I’m discouraged. It’s not uncommon for me during the winter months, but it is still hard. I do all the things you are supposed to do when you are low and feel defeated. I light candles, I chase beauty, I seek out joy. But sometimes no matter what you do, you still feel the weight of life, still feel the limitations of candlelight and beauty. Beauty may save the world, as Dostoevsky claims, but it doesn’t necessarily take away the weight of winter.
Some of this has to do with things that cannot be changed – feeling the sadness of my brother’s birthday coming on Wednesday, knowing that he is not here, that a phone call is impossible. In addition, my own birthday arrives later this week and I feel some of the emotional cost of aging, the heaviness of responsibility coupled with the weight of wrinkles and a changing body.
What do other writers do with the weight of winter? They write. They describe and, in their descriptions, I find comfort. The quote by Andrew Wyeth is perhaps my favorite. this idea of the story being hidden, but still present is something I think about all year long, not just in winter.
If you are feeling the weight of winter on this Monday, I invite you to read these quotes and to write or find your own.
“I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape–the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. “ –Andrew Wyeth
“How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!” –Thomas Wentworth Higginson
“I pray this winter be gentle and kind–a season of rest from the wheel of the mind. “ –John Geddes
“The hard soil and four months of snow make the inhabitants of the northern temperate zone wiser and abler than his fellow who enjoys the fixed smile of the tropics. “ –Ralph Waldo Emerson
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness. “ –John Steinbeck
What are your favorite winter quotes? How do you face the weight of winter?
This is what happens when you come back. Time fails. Geography wins. We’re in the children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown in which the little bunny keeps trying to run away, but his mother is always there, arms outstretched, embedded in the landscape. This is what [coming back] is doing to us. We are her children, and we are being claimed.”
What Falls From the Sky
“We’re going to Winchendon today,” I texted my husband on a Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago.
“Safe travels sown memory lane,” he replied.
The “we” referred to my oldest brother and my mom. We were in Central Massachusetts visiting my younger brother for a short two days and two of the places that had been home for our family during furloughs were within a forty minute drive.
My mom was born and raised in Winchendon, Massachusetts before leaving the United States to spend a lifetime overseas. I was born in the same town and spent my first three months of life there before arriving in Pakistan as a three-month old. I returned to Winchendon at four, then at fourteen – each time living for a limited amount of time before returning home to Pakistan. I had also lived in the city of Fitchburg, about a half hour away from Winchendon, when I was 10 going on 11. Though I have lived in Massachusetts for many years now, I had never gone on a trip down memory lane.
Memory lane travel began on Klondike Avenue in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Klondike Avenue received us, a missionary family with a bunch of kids, made us feel like we were at home, like we belonged. As we drove down the street I eagerly waited to see the house where we lived during that unforgettable year. I remembered it as being an old New England home on a dandelion dotted hill that sloped down to the road. Like many things in my memory, the house was far smaller, the hill was not as large, but the house looked happy and well cared for with bright red and pink geraniums beckoning from the back steps. The area around the house was completely built up, farm land sold to a developer many years ago. Paradise had indeed been paved to make way for homes, families, and urban growth.
Klondike Avenue was thousands of miles away from our world in Pakistan. We traded boarding school for day school, a land rover for a Ford station wagon, Sunday night singspirations for Sunday night cereal. We were the missionary family with all the kids and as we entered, the neighborhood seemed to know we were coming.
Memories flooded over me of swimming in the Pierce’s pool and playing softball on late spring evenings on the Pierce Farm field; riding bikes to the book mobile that came every Thursday and Vacation Bible School at Highland Baptist Church; laughing and talking with Carin Waaramaa who lived at the end of the street and generously offered me her friendship and her family, no strings attached, no motives, just pure grace.
For kids coming from Pakistan, Klondike Avenue was near perfect.
