable winter wear — swimsuits. We raced past the “walk” signs, up the stairs, and stood beside the blue. Bare armed. Bare legged. Looking out the large windows at the patient snow.
We didn’t know words like ironic, or unusual. Or even patience. We only came to swim in the heated pool of winter. And we did learn. All at our own pace. Some more afraid than others. But all eager to be able to eventually protect ourselves. Save ourselves. And then just swim. To get from one side to the other.
It takes patience to paint. If you have an idea in your head, the eagerness to get to that image is palpable. But it has its own timing. It will arrive slowly. Stroke by stroke. Sometimes I remember to take photos, to remind myself of the process. To remind myself I will get through. And it will be beautiful.
This is a new season for patience. My heart feels bare. Stuck out in the winter in my summer clothes. But I know everything has its own timing. Each day a gift, a lesson, something beautiful, stroke by stroke.
I dug half of the hole yesterday. Moving dirt and rolling stones. It’s going to be the new home for our walnut tree (Uncle Wally). He’s getting too big for the front of our house. I’ve told him it’s coming, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare anyone for a change that big.
We live in one of the sunniest places on the planet, and for this I am most grateful. I love the sun! But the ground is hard and dry. Not so easy for digging a hole. That’s why I only did half.
I was feeling sad when I went to bed last night. All of my own life changes weighing heavy on my heart. And so I prayed for the speed and warmth of the morning sun.
I woke to the patter on the windows. It was raining. My sarcastic first thought was – thanks a lot. I went downstairs to make the coffee and croissants. From the kitchen window I could see my half finished hole. I rolled my eyes, but then looked again. Of course, the rain. The rain would make the ground softer. Easier to move. Easier to help Uncle Wally. Each drop was a gift. An answered prayer.
“You can’t always get what you want But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find You get what you need.”
I called it “the plant.” I’ve always believed if it’s special, you give it a name. Sure, it did house my car at night, but in the daytime, it was pure magic. I hung canvas on the walls and created a world, created a life. Lit by the glorious sun, and Christmas lights in the back, this was my sanctuary. It was always open — for creativity, for anyone to visit. And all who did visit the plant, were free to fling a brush of paint — to fling a brush in celebration, in frustration, whatever was needed. Because, like the song says, “Love made sweet and sad the same.” And that’s what we did, you see, made it all into the beauty of living, right there, by name, painted on the walls of my garage, on the walls of my heart.
If we are open, we will get to feel it all — everything between sweet and sad. We have to feel it all. And oh, how it matters – this beauty of living color — all of whom are let inside. In my heart, love will always have a name.
Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.
The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.
It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.
She called me at work. It was my first real job out of college. We didn’t really celebrate the holidays then. My mother didn’t like to cook. So it was a big surprise when she said she was going to defrost the turkey she found in the freezer. I said I would come home and we would celebrate Thanksgiving. A couple hours later she called and said it turned out to be just a bag of ice. “Do you remember buying a turkey?” I asked. She said, “I don’t remember buying the bag of ice.”
We laughed. Hard! We knew what a gift this was! She drove to Minneapolis instead. We had wine and toasted bagels and made our plans for the next day of shopping. I will be forever grateful for these times! Our only traditions were love and joy!!!
My friend sent me home with napkins of orange and yellow – adorned with the word “thankful.” I was tired yesterday, and no one gets Thursday off here – of course Thanksgiving is an American holiday — so it was just Dominique and I. We could have eaten left-overs, but I had those napkins. I had that friend. I had those memories. So I made some chicken and mushroom risotto. Poured the wine. Lit the candles, and we gave thanks in our own special way, with love and joy. My mother had taught me just how to do it.
I arrived in Marseille yesterday afternoon. Somehow my heart was moving my feet, without any assistance from my brain. The one-way doors to the public area were just past the luggage carousels. The people in front of me, clearly had no luggage, and started to walk through. From a distance, I could see Dominique in his red cashmere sweater (the one I gave him for his birthday). My heart ran through the “no re-entry doors” – straight to his arms. We hugged for the forever that we have promised, and then he said, “Did you get your luggage?”
