live love breathe

bad news on the doorstep

by christie shumate mcelwee

When I woke up this morning, I was assaulted by bad news. Tragedy all around us. My heart shattered. I took my coffee to my front porch swing and sat while the late spring breeze whispered a few lines from “American Pie”: “Bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step.” I pondered the lyrics of this iconic song, remembering how my friends and I would pour over them and attempt to find some meaning in Don McLean’s symbolism. We knew it was about the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, but we also loved the tune and vainly attempted to memorize this 8 minute epic. 

After I came inside, I pulled up the song and its lyrics, and listened to it again, suddenly coming to the realization that “American Pie” is a mourning hymn. It sings of grief and regret and loss and confusion. Where do we go when our heroes die? Can innocence be lost over and over again? What saves our souls? Who do we turn to when all seems unsalvageable? The song doesn’t give any pat answers. It just allows us to sit with our heartache.

This is where many of us are right now. We don’t know what to do with our feelings of despair. We see the numbers: positive cases, deaths, unemployment figures, shuttered small businesses. The news contains wrenching stories of hate and lies and gaslighting. Fear is everywhere and hope seems, well, often hopeless. How do we process all of this? We often search for silver linings and gratitude, listing our simple joys, but sometimes we just need to sit with this overwhelming sadness. Sometimes life sucks. Don McLean sang of how it appears as though the devil is “laughing with delight.” How do we go on if evil is cackling at our pain?

I am not a theologian or a great philosopher. I’m just an anxious, messy, and awkward woman who writes rambling words with questionable syntax and punctuation. I attempt to find some type of solace through song lyrics, poetry, and prose (along with coffee and wine).

Today I found it in “American Pie.” 

I met a girl who sang the blues

And I asked her for some happy news

But she just smiled and turned away

I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed

The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed

But not a word was spoken

The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died

And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry

And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die

This’ll be the day that I die

music and lyrics by Don McLean

our little tree: tiny hopeful buds

by Christie Shumate McElwee

We have a two-year old tree in front of our house that isn’t doing well. While all the other trees on our block have leafed out, ours silently stands with just a few buds attempting to open. Every day I send energy to its roots, hoping it will feel the strength of my love. I acknowledge that all my tree hugging may not be able to save it, yet I pray to Mother Nature to summon her powers to revive this struggling plant.

Lately I have been pondering the difference between hope and optimism. Yes, these concepts are related, but they follow divergent paths. Both are guideposts to the future. Think in terms of their opposites. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, and the opposite of hope is despair or fear. Optimism relies on feeling good about the future, even denying that bad things can happen. Optimists expect things to turn out okay. Hope, on the other hand, relies on the effort to make life better, knowing hard times are ahead and barreling ahead in spite of them. Hopeful people continue on through the pain, fighting for justice and kindness and peace.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”, she writes:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

The little bird clings to the branch while the storm swells, and continues to sing its song. Hope gives us warmth, yet doesn’t ask anything of us. We know things are rough. We see the darkness. We feel the pain…yet hope is still there, singing its tune.

Where do I see hope? It is in people trying their best to protect others. It is in our beautiful faces, even when covered by masks. Hope is in the reaching out, the praying, the grace we give one another. Hope sustains us.

And what about our little tree? Will my hope save it? I check it every day for new buds, and embrace its trunk, hoping it will feel my spirit. Will it survive? I don’t really know the answer, but I continue to hope, and that hope gives me strength to face what is ahead. I will live under hope’s roof.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” 

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

At first glance, our little tree looks dead.
But step closer, you can see tiny, hopeful buds.
‘show me’ how to breathe: the reopening of my state and how to navigate my anxiety

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I woke up in the middle of the night with a rapid heart beat and a litany of questions. Is this really a good idea? Are our numbers flat enough to reopen? When will I feel safe again in public? How do I manage my ramped up anxiety? Is there a right way to do this thing? A wrong way? What about those who don’t adhere to the rules? What about the small business owners who need to open so they can stay afloat? Will I ever feel comfortable eating in a restaurant? Shopping in a store? Can establishments keep their workers safe while operating? What about more tests? More PPE? What if there is a surge in positive cases? What about those who won’t wear masks? Will we ever go to a concert again? A street fair? The pool? Will I ever be able to catch my breath again?