At this point we were miles into memory lane and I wondered aloud if we could find East Street School, the old brick building where my youngest brother and I went to school that year. Just around a corner, we unexpectedly came on it. It’s sad facade begged us to stop and pay attention, clearly no one else had. Windows were boarded up and resilient plants sprouted their way through cracked concrete. A young woman with a brilliant smile that sparkled of good dental care had pulled up to the side of the road. She looked at us curiously, what would bring people to stop and take pictures of this sad building? Through an open window I explained to her that I had attended this very school many, many years before.
Highland Baptist Church, an old New England Church with white clapboard and a tall steeple, was our next stop. We chatted with the current pastor, my mom relaying some of her memories and we hearing some of the current happenings in the community.
On to Winchendon where we visited the cemetery where my grandmother and grandfather are buried, as well as two stillborn children and a first wife that my brother buried before he was 28 years old. Sometimes you need to be reminded of the suffering of your siblings. In that space, the midday sun shining brightly on us, I remembered.
We drove on to the veteran’s cemetery, the graves lined up like tidy soldiers, a startling contrast to the untidiness of death, to the untidiness of war. It took a couple of text messages and looking on a website to find my father’s grave. Not having thought ahead, we shamelessly “borrowed” some flowers from another grave for a photo op, and we will ever be grateful to the family of Kenneth Proos for their unknowing generosity. Immediately after the picture was taken we returned them to their rightful owner. I like to think that the laughter it brought us was gratitude in itself, but we will never know.
My mom’s childhood home at 485 Central Street in Winchendon was our next stop. To our amazement we connected with Mr. Walker, a man who has lived there for decades and remembered my grandparents. “You’re a Kolodinski?” he asked my mom. He and his wife bought the house not too many years after my grandmother moved. It was a poignant connection and gift to hear memories of the house and neighborhood. As we drove away, we weren’t thinking much about memories. Pizza and subs were on our collective minds. How can memory make one so hungry? Revived by sub sandwiches at a local pizza place, more family stories were told.
Our last stops were the schools we attended and 40 Hyde Park Street, the street and house where my cousins lived, a home base of sorts for us every four years until it wasn’t. My great grandfather, a Polish/Lithuanian immigrant, bought farm land when he moved to the area hoping his son would take it on after he died. Like so many immigrant families, what the parent wanted and what the adult child wanted were two different things. The farm land was slowly sold off, in its place stand an assisted living center and other homes. We had lived in the house next door for my freshman and sophomore years of highschool, a perfect location with cousins, an aunt and uncle, and grandmother next door.
As I looked up at the windows of the tiny room that had been my bedroom, I remembered tumultuous teen years in a place where I didn’t fit, a round (quite round as I gained a lot of weight that year) peg trying desperately to fit myself into all of the square holes around me only to realize that I was too round, too different, too “other.” And yet, I still remember sweet friendships with people who could reach across the barriers that divide, inviting me into relationship and connection.
It was mid afternoon when we began to drive back to Clinton. There was still a lot of daylight left, the summer sun not yet tired, but our return trip was quieter, perhaps each of us were lost in memory and story.
I have often tried to forget this area, to deny my connection to the geography or people. Whenever I thought about Winchendon, the only colors that would come to my mind were grey and sad, while the colors that came into my mind with Pakistan were brilliant reds, yellows, blues, and greens. But it is as impossible to forget this area as it would be to forget Pakistan. They worked in tandem to raise me. This is a place that has been part of my extended family for generations and has given me a heritage that I cannot deny.
Each of us has an invisible box of told and untold journeys and memories. Some of these have names and faces, roads and mailboxes. Others have emotions and conversations, wishes and regrets, dreams and hurts. There are the valleys of gravestones and unimaginable pain and there are mountains of unexplainable joy. Memories remind us who we are, where we’ve come from, what we’ve lived through. They connect us even when they are hard and sad, for a life without contrasts is no life at all.
It is now a couple of weeks later. Life moves forward and, as Dumbledore tells us, “It does not do to dwell on dreams (or memories) and forget to live.” Perhaps that’s why we need the caution to travel safely down memory lane. For whether the memories be good or hard, living color or deep grey, they can trap us into imagining life was far better or far worse than it actually was or is.
