What Heals Us?

Most of us are searching for what can heal our brokenness. We hurt. We cry out in pain. We ache with sorrow and grief and doubt. So we ply ourselves with medication, hoping to stitch back together our wounds. We seek advice, believing the professionals have the answers. We sit in our chosen houses of worship, praying for guidance.

Often, though, it is others we see suffering. We want to help, to reach out, to relieve some of their burdens. We offer words. We wrap them in hugs. We send out prayers. We deliver cakes and pies and chicken soup. How do we heal those we love?

A few years ago I found a scrumptious children’s book called This Is a Poem that Heals Fish. I had given it to a sweet, special girl, but then decided I also required the healing powers of this fable.

The story begins with Arthur thinking his fish Leon is dying of boredom. His mother tells him to give him a poem, but Arthur doesn’t understand. Wanting to heal his fish, Arthur goes on a journey, asking friends and family, “What is a poem?”

Arthur first stops at Lolo’s bike shop. Lolo “laughs all the time, and is always in love.”

He visits a bakery where his friend Mrs. Round tells him,

Still confused, Arthur asks his neighbor Mahmoud.

Worried about Leon’s heart, Arthur rushes home. He questions his bird Aristophanes.

Arthur’s grandmother comes to the house with jars of jam and her dog. When asked about a poem, she thinks.

She then tells him to ask his grandfather.

Arthur is still worried about Leon.

Leon hears Arthur’s words. He speaks for the first time and tells Arthur, “Then I am a poet.”

Through his journey, Arthur had discovered that both he and Leon were poets. The words were inside them all along.

All my life words have helped heal me. When I was a young girl, I escaped to my books full of brave children and wondrous adventures. I wrote my own words, filling dozens of notebooks. Later I taught stories to adolescents, hoping to share the beauty beating within the pages. Even now I seek solace in authors, often pausing at a gorgeous phrase, wondering at its opulence.

Most of us want to help. We search for answers. We want to take away our pain and the pain of those we love. Can we all be healed by a poem? But what really is a poem? It is a heartbeat. It is love. It is the sky. It is words. It is silence. It is warm bread. Life is poetry, and it can heal us if we begin to hear our own verses and then carefully, patiently, and thoughtfully begin to share them with others.

This Is a Poem That Heals Fish, text by Jean-Pierre Simeon, illustrations by Olivier Tallec, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick, published 2005 Rue du Monde, translated version 2007 Enchanted Lion Books, bought on Amazon $16.95.

Language is Life: Drunk on Words

“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” 

W.H. Auden

Third grade brought big changes to my young life. Our family had moved across town the previous summer to a bigger house, leaving behind our friends and a school I knew. My baby brother was born that winter, adding another member to our growing family. So I began third grade at Dennis School with a new teacher, Mrs. Plambeck. My second grade teacher at Parsons Elementary was young and wore flowery dresses, but Mrs. Plambeck was a sensible, no-nonsense woman. Clad in comfortable shoes, cat-eyed glasses, and drab, shapeless dresses, she ran her classroom in a strict manner. No funny business. Everything was serious, even when we sang from the classroom songbooks. I don’t remember anyone ever acting out or even questioning her techniques. We were children of the sixties. We listened quietly and did what we were told.

Mrs. Plambeck required we memorize poems and then present to the class. It was terrifying. Here I was, this shy, new girl with little confidence, forced to recite poetry in front of the entire room. If we missed a word or forgot a stanza, Mrs. Plambeck would correct us, and often she requested we start the poem over. I have a vague memory of her sitting off to left with pursed lips as I stumbled through verses. Most of the lines were immediately forgotten the moment I hastily returned to my desk.

The only poem that stuck was “Nancy Hanks,” written by Rosemary Benet about the musings of Abraham Lincoln’s dead mother. It was short and fairly easy to memorize. Years later, I still remember most of the first stanza. Students in Illinois learn much about Abraham Lincoln. He is revered, and when I recited the poem to the class, I felt the sadness in his mother’s words. Lincoln was only nine when he lost his mother (my age in third grade), and his life was thrown into despair. His grieving father soon found another woman to wed, Sarah Bush Johnston, who took young Abe into her heart and continued his mother’s quest to educate the boy who would later become the 16th president. The poem, though, was his dead mother wondering about her boy. “Did he grow tall?” “Did he learn to read?” “Did he get on?” As I spoke the lines, I knew the answers to her questions, but I also felt her loss, her longing, her pain.