My state and county officially reopened at 12:01 am today. (A few counties with larger populations have chosen to remain closed.) The “show me strong recovery plan” has lists of rules and regulations on its website, but with the exception of a few places, the doors have been thrown wide open. The businesses I follow on social media have been posting their procedures for reopening. Some are waiting at least a week while they hammer out the logistics. Others, especially restaurants, are moving tables and chairs six feet apart, instituting hygiene rules, and begging for patience from their customers while they attempt to figure this all out.

On Saturday my husband and I went for a drive. We decided to check out a county park that had just reopened. During “normal” times we love to walk the path around the lake, but when we arrived, the place was packed. People were everywhere. Parking lots were full. Despite the signs encouraging safe social distancing, few seemed to comply. We quickly left the premises and found a small semi-deserted place to walk where I could breathe.

I am slowly realizing that in order to come to some kind of peace with all of this, I have to sit with my anxiety and then remember I can only control myself.

So, here’s my list of what I can control:

  1. We are going to maintain our own ‘shelter-in-place’ for at least another month. We will venture out for walks, trips to the grocery and hardware stores, and for my husband, an occasional game of golf, but we need to see how this all works before we tip-toe out in public. (And yes, I am getting my hair cut. You can judge me if you want, but it’s happening.)
  2. I am going to attempt to set aside my own judgment of others. I don’t like the icky feeling I get when I’m in the judgment zone. (This is difficult for me. I must be honest. If you are rude, unkind, racist, or just plain stupid, I may continue to judge you.) We humans are social animals. Staying sequestered goes against our natures. This I understand. I also know businesses cannot stay closed forever. If an establishment is going to the trouble to keep its workers and customers safe, I’m holding my judgment…for now.
  3. We will wear our masks when entering any establishment. Yes, it is a hassle. Yes, it is a pain in the butt. Yes, it is the smart thing to do in order to protect the health of others.
  4. I am cutting way back on the quarantine amount of wine I have consumed. I’m rationing myself to the weekends instead of every night. My sleep cycle and liver will thank me.
  5. I will continue to exercise almost every day. This is important for maintaining my weight and my mental health.
  6. I am also rationing my reading and viewing consumption of anything that concerns the current occupant of the White House and his hateful, small, ignorant words. A friend of mine said she won’t allow him in her house, and I’ve decided that’s brilliant! I would never invite such a person in my home, so why am I doing it now? I will permit one or two articles a day, an occasional rant, and that is it. I will vote in November and hope, hope, hope we can heal.
  7. I’ve decided to let go of my part-time teaching job. This pandemic has taught me the importance of listening to my heart, and it is telling me it is time to hang up my teaching cape. It’s been a good run, but I am done.
  8. We will continue to order from our favorite locally owned businesses. We’ve finally figured out this whole take-out routine, and we kind of like it. On nice days, we will grab a blanket and head outside for a picnic, just to mix things up a bit.
  9. Today I will start meditating. It may just be for five minutes a day, but it will help me breathe.
  10. I will attempt to live in the moment and push aside the fear. I will love with my messy heart all that is good in the world. I will breathe in hope and breathe out compassion.

“Life is beautiful in spite of everything…There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.” ~Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Crimson clover has overtaken empty lots in our neighborhood. Isn’t it gorgeous?
coming to terms with my vanity

by Christie Shumate McElwee

“We’re older but no more the wise

We’ve learned the art of compromise

Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry

And sometimes we just break down

We’re good now ’cause we have to be

Come to terms with our vanity

Sometimes we still curse gravity

When no one is around”

“Hey Cinderella”

Songwriters: Suzy Bogguss / Matraca Berg / Gary Harrison

I have a confession to make. It has been 11 weeks since my last haircut. A couple of weeks ago I had my sweet husband take his trimmer to the back of my neck to clean up the errant hair that stubbornly grows there. No matter what I do to it, though, it is in my eyes. I am constantly playing with it, trying cute hair pins and bandanas, yet it is still a mess.

I acknowledge this is not the worst thing that is happening these days. I read the news and see the devastation this virus has wreaked across the globe. I know I shouldn’t be worrying about my vanity…

But…my hair. What about my hair? Before Zoom, I never had to look at myself as I participated in conversations. Now all I can see is my hair. I fidget with it or attempt to restyle it as the meeting is going on. Truthfully, I’m annoying myself.