As for me, my travel down memory lane was safe and secure, full of stories and laughter, a day of being claimed by the memories and geography that make me who I am.
“I am convinced that in every generation God has his people and is working out his plans. What more can I say?”
My mom turns 94 today. From an earthly convential perspective, she has no platform, no followers, and would not be considered an influencer in today’s world. Yet, she has led an extraordinary life and has influenced thousands in her life. She has spoken words of wisdom that people still remember. Most of all, she has been faithful to what and who she believes.
I asked her last night what advice she would offer to younger women. Initially she said “I have no advice!” I pushed her and she said what I have quoted above. I love it, because it’s a reminder to me that though our view is limited, God’s is not.
The question I asked my mom came out of a post that I saw earlier this week from a younger woman who posted a series of prompts on social media focused on women in the second half of life. She talked about watching some women ‘coast’ their way to the finish line. It got her thinking about what it would look like for her to pursue a heart of wisdom, to live fully and faithfully in this second half of life. I loved the questions she posed and wanted to publicly answer a few of them. If anything resonates, I’m grateful, but as with anything I write – if there is not wisdom or grace in this, then blow it away.
If you could go back in time and whisper one thing into the ear of your 40 year old self (and know it would take root in your heart) what would it be? Belonging is not about a place, though place does matter. Belonging is about a Person. Identity is the same. When I forget whose I am, I forget who I am. I fall into that trap all the time, and I wish it would take root. Somehow, the weeds of insecurity and envy get in the way and I forget.
What are some pitfalls you see women in their late 30s and early 40s falling into today? I ache for women today. From TikTok to Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to whatever will be the next big platform, there is so much competition for your time, your intellect, and your soul. I see oversharing and it scares me. I see selfie on selfie on selfie. None of us need that many pictures of ourselves. I see outrage spewing off the pages day after day. There is a lot to be angry about, but it is not sustainable. You will wear yourself ragged. Your kids and family will suffer. You will suffer. And you will not change the world. I’m not saying don’t have a presence. I obviously use social media, but I’ve learned the hardway of what it does to my mind, emotions, and soul. We have to control social media and not have it control us. Mostly though, here is the truth:
The world needs the embodied you, the you who shows up with persistence and resilience, the you who is learning to love well, forgive continually, and laugh with abandon in your family, place of worship, neighborhood, and broader community.
What are unique challenges facing women in their 40s today? What would your advice be for avoiding them? My generation did you a disservice by making you think you could do it all. You can’t. Pick your priorities and stick with them. When you are looking at major work decisions, ask the question “Who do i want to like me when I’m 80?” It’s probably not the organization or institution that you are giving your life blood to and for. It’s definitely not the people online, because they may cancel you before you’re 50.
What are you thankful you leaned into in your 40s? My 40s were still so busy raising kids, learning how to parent college students and still be present for a preteen and teenager. It’s in my 50s that I leaned into speaking and writing. I am so glad I did. When I first began writing, I didn’t know it would turn into books and magazine articles. I didn’t know I would get paid to write. I wrote because I wanted to become a better writer. I’m deeply grateful that I finally had the discipline to write daily. As for speaking, I remember long ago realizing that by God’s grace and goodness, I could be a good communicator. At that point, I made a promise that every opportunity I was given to speak publicly, I would do so. I had to readjust that through the years, but at the time, it was a good decision. Building on both writing and speaking as ways to communicate across boundaries has become something I am passionate about.
What did you intentionally do in your 40s that made what you’re doing now possible? I took every free opportunity for training that came up in my career. I ended up with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, and training ability. From brease and cervical cancer awareness to chronic disease to mental health first aid, I ended up with an eclectic skill set that worked perfectly in serving diverse communities.
