Tuesday, November 30, 2010
This is the cake we made, and prematurely sampled, to commemorate Uncle Jordanian's departure... He will be away for nearly five months, training to be a US Marshall. And we are so proud of him. Who could have imagined my darling niece, his daughter, could look so pristine, so like an angel, even with a tear cascading down her cheek?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” ~ Psalm 8
It was a balmy October evening, little more than a year ago, and Dutch and I were standing in the middle of a teeming parking lot under a star-studded sky. We were in a part of town I had never visited … and I balked at what I saw: panoramic views of city and mountains lapped against us like waves. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in the seven years I had lived in Tucson.
There, in the darkness, I felt chastened, as though God were hurling me a question: So this is the desert you so abhor? The barren wilderness, the stifling dead land, in which none of my wonders are made manifest?
Tears filled my eyes as I clasped Dutch’s hand and breathed a quiet prayer, “God, thank you for bringing me to a place so steeped in your grandeur, its beauty a testament to your glory.” Then, in a spasm of impetuosity, I added a postscript: “And Lord – if it’s necessary that we should remain in the desert, would you allow us to live in a place where we can better experience its beauty?”
Suddenly I felt childish, and stole a sly glance at Dutch. “Well,” I said, laughing, blushing, bashful, “the worst He can do is say no, right?”
I was aware that perhaps it was an indulgent thing to ask. But I was still thinking about the conversation I'd had with a wise old friend that very afternoon. I had expressed frustration with myself – wanting to be rid, once and for all, of the desires that caused me to battle with discontentment, but my friend reminded me that God is my Father. “It’s okay to ask Him for things,” she had said. “He wants you to ask – freely… but to accept His answer, whatever it is, trusting that He alone knows what is best for your soul.”
Days, weeks, months passed and I forgot all about the prayer. It wasn’t 'til last month, as Dutch drove me up for the second time to view the house that would become our home, that I chanced to remember it… Not five hundred yards away - whipping wildly in the wind - stands a flag, the flag that marks the very parking lot where we stood last fall, without the slightest inkling of what God had in store.
We have lived here only three weeks but still, each time I pass a window and look out upon the vast expanse of mountains, sky, and stars, an unspeakable mixture of disbelief, unworthiness, and overwhelming awe rise up together from the very depths of my soul.
To the north, the shadowy peaks of the Catalina mountains loom, dusted with saguaros like candles on a cake. To the south, straining far in the foggy distance, I can glimpse the violet hills of Mexico. Each evening the sun never fails to sink behind the blue-black mountains without putting up a fight – an extraordinary show of colors which no human language can adequately describe.
When at last the sky darkens, the city becomes a bed of glittering jewels, a black sea, churning with lights; and in the daytime, the view from high up on the hill betrays a landscape that is anything but withered. On the contrary, the city is blanketed in green: green trees, green brush, even a few brilliant patches of lime-colored grass.
In response to all these sights I cannot help but feel very small; and in this case, as in few others, I know my feelings are entirely justified: for I am small - but one body of swirling life and activity, absorbed in its own particular interests and concerns, in a great sea of other bodies, absorbed in other activities and plagued by other concerns.
It is impossible to conceive how the God of the Universe, whose attentions are at every moment turned to the great and important matters of the world, can also be so humbly and lovingly concerned with mine… And yet I am constantly confronted with evidence that He does; that He is.
It is an unaccountable blessing… a gift which, like salvation, I cannot take an ounce of credit for. So what must I do?
I think I'll start at the very beginning: by saying thank you.
"Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle....The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him." ~Psalm 103.1-5, 8-13
Friday, November 19, 2010
It was Nanny's last night in town and we promised Audrey we would take her to the pizza parlor with the carousel. All day long she told us how she was going to ride the white horse, how Nanny would come too, and they would go around and around and around. But when we got there another girl was already sitting on the white one. Audrey was crestfallen and I quickly began ushering her toward the white bunny, instead, but Nanny - her indomitable Irish will flaring - would not be put down: instead, she clasped Audrey's hand and walked confidently up to the girl - who looked to be about ten - and explained the situation. Then she held Audrey up and they both looked at the girl very mulishly. I don't know if the girl said anything but a moment later she slid off the horse and went elsewhere... Sitting on the blue rooster, with Evangeline on my lap, I hovered somewhere between shock and awe.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver, “The Swan”
This is a letter of apology – and a confession.
I used to hear the words pink flamingo and think of stale Floridian houses trimmed with green plastic lawns. And you propped up on one. Alone. Or maybe with a fellow – standing solidly on one black leg, your black beak, with its white dimple, tipped downward shyly.
I was unaware that all such replicas are little more than hopeless misrepresentation of what, in fact, you are: a living work of art.
Now I know.
