Each Moment

I’m not sure when I first learned of Suleika Jaouad and her pandemic project the “Isolation Journals,” it may have even been here during the March SOL blogging challenge, but I continue to receive her emails and store the gems she offers from a variety of creative souls in an email folder. When this Sunday letter arrives, I read it with amazement and some trepidation.

Suleika is, once again, going through cancer treatment recovery, as she was when I first “met” her and began the “…Journals” journey. When her memoir about survival and thrival, (I know it’s not a word, those red dots underscoring alert me, but if you know her, then survival definitely does not do her justice), Between Two Kingdoms finally was published in book form (the New York Times had been featuring her) I rushed to buy my copy.

In this week’s email subject line, “Reasons to Live through the Apocalypse,” she says, “…small joys have been my sustenance,” followed by, “I do want to make a distinction here between the practice of celebrating small joys and the culture of ‘toxic positivity,’ where we’re told to be ever-grateful, to always search for the silver linings, to put a positive spin on all experiences, even the profoundly tragic…” It’s difficult for me to reconcile what she does with her spirited, loving response to adversity and not view her as a paragon of—living.

This email features, prompt 192, features a poem from Nikita Gill, a list enumerating small joys, all in the dailiness of living, and stops me at every period. Each one takes leads me to a memory.

“Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse” by Nikita Gill

Sunrises. People you have still to meet and laugh with. Songs about love, peace, anger, and revolution. Walks in the woods. The smile you exchange with a stranger when you experience beauty accidentally together. Butterflies. Seeing your grandparents again. The moon in all her forms, whether half or full. Dogs. Birthdays and half-birthdays. That feeling of floating in love. Watching birds eat from bird feeders. The waves of happiness that follow the end of sadness. Brown eyes. Watching a boat cross an empty sea. Sunsets. Dipping your feet in the river. Balconies. Cake. The wind in your face when you roll the car window down on an open highway. Falling asleep to the sound of a steady heartbeat. Warm cups of tea on cold days. Hugs. Night skies. Art museums. Books filled with everything you do not yet know. Long conversations. Long-lost friends. Poetry.”

Her list invites us to do the same. Where does it take you?

When next Tuesday arrives, National Poetry Month will have ended, but with luck, we will still be here, living, fingers-crossed. Thanks, Suleika, for the reminder.

Natural Remedy

Silver Falls State Park, Sublimity, Oregon, Saturday, April 16, 2022

Sublimity: the quality or state of something being sublime or exalted. That’s what the dictionary says about where we are—and it epitomizes our early spring hike to see Ten Falls.

We are standing under a rock shelf, thundering water reminding us of sheer power. Can you see the trees, once huge, towering, scattered like so many matchsticks in the creek below? Yes, it’s a creek and that will be apparent once August rolls around, but for today, the words “water shortage” seem impossible. That is one of the reasons we came, snow still caught in the uneven terrain of cliff sides, gradual melt swelling water’s rush.

So many greens here, and the uneven sky, gray blanket giving way to blue before blue beats a hasty retreat. We climb, surrounded by living walls. These are not the tame, manicured stuff of your DIY shows, oh no. These are what nature offers. Silver drops, snow surrenders, cascades from fern tips, drips, drips, drips. One can only look up in wonder.

As we hike out, now flanked by civilization, an asphalt road winding its way to the parking lot, our path running a meandering parallel, snow and hail begin to fall, white mixed with sting. But the sporadic swish of passing cars stops. We are in a silent forest once again, Doug firs proud, old, weathered yet sturdy, shelter us. Headed for home.

The Return

Poetry Unbound, the podcast, is back, and though I missed it yesterday, this morning with the gift of time, I let Pádraig Ó Tuama carry me into the world of “the best words, in the best order”(Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Today offers a poem from Rita Doves’ most wonderful, written-during-the-pandemic collection, Playlist for the Apocalypse.

“Eurydice Turning” and the opening line, benign:

“Each evening I call home and my brother answers” quickly becomes something else, the moment of loss so profound it brings me to tears. I, too, lost my mother to dementia long before her last breath. And with this invasion, her world, her self , our relationship, changed irrefutably.

In her poem, Dove marvels at the optimism of her brother, their mother’s caretaker. She sees her young mother, “younger than my daughter now,” and recognizes the disappearance of that mom forever. A bittersweet stream courses beneath this exchange between family members. She and her brother “…keep talking: weather, gossip, news.”

Now in my seventh decade, I have done the math, calculating backward from the first trip home with my three-year old son when I knew we would have to begin planning for a more stable living situation for our mother. Her story began in 1912, truly those years with her beloved brother and family were the last to disappear. She is 79 when we find a geriatric foster care placement that we, the six of her offspring, can accept as her home.

I ache for Rita Dove, for her brother, for their loss. I wonder if the specter of genetics ever haunts them as I selfishly acknowledge it does me. All this floods my morning thoughts with the first episode of Poetry Unbound. I am not glad, but I find comfort in loss shared with such love—and the wonder of poetry.


Screenshot, 3/5/22

She was always special, you know those students when you have them, earnest yet joyful, engaged and interested, smart and kind. A colleague of mine once said, “The truth about Brigit, and students like her, is that they really don’t need us; we need them.”And I have never forgotten that. A middle-school miracle among my eighth grade charges, shining on those around her, and making them shine, too.

And that glow of knowing continued growing. In her senior year as a student at a selective high school, she chose to complete her senior project with me. She committed to four days a week, four hours each morning, working with my latest crop of eighth graders on a technology integration project. But she did so much more than that! I was to be her mentor; in fact, the learning was reciprocal.

She became a working member of our teaching team, and the kids loved her. We were participating in the National Writing Project’s collaboration with Google in their “Letters to the President.” The enterprise demanded a lot of preparation and conferring while students worked as writers with a true purpose and audience. Naturally Brigit added to our technology knowledge, but more than that, she engaged with these student writers, and students who once eschewed writing, changed. She nudged them gently toward expertise.

On her final day with us, the project successfully completed and her time with us over, we met on the rug for cake and conversation, a parting “chalk talk,” and she invited them to ask questions. “So are you going to college to be a teacher?”

“Oh, no, ” Brigit replied. “I’m not going to be a teacher.”

Puzzled the young man continued, “Then why did you come here to be with us for your school project?”

“I learned to write in this room. That’s why I came,” she replied without hesitation.

She didn’t look up at me; her eyes remained on the student—it was a matter-of-fact statement, and one that is hardly the truth—but if she had have, she’d have seen a light there that has burned brightly ever since.

This is not my only Brigit story. New stories arise as she, a now-thirty-year old, continues to include me in her life. Today she and her husband(!) and I are hiking during their visit from New Jersey to Oregon. Maybe I’ll have a new chapter to share next Tuesday.