Heard today that a friend and former colleague passed away.
We worked together for a few short years as paraprofessionals, until I switched schools to complete student teaching, the final step in my university degree. It was an unexpected door that opened later in life for me.
My colleague encouraged me. She was an interesting, eclectic person who celebrated individuality and embraced life even as she absorbed some of its severest blows. I remember one sunny conversation we had about the word “eviscerated” — the gleam in her steely blue eyes never dimmed, whether burning with impassioned convictions or shining with compassionate discernment. She loved to laugh, to comfort, to speak of spiritual things.
One day she surprised me with a handmade card bearing a mysterious drawing on the front: “This is my prayer for you,” she said with a smile and those unwavering, bright eyes.
I kept it all these years, long after we lost touch. Long after I heard that her compromised, declining health rendered her unable to work.
I found the card again this week during my incessant pandemic purge. With the TV in the background broadcasting the rise of coronavirus deaths at a local nursing home, I reread the card, marveled anew at its artistry and sentiment, thought of her, wondered what became of her.
Today I learned she’s numbered among those dead.
—How many messages do we miss in life, because we aren’t “still” enough to receive them. How many moments do we miss because we don’t make time. How many gifts go unacknowledged because we can’t see them while looking through the lens of unfairness.
My friend didn’t miss. She understood. Far better than most.
She reminded me once, long ago.
She reminds me, still.
It’s a choice.
Just now, seize the day Offer your own gifts in return You’ll find joy for the taking
Waking to grayness rain slapping windows winter wind crying because it does not heed spring and life. Wrapped in my blanket I listen to that unrelenting wind daring not caring moaning mourning around the edges of existence.
Through the gusting gloom wailing doom a faint sound. A solitary little bird singing joy joy joy-joy-joy honoring the light ever how dim.
A good dog is one of life’s greatest gifts. Today’s post is dedicated to Rin, my husband’s childhood pet.
It is late. I am thinking about you sleeping upstairs. I wish I could get up there like I used to; I feel I should be near you tonight.
But I content myself with knowing that you are here and safe.
I think about the first time I saw you.
There you came with your mom and dad, looking at all my brothers and sisters at the place where we were born. As soon as I saw you, I knew: That is my Boy. That is my Boy. I ran straight to you, your arms went around me, and that was the moment we began. How excited you were to give me my name. Rin Tin Tin, you said. He was famous and you look just like him!
I was just happy because you were happy.
Do you remember taking me to classes? I do. How proud I was to learn what you wanted, to make you so pleased with me.
I’d do anything for you, my Boy. I hope you know.
I remember that bad time when I was still a very young dog and you were so sad. When your dad left for work and never came back. I knew you were hurting and afraid; that’s why I stayed so close. I gave you all the comfort I knew how, the warmth of my body, the occasional lick for reassurance. I watched you while you slept in case you woke and needed me.
You’re my everything, Boy. You always were.
Remember how you’d throw a stick for me to fetch, over and over and over, because I never got tired of it? How I miss that! I will still fetch for you, Boy, if you would only let me. That’s why I keep finding sticks and bringing them to you even though I understand you don’t want me to run. I know I am slow and yes, it hurts my old hip—but it is what we do. It is what we always did. So much fun, so much joy. If I could have fit your basketball in my mouth all those hours and days and weeks and years you were out on the backyard court, I’d have played that with you, too. But it was enough for me just to run beside you.
Perhaps tonight I will dream of those days, when we ran and ran and you got tired but I never did. I am tired now. I want you to know that whatever comes, Boy, I would do it all again. Every bit of it.
You’re my life, Boy. I love you so.
Now I lay me down to sleep. I’ll wait for you in the morning.
On the morning after the Boy and I got married, his mother found Rin unresponsive. He’d had a stroke. He died later that day at the vet’s office.
He was thirteen.
—I’ve always believed you knew that you finished your job, Rin. You saw the Boy safely off to his adult life on the last day of your own. Thank you, Rin Tin Tin, good and faithful servant, for giving him your all.
Yesterday I noted this reflection on social media: “All I did in 2019 was survive it.”
Why did I think of the pool of Bethesda and the legend of the angel “troubling the waters“? Was it the sense of just enduring? The lack of hope?
The words stirred my soul on multiple levels.
