Boiled Down to a Drop

She didn’t read books so she didn’t know
that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.
                                                    –Zora Neale Hurston

Since my mother died over a year ago I’ve worn her jade ring as a reminder that she’s still here. My mother loved beautiful objects and somehow these objects, her jewelry and the quilt she made me and the African violets she grew and even her dime-store spiral notebooks, continue to hold that love.

As do I. Sometimes I feel more my mother than myself—her loud hiccups, her bad gynecological genes, her late night worries and self-pitying whine, and her fondness for home, for a lingering, elegant meal, for libraries, for generous giving. Her goodnight kisses, her pride at my work, her inexhaustible love. These were in me before she died I know them more poignantly now.

None of us, it turns out, are separate, siloed identities. We’re all mash-ups of each other. (more…)

Be Where Your Feet Are

I first heard this advice from a camp counselor after a silly skit about texting, missing a sunset, and dropping a cell phone in the lake. “Be where your feet are” was the camp’s refrain. If you’ve traveled into the wilderness, be in the wilderness; pay attention to the natural world; open your being to the moment you’re in.

Being present is, of course, a perennial spiritual practice—for good reason—but there’s something about the out-of-doors that is particularly conducive. (more…)

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)

Corrective Lenses

IMG_0320Recently I plunged into Minneapolis Park & Rec’s latest phenomenon and started swimming across Lake Nokomis. The lifeguards tow enormous orange buoys out for the course, then hover alongside in their kayaks. The first time I was ecstatic—such freedom! such a great workout!—except that, without my glasses, I couldn’t see the buoys and kept veering off course.

So I bought prescription goggles.

Now you have to understand that I’ve been both terrifically near-sighted and an avid swimmer since I was nine. When I got my first pair of glasses, I was amazed that trees actually had leaves. (more…)

Containing Land & Spirit

Retaining WallPhew! Emily and I have just completed a major landscaping project, building a retaining wall along the south and east sides of our property, putting in two rain gardens, leveling the soil where our old garage stood, and planting grass seed. After an entire year of chaos, the garden finally feels settled. The work that remains (stone paths, trellises, more planting) is ornamental.

When I look at all this change through practical lenses, most of it seems unnecessary. Our yard was fine beforehand. (more…)