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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

So many sweet successes, each alone more than enough.

Today, a group of emerging higher ed superstars wrapped up our yearlong Leadership Legacy program. Before the university president’s speech, before certificates and applause and cake, participants shared the ideas for change we’d launched into existence. It thrilled me to describe an alumni mentor initiative that’s now charging forward, with current PhD students paired with graduates. This program aims to retain and support the success of underrepresented students (first-generation and students of color) by offering a connection with graduates from similar backgrounds.

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Eero Saarinen list

Eero Saarinen’s list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954.

Every day I wake up to a checklist panting in my face. Every day for my entire adult life. I never considered questioning it. Bottomless need? Multiplying demands? Expect only this, nothing less, certainly nothing different. Tasks on the to-do list comprise a responsible life.

Wake up and get to work, Smirk.

Oi vey, what a wretched way to start each day.

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steampunk eye

Less than 24 hours ago, Jasmine was checking my vitals and Jolly upping the saline. Sexy Surgeon had autographed my left knee in purple marker. An unscheduled emergency bumped my mundane procedure to the bottom of the queue, so I was the last patient of the day. A little after 5:00pm, the two nurses heard the buzz, flipped up the side rails, and wheeled my gurney toward operating room. On the way, Jolly grabbed two warm blankets and apologized as she unfolded them over me. “The room is a little chilly.”

“You should use a word other than ‘chilly,'” I slur, “when someone has been fasting for 18 hours.” Jasmine grinned and kicked open the door.

Less than 24 hours ago, drifting in a fog of anesthesia, I offered up my torn meniscus to the doc and his team.

Less than 15 minutes ago, I walked the dog around the neighborhood.

It was a slow walk, sure, and a low dose of Percocet smoothed the way.  Yet there I hobbled, pooch patiently ambling at my side.  Just a blink earlier, I was lounging in pre-op, rehashing family lore with my mom. They had yet to jab my joint open debride the meniscus with a pair of miniature tools that clearly need more oblique names than “the biter” and “the shaver.”

Medicine is magical and magical is art

This is a terrifying time to be alive. It’s hard to ignore disasters both present and imminent, and impossible to quiet the urgency for action in so many corners of the world.  Innovation births drone warfare and the venom of dictators screaming instantly into our pockets. We celebrate each new decade by inventing a thousand novel ways to die.

Also, this is a time of marvels. Someone found their way through the call of hunger and greed. Someone tinkered and played and eventually conjured up arthroscopy. Now we head home from the operating theater with absolute faith in the next dance.

The way we look to us all

Even knowing the work ahead, even wide awake to the call to clean up these messes and respond to the surging need of our neighbors on this planet, I’m grateful.

These are the days of miracle and wonder

It’s a blessing to be alive on this bit of rock in this moment in the story.

The dog is pretty happy about it too.


Lyrics: Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble

Image: Roleplayers Guild: The Relics

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Spring-Rain

In Jewish tradition, a person should recite 100 berakhot every day.  That’s 100 blessings.

So you are or are not Jewish.  Or you are.  And you think maybe a blessing is something like prayer.  Or gratitude.  Maybe it’s different too.  Maybe it’s noticing the azalea bush at the foot of the stairs and the way its blossoms began as thin green threads and now, after their full explosion, rest like a grandmother’s hands against damp leaves.

Maybe it’s also praising the rain.

A blessing is all these things.  It is also more.  You discover this prism of a definition somewhere deep inside the recitation.  You also stumble out on its leading edge, that one you can only reach by covering ground that you hadn’t considered taking before.

Start with 1 (the public library).  Then 2 (the co-worker who always cracks a joke). Lurch and resist your way to 10 (the grandparents, long dead, whose welcome and affection was so complete, you took it completely for granted).

Catch your breath.

When you get to 25 (the neighbors who stop to say hello even when your head’s down and you’re radiating leave me alone and they choose friendliness anyway) you realize you’re one fourth of the way there.  You’ve hit your stride.  This pace is a marvel.  You thought when you started that that there’s no way, not enough good things, and never enough time to get them all in.

