Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Vacation

My brother found us a little cabin near Lake Michigan to spend a lazy week.  I can tell the story of our summer vacation, but I will let the beautiful words of these poets and the photos of my beautiful babies do it for me.  They speak to the art of presence, something that grows increasingly difficult with all of the many distractions we face.  To be far away, in a little cabin near the lake was a great gift.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-- the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

God, let me be conscious of it! Let me be conscious of what is happening while it is happening. Let me realize it and feel it vividly. Let not the consciousness of the event, as happens so often, come to me tardily, so that I miss half the experience. Let me be conscious of it!

From the diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Now is the Time to Know

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside

When you can finally live
With veracity

And love.

My dear, please tell me, 
Why do you still

Throw sticks at your heart

And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred

This is the time

For you to deeply compute the impossibility

That there is anything

But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do is sacred.


The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry

The Open Window 

The old house by the lindens 
Stood silent in the shade,
And on the graveled pathway 
The light and shadow played.
I saw the nursery windows
Wide open to the air;
But the faces of the children,
They were no longer there.
The large Newfoundland house-dog
Was standing by the door;
He looked for his little playmates,
Who would return no more.
They walked not under the lindens,
They played not in the hall;
But shadow, and silence, and sadness
Were hanging over all.
The birds sang in the branches,
With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
Will be heard in dreams alone!
And the boy that walked beside me,
He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
I pressed his warm, soft hand!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Day Bryan Higgins Died

Two days before Bryan Higgins died, I picked up a book at Barnes & Noble called "How It All Began" which tells the story of the mugging of an elderly woman on a London street and the ripple effect it has on a community- how our paths can be altered by someone we will never meet.  Stories of chance encounters and the connectedness of all of us spinning madly around on this globe have always fascinated me and so, on that rainy Monday afternoon, I picked up that book.

Two days before Bryan Higgins died, Robin Williams died and the world was awash with grief and sadness over the loss of this electric ball of frantic joy and energy.  Robin Williams has always reminded me of my dad- goofy, full of bad puns and from the same city outside of Detroit.  They're the exact same age and maybe, just maybe, they found themselves at the same park or block or intersection at the same time.  I scrolled through photos of his life and his career and I couldn't help noticing his eyes.  His sad eyes that stared off at some distant point much too far for any of us to see.  I wondered if we only see the sadness in someone's eyes once they're gone.  If this is true, I vowed to look a little harder at a person's eyes.

The day that Bryan Higgins died I noticed an old and faded roadside cross that had been erected after the death of a very young man, who worked with me years ago, who was killed on a black and snowy January morning four years ago.  His black car slid out onto black ice and by all accounts he died instantly on the scene.  The cross was on its side but I saw its white paint against the tall green grass.  It must be hard to maintain, that old cross.  There is no sidewalk on that side of that very busy street.  And besides, Bradley isn't at that old wooden cross.  He never was.

The day that Bryan Higgins died, a few friends posted an article about his death.  He was a young man who was found beaten on the streets of San Francisco.  He went by the name Feather.  I looked at photos of this transcendent man.  I found out that he had several chance encounters with my sister and while we had several mutual friends I never met him.  So why do I feel like I know him?  There are two answers to that question.  

Jack and Will.

Becoming a mother has been the most transformative experience of my life.  I can no more shut off the part of me that seeks to nurture and protect the innocent and vulnerable than I can stop my heart from beating.  Suddenly every baby is my baby, every person has potential and every tragedy rocks me to my core.

The mother in me sees the sad eyes of Robin Williams, it notices the old faded crosses on the side of the road and it weeps at the suffering of a man named Feather.  The day Bryan Higgins died I realized for the first time in my life that I see the world through a completely different lens than I did on January 6, 2011 because the next day I became a mother.  And everything changed.  The vulnerability I feel when my babies are away from me is as powerful and potent as the helplessness I feel at the ugliness and sadness of the world.  Because the mother in me sees the faces of my own precious babies in the face of Bryan Feather Higgins.  I see the face of someone else's baby.  I see a phone call at 6:30 on a cold January morning with the news that your child has been killed in a car crash.  I see the face of my son Jack in Robin William's sad eyes.  I see him when he disappoints himself, when he feels that he's let us down.  I see, at 3 how he's already learned that life can be sad and there is not a thing I can or should do to stop him from learning those lessons.  I just hope I can be vigilant when watching those eyes and that I can stop the world from swallowing him up whole as he makes his way slowly into it.

But that's not all.  That's only half.

The mother in me looks across the street to see a different memorial cross which stands in someone's front yard, someone who bore witness to that tragic accident, and I know it represents the fact that the boy who died on that black snowy morning is not forgotten.  I see people having meaningful conversations about love, loss, depression and suicide and maybe, just maybe, people are looking closer into someone else's eyes and finding some undiscovered sadness.  The mother in me sees the photo of the rainbow colored balloons that soared above the heads of all of those who attended a vigil on the day Bryan Higgins died.  The mother in me cradled both boys in my lap at 6:33pm when he was taken off of life support because when faced with the ugliness of the world, we all have no choice but to combat it with love.  And I have to see the love.  I have to look very hard to see the love in this world and not let the darkness swallow me up.  The mother in me sees the helpers, the friends, the love, the outpouring of grief and support for Bradley and Robin and Feather.

Two days before Bryan Higgins died I bought a book on the ripple effect caused by tragedy.  I find myself tonight standing on the shore of a great ocean while emotions and thoughts ripple out and away from me and will for quite some time. 

Don't let the sadness of this life cast you into the deep end of the ocean.  Stand bravely on the shore and as the water laps at your feet and the sand starts to shift, roll gently with the tide.

Two weeks before Bryan Higgins died I found a blue jay feather in our backyard.  It had been years since I held a feather in my hand.  Such a study in contrasts.  A hard, plain quill running through tiny tufts of down extending into the most exquisite blue barbs.  

Prickly and fluffy, brilliant and quiet, intense and subdued, soft and hard.  Just like life.

Bryan Feather Higgins- from his memorial page.