in the company of bees

First, this …

My father used to say you could tell when summer was ending because the bees were out looking for new homes.

Then, this …

A friend texted this morning to remind me:  Today is the final day of summer. Enjoy it.

And so, this …

I take my work outside and flop onto a blanket under the trees. I wish my dad was sitting beside me. I wish my friend was sitting beside me.

Instead, I find myself in the company of bees.

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We are never truly alone, are we? I lie here in the grass, sun warming the soles of my feet, because someone who cares about me turned my gaze to the gentle passage of another season. I lie here in the grass, a handful of leisurely bees hovering about (and I, hoping they find what they’re looking for) because someone who cares about me taught me how to be in the world.

They are both with me now. My father. My friend. More so because I have scribbled their names into my notebook. I close my eyes and my blanket overflows with beautiful company.

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This morning I took a walk with my dog. Her paw is infected, I’m nursing a shin splint. We explored slowly, gingerly.

The neighborhood was wrapped in fog … a parcel bundled in damp gray paper. I half expected to stumble upon a white loop of string binding us all together. Yet each time I glanced at my dog, fur graying, limping slightly, she appeared as if inside a bubble of clarity — no fog pressing upon her at all.

She stops for every smell — this dog who knows her purpose — every taste, every texture. She turns to look at me, check up on me, smell me, as if to say, “Are you still here? Are you still yourself? Are we still on this journey together?”

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This is what we do for those we love.

We walk with them. We share their stories and their sunsets and we hold their hands on the last day of summer. We love their gray hair and worn away hairs,  their slightly battered bodies, their lines and their scars.

We close our eyes and hope they are capable of knowing us this much in return —  that this unconditionality will somehow continue to make us real.

It’s been almost a year since I had to say goodbye to my father. I haven’t seen my friend in more than two decades. My dog is graying, yet I have not yet begun to gray. Sometimes I swear she notices this injustice, notices this inconsistent aging process between human and canine and it bothers her as much as it bothers me.

And so it goes.

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At my dad’s funeral, one of his friends told me: “How you feel about your dad  — the way you looked up to him, the man you knew he was — that’s how your own child feels about you.”

I replied, simply, “I find that hard to believe.”

I am not my father. I am not that resilient, that indomitable. In some ways, however, his friend was right (of course).

And so I am left to wonder. Will my own child remember, long after she is grown and living on her own terms, to sink into a blanket in the grass with a journal and an afternoon stretched before her?

Will this girl, born on the vernal equinox, remember to pause and see, really see, the nuanced changing of a Dakota season?

Will she close her eyes and wonder, “Are you still with me?”

“Are we still on this journey together?”

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she calls me away

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She calls me away

from the table where I work

Come, sit

with me instead

It is far better here

with my sighing body

my thoughtful head

resting in your lap

 

 

*photo by Jane Walsh

When I am 100, I will play with my dog

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Walking the halls of a local elementary school this morning, I paused to take in the bulletin board outside a third grade classroom. The kids have recently celebrated the 100th day of school and, as part of the commemoration, spent time imagining what their lives might be like when they reach their 100th year.

Each mini-essay stapled to the board was accompanied by an age-accelerated photo of the writer. Some of those photos looked eerily like little old men and little old women were gazing back from the future, ready to impart the wisdom of a lifetime to their younger selves.

One student wrote: “When I am 100, I will live in a nursing home with my friends.”

Another: “When I am 100, I will walk with a cane and play checkers.”

“I will wear odd clothes all the time. Also I will be dead.”  (ah, pragmatic!) 

“I will play on my iPod all day long.” (read: I will do whatever the heck I want to do, thank-you-very-much.)

“I will look like a zombie and scare all the children.” (hmm …)

“When I am 100 I will think about my Mom and Dad. I will play with my dog.”

This last one got to me, I admit. Because this child writer is the sort of child writer I was, and maybe still am. She owns an early awareness that the longer she lives, the more loved ones she will outlive. That’s not an easy thought to tote around elementary school.

She knows she cannot change this fact, so she will honor her loved ones by remembering them. But then she adds this intriguing line about playing with her dog. Maybe she’s imagining adopting a dog in her nineties, but more likely she is imagining herself, in her advanced age, romping with the dog she lives with right now.

Because dogs never age. Dogs are eternal.

Pippin (our family dog, seen above) is starting to show some gray hair. I, as a human, have not yet started to gray, so my dog’s gray hair sometimes makes me supremely uncomfortable.

