Through A Glass Darkly


[The Bridgeport, Connecticut train station* through a dirty window]

Okay, I admit it: I only really clean house when company’s coming—and then I go crazy! (Although this Sunday, I did make peace with spiders. Or, rather, I found inner peace when I finally admitted that Spiders Will Always Win! NO Matter What!) So after the (temporary) cobweb removal and the dusting and vacuuming and scrubbing the floor but not yet exhausted, I gave my surroundings a critical, queenly inspection—and noticed late afternoon sunlight shining through a filthy front window. Quelle horreur! So grabbed the Windex and some paper towels and went onto my front porch to spritz.

Such greasy, black grime!  It reminded me of childhood  visits to my Bridgeport, CT grandmother and how within minutes of playing outside her house I’d look like I’d been rolling around in soot.

When I told my granddaughter about my filthy Bridgeport visits recently, she’d looked at me blankly. “Why was it so dirty outside?” “Because in those days, Bridgeport had big factories with big smokestacks that let out lots of pollution into the air.” Another blank look! (Maybe if I’d used the word “belched” instead of “let out” she would have gotten it. But maybe not.)

Sunday I gave some thought to the source of that grime and had to acknowledge—not for the first time but somehow freshly Real— that much of it comes from Somerville’s car-exhaust-filled air. I had to again acknowledge my home town’s obscene asthma and cancer rates (which, when all the other variables are accounted for, like smoking, can only be explained by Somerville’s proximity to Interstate 93 and its busy, congested streets.). And, yeah, even spent a moment or two contemplating the closed, rusting factories of Bridgeport and what happened to that community and its families when all those belching factories padlocked their gates. (It’s complicated, right?)

My Bridgeport grandmother, Lil, died from lung cancer. (She also smoked like Bridgeport factory.) Her great-great granddaughter, Lilian, is two. Anchored by these two, precious Lils, acknowledging the Bridgeport factory workers and their families and  the present-day Somerville families struggling with health issues related to air quality I ask, “What am I called to do?”

* My mother and father met in another/earlier Bridgeport, CT train station in 1941.





“Does anyone ever realize life?”


As I overhead a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident remark in July, at the height of her Canadian resort-town’s summer season: “Any day now we’ll all be talking about the polar vortex again!”


This glorious summer is coming to an end. Farmers’ market peaches are mealy and sad, now, for instance. Did I truly appreciate every peach I ate in July, in August? I wonder. And remember, as I always do when I ask this Did I Truly Appreciate XYZ question, that precious, poignant moment at the end of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town:

EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

I remember the first time I saw Our Town—sitting beside my mother at a small and shabby community theater in Lynchburg, Virginia. I was fifteen or sixteen. I remember, hearing the Stage Manager’s answer, promising to myself that night: “will! I will always live my life, ‘every minute,’ with intention, with gratitude, with focus.” (If I’d known the word “mindfulness” I would have added it to my mental list. But I hadn’t. Not at that age. And not in segregated, conservative, sleepy Lynchburg.)

But I haven’t.


Family Matters


A regional drama has been resolved: For most of the summer, two cousins, members of the Demoulas family, have wrestled over control of the Market Basket discount-supermarket chain their Greek immigrant grandparents created.

And the good cousin won! The cousin who knew his employees’ names. Who wanted more of the profits shared with his workers. Who believed that working at the local Market Basket could actually be a career path.

I have observed this job viability at the Market Basket down the street. I have seen neighborhood kids trade in their Bruins and Pats tee shirts for Market Basket’s crimson jackets and move up the food chain. So to speak.

Getting back to the drama: In the first few days, as the cousins and their lawyers wrangled and Market Basket employees staged huge rallies in support of Good Cousin throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine; doing The Right Thing as a shopper wasn’t all that obvious. Because this dispute wasn’t really a labor dispute. (Although the Teamsters and other unions might have decided not to support the status quo/Bad Cousin because, pretty soon, the stores’ shelves were pretty much empty.)

“Don’t support Corporate Greed” begged a hand-made sign hung on my Market Basket’s parking-lot fence. So we didn’t. And shoppers across the region did the same thing. And, I’d like to believe, Bad Cousin, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for his cousin, gave up.

That Good Cousin’s father, Telemachus Demoulas—named after the central character in Homer’s Odyssey, apparently—played fast and loose when he was in power and cheated his brother George, Bad Cousin’s dad, and all of George’s family and thus begat this Greek tragedy unto generations; what a great story!

And one everyone can relate to. Story does that. So I also choose to believe that’s why so many people supported Good Cousin. Because we know this family. They’re just like ours.


“By The Side of the Road”


The House by the Side of the Road
by Sam Walter Foss

“He was a friend to man, and lived
In a house by the side of the road.”
— Homer

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man. –

(Sam Foss, 1858—1911, was a well-known poet in his day and a beloved Somerville resident.)

