"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, January 29, 2012


The checker was young, friendly, fresh-faced. She came to help me after I'd already unloaded my groceries onto the belt, apologizing for making me wait. While she scanned my spinach and oranges and baby food (old cats, I always point out), I studied her. 

The ring on her left hand ring finger caught my eye. Not for its size or beauty, but for the lack of both. A promise ring. Band so thin I couldn't tell whether it was silver or gold. Stone so small only the slightest widening at the center of the band indicated its presence. 

She seemed old to be wearing such a ring. A ring a high school boy might give his girlfriend - a promise based on meager resources and a heart not yet fully developed. I wondered. Considered asking about the ring. Wanted the story. 

Before I could ask, as she explained her delay waiting on me, she shared she'd been at another checkstand where the scanner wasn't flush with the counter. "Every time I'd scan an item, I worried I'd catch  my hand and maybe even lose my diamond," she said. 

Lose my diamond. That ring was clearly so much more than a sliver of a promise. It was a diamond, and all the permanence it symbolizes. Her pride was a glittering, glorious thing - reflecting a light only love-filled eyes could find in such a tiny chip of carbon. 

Such a small thing to bring so much joy. 

Yesterday when I was walking Toby, I came around the bend where God seems to be waiting for me on a regular basis these days. The inner tube of last week. Three eagles in the snag across the river the week before. One lone beauty posing in the sunlight on another day. 

On this day it was a young bald eagle, last summer's fledgling I'm guessing, flying directly toward me, maybe twenty feet above the river. Then, just in case I might have dismissed the gift, he swooped a gentle turn right in front of me and headed back the way he came. He might even have looked at me.

It was enough, that almost look and the perfect u-turn, to make me stop and offer a prayer of gratitude. A bit grudging, reluctant, resistant, still; but at least recognition and thanks. 

I've chafed myself raw against the little chips of grace and glory that have been God's presence in the last few months, wanting something that dazzles. Something significant enough for me to know without doubt I'm not as lost as I feel. 

On Friday my brother Mark directed me to the family Shutterfly site. Told me there was a video I needed to check out. There was a problem with the loading, so I didn't get to watch it until this morning. I anticipated it would be in some way connected to Angelwings Antiques, and I was right. What I didn't anticipate was that it was a gift of love created just for me:

A ten minute collage of the history of the antique business that is Mark's dream, but that we've built together in the last fourteen months. The accompanying music started with these Coldplay lyrics:
Look at the stars.
Look how they shine for you
In everything you do.
They were all yellow.

And ended with these:
Nobody said it was easy.
No one ever said it would be so hard.

Such a small thing to bring so much joy.

A bunch of pictures. Some beautiful Coldplay music. A thin band with a tiny chip of light to some. To me on this day, a miracle of love and generosity and understanding. I am seen and understood. I am dazzled, and for this moment at least, feel led by the warmest of yellow lights possible. Not quite found perhaps, but most definitely not abandoned either.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter River

Coming around the corner of the trail, the place where I often see eagles in the snag on the other side, I looked up. The river roared past, surging over banks and swamping the trail just ahead. No eagles on this day, but the power of the sweeping flood made me stop in awe. Movement upstream caught my eye. Before the object fully registered, my brain assumed log. It took a second or two for the inner tube to come into focus.

Orca black, bulging at one end, racing merrily along the surface of winter-swollen waters. A summer memory refusing to submit. I could almost hear a yee-haw, almost see a child's glee-filled face and scabby knees, almost feel hot rubber against sun-stung thighs.

I tend to forget from year to year how challenging January and February are for me. No holidays to distract. Cold gray wet days that even increasing minutes of light don't ameliorate. All the sunshine memories I managed to store away during summer months grown dusty and lifeless, too far in the past to warm anything.

To make matters worse, I didn't get nearly enough internal bits of summer squirreled away this year. As though this were a famine and drought year. For me, in many ways, it was.  And now I'm tired in whole new definitions of the word. I can't get warm no matter what I do. My spirit feels hypothermic.

Eagles visit often. Earlier this week, one flew by the restaurant window where we ate breakfast. Catkins hang in abundance from delicate hazel fingers. Robin chirps slice through frosted air. Small offerings of hope, promises of change, that I want to embrace. And can't quite.

Snow dresses naked trees in beautiful furs, chases gray to the edges of awareness, turns air into healing medicine. I see it, get it, but feel only restriction which I resist, and the brittle cold which I resent.

But there's something about that inner tube. Steady in the frantic frigid current. Barreling along not caring a whit what season the river is, because it is summer. I can, even days later, imagine myself riding it beyond the limits of the river, right out of winter and back into sunshine and freedom. I hold on, to the fat circle and to the hope of the softer, slower, warmer river of summer it came from and rushes back toward.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A New Year's Gift

As I stood on the patio getting ready to take Toby for his first walk of the new year, the branches of the large fir in the back yard began waving a wild invitation. The deodar cedar next to the fir picked up the motion and passed it along to the pine at the corner of the yard. By the time we were walking toward the road, the branches of every tree within sight danced a tarantella, and the air was so full of invisible movement I felt pulled, pushed and lifted all at the same time.

The gusts ebbed and flowed like an airborne tide. Each new flurry washed over me in cleansing waves.

Christmas was one of the best ever. Seated in my living room surrounded by abundance in the form of heart-felt gifts, the company of family, and so much love, I experienced a complete sense of enough. Not the enough of sufficient but wishing for more. Or the enough that is so much more than enough the fear of losing it makes you miss the moment. This enough was warm, clear and easy.

It was also tinged with sadness. A sadness that curled around my heart like tule fog, yet did not diminish the joy of the day. My awareness of that, my acceptance of and surrender to that, is the biggest gift last year brought to my life. Sadness and joy, two sides of the same quilt.

While we opened gifts and laughed and cried together, my brothers and SIL and husband and I, Cooper lay at my feet clearly in her last days. At almost twenty this magnificent cat had been stalking birds just three weeks prior. Her decline, while not unexpected, occurred with a speed that was both merciful and terrible. With our help, she died on Tuesday.

Moments after I felt Cooper's heart stop under my hand, the vet, as she used her stethoscope to make sure, said the most amazing thing when I asked why she was checking. "The heart operates separately from the brain. It can even work outside the body."

While she was speaking physiologically, I heard the obvious metaphor. The heart will have its way no matter what. We love, even knowing there is no way to love deeply without pain. There is no love without loss. And the more the heart feels one, the more it will feel the other.

Walking in the wild wind with my spirited dog, I blessed the memories of those I enter this new year without: my daughter, a nephew, my mom, one beautiful cat. I celebrated my heart and its steadfast refusal to choose anything less than love. I breathed in new air, breathed out old pain, and moved forward with eyes and heart wide open.