Perhaps the best kept secret about making your way in life as a writer or artist is that you get to spend an extravagant amount of time with your dog. And I, having long passed third grade, already know that everyone ages. Everyone. All of creation. Even dogs.

Imagine for a moment a grown woman standing in a hallway on a Monday morning trying to press back her tears and not doing a very good job of it.

Why?

Because she loves her dog.

Yeah. That’s pretty much how my day started. Don’t worry. I’m good with it.

The same writer, near the end of her reflection on aging wrote this: “I will tell everyone that I love them.”

This is too good not to share—a prescription for right living, in the present and deep into the cave of old age, all from the pen of a nine-year-old.

You’re welcome.

When I am 100, I will play with my dog. I will sit with my daughter and laugh until I must cease laughing in order to concentrate on catching a breath. I will stretch. I will read. Write. Listen to music. Sing. Dream. Cry. I will tell everyone I love them.

I will do all these when I am 100. I did all these impossible things today, and all before breakfast.

And you? What will you do when you are 100? What will you do today? 

 

 

magic. chocolate. earth.

magic chocolate earth

magic chocolate earth shoes (and paws)

I was exploring character development with a group of third graders recently. They sat cross-legged before me on the floor, notebooks spread on laps. They had already sketched characters into these notebooks. Superheroes. Strawberries. Superhero strawberries. Whatever their imagination had delivered. Now they were getting to know these creations. Getting to know a character can be a sticky endeavor.

What does your character love, I ask. What do they fear?

You mean, what am I afraid of?

I want to know what your character is afraid of.

Can it be the same thing I’m afraid of?

Yes. It often is.

I posed question after question. They pondered. They wrote. What kind of shoes does your character wear, I asked. You can tell a lot about a character by the shoes on their feet.

Blank stares.

Well, take a look at your teacher. What can you tell about her by the kind of shoes she is wearing today?

She’s fancy. She’s pretty! She’s super-stylish.

Exactly. Now what can you tell about Bodie by his shoes?

He’s super fast. He likes to run!

Okay. And what about my shoes? What can you tell about my “character” from my shoes?

One hand shoots into the air.

I can tell you’d rather be in bed right now. 

Um …

Because they are slippers. You wear slippers every day because you’d rather be in bed. 

And so we move on. The writers discover the details of their newborn characters, and I have a newborn thought to ponder: Do all the children believe I have been wearing bedroom slippers to school?

These are my favorite shoes. I went into the store, and the side of the box said “Magic: Chocolate/Earth.” I like magic (the kind that invites wonder). I like chocolate (any kind). I like earth (and Earth).

What’s not to buy?

So I bought the shoes. I wear them all the time. Four seasons. Inside. Outside. No one has ever said they look like slippers before. Maybe people are more polite than I have been led to believe.

Today I ate lunch with a friend who is starting her own business. She used to struggle into corporate attire every day. Today, she wore jeans, plaid sneakers, a brown t-shirt and a funky knit scarf with a skull motif. This afternoon she is painting the inside of her new retail space. Paint splatters her hands, her shirt, her shoes. Now she is free. Free to dress in a way that matches her identity. Free to be the character that she has always wanted to be.

I am a writer. I often write propped up by pillows in my bed, with my dog at my feet. This happens to be my most comfortable writing pose. Aside from the meetings, the residencies, the conferences—where I want to be more than anything else (as a writer) is curled up under a pile of blanket and dog. Writing.

So, all things being equal, yes, much of the time I would rather be in bed.

This is who I am. As a character. As a human being. I don’t want to squeeze myself into any other pair of shoes right now. I don’t intend to do that sort of disservice to my soul again.

I have two friends who have received bad news this week—the kind of news that drives you to revise your will and clean out your journal because you’ve been slapped with the unnerving reality that somebody else could be sorting through your belongings long before you are ready. These two aren’t done fighting their battles, by any means. But due to the nature of their journeys thus far, both understand that fighting doesn’t always mean getting what you want, at least not necessarily when you want it.

Which got me thinking. The last time I saw these friends, what were they wearing on their feet? Were they comfortable in their own shoes? I believe they were. They are. They are also those rare and blessed creatures who are equally comfortable with no shoes at all. They are comfortable just being—untethered from expectation, and clothed in gratitude and grace.

What are you wearing on your feet right now? Is this how you want to walk in the world? If not, may I humbly suggest that you try on something new?

If the slippers fit. Wear them.

 

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