LONG LOVE

Last year, my husband and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. For both of us, it came as something of a surprise. When we met, in our late twenties, we were rambunctious party-going, bar-tending writers, who argued into the wee hours about figurative art and traditional narrative. Neither of us had much of a plan for life, but if pressed, I doubt that either would have included thirty years of fidelity to one person, twenty-eight years of devotion to our children, forty years of practicing the same craft, week in, week out, and over twenty years of spiritual practice.

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SONNY

One cold morning in January, I wake before dawn and write down, It’s ridiculous to blame anyone else for our lives. Our lives are gifts that exist long before we enter them and go on long after we leave them, intact, just as they are. What we do and see and learn is what we need to learn.

            I’m not sure where this comes from and I’m not sure I believe it, not entirely, but the fact that I am able to receive and record such a thought is a testament to forty years of hard labor in the fields of forgiveness. I grew up in a series of violent, sometimes brutal households, with adults addicted to drugs and alcohol, as well as gambling and sex and who knows what else. Pain. A lot of the adults in our lives, my brothers’ and mine, were addicted to pain, their own pain and the rush of inflicting pain on others.

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Grown Children - essay in LHJ

This essay appeared in LHJ last year.)

When my daughter was in second grade she transferred to a new school. That was 20 years ago, but I remember it all vividly. On either side of the classroom door there were narrow glass panels, and if you stood at just the right angle, you could see into the room. The first day I watched my daughter fight back tears when the other girls huddled together with their friends while she sat alone. In the afternoons, when I arrived early for pickup, I would see her sitting by herself at one of the big round tables, bending over a workbook, her long blond hair hiding her face, her leg tucked under her like a small bird in a nest.

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As Fate Would Have It

In the spring of 1995, Burt Porter agreed to do a favor for one of his neighbors in Glover. During a winter storm, the neighbor's mailbox had blown over. So Burt offered to share his own mailbox and pick up mail for both of them until the fallen post got back on its feet.

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Grown Children

Last November, my younger child, my son, celebrated his twentieth birthday on the rooftop of the bar and restaurant where he worked in Siem Reap, Cambodia. At which point, I became, officially, a mother of grown children--not just because he turned twenty, but because it happened halfway around the world on a trip he had dreamed up and executed entirely on his own.

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Spring

This has been a strange spring in many ways. We had snow on the shady side of the house until the end of April. And then May 1st the season changed, and all the apple trees had bright green buds, the hyacinths unfurled overnight, and delicate pale, pale pink blossoms, yet to be identified, sprung up once again under the arbor.

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The Monk, The Goats, My Heart

"Every morning put your mind into your heart and stand in the presence of God all the day long."
An anonymous monk of the
Eastern Orthodox Church

Recently, I came across this quotation and wrote it down on a slip of paper and stuck the paper on the wall behind my computer. I was taken with the words of the monk, but I didn't completely understand them. That's to say, this sounded like a good idea--to put my mind into my heart--but I wasn't sure where my heart was.

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The P Word

We have recently gotten a puppy, and I have discovered that on this subject, as on so many others, the world falls into two categories. There are the folks who don't know, and the folks who do know. When you say the word puppy to a member of the first, don't-know group, the person's face tends to get a dreamy, innocent look, as if you had announced that you were shortly to be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

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The Big Thaw

People say it is harder to write about happiness than it is to write about despair. But as our dear friend Alice used to say, "What do people know?"

Still, in this case people may have gotten it right. It's tough to appear both sophisticated and enthusiastic, and my generation has perennially chosen cool and clever over chirpy and cheerful. But recently I have decided I prefer cheerful, so I'm going to blow my cover.

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Enough

Years ago I heard a well-known meditation teacher tell a story about fame, Mickey Mouse, and the inflatable ego. A wealthy and powerful movie producer had gotten in touch with the meditation teacher to ask for help. The producer had come down with a degenerative nerve disease, and was by then in a wheelchair, unable to dial his own telephone. He told the teacher that over the months, as he got weaker and weaker and became less capable of conducting business, he'd begun to notice himself growing oddly light-hearted. Some terrible weight had been lifted from his life, and with the help of the meditation teacher, he wanted to figure out what it was.

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Good Books

Just before the flood of enforced holiday downtime swamped my boat, a friend sent me a review by B.R. Myers, titled "Smaller Than Life." Myers's point is that a good deal of award-winning contemporary fiction gives us small characters in small lives doing no-account things, delivered in a language that conjures an overheard subway chat, as if it were fiction's job to reflect back to us in a sort of funhouse way the most tedious moments of our days.

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Good People

Recently I got a mild flu. Actually, it wasn't all that mild, but its main symptom was bizarre weakness and dizziness when standing, so I lay down a lot and felt okay. I considered this particular flu an excellent illness. The first day, I felt way too lousy to conduct business and errands, and, besides, no one wanted me around because I looked like someone who had recently climbed out of her tomb. So I stayed on the couch and malingered.

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November on the Hill

When I was young, autumn was my season of renewal. Even into my thirties I either attended or taught in universities, and by late August, the buzz of preparation would pick me up and carry me into the waning light and sharp-edged mornings. Then my children's school preparations took precedence and performed the same magical feat. I loved the way the adrenaline in my body matched the colder air, the busier streets in our college town, the calendar filled with additions and changes and more commitments than any family could possibly honor.

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The Cider Press

t is hard to find the right voice to use when describing rural activities. Inevitably, some folksiness slips into the jargon, and folksiness too often translates as smugness, as if the country writer were dangling her good luck in front of the benighted urban reader. Good luck played a big role in my husband and I ending up where we are, but so did thirty years of longing, a lot of conniving, and a number of real estate agents. So I do not feel smug.

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The World-As-It-Is

Saturday afternoon, the sky a hazy blue with wisps of damp clouds. Rain has just swept by to the north of us, and I can hear the thunder rumbling in the mountains, but the air is still heavy with summer. For some reason, the bugs have retreated, and I am taking down laundry, moving the damp t-shirts onto the line that still gets sunlight late into the day, hoping they will all dry before our storm hits, the one we have been promised for hours by the distant thick darkness and flashes of lightning.

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Grown Children

On a perfect summer afternoon in the hills of Bath County, Virginia, I find myself walking down a shaded grass path that winds along past an ice-cold pond and dead-ends at a broad, cool river. I have a lot on my mind. I am on red alert for any movement hinting at snake maneuvers in the high weeds that line the path. I am mesmerized by the balletic circling of two hawks, round and about each other, in the sky over my head. Also, I experience a secret and guilty pleasure that I, a woman of advanced age who should know better, am not wearing sun block because I am sick of putting it on; exhaustion from the trial-by-fire of delayed flights and missed connections between Boston and Richmond; and worry about my son.

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