The earth has begun to shed the heavy, gray death coat of winter; to stretch yearning green fingers toward the returning sun. I feel the same primal urge to sweep the clutter from my life; to shed the physical and spiritual costumes that distract me from myself. On my windowsill, the single gray eye of a moonshell regards me with pointed intent. It is a reminder of purpose, of the need for the soul to remain single-minded amidst the whirlwind of daily life.
Purpose and meaning. For the bumblebee hovering on the other side of my window, purpose is found in his delicate dance with the lavender blossoms in my herb garden. This simple recognition of meaning and place is why the natural world offers such tranquility to us mere mortals. The bumblebee doesn’t fret about career options; the cedar tree doesn’t bemoan its lack of advanced education. Each living creature accepts and cleaves to its individual purpose. I yearn for the simplicity and focus of the moonshell. As a woman, a mother, a writer, the daily chores of raising a family and making a living often fragment my soul’s sense of purpose, so that my life resembles a treadmill on high speed.
In one of my favorite books, “Gift From the Sea,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about the challenge women face in fulfilling their obligations to others while retaining a stable and defined sense of self. Almost 40 years later, with all of our technological advances, the challenge to remain centered is greater than ever. A jangling and ongoing litany of noise and words assault the senses and starve the spirit. How do we silence the circus so that simplicity of purpose may be discovered?
I believe it’s all about choices; about shedding the unnecessary aspects of our lives that prevent us from being true to our purpose. It’s about being selfish, but not stingy, with one’s time – and about pausing to reflect on the interconnectedness of each life within this brilliant and vast web. So here’s my role and purpose…to bring light through my writing to the experiences that define and illuminate the human condition; the acts, great and small, that bring us closer to our own meaning and lift us up to God.
Driving to work this morning, I put in a CD of new age music and did my best to silence my mind. I usually spend the drive thinking about the day ahead of me, making mental to-do lists and focusing on the trivial worries that gnaw hungrily at my sense of peace and confidence. This morning, the mist clung to the river’s surface like a lover’s kiss, and the mountain streams seemed to whisper the secrets of spring to the trees. I wanted nothing more than to take in the beauty of the rural morning landscape. The sunlight felt like a gift. The grass has begun to green, yet for the naked trees, their spring leaves are still but a dream. Last night I read Mary Oliver’s newest book of poetry, Evidence. Like her, I am in love with the earth and its simple miracles. The crocuses lift their delicate purple faces to the sky, and I wonder if their souls rejoice at the sun’s first tender caress. Perhaps their beauty is a gift to God; an offering of thanks for this glorious life. In the robin’s song I hear the echoes of my own joy. Spring is here! As creatures of the earth, we are bound together in spirit as we celebrate the return of warmth and the renewal of life. So this morning, as I drove to work, I turned my attention to the greening fields, to the mountains gilded with sunlight, and to the promise that each new morning brings. We come out of the darkness and dance in the light. Spring is here! Spring is here!
As winter wraps cold arms around my part of the world, my thoughts and daydreams turn to the seed catalogs that have begun to appear like long-lost friends in my mailbox. My herb garden rests safely beneath a blanket of snow, and all I can do now is be patient…and dream about the day when I will again be able to feel the soft earth in my hands. With the arrival of winter comes a particular sadness; a longing for the sun’s warmth and the simple pleasure of tending my plants. And while my usually impatient nature wants to hurry through winter to enjoy the pleasures of spring, I’ve grown to accept the value of embracing each season. Gardening offers the opportunity to experiment, and winter is the perfect time to pore through seed catalogs and design new gardens in preparation for spring. Winter also offers us gardeners the chance to sit back and evaluate the previous season’s efforts. What worked? What didn’t? Do I really want irises in the front flower beds, or would they look more at home clustered around the pond? Do I really need four different varieties of tomatoes in the kitchen garden? Is there room for butternut squash and eggplant? And so the planning process begins. The seed catalogs are colorful temptation, and I quickly fall in love with everything on their pages. My children roll their eyes at my enthusiasm and my fiance reminds me that we’re on a budget. Fortunately, the stillness of winter encourages quiet contemplation rather than impulsive action. And so I think about the plants and flowers I truly love – the ones who are dear friends and close to my heart. I study the lines of my house and the slope of the yard. I mark the pages of my seed catalogs…and I dream. In the slowing-down of winter, it seems okay to be still and open to inspiration. When the air grows warm again and the earth is rich and soft in my hands, I will be ready to turn those garden daydreams into a beautiful sanctuary.
It’s that time of year again. The time when we take stock of the year behind us and resolve to be healthier, happier and smarter in the coming year. For several years now, my list of New Year’s resolutions has included 1) travel to Italy, 2) lose 20 pounds and 3) write a novel. All admirable resolutions, yet they remain unfulfilled. Well, except for losing 20 pounds. I actually lost 35 pounds in 2009, so I can finally cross that off my list! As I read back through my journal last Sunday afternoon, I wondered about these unfulfilled resolutions. Are my dreams really that lofty? Or is their continued presence on my list simply an indicator of how busy I’ve allowed my life to become? As a single mom with three boys, my yearning for faraway cultures has become secondary to more immediate needs…like paying the bills, saving for college, and unexpected emergency room visits. The daily chores associated with making a living and raising a family too often leave little time or energy for creative endeavors like writing a novel. Last year’s list of unfulfilled resolutions is a reminder that sometimes, it is okay to be selfish with my time. Sometimes, it’s okay to leave the unwashed dishes in the sink so I can write chapter 3 of my novel. Now, with the final days of 2009 rapidly melting into a new year, my thoughts are focused on how to balance my responsibilities to my family with my responsibilities to my desires. I’ve decided to replace my New Year’s resolutions with New Year’s desires — a list of activities that enrich and fulfill me as an individual. I’m also thinking about the restoration of my life associated with my New Year’s desires. There are a thousand small changes and decisions behind each desire, and this year, my focus will be on taking those tiny baby steps of change. After all, it’s the small changes in our lives that help us to create our dreams.
