Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Happy Father’s Day

Daddy with BuickFathers are odd creatures. At least the ones I know are — not any single mold, no real unifying characteristics. Some are very loving — nurturing, even — others are sometimes cranky. While yet others are newly fledged, and learning to fly (my elder son, for instance… :)).

My own father remains tall and trim in my mental picture of him. Standing in front of the family car, lovingly polished by Hà , the Việtnamese chauffeur. I don’t remember ever seeing my father wash a car, although I watched him clean and polish his rifles and pistols many times. The banana fragrance of gun oil sends me back in time: I’m 10 years old, and my father’s guns & trophies are stored in my bedroom. The trophies are tarnished, the guns pristine. My father’s values…


Other pictures are my sisters’ favourites. They show the young soldier, the older officer. The father of his first two daughters, my sister & me. Some are of the newly married couple — my beautiful mother and my very handsome father, he grinning into the camCliffordNathanera, she turned in animation to someone outside the viewfinder. Typical.

Other fathers — my dearly beloved father-in-law, for one — are different from my own. I was never sure — only at times — that my father really loved me. Of course he did, but as a child, I wasn’t certain. With my father-in-law, that was never in question. He was proud of me, and I knew it. Proud of my degrees, proud of my children. Proud that I was part of the family. And it was obvious in ways my own, far more verbal, father rarely conveyed.


Daddy with newborn Nathan in hospitalBoth were wonderful with their baby grandson — at least until senile dementia claimed my own father’s memory. Another reason I am so grateful for my FIL, who took little boys on tractor rides, and taught them guns (at the age of 4!) and bows & arrows and squirrel hunting.

So much of what my sons know of fathering they learned from Dad (my FIL), not Daddy, my own father. And from their father, my wonderful husband, for whom Dad was the ultimate rôle model.


Now, as I watch my elder son fathering my grandson, I think about how little we laud fathers, and their difficult, too-invisible contributions. How my husband took over the 4-year-old as I nursed and babied his little brother. How Dad grandfathered actively while Glen was overseas, so that our two sons never lacked for father figures. How Daddy taught us that a marriage takes two people, and that he too worked at it.

Today is a day to remember the fathers in our lives: our own, our parents’ fathers, our sons and husbands and lovers. A day to offer them recognition for all they do: not simply paying the bills (Dad! My ATM!), but helping us figure out all the minutiae of daily living. And being there through all of it.Glen, N&N & Estrella, OKC bombing memorial, Portland2

Thanks, guys — you’re each of you completely different, and totally irreplaceable. I love you.


lesson #531 in beginner’s heart

love lao tseI’m not good at being loved. It makes me uncomfortable when people sing my praises, for whatever reason. And I’ve never learned how to gracefully accept compliments (I have a bad habit of turning them in to jokes, but I am getting better). So it still astonishes me I have friends other than family.

Note: I don’t think I’m insecure, nor am I needily attempting to get you to say ‘oh Britt!‘ I just realise that folks are busy, I’m verrrry opinionated (but I am getting better), and I talk too much and too fast. Plus I’m terribly geeky, what with the whole bees and poetry and tea and other odd obsessions.rose in island


Really, I prefer to love. I’m actually QUITE good at that: I can love with almost no provocation. On the flight from KC to St. Louis, I met a woman I sooo want to become close friends w ith. She’s funny, smart, passionate about social action, a journalist… So many good traits! I already love her!

And people I know? When I look at someone I know and love, all I can see is stardust — the stuff of infinite possibility, brightness and fire and glow. I’m not kidding. My friends are  verrrry smart, as well as nice, incredibly funny, full of passion for social justice, always ready to help out… And they write well. :)


Now, the thing about loving people that I’m coming to realise is: often, even if they don’t start out loving you, the sheer force of your love for folks turns them in your direction, like 4 o’clocks follow the afternoon sun. Love, I’ve found, begets love.

How simple that sounds.

browniesBut it means that they begin to tell you. And while it’s not quite as bad as complimenting the Brownie cobbler (who then runs off, at least in the fairy tale), it does make me wonder what all the fuss is about.  Doesn’t everyone love their friends? In all truth? I’m not a particularly great friend (hence my uneasy astonishment that I have any). I interrupt conversations, get WAAAY too loud (I may have mentioned this), have a warped sense of humour (which I, of course, find hysterical), and read odd books. In other words? Total geekoid.


Let me tell you a story (don’t you love stories?): Once upon a time I went to a conference. It was in an incredible hotel — the Arbor Foundation’s hotel in Nebraska. And there was a small coffee shop inside the hotel.

During our stay, I must have gone to get coffee (you all know how I love coffee!) a couple of times a day, more if you count the times I accompanied friends. So I spoke to the nice girl who was the barista, and we visited several times.

The last day I was there, the commercial espresso machine was broken. So they had a home machine they’d set up, meaning service was VERY slow. Not at all her fault, but folks were soooo rude! Hostile, even! The little barista was wet-eyed, trying hard to remain professional as person after person YELLED at her. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)


goodbye Kali

Kali eating cheese on desk Even a year ago she still ate. Not so much lately. Her fur — once sleek as a seal’s — is dull. I haven’t seen her groom herself in years. My petting does that, bringing up clouds of silvery fur.

Today was her last one at home. She’s no longer able to maneuver the stairs easily, so when she needs the litter box, it’s where ever she happens to be. She doesn’t like that. Neither do we.


And she hates having the food bowl on the floor, angry she can no longer leap to the counter where we used to keep it. Sometimes she hisses, and flat won’t eat, standing at the cat door into the room where the food bowl. Hissing at her age, at the ways things change. She’s never been patient.

Leaping to the counter has been  beyond her for months — she can barely make it on to our bed, her safe place. Often she falls between the end table and the chair arm where she likes to perch. It hurts to watch her. She doesn’t understand any of it. Nor, really, do I, although I know aging does this. Believe me, I get it, Kali.Kali with toy


So today we made that difficult decision. Each time we’ve made it, we’ve made it a bit earlier, trying hard not to let our emotions — our want for more time — colour when pain is present, when life is harder than it should be.

But it was no easier because she looks okay, some of the time. If anything? It’s harder.

Change is so very difficult. And so is love.  And sometimes it doesn’t help at all to be Buddhist. Because it all just sucks.


bliss, or, writers and writing retreats…oh my!

courtesy Wikimedia

courtesy Wikimedia

From the moment we turn off onto the rural roads outside of St. Joseph’s, I’m ready. I’ve been anticipating today for days, weeks even. It’s almost writing retreat time! I’m soooo ready.

A full weekend of writing. Talking about writing. Talking about POETRY. With other writers and teachers. Being able to relax completely, not worry about showing what a geek for poetry I am. How much I love and know this art form and its siblings: academic writing, creative non-fiction, essay, memoir, and fiction.


So here I am, and the rain has stopped. The mists have lifted, and the blue Missouri sky is soft behind the high trees that ring the windows. I can hear the murmur of a writing group: someone is reading a piece to friends. (We’re all friends here, even the two newbies.)

St. Gabriel's, Conception Abbey

St. Gabriel’s, Conception Abbey

I’m in heaven. Appropriate at a Benedictine abbey, somehow. Between the sense of spiritual calm, the inclusive welcome of writers I’ve known for a decade or more, and the satisfaction of working on new material? What’s NOT to love? :)


You need to get away. Soon. For whatever feeds your inner happy. Trust me — it’s worth the time and planning. Because nothing will connect you to your beginner’s heart like friends, time to enjoy them, and nurturing your own sweet self. Sleep in. Eat something delectably junky (I recommend my friend Sioux’s fudge). And try to write something about it all.

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