Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.

Happy Birthday, Mom

via google

When I count the many elements of my life for which I’m grateful, my mother-in-law (and father-in-law) are BIG. I recognise that many women don’t even like their mother-in-laws, much less love them like a 2nd mother. Not me. For years, my mother-in-law has been one of my best of friends, a cracker-jack mentor, and the most present of rôle models. In her prime, she was a Shakespearean scholar, a great cook, a rose gardener, a feeder of birds, a lover of mystery novels, and the best friend & grandmother you can imagine. Not to mention her husband of 67 years died holding her hand… Who wouldn’t see Mom as flat-out amazing?

Now? She’s far quieter, the victim of her longevity, in some ways. Today she turns 95. Wow. Almost a century, Mom. How did you do it? You ate things the docs said weren’t great for you (margarine, ice cream, a LOT of homemade chocolate chip cookies). You didn’t take vitamins until your 60s, to my knowledge. And you never ran or did any ‘scheduled’ exercise.Mom & me

But here you are, 95 years old on Ground Hog Day. Which tickled you to tell folks: my birthday is Ground Hog Day, you’d say. And then laugh. Now, when your beloved son & I tell you ‘you’re no spring chicken!’ (in response to your desires to feel more active!), you ask how old you are. When we tell you, you make that face: the one w/ the raised eyebrows, the shake of the head, and loud ‘AAAAH!’ How, you ask, did that happen?? And when?

I’ve been with you for 45 of those years, Mom. You made me welcome, treated me like another daughter, and taught me how important it is to listen. So often when I called you for a recipe (long distance from the Middle East, no less — $1 a minute!), or to ask about a child’s illness, or to complain about your son’s boneheadedness, you just listened. Then would gently pull back from advice, offering only the recipe, or your love. ‘Only.’ The best stuffing in the world. The experience of decades raising three children. The knowledge of what it takes to make marriage work.

I love you, Mom. And I hope that all these years you’ve had an idea just how very important you are to me. My own mother was a wonderful person, but not a teacher. Not a scholar, not a lover of poetry (although my father was). When I got my degrees, you & Dad were as proud of me as any parents. And you never asked me ‘what will you do with them?’ You knew that isn’t the point to knowledge.Mom at our wedding 2

So here I am, these many years later, Mom. A far better person/ teacher/ friend/ mother-in-law (I hope!)/ wife and friend and grandmother and all of it…because of you. As you become less & less distinct, fading like a well-loved photograph, I am struggling to just be there for you. As you have been for me, so many many times. One of the many many lessons I breathed in just being with you…

It’s a hard lesson in beginner’s heart. But you deserve anything and everything I can offer. And on this day, dedicated to the great gift of YOU, I’m so very grateful. For every visit to the lake, every time you taught me a new skill, every time you listened to me rattle on. I can’t imagine the paucity of my life w/out you.

Happy Birthday, Mom. May all your dreams be of the love you inspire.

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