But before this morning I had never really looked at you – never examined the many folds of your feathers, the elegant nape of your neck, or the infinite gradations of crimson color which cascade down the long length of your back. I never knew the tips of your tail feathers look as though they've been dipped in flaming coal; had never stared into your eerily mesmeric yellow eyes, nestled deep into either side of your downy head, and thought, but what universe have you come from?
Somehow – how is it? – I have lived three decades on this planet without ever grasping that your knees, which are really ankles, are the color of raspberries; that the hollow reeds of your legs appear to have been washed with lemon glaze, or the webs of your pink toes dusted with blue powder. Has your hooked beak been brushed with charcoal? Would its inky blackness rub off on my hands? I have never taken the time to wonder.
Instead, my mind has been occupied with other matters… It is - in case you haven't noticed - a strange time of year. In the morning a chill creeps into the air – hinting faintly that cold is coming, coaxing me into donning a long sweater and knee socks, packing a basketful of goodies, and trekking to the park to spread a woolen blanket out upon the lawn.
But this is a ruse. For by eleven o’clock, the sun, winking in a cloudless sky, humiliates me into retreating once more behind hat and glasses. Into sweating and swearing and thirsting all the long way home.
I think I understand why God made seasons – there is something intensely cathartic, even instructive, about watching nature change – its revolving cycles of new birth, of ripening and wilting and dying, tangibly enact, in a relatively condensed form, the life cycle of all living organisms.
For this reason, by the time September comes, I am longing for a change, but outside there is none to speak of. No bright leaves to sweep up into bundles on my front lawn. Instead, the leaves on the lone leafy tree outside my kitchen window remain an obstinate green. My rosemary is blooming – touching little purple flowers – that speak to me of spring, not October and its autumnal glory. The heap of pumpkins piled outside my door begin to bake themselves into pies, so I am forced to drag them inside to cool. It is one less thing to do before Thanksgiving, I suppose.
Meanwhile, all the local stores have set themselves up for holiday shoppers – wreaths made of plastic holly leaves are stacked on practically every end cap; reindeer and Christmas lights mocking me into confusion, alerting me to the incomprehensible fact that winter, even Christmas, is fast on its way. But how can this be, when it is nearly 80 degrees outside? How, when my children are kicking off their shoes to dip naked feet into cool water, playing in their bathing suits, sunning in sun dresses, and slurping down popsicles in jelly sandals?
I do not know.
But standing in the middle of the zoo with my hands clasped to the metal railing, beside the painted plaque that told me all about your natural habitat, I did see how your beauty pertained to everything; and how my life should change.
You may be stuck in the center of an artificial habitat, a man-made lake which – isn’t it? – considerably smaller than the lake where you were born – but for all these constraints, you have not become reptilian, not exchanged your wings for scaly arms. Instead, proudly perched on one leg, you preen, tucking your head into the nest of your wings. The desert sun hasn’t wilted your feathers or muted your colors. You are caged yet you remain obstinately unaffected – or strangely indifferent – to your surroundings, as though your hope were elsewhere.
There, at the center of the zoo, you appeared to be entirely at peace with yourself, wrapped up in a kaleidoscope of quietness that fanned out from all sides… and enveloped me entirely.
There, watching you, I was reminded what beauty is for - that it is an instrument of God, meant to arouse in the human spirit a desire, not to consume or acquire, but to worship; that beauty, if it is true, should breed gratitude, not discontent – should compel the mind it rivets to look up and outside itself, away from all the man-made ugliness that robs the soul of joy. Seeing you reminded me that there is beauty which is beyond the grasp of the imagination, and gave me cause to wonder: if God can create birds with such infinite variety and ingenuity what must the place be like which He is preparing for me?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
I was sitting on the living room rug sorting old magazines when Audrey scampered up and took hold of my hand. "Close your eyes!" she demanded, and led me ten paces to the center of the room. "Okay, open them!" There, to my surprise, stood one of the old dining chairs I recently fixed up for the new house, its back swathed in some old ribbon scraps which Audrey found bunched up in the corner. “It’s for you!” she shouted. “I decorated it - for Christmas.” Genuinely impressed, I began asking her precisely how she did it when suddenly she became grave and serious. “But, but, but," she stammered, in a hushed but forceful tone, "you can’t show it to Daddy because if you do he will want it and he will take it, okaaaay?” Were I not intimately familiar with Dutch's taste in home decor, I would have surely believed her.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Like trying on a new hat, the feel and fit of a new house can seem strange, even dizzying, if only because it's unfamiliar. Nevertheless, we are tremendously enjoying our new surrounds and the feeling of home which is becoming every day more marked and real.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Her favorite color is white. White cups and white saucers; white dresses and cabinet doors. She would like a white room, a white pony, and a white pygmie pig named Chloe, whom she can lead around on a long white leash and with whom she can build elaborate snow castles. At the zoo, we happened upon a white peacock - did you know there was such a thing as a white peacock? - and traveled no further.