There is a joke, I don’t quite remember, about “renouncing all of your material goods at the airport,” and clearly, I had done just that. We had to search two floors of the airport for security guards to get us back in. And we did. I got my luggage, but not before my heart got what it needed most.
I suppose some might think – “Well, that’s embarrassing” – but I’m thankful, thankful for a love that rules over everything. I hope on this day of thanks, and every day, we can all say the same.
It seems only a moment ago that I was saying I just have to make it to Amsterdam. And now I’m back in Amsterdam again.
They always ask you passing through customs “why?” I don’t say it out loud, but the answer always goes through my head, “for love.”
Before I got my long-term visa for France, Dominique and I traveled back to the US, in hopes of obtaining it – or at least applying – in Chicago. It was somewhere between the agent taking my passport and him saying that it could take months that I started to cry. At that moment I no longer had a passport. I didn’t live in Chicago. And we weren’t sure what to do…so we went to my mom’s in Alexandria. “Why?” For love. We had a plan. Get my passport back and just return to France, hoping for the best, and applying there. My brother said I would end up in jail or hell – he, always with the delicate support. We called Chicago and had them mail my passport back explaining we had a sudden need to “go to Canada.” Which wasn’t a lie. We wanted to make sure my passport wasn’t flagged in some manner. My mom, with still no stamp on her passport, needed to come with – no need to ask why.
When we got to the border, they pulled our car over, told us to come in. They ushered Dominique and I into the back. My mom remained at the door. They asked every question – why were you here, why are you together, why did you get married? This time I did answer – love. The questioning lasted about 20 minutes, and then they set us free. We walked up to the door – my mom still standing there. She looked around and said, “Doesn’t anybody care why I’m here?”
We laughed about it for the next 18 hours in Canada and then returned back to Alex. Spoiler alert – it all worked out. My mom got a stamp on her passport and I eventually – heavy emphasis on eventually – received my residence card.
It all seems like only a moment. Maybe that’s what this life is – a beautiful moment. And I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think, if you’re going to do anything, it better be for love.
My first Thanksgiving in France, I wanted to create a traditional American meal. There were no turkeys available – that’s a Christmas thing for French. Even if we would have found a turkey, it wouldn’t have fit in our small European oven. There are no stuffing mixes. No cranberries. I stood in front of our empty cart in the grocery store and cried.
Dominique, forever my cheerleader, said we (I) could still do this. We got turkey parts. Some berries that were bright red. I made stuffing from scratch. Cornbread from scratch. Potatoes. Vegetables. We had more than plenty for our Saturday Thanksgiving (no one gets that Thursday off). And it was beautiful. Delicious. We gave thanks for this new family – this freshly carved tradition.
It all comes down to thanks. Thanks, not for what you think you need, but for what you have. I guess what I’m saying is don’t laminate your gratitude list. It should have pencil marks, pen crossings, exclamation points added, edit after edit, thanks after thanks.
Let’s all be grateful for the ever changing journey. For those who walk beside us. For those carried within. Happy Thanksgiving.
We were unloading the car in the blustery wind. Cold. Emotional. Weary. We flung ourselves back into the front seats. Caught our breath. She looked at me and said, “Did you just put on make-up? You look great!” “I have frostbite,” I replied.
I suppose it’s our challenges, our most vulnerable moments, that give us beauty.
A year ago we visited the foundation of Van Dyke Road, the Norton family. Jim took me to the basement. I stood in front of the wall of fame – the family pictures. There was Phyllis, his beautiful young bride. “Wow,” I thought, “She was a dish!” Jim nodded in agreement. She was coiffed, snuggly dressed, as sleek as the car she leaned against. A real beauty!
In the past few days I have seen tear-stained, aging faces. The last living mother from Van Dyke Road, Phyllis Norton, approached me at my mom’s funeral. Fragile. Obviously shaken. She said it all went too fast. It all came too soon. And all around her flashed sunburned shoulders, tennis shoes kicking up gravel, and wet haired, knee skinned days of summer youth. She gathered me into it all with a mother’s arms. As I came out of the embrace, her reddened, wrinkled eyes, never looked more beautiful!
Allow others in. Allow yourself in. Grace can be messy, but nothing will give you more.