Reflecting on October with my Mother

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.”

The Full Time Job of Healing 


I am on medical leave. For the first time in many, many years I have time. I am not moving. I am not job hunting. I am not on limited vacation time. Instead, my full time job right now is to heal. 

It is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. 

Here’s why: 

  1. Healing takes discipline. It takes discipline to set aside time for physical therapy. It takes discipline to eat properly, discipline to not just veg out and binge on television shows. It takes effort to get up in the morning when you hurt, discipline to put your feet on the ground. I am not disciplined and at heart, I’m pretty lazy. I would far rather have a quick fix then a slow, steady process. But healing has its own agenda and schedule., and it demands discipline. 
  2. Healing takes rest. So much of physical and emotional healing is about resting. And true resting is when both your body and soul are at rest. I find myself trying to rest, but my mind buzzes anxiously with thoughts about what I think I should be doing, how I think I should be reacting. Rest is uncommon in the Northeast. Instead, what is applauded is achievement, academic success, graduating from top schools, busy and successful career paths. Rest is something that we don’t talk about or give permission for, instead opting to glorify busy. But healing demands rest. Our bodies have undergone trauma – whether it be from surgery, from illness, or from an accident. The body’s needs for rest increase. Our bodies also need proper nutrition to augment the rest. 
  3. Healing takes humility. Giving up control is hard. Having to have others help you dress, bathe, cook, drive, clean, even put on your shoes is deeply humbling. Actively watching out for self-pity is also humbling. It’s easy to clothe self-pity into “well I’m just being honest about how I feel..” But at the end of the day, it’s still self-pity. It takes humility to follow the guidelines and restrictions of others, to trust medical personnel. It takes humility to allow strangers into your home to see how you live, and to give you suggestions and ideas of how to live better. It takes humility to accept that healing doesn’t happen on the timeline we request. It takes humility to respond to questions about our bodies, to use assistive devices when we go out the door. 
  4. Healing takes time. Above all, this is true.  Neither physical nor emotional healing comes quickly. Instead it’s a long journey.  Yes, there are things we can do to heal as quickly as possible, but ultimately it still takes time. 

And so I have time – and my only job during this time is to heal. 

Years ago, I listened to a recording of a woman who spoke on suffering. It was a powerful talk and I probably listened to it over fifty times in the course of the next few years. One of the many things she said was this: 

Our churches are full of wounded and hurting people who have never taken a season to heal. 

These words are profoundly true – true for the ones who need physical healing, true for the ones who need emotional healing. 

So I will not fight this season, nor will I wish it away. Instead, I gratefully accept my season to heal, and the gift of time. 

When the World Rushes too Fast

I went to my closet to pull out clothes to wear, going for the long pants and a warm shirt. “No”they screamed! “Don’t pick us! It’s too soon!” And I screamed back “It’s cold outside you idiots! I’m picking you.” 

Cold makes me a little crazy as evidenced by the conversation with inanimate clothes detailed above. And the world is rushing too fast! Summer should not be over. Not yet. Too soon.

I close my eyes and relive clear blue sky and perfect weather; long walks and talks with good friends; a fire on the beach with ocean waves breaking over rocks in the background and us roasting marshmallows and putting the hot, melted mallow over bits of chocolate, sandwiched between two graham crackers; laughing until our sides hurt and telling ghost stories with adult children.

Some summers are made to last forever, and this one was one of them. In a world that rushes too fast and puts productivity above relationships it is a gift to stop, look up and around, relax and enjoy.

When the world rushes too fast I need to stop. Because in the midst of that rushing I will miss things that are important. I’ll get the urgent things done, but I’ll miss those things that are truly important.

When younger moms ask me how to slow life, how I’ve negotiated the work/home dance I give them only one piece of advice – I tell them “Always ask yourself when you’re thinking about a job, about a change, about demands on your time – ‘who do I want to like me when I’m 80?’ because the answer is rarely ‘my work.'” 

And this summer I danced that dance and my family took the lead. There are times when I do have to give a bit more to work, and that’s okay. But overall, my priorities are, have had to be, home and family.

And so when the world rushes too fast, when it shouts its demands through loud emails, edicts, and busy schedules, summer is a time to retreat.

But now, the summer retreat is over and warmer clothes are screaming from the closet.

