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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

what feeds you?

via UK Telegraph

via UK Telegraph

This is a miracle tortoise. I’m not exaggerating: it survived THIRTY YEARS in a locked storeroom. With no water (so far as anyone could tell), and no ‘real’ food.

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Given, a vet told the family (who were totally blown away – who wouldn’t be??) that red-footed tortoises can go up to 3 years w/out eating. But THIRTY?

What did she do for those 30 years, locked away in the room of broken junk? How did she survive?

And of course, being a poet — always seeing metaphors & signs & omens & portents — I thought: what feeds me? What can I survive without? And what is essential? Because I’m thinking water is pretty darn critical, even for a tortoise (the landlubber member of the turtle family). But so is love. And for me, I need beauty almost as much as bread.

So here’s my question for you (one I’m still considering): what do you need — what must you have — to live? What is your emotional/ spiritual water? Think about it…. I am.

 

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my own Amtrak writing retreat

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

Everyone who knows me even slightly knows I adore trains.  They’re my favourite way to travel. Because a) you don’t get airsick (or carsick). And b) you can just sit…and write. It’s this tiny world where all that exists are you, the window on America (or France, or Holland, or Belgium, or Thailand, or wherever…), a dining car, a comfy seat, and writing time.

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The older I get, the more time I have. Ostensibly. But it doesn’t really work that way. I seem no less occupied than I was when I retired almost three years ago. Given, I now have far more control over what I spend that time on, but it still seems in too-short supply. It seems I have to fight to make time to write — a blog post, a letter, much less a longer piece.

So a train, where I can’t run errands, or clean, or weed, or do laundry? It’s like a magic threshold between behind-me and before-me. I can just be in the ‘now,’ as Buddhists say. And that now, for me, is usually a place to write.

amtrak texas eagle

via google

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Saturday my elder son is coming to visit, and to pick up his car. When he leaves Thursday for home in Virginia, I’ll go with him. To reconnoiter possible houses, to look at real estate. And when it’s time to return to Oklahoma? Here’s the excitement: I’m taking a train! My beloved’s suggestion — that I take a TRAIN halfway across American east-to-west, and then halfway north-to-south! WHOOHOO! Two full days on trains! From Virginia to DC to Chicago to Texas to Oklahoma. How cool is that??

Love is a funny thing. I don’t love my beloved because he buys me writing retreats on trains. I love him because he’s imaginative — because he knows me well enough to imagine an adventure for me. One he knows I’ll adore. One where I can write! How well he knows me.

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So in a week I’ll be readying to have a road trip (18 hours) with my elder son. That alone is a gift: time to talk, to

via google

via google

visit, share meals and the journey. As our ‘kids’ become parents themselves, this kind of time together is as rare as natural alexandrites. And as subject to the vagaries of light. For both of us to have free time, and to have reason to spend it together? It’s been four years, at least — and that time too was a rarity.

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Later this month, after a road trip and a grandson’s 2nd birthday, and a sojourn with son & DIL & grandson, I’ll be sitting in a comfy seat in the lounge car, writing as I look for America. Talk about the perfect exercise in beginner’s heart: what’s more contemplative than 2 1/2 days of quiet writing? The last time I took a train was a trip from Portland to LA with my younger son. We sat in the observation car: he reading, I writing. It was heaven.

I suspect this will be, as well. And I can hardly wait!

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gifts that need no wrapping

via google

via google

I have had the best day EVER. Full of FB messages, notes, a poem, gifts… I may be the luckiest of women.

First? Both my wonderful sons called. Even from far-off Kuala Lumpur, younger son stayed up late to call this morning. And elder son called later, even w/ a stomach virus.

My nephew wrote me a poem!!! This almost- son, who has borne the wrath of lectures (he once told my son he’d rather be beaten than hear me lecture him!), wrote me the sweetest poem for Mother’s Day.

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My beloved daughter-in-law sent me a magazine-worthy picture of my grandson, wearing a shirt that proclaims him the superhero I know him to be.

My niece sent me a hand-made card, full of love.

Former students posted touching FB messages — thoughtful reflections on our relationships that left me teary.

My sister-in-law, in for a short visit, gave me a beautifully sentimental card, as well as … paint brushes & sticky notes! (I ADORE sticky notes, and Jan knows I scrapbook & journal daily.)

One of my sisters also posted a touching message on my FB page, complete w/ a picture of me, with my mother.

via google

via google

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These are gifts beyond measure. What price can you put on the respect of students you love? Sisters you’re best friends with? Friends who are like family?