What I have come to appreciate is Mrs. Plambeck’s poetry lessons, even though the memorization and recitation was scary, gifted me understanding and respect for the tremendous potential words possess. These poems we learned conveyed sorrow and truth, pretty deep stuff for third-graders. Throughout my life, because of Mrs. Plambeck and other dedicated teachers, I am drawn to how language can make me feel. Even now when I read something powerful, I pause, catch my breath, and say a small prayer to the writer gods for giving me this moment, whether it is joyful, devastating, or melancholy. Language is life, and I am forever grateful to my third grade teacher for introducing me to all it offers.

Nancy Hanks

by Rosemary Benet (with husband, Stephen Vincent Benet) – 1933

If Nancy Hanks

Came back as a ghost,

Seeking news

Of what she loved most,

She’d ask first “Where’s my son?

What’s happened to Abe?

What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,

Left all alone

Except for Tom,

Who’s a rolling stone;

He was only nine

The year I died.

I remember still

How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along

In a little shack,

With hardly a shirt

To cover his back,

And a prairie wind

To blow him down,

Or pinching times

If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know

About my son?

Did he grow tall?

Did he have fun?

Did he learn to read?

Did he get to town?

Do you know his name?

Did he get on?”

 photo: findagrave.com
photo: findagrave.com

“Watch, now, how I start the day”

Why I Wake Up Early

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields 

and into the faces of tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable, the crotchety-

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light-

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

-Mary Oliver

Recently a group of friends and I were discussing morning routines. Most of us are now retired, and we lamented how we sometimes miss our morning work routines, how our coffee, newspaper, and the morning news gave our days purpose. 

My own morning routines have evolved over the years. The quiet of of my single days, the chaos of the demanding needs of babies, and the raucousness of life with boys dramatically changed when I retired four years ago. Suddenly I had no where to go, no bells to announce the start of my day. That first summer I dove deep into my writing, sitting at my desk almost every morning pounding out whatever random ideas floated through my head. I loved this new life. Producing almost three to four blog posts a week, I felt productive. I was a finally a writer. I continued this routine for over a year, inspiration sprouting like wild flowers from my crazy retired brain.

As the months went by, though, I began to slow down. Doubt, fear, and regret crept into my psyche. When my confidence withered, so did my morning writing routine. Then life threw us a few major bombs, including a new job for my husband, which required a move from our hometown to a city in a neighboring state. This restarted my writing, where I gathered inspiration from selling our stuff to downsizing to adjusting to this different life. 

Once we settled in, my writing suffered…again. We have been here almost two years, and I have never really found a good morning writing routine. I’ve moved my desk around to various corners of my office, tried to write in libraries or coffeehouses, and even moved the laptop to the porch on nice days. Nothing seemed to stick. Yet…I missed those mornings when I sat at my teal green desk, tapping the keyboard of my pink Mac. They gave my life design. 

And now I want that back, yet I realize I can’t recreate the past. Now is different than yesterday. Routines are meant to evolve, and now I see an opportunity to create something new. These mornings free from expectations and duty are a gift. My teal desk and pink laptop are calling me back, allowing me to set my own schedule, my own routine. I will embrace the mornings, and remember Mary Oliver’s words, “Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”

(Another thing I have missed are morning walks. Today I wandered among the remnants of spring. Joy.)

Rediscovering Drunk on Love

Drunk on Love in the Kitchen. My blog. The place that holds my words, my heart, my joys, my sorrows, my worries, my random thoughts.

When I first began to write, I did just that: I wrote. I wrote from the depths of my soul. I loved to sit down at my laptop every morning in my sunny office, pounding out words. Everything flowed back then. I had no fear. This is what I was meant to do after retirement. Averaging three to four blog posts a week, I also attended a writer’s workshop and wrote a few articles for a local magazine. I was a writer!