Recently, my life has been punctuated by important conversations. I had the opportunity after Thanksgiving to talk with my mom for several hours about my life, her life, and the individual dreams we are both gathering courage to pursue. After the kids were tucked into bed Friday night, we sat on my youngest son’s bed in our pajamas (he was asleep in the top bunk in his brother’s bedroom), listening to the dog’s rhythmic snoring as we unfolded the latest chapters of our lives to each other. More than just a chance to reconnect and play catch-up, the conversation allowed me a glimpse of the fragile dreams and painful uncertainties my mom has kept buried in her heart. As a mother, I’ve found that it’s all too easy to lose yourself in the act of raising a family. Amidst the daily demands of parenthood, work, and maintaining a home, a mother’s dreams are often quietly pushed into a corner closet of the soul. There they wait, sometimes for years, gathering dust until the children are self-sufficient or until the mother’s spirit cries out for a life and identity of her own. I studied my mother’s face as she spoke softly about her desire to go to college, her fear that at 65, she simply wouldn’t be good enough to achieve her goals. As she talked, I thought about her role in my life. Throughout my childhood and adulthood, her inner strength and love had inspired and supported me in times of success and failure. She was the creative one, an artist, yet she was content to remain in the background of our family. Her dreams were secondary to my father’s career, and I never heard her complain when it came time to pack the house and start all over in a new state. I thought about all of these things during our conversation Friday night, and I felt a sense of role reversal as I encouraged her to reach out for her dreams, to pick them up and wrap them around her spirit like a warm coat on a long journey. There is hope for both of us, I thought. There is still time for our dreams. I envisioned my mother in cap and gown, walking across a stage to accept her college degree – and smiled. “Promise me you will pursue this,” I told her. She smiled and promised. There is still time to take our dreams out of the closet, dust them off, and follow our bliss.
In the past year, I’ve reconnected with three women whose friendship, strength, and positive energy have had profound influence on my life. On separate occasions, through emails and phone calls, we found our way back into each other’s lives after more than five years of silence. There were no harsh words or unresolved conflicts between us; there was just life. Almost seven years ago, I gave birth to my youngest son. One year later, my ex-husband and I packed up our family and moved an hour away to West Virginia. According to my car’s odometer, we were only 30 miles from our former life. Barely a half-inch line on a Virginia/West Virginia road map. Yet thousands of miles filled the six years between our conversations. My husband and I got divorced. One friend underwent chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Another friend lost her mother. One friend started a new business. Another friend expanded her existing business. I won awards for my newspaper column. I fell in love and got engaged. I lost my column and my full-time job. Our children started school and got married and began promising careers. On separate occasions, we met for lunch in family-owned Italian and Thai restaurants and began the process of rediscovering our friendships. Over chicken with ginger sauce, lemongrass soup, mushroom ravioli and salads drenched with fresh mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinaigrette, we took turns sharing the moments that defined our lives during those missing years. Driving home from work on Tuesday, I thought about these three women and how we’ve reconnected at a time in my life when my soul is open to the wisdom, council and creativity of the world around me. Fate? Serendipity? Or just blind luck? I like to believe that at 42 years old, I’ve finally learned to have faith – and the pieces of my life are now falling into place.
I finally finished reading “The Time Traveler’s Wife” a few weeks ago, and have been itching ever since for a new book. I pored through my bookshelf and briefly contemplated re-reading an old favorite. Books are like friends, and sometimes I yearn for the comfort of a well-known tale to soothe my soul. “To Kill a Mockingbird” tempted me as I pulled it off the shelf and thumbed through the pages. But no, my longing was for a new friend, an undiscovered story I’d yet to hear. I placed the book back on the shelf and decided a trip to the bookstore was definitely in my future. On Sunday afternoon, my oldest son and I went to a museum to view an exhibit of works by Matisse and Picasso. After the tour, the car seemed to automatically steer itself toward the bookstore. Walking through the entrance, my stomach fluttered with a familiar, giddy rush of expectation. A million stories were waiting on the other side of these glass doors, waiting to be read. My son quickly found a book on Greek mythology that captured his interest while I browsed the Literature section like a sailboat drifting with the tide, searching for the right wind. But it wasn’t until we were standing in the check-out line that my inner compass found “true north.” I picked up a copy of “The Piano Teacher” by Janice Y.K. Lee and read the back cover. The story sounded intriguing enough, and the book was a comfortable weight in my hands. I gave the sales clerk my credit card and let the thrilling satisfaction of buying a new book flood through my veins. Later, as I curled up on my gray/blue sofa with my new friend, I reflected on the value of a good book. As I began to read, I was once again reminded that nothing in this world quite compares to the pleasure of spending time with a good story.