We women are our own worst critics. Every supposed flaw is torn apart. Billions of dollars are spent on creams and makeup and styling products in order to look pretty, but we can’t seem to give ourselves a freaking break. I know this because these days when I look at myself in Zoom or FaceTime all I see is an aging woman desperately in need of a trim.

I gave up coloring my hair almost two years ago, and I’m pleased with the touch of gray. I don’t wear much makeup, but I do enjoy a little if I’m going out. But…my hair. What about my hair?

Soon as the shelter in place guidelines are slowly lifted, I will tentatively tiptoe back to my stylist. Safe procedures are promised and I trust her to keep everyone safe. Small businesses need their customers and we need to support them. I also realize not everyone feels safe to visit some establishments yet, and I respect that. I know my anxiety levels peak every time I even think about venturing out in public. Wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing safe habits are our new normal. 

And after that first haircut in over three months, will I look at myself differently? Perhaps, but I do know a trip to the salon is a good boost for the morale. During these difficult times, we are all doing things to help our psyches. Some are planting flowers, others are knitting. Me? I scratch a few rambling words every week, but a trim would certainly help.

We are all just stumbling through this thing.

Be safe.

Be kind.

Forgive others and yourself because even Cinderella didn’t know how the story would turn out.

“Hey hey, Cinderella, what’s the story all about

I got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow

Ohh-ohhhh, Cinderella, maybe you could help us out

Does the shoe fit you now?”

Jane Jetson had it figured out. Now, where do I buy these masks? Amazon, perhaps?
“shelter from the storm”

by Christie Shumate McElwee

After I graduated college, I lived in an assortment of dwellings, from my first studio apartment with a pull-out couch for a bed to a brick walk-up in Bucktown with tin ceilings and tiny bedrooms. Each place offered its own brand of comfort, despite my dismal lack of funds. I gathered books and cheap trinkets, bought dishes and rugs, and attempted to fill my little places with music and laughter. The furniture was mostly hand-me-downs or items I purchased from friends. One beige and peach sofa I bought cheaply from a friend of a friend in Dallas was awkwardly transported to five different places over the years, but, man, that was the best nap couch. When I was pregnant and couldn’t sleep, it was my sanctuary many nights, and later it became a favorite place for my ex to nap, with our oldest son comfortably asleep on his chest.

From the time I left home (not counting the few times I landed back there to heal) to now, I have lived in fourteen different apartments and houses. Each one unique. Each with its own set of memories and heartache. Apartment walls listened as I cried over breakups. My old rocking chair comforted me as I sang my babies to sleep. The small white cottage in Palatine wept when I gathered my boys up and moved us to another life downstate. I bought my first house on West Decatur and filled it with toys and books and music, and messily attempted to create a joyous childhood for my sons. Many of the small kitchens remained virtually unused until I finally learned how to cook in the house on Cresthaven Avenue. When we moved down to our cozy green gables cottage, we discovered new adventures to explore.

Now home takes on a greater significance. It is our safe place from a virus that is ravaging the globe. My husband and I are privileged to live in a house that has enough space (and internet!) to have him work in his basement office while I write upstairs in the loft. We venture out for walks, he grocery shops once a week, and we occasionally get in the car for long drives. We video chat with the grandchildren. We’ve hosted a few virtual happy hours with friends. Our lives are small now, but our house nurtures us.

Our kitchen table is set for two. A half finished puzzle sits at one end. I long for the day when we have a crowded table, filled with friends and family telling stories and eating pieces of freshly baked apple pie, but we wait patiently until it is safe to gather. 

I hope with all my heart your home is offering you shelter from the storm.

“Come in,” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
Shelter from the Storm, music and lyrics by Bob Dylan

Watching a storm blow in from the shelter of our top porch.

the things i didn’t know i missed

by Christie Shumate McElwee

Nazim Hikmet, a renowned Turkish poet, wrote a poem titled “Things I Didn’t know I Loved” after he was released from jail after serving years for his radical acts and words. In this poem, Hikmet is on a train looking out the window. He is pondering what he forgot he loved when he was incarcerated. He writes of curling rivers and asphalt roads. He remembers brief moments from his life that now seem precious. He also recounts how snow “flashes in front of my eyes..I never knew I liked snow.” The poem is a joyous love letter to all he had missed when in prison.

