I love these days that just unfold. Some responsibility lifted, some fulfilled…some ignored. The driving force of this day is the velvet glass of merlot, the glorious sun beating down on me and a feeling of quiet holiness. The dove crying in the woods, the rustle of the breeze through the pine tops, the subtle whisper of spring creeping in.
Cam has been really charming this week–a bit hyper which has made him entertaining and zany. I need to tell myself more frequently to set aside my phone, set down my book, close my computer, and look him full in the face. I was so glad I did last night: watching him sparkle and shine while he told me something he was excited about was a moment to be cherished. I love watching him wake up each morning…for that brief moment I get to kiss his still baby cheek and put my fingertip against the precious dimple without his teenage self batting my hand away and rolling his eyes. I can feel myself grasping at the days as they cascade through my hands, sliding away, eluding my clutches. I was amused he gave a very lackadaisical protest when I informed him I was dragging him along to a meeting last night. I suspect he does not relish being left home alone so much either; I’ve been actively trying to reduce making that a frequent occurrence. Sometimes my friends get told no now because I am loathe to give up time with him–it will never be regained. I cannot fathom my life when he will no longer live with me, actually I just avoid thinking about it beyond the positive spin that I’ll be free to travel more spontaneously but the reality is that he is entering high school this fall and will all too soon be launching his own life. He has been at my side for every step of this journey of mine from miserable marriage to peaceful quiet existence. We sometimes admit to each other how much we treasure this solitude-of-two after years of a houseful of sisters. He is my buddy in this life right now and I love that we enjoy each other’s company. Last week we had a nightly routine of snuggling up in my bed with our snacks and an episode of Planet Earth. How I looked forward to it all day! Just having him still want to sit next to me was a joy. I spent years “testing” if he was still young enough to allow me to hold his hand in public. He stopped when he was eleven. When you are a young mom you just have no concept of things ending; you are in survival mode. It is the blessing of being now an Old Mom done with the first round of children that brings the wisdom of savoring. The most wrenching piece of writing I’ve ever read (I have a photocopy of the passage tucked into one of my journals) is from The Poisonwood Bible about the “last child.” When first I read it, I assumed then that my youngest daughter Morgan was my last. When she was young I lived with that assumption: that sweet baby was rarely put down. I held her and held her, smelling her infant perfume and kissing her tender head. There was no rush at all to see how quickly she would sit, crawl, walk. We shouldn’t live in the past or in the future, but a healthy appreciation for both does help me live mindfully in the present.
Written after I decided to leave full time employment in favor of a happier life…
Most days find me beginning my solitude with a second more leisurely cup of coffee in the company of my lounging dogs and cat (the first being gulped while attempting to get out the door to my son’s school). I make it a point to finish my sipping by nine so that I can head out for a walk before the day’s Southern temperatures climb. My greatest pleasure is contained in this hour of the day as I revel in the pure enjoyment of being outside instead of trapped and confined in a drear office. It is an illicit sensation–the feeling of playing hooky, of not being where the rest of the world is, of refusing to buy into the preordained and mandatory destination of work. I have a repertoire of routes that are rotated through; my current favorite destination being a nearby cemetery that contains prior residents of Wilmington dating back into the eighteenth century. Feeling the presence of these people and their long ago lives, loves and tragic losses is intriguing to me. So many babies–I can hardly imagine the parents’ grief at losing so many. The cemetery itself is a beautiful sanctuary of solitude, dappled sunlight and twisting paths that entice me around each next bend. I enjoy pausing on a wooden bridge over a languid stream. As I watch the bubbles percolating up from the muddy bottom, the mosquitoes hovering above the water and the small silent fish idling in it, I think to myself, “No one on earth is witnessing this save for me.”
I’ve attended two silent retreats in Durham. It is not hyperbole to report that the experience has been life changing; my self-awareness and faith deepened immeasurably during those reflective periods of quiet introspection and silent worship. One of the activities we joined in as participants were periods of quiet companionship. The leader of the retreat charmingly likened it to a family gathered in front of the hearth, each busy with their own activity and yet in peaceful fellowship with the others sitting nearby. One evening during this period, the leader stood and smiled and said, “Come with me.” We all exchanged perplexed and curious glances as we set down our writing pens, books and knitting needles to file outside into the grassy courtyard of the former convent where we were staying. It was late into dusk, that dim, sublime moment before nightfall with velvet blackness save for a tiny glow along the horizon. The leader pointed up without explanation. The sky teamed and swirled with a mass of activity. I thought they were bats…but they were birds: chimney swifts. Our eyes grew wide with wonder and then each person took up their place to observe the spectacle. I laid back into the grass, the fragrance and the slight itch a kiss from my childhood of summer nights playing outside with my brother. As I began to stare into the sky I became mesmerized by the undulations of the swifts. As I sank out into the balmy night air I felt immersed into a microscopic soup of plankton in a bead of ocean water. Around they swirled. Occasionally I could hear the slap and flap of a wing as they dipped and plunged through their mosquito feast. Organized…chaotic…reorganized. I sank deep into the universe as I watched. Then over the course of some minutes they tucked, one by one, into their chimney and we remained behind, awestruck with the empty sky.
I’ll be sharing frequently from this book as I read it…it’s everything I hoped it would be! So many fantastic excerpts…this one really spoke to me today.
The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau
Imagine lighting an old brass lantern. Visualize the light that pours forth over the road in front of you. Can you say, as Isak Dinesen did of her home in Africa, that “This is where I ought to be”? Do you feel a longing to be somewhere else?
Think of the ways that questions illuminate the world around us. Questions tune the soul. The purpose behind questions is to initiate the quest.
Recall the words of Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, who writes, “We are impoverished in our longing and devoid of imagination when it comes to our reaching out to others…We need to be introduced to our longings, because they guard our mystery.”
Ask yourself what mystery is being guarded by your longing. Are you taking the time to find out? The time for this never appears, it is discovered.
…we don’t need more gimmicks and gadgets; all we need to do is REIMAGINE the way we travel. If we truly want to know the secret of soulful travel, we need to believe that there is something sacred waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.
The Art of Pilgrimage