blessing everyone (part 2)

It was a big week in our household. My older son turned 17. He was a little bummed about it. “It’s the last birthday of my childhood.”

“Being an adult isn’t so bad,” I told him. “Honestly, the taxes and bill paying really aren’t a big deal.”

“I’m reading 1984,” he responded.


A year ago he and I did a little road trip up the California coast. There was stuff going on then as well (there is always stuff going on, especially when you’re a teenager), and being outside, just the two of us, did wonders for clearing our heads. So the evening before his birthday we went for a hike along the Potomac River. We found a gathering of frogs by the C&O canal and scrambled and stumbled and laughed and got nice and muddy. We talked about lots of things and then had burgers and onion rings in Friendship Heights and he asked me interesting questions about his childhood and I talked about some of the things I would have done differently.

Many, many, many years ago, when this very guy was a serious-faced toddler, he was diagnosed with “Infantile Anorexia,” which basically means he didn’t eat. I was really young and nervous and totally totally freaking out all the time. I’d mix enfamil into Hagen Daz so that he’d get calories, and chase him with it. Some days it worked, some days he ate nothing. It made me nuts. Six years later, when his brother was a toddler, his pediatrician told me: “It’s not about what he eats in one meal or in one day, it’s what he eats over a couple of days.” It was such a relief.

You don’t have to hit all the targets every single day.

Sometimes I spend the day rushing from one thing to another, other days I make time to laugh and get on the telephone and talk to my sister and read a book. Some days I snap at people I adore, other days I am kind even to the cubicle monsters obsessed with paper. Some evenings I stay up too late, watching stupid shows on Netflix (or worse: scrolling through Instagram or Facebook) other evenings I manage to go to yoga and be in bed by 9 pm. I never ever have a perfect day–the sort where I eat right and read three chapters and write something I feel good about and go to work and work out and have a rich, meaningful conversation with someone I love and am in bed early enough to rise, rested, before the sun is up. It’s just not possible.

I know you’ve been following my instructions from week before last intently and now you’ve got pages of notes. Or at least 42 sensory memories from the past week. Pick seven that represent things that made you feel like your best self, then write into those. Make them visceral, let us smell and taste them. Here’s Lucille Clifton:

a poem in seven parts
my knees recall the pockets
worn into the stone floor,
my hands, tracing against
the wall their original name, remember
the cold brush of brick, and the smell
of the brick powdery and wet
and the light finding its way in
through the high bars.
and also the sisters singing
at matins, their sweet music
the voice of the universe at peace
and the candles their light the light
at the beginning of creation
and the wonderful simplicity of prayer
smooth along the wooden beads
and certainly attended.
someone inside me remembers
that my knees must be hidden away
that my hair must be shorn
so that vanity will not test me
that my fingers are places of prayer
and are holy that my body is promised
to something more certain
than myself
born in the year of war
on the day of perpetual help.
come from the house
of stillness
through the soft gate
of a silent mother.
come to a betraying father.
come to a husband who would one day
rise and enter a holy house.
come to wrestle with you again,
passion, old disobedient friend,
through the secular days and nights
of another life.
trying to understand this life
who did i fail, who
did i cease to protect
that i should wake each morning
facing the cold north?
perhaps there is a cart
somewhere in history
of children crying “sister
save us” as she walks away.
the woman walks into my dreams
dragging her old habit.
i turn from her, shivering,
to begin another afternoon
of rescue, rescue.
horizontal one evening
on the cold stone,
my cross burning into
my breast, did i dream
through my veil
of his fingers digging
and is this the dream
again, him, collarless
over me, calling me back
to the stones of this world
and my own whispered
the habit is heavy.
you feel its weight
pulling around your ankles
for a hundred years.
the broken vows
hang against your breasts,
each bead a word
that beats you.
even now
to hear the words
lost or
is to be washed in sorrow.
and in this life
there is no retreat
no sanctuary
no whole abiding
gloria mundi
so knowing,
what is known?
that we carry our baggage
in our cupped hands
when we burst through
the waters of our mother.
that some are born
and some are brought
to the glory of this world.
that it is more difficult
than faith
to serve only one calling
one commitment
one devotion
in one life.

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