During this unprecedented time in history, the world has paused. Restaurants are shuttered. Stores are closed. Many of us stay sheltered in place while others work the front lines. As the curve flattens and plans begin to come together on how to open up again, we mourn what we have lost. My niece won’t have her college graduation celebrations. My nephew is missing his end-of-the year 8th grade traditions. Another friend’s daughter is contemplating rescheduling her wedding. Some friends and family members have been furloughed or fired from jobs. And, especially, we all are grieving the pain and lives lost due to this virus.

As I read Hikmet’s poem, I pondered my own list of things I miss while sheltering in place.

What are the things I didn’t know I truly loved until now?

Al fresco dinners at dusk while twinkle lights sparkle

Wandering through stores, touching the merchandise, chatting with clerks

Laughing with good friends over lunch at Massa’s

Walking sandy Gulf Shores and later stopping for drinks at The Pink Pony

Hugging (always hugging)

Hiking park trails while admiring the wildlife, both animal and human

Practicing yoga at Blue Bird studio

Weekend breakfasts with my husband at Crooked Tree or The Shack or any of our other favorite establishments

Meeting friends for coffee at The Bridge and diving deep into conversations  

Visiting the zoo on a warm day and saying hello to the bears and elephants and tigers

Meandering the walkways of the Botanical Gardens

Going to a play or a concert or a festival

Having my hair washed by my stylist. Ahhhh……

The pure joy of life is what we grieve. Soon we will be able to call up a friend and say, “Hey, let’s meet for coffee,” and we will reminisce about our sequestered days over lattes, but for now we remember the things we didn’t know we missed.

We missed our annual trip down to Gulf Shores.
Next year.

Link to “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” by Nazim Hikmet

https://poets.org/poem/things-i-didnt-know-i-loved

cece’s 19 thursday musings

by cece (my grandma name)

Day WTF

(A few are political, so if you don’t want to read or believe my sassy liberal views, move on.)

  1. I see online all the wonderful bread being made. It all looks so delicious I can almost smell it! Last week I baked a loaf of banana bread. Does that count?
  2. Please do not share conspiracy theories of body counts in urban areas. It is sad and sick and just not right. These “bodies” are people’s friends and family members. Say a silent prayer and step away from the propaganda.
  3. I miss hugs. I really miss hugs.
  4. I ration myself to just a few news articles a day that deal with our government’s total ineptitude of dealing with this crisis. My sanity can only take so much stupidity.
  5. Support mail-in voting. Widespread voter fraud is a myth. Yes, I love going to the polls to vote, but I shouldn’t have to risk my life to do it. Any type of voter suppression is morally repugnant. There. I said it.
  6. All the calories we are consuming during the quarantine don’t count, right?
  7. And the same goes for all the booze, yes?
  8. I went to our neighborhood market this afternoon, and it took half an hour for my heart rate to come down after I returned and wiped down everything. Again. I miss our weekly trips to the grocery store when Rock would push the cart while I’d dance down Dierberg’s aisles finding everything on the list. Dierberg’s has the best music, I’m just saying.
  9. Overnight, how did we all become hypochondriacs, agoraphobics, and Howard Hughes? Damn.
  10. Please do NOT gather in a church this Sunday. God will hear your off key version of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” during your online worship. Me? I’m going to rewatch Jesus Christ Superstar with John Legend. Hosanna, baby.
  11. According to the numbers and models, social distancing is working. Stay home, if you can. If you are an essential worker, stay safe. If you are venturing out to the stores or picking up food, follow the rules. Also, stop gathering in large groups. STOP. IT.
  12. I am trying to donate to a charity or order takeout or delivery from a local establishment at least once a week. What are you doing?
  13. Once again, it’s okay to feel sad. There are no rules for how to behave in a global pandemic. 
  14. I really really miss my lunches out with friends. 
  15. When I found out I wouldn’t be meeting my ESL students in person again this semester, I cried.
  16. If you will be missing graduations, proms, and end of the school year celebrations, I am truly sorry. My heart hurts for you.
  17. If you are having financial troubles, I am wrapping you all in my fierce warrior goddess energy. Stay strong, my loves.
  18. Spring is still on its way. No virus will stop spring.
  19. Listen to good music. Enjoy the quiet. Love one another.

