What remains

I hope you know the feeling. You love someone so deeply, you want to just look at them, absorbing every detail with your eyes, without hurry. You are not driven by a desire to own them, somehow, by looking, but to know them. And in knowing them at this level of intimate detail, you are lifted beyond the walls of your skin. You become more than your limited self as you ponder the mystery that is the existence of another.

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This feeling, this is what I experience as I sit at the edge of the water. I want all the time in the world to look, not at another person, but at the explosion of beauty before me. My eyes feast on the water as it moves, chased by the same breeze that ruffles leaves on nearby trees. I want to learn from the particular way the light reflects off each part of the water’s surface. I want to memorize the curvatures and lines of the rocks that dip into the edge of the lake. My eyes travel to the tip of a particularly tall pine and I know freedom lies in the truth of that silent giant right where it meets the sky and that if I could look long enough, I’d somehow learn that truth too.

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I could sit for hours, with need for nothing more than the feast laid out before my eyes. Within this feast lies not just nourishment, but lessons delivered through the poetry of life’s simplest movements and presentations. How could anyone, ever, consider themselves to be more important than anyone else if they only sat here and looked? The larger truth is written so plainly in the water, the sturdy rocks, the reaching trees – life continues. I am to life as one more drop of rain is to the lake. My presence is felt, assuredly, and will ripple. The force with which I land (mightn’t that force depend on consciousness more than push?) will determine the spread of those ripples. But, ultimately, both myself and my ripples will be absorbed by the rest.

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And so I sit and look and I do not hurry away from this lesson about existence and impermanence. Eventually, I rise, slip between pines, and fade. The lake, the shore, and the trees – they remain.

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The hope I send forth

Spring is about families.

First it is the early signs. The robins busily build nests, flying from the branches to our lawn and back again with tufts of dried grass clenched in their beaks. Ducks chase each other across the pond. At night, the peepers are busy. “Netting”, my daughter calls it – her two year-old attempt at the word “mating”.

We wait, and eventually results of this frenzy appear. Tiny beaks are glimpsed over the edge of nests. Baby deer tiptoe delicately onto our lawn after their mothers. On a morning run, I startle a mother duck and her young out of the reeds at the edge of the pond. I stop and watch their retreat, marveling at how organized they are, even in a moment of panic. At night, the peepers are suddenly silent again. “They are done netting,” my daughter solemnly explains. “They are taking care of their babies now.”

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We see tadpoles and tiny snakes and new fish leaping for new mosquitoes. The plants, too, follow the call of nature and make their push towards reproduction. We watch the huckleberry bushes with interest, noting the new leaves and delighting when blossoms appear. “Next come the berries!” I tell my daughter who remembers their tangy taste from last summer’s walks.

This spring, I’ve enjoyed a particular obsession with a family of loons. They appeared in April, the two sleek bodies on the surface of the pond, circling each other in a ritual as old as time. My daughter delighted in watching them dive and resurface as they sought food.

As we sat and watched the two loons, day after day, my breath caught in my throat. The beauty of a new family and the hope threaded through that beginning juxtapose so much of what is happening in the human world right now, where hopelessness and helplessness rage. The loons simultaneously embodied self-sufficiency and vulnerability. They built their home and caught their food, carefully creating a place for their young while eagles circled and snapping turtles swam and countless other predators loomed.

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Climate change alarmed me before the birth of my daughter. But when she came into my arms and my life – in the spring – my fear for the future of this world soared to a new height. I had thought a lot about the pairing of climate change and the hope involved in becoming a parent, deciding to bring a vulnerable new being into a world with such an uncertain future. I resolved to work in every way I knew to simultaneously prepare my daughter for that world and to make it better for her. Some days the path is clearer than others, but at no point have I regretted choosing hope over fear.

However, the fear certainly lingers. It whispers at me as I watch my daughter greet the world with soft hands and big eyes. It screams at me as I listen to certain national and international “leaders” chose power over science and continue to publicly deny climate change. And as our country engages this spring in a horrific immigration policy of separating families, of detaining children away from their parents, and now of detaining whole families, I consider how destroyed ones home must be for one to take the enormous risk of leaving. If we destroy this earth, to where will we immigrate? And what might face us when we get there?