Aside from an upcoming weekend in New Hampshire with friends, my summer travels are over. So I, like Mr. Foss, will happily spend the remaining, warm days on the side of the road—or, rather, on my front porch or back yard. Grateful that my injured daughter’s on the mend,  grateful for kind and loving friends, family and neighbors, grateful for peaches and summer squash and vine-ripened tomatoes, I shall be grateful for this time to be grateful.

Praise be.




The personal is the political.



[My oldest with her youngest]

Every bloomin,’ freakin’ day are you getting 10 to 15 frantic emails from the Democratic Party and their kin? Do the senders wring their hands about the dire state we’re in and what terrible things will happen if YOU don’t send them 5 bucks? Do some “We’re teetering on the Edge!!” emails also remind you of how many times they’ve already emailed you this past week and yet . . .  Do you struggle with this blitz of near-hysterical requests? Do you want to to do the right thing—yet wonder if money is really what’s needed? Do you suspect that your contribution’s simply adding to an already spiraling downward madness in this country?

Yeah. Me, too.

Here’s what I’m doing: If, indeed, raising money is truly the only way to save ourselves from That Other Party, my money’s going to Emily’s List. Because, it’s true, the personal is the political. And Emily’s List supports women candidates who will speak out on the issues that most affect me, my daughters and my grand-daughters; indeed, all women.

FYI, here’s a list that spells out–in part– what I’m  talkin’ about:

  • The right to vote.
  • The right to be protected against domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and rape under the law.
  • The right to receive an equal wage.
  • The right to be promoted, despite whether or not you have children, despite your gender, based solely upon your work performance.
  • The right to quality healthcare.
  • The right to have access to birth control.
  • The right to choose.
  • The right to have a career, a family, or both.
  • The right to marry, despite your sexual orientation.
  • The right to choose your path in life, and not have gender roles assign your path in life.
  • The right to quality daycare.
  • The right to be represented in our political and religious institutions.
  • The right to speak your mind, instead of being dismissed because you are a woman.
  • The right to have impossible beauty standards removed from your life.
  • The right to have a job in a traditional male-dominated field.
  • The right to financial independence.



[Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, summer of 2013*]

“Either your children are the centerpiece of your life or they’re not. And all the rest is commentary.” 

I’d copied that quote so many years ago I can’t quite remember which New Yorker writer, quoting his wife, wrote it, nor know any more the name of his wife. But I do know this: For forty-four years, ever since the birth of my first daughter, that statement is me.

And yet it took a tiny, peppermint-striped, baby’s sunhat jammed into the chainlink fence to really, piercingly understand how true that is!

I’d been walking around Fresh Pond last evening, a reservoir for the city of Cambridge, when I’d spotted that sunhat. Although a popular and well-used wildlife preserve and nature walk, the actual pond is carefully cordoned off. Hence that chainlink fence.

I was there for the beauty and the solace of trees and sunflowered meadows and redwinged blackbirds and late-afternoon sunlight on water, having just gotten word that my grown daughter, who’d had been in a horrible bike accident on Saturday, had just gotten out of surgery.  And that it went well.

So much to process as I walked: Lingering, still-heart-racing shock. (She lives and bikes in Connecticut; I’d been in Louisville, Kentucky when I’d heard the news.) Overwhelming gratitude that her sisters and her loving husband have been and are still so hands-on taking exquisite care of her. Relief the surgery, which took hours, went well. Anxiety. Worry. Sadness. A roiling, boiling stew.

And then, suddenly, I saw it, that sweet little hat, tucked into the fence because some baby had lost it and someone else had picked it up and carefully displayed it in the hope it would be found.

And motherlove just flooded me, primal, fundamental, incredibly powerful, central to who I am; the centerpiece of my life, indeed.

* This photo references a well-known children’s book re motherlove. Do you know which one?





I will lift up mine eyes . . .



[Salt Lake City’s reservoir; Easter Sunday, 2014]

A few summers ago, the teenaged son and daughter of an old friend—who now lives in Wyoming—stayed with us for a couple of days to take a look at colleges, these young people’s first trip East. At breakfast one morning the teenaged son stepped out onto our deck: “There’s nothing to see but houses!” he complained. “Back yards. How can you stand it?” Other Beyond-Route 128 residents have told us the same thing. “I just felt so boxed in,” the Washington-state father of my son-in-law complained of his college years at Dartmouth.

Gotta say, a major joy when visiting my step-son and his family in Salt Lake City is just looking up! To push my grandson on a SLC park swing and gaze at a snow-capped Wasatch mountain is always a thrill. Since I’m clearly quite content to live exactly where I live, in sardine-can Somerville, I must not require these heady, Rockies glances to sustain me. Or even, as Psalm 121 goes on to say, to be reminded of “whence cometh my help.” (Sometimes the King James version is just what’s needed, right? Or is it just me?) But these ever-present mountain views never get old.