I can relate to surviving. In 2019, my husband almost didn’t. There is no control in the valley of the shadow of death, only submission. Each long, dark day must be endured; my boys and I waited for the ray of hope.
And the healing came.
It was a year of survival, of change, of pain and loss, of life being altered. But then, joy: On the heels of his father’s recovery, our oldest married, went into the ministry, became a father. This Christmas, our family is bigger. This Christmas, we have so much more life to celebrate. This Christmas, inside the typical clamor, is a deep pocket of stillness. It is like the branches of our tree, frosted silver, catching the light, glimmering with tiny iridescent fire.
We survived, but more importantly, we live. We love. There’s always more love to give, another ray of light just ahead in the darkness, another healing after the troubling of the waters.
Life and hope renewed. Is that not the message of Christmas?
On that note . . . those of you who know this blog will know that 2019 was the first year we were “dogless” for a while.
That aching void is now filled.
I shall leave you with wishes for a holiday in your heart every day that you live and three pounds of sheer joy.
Merry Christmas, loves.
Welcome home, Dennis
So this is Christmas
My boy Cadillac Man and his Dennis nestled all snug in their bed
The words roll round my mind as I drive to work, noting how the rising sun gilds the trees in all their fall colors against a deep charcoal sky. The sharp glory of it is beyond my power to describe. It’s beautiful. Haunting. Fierce. How can there be such detailed color and brilliance when the sky is so strangely dark? If a storm is brewing, why is the light so golden-bright? And where exactly is it coming from? The sun itself is hidden.
I cannot quite capture how I feel. It’s more than one thing. Awe. Reverence. Curiosity. A bit of foreboding.
Mostly gratitude for having been here to see it.
I am thinking a lot about the interplay of light and dark this holiday week.
And the fierce beauty of life.
My husband is here after a massive heart attack this summer. His surgeon said that his blockages were such that when the last artery went down that day, he had no reserve; he made a “medically inexplicable recovery.” This coming only three years after my husband lost an eye to ocular melanoma.
Light and dark, dark and light.
He lives to see our son get married the day after Thanksgiving. Not just to see it, but to officiate. After all the years of praying for the boy to go into the ministry and the boy saying, no, Dad, that’s not for me.
He ordained our son into the ministry three weeks ago.
Never say never.
Today the boy took the last of his things out of our house to finish setting up his new home. He’s gone, but not too far away.
He took his dog.
The last dog.
In two years, we’ve lost three: Nikolaus the dachshund to old age. Banjo the yellow Lab that I raised from age seven weeks to a new home because my husband can no longer manage a 90-pound dog after bypass surgery. And now Henry, the best of the best, the rescue dog whose sole mission in life is to extract and exude as much love as possible.
I am now dogless for the first time in almost two decades. On every one of those days I could always count on a happy greeting, an ever-faithful warmth, some commiseration or comic relief. No tail thumping tonight, no snuffling, whiskered nose in my hand, no nails scrambling on the floor in exuberance for a pat, a treat.
How strange is it that my son moves out and I write about missing the dog.
And another thing: I recently wrote about the two old mules around the corner, how one of them was sick. I often saw it lying on its side in the pasture as the other mule grazed nearby. The farmer didn’t want to put his ailing mule down, knowing that the other mule would grieve, as they had never been apart. He finally had to. When I rode by the following week, I saw the remaining mule standing bereft in the pasture. My friend who lives on an adjoining farm said the mule hadn’t eaten since its sister died. I dared not drive that way for a few days afterward, fearing what I’d see, or not see. But this week I braved it. I drove past the pasture. There was the mule, grazing, which made me happy. As I watched, a big orange tabby cat came strolling across the pasture to sit by the mule. It looked right in my direction, swishing its tail.
A once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot that I couldn’t stop and capture.
And then today as I went by . . . the cat was still there. In all these years of loving those old mules from afar, I have never seen any other creature in the pasture. That cat is there keeping that mule company. It was sent. I am sure of it.
What is life but a bizarre balancing act, a series of give and take, comings and goings, losses and comforts, laced with love, fierce in itself. A mosaic of light and color, a stark silhouette against a backdrop of darkest gray.
Every day is one to be celebrated.