I soon realized, though, that some of my words hurt others. Never meaning angst, my fingers backed away from the keyboard. My ideas began to stagnate. How could I continue to seek joy from my writing if I was constantly worrying about stomping on loved ones’ hearts? Could it be possible to find myself again through my writing? Where would I even begin?

When I skim through posts from the last four years, I ache with longing of what it used to be. How easily the words came to me. My ego full blown. Now I’m timid, scared. Have I used up all my ideas? What’s left inside? The same drivel? I need to find something to bust through the doubt. I want to regain my fierceness, my drive, my fearlessness. 

April is National Poetry Month. Back when I was teaching sophomore English, April soared for me. I introduced all types of poems, had the students write their own pieces, and I even scraped together a few ragged pieces of my own. We shared our work at the end of the month at a Poetry Coffeehouse. I brought cookies, coffee, and juice, and once pulled together a poetry slam that was loud and raucous. I’m not sure if my students got anything from the month, but I enjoyed sharing my favorite poems with them, telling them that poetry is everywhere…in song lyrics, nature, rap music, and even in their daily existence. Poetry gives us life. It delivers meaning through meter and rhyme scheme and stanzas.

My writing is prose, not poetry. Oh, I’ve tried, yet I have no style, no talent, no sense of what it takes to create such beauty and angst. But I love to read poems. I subscribe to The Academy of American Poets on Facebook. They post poems every day, some classics like “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and others by new poets. Each gives me a dose of adrenaline; the words course through me. They help me attempt to understand and cope with my own struggles, these poet saints.

I have decided my April writing inspiration will be the world of poetry. I’ll find different poems that invigorate my soul. Words that present themselves with beauty, danger, dissonance, and tears. Today I’m just contemplating it. Later this week, I will compose. 

I will invite poetry back into my April and give it life. I’m grateful for the poets, the men and women who weave words into intricate tapestry. I am also hoping these poets will help me with my own writing, and allow me to rediscover what I have seemed to have lost.

I have also decided to change the title of my blog…slightly. It is now Drunk on Love with the tag line In the Kitchen (and Beyond). My writing has traveled far beyond my love of baking pies. I’m on a quest for love and joy and contentment and answers, damnit. I want to be drunk on love, yet the world keeps stepping on my feeble attempts. I’m learning, though, especially through my writing, to live in grace.

I hope you join me on this journey. (If you have a favorite poem, shoot me a message. I’d love to read it.

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

— Carl Sandburg

As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor – those great tools of thought – and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world.

— Naomi Shihab Nye

“Joy is not meant to be a crumb.”

My fibromyalgia has reared its ornery self, and I’m in the midst of a major flare-up. All of my nerves are at the surface, screaming “Arggggg!!!!!”

I have been off this week. It’s been rough, full of physical pain and losses. 

The world is in chaos. Nobody sane seems to be in charge.

Luke Perry died. Dylan McKay, gone. Damn. 

Alex Trebek revealed he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The “leader” of this country is still spreading Twitter lies and blaming everyone and everything else for the gigantic messes he has created. 

I’m tired of winter. I hate my coat, my mittens, and especially socks. I’m sick of socks. 

I’ve been on a constant verge of tears. Anything can set me off. This morning it happened at the coffee house when they were out of my favorite coffee.

My hair dryer stopped working.

And then…

I read Mary Oliver’s “Don’t Hesitate.”

I took a breath. 

Sudden and unexpected joy.

I am choosing to lean into it, fighting back against the sludge. The world is shitty, yes, but, damn, there is joy.

It was at the neighboring table at the coffeehouse where a group of women were discussing love and religion.

It’s in a warm bowl of oatmeal, dolloped with brown sugar and cream.

Joy is the knowledge spring is only fourteen days away.

It is funny, heartfelt texts from dear friends.

Joy is the smell of cherry pie baking in the oven. It’s flaky, gooey joy.

It’s acknowledging Dad’s birthday. Missing his jokes, yet knowing he lives in my boys.

It’s seeing my husband come through the door.