So we have said goodbye – goodbye to a summer of long evenings on the porch, walks to our favorite rocks at the end of the earth in Rockport, conversations with our kids shared over wine and cheese. We have entered a new season – an open season for us.

But when the world rushes too fast, as autumn gold chill replaces summer sunshine, when cold, grey winter comes with its melancholy, we still have our memories of summer.

Take a look at this video created by my daughter Stefanie! It captures some of our summer beautifully! https://vimeo.com/104361637

Summer. from Stefanie Gardner on Vimeo.

How do you stop the world from rushing too fast?

far and wee – thoughts on spring from a lower case poet

forsythia eecummings

I feel like winter has reverberated across the globe this year.

Whether it be friends in Germany where the sun did not shine for weeks or friends in Minnesota, trapped in ‘always winter, never Christmas‘, or friends in the eternal summer of Djibouti that would give anything for the cool, freshness of this unknown season, we have all longed for spring. Two years ago I wrote this post but I resurrect it today. Because today the wind outside feels mighty cold and I am in a winter coat. But the colors are fighting with the temperature, for in their brilliance they proclaim to the world that it is spring in Boston.

So enjoy this post – and a happy spring from me and e.e. cummings. (In that order because he’s dead.)

***************

Spring in Boston deserves a post every year, for no matter what the winter has held, be it a snow fall of 85 inches or dreary rain and cold grey, spring in all its glory casts a spell on the city. Yesterday was a balmy 70 degrees with hardly a cloud in the sky and today promises more of the same.

Forsythia and crocuses are the first to bring the promise of warmer weather and are a welcome color against the dead of grass and limb. Soon after come leaves of hedges and other perennials, added to the landscape the way an artist dips their paintbrush into colors of paint and with broad strokes creates color out of nothing. The banks of the Charles River enjoy foot and bike traffic as people emerge from the cocoons of their dorm rooms and homes to breathe deeply and feel the warmth of spring. Even drivers forget their Boston angst and road rage for a short moment. Everyone thaws.

Who better to bring us thoughts of spring than the poet e.e. cummings, native to this area? e.e. cummings was born in Cambridge and we have driven past his house many times. He went to Cambridge public schools, graduating from the same high school that my two youngest children have attended. Author of thousands of poems as well as novels, essays and plays, e.e. cummings had a magical way of weaving words and creating poetry. As temperatures rise and spring becomes official I’ll leave you with the magic of spring as expressed by this lower-case poet.

**************

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

[in Just-]

bY e.e.cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

************

Stacy’s muffins for today are inspired by her daughter Cecilie! Take a look here for her Mom-Bro muffins! http://www.foodlustpeoplelove.com/2014/04/mom-bro-coconut-energy-muffins.htmlEnhanced by Zemanta

Hope in the Red and Gold

For years while living in Pakistan and Cairo we had no Autumn. No pumpkins. No apple picking. No smells of apple crisp or pie coming from a hot oven. No crisp fall days, where leaves crunch under foot and life is suspended in a golden, Autumn glow.

I have come to cherish Autumn; to cherish the hope that comes with the reds and golds. I am slowly coming from a place of dreading what’s beyond the Autumn to resting in the wonder of the now.

There is hope in the red and the gold – hope in the falling leaves, hope in the crisp air. There is a consistency to this season that I don’t feel in others. Spring is too elusive; summer can come with disappointments of crushed expectation; winter – well winter just is. But Autumn is consistent in its shorter days and golden looks.

Autumn is where I first learned to create traditions in the United States. Autumn is where my friend Karen taught me about pumpkin carving and apple picking. Autumn is where I learned to not fear what was coming ahead, not dread what hadn’t yet come. Autumn is the season where I grew up as a mom, learned how to be a mom in North America.

I learned about soccer and theatre; about field trips and evening concerts with 4th graders who knew only two notes on their recorders; I learned about volunteering and being the only mom in the parent-teacher organization with a nosepin. It was in Autumn that I learned what it was to be so homesick for a place I could hardly move; in Autumn where I learned the hard lesson of moving from community to being unknown. And then it was in falling leaves that crunched that I learned what it was to heal, to know that there was One who understood homesick better than any other. It was Autumn where I failed and succeeded and failed again as a mom. It was in Autumn that my heart broke and repaired. It was in the red and gold glow that my tears fell and my heart was hurt and heard.

So there is, and always will be, hope in the red and gold.

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