"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sky Gifts

A raw early November day, my birthday. I enjoy the day as much as I've enjoyed anything in the last year. Which means I'm as fully present as possible around the grieving that's taken up residence in my body since last December. As we walked toward the restaurant on the Tacoma waterfront, where I anticipated a wonderful evening with family, the sky caught my eye. I gasped gratitude, both at the incredible beauty, and for the flare of joy the view ignited.

It was as though I hadn't seen the sky in months. And it's not that I didn't look. I love the sky in ways I love little else in my life. It's where I meet God, find answers, see birds. It's what lifts my heart and stirs my spirit. It is both constantly changing and constant. Even when I can't see it, which is often in the Pacific Northwest, I know it's there waiting for me.

Sky has been there every single day for the last year, yet it has seemed beyond reach in some way. Muted, veiled, distant.

When it spoke to me on my birthday I accepted it as one more gift of the day, and then forgot about it. Although the picture I took stayed with me, pushing itself into my consciousness at odd and random moments.

Then a couple of weeks later I was up at my regular predawn hour, doing my usual morning tasks, when a faint glow caught my eye. I looked east to see the palest infant pink behind the half-century-old douglas fir sentinels that surround our place. It's a common sight for me, one I almost take for granted. One I've seen and turned away from without praying gratitude for the last year. On this day, however, that tender light found its way through a crack of my broken heart, and something new stirred.

Since then the sky has showered me with gifts, as though to strengthen our renewed connection: A full lunar eclipse viewed alone in holy stillness. A young bald eagle flying directly overhead. My owl perched on the flagpole for the first time in months. Bright blinding sunshine filling an afternoon with gold. A whiskey-throated raven flying up the river, then back again, offering some message I can't quite grasp, but don't seem to mind missing.

On this first anniversary of her death I am able to imagine my daughter held in the arms of the sky, freed from gravity in all its forms. I long to grow wings and search for her among the stars, to bring her home. Yet I accept Sky's timing and the grace of its wisdom. I look upward to stars made brighter through my tears, and breathe gratitude.

It's been weeks since I've been around to visit my virtual friends, and I want you to know I miss you. Walt is recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. Work has been insane. Christmas is at our house this year. I'll be back to a routine after the holidays, both as a blog friend and as a blogger. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your lovely wishes, your prayers and your understanding. It helps more than I can say. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I sat at my desk, hoping to get two hours of work done in an hour of planning time. The room was blessedly still and I was in a groove correcting, planning, organizing. I barely heard the faint knocking, but looked up to see a pair of eyes focused intently on me through the thin rectangular window of my back door.

For a brief second I considered ignoring the face and the knocking, but experience told me that seldom works. So I waved a welcome to two very small children. First graders as it turned out, bearing cupcakes. The leader, a spunky red-head who told me her name was Cheyenne, extended the plastic grocery store cupcake holder in my direction.

"Do you want a cupcake?" she asked.

"Is it your birthday?" I replied. I've had this conversation a hundred times or more in my teaching career. I know my lines well by now.

"No. It's his," Cheyenne said, pointing to the solemn pale boy standing eyes-down behind her.

"Happy Birthday! What's your name?"

"His name is Igor." Clearly Cheyenne had her own script.

Igor looked up at the sound of his name, but didn't seem concerned that he wasn't being allowed to talk. He stood quietly as I selected a cupcake as pale as he was, except for the lime green sprinkles. His expression didn't change even the slightest as I lavished birthday happiness on him. Cheyenne was also not interested in my chitchat. She was on a mission.

They were in my room for kindergarten last year and wanted to know (Cheyenne did anyway) where their former teacher was. She would be the next recipient of a birthday cupcake. It dawned on me that my cupcake was a toll willingly paid for directions.

By then I was so intrigued by the six-year-old woman in charge, I didn't mind losing the desperately needed work time. I enjoyed her confidence as much as I wondered how much Igor understood what was going on. I stood and walked the two to the other door in my room, and pointed them in the right direction with clear instructions. As I turned back to my desk I heard her say to him, "I told you her nice!"

I spent the rest of that planning time pondering this weird elementary school birthday tradition. Kids bring cupcakes (store-bought—homemade is not allowed) to school to share with classmates for their birthdays. The birthday child and one chosen friend scoot around the school at some point with whatever is left over to share with teachers. It doesn't seem to matter whether they actually know the teacher or not.

Although I never eat the cupcakes, I never refuse them either. I've always loved birthdays particularly, and there's something about being even a small part of celebrating the lives of these incredible, still-forming beings that eases my heart. For the moments of our exchange when they get to see an adult happy for their existence and when I get to see potential in all its brightest glory, nothing else matters. And for the rest of the day as I work around the sticky cake with lardy frosting decorated in colors never found in nature I hold that child in all the light I can bring to bear.

Occasionally the cupcake ritual will give me two kids instead of one to celebrate.

Photo from blogs.dallasobserver.com