By 26, you begin to lift your gaze up and out of yourself (the teachers and the volunteer parents too).  From there to 50, your radius spools out across the community (the folks who volunteer on weekends to rip the invasive shrubs from the park).  By 51 (the friend raising funds for RAIN for Sahel & Sahara and the locals there who dig the wells), you’re spanning the globe.

Catch your breath.

Then cut the line and let it go.

Because you’ll look everywhere you’ve looked every day for years and see what you’ve never seen quite this way.

There will be 72 (Margot’s health)

And 75 (the field of buttercups behind Bob Evans)

And 80 (the way he let me cry and touched my face)

And 81 (all the women who’ve done it on their own and shown the rest of us we can)

And 92 (the web of bus and metro lines that WMATA workers map, maintain, and drive to get us where we need to go)

And 93 (the neighbor who sends a call out condo community listserv anytime there’s a lost dog in the neighborhood, and offers to lead up the search)

And 97 (a break in the clouds after days of rain).

Catch your breath.

Then toss it over the sky and let it sail its way

to 100 (the welcoming arms of this home).

You will see the multitudes, and marvel.  You will find yourself dancing in the living room and swiveling your hips right around the most stubborn ghosts.  You will turn towards your dear one and listen to what’s inside the words.  You will lift every blessing up into your throat and let it become the truth.  You will pause there before speaking, and when you do, it will be with a voice already lit with song.


 Image: “Spring Rain” by Julie Cady Ryan

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Kulturgeschichte / Essen / Belle Epoque

For more than one of the eleven around the table, the year left bruises. For more than one, tears choke the blessing. Words that begin as thanks are threaded with veins of dense and nameless matter.

Loss is a removal that adds weight.

Chuckles accompany each small confession. We are older now. Pleasure hits the tongue in the bitter spots too. Years distill gratitude to its sharpest potency.

We round the corner and my turn is seventh. I say that I most often describe myself as a single mother. I say this is inaccurate because a tribe holds my son and me. We are not doing this on our own, we never have been alone. I say that family is like a story. It ends up looking entirely different than what we expect and somehow ends up looking exactly as it should.


Image credit: Otto Günther, Am Tagelöhnertisch (1875)

 

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vampire intense
Karate class runs late and we stumble through the door 30 minutes before bedtime. Homework still needs attention, as do dinner and shower and lunches for tomorrow. It is into this briar patch of demands that Bug announces he’s changed his mind.

“I do want to wear a costume to the Monster Bash.”

I look at him and try to gather myself. The Monster Bash at school is less than 22 hours away. At least 8 of those are for sleep and for 9 working. The rest are committed to schlepping kid, dog, and self to the various places we all need to be.

“Okay,” I pretend to brighten. “What’s it going to be?”

“Ninja?” he offers.

“All the Ninja stuff is at your dad’s.”

“I was a baseball guy last year.”

“Do you want to do that again?”

“No.”

We wolf down leftover pizza. He dawdles an extra 15 minutes in the shower. Because of the rush of the evening, he’s having trouble settling down. Leading him to sleep requires me to trudge almost the full length of Mirkwood forest in a plodding monotone — an injustice from which Tolkein should be exempt.

In the morning, Bug ties his shoes while I shove lunches in our backpacks.

“Vampire?” I suggest.

He shrugs. “Let me think about it.”

“Baby, we are two minutes from heading out. Think fast.”

“Okay, vampire. Or maybe school principal?”

I zip around the house shoving stuff in bags: eyeliner, hair gel, a silvery collared shirt hiding in a stack of hand-me-downs from friends who dress their kid far better than I do.

And this is where the gratitude flows like rivers. Our house may look like a train ran through it, but we are lucky beyond measure that the debris is so much craft and scrap — fuel that drives our creative engines. I buzz with a morning-sun confidence that we can come up with something, and this itself is cause for being grateful. We’ve been living our lives with found and improvised art for so long now that when a challenge appears, instead of “Can we?” it’s “How will we?”