Joy is when my favorite Train song comes on the radio, and I automatically smile.

It’s snuggling up in my cozy blanket in the mornings with journal in my hand and kitty at my feet.

Joy is a fabulous glass of wine, a good book, the sun after weeks of dreariness, the feel of clothes straight out of the dryer, yoga, spotting a congregation of eagles on the river, and a perfect alfresco dinner at dusk.

Joy gives us snippets of hope. Even in the midst of misery, joy surrounds us. It’s everywhere. So take a moment.

Smell its wonder.

Taste its solace.

Feel its indulgence.

See its splendor.

Hear its merriment.

Don’t carelessly wipe it off the table.

“Joy is not meant to be a crumb.” ~Mary Oliver

No Advice Here

When I was a new mother I was often besieged with unsolicited advice. “You should breastfeed.” “You should bottle-feed.” “Let him cry.” “Don’t let him cry.” “You should be feeding him cereal by now.” “No solid foods until six months.” “Get him on a schedule.” “Let him decide his schedule.” “He should be sleeping in his own bed by now.” “He should be taking a nap.” “Get him potty-trained by two years old.” “Let him decide when he is ready to use the potty.” Most of this counsel came from other older mothers who truly felt their way of raising children was correct. I listened, nodded, and then went on to do what I felt was right for my boys. I may not have always followed the traditional route, and I’m sure I made colossal mistakes, but I can swear on a pile of child-rearing books that my children were well-fed and clothed and loved with every single neuron coursing throughout my body.

Young parents today are still bombarded with “should’s” and “should not’s” from well-meaning family and friends. Amazon has over 3,000 book suggestions on child rearing. The internet is awash with mommy bloggers who brag about their perfect children eating homemade vegan lunches or how they were able to potty train little Dakota at twelve months old. There are staged and filtered Instagram posts of Johnny sweetly helping Mommy in the garden, Martha stirring cookie dough in her designer dress, and three-week old Harry peacefully sleeping through the night. You may look at these and think, “What the heck? How come my house is a disaster? Every time I let the kids help in the kitchen, all hell breaks loose. My kid eats dirt… and likes it. The only food he will eat now is hot dogs, mac and cheese from the box, and strawberry GoGurt. Vegan? Sure, that would work. Shoot, I’m lucky if he naps for ten minutes in the car.”

I don’t know much about the latest parenting trends. When I Googled it, I found “grit-style parenting,” “the minimalist parent,” and “post-gender parenting.” Wow. Even I, who is twenty-something years out from raising babies, began to hyperventilate when I gazed over these terms. Some appear to be wise; others border on obnoxious. The only truly honest child-rearing advice that I can give you is this: go with your gut. If something feels right, go with it. If something feels wrong, walk away from it. Really really listen to your instinct, because it is usually right. And remember, your gut may be telling you something different from your friend’s or your sister’s or your co-worker’s gut. That is okay. Your gut is yours. Nurture it. Love it. Listen to it.

And…now that I have your attention, my young parent friends, I’d like to list a few other things that worked for me and my kids. I am not a parenting expert, just a mom who has been there. Here goes… 

  1. Read. Read. Read. Read out loud. Give them books to read themselves. Take them to the library and let them check out books. Ask for books for birthdays and holidays. Set aside reading time. Let your kids see you read. As my boys got older, they loved audio books. They would spend hours together playing with Legos as they listened to dramatic actors narrate their favorite stories.
  2. Sit down to dinner together. It may be simple, but meal time is sacred. Cherish and honor dinner. Even if you are rushing to activities, go into McDonald’s and sit down. Ask about their day. Talk to each other.
  3. Bedtime routines. After baths and pj’s, we would snuggle in their bedrooms, and I would sing songs and tell stories and then kiss them goodnight. They demanded this routine for years, and I still miss it.
  4. Make sure when you are taking pictures of your children that you are in some of the shots. Your children will appreciate it later, I promise. I love the photos I have of my mom with us. They are moments captured. You don’t have to be Instata perfect, just their mom. 
  5. Be consistent. Don’t threaten something and not follow through. Consistent parenting is your strongest tool.
  6. Let go of guilt. Your way is your way. It may not be everyone’s way, but it is yours. Claim it. Own it. Celebrate it. 
  7. Have fun with your kids. Remember time moves at warp speed. Today you are rocking your first born to sleep, and tomorrow he is living halfway across the country with a career of his own, a cute little dog, and a fabulous wife who adores him. See each moment and be grateful for every bit of chaos. Laugh at their bad jokes. Don’t worry about the mess. Sing loudly in the car. Dance in the living room. Hug them every chance you get.