What is there in our lives more important than the people we love? What’s more valuable than knowing they care for us, too? And knowing you have had some small impact on someone you admire and respect? Wow. Better than a gold bracelet!

The ripples from the gifts I’ve received today are their own quiet whirlpool, spiralling out from these various generous hearts to mine, and on from mine to the people I love. Like origami, they unfold into larger surfaces. Like love… well, they ARE love. Gifts of love as tangible as ribbon.

Today, as you walk through your weekend, take a moment to think of someone you’d like to thank. Send them a card, write on their FB wall, email them. But take 5 minutes out of your day to make their week. Heck, maybe even make their MONTH. No gift you could wrap will be more dear. And none will have larger consequences. I promise.

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mothers of the heart, or, what it means to ‘mother’

the author's

the author’s

In honour of tomorrow’s ‘Mother’s Day,’ let’s think about what mothering is. Because it isn’t as simple as biology. It isn’t who you share genes with, or who birthed whom. No, it’s who’s there for you, who believes in you, who has your back. Who has mentored you and fussed over you while you grow.

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This is a picture of me, age 1 or so, with my youngest aunt. The aunt who — like many of my aunts whom I don’t have pictures of — mothered me. Who taught me about boys, taught me about makeup. Gave me a wonderful role model of marriage and motherhood, when I was too critical of my own mother to appreciate her many gifts.

I have been blessed with many ‘mothers’ throughout my life. From my early childhood to now, there are women both my elders and my youngers who have nurtured me, mentored me, and been there for me time after time.

Tomorrow, I will miss my mother desperately. Not a day goes by that I don’t. But I also will miss my adored friend Ione, gone these many years, who served as a mother to me when I was far from home, and needed a maternal shoulder badly. I will think of newer friends: my dear friend Shelley’s mother Joy, who listened (with Shelley, who also has mentored me and been a bright light in my life) while I answered a question they hadn’t asked. At length. Such patience! I will smile thinking about former teachers, and old friends from far away, and women I haven’t seen in decades.

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via google

via google

And then there are my girlfriends — my BFF, my writing & teaching colleagues. My beloved sisters & cousins & my dear old ladies. All of whom have modelled kindness, compassion, brilliance, wit & humour. Who have been faithful to our friendship over many years. And for whom I am more grateful than I can tell.

I will think of friends who believe they are childless — they have no biological children, after all. And yet? One comes to mind especially: she was there for me without stint, during a very dark period of my life. She probably doesn’t think anything of it, but it was all I had some days. Five years younger than I, she mothered me as lovingly as an elder.

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Men too can ‘mother.’ I am gifted w/ a dear friend who sends me music and books almost as if he knows before I do what I need. He’s not only deucedly clever, but also funny, brilliant, and just the nicest man. He has mothered me through crises at work, as well as taught me how to read & listen. Isn’t that what so many of our mothers do?

Mothering isn’t only biological or gender-based. That’s not to in any way diminish the biological act of mothering. It’s hard (I remember!). But there are so many ways to ‘mother,’ from the small gifts we offer each other (the beautiful card my BFF sent me today, for no reason other than it made her think of me) to the great (my sister sitting with me as I watched my husband in the hospital, terrified he might not come home; she sat with me for two days…). Men & women have ‘mothered’ me all my life.

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via truthorfiction.com

via truthorfiction.com

I think, too, of the animals I have loved. How they have given me selfless love, curling up next to me when I’m desolate, placing a soft paw on my hand or face. Letting me know they care, that they’re here for me. My cat does it. So does my dog. And how one species — with no ties at all, sometimes even a prey/predator relationship — can mother another. Tigers mothering little piglets, for instance. It’s about selflessness, and love.

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Perhaps you’ll disagree, feeling that I term all loving interaction a version of mothering. Not true. Mothering has a lack of self-focus that much love — even the most generous love — still possesses. My aunts, my friends, my sisters, certainly my animals, think of me first when they ‘mother’ me.

The Dalai Lama often uses motherhood as a metaphor for unselfless love, and the kind of love we should emulate as Buddhists. What a hard task! And yet…when I think of my sons, my nieces, my grandson & the other children of my life, I realise: I receive far more from any one of them than I give to all of them. Perhaps that’s what he means? That love is far from simple. And ‘mothering,’ perhaps, not simple at all. A miracle? Yes. But not a simple one.

 

 

 

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