It seems an act of daring so sweeping that it borders on insanity to cast my daughter into the world today. While any number of rationale bang around in my head, the best I can offer is this: I love my daughter and I love this earth and I believe the two just might be good for one another. And, I must remind myself, I do not cast her into the world empty-handed.

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As we watch the loons raise their baby, I am not only teaching my daughter to love and respect the rest of the natural world. I am exposing her to a fundamental and life-sustaining truth: in that world, we are never alone. This is a truth that comes with responsibility, yes, but also with deep nourishment. She will be fed by the sound of the Wood Thrush, the sight of the harvest moon and the smell of pine needles baked in the sun. Delight will always be available to her, a kind of delight that costs nothing but attention. The “why?” of life will be abundantly clear to her in the pulse that surrounds her, always, threading her to every other family, whether walking, swimming, flying, or unfurling leaves to catch the spring sun.

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Helplessness

Each morning recently, after I wake up, I lie for a moment and watch the early morning sunlight dance off the trees. Then I roll over, open my phone, and read the latest stories on what is happening to immigrant families in this country. My heart pounds, my thoughts race, helplessness and hopelessness fill my body until I cannot read any more. I throw back the covers, hurriedly dress, lace up running shoes, and pound my anger and grief into the pavement.

I return to our home to hear the voices of my daughter and husband and find myself drawn, immediately, to them. I want to see them, hold them, let their immediacy run through me like medicine for the ache that does not really go away.

It stays as I make breakfast for my daughter, her little feet padding through her home as she greets the day, our dog, her “friends” (stuffed animals), so excited, so happy, so fortunate. I sit down as she eats and have to pull myself back, again and again, to the solid wood of the table, the lilt of her young voice, her questions, her gaze, her love, so beautifully present. She is here, in front of me, to hug and feed and scrub down afterwards.

On some days, I then deliver her to her wonderful caregiver so I can work. I thank any God that might be listening for this kind, exemplary woman who cares so profoundly for my daughter and the children of several friends. And then I sit down and drag my attention to work, again and again, as it moves away to keep reading the stories and looking at the pictures.

In the middle of the day, I hike. As my legs push up the mountain, I wish I could give the same energy to actually making some difference. I want to hold all the children. I want to brush away their tears, heal their ache. I want to hold the parents. I want to tell them how deeply I am aching for them, but the words sound hollow even as I think them amidst my climb towards the sky.

After more work, I pick up my daughter. She is dashing around naked by the little “kiddie pool”. I wrap her softness in my arms and breathe in the faint echo of baby smell that still lingers, thankfully. As we drive home, I let her questions and stories and thoughts fill me, a mantra to tie me to the now. We spend the evening between trees and the plants in our little garden and around the dinner table with her father.

After dinner, my heart breaks open for the ninetieth time that day as I watch her put a diaper on her stuffed animal monkey and think of the children helping other children change their diapers. I duck into the bathroom and read another story: a mother, released on bail, is trying to get back her eight year-old daughter and has been told she may need to wait several months. She says she feels like she is going to die, she feels powerless. I want to hurl my phone into the toilet. I want to scream. I want to do something, anything. My daughter bangs on the bathroom door. I open it and exclaim over Monkey’s beautiful diaper.

I’ve donated, I’ve called representatives, I’ve signed petitions, and I feel completely helpless.

In the evening, after all the curtains are drawn and the lights are out, my daughter stays in my arms longer than usual for lullabies. Often, these days, she is ready for her crib before I’m ready to let her go. She is growing so fast, and her body drapes around mine as I sit in the rocking chair. I sing. I sing for her, for myself, the traditional, soothing songs. I sing for the children, in “shelters” throughout our country. I sing for the parents whose feelings I cannot fathom, but the little I can imagine would break me into a thousand pieces. I sing for their strength.

I don’t know what to do, so I open my computer and let these feelings spill into words. Ultimately, the words do very little, aside from allowing that feeling of spill for at least a moment or two. Ultimately, all I can do is say: if you are reading this, and you feel helpless, I’m right there with you.