How did your mothering shift as your kids became teens? Negotiation became the big word. Instead of saying “Go clean your room – NOW!” I learned to say “Your room is becoming a public health hazard. You have until Friday to clean your room. Please make sure you do it by then.” Oh my gosh. I would be a wreck! I’d think inside “I know they won’t do it, I know they won’t do it, I know they won’t do it!” And then – they did it! It was amazing. It helped me learn a lot about releasing control. That release of control has to go into adult kids as well. They don’t need me to constantly tell them what I believe. They know. They don’t need me to tell them how to parent, make decisions, or anything like that. As the title of a book says “Keep your door open and your mouth shut.” And I have learned the hard way that this is true. I am grateful for the grace of my kids and God’s grace in this journey.
What are spiritual disciplines you’ve leaned into that weren’t as much a part of your earlier years of walking with him? An embodied faith that leans on Divine Liturgy and prayers of the Church. I wish that I had not been so stubborn about entering into the Orthodox Church and faith tradition. In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren says “Patterns of prayer draw us out of ourselves, out of our own timebound moment, into the long story of Christ’s work in and through his people over time.”
What is different about your walk with [God] the longer you live? Leaning into mystery. I am so grateful that mystery can be a part of my journey. I’m so grateful that I don’t have, or need all the answers. Again from Prayer in the Night “I needed this moment of crisis to find its place in something greater: the prayers of the church, yes, but more, the vast mystery of God, the surety of God’s power, the reassurance of God’s goodness.” (emphasis mine) And I think if I could raise kids all over again knowing what I now know (or don’t know) I’d focus more on the big, grand story of Redemption, a story that is so much bigger than we can imagine. I’d focus more on mystery and grace. I’d be careful of the do’s and don’ts and focus on the freedom that comes with faith. And, in more words from my mom, I would look them in the eye and say: “I think you’ll find your way!”
Last night, on the eve of my birthday, I was celebrated at my younger daughter’s home. The evening was filled with candlelight, white flowers, twinkle lights, and a dinner that rivaled a 5-star restaurant.
It was a delightful and joyous birthday celebration coming after a year that was tear-filled and hard in plain language. I woke this morning, amazed at the grace that touches my life – sometimes as soft as a fingerprint, other times as solid as a weighted blanket.
Joy is so utterly persistent that it can be found, not just at the end of a hard year, but throughout the hard. Sorrow and joy coexisting under the umbrella of grace.* Collectively and individually we know this. Our broader world and our individual worlds may face untold tragedy and sorrow, but we are dishonest if we do not admit that joy surprises us with its strength in the midst of this.
And that’s pure grace. That somehow joy cannot be stolen. It creeps up and surprises us in its delightful resilience. It shouts “I’m here!” And though we may want to push it away, it pushes back – sometimes in candlelight, friendship, and family; sometimes in cards and texts; sometimes in small morning whispers.
Tomorrow I will wake up and it will be a new day on a new year around the sun. Last birthday, if I could have looked into a window and seen the future ahead, it would not have helped me. It would have terrified me. Just as I could not have predicted all that this past year held, this next year too is unknown. The power of God’s grace and comfort is not for our future fears (although it will indeed be available) but for our present realities.
And though there are 365 days of unknown on this blank slate of a year, there is, and always will be, joy. Joy that can’t be stolen, joy that is so much more than mere happiness, joy that comes new every morning, as consistent as the sunrise.
May you discover the Life-Giver of joy,
see your beautiful bloom,
and know that hope is always worth holding on to,
because redemption is coming—and in fact—is already happening here and now.
Can’t Steal My Joy by Bekah Bowman
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
There are days as a mom of adult kids where you miss your children so much that you physically ache. You feel it in your bones. It’s not the sharp pain of an acute appendicitis, rather, it’s the dull ache of arthritis. You remember each labor and delivery, the final push that ushered them into the world. You remember gazing at those eyes, nose, ears, mouth completely in awe of the mystery of birth, the mystery of motherhood.
You know in that moment of birth that you will never forget. Never. That these tiny humans that lived in your womb for nine months, sometimes more and sometimes less, are connected to you in an unfathomable mystery.
