Happy is the house that shelters a friend.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 – 1882)
Happy is the house that shelters a friend.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 – 1882)
The first half of June has been a steady progression of rainstorms lumbering up through the valley like a herd of traveling pachyderms. Day by day, nearly hour by hour, thunder’s heavy footfall rattles the windows to signal the approach of a new storm. Black clouds blot the horizon, dwarfing farm and city alike. Daylight is lost as the stampede passes overhead, trampling sky, shaking earth, pounding rooftops, flooding streets with great spouts of torrential rain, jolting sleepy creeks and rivers straight out of their beds.
Today, rain falls with such furiousness, I can’t see across the woods. Beyond rain-pebbled glass, an English sparrow waits out the worst, while a pair of nuthatches huddle, beaks downward, on a sliver of dry bark beneath an arching canopy of rain-glossed oak leaves.
“Seven inches of rain in six days,” mutters our drenched postal carrier as he delivers the day’s dripping mail. “I could grow rice in my back yard.”
Returning to my reading chair, I’m snug and dry in a circle of yellow lamplight. I lose myself in my book of poetry, let the storm pass.
After a while, the staccato drumbeat of raindrops decreases, the sky’s low ceiling lifts, a robin begins to chirrup.
I lay aside my book and slip out on the front porch to watch swift-passing clouds. Our Japanese maple’s slender wrists wear delicate bracelets of shimmering droplets that wink in the light of an emerging sun.
Rainwater gushes down the sloping curve of our court, racing toward the heavy iron gutter in the turnaround. In bare feet, I pick my way across spongy, saturated grass, step off the curb and into rushing water. How glorious it feels…
Time’s forward march slows just enough to let peals of childish laughter echo back to me from rainy days gone by. I see them in mind’s eye now, our darling children: big sister, little brother, littlest sister twirl bright umbrellas, hold hands, leap into puddles, splash with joyous abandon in a steady downpour, call out to one another, to me…
Treasured memories, these voices in the rain.
Sunbeams peep through overhead boughs as parting drops splash and spread ripples across puddled water.
My neighbor, a youthful woman in her seventies, spies me from her kitchen window and comes out in bare feet to say hello.
Following my lead, she eases her feet into the waning curbside flow. We stand together and swap stories of our latest successes and failures in the garden, talk about what’s new with our children, speculate as to when or whether the next storm will strike.
After a while, we part ways, she to her sewing, and I to my flowerbeds. Before I return to the house and the poems that await, I lean close to revel in a few more moments of rain-rinsed loveliness. Everywhere, blossoms and leaves glisten in the light.
I breathe a sigh, close my eyes, lift the petals of my heart in gratitude for nature’s gifts, for earth and sky, for sunlight and showers, for springtime blossoms and summer’s plenitude, for the seasons of my life, for sweet, remembered voices in the rain.
Last week, a dear friend and I visited a charming garden center, tucked miles away on a winding county road deep in the midwestern heartland. We spent blissful hours together among the plants and flowers, loading carts with choice annuals and perennials. Knowing I couldn’t carry the entire garden center home with me, I walked around to snap photos of flowers I had to leave behind.
I’ve long admired verbena’s cascading blossoms but have had trouble keeping it happy in summer’s extreme heat. So, alas – whenever I spy an appealing display of verbena, I’ll smile, sigh, walk wistfully past.
But not so last week. As one who takes perpetual notice of hearts in nature, I was stopped in my tracks by this delicate face – Verbena, Lanai: Twister Pink.
With sweetest simplicity, this flower’s inner circlet of deep rose hearts forms an image of my ideal world, a place where hearts unite with shared joy, love, friendship, peace. This blossom’s simple eloquence reminded me of a quote I cherish.
I’ll just leave it here for you. . .
We can, to a certain extent, change the world;
we can work for the oasis,
the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.
We can throw our pebble in the pond and be
confident that its ever-widening circle will
reach around the world.
We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love,
and, dear God, please
enlarge our hearts to love each other. . .
~Dorothy Day, (1897 – 1980)
In a blog post last February, my lovely friend, Katrina Kenison, posed a question that remains ever-present with me: “Tell me, how are you making love visible today?” As I pondered the possibilities of Katrina’s words, I never could have imagined the extraordinary ways love would be made visible this Christmas.
It all began with a Victorian-themed wreath I designed and placed at my gentle mother’s grave this December. A photo I posted of my wreath inspired my new and wonderful friend, Melodye Shore, to fashion a meaningful wreath of her own to honor the memory of our dear grandmothers, Maymer and Nana.Yesterday – Christmas Day – “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” Melodye’s story of how our friendship and her beautiful wreath came to be, was published on Jennifer Pastiloff’s online magazine, The Manifest-Station. Click here to read Melodye’s wondrous tale – a precious gift from the heart of a generous and loving friend, and an experience that will shimmer in my memory forever.