ADDITION to this post:

After sharing this on Facebook, I received some really beautiful, thoughtful replies urging me to stay strong and inspired. First, I’m so glad that those individuals are in this world, making a difference, carrying so much love. Their comments clearly come from a place of deep commitment and vitality. I’m so grateful. The comments and my reaction to them also provided a great opportunity to reflect on something that I wanted to share, in case it is of use to anyone else. What I realized I needed to communicate is that, while this piece reflects the grief, anger and helplessness I’m feeling, I also feel very strong and incredibly inspired. For me, grief does not preclude strength. Some of the most inspired, creative and love-filled moments in my life have come from grief. And, strange as it seems, helplessness does not even preclude inspired, loving action. In this case, it is driving me forward, to fight to eliminate helplessness. As I look around me, I believe it is really important that we learn to feel both grief/anger and even helplessness AND strength, love, commitment and inspiration – all together! When I push aside the grief and anger, I feel myself dissociating from what is happening. However, as those commenting so beautifully stated – we do not want to drown in grief and helplessness and not act. We must feel the whole package, reflect and act consciously. For me, that package is the beautiful, complicated truth of our interconnection. So, I will continue to feel, feel deeply, and act consciously from that place of connection. 

An evening with the “ouchie trees”

“Ouchie tree?” My daughter’s little voice rang out from her perch in the pack strapped to my back. We were making our way through the woods. With the light of the day fading, I felt the chill around us deepen. I also heard the hint of concern laced through my daughter’s question.

The previous day, while on the same path, she and her father had found a tree with a long, narrow slit running down the trunk. The tree had grown thick and bubbly around the cut, as trees do to seal off the injured area, preventing contamination by bacteria or other foreign substances, and ultimately allowing the tree to grow around and enclose the wounded area within the ever-expanding trunk. Not elegant, but powerfully effective. Our daughter, who has been enjoying an ongoing search for “woodpecker trees”, initially thought the mark might have been the calling card of a bird’s search for bugs. “Actually,” my husband had corrected her, “The tree got cut there. That’s like an ouchie.”

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Later that evening, my husband relayed the story to me. Our daughter had fretted about the “ouchie tree” for the rest of the afternoon. We’ve taken a specific approach to her own bumps and bruises: when she falls, we wait and watch for her reaction and then we react accordingly. We honor wherever she lands, literally and emotionally. She is a pretty rugged little being, and typically pops right back up to re-engage in the play at hand. But, like so many little ones, she is deeply concerned about the “ouchies” of others. And she was now worried about the “ouchie tree” with an intense fixation.

The tree was a conversation topic throughout the following day. I had pondered the issue and prepared my reply. When my daughter brought up the tree, I told her that trees, like people, get “ouchies”. But, more often than not, they continue to grow and thrive right alongside whatever mark the “ouchie” might leave. The mark is like a memory – of one moment in the tree’s life. The tree has many moments.

I told her we would go back and visit the tree. I asked her what the tree might say to her. She said: “I missed you.” (This is the generic response for what anyone or anything might say after an absence.) “Indeed.” I said. “And it might also say: ‘Look how tall I am! I had an ouchie and I am fine.’”

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So, our evening walk found us searching for the “ouchie tree”. Eventually, we found it. Even in the gathering dusk, the mark was apparent. We paused right alongside the tree’s trunk. I touched the slit and the bulge of growth on either side. In my peripheral vision, I saw my daughter’s mittened hand reach out to do the same. Then her head tilted back. “So tall,” she breathed.

My gaze lifted as well. Far above, branches shifted slowly in the light breeze. Needles waved. We watched. The tree was thriving. Ouchie and all.

There are so many moments where I am rushed in my responses to my daughter. I hear her and reply, but my attention is not fully present and there is less consciousness behind my words. But I’m trying, more and more, to slow down and honor the profound learning that is happening in every moment of her days, moments in which conversations about the “ouchies” of a tree are really about so much more.

She is learning about life. And what I’ve come to realize is this: I am learning right alongside her. As I ponder my responses to her questions and as I watch her eyes, hands and heart encounter the world, I gain fresh insight and experience. It’s a tremendous gift: the opportunity to reacquaint oneself with the world and its innumerable teachings daily.

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We ultimately bid farewell to the “ouchie tree”, after promises to visit again soon. As we made our way back through the woods to our house, my daughter kept a vigil for more “ouchie trees”. And now that we were looking, we found many. They are everywhere. Trees, like people, like all living beings, bear the wounds of the years. And still they grow, gracefully chasing light upwards, strongly rooting into the dark and damp below. We touched so many trees that evening. I hope we soaked up a bit of their strength, a fraction of the wisdom of their ways. I hope my daughter remembers that evening and what we learned together as we bore witness to the “ouchie trees”.

