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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Animals, after all

It happens every spring. As the snow and ice recede and expanses of bare earth and water gain more and more ground, the pace of life increases. This year, I walk the woods at least once a day with my daughter, me in tall boots, occasionally sinking into mud and puddles of thawed water, she in a backpack, occasionally patting me on the head to a chant of “Mama, Mama, Mama.” We see it all around. The creatures of the woods are busy.

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We recently watched a squirrel eating a particularly large pinecone. He sat so straight, cone clutched in his paws, eating with an intensity that for all the world reminded me of my daughter. I’ve seen that look on her face as she works with precise focus to pick up pieces of carrot and broccoli and usher them towards her mouth.

She has also begun that timeless childhood tradition of identifying animal sounds. “What does a lion say?” we ask. The tiniest of grins flits across her face before she opens her little mouth to let out a guttural “Roar”. “What does a cow say?” That is her favorite. Her lips press tight. “Mmmmmmmm.”

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While she now matches these sounds with a question, pictures in her books and the little toys we plop into her tub at night, roars, growls, hoots and screetches were her first utterances.

As we walk the woods and I see the earth wake up with a vibrancy sometimes startling in its volume, as I listen to her sounds, as I feel my own energy rise with the longer days and the brighter light, I am reminded of an incontrovertible truth: we are animals, after all.

Isn’t it easy to forget this most basic of facts? Perhaps it’s because we so often focus more on our thoughts than our bodies. Perhaps it’s due to the amount of time we spend with machines. Perhaps it’s due to the stories we tell ourselves about language and consciousness separating us from the rest of the natural world. Separate and not equal.

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And yet. The majority of the moments in which I have felt most alive and most filled with purpose have also been moments that tie me most closely to that fact: I am animal. Swimming and feeling water all around me. Running through the woods. Mourning a death so deeply that the grief courses through my entire body. Having sex. Birthing my daughter.

When she was just a few months old, I had to leave to teach an evening class. My husband stayed with our daughter. At one point, she was crying. He paced the house, trying to comfort her, and suddenly noticed three deer on our lawn – a mother and two babies. Not wanting them to eat our fruit trees, he figured he’d step outside with our daughter and scare them away.

As he walked onto the grass, the two young deer did indeed flee the premises, stopping only as they reached the edge of the woods. The mother started to follow her babies, but suddenly stopped. She turned and looked at my husband, standing there in the dusk, holding our wailing daughter. And then she began to walk towards him.

As he recounted the story to me later, my husband shook his head. “She wanted to help me. I just know it.”

We are animals. We birth, we nurture, we feed, we mate, we die. It seems to me incredibly presumptuous to assume we are unique in loving, mourning, or understanding. Our separation from our own animal-ness and the rest of living creatures is a loss to us and a threat to them.

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A lie I cannot tell

It happened during one of my early riding lessons. My mother had grown up with a strong love for horses and an equally strong desire for a horse of her own. Once they had some land, she and my father managed to find a couple of horses that sorely needed a home and got two ponies thrown in to boot. My sister and I inherited our mother’s love, although perhaps to a lesser degree, and eventually I found myself at a proper stable taking proper riding lessons.

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Love horses though I might, I was also terrified of the creatures. A complicated relationship, I know. But allow me to explain. Not long after my parents first got horses, I witnessed my mother take a spectacular tumble that landed her in the hospital. I was probably four or five at the time, which means my sister was only one or two. My parents were riding the horses in my grandparents’ large field while my sister and I played on the screened porch at the edge of the field, watched by Granny and Grandad. My parents galloped across the dried grass, really letting the horses stretch their legs. Something suddenly spooked my mother’s horse at the far edge of the field, right by a cluster of pines. She took off, bucking and rearing. I watched as my mother was thrown from the saddle.

I don’t remember the exact details of what followed, but I do know that my sister and I began to cry, pressed against the screens, trying to get to our mother. I remember watching my father lift my mother up and carry her across the field. I don’t recall how they got the hospital. I do remember being terrified, as any child would be when a parent crumbles to the ground.

So you see, from a very young age I knew spending time with horses could result in significant injury. And thus I approached my own riding lessons fascinated but trembling. My riding teacher instantly picked up on that fear. She had a solution. She asked me to repeat one phrase in my head, over and over, as I mounted the horse and as we circled the arena: “The universe is safe and friendly. The universe is safe and friendly.”