As I mark my first anniversary of blogging here on My Path with Stars Bestrewn, I find myself feeling humbled and amazed. When I posted my first offering, The Gate of the Year, on January 1, 2014, I was secretly filled with trepidation. Where would my words go, and who might read them? I had no way of knowing what wonderful new friends I’d make here in the blogosphere, lovely souls across the United States, Canada, and various countries around the globe. It has been the most incredible experience. Thank you!
Through our ever-lovely mutual friend, Katrina Kenison, I happened to meet a new and wonderful friend, Melodye Shore. Last February, Melodye and I bonded over While my pretty one sleeps, a tribute I wrote in memory of my beautiful mother. Over the course of this year, Melodye and I have continued to discover the many ideas and ideals we happen to share: a mutual love of gardening, music, poetry, photography, and the mystical wonders of creation.
Intrigued by a photo I posted of a Victorian wreath I designed and lovingly placed on my mother’s grave this year, Melodye struck up a series of conversations with me which led to an extraordinarily loving gift she recently gave me, a gift she has also dedicated to the memory of her beloved Nana. She has written all about it today on her blog, Joyful Noise, in a new post entitled “Tidings of Comfort and Joy.” I’d love to share it with you now: please click here to read this beautiful story!
Melodye’s thoughtfulness and generosity are love made manifest. From her careful attention to the metaphorical meaning of each minute detail of the handmade gift she created, to the lovely photographs she snapped to document this gift, to the magical way she relates this story, Melodye reveals her rare and beautiful heart as she pays homage to the divine and eternal spirit of loving and giving.
This is a Christmas tale to tuck in your heart, one whose lessons are never-ending. (Melodye’s post today also features a haiku written by my mother in 1982 – three precious lines that mean absolutely everything to me. I hope you’ll love them, too.)
Whether you’re near or far, I wish you peace, love, and joy today, and many, many blessings. Thank you, so very much, for the gift of your presence here with me on My Path with Stars Bestrewn.
I could feel the years melt away as my car climbed the winding, wooded hill that leads to her home – a place I frequented as a child, a happy household where I was welcomed and loved. Although the snow had stopped falling, my tires spun and slipped as I neared the summit. I didn’t care about driving in the snow. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was on a mission.
As I pulled close to her house and turned off the motor, I saw her, and my heart froze. She was shoveling her driveway. She’s in her late eighties now, and she’s had recent health issues. She shouldn’t have been out there – but there she was.
I selected a petal-perfect, pale pink rose, and, holding it in front of me, I walked toward her through the snow. As I made my approach, she straightened up and peered in my direction, not recognizing me at first. Then, her eyes flew open, and she said, “Amy Neighbour! Oh, my . . .” as I handed her the long-stemmed rose and wished her a happy Valentine’s Day. She looked so petite as I beamed down at her, this sweet woman who used to tower over me. I’ve loved her for as long as I can remember. Her kind, brown eyes shimmered through tears. She hugged me, looked up, and softly said, “Oh, Amy – you didn’t have to do this.”
Gently taking the shovel from her mittened grasp, I said, “I have an idea. You can take this rose in out of the cold and find a bud vase for it, and I’ll do some of this shoveling while you’re inside.” She agreed, and took slow, careful steps back to her house. Knowing it would be a while before she returned, I kicked into high gear, shoveling as fast as I could to prevent her from needing to come back outdoors.
As I finished the last few passes, she opened her front door and called out, “Amy Neighbour, you stop that! Right now!” Chuckling to myself, I waved a gloved hand and grinned. Merrily ignoring her protests, I completed the driveway. As I returned the shovel to her front door, she said, “Amy! You did not have to do that!”
I smiled at her and answered, “I know I didn’t have to, I wanted to. Plus,” I teased, “it was fun to hear you scold me. I haven’t been scolded like that since I was ten years old! You made forty-five years disappear, just like that! I’m young again! Whee!!” I threw my arms out to emphasize my point, and we both laughed. She invited me to come in.
I felt the deep silence of her well-kept home as she closed the front door. She took me to a small side table where she had placed her rose. She’d trimmed the stem and set it in a bud vase beside two small Valentines she’d received in the mail from some of her far-flung family. She picked up one of the cards and handed it to me so that I could absorb the sentiment and read the loved signature. Then she offered me the other card. Afterwards, she positioned both cards upright on the table – just so – next to the bud vase with its pink rose. Here it was – her simple shrine to love. We stood there together and looked at it.
Although she didn’t mention how much she misses her husband, who died over a year ago, we both felt his absence. He was such a good man; he was her everything.
I had more roses to deliver, but I stayed with her as long as I could. She wanted to hear the latest news of our busy three, so I gave an update. We reminisced about my mother, who was one of her dear friends, and we agreed that it seems impossible she’s been gone for ten years.
Time ran out, and I needed to leave. I put my arms around her and said goodbye, wishing I could protect her from loss and heartache, from sorrow, from silence. Hugging her, I knew that all the love in the world could never accomplish it. Still, I had done what I could to bring joy to her day. I smiled and waved as I walked back to my car. She smiled as she stood in her doorway and watched me go.