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.

Pablo Neruda
‘my friend ann’

by ‘her friend christie’

I have been blessed over the years to have gathered tribes of wonderful women friends. A few are from early grade school years, some when we attended Woodrow Wilson Junior High, others from MacArthur High School, several from my Millikin University days, and the rest I have assembled along the way from work, book clubs, and various organizations. I am grateful for their strength and passion and prayers (“Yes, Annelle, I pray!”). These women have propped me up when I’ve been at my lowest and stood along with me as I have stumbled into battles. We show up for one another, even when it is at its most painful.

My friend Ann is one of these women. I always refer to her as ‘my friend Ann’ to avoid confusion with ‘my sister Ann.’ I first met ‘my friend Ann’ during the second semester of my senior year in college. When I cast her in the one-act play I was directing for one of my final projects, I was thrilled she accepted the part. A real actress was going to be in my little old play! I was just a lowly speech education major with minors in English and theater. What did I really know about the world of theater? But her kind words of advice stayed with me, along with Doc Hopper’s (college theater professor) and Mr. Rueter’s (high school drama teacher), as I attempted to direct messy middle school and high school productions from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. 

Years went by before I ran into Ann again. Our children went to the same magnet school and when we saw each other at a meeting, we both did that “I know you from somewhere” gesture. Her daughter and my youngest son became good friends during those years, but Ann and I were still just acquaintances, exchanging a few nods and words at show choir competitions and concerts.

Our friendship didn’t really begin until I joined a book club of intelligent, thoughtful, and hilarious women. Throughout the discussions, Ann and I discovered we had a lot of life journeys in common: divorce, the tough yet joyful single mom years, remarriage to our fabulous men, a deep love of literature, and our teaching careers. We began to meet for walks where we would talk about everything, from our families to the state of our nation and the world. Eventually, we brought our men together and the four of us connected over shared dinners. We serve appetizers, tell stories, toast with locked eyes, laugh about mistakes, and cry over heartaches. Couple friends like this are precious, and I am grateful every day we like and respect one another so much. A few years ago my husband and I moved two hours away, but the distance has not diminished our friendship. With each text, call, and visit, these stitches find us stronger in our affection .

Back in January, Ann came down for a visit. We ended up looking at mother-of-the-bride dresses at a few high-end stores. I was comfortably ensconced in the cozy chairs as Ann modeled dress after dress. My heart filled with gratitude for Ann sharing this moment with me. She may never truly know how much it meant to me to be able to giggle our way through the piles of designer dresses.

Ann has introduced me to opera. She challenges my mind. When she and her husband came to my father-in-law’s memorial service and as I heard her beautiful voice sing over the congregation, I cried tears of joy that she was there for us. Just last week she delivered soup and yogurt to my mother who is now, like the rest of us, homebound. I love her stories. I adore her passion. I admire her talents.

Happy Birthday, dearest friend. This quarantined birthday may not be the one you planned, but it will be remembered. You are my heart, my love, my touchstone. You, Rock, your Dick, and I will toast champagne together soon, ‘my friend Ann.” I love you for all you have given me and all we will share together on this fabulous journey called life.

“Friendship…is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” – C.S. Lewis

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” – Mark Twain

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” -Linda Grayson

singing the blues: in the sky, lord, in the sky

by Christie Shumate McElwee

Yesterday I had the blues, the kind that brought a thick fog of melancholy. I was overwhelmed. Even yoga couldn’t cut through the gloom. Was I alone in all of this? I wrote a short Facebook post about my blue mood, and many of my friends responded, stating they were struggling with the same feelings. We are all going through something strange and indescribable. Yesterday evening in another Facebook post, writer Glennon Doyle defined it as the aches:

“My ache is the the touch tree of my life. I spent most of my life running from the deep ache inside me – tumbling it, ignoring it, denying deflecting it – because I thought if I let it rise up it would kill me…I live in the ache these days. If you live there too just know: we are there together. The ache is the meeting place of the brave. It’s the touch tree of all humanity. When we’re there, we are not lost: we are found.”

The blues are the ache for what we are experiencing. The rising numbers of deaths. The dangerous ignorance and ineptitude of some of those ‘in charge.’ The lack of human touch. The virtual birthday parties and happy hours and business meetings. The quiet loneliness. The deserted streets. The empty restaurants. The malevolent fear festering beneath an ancient wound.

