Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life's Bounty

I've been moping tonight, facing with reluctance the Monday morning return to work after a week's vacation. I am blessed with extraordinary work--I cannot argue with this--but it is still hard sometimes to walk away from the gifts that come with life at home. We've taken a dive into summer this week--literally--with seven straight days of swimming in pools of friends or our beloved town, and I have been reminded that I. Love. Summer. I might have been born in January, but in my heart I'm all June, July, and August!

In the midst of my moping, I read a headline about a housefire that killed six children in a tiny village where dear friends grew up, and where we still have ties. While we didn't know this particular family, their tragedy certainly drew me to a stop in my "woe is me" routine. Life is beautiful, and seems extremely short no matter its length; tonight I'm going to keep my mind on the pool rather than tomorrow's awaiting desk, enjoying the summer these children and their family now won't have.

A seminary professor shared a story of a man who stood outside the gates of eternity, clinging to a pocketful of dirt from his homeland, reluctant to let it go so as to enter heaven. When at last he released the dirt he had brought along for the journey, he passed through the gates and discovered the whole of his homeland before his eyes. As I think of these poor children, perished entirely too soon in an accident beyond their knowing or control, I am hoping that an eternity of summers has already greeted them, and that they are diving off diving boards into pools that go on forever. May life eternal be the whole of the goodness of this world.

This week has indeed been a taste of all that is good, and here are just a few bright spots:

*First, the comic: In writers' workshop Lucas and his kindergarten friends both write and illustrate stories of their lives. I was pouring through Lucas's work from this past year when I discovered a set of stories about a recent school vacation. Underneath his own "sounded-out" spelling his teacher often wrote a translated version of his work. One picture of the dog and our living room was created with our son's usual attention to detail, and below I could read (through my own sounding-out), "I got Ty to the couch." Knowing how our dog, Ty, obeys (or not!), this was no small accomplishment for the youngest in the house. The translation by his teacher was the highlight of the story, though. "I got tied to the couch." Hmmmm....wondering why the principal didn't call to follow up on that one!

*Second, the sentimental: Lucas turned six this week, and the passage of birthdays is always an opportunity for me to revisit my birth stories, revisit the incredible people my children have become, and revisit my own decision to be a parent. I must be wearing this reflection on my very skin as a woman at church this morning turned to me and said, "It gives me so much joy to see how you attend to your son with such love and affection." I hope she sees the same when I'm with my daughter (this morning Lucas and I happened to be teamed up for a trust exercise during the children story), and that she will have this sense of me long after this blissful week of vacation concludes. They are my greatest joy, and with all of the pride and sense of acclaim/accomplishment that comes from my work, I hope don't lose sight of this most important role and purpose. They are growing so incredibly fast. Kyra learned last week that she has no more baby teeth eight years old! How on earth have we concluded the tooth fairy visits already? Her feet are nearly my size, and she will be looking me in the eye in another two summers. I love these amazing kids.

*Third, the practical: I took an email-free vacation and delighted in being more attentive to myself, the kids, Matt, the world at large. I'm still contemplating how to return to my day to day life with the gift of the realization that very little of actual importance is pleading for my attention with those beeping messages and buzzing phones. I think I'll make a rule of "emergency use only" for the cell phone when at the beach or the pool. I was free to say "YES!" to so many more of the kids' requests because my attention wasn't elsewhere. This "yes" is a gift to all of us.

Ah, summer....camping trips ahead, summer vacation on the Cape, beach-bound destinations with our newest sand-eating nephew. It is really the bounty of life, this season of sun and surf. I feel grateful for every moment of it--clothes on the line, dinners on the screened-in porch, too-late bedtimes for too-tired parents and kids, and fireflies peeking out at me around every corner. Bring on the homemade ice cream, and let the games begin!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Shabbat Shalom

Every Wednesday evening this semester I'm sitting at Hartford Seminary in "Holiness in Time and Space: A Jewish Approach to Spirituality." My original intention was connected, in part, to my current work as a program director at a university with a substantive Jewish population. In the back of my mind, the part of me that contemplate(s/d) college and university chaplaincy was seeking to legitimize my own potential service in such a community. What I did not anticipate learning was how to give myself a holy day

Last week's readings were entirely about the shabbat celebration, the part-family, part-community celebration that begins eighteen minutes before sundown on Friday night and continues until three stars are spotted in the Saturday night sky. From movies and television, the various prohibitions in this time period are fairly well-known--no flipping a light switch, no pressing an elevator button, no carrying, no hammering to conclude a household project, no writing, and so on. What the readings introduced me to, though, was the profound, beautiful purpose for the day and these prohibitions. Shabbat is not so much a day of rest, but rather a day to cease from creative labors (the exhortation to make love on Friday nights seems a bit curious as this is certainly creative labor!)--it is a day of peace and tranquility created intentionally by God on the seventh day of the mythical creation story. Shabbat is a day to literally "try on" eternity, trusting that the undone work does not even require your mental attention, much less your active effort. In eternity, the work of God is already completed--and we are invited in small doses to step into the bliss of this longed-for reality.