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What could have been said…

I understand why men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes this year. I really do.

I did not watch the awards ceremony, but, boy, did I hear about it. I imagine there are few who didn’t. The theme of recognizing the work and struggle of women with everyone wearing black, the speeches – from Oprah and others – eloquently and powerfully addressing the work women are doing right now to spotlight both harassment and continuing inequality – it was clearly a different awards show this year.

My friend posted an article that really grabbed my attention, particularly when coupled with her commentary. The article highlighted the conspicuous silence of the men present. Why didn’t they address the blatant and important theme of the evening? Why didn’t they speak to their role in the equation?

In sharing the article, my friend also shared the complexity of her feelings on the topic. On the one hand, she recognized that men can support the women’s movement in ways that are not as publicly visible. On the other hand, if they have a platform, a position of power and the opportunity to reach millions of listeners, shouldn’t they use that opportunity? Others commenting on her post pointed out that no matter what the men present said, it would not have been the right thing and would have taken attention from where it should be – on the women and what they are saying. Anything a man would say in that situation would inevitably come across as self-serving or promoting.

The article and the comments my friend made and received rattled around in my mind all day, along with a question of my own: When we are confronted with a situation in which a group of people have suffered persecution at the hands of another group and we are identified with the latter, through race, class, gender or by some other factor, how can we verbally show support for the persecuted? Recognizing the many, many complexities in such a situation, recognizing all that we do not and can never know about the experience of those persecuted, how can we speak out in a manner that isn’t self-serving, that is truly supportive? Do we have to remain silent because to speak is to step into a truly uncomfortable and complex realm?

Or can we learn together? Is there some way to speak from exactly the place of complexity in which we find ourselves – to address it rather than shove it under the rug or use it as a reason to remain silent?

What if the men present at the Golden Globes had said something like this: “I’m worried about saying the wrong thing here, but I believe to not speak up in support of the incredible work being done by women right now is to not support that work. I don’t want to take the attention away from where it should be: on the work being done, on what the women are saying, on the very real issues they are highlighting, and on the important changes that need to happen. I just want to say that I support this work 100% and I’m here to do anything I can to help make those changes.”

I don’t know about other women, but this would have worked very well for me. I would applaud the man who could stand in his discomfort and not-knowing and speak these words, words that stay focused on the work the women are doing and don’t draw the attention towards the man’s discomfort in the face of that work. To be able to stand in discomfort but not make that the story. To recognize that within not-knowing lies an opportunity to learn. To know that even if the work ahead drives straight into uncharted and potentially increasingly uncomfortable territory, your support is the best thing you can give, especially when coupled with a willingness to learn and to be changed in that process of learning.

I get that it is unfair to place the responsibility of teaching on the persecuted party. To do so is to doubly burden those who have already shouldered undeserved weight for far too long. But we cannot know what we do not know. When we pretend otherwise, we further abuse those who truly do know, who have experienced the persecution firsthand.

As I think about the resurgence of so many movements that seek to address the inequalities and injustices rampant the whole word over, I find myself hoping again and again that we can be brave enough to stand in discomfort. May we be capable of admitting when we do not know. May we be willing to offer support while not seeking to take over the story. May we be ever and always open to being changed in the process of communal learning this world so desperately needs.

And may I learn from what was missing at the Golden Globes. The next time I want to show support but am nervous about speaking up, may I remember the words I would have liked to hear from the men present at that awards ceremony.

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To Feel More Fully

Here we are, once again nearing the turn of the year. Whether we shrink from it, gallop eagerly forward, or stand still in impartiality, the threshold between this year and the next approaches us as surely as the darkness at the end of each day or the dawn after each night.

I am reminded of something the late great Irish philosopher and poet John O’Donohue said about thresholds: “[I]f you go back to the etymology of the word ‘threshold,’ it comes from ‘threshing,’ which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.”

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More critical and challenging and worthy fullness. Good lord, doesn’t that sound beautiful? Doen’t that just reek of exactly that which is most needed in this world today? So many of us seem to be moving at a pace that actually dilutes our sense of being. We function as shreds of ourselves as we rush from one “doing” to the next.

I see the impact of this rush in myself. As my daughter and I spend the afternoon together, I move from cleaning to cooking to folding clothes, occasionally glancing at my phone. “Mama, playdough!” she says. “Mama, mama! Quesadilla!” And she trots around the corner, a huge beam on her face, proudly holding a plate on which she has perched a blob of playdough that she painstakingly flattened with her little, soft hands.

