Archive for the ‘relationship’ Category

Watching for Her

circle of chairs
In church
I glance over my right shoulder
to where I think I saw her once,
back row, far left.
right next to the side door,
where a person can slip in, slip out,

There was just that one night she came to group,
ended up sitting next to me.
Turned out we had a lot in common,
including that we belonged to the same church.

Group ran long that night.
Before it was over,
she was gone.
But I had jotted my name and number
on a slip of paper
and passed it to her.
I don’t do that with everyone,
but when I heard her say,
“It’s just been a very lonely two years,”
I was pretty sure I knew what she meant by that.

I’ve not heard a word.
She’s not been back to group.
I don’t think it’s because of me,
I conclude every time I get to wondering.

When you care about people,
it’s hard to know sometimes
when to act,
when to refrain.

Maybe she’s lost the paper.
Maybe she hasn’t.
Maybe she’s shy.
Maybe I should go sit over there
and when she comes in,
there I am,
what a coincidence!


There was just that one night,
but I look for her.
Every week
I’m watching.

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at the refugee picnic

HOW do you teach English to someone when the ABCs won’t stick
and no matter what letter you point to, she answers “K?”
because K is the first letter of her name,
though, if asked to spell her name,
she doesn’t know the names of any of the six letters,
even though we’ve been through the alphabet together many times?

She isn’t the first student I’ve had to show how to hold a pencil.

Some come with university degrees.
Some have secondary school diplomas.
Most have at least enough schooling to know the basics.
But some few, still too many,
you can’t help but wonder
if they’ve ever had any schooling at all.

What will I do with this mother
whose preschooler is surpassing her already?
I am near the bottom of my bag of tricks.
More will come to me.
I am not easily turned away from a challenge.

I think of my ancestors
who came at different times
with their Dutch and Irish and Welsh and Russian and Yiddish,
and sat, awkward, and tried.
Who sat and helped them?
Someone. Many someones.

Maybe tomorrow
I’ll find the magic key
and together we’ll open the door.

* * *
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Censored mailTruth is, if someone had asked me that last day in Nebraska what my takeaway from the retreat was, there was one thing clear.

I feel free to stop writing for publication.” Sounds strange, I know. Most people come away from a writer’s retreat inspired about a new project or renewed in their commitment to an ongoing one.

But a stop sign is also direction.

Nobody asked and I was glad. I wasn’t ready to say it aloud. Once I returned home, once I unpacked and settled, once I processed and considered, surely I’d go the other way with it.

I swear, I must have been absent from school the day they covered gut feelings and how to go with them.

* * *

Tammy writes about “Living the Small Creases of Your Life.”

There are times you live in the hidden nooks-n-crannies of your life, as if it were a shrinking back. But that’s not entirely true. It’s really a folding into your life. One that’s necessary and truer.

There it is again. Permission. What seems like shrinking back is really a folding in.

Ideas pop, and against the too-long-blank canvas of my mind, they splash like fireworks. An old voice pitches to me. Write an article. Write a series. Query today. They will love it!

But I have this other investment I’m making, see? My peak creative time is spoken for.

* * *

NEXT MORNING again, before sunrise, I start a letter.

When the sun comes over the roof of the house across the street, I pull the curtain a bit, to keep the blinding ray at bay. Just 5 more minutes. That’s all I need and I’ll be done. Always the same, every day.  Just 5 more minutes, please.

The dog lies tucked in beside me in the upholstered chair, tight. I sometimes imagine he is sending me sentences, but pay no mind to that. It’s the least of my insanities, but I have changed chairs since rescuing him, so he has a place.

He’ll not stir until the printer prints. I get up for coffee or a sweater and he doesn’t lift an eyelid. But he knows when he hears that printer, his breakfast is not far off.

I pick up a pen,
I sign,
I fold the paper into thirds. These are the small creases into which I am tucking my everyday life, a mixed bag of a ramble, all so much nothing that turns out to be something to someone else.

* * *

SHE’S GONE DOWNTOWN and surrendered herself. Five days after I’m back from JT, she goes – just as instructed, just as she needed to do, just as arranged for in her plea agreement. We won’t be meeting at Panera again, not for a very long time.

Today I got a response from her, stamped on the back that it had been seen by the censors first. My postman’s gotten used to this, the regular influx of screened mail.

It’s arrival means my first letter got there okay! I’m happy for that.

“You never told me that story!” she writes. “I’ve read it three times so far.”

It’s crazy math, I know, but one letter read 3 times means more to me than one article seen by thousands.


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pencils at the ready

been thinking it a while –
but is it one more step away from writing?
Or toward it?

I admitted to these very thoughts
while riding to church a few weeks ago
and wouldn’t you know it?
The morning’s passage included
immediately they left their nets.”
I like that.
(Long before Nike’s “just do it”
were the first disciples.
They were more cutting-edge than me.)

So what’s the hold-up?