You know also, though you don’t want to think about it, that they are yours for only a time. After that, who’s to know?
You break inside for the knowledge that the world will sometimes hurt your child. You know this, because you are an adult and the world has not always been kind to you.
The years go by – some interminably slow, others far too fast. And then – they are adults.
You love the conversations. You love watching them with their friends. You love the unique place they hold in the world. You love watching them connect and find their place. And yet, they are no longer in your house. The daily check ins of “when will you be home?” no longer apply. This is when you know that when your mother says on the phone “I love you more!” it’s true. For you now know the immeasurable love of a mother for her children.
Parenting is a dance and you are in the stage called ‘slow jazz.’
I think about this today as I look at pictures on my shelf. I smile at each kid as though they are present when the reality is far different. I think about the parenting dance, the way it begins as a slow dance or ballet. The music is beautiful and haunting. That baby we take home from the hospital, from the orphanage, from the foster care system comes into our lives, and while everything changes, it’s a slow change. We have anticipated this for a long time. The baby blankets and onesies are purchased and waiting. We have bought or borrowed a crib for the little one. The curtain goes up and the ballet begins.
Every movement of that first baby feels recorded in our hearts and memories, it seems like forever. The first smile, the day they sleep through the night, their eating, pooping, sleeping habits all weave their way into our lives.
As another child comes the music changes and the slow dance stops, replaced by the chicken dance where there’s little grace, just a lot of squawking and moving. It’s fun but it’s exhausting.
Middle years are the Macarena and Bollywood. There’s a rhythm and grace and fun. You got this thing. You can criticize other parents because wow – your kids are amazing and their kids? Better beware because they are headed straight to the state penitentiary by way of the principal’s office. But not yours. Oh. No. Yours are amazing and talented and oh you are so thankful for Grace. The Grace given to you of course – not that bestowed on others.
Every parent thinks they dance well during the middle years!
Then the teen years come and you bow humbly even as the dance changes from the Macarena and Bollywood (which you love) to that of rock and roll where your head is splitting and you don’t understand the words but you think you caught a swear in there. It’s so fast you are spinning. The activities, the angst, the long talks punctuated by angry silence, the fun yet exhausting dance of rock and roll.
And then comes parenting adult children.
And suddenly it all changes. It becomes like jazz music: you agree on the notes and then you improvise. Negotiation becomes a key word. The parental dance goes back and forth between being too worried and too involved and throwing your hands up saying “Well, it’s their life!” But even though you throw those words around, you are always there waiting. When the text comes at midnight, you hear the buzz. When the call comes in early morning hours, you know to take it. When they make decisions you disagree with, you know that you love them fiercely and will love and pray for them until the day you die.
Slow jazz is in the background, but no longer a central part of your life. The furniture is rearranged and the house echoes with empty. You miss them deep in your soul, but you know you’ve raised them with wings to fly and they are exercising those wings well.
There are times when you pour over photo albums and you remember when they were so little. And you think “I thought they were so big. I expected so much out of them.” But you realize now that they were so little and the world was so big.
And though the dance has changed dramatically through the years, you pray that even as you occasionally stumble and fall you will dance every step with grace.
Note: Excerpts from this were first published in 2014.
I’m turning 60 on Monday, and I’m here to tell you that if you let it be, life is terrifying. Just today, four days before the auspicious birthday, a news article made its way across the algorithms of social media to inform me of the “Wuhan coronavirus.” Evidently even as I write this, a patient is being isolated in a tiny room, treated by robots, as doctors protect themselves and others from this deadly virus.
And here I thought I would die of old age and wrinkles – but no – it’s going to be Wuhan coronavirus – virus 2019-nCoV to be more exact. By the time I had finished reading the article I was that patient. As a true trauma thief, I had stolen the identity and the disease and instead of celebrating me on my 60th birthday, my children were gathering to say goodbye.
It was a beautiful moment, though just in my imagination. Every mother secretly longs for the deathbed remorse of their children, don’t they? The “if onlys” and “I wish I hads.”
