Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peace and Wild Things

Today is Beethoven's birthday.
That man was never really at peace. He loved macaroni and cheese. Despite deafness and despising the philistine masses, he wrote heartbreakingly beautiful music. I cannot imagine life without him.


Here is something that has probably been said since caveman days: We live in an age of anxiety.
I wonder sometimes how any of us get out of bed and leave our homes and send our kids into the big cruel world. How do we meet strangers in the street or the emergency room, strangers who might be angry or suffering, and make ourselves vulnerable just to ease their needs?

Seriously, I wonder. But then what is the alternative? It is like when old people laying there in their hospital gowns with some age-related ailment look at me and say "don't ever get old!" Which feels sort of like a curse some Disney movie witch might make on you and the only way to break it is to find some handsome, vacuous prince who looks like he never worked a day in his life, to kiss you. Because you actually would like to get old, thank you very much! "I hate getting old" they say. I, not unsympathetically, usually answer, "well, consider the alternative."

I have no words for the recent tragedies in my community and in our nation, not to mention the whole damn world. I am not sure if more bad things are happening or if our constant and ready exposure to all things internet just makes it seem that way. Our runners. Our beautiful family. Our children in Connecticut. Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt. Downtown Eureka. The DOA in my ER, all of 20 years old. The newly diagnosed cancers in mothers of children. The bad decisions teenagers make. The political divisiveness of a country that often acts like a teenager. This country I love, to be clear.

I can cope, because of Beethoven. Also, running in places that are so lovely I can hardly contain my joy, despite achy hamstrings and elusive speed. I can cope, because of my perfectly real and delicious children, family, friends. In our world, our anxious world, lies the Balm of Gilead.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with the forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


True dialogue:
Me: "Husband, will you get me 2 bay leaves?"
Husband proceeds outside to Bay Leaf Tree.
Youngest daughter: "Oh. I thought you just asked Dad to get you 2 babies!"
Me: "Yep. From the Baby Tree."

Something came to me when standing outside at 4:40am in North Carolina last week.  Actually more than one thing. First, the moon casts shadows. Second, fireflies are still up and about in 28 degrees in December. Third, that sound could very well be a bear. Fourth, you think you understand what you are seeing, but it strikes you as so far out of expected visions that you doubt the very fact that you are even awake.

Moon, Planet and Trees, Asheville, December 2012

Today when I started running, I once again felt like I was weighed down with lead. I was listening to a podcast and it was not raining. My Garmin was taunting me and I was both pissed off and content. Pissed off at how easy it was in the not so distant past to run a sub 7 minute mile while training. Content because I was, after all, running.

Somewhere around 0.85 miles I kicked it up a notch. Still not exactly flying but I came up behind a guy at least 15 years my minor and he was nonplussed by this old lady passing him. Just me, Ira Glass and a week's vacation under my proverbial belt. "Whoa. You're fast." said young guy. "Oh! You too." said I. See ya', sucker.

Perception is just that. He perceived me as fast but put my kid and her Cross Country team next to me and I would look kind of adorably middle aged. And have you ever seen a whole forest of trees cast moon shadows? With fireflies? In December?

While walking in the Congaree National Forest last week, leaves rained down in a percussive cacophony accented with what were either tree frogs or crickets or both and I just could not close my mouth for the very surprise of it all. Thankfully autumn in South Carolina does not produce large quantities of mosquitoes and other such things that may find my gaping mouth a fine place to seek shelter.

Six other things I perceived this week:
1) Good friends are NOT to be sneezed at. Especially those that have known you since age 5 or age 19 or have seen you cry when a patient dies or have driven with you through the night with a car-full of teenagers or who know that your Dad was very funny or who understand you are broken but seem to love you just the same.
2) Professional success is in the eyes of the beholder and might involve a lot of accolades, but a job is nice to have and mainly because it feeds you and your family.
3) Not everyone in North and South Carolina is a member of the Tea Party.
4) Shrimp and Grits. For real?
5) It is about time to get a Christmas tree.
6) It is time and time past to scale back at work. Also, I signed up for the San Francisco Marathon. Mary made me do it. See that part about "good friends" above.

My Dad told me on his death bed (no, really. true): "Make the world a better place than how you found it."

Still working on that one, but I would say it is a pretty nice place already.

Leaf Shower, Congaree, Dec 2012