Blues and gospel singers knew about sadness and grief. Their songs spoke of heartache, reaching through the chords to help heal the brokenness. Even some traditional hymns sprang from loss. Music and poetry (song lyrics are the ultimate poetry) woven together create the perfect storm, stitching together our aches.

For the past three Saturday evenings, my husband and I have tuned into Circle Access’ Opry Livestream. The musicians play to an empty Opry with only a skeleton crew to film their performances. I’ve shed more than a bucket of tears listening to Marty Stuart’s mandolin, Vince Gill’s and Amy Grant’s harmonies, and the powerful trio of women (Terri Clark, Alaina Lauren, and Ashley McBryde) pay tribute to Joe Diffie with their interpretation of “John Deere Green.” There is a haunting silence after each song ends and the camera pans the empty Opry pews. 

This hour has been our church, the songs prayers, and the musicians preachers. The simple acoustic beauty of the songs flows through each artist. A few have even shed tears of their own. The actual Opry circle is a remnant from the original Ryman stage, installed in 1974 at the new venue across town. The circle of wood reminds all of those who passed before us, of their talents and hearts and pain. 

Life is an unbroken circle. Believe in love. Believe in kindness. Believe in joy, even as our hearts, like a gospel choir, sing the blues.

“Will the circle be unbroken

By and by, lord, by and by

There’s a better home a-waiting

In the sky, lord, in the sky”

“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was written by Ada R. Habershon and Charles H. Gabriel in 1907. It has been covered by many artists, but the reworked version is attributed to A.P. Carter and the Carter Family. My favorite is the 1972 performance featuring Mother Maybelle Carter and the ensemble gathered by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
(photo: hymnary.org)

April: a festival of poetry-because the words will save us

by Christie Shumate McElwee

When I taught high school English, I loved April. Yes, April brings tulips and daffodils and dazzling purple trees, but it also gives us National Poetry Month. During April my lessons often revolved around reading and writing poetry. I especially loved poetry slam days when the students would read their original work, some of which were both hilarious and profound. Along with Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Frost, I also introduced them to Joy Harjo, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Adrienne Rich. Poetry does not need to be complicated or dissected to death. I just wanted students to dive into the words and really feel the beat of the language. Some rolled their eyes, but others fell face first into the festival of poetry.

During my retired life, I have sought out more poetry. I follow The Academy of American Poets on Facebook and through email. This organization posts a poem a day and other articles about various poets. Yesterday’s poem, Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night,” is a timely reminder of the preciousness of life. Brain Pickings, another site I follow, the curator Maria Popova writes about the impact of artists, including poets. It is where I’ve discovered Mary Oliver, Ross Gay, and Nikita Gill. Oliver’s gentle and introspective soul delivers simple comfort, especially during tough times. Gay expounds his “unabashed gratitude” through a garden of sweet and sad verses. Gill crushes the staid stereotypes in fairy tales and creates fierce new interpretations, inspiring children and adults to look beyond the ordinary and the expected.

There are so many poems I love, from e.e. cummings’ [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)] to Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is a thing with feathers.” I collect poems like others collect salt and pepper shakers or glass figurines. Over the next month I would like to share some with you and write about how the words can trip and strut and shimmy into your hearts. A few may challenge your convictions; others may steady your anxious mind.

The first poem is “An Old Story” by Mary Oliver. Like many of you, I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m worried about EVERYTHING. Even my dreams nag me with distress. One of the things I have decided to do every morning, along with writing a page or two in my journal, is to read a few poems. I found this one today. It is as though she was there with me as I woke from my troubled sleep.

“An Old Story” by Mary Oliver

Sleep comes its little while. Then I wake

in the valley of midnight or three a.m.

to the first fragrances of spring

which is coming, all by itself, no matter what.

My heart says, what you thought you have you do not have.

My body say, will this pounding ever stop?

My heart says: there, there, be a good student.

My body says: let me up and out, I want to fondle

those soft white flowers, open in the night.

I am going to listen to my heart and body today by taking a long, socially distant walk in nature.

What are you going to do? Whatever it is, I hope you remember to live and love and breathe.

“An Old Story” by Mary Oliver was first published in A Thousand Mornings by Penguin Press, 2012. This version is from Devotions by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press, 2017.