But these moments were not to be, because this was all in my imagination. So, in the spirit of Ann Lamott, here is my “I’m turning 60 and this is what I know…” post, here you have it. (Except that she was turning 61, but whatever.) Do with it what you will, but please be nice to me.
60 is not an age. 60 is a concept. “I’m turning 60!” I say to the mirror, trying to get used to is, but it won’t happen. My internal middle age self won’t have it. I’m going to be one of those people that looks in the mirror when I’m 80 and says “Who are you, and why are you in my mirror and where did you put my chin? Show me my real self!” Which leads me to my second point…
Real is not what we see. Real is much deeper than that. We spend so much time curating and cultivating, pretending and posturing – but real is beyond all that. Real is wondering how anyone can truly love you, yet moving forward believing that anyway. Real is knowing that the eternal is forever and the now is just now. Real is knowing there is a greater reality in this thing called life. Real is the paradox and dance of joy and sorrow in this thing called life.
God will never give you grace for your imagination – so, my mom taught me this many, many years ago. I believe I first heard it when I talked to her, crying, saying I was afraid that my husband was going to die. He didn’t die, though I went to his funeral that day and wept. It was a beautiful funeral and I was a beautiful widow…..of course it wasn’t real, and I wasted a lot of time crying that day. “God doesn’t give you grace for your imagination, he doesn’t give you grace for what you think might happen. He gives you grace for the real thing – and that in abundance.” Ask anyone who has gone through a tragedy, and they will echo this.
Motherhood is hard. You will never love more, you will never have your heart so broken, you will never have more sleepless nights – and not because of babies that don’t sleep. But if you can get through it, and that is a big if, the friendships of your adult children and the grace that they find in their hearts to give you is just miraculous. Trust me on that one.
Find yourself a faith. I borrowed that from this past season of The Crown. As Prince Philip’s Orthodox mother enters the scene, she says this to her son: “Let this be a mother’s gift to her child – the one piece of advice. Find yourself a faith. It helps. No. Not just helps. It’s everything.” Life is so dang hard. Faith for me has made it not just easier, but so worth it. Just the other day a stranger told me “you wear your faith in your cross and in your eyes.” I’ve never had a more lovely compliment. I just hope it’s true.
Make friends with people who are younger than you. When our son visited us in Kurdistan, he looked at us and said “Mom and Dad! All your friends are my age!” It was true, and there were reasons for it within that context, but beyond that, we’ve always had friends – good friends – who are younger. They keep us grounded. They remind us that we don’t have to have our lives all together. They accept things in us that our peers find tiresome. They remind us that life will go on once we are gone.
There is nothing like a good cry. It’s like the first signs of spring after winter, like the longing and release when you see a stunning sunset. It’s the release of all those things we bottle up and think we can control. Have yourself a good cry when you need it.
Get your preventive health care appointments. I mean it. That colonoscopy? It will find the polyp that turned into cancer for your friend 6 years ago when she was due for one. That mammogram? Get it – I mean it.
Forgive, and forgive, and forgive again. The bitterness that wells up from lack of forgiveness is so much worse than the polyp that turned into cancer. It’s a poison that you drink every day. I have learned the hard way. Give people the proverbial “benefit of the doubt” – don’t assume the worst. It’s so easy, isn’t it, to assume bad intent. Especially when we’re tired, when we’re sad, or when we think we see the person’s middle finger angrily sticking out at us. But maybe they were just born that way. Maybe it’s not us.
Love fiercely, protectively, and with abandon. You will get hurt – of course you will! You will want to smash things. You will cry. You will rage. But oh, to have on my gravestone “She loved God, and she loved others.” That would be success my friends! That would be true success.
Okay – I’m done. I haven’t died of Wuhan yet – but there’s always time before Monday.
Oh and also, if you are interested – what I really want for my birthday? I want my dear ones to support this community health initiative in a place that I called home last year, a place and people that I love dearly. Click here to give a dollar or ten! Community Health Initiative in Kurdistan
My mom recently told me that the last leaves to turn are the Sugar Maples. They turn a brilliant red, an impossible color to describe. She tells me this as we meander our way through a state park on a perfect, October day.