Tonight I go to sleep in my dogless house, beside my husband who’s still here. We have one more son sleeping upstairs. Although there’s an ache, there’s not emptiness. I am grateful for that big orange cat who’s out in the pasture with the old mule left behind. I am grateful to see the glory and drama of autumn with the promise of celebrations to come. I am deeply grateful my oldest has found his calling at the same time great love has entered his life; on the day after Thanksgiving, he becomes a husband and a father all at once. It just so happens that his wedding day is the second anniversary of his grandmother’s passing; how she’d rejoice for him.
Light and dark, dark and light.
Oh, and on the wedding night, I get to bring home a little girl, officially my granddaughter; she and I will have our own celebration with Bride’s Cake ice cream and peppermint bark Oreos and probably the movie Frozen.
I put the Christmas tree up early, just for her.
How can there be so much light.
Note: After publishing this post, I learned that the big orange cat has a name: Sunshine.
I heard their whispers, and I shouldn’t have, because they were in line in the hallway. There are Rules, you know . . . .
I looked around. There they were, not standing neatly in line but leaning out in varying degrees, trying to get my attention.
“What-? You all sound like a bunch of Parselmouths, hissing,” I said (Parselmouths being people who can speak snake language, for those of you not intimately familiar with Harry Potter, few though you may be).
And more whispers:
“The books came! There’s one for you!”
“Stop, you’re ruining the surprise!”
—I think somebody got elbowed, just then.
I taught a series of personal narrative lessons to this third grade class. I modeled my own narrative. They drafted theirs, conferred with their teacher, revised, conferred with me, revised. They did every bit of the work, made their own artistic choices in both writing and illustrating, asked a lot of questions. At the last I coached each child through final edits.
Then their teacher compiled it all and sent it off for publication.
This week, the books arrived.
These writers couldn’t concentrate when I came to the classroom Thursday afternoon to talk about opinion writing. They wriggled and writhed like puppies at their seats.
Because a flat package, wrapped in bright jewel-tone paper, waited on the reading table.
The tag read Mrs. Haley.
“Soooo,” I said, “this is what all the excitement is about? Am I supposed to open this now?”
—They almost burst.
When I picked up the package, they gathered so close around me that I felt slightly claustrophobic. I had a fleeting sense of Gru in Despicable Me, being surrounded by a sea of adoring Minions, countless giant eyes blinking in anticipation.
“Oh, wow—it turned out so well! It’s beautiful, everybody! I am so proud of you and your writing.”
They laughed, clapped, clamored, tried to tell me more stories about their stories . . . for they are, after all, authors.
Last summer, a pair of finches made a nest on the wreath on my front door. I watched their family develop, day by day: Four eggs, four baby birds, four fledglings taught how to fly by their parents, and then they were gone.
I suffered empty nest syndrome. Literally.
I took wreath down for the winter and saved the little nest, because I didn’t have the heart to destroy a thing so beautifully made by tiny creatures that don’t have hands.
A Christmas wreath hung on the door until I finally got around to removing it in late January (well, it was festive; it brightened the winter-bleak days).
And I re-hung the “finch wreath,” which is clearly for springtime, but . . . I confess . . . I was hoping . . . .
And along mid-February—might it have been Valentine’s Day? Really?—I heard them.
The tell-tale cheerful chirps, the sweetest bird music, right outside my door.
My heart sang, too: You’re back, you’re back! Welcome home!
They built a new nest and then . . . nothing.
For weeks, nothing.
I began to worry, which makes no sense, because these tiny birds are much more adept at survival than I am. My worry was mostly selfish, I realized. I wanted the birds here, didn’t want them to change their minds, find another place. I wanted to hear their happy voices every morning, wanted the joy they unknowingly impart, wanted to see new life happen again.
Every day, I checked. The perfect little nest was barren. No finches in sight or within hearing.
The temperatures dropped below freezing again. Just as I began to fear that some fate had befallen my finch friends, I wondered: Is it possible that they knew another freeze was coming? That they built the nest as planned, right on schedule, but that they can hold off laying eggs until the cold spell passes? Can that happen?
Then, early yesterday morning, a chorus of chirpy cheer outside my door!
I had to go see . . .
—I have an egg!
Today at the exact same time will be another egg, tomorrow, maybe another, and soon I’ll know how big my little finch family will be.
But for now I just reflect, with reverential awe, on how the first egg came with the first bit of welcome warmth on the first day of the week.
My birds are back home, safe in their sanctuary, on Sunday morning.