And I almost miss it. I’m almost so busy feeding the woodstove that I don’t take the time to turn towards her. Assuredly, there have been many moments where I have missed her invitation, have stayed in the busyness at hand rather than turning towards my bright, beautiful daughter as she seeks connection.

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Turning towards connection. Another phrase that grips my attention as some sort of compass towards the healing this world desperately needs. We are so disconnected, shrouded in our bubbles of productivity and individuality. How often do we actually take the time to feel the truth of the connection that ties us to the rest of the world?

I’m not talking about just being social. It’s not as simple as that. We can be in the midst of a raging party and still be disconnected. Yes, we need to celebrate community more fully, but as a massive introvert, I’m a big believer in solitude as well. What I’m talking about is connection to the moments of our life. A commitment to show up fully, with presence and the porousness required to actually feel the moment we are in.

I get it. To feel fully, profoundly, is so. fucking. hard. Especially today. As I read news of another police shooting, as I watch Dreamers live in fear that their right to exist in this country might be stripped, as I look into my daughter’s eyes with the echo of a recent article I read about the increasing pace of climate change ringing in my head, I’d like to run from my feelings. I’d like to hide my head in pretty much any metaphorical “sand” that might numb me to the harsher aspects of today’s world.

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But here’s the thing. The fact that I can choose whether or not to feel these truths means that I live in a position of profound luxury. For those impacted directly, that choice does not exist. And yet, the fact that I am not impacted directly doesn’t mean I’m not connected to the system that causes those horrible truths in the first place. Through feeling, I wake up to my role and the choices I have surrounding that role.

I believe we have to feel, we must feel, and that in this feeling lies our salvation. If I did not experience a wildly complex mix of love, grief and fear when I hold my daughter and think about climate change, I wouldn’t have any desire to try to find solutions, to seek to make a positive difference. I’m not advocating that we allow ourselves to be completely overwhelmed by feeling. I understand that balance is so important, that we must have the capacity to hold our feelings. But the balance generally seems to be tipped in the favor of less feeling these days.

My hope is this: that as we journey through the upcoming threshold, we might all shed the husks that shield us from feeling. May we set aside any worry that feelings might make others uncomfortable. May we reclaim emotion as a powerful tool for positive connection and change. May we care and care deeply, emboldened by the knowledge that it takes tremendous courage to care and that within caring lies a promise, yes of pain, but also of a sure path to meaning.

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Children of the Forest

Did you ever read the book Children of the Forest when you were young? We had it at our house, Elsa Beskow’s story of a family that lives amongst the animals. Their mushroom cap hats gave you a sense of their size. With the roots of an old pine tree for a home, the children and their parents truly live in nature, collecting food, talking to owls and exploring the world around them.

As I look back now, I am struck by the image of my sister and I sitting on either side of our mother, our bright blonde heads bowed over the book, reading about four blonde children that spent all day outside. Save a few details here and there, we could have been reading a book about ourselves.

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Let me tell you about real children of the forest. We wake every day with a sense of purpose and adventure. The world is enchanting and we can’t wait to get out in it. Our bodies are healthy, our minds are strong, and we aren’t afraid of mud on our faces or pinesap on our hands.

When we are in the woods, worries start to fade. We no longer care that we are dressed in hand-me-downs or that our parents fought last night or that we can’t figure out how to solve that math problem. We don’t feel inadequate in any way. We feel strong and smart. We put our strength to use dragging fallen branches and we put our minds to use figuring out how to construct a fort. We identify trees by their bark and know each flower by name and sense rather than tell time as the sun arches the sky.

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Our eyes and ears and nose are wide open and, with them, our imagination. Sometimes we just lie on our backs, the warm pine needles cradling a moment of rest. But more often we move, slipping between trees, scaling large rocks, or hastily rolling up pant legs to follow the trajectory of a nearby brook. We look down at our feet, startlingly white in the water. Our toes spread wide over wet moss, the perfect carpet, fit for kings and queens. Who could want more?

We know the specific sound of each bird and the way the woods smells after a fall rain. We greet the first green shoots that press through the forest floor each spring like old friends.