This too: Walgreens is happy to take my $4 for a pack of face paint, even if I’m paying with a rumpled bill I’ve carried with me on my lunchtime run. How great is it that I work next to a neighborhood bike path that also runs right past a drug store and a supermarket?

And this: Bug’s grandma is willing to dig through her own closets to find the moth-eaten cape left over from my own childhood Halloween parties, and actually drops it off at my place. It will be waiting for me when I swing home to walk the pooch after work.

And finally this: Sometimes the metro is on time, an 8-car train shows up sporting plenty of empty seats, and the neighborhood kids — half of them already in their costumes for the party — shout hellos and race over to greet me when I step off the city bus.

I make it to Bug’s school 15 minutes before the Bash kickoff.

“Vampire?” I ask.

He nods. “Vampire.”

I whisk him into the bathroom. He sheds his playground sweats for night creature couture. We slick back his surfer-blonde tresses with water and gobs of gel. Then I peel open the white greasepaint and start in on his face.

“What about my eyes?”

“I’m getting there.”

“The lips? Why are you leaving the lips plain?”

“Hang on, Mr. Impatient! Let me finish.”

I open the black pencil and he rears back. “What’s that for?”

“Your eyes.” I start in again. He nudges me away.

“Vampires don’t have dark eyes.”

“Yes they do.” I try to sound confident. This is important, considering that looking at one costume label at Walgreens comprised the entirety of my design research. Did I mention that he only agreed to this idea five minutes earlier? “All vampires have dark eyes. I looked at a picture.” I step towards him. He folds his arms and leans away.

“What picture?”

“Fine.” I click open my phone and pull up the first images I find on Google. I count many blessings today. Free wifi in the school bathroom is among them, along with the sweet vindication of supportive evidence. “See?” I hand him the phone. “You gotta trust the mama.”

“Fine.” He turns towards the mirror and submits. I darken the shadows with crimson and smoke. He applies his own blood-red lips.

When he faces me, ice and heat run needles down my spine. He looks so brooding. So unreachable. So cool. I see why Bella had her thing for Edward (though the reverse attraction remains a mystery). When my son juts his chin at me now and glares at the intrusion of the camera, I understand that he is going to incite ever greater vexation — and wonder — as he grows into his sharp angles.

As he grows away from me.

The music starts thumping through the walls. “I’m going,” he says. He pushes open the door and strides out into the blacklit gym, his cape billowing behind him.

Of all the things I count as blessings, this may be the greatest of them: That from my backstage seat, I can witness glimpses of this human-becoming from all his sides, even the sides he is only just discovering for himself.
 

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. . . and they found a certain contentment, living more or less happily ever after, which is what “now” is while one’s in it.

From Robert Coover’s “The Frog Prince”

I lay flat on the stained carpet, felled by a muscle spasm with diamond-tipped talons. My boy, stung pink with sun, is sprawled across a twist of sheets and pillows. He has been complaining about a stomach ache. “I just don’t feel good,” he keeps repeating while he looks at me with a mix of longing and irritation.

Beside us, Noodle mopes in her crate. All the pacing and fussing and nosing  to spur one of us to action had the opposite effect, and now she sighs heavily and frequently while staring right at us.

A pillow props up my knees up and I grit my teeth against waves of pain as I read. We’ve just begun The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which we’ve inexplicably overlooked during the previous eight years of literary peregrination. Bug sips from a cup of seltzer water and kicks the blanket further down the bed.

Right in the middle of Edmund’s box of Turkish Delight, Bug turns and reaches across me. Scootching his hand under my shoulder, he inches me closer to his mattress. Then he leans in and plants a slow, soft kiss on my cheek. I see a smile ease loose across his face as he lets me go and flops back onto his bed.

“It’s all three of us right here,” he says. “Wouldn’t this be a perfect family portrait?”

I put my finger in the page, close the book against my chest, and look around.

My boy, the dog, a home, this night.

One story, one kiss.

Our perfect family.

 

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