On reaping what we sow.

I made the best dinner of all time today: smoked salmon chowder (see Epicurious for recipe; then double most of it, use chicken instead of veggie stock, and add fresh dill).  It was freakishly, awesomely delicious.  I’m not sure why, exactly, but the fact that the potatoes and garlic were harvested from our garden a week or two ago and the leeks and dill just tonight might have helped.  And let’s face it: the fact that the smoked salmon was from one of the monsters my nephews and brothers-in-law caught fishing on Lake Michigan in August wasn’t bad either.  I thought the meal would be a festival of the goodness of local eating — hence the name of the post — but it’s way more than that.

While we ate, we had music playing in the background: a mix of songs from my iPhone. One song was from my acapella group in college, and Ezra kept asking: Mama is that you?  So when one song featured a solo of mine, we turned it up and I told them yes, this is me.  The rest of the time you can’t hear me because I’m blending in with all those other beautiful voices, but I’m part of the music.  But they were so thrilled to hear me sing solo that we found the other track of mine: Cats in the Cradle.  I remember the day I earned this solo in group auditions, being near to tears myself and apparently bringing others to the same point.  It was just such a poignant song to me, as one in a long line of kids who didn’t get what they needed from their parents, and as someone who assumed that patterns perpetuate themselves.  But to hear my own nineteen-year-old voice singing those lines, remembering the anguish inside me, while looking at these gorgeous, robust, whole children of mine AND their beautiful, engaged papa…well, it brought me to tears again.

It’s a strange thing, when you spend a lifetime with a sense of unfairness, to discover that sometimes, even if only for a little while, there’s a reprieve.  Sometimes the universe rains down the kinds of goodness we had mostly decided was a myth.  And sometimes it rains down all kinds of goodness at once.  Tonight was one such night: a veritable flood of goodness.  The beneficence of family and the earth and water; the originality and specificity of these small boys; the good flavors and great good fortune of our food and time together.  The voices of dear friends from long ago making music that still moves us all to dance.  A friend of mine once said that the universe has lessons to teach us, and if we aren’t listening, it will keep beating us about the head and neck until we do.  This was more of a massage, really, a kind, persistent, and powerful reminder that it’s safe to relax, to trust in who and what we’ve chosen, to reap what we’ve tried to sow.  I can’t imagine a greater mercy.

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On dancing and seeds and grace

grape hyacinth budHere’s my afternoon: starting seeds with Ezra in the basement; coming upstairs to find Len and Chi home from the grocery store and provisioned with a tasty new beer (well, Len, anyway); dancing with both babies to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  Her song “Bonus 2,” which is essentially First Corinthians brought to extraordinary life, always reaches out to me — but today, as I held my small fevered Ezra in my arms and danced, it was transcendent.  To sing those ancient words of love to my son, through Lauryn’s music, to feel the rhythm move through the bones of this old white Colonial, well, I was shaken.  I was lifted up.

I don’t often write about spirituality, or at least not as such.  It’s partly because I feel those are kind of private issues, and also because I’m uncomfortable with the ways articulations of our own faith can end up looking or feeling like advocacy or pushiness to others.  I confess, I’m also tired of the self-congratulatory tone of lots of the writing out there on religion.  And also, let’s face it: I’m a seeker who was raised Quaker (more in the secular humanist end of that spectrum) in a kind of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sort of way.  So I have no sense of authority, only a heart full of questions and gratitude.  I tend, then to use the language of mindfulness or grace, since the former is more of a practice and the latter more of an acceptance of what seems an obvious and widely accepted truth.  For me, there are lots of interchangeable words that describe what I have faith in: love, beauty, the sacred, harmony, nature, the universe, grace, providence, serendipity, the Way, the Light, truth, hope, and of course the many permutations of god.  It is clear to me that music is sacred, as are the gifts of all artists and growers and makers and seekers — all creatures, and especially those who offer up something of beauty, who uncover or create or otherwise act with generosity in this sad and broken world.

I’ve been trying to read Margaret Wheatley’s So Far From Home, though it’s hard, because its premise is that we cannot change the world; we can only accept our powerlessness and do our best to live whole and beautiful lives by doing the right work because it is work that needs to be done.  That living, that standing in contrast to the crazy and the broken, is itself transformative.  I buy this, mostly, because it seems smart and truer than anything else I know, but I’m not wise enough or whole enough to live within it.  I’m trying.   Most days, I’m still seeking, perhaps too anxiously, for that “right work,” unable to accept that where I am is enough.  But on a day like today, that truth rings out: of course it’s enough.  Perhaps not forever, but I don’t live in forever.  I live right here, right now, right in the middle of all this beauty, surrounded on all sides by grace.