I will miss the friends I’ve met in cyberspace,
not that I won’t be in cyberspace,
but I think I’ll feel only half-in.
Now that I see that in print,
I realize my thinking on that is wrong.
This hadn’t struck me before.
(This is one reason writers write, says Joan Didion,
to find out what they are thinking.)

I’ve been blogging over a decade, so it’s a hard break,
like parting with a old sweater,
too tattery to be seen in
but there are so many memories attached.
Okay, my blog isn’t that tattered.
Still, sentimentality is often the obstacle to the uncluttered life, is it not?

But mostly the hold-up
is the cry of the platform-builders,
“You must blog.”
Must I?
Did anyone actually say that
or is that how it got twisted in my mind?

I wish to say something fabulously acceptable,
such as,
I’m working on my doctorate
or going to do third-world orphanage work
or donating all my writing parts to a needy person
and so – apologies, apologies – I no longer can blog.

But I don’t have a noble cause to give as excuse.
And my faithful readers do not require it of me.

It is enough to say
I have nothing to say,
that what I have to say,
the topic closest to me right now,
the one I dedicate my peak writing time to,
which is as it should be,
doesn’t belong here,
and I belong where it is.

You are nodding. I know it.

A few times in my life I wondered how to explain to a friend a decision I made, only to discover no explanation was necessary.

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chair and pillows
not that we can’t hear each other
from where we are,
but just because.

And I leave the chair like that
even after she goes –
the whole day long –
so that every time I pass through the living room
I remember our conversation.

Having everything in order, just where it belongs, is highly overrated. :-)

SHE LET ME make her breakfast.
and said yes to the Clementines I pulled from the drawer.
We sat there peeling them,
the smell of oranges filling the room.
I liked that.

I made more coffee than was necessary,
I was pretty sure,
considering half the time she comes in, announcing,
“None for me. I’ve given it up.”
Surely, I’d be dumping most of it afterward.
I turned the coffeemaker on
a few minutes before she was due because
there’s just something about the sound and smell of coffee brewing
when a morning visitor comes through the door.
This might just be a thing I think.

We catch up on her recent trip
and my finally taking a class
and our various church stuff.
We are knee-deep into her wondering what to do
about the most negative person she’s ever known
when my phone rings.

I decline the call,
but when it rings again,
she says, “You need to take that”
and she’s right.

She slips out.

after she goes
and after the call,
I wander through.

Dirty plates are piled high with orange peels,
the furniture is askew
and the coffee pot is empty.

You can’t buy this kind of happiness.

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THE PROBLEM with all this intentionality I’ve been writing about
is that you make new friends
and then something happens to one of them.

One of the other adult volunteers
in the youth ministry
has died, and suddenly. Too young.
A very gentle soul.
Teacher. Principal.
A part of my own “coming back to life.”

I am better for having met and known him,
and will miss his voice.
Thank you, Jim.

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soups at the deli
“I’LL HAVE the chowder,” she says.
“Me, too.”
“Extra crackers, please,” she says.

I look at her,
my friend who keeps me on the straight-and-narrow,
texting in warm weather
to ask if I want to go for a bike ride,
packing picnic lunches for us
with pita to take to the park.
Fruit, a little hummus and a carrot stick.
So much better than a fat sandwich and chips, she always says.
She’s right. She’s right. I know she’s right.

I have a cadre of friends like this,
hopeful of pulling me back from the edge of self-destruction.
I keep them on because I love them, pure and simple
(but the year they went Paleo was almost the end for me,
a person who bakes bread and pie as gifts.)

I digress….

Extra crackers?
Things must be bad.

I look at her.
She looks at me, eyebrows up.
“Sure, yeah,” I say. “Me, too. Extra crackers.”
I feel the world has just tilted on its axis in a different direction.

* * *

started last year.
I make it my goal
on my day off each week,
to get together with one of my friends,
to touch base,
Not the same person every time.

Coffee, brunch, lunch, whatever.
My house, her house, someplace in town.
60 minutes perhaps, or 30 or 90.
That’s it. And then we go our separate ways.

Here’s why:
In times of crisis, I withdraw,
as all card-carrying hermits do,
but before long I am so isolated
things are worse than they need to be.
I have no thoughts beyond those in my own head.
I have no sense of the lives others are living.

* * *

when Wally was diagnosed with CLL,
I fell into one of these withdrawal modes.
Just trying to meet the demands of appointments and keep the house running
can pull a person out of circulation.

“I feel so out-of-touch with people,” I told a friend.
“You need to get on Facebook,” she said.
But you know what? Facebook didn’t help.
It didn’t address the isolation, the disconnectedness.
In fact, it increased it.

So I have this practice, the once-a-week face-to-face.
File it under “Mental Health Initiatives.”
It works well.

And though I started it
because I had a crisis that threatened to consume me,
if I was not careful and intentional,
my crisis has fallen off the headlines of our conversations.
It’s not the top topic anymore.
And now my friend is ordering extra crackers,
count me in,
and I am already in place to hear her out.

This is the second post in a week I’ve written about intentionally being around people. Hmmm.
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