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As a child, I took everything I was asked to do quite seriously. And so I approached this assignment with full dedication. I can imagine what I looked like – a little tow-headed sprite in a huge helmet and hand-me-down riding clothes, eyes bugging out, lips practically forming the words: “The universe is safe and friendly. The universe is safe and friendly.”

The thing is, it didn’t really work. Because, even then, I knew it wasn’t true. I had watched my mother fly off a horse and be unable to walk back across the field. And while my parents carefully monitored our media intake, I had once walked in on my grandparents watching the news and seen footage of the Gulf War that haunted me for months after. Horrible things happened in the universe. That was the truth and I knew it.

I understand my riding teacher’s desire to reassure me. I experience the same desire as I prepare my daughter for bed every single night. We wander her room slowly, saying goodnight to books, toys, pictures and animal friends. We close the curtains and I hold her. I don’t know what she understands; she has only spoken one word definitely attached to its object at this point: “Mama”. But I talk to her. I tell her I hope she has a cozy sleep with sweet dreams. I thank her for a lovely day and mention some of the things we did. And somewhere in my mind, I remember my own childhood fear of the dark. I want to reassure her, just as my riding teacher reassured me years ago. I want to tell her that she is always safe, that the world is a safe and friendly place.

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But the words stick in my throat because I cannot speak them honestly and I will not lie to her. At first, this left me feeling quite helpless. I’m sure all parents experience that moment, when they realize they cannot completely ensure their child’s safety in this uncontrollable world.

But I have found my way through that discomfort, at least for the time being. I have found the truth I can share with my daughter. I cannot tell her that she will always be safe. I cannot even tell her that I will always be able to keep her safe. But she can know that she is loved. She is so very loved, by so many wonderful people. She can feel that love and carry it with her through the night and, someday, out into the world and wherever she goes.

And she can know joy. I cannot stop her from being afraid. Nor would I want to. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is learning to be with fear and move forward all the same. My daughter will certainly know fear, but I hope she also knows unbounded joy. May she delight in the world so utterly that the joy of it carries her and buoys her even in the face of all that is terrible.

And so I kiss her and send her to her dreams. No, the universe isn’t safe and friendly. But it is also a place full of joy. And you are loved beyond measure.

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Photo cred. Beth Woolfolk

Thoughts on the day a budget is released

I don’t know about you, but here are some things I care about:

I care about the natural world (in case that’s not already more than evident through my previous posts here). Nothings uplifts me more than coming around a bend in the woods to suddenly glimpse a great beam of light slanting between tall trees. Nothing. Unless it’s filling my lungs with the crisp air of fall, or listening to waves pound sand, or smelling moist, steamy, freshly thawed earth after a spring rain. And then, of course, there is the fact that we are part of the natural world. What we do to that world, we do to ourselves.

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I care about people caring about each other. Positively contributing to the lives of others fills me with a sense of purpose. Receiving help, well, that’s edgy for me but I’m working on it and it certainly is appreciated. And I love witnessing unlikely candidates coming together in supportive community.

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I care about creativity. There is quote pinned to the board over my desk. It reads: “The creative adult is the child who survived.” (I don’t know where it came from.) Children see possibility wherever they go. Creativity is about moving towards that possibility. Boy, does it take courage sometimes. And to really dive into what might be possible, you kind of have to drop all comparisons, don’t you? But all I have to do is make a quick scan of history to see that many of the most important and lasting contributions to this world were developed through some sort of creative process. Creativity leads to innovative solutions. Artistic expression fosters connection on an emotional level and cultivates understanding. I’ve seen these things to be true.

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I care about equal rights and access. I cannot imagine looking into my daughter’s big, beautiful eyes and seeing hunger that I could not feed, or knowing that she was cold because I could not heat our house, or being unable to provide her with a house or an education or medicine or my time. And that just speaks to the financial aspect of equality. What if she felt threatened or less-than simply because of who she was or who she loved? No way. No one is less-than, except perhaps those who live in such fear of someone else that they believe they must strip that person of respect and rights.

Sure, I care about safety. But without all of the above, what is the point? What am I protecting if my life and the lives of those around me are devoid of meaning? If all the juicy, beautiful, messy and important aspects of life were gone, would we want to live it at all?

These are the thoughts that pound through my head, through my being really, on this day, the day our dear president released his proposed budget. And so I pick up the phone and I call my representatives, and I raise my voice, and I look for other ways to act. And I commit to making sure, making damn sure, that these things continue to flourish in my home and my community and wherever I can promote them. Because my country will celebrate these bright, beautiful things.

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