That’s all I have, but if you think you need a little extra help with your two-year old, I did see this title on Amazon:

 This is not a book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I do love the title.
This is not a book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I do love the title.

Party on, Spring

Yesterday was one of those perfect “oh wow” spring days. After enduring months of frigid temperatures and wet, hazardous conditions, this morning presented me with a 80 degree clear blue sky gift.

I humbly accepted this present with a long walk around a nearby lake. I had only been to this park a few times, and ended up stumbling upon a set of cement stairs that seemed to rise to the sky. Well, of course, I had to climb them to see what was at the the top. They rose up the side of that hill, veering both left and right. When I finally made it to the top, breathing heavily I might add, I discovered a playground and what looked like a pavilion with picnic tables. I took a few cleansing breaths, snapped a photo of the view, and began my descent, which was much easier that the ascent. About halfway down I encountered a tiny garter snake making its way across the steps, one that had probably just rose up from its winter slumber. I said my hellos and continued my walk along the water. During the rest of the hike I saw a small turtle crossing the path, and spied a siege of white herons in one of the ponds ( Yes, I looked up what a group of herons is called: a siege. Don’t you love it?) I noticed a few insects buzzing around my head. Green buds were appearing on the trees and bushes. The wildest animals I saw yesterday, though, were humans. On this gorgeous spring morning I crossed paths with all types: serious bikers, casual dog walkers, chatty pairs of women, dedicated trainers, and gaggles of young mothers herding strollers and scooters. These humans, like the little snake, had ventured out of their own hibernation, blinking up at the bright sun while lacing up their athletic shoes. They took to the pavement with a sense of purpose. All appeared to be saying,” I will delight in the sparkle of this April morning.”

Coming upon this little snake on the steps reminded me of another spring story. When I was a young single mother, my boys and I lived in a duplex on a shady street. On one late April afternoon right as the trees were blooming in the yard, I went to unlock our back door. I glanced down at the patch of dirt next to the concerte steps, and at first I thought one of the boys may have been kicked a ball against the house, but then I noticed the ball was moving. On closer inspection, though, I realized it was a blob of gyrating snakes. I screamed, grabbed the boys as I pushed them in the house, and slammed the door. “What was that little piece of hell I just witnessed?” I asked myself. After a little research, I discovered that this is how garter snakes mate after they emerge from winter hibernation. Yes, they make new babies through snake orgies. You can look it up, but I warn you, the visuals will burn into the deep recesses of your brain. Even now I can see that mass of writhing snakes and shiver. Now, I know snakes, especially garter snakes are good for the environment, eating insects and all. I respect their place. That house and the next one I bought were havens for these little (and sometimes big!) reptiles. Some mornings before I reached for the paper, I would often find one sunbathing on the front porch. Other days I would hear a rustle as I weeded the garden, and know one or more were near. I came to accept their existence, but I never really got used to them.

I believe this is the message of spring. Spring reminds us to breathe in the joy, but watch our step. Spring may be rapturous in its abundance of pale pinks and deep purples, yet we’ve learned over the years to respect its cruel streak. Storms lie in wait. Destruction in the form of tornadoes or fierce storms often cross the dark horizon. Beneath the flowering dogwood may lurk a mass of garter snakes. But what we learn to do is breathe in the fragrance, see the beauty, and just step aside and let those snakes have their fun, or as Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’” Party on, you crazy garter snakes. Party on.

 This little guy was probably on his way to the party.
This little guy was probably on his way to the party.