While my own explanation here does not do justice to the beautiful books we read for the class, I take pleasure in knowing that as I type there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world sitting with candles lit, blessing their children, and singing the songs of peace and joy that they intend to sing for all eternity. When I decided to take the day off today to join Matt and the kids (who were home from school for a teachers' professional day), I decided to create my own purpose-filled prohibitions--no checking work email, no contemplating work or what I would need to do on Monday, no worrisome thoughts. While our day can hardly compare with the traditional shabbat celebration, we did fill it with rituals of pleasure for our family--a long morning hike in the hills of Connecticut, a visit to the CT Science Center, and an evening of breaking bread and drinking wine with good friends and their children. On this last day of winter, we rejoiced in wearing short sleeves and turning a bit pink in the sun from too much outdoor exposure. It was heavenly--truly a taste of what is to come.

...and to know that tomorrow is Saturday? Another day off? And then Sunday to follow? Ahhhhh....the simple pleasures in life are overflowing as fast as the river is overflowing its banks in these rain-filled weeks. Let the flood plains be prepared to catch and hold this goodness!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A love letter

Dear Lucas and Kyra,

You're at Auntie's house tonight, a Valentine's Day gift for us and for you. You love visiting her house, and I hope you will always see the homes of your extended family as a happy extension of your home here. Right about now you are getting into the bathtub and, if Auntie is the superstar we know her to be, you might even spend a few minutes publishing (typing) your story, Kyra, and reading from an early reader library book, Lucas. Auntie already mentioned how amazed she is that you can read! We're amazed, too, and love every moment of your learning.

We spent the afternoon at The Lion King here in Hartford--what a glorious show, even from the balcony! Kyra, you were taking it in through the binoculars, repeating the play by play to Daddy, not so much to explain to him what was happening, but to prove to him that you understood it all. Eight must be the perfect age for a show, as I think five-year-old Lucas would have happily left at the intermission. The stage version plays down the battles and adds a fair amount to the human-relational element, so you were struggling to hang on, Lucas. You were on my lap for the whole show and, despite the fidgets, it was the longest stretch I have spent with you in a long time. I wouldn't give up a minute!

I was wishing last night for some time to spend on your baby book, Lucas--you lost your second tooth this week (now both those top two teeth are out), and they are coming out so quickly, we can't even remember the details of each loss anymore. Some day you'll open that baby book and wonder about all those gaps and holes (and not gaps and holes from the toothless pictures I should be taking!). Know that the gaps are not there because we don't notice--rather, I think we spend our full energy on the noticing in the moment, and leave nothing for the documentation. This blog post is my (weak) attempt to let you know, "We see you." Truly, we do, and Daddy and I spend some part of every day marveling at who you are becoming.

We need to find you a gymnastics class, as you love to swing between the dining room wall and chairs (parallel bars, anyone?), and at the present moment you are fascinated with all things Star Wars, thanks to your ever-expanding Lego collection. In your best moments, you and Kyra are best pals, running from the tower of Lego bins in your room to the basement for lacrosse and basketball. Of course there's also the pleas each morning to play on the computer or watch a program on television. We do notice you, and wish often we could freeze moments in time to capture an image of your toothless smile, your determination as you attempted ice skating just a week or two ago (succeeding in only 40 minutes to be a comfortable, eager skater!), and of course your concentration as you draw one of your remarkable works of art.

Kyra, the other night I pulled open your school drawer and was stunned to see a page of cursive words. Your handwriting looked so grown-up, as though I was peering at the work of a teenager, rather than an eight-year-old. You had recently tucked in the mark sheet for your "Moving to Mexico" Social Studies collage. Undoubtedly either Daddy or I had recycled the grading rubric, not realizing how important it was to mark this moment when you set out to get "meets expectations" and walked home with "excels." It's hard for me to believe that we are already at the age where we lose sleep together for homework projects. Third grade has been a big year for you. You've excelled with your teacher; you are happy every single day to be back with your best friend Lilia, and you read every book you can put your hands on. They know you almost as well at the library as we know you at home! I also love that you're learning how to play the piano and how to notate music on a score at church. I announced today that I love that you have homework from church--church homework??!! Who would have thought? As with every assignment, you take it on with your usual sense of responsibility and focus.

I hope some of your "good student" energy can rub off on me! It's time for me to get back to the paper I'm writing--a not-unfamiliar scene after you head to bed each night and on the weekends. I hope some day I can be in school when you're in school, and enjoy the evenings even more with you and Daddy. This will come at some point, I expect. For now, I'm going to soak up all I can from the days and nights that we have. You bring joy to every one of them!

I love you. Happy Valentine's Day.