I don’t remember growing up with brilliant Octobers, though my Pakistani childhood in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range must have had some sort of fall. As I travel back in my memories, I remember pristine snow-capped mountains and tall pine trees that whispered in the spring wind, roared in the summer monsoons, and lay heavy with snow when we left for winter vacation. Fall colors are not in my memory. Fall colors feel quintessentially New England and the October I now experience is the October of my mother.
She grew up in New England. Until she moved to Pakistan she lived in a world of seasons and colors. White, mountain laurel in the summer, golden, red, and orange leaves of the fall, cold snows of the winter, and buds peaking over picket fences in the spring. Or so I imagine.
It was a delight recently to spend time with her – not in New England, but in New York where she now makes her home. My mom is 91, a vibrant, lovely 91. She is an example of aging with an attitude of intentional flexibility. She looks and acts younger than many 75 year olds that I know.
“How are you doing?” I say to her on the phone. “A bit achy,” she replies and then goes on to tell me that she took her walk this morning, finished up a chapter of the book she is writing, and went to Bible Study. She has aged with intention, yet has made room for the inevitable change and losses that come with the word and the reality of a body that is destined for a better world than the one where it currently resides.
Her home is now with my brother and sister-in-law in Rochester, New York. Rochester has its own beauty and the recent weekend that I visited her in October was not a disappointment. We made plans to go to a state park, where miles and miles of roads and untouched beauty are there for pure pleasure.
We meandered along, stopping occasionally to look over a gorge or take pictures of the cascading trees that bent toward the road below. We had lunch at an inn, savoring the food and the time together. We looked out over a waterfall, the spray reaching high above even as the water fell far below.
It was beautiful. These days with her are slow and reflective. We spend time reading her old diaries, talking about our different current realities, and eating at least one decadent pastry during our time together.
Anyone who has walked the journey of watching a parent age knows the bittersweet realities of time together. We watch as a process beyond our control takes away too many things from the person we love. We watch, and inside we sometimes shudder. It is too close to home. It will come for us too. Though not yet, it will come. This we know. This we can count on. But to step away from the shudder, and into the beauty of an aging life is so worth it. To laugh, read old diaries, sit comfortably in the shadow of an Autumn evening, and eat pastries with more whipped cream than a cardiologist could possibly approve of – these are times that won’t be forgotten, times that we will look back on with immeasurable gratitude.
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Lucy Maud Montgomery
It was Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of the beloved Anne of Green Gables Series who wrote that quotable phrase for all of us to use through these years. As I reflect on my October weekend with my mom, I think “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers and my mother.”
Two years ago today my father died. There are times in life where you remember exactly where you are at a pivotal moment. I was at work, chatting with my dear friend and colleague, Suzana. My dad had been declining and we knew the end of his life was drawing closer. Still, no matter how much you expect it, you never really expect it. That thin line between life and death; between heaven and earth. It’s a mystery.
I remember him today. It’s a beautiful day here in Charlestown, and he would love where we live. It is Boston at its prettiest in our neighborhood, with gas lamps that shine their light day and night, and neighbors who say hello to each other.
So I remember my dad today and I pause in gratefulness for his life and legacy.
I am always on the lookout for a good story. There are plenty out there, but unfortunately we don’t always hear them. But on Wednesday I heard a great story on forgiven debt.