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Wants fade. Noise fades. Clarity arrives. We feel purposeful. And the best secret of children of the forest? We never, ever feel alone. Life is buzzing around and within us and we know – because we feel – that we are part of it all.

If the right circumstances make it so, children of the forest become people of the forest. We don’t forget, we don’t retreat in offices and commutes and deadlines and our career. We still move between the trees daily, our bodies a little taller, maybe, but our delight no slimmer for the added years. Our greatest joys are colored with the calls of birds and the slant of light between branches. Our greatest investments are made in preserving our natural habitat and watching our babies become children of the forest themselves. May they know the secret as well. May they never, ever be conned into thinking they are alone.

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Listen.

I used to want to speak louder. To be more vocal, more often. To have the ability to let words tumble out of my mouth with the ease I saw in others.

Speaking often felt painful. Not physically so, but in some internal, energetic way. The words spun and twisted inside me, becoming larger and larger with each turn until they tumbled forth, unkempt and unpolished. Every syllable hurt my critical ears. I sounded ridiculous. And I was sure no one was listening anyways.

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Every shy person knows the struggle to speak. For me, that struggle came in two flavors. One occurred when I knew what I wanted to say but the words were blocked by my unease. The second came when I felt I should have something to say but didn’t. The latter feeling arose most often in the presence of what we tend to call “small talk”.

It took years to melt the walls that blocked my voice. Believing in what I had to say helped, believing it was important regardless of the level of polish it might carry when uttered. I have yet to find ease in small talk. I understand its importance. I don’t judge its existence. I wish it came naturally. But it doesn’t. Perhaps it never will.

The ironic piece is this: after years of learning to speak, now I want to be quiet. I want to listen.

As I feel the pace of life whirl, I want to tumble into the sounds of nature and the voices of the people I love and be still and present there. On a recent evening, my daughter and I sat at the shore’s edge. Behind us: tall, dry grass. Before us: the ocean at low tide. The breeze picked up. The grass began to move. The rustling arrested my thoughts. I became increasingly still as internal dialogue emptied and the sound of the grass poured in. Then I started an experiment. From that sound, so close behind me, I slowly expanded my listening outward. From the grass to the trees nearby, to the birds just beyond, to the crackling of drying seaweed, to the lapping of the water, to a distant plane. My daughter’s typically moving body sat quietly alert beside me.

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As a child, I loved to go outside on winter nights after dark. I’d lie on my back near the edge of the forest and listen to the wind move through the pine needles far, far above me. In those moments, my typically searching and yearning being would feel peace and contentment.

When I listen – and I mean really listen, with hearing as my whole focus – my internal sense of time slows. I feel completely where I am. I tune into the essential sounds of life and more and more believe it is okay to be quiet. It is okay to not always have something to say. It is acceptable – and perhaps even powerful – to speak only when I want and not because I think I should.

On that recent autumn evening, my daughter and I eventually made our way along the shore to a spot where someone has placed two chairs. She likes to sit together there. So we sat. As is so often the case, my sight took precedent over my hearing and I gazed at the sun’s golden dance across the water. Suddenly my daughter said: “Listen.” I turned. Her body was again alert. “Listen,” she repeated. “Wind. Trees.” Then she held her arms towards me. “Hold you.”

I shifted her to my lap and we sat. We listened. The wind in the trees behind us. The water before us hitting the rocks below. A bird calling. Wings flying. The world talking.

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A house passes

The gravel road was exceptionally rough on our feet. When we walked the distance between the dock and our driveway without flinching it meant we had finally acquired “summer soles” – feet toughened by days spent bare.

Towels draped around our necks, we’d head out into the night air, giggling as we darted between fireflies. Sometimes we’d stop to catch one – their little bodies startlingly substantial in our clasped hands. Something so magical should feel like air.

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At the end of the dock, we’d drop our towels and scamper down the ladder, one by one. It was more or less of a climb depending on the tide. Or we’d bravely leap into darkness, suspended for a moment just like the fireflies until our wingless bodies succumbed to gravity and plunged into the salty water. Dark as ink before our contact, the water would suddenly spring to life and light, sparkling as our hands brushed phosphorescent creatures. We’d laugh and splash and shriek as we bumped into each other. Settling onto our backs, we’d look up at the stars as we floated between dark and dark, surrounded by things that glistened.

