Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

engaged Buddhism and other people’s dirt

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

These are the brooms I grew up with: grasses tied together by hand, swept carefully over wooden floors. I still love them, although I have no idea where you’d find them now. I suspect I’d sweep more often if I still had a broom like this.

Which is by way of returning to a subject I wrestle with almost hourly — why is it soooo much easier to do something for someone else? Why is cleaning this house — where my son, DIL, and grandson live — than my own? I HATE mopping, but mopped their entryway and kitchen w/grace (if not joy). Because I love them, and they’re overwhelmed right now.

Same w/ the laundry (another thing I let pile up at home), and wiping down bookcases. My own books wear dust jackets — NOT the paper kind. And no, I’m not really kidding; we just took three boxes of books to Goodwill, and I made my husband get them out of the car FAST so the thick grey dust didn’t give him an asthma attack!

Soooo, what’s the deal? I’m not the kind of person who thinks I don’t have value. My self-concept is fairly healthy, all things considered. It’s not like I don’t believe I deserve a cleaner house.

via pixabay

via pixabay

Part of is that whole time thing. Here, my only tasks centre on the ‘kids’ — my adult elder son, my DIL, and my grandson. I let the blog go; I get up when they need me (instead of sleeping until the cat wakes me up by jumping on me); I cook in the evenings; I try in all ways to show how much I love them. Perhaps a better question would be: how does cleaning their house show love?

And it’s back to time. When you’re overwhelmed — for whatever reason(s) — time collapses & expands like a spastic accordian. Tightly packed when you need more, str-e-t-c-h-ing when you want to be able to get whatever done NOW. Plus, I’m a strong believer in order without, order within. If I can give you clean sheets & towels, cook potato corn chowder and cheese biscuits, and straighten the living room? Perhaps you can draw a quiet breath for a moment, before the whirl of chaos that is grief returns.

At my own house, I know I’ll get to things eventually. And face it: normally? Who cares if my floor has been mopped today??

For my son & DIL, however, I think of it as a form (on a very small, local scale) of engaged Buddhism: you don’t just say you’re sorry. You  put your hands where your words are. To work. Soothing the battered heart. And sometimes, that requires a broom, a mop, and a 3rd trip to Kroger’s to pick up more laundry detergent…

chicken soup, roast beef and ginger scones

the author's

the author’s

No, I didn’t make ginger scones to go w/ the roast beef. That would just be…odd. Obviously, none of the three go…together. That’s not the point, is it?

I made the chicken soup yesterday. Since we didn’t have baking powder, I had to make the cornbread today. Because ‘the point’ is to have plenty of comfort food for my son, DIL, and grandson. Stuff the ‘kids’ — my wonderful son & DIL — can take to work tomorrow. Like homemade chicken noodle soup with cornbread. And, of course, stuff we can eat hot for dinner. I made roast beef today, with all kinds of veggies (who doesn’t love corn on the cob??) for tonight, and then sandwiches this week.

Ginger scones? Well, they’re getting made tomorrow, so N&E can take them to work for snacks. What says comfort more than scones w/ crystallised ginger & macadamia nuts? Fix a mug of tea at work, and there it is: healing time.

My son told me again today (multiple times) how grateful that I came up to help out. I tried to explain: coming up is only secondarily for N, E, & T. When people you love so very much are almost broken by grief, being able to help is a gift that helps the giver. I can ‘fix’ nothing for anyone, really. But I can cook & do laundry & run errands. Because the only thing that really heals grieving — to whatever extent healing is possible — is time.

via google

via google

So when I cook dinner, when I do laundry, when I run to the Kroger’s up the street? It’s the form of tonglen I adore — transforming my own grief for my loved ones into the tangible material comfort of food and clean space. Time to go to the park & forget for a moment that you hurt. Clean clothes and a full table.

If you know someone you love who’s grieving, and you don’t know what to do? Well, there’s a reason we usually take food to funerals. But it doesn’t have to be a funeral. Someone mess up a job interview? I recommend cookies. How about a car wreck? That calls for pie. More serious losses usually merit a full meal. Chili when it’s cold, with cornbread.

And no, I’m not kidding. It’s the gift that comforts the giver as well as the getter. A  lovely way to show you care that gives right back.

grieving in the real world

the author's

the author’s

This is what grief looks like when you have a child — an everyday Saturday in the park, giving your not-quite-two-year-old exactly what he needs: sunlight and attention. Something that’s been in short supply these past few days.

Grief when you have children means you have to be, as my beloved says, the grownup in the room. You don’t have the ‘luxury’ of taking to your bed. You can’t drown your sorrows, either.

It’s been a rough week, and I haven’t been able to write about it. Suffice to say there will be no grandaughter in May. But today? I’m here w/ my incredibly resilient son, DIL, & grandson. And we spent the afternoon eating off a wooden table at the park, in lambent February sunlight. Being sniffed by a beagle puppy, watching other little bitties toddling through the mulch that’s replaced the concrete & sand of my son’s childhood (much safer and ecological!).

We watched Trin slurp noodles, and lick his fingers from the spicy chicken. He drank some of my San Pelligrino, and then tore off for the slide. At 20+ months, he’s indomitable, believing in his own invincibility.

And I cheer from the sidelines, poignantly aware of mortality, of grief, of the transience of utter happiness. Still, grateful for this very ordinary Saturday. Somehow, it seems especially precious right now.


the little things we do can be BIG to someone else

via flickr

via flickr

Today was a Starbucks day. I realise that Starbucks isn’t everyone’s fave. It’s not local (but it employs a LOT of locals!), and it’s not trendy. Still, I like Starbucks. They’re always (well, almost always) nice to me, and I like the coffee. When folks give me small thank-you cards from Starbucks? I’m ecstatic!

Back to today: I dropped in at one of my nearby Starbucks. There are two equidistant from the house, and depending on if I’m going south or east is which one I use. The very nice lady at the counter took my order, and we chatted.

What’s on your calendar today? she asked. And I told her — a very sad day, I said. Not that I can share w/ you guys (not mine to tell), but I could tell a kind woman at Starbucks, who almost certainly won’t remember me.

We talked about framing bad news, about how to focus on good in the midst of sorrow, about what we don’t know that waits over the horizon. Obviously a devout Christian of the best — Jesus — type, she reminded me that we can’t know why things happen the way they do. I agree. And we both agreed that makes it no easier. Then she took my hand and said she would hold me in prayer. And gave me my two drinks free.

I can’t begin to tell you how much that kind act on the part of a complete stranger meant to me. She reached out w/ both her heart and her hands, and comforted me. I tried to pay, touched by her generousity, and she just shook her head. This is my gift to you, she said. God loves you; you just need to keep that in mind.

And because she was so very sure, I am. Keeping in mind that whatever differences she & I may have about who or what orders the universe, we both agree on this: love is at the heart of it. And sometimes, love takes the fragrant shape of a familiar white cup, steaming hot and comforting. Thank you, nice lady at Starbucks. You made my day.

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