Friends, Pie, and Facebook

On Easter I baked a new pie which hinted of lemony, salty deliciousness in every bite. The recipe came from a magazine that was sent to me by a dear friend and baked in a yellow pie plate given to me by another. This is a story of friends, pie, and the power of Facebook.

A few weeks ago I received a thin brown envelope in the mail. When I opened it I pulled out a magazine and a two-page handwritten letter from Sue, a college friend and sorority sister who now lives in North Carolina. When she saw this pie issue she immediately thought of me, went out to purchase another copy, and then took the time to write a note. I was touched by her kind words and the effort she put into this simple gift.

Last week we traveled down to Alabama to spend a few days along the coast and also see friends of ours. One rainy night we invited them over to our little cottage to share wine, pizza, and many stories. Evelyn gave me a beautiful yellow pie plate, knowing how much I love to bake. My heart was grateful for this sweet present and the thought she put into it.

The remarkable thing about these two women is we would not be friends today if was not for Facebook, this mighty, often invasive, yet connective social media platform. Through Facebook posts I have gotten to know both of them through photos of their vacations, children, and pets. They are both kind, intelligent, and compassionate women, and my life would be emptier without them.

I met Sue at college after I pledged a sorority. We took classes together, yet we each had our own circles of friends that often didn’t intersect. After graduation we both went our separate ways: me to various cities and teaching jobs, she to Kansas City to teach and then work at Hallmark. A few years back we reconnected through Facebook, and then introduced each other to our husbands, children, and menageries of cats and dogs. When I retired early because of a health diagnosis, she messaged me to say she also suffered from it. She has continued to give me sound advice on how to manage it, from diet to vitamins. We both adore Pat Conroy books, the lilting and weighty sound of his words and we both mourned his passing a few years ago. We are intrinsically connected through books, good writing, and mutual admiration for one another.

I went to junior high and high school with Evelyn, but we were not friends. She ran with a wilder (her words!) crowd, breaking rules and howling at the moon. She and I existed in different universes. I attempted to quietly walk within those restrictive rules, believing I was unnoticed and invisible. When she first requested to be my friend on Facebook, I had to search my mental rolodex to remember who she was, but it did not take long for us to become true friends. Our children were close in age, and we ended up having much in common, despite the miles between us. After the tragic loss of another high school/Facebook friend, we reached out to one another and haven’t let go. Now we meet once a year down on the coast of Alabama. We laugh and cry and hold onto to one another through joys and losses, various medical procedures and health scares, stories of our children, and the precarious state of this country.

I adore these two women and count them among my dearest friends, even though Sue now lives in North Carolina and Evelyn in Alabama. Facebook has made it possible to be virtual pen pals, sharing our lives and our hearts with every message and photo.

Facebook is in some deep disgusting shit these days. It has allowed outside entities to scrape our data without our permission. Mark Zuckerberg has a lot of explaining AND fixing to do in order for us to trust him again, if that is even possible. Many, including me, have felt exposed and vulnerable. I’ve tightened up my privacy settings and removed apps that automatically connect to Facebook. I contemplated severing my ties to this behemoth, yet, here’s the thing. I like being connected. I adore seeing pictures of friends’ kids and grandkids. I love the inspirational sites I follow that often give me ideas for other blog pieces. Following journalists such as Dan Rather and Connie Schultz continue to offer up sane words for this fractured nation of ours. Through Facebook, I am even able to share my own crazy rambling words through this blog. Over the past few years I’ve attempted to purge negativity and ignorance from my page, which is a difficult and ongoing task. I no longer comment or try to debate with those who have different views than mine. If I am terribly offended, I unfollow or unfriend, and I also understand if others have done the same to me. I choose to discover intelligent information and bask in remarkable joy through my feed. It is my prerogative. 

This is what I seek and often find in my social media platforms: hope. Hope in these far-flung friendships. Hope in the work of scholars, scientists, teenage activists, and poets. Hope in every photo of a new grandchild, sunset, and spring flower. And hope in pie. There is always hope in pie.

 Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith, owner of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Recipe courtesy of  Our State  Magazine.
Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith, owner of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Recipe courtesy of Our State Magazine.