Evidently a group of churches in Chicago have decided to help almost 6000 people pay their medical debts. The total cost? Around 5.3 million dollars. ⠀ ⠀
In the next few days, each person will receive a letter in the mail with information on the payment and these words “may you have a beautiful, wonderful holiday. Your debt has been forgiven. Enjoy Thanksgiving.”⠀ ⠀
I grow weary of bad news and cruelty, of incompetent leadership and lies at high and low levels of government. I grow weary of petty meanness – in others, yes – but in myself even more. Then I hear a story like this, and I know it does not stand alone. I know there are other churches and other people doing work that matters, living out their faith in actions big and small. And I am convinced that these small acts matter in big ways. These small acts make a difference, and we may never really know of their true impact. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀
One of the ministers from one of the churches involved in the debt relief effort said this about the decision: ”Well, I began to cry because I knew what it would mean for – it was exactly 5,888 people. I’ll never forget that number. I knew what this would mean for them, that it was a new start for people.”⠀ ⠀ ⠀
A new start. Your debt is forgiven. What amazing words those are! The link to the full story is here. You’ll be glad you listened.⠀
Warning: You Are Entering the Fitting Room!
I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I believe that fitting rooms need a warning sign. A warning sign that says “The mirror may reflect things that surprise, shock or astound you! Please refrain from sudden outbursts!”
Here’s the back story: We head off to a family wedding in Florida today. I love weddings, I love family, and I love palm trees so I’m looking forward to it.
In thinking through what I would wear, I realized I’d like to look a little firmer. You know that thing called gravity? It creeps around and through you in the oddest ways!
I had limited time, but I was armed and ready – or so I thought. I picked up a few things from the rack of undergarments and headed toward the aptly called “fitting room.” Five minutes later, busy with Lycra and straps, I caught sight of this stranger in the mirror! I shrieked! “By God, who is that? Who is in my fitting room and what is she wearing?” Thankfully the store was short-staffed, so no one came to my aid, because the moment after I screamed I realized that the chubby, wrinkled person in the mirror was me.
How did I get to be HER?
What? How could this be? How could the beautiful, lithe, me who I thought I was be Her of the Stretch Marks and Muffin Top? I gasped in horror. Where is the me who I thought I was?
While those of us who are of a certain age have our own challenges, any female who has reached the age of being able to go to the fitting room alone knows the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” that are part of the shopping experience. Too often we women drag along men, expecting them to make a potentially self-esteem damaging experience easier. It rarely happens and I can’t count how many couples I have watched in the same scenario. It goes something like this:
She: You don’t like it. (in flat tones) He: I didn’t say I didn’t like it. (in defensive tones) She: But I can tell – you didn’t say anything. If you had liked it you would have said something. He: It’s not whether I like it, it’s whether you like it. She: But I need an opinion. He: Look, I don’t know women’s clothing. I guess I like it. Maybe you need something that doesn’t have stripes. She: I knew you thought I looked fat(in an accusing and hurt tone, eyes welling up). He: I did not say that. She: Let’s just go.
It’s a set-up for failure of both parties. We are desperately looking for words of affirmation and have a completely unrealistic expectation of what those will sound like.
But back to my experience looking for undergarments. As I laughed at the stranger in the mirror, I thought about our bodies and our souls. How one can be revived daily, and one is daily losing something. What if I spent as much time on my soul as my body? There is so much to think about in that statement. But I’m not going to unpack it here and now. I’m going to leave you with the vision of me screaming at the me in the mirror. “By God, who is she and what is she wearing?” The person in the mirror started laughing, and strangely – so did I.
Routines & Nesting
We are settling into something of a routine here. Though there are boxes in our cellar, this has become a good place to call home and nest for awhile, and we are loving the neighborhood and this little red house. We have begun family dinners with my daughter, son-in-law, and nephew and we have already had a couple of overnight guests. This is a true joy for us. The neighborhood provides beautiful walks, sunrises, and sunsets in a truly historic area of the city. What a gift!
Kurdistan is close to our hearts but far from our bodies and in moments of honesty we confess to each other how difficult that is. We pray and talk about our friends and Kurdistan all the time, and we are with them in spirit during this difficult time of history.
I began this post with death, and I will end it with the same by leaving you with a quote from the highly acclaimed novel – Laurus.
“Each of us repeats Adam’s journey and acknowledges, with the loss of innocence, that he is mortal. Weep and pray, O Arseny. And do not fear death, for death is not just the bitterness of parting. It is also the joy of liberation.”