No, as thrilling as these sightings are, my experience of Divine Assistance is inward. I know this is a construct, I know I’ve been using English, both modern and early 17th century, to explore The Unexplorable, “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9)

But it works for me.



Once upon a time . . .



This past weekend, our family rented an art-filled, conveniently-located-for-most-of-us farmhouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; nine adults and three children under the same roof. Overjoyed to spend a couple of days with my daughters, three out of four sons-in-law, and precious grandchildren, it wasn’t until I got home yesterday that I realized why this mini-vacation had been so thoroughly satisfying and relaxing: no Wifi. (A son-in-law checked; the rental owners hadn’t paid their ComCast bill.)

Sunday night, after roasting marshmallows in the fireplace fire, instead of watching the Olympics or “Downton Abbey,” my four-year-old grand-daughter and I pulled a couple of pillows off the couch so we could cozily watch the flames—and tell stories. She’d overheard me tell the Jonah and the whale story* to her older brother that afternoon and wanted to hear it again. When I’d finished retelling that ancient tale, then she told me a story about tiny, tiny people living in a rock—I’d explained to her brother that Nineveh was a real place and located in Iraq—at the bottom of the ocean. When a giant squid came to eat the rock, she said, the little people didn’t hear the squid at first because they had water in their ears!

Both times I told the story, I used the word “God.” Because it’s impossible to tell the story without mentioning that all-powerful, key figure in the drama, right? God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. God sends the storm. And the whale. Jonah prays to God from inside the whale. Etc.

And both grandchildren simply took in that highly charged, highly loaded, capitalized noun. For my logical, scientific grandson, who has often informed me that there is no God, my saying, “This is how this story is told in the Bible,” was apparently sufficient. He’s reading Harry Potter these days. He gets the internal integrity of a good yarn, the understanding between an author and a reader that between the covers of this book, this is what the world looks like and how things work. And for my tiara-wearing because she’s often a princess grand-daughter, magic happens.

Yes, it does.






* My (incredibly talented) musician co-teacher and I are writing songs based on Bible stories with our high school First Day School students. First song: Jonah and the Whale. So I, not conversant with the Bible, actually know that story.


A Brief Visit to the Now

IMG_0493 copy


Mondays I babysit for my grand-daughter Lilian; every Monday teaches me something.

This Monday, having just started Eckhard Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, an intriguing passage from the book came to me while Lilian played:

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life. Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation.

So what does it look like when you’re totally focused in the Now? I decided to watch Lilian to find out. Here’s what I observed:

It looks totally engaged and absorbing and sounds happy—lots of humming and non-verbally-expressed delight.

It looks haphazard, random, even a little dopey although, perhaps, undetected by older, rational, linear eyes, some sort of complicated problem-solving’s going on.

It looks experiential. The surrounding world to be worked upon, discovered, or arranged is stroked, smelled, sucked on, chewed,  i.e. all senses are more relied upon.

It looks pure. And holy.

It looks like a place I would like to visit more often.

Emerging, Becoming



Leaving today for this summer’s last hurrah: a writing-retreat weekend in New Hampshire followed by a week in the Catskills at a YMCA family camp (I’m to serve as a pinch-hitting member of my daughter’s and her kids’ family because her husband has to work.). Odd to pack swimming gear and sunblock and a murder-mystery when, emotionally, I’m already into September. And the upcoming year (even bought a 2014 datebook this week!). And the rest of my life!

But I’m remembering summer camp lo these many years ago and how, sometimes, between things, i.e. walking alone from the dining hall back to my cabin through the woods, the eight or ten or twelve year old me thrilled at my aloneness, loved that pine-scented quiet to simply think. Ponder. Feel my breath. Smell. Listen. I loved that!

As a told my physical therapist this week: “It’s never been more clear to me that this IS the first day of the rest of my life.” As I hang out with my writing buddies and swim and read and chase after grandchildren and practice my archery skills (Yup! For real!), my prayer is that I’ll be gifted with quiet moments, too. Moments to ready myself for Fall’s bustle. Moments that will offer new insights into what’s to be.

March 23, 2011: “What Keeps You Going?’

Went to a retreat that past weekend in southern Maine with about 30 people from my Meeting where I bayed at the full moon, went to some terrific workshops, and connected more deeply with a couple of wonderful people.

For a couple of reasons, missed one workshop where people explored sources of strength in hard times. So at lunch, someone asked me, “What keeps you going?”

“All of you,” I answered promptly. “And my grandchildren.”

Good news: I will see two of those grandchildren tomorrow. (Here’s a link so you can see both the incomparably adorable Dmitri and Ruby AND daughter Hope’s lovely tribute to my father.)

Here’s something else that keeps me going: Insightful, brilliant, hilarious social commentary.

(Not exactly Good News but these are desperate times.)