My Three Prayers on This First Day of Spring

I do not consider myself religious in the traditional manner. I have attended various churches over the years, often searching for community and clarity, yet none of these institutions have presented me with any sense of peace. Public displays of faith often cause me to wriggle in my seat. Cognitive dissonance pokes at my messy brain. Every time I hear, “Let us pray,” the little stubborn girl in me with scraped knees and crooked bangs stomps her foot and cries, “Make me.” Just the term “organized religion” makes me question everything it represents. Faith, to me, is mysterious unanswered questions that cannot be contained in human-built cathedrals. It is private and personal and non-compulsory.

My quiet pleas in the dark, after the television goes off and the covers are drawn close, seem to give me the most hope. These silent prayers have evolved from begging for a boyfriend to pleading for more money to watching over my children and grandchildren. They are my confidential petitions, asking the universe to gently shower love over all whom I adore and even that which causes me to twitch and squirm. They also contain confessions of my brokenness and failures, requesting directions on how to navigate the sadness. They are exclusively mine and not open for public consumption. 

I recently reread Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She defines prayer as, “…talking to something or anything with with we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.)  Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history we are loved and chosen, and we do not have to get it together before we show up.” She then suggests three essential prayers we all have in our arsenal: Help, thanks, and wow. They are simple devotions, communicating honestly with whatever deity we feel we have a connection. 

Help. Help me pilot this journey with grace and kindness and truth. Thanks. Thanks for good coffee and true friends and warm, flaky pie. Wow. Show me the wonder of the universe, whether it is experiencing the grandeur of fog coming in over the Golden Gate Bridge or being there for a beloved cat as she takes her last breaths.

I acknowledge I am stumbling through this spiritual odyssey of mine. I find glory in great literature, faith through any song of James Taylor’s, and sacrament in dazzling sunsets. I’m angry at injustice. I do not tolerate blatant lies. I march when I can in the name of love. I make mistakes. I struggle to forgive others and myself. I question everything. I know I am a mess: a beautiful, crazy, complicated wreck, yet I still throw back the covers every morning, put my feet on the cold floor, and figure out how to live this day in love.

I ask for help. I offer thanks. I bask in wow.

“Love falls to the earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun also rises.” ~Anne Lamott


The Constant of Pi

Pi Day, according to The Guardian, is “…an annual date of celebration in the mathematical community because March 14, or 3/14, using the US convention of dates, looks like 3.14, which is pi to two decimal points. Pi is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The value is always the same for any circle.

For someone like me, who has a severe math and science disability, there is something oddly comforting in the imagery of pi, even if I don’t totally understand it. Pi is constant. Pi’s value is constant. Pi defines a circle’s circumference, which has no edges. A circle is strong and difficult to break.

We humans tend to gravitate toward circles because they often represent calm, peace, and safety, while sharp, angular shapes can manifest anxiety and fear. Think of all the circles we have embraced throughout history: Stonehenge, King Arthur’s Round Table, labyrinths, fairy rings, prayer circles, wedding rings, sports stadiums, and mysterious crop circles. Even our DNA is a series of interlocked circles, those building blocks that tell us who we are and where we’ve come from. Circles represent infinity, a defense against all the chaos the world throws at us. When someone we love is hurting, we circle the wagons. When we link arms, we are stronger.

When I think of the circles in my own life, I am reminded of how we all are connected. Sometimes our circles intersect, uniting us through marriages, babies, friendships, and even divorces. Every time we enter or create a circle, we forge a connection, which then becomes part of our journeys. Our bonds are our stories, even if they are cracked or fractured. I will forever be connected to my ex-husband and his family’s circle through our sons’ circles. We have a shared history, making our lives one big interwoven patchwork-like Venn diagram: deeply complicated and ultimately beautiful in its uniqueness.

On this particular Pi Day, I baked a lemon chess pie to bring to my book club circle, this group of women who gather every week to discuss love, spirituality, and the deep questions of life. I’d love to send pies to all my circles, warm them with layers of buttery crusts and rich fillings, to remind them of our connections and how they are a constant in my sojourn through this life.

“Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite.” – Anais Nin