This is the joy of summer days spent away from home, surrounded by cousins, surrounded by the sea. Our grandparents owned a little house near Long Island Sound and each summer we’d drive through traffic and heat to convene, whether for a weekend or a week or more. These days were always the most eagerly anticipated of my summer. They were days spent with crusty hair and salty skin and a body that barely stopped until crashing into bed. Even then, I sometimes felt myself rocking with the movement of waves until I finally drifted off to sleep.

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This summer, decades later, we bid farewell to this family home. We open our hands and let go of a house and the moment is bittersweet. For my mother and her siblings, it is especially so, as their memories wrapped up in that place double mine. But for all of us, it is a letting go paired with the recognition that the time is right.

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My family recently journeyed south for a farewell visit. A new gaggle of cousins padded the wood floors with soft toddler feet. My sister and I jogged together as we did as teens, this time pushing strollers ahead of our strides. My mother is now the grandma, gathering babes into her arms to read a story.

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Time moves, houses sell, families grow and shift. But memories stay. I hope I never forget the specific sound of the water slapping the boats as I stretched out on a dock on which a former boyfriend had etched his name. I lost a shoe over the edge of that dock once, and the sole is likely still disintegrating somewhere at the bottom of that sea (whoops). I hope the shrieks of “Get the net! Get the net!” – a common cry during our many crabbing adventures – never fade from the echoes of my mind.

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And I hope I never forget how it feels to be nurtured by love, good food, the sun and the salty air, with each day a new adventure and each moment precious in a way I only now fully understand. It wasn’t just about the place, although it’s a pretty darn special one. We unconsciously lived those days as an active celebration of the most important and more lasting aspects of life: family, love, and nature. While the house may pass, those things remain.

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Let her go

It’s not because of the labor. It’s not because of those incredibly rough moments in the first months: moments like standing in the kitchen with my finally sleeping baby strapped to my chest while eating my first bite of the day – a few spoonfuls of garbanzo beans from a can. Since becoming a mother myself, I appreciate my mom in a whole new way. But it’s not because of days of labor or moments like that.

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It’s because of the most basic and most challenging paradox I’ve found in motherhood: loving and letting go.

It starts so early, doesn’t it? I spent the months and days leading up to labor preparing myself in any way I could – yoga, meditation, birthing classes. I wanted to give our daughter as easeful a passage as possible into this world. But when the contractions begin, the only part of the process in your control is your response to whatever unfolds. She comes into this world in the way she must. And then you hold her and love her and, once she starts to wake up to the world, listen as she tells you about her experience of birth.

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And it doesn’t stop. You feel overjoyed as she begins to walk, marveling at the sight of that little body deciding where to go and getting there all on her own. You marvel and your heart leaps into your throat as you realize she will fall. Even if you hover behind her every step, which you don’t really want to do, she will trip and tumble in the way she must. And then you hold her and love her and listen to her tell you about how that felt. After she is done, you set her down and carry your heart in your throat as she totters off again.

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As I look ahead, I see the stakes rising right alongside her height, vocabulary and desires. She will meet so many people. Some will want to be her friend, some will not. She will try out for a certain sport, a certain role. She might get it and she might not. She will feel like her identity lives and dies in receiving certain selective positions – maybe a job, an internship, a college. She might be accepted, she might not. She will fall in love. Her heart will break in the way it must. And you will hold her and love her and listen to her tell you how it feels.

And then one day, maybe, she will go into labor of her own. She will call you, overjoyed that soon she will be holding her own baby. And you will wait, for hours that stretch into days, pacing, trying to keep fear at bay. You will receive text messages from her husband, maybe, or her wife, updating you on the process – dilation is not occurring. There is no fluid left in the sack. Now dilation has started. Now it has stopped. Now they have hooked her to Pitocin. Now she is pushing. You wish you could push for her. Hours. Now it will be a C-section. She will labor in the way she must, and the next day you will hold her child and love her and listen as your daughter tells you how it felt.

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And so I thank you, Mom. You taught by example. You modeled how to walk in that paradox for so many years. You listened as I wept. You did not try to fix it. You held me after I tumbled or when the world itself seemed to fall. You did not try to put it back together. And by not fixing or controlling my surroundings, you showed me that I was capable. That weeping was fine and tumbling was inevitable and no feeling is permanent. That I carried boundless strength. It was that strength that enabled me to labor for nearly three days, carried me during the first months of my daughter’s life and echoes each time I hold her and love her and then let her go.

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