Later that day, I went to the computer to check my inbox and saw that my friend, Katrina Kenison, had posted a lovely Valentine’s Day message on her blog. A beautiful question she posed popped out at me. “Tell me,” she wrote, “how are you making love visible today?” I debated as to whether to write about how I’d spent a portion of my Valentine’s Day, being one who likes the idea of not letting my right hand know what my left is doing. But after a small thank you note arrived in my mailbox yesterday, penned in a slightly wobbly script, thanking me for the Valentine’s Day rose and our pleasant visit, I decided that I would write about it. On behalf of needy souls everywhere, I’m willing to speak up.
Within the framework of our own busy lives, there is much we cannot do to lift another heart or alleviate a set of circumstances. Still, there is much we can do. It doesn’t have to be a holiday or a special occasion to open our eyes, and our hearts, to the needs of others. We don’t have to look too far to find opportunities to share love. Opportunities are right here, right now. The only prerequisite is a pair of eyes to see and a heart willing to give.
I’ve decided to post Katrina’s pertinent question on my inspiration board as a reminder that while I can’t do everything, there is something concrete I can do each day to answer this all-important question: Tell me, how are you making love visible today?
In her recent memoir, Magical Journey, Katrina Kenison offers these words:
“Meaning and purpose come not from accomplishing great things in the world, but simply from loving those who are right in front of you, doing all you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place where you are.”
Well said, Katrina. I couldn’t agree more.
When the first snow of 2014 blanketed in on New Year’s Day, we enjoyed the comforts of home with Let-It-Snow ease. We had no particular plans and no need to set so much as a toe outdoors, so we made a late breakfast of Egg VanMuffins (similar to Egg McMuffins, but with that certain Belgian flare), poured piping hot cups of coffee, and dreamed the day away. The world was a snow globe, and the snow continued well into the evening. After dinner, a few spartan neighbors braved the bitter cold to clear snow from their front walks and driveways. Snowblowers sputtered and churned as snowflakes drifted down.
By 7 a.m. this morning, most of our neighbors had cleared their driveways, but ours was still a winter wonderland. (Jeff’s back has been deviling him this winter, so I’ve been doing the shoveling, not that I mind it. I love being outdoors in the wintertime, and besides, there’s a psychological advantage to snow-shoveling. A snowy driveway presents itself as a large problem to be solved. The first way to break down the problem is to divide it into manageable parts. Then, with patience and a little effort, the problem vanishes in foot-wide strips. When the job is done, it’s a great feeling. It’s not too much of a stretch to realize that most of life’s problems can be addressed in a similar manner.) I had no particular ambition to shovel first thing in the morning, as neither Jeff nor I had anywhere to go until afternoon. However, around 11:00 a.m., we looked out to find that our entire driveway and sidewalk had been shoveled by our neighbor’s two daughters. One daughter lives here, the other is visiting from Wisconsin. They didn’t have to help with our snow, but they did, just because. It was heartwarming to know their motive was to spare me the effort of shoveling solo. How sweet of them.
Neighborliness. It’s one of the pleasantest things around, and in our Midwestern town, on our street, a beautiful sense of neighborliness flourishes. We trade eggs and cups of sugar, water each other’s flowers when one of us is traveling, take in the garbage cans for an elderly neighbor whose hips and knees ache, help shovel each other out when the snowplow leaves a curbside mountain of snow that blocks all our driveways. It’s just what we do on our little court, but I never take it for granted. Today, as I lugged a huge sack of black oil sunflower seed out of the back of my car, our neighbor called out from his front yard, “Helloooooo, Amy!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!” He was taking down the white lights from the branches of his tree, and his cheeriness was contagious.
Our first and best lesson in neighborliness came when Jeff and I were newlyweds. Our first house was also on a cul-de-sac, about a mile from where we live now. We bought the house in early autumn and happily set up housekeeping. At that time, we had one car. Jeff would drop me off at work, drive to his own office, pick me up again at 5 p.m., then drive us back home. Winter arrived early and with a vengeance that year, and one day while we were at work, a blizzard swept through town, dumping a good seven inches of heavy snow before 5 p.m. As we battled the snowy streets home, we felt mournful because, as new home-owners, we didn’t have a snow shovel to our name. We drove down our street, figuring we’d have to ring doorbells to borrow a shovel. As we approached our extra-long driveway, we saw to our amazement that someone had already shoveled us out. We were stunned. Our beneficiary was our dear, loving neighbor, Gary, who was temporarily unemployed. He and his family didn’t have money to spare, but he thought nothing of using his snowblower to help a couple of kids out of a snowy predicament. I have never forgotten Gary’s kindness, and because of his sterling example, I delight in paying it forward whenever I can. I’m lucky, because I’ve landed in a neighborhood where I have ample opportunities.
A glow of appreciation for my neighbor’s daughters, who so kindly cleared our driveway, stayed with me into the afternoon. I made a decision and zipped off to the market to buy three oranges — one for each daughter, and one for their parents, who raised such thoughtful women. I studded the three oranges with fragrant cloves and wrapped each one with ribbons, a sweet-smelling winter’s thank you, just because, one kindness heaped upon another in that pleasant back and forth of neighborliness that encircles the seasons.