Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wild Geese

Many, many years ago ~ I am sure that it was October, 1979, so: 32+ years ago ~ I crawled through our small tent opening into the cold air of Isle Royale as skein after skein of geese rose into the sky above Lake Superior.  That I remember that moment with the clarity with which the tangerine colors of the sunrise pierced the darkness of the early morning sky is a testament to one of the few natural gifts with which I was born: a capacity to notice and appreciate that which I saw around me.  

It's no wonder that, when the time was right, it was the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola, with his emphasis on words like repetition and savor,  that called out to me.

When my children were growing up, my approach to mothering was: Notice and Appreciate.  From what they tell me, I was not entirely successful in communicating that dimension of my interior life.  Their memories seem rather fixated on some of the daily expectations that were, in truth, the least significant things to me.  I suppose that the daily cycle of school, homework, soccer, and lessons did seem as if it were what life was made of, but what I was constantly aware of was the sunlight on blond hair, the giggles and meows in the hallway as cats fled to safety, the small bodies crouched over projects on kitchen tables and in creeks and lakes, the gleeful triumph when something was assembled or, much better, completely deconstructed.  I was never in any hurry for them to grow up, for school vacations to end, or for any of them to get on to the next phase, whatever that might have been.

The loss of that capacity, that ability to notice and appreciate, was the biggest consequence of the loss of Josh himself.  The entire universe, with its galaxies and colors and creative and loving people, went dim and flat three years ago. There have been moments, and even hours, of re-connection with hope and  joy ~ but the registry is at a level far below that at which I once lived.

This past week, in connection with the New Year, I've been thinking that I might like to recover some of my lost gift for awareness and gratitude. Or, perhaps more realistically, find a new version.  One of my friends just posted on FB that she loves New Year's and the way it makes her feel that anything is possible.  An entirely foreign thought to me. 

But maybe small things are possible.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the French Carmelite nun of the late 19th century, spoke of doing small things with great love rather than attempting great miracles.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade, an 18th century French Jesuit, focused upon The Sacrament of the Present Moment.

Franciscan  Richard Rohr's words have been making the rounds the past couple of days:  "Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, praising God until we ourselves are a constant act of praise"  (Radical Grace: Daily Meditations).

And Mary Oliver, of course, in her poem "Wild Geese," reminds us that

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Last night I dreamed that I was at camp in North Carolina, visiting The Lovely Daughter during one of her stints as a counselor.  I was supposed to meet Josh later for a river tubing trip, but in the meantime I was helping LD with her laundry.  She had lost a t-shirt she really liked, and I was going through pile after file of folded towels and clothing, peeling each item away from the others, one by one, in search of the missing t-shirt. 

I didn't find it before I woke up. 

Awareness. Gratitude.  Small things. Wild things. This moment.  A willingness to sift through the laundry, piece by piece, for something (or someone) not recoverable.

My word for this year, you may recall, is patience

I think that perhaps I will say a lot less and  photograph a lot more.

Image: Isle Royale Sunset, found here


  1. Her poem is one of my very favorites.... thank you for posting it here on the last day of 2011.

    And thank you so much for sharing your life with me! Lucky me!

    Keeping you and your family in my daily prayers -

    See you next year!

  2. Prayers for you, may 2012 be a year of peace, the fruit of patience...

  3. It has taken us at least to year three to feel true, consistent joy again, and it is a different life, even with joy. I could go on at length about how it is different, but I will just say that I have great hope for you, and for all who grieve, because of my own experience of joy returning. For me (as usual), Fr. Rohr's words say it perfectly. I think it can be summed up as: wait, practice, express your truth, wait (which goes pretty well with your word for the year).

  4. Well, as you know, we are in year 4. And as you and I have discussed, sudden death versus cancer, and suicide versus anything, lead to requirements for more -- more time, more everything, mostly because of the complete shock. So I am going to guess for year 5 in our case.

    I did feel genuine, unadulterated joy on the occasion of my ordination - even with one child dead and breast surgery looming. So there are moments - even hours.

  5. I'm so glad that there are those moments and hours of joy. May they grow into days, weeks, months and years.