Early Thanksgiving morning, baking a pie. Pouring molasses, a whole cupful.
As the bottle empties and the pouring slows, time suspends. There is no visible movement, only connection, from bottle to bowl and back again.
In that moment of stillness the thought rises up that maybe molasses is the perfect kind of sweet. Hearty, unrefined, deep. You—who as a child loved to suck on sugar cubes, who as an adult has not managed to grow out of loving any sort of sweetness, whatsoever—suddenly you know that this is the kind of sweet to covet most. White sugar is vapid, has no depth. Brown sugar (as much as you liked to sneak hard little clumps of it when Mom was baking) is something of an imposter. Honey—yes, it is richer, deeper, but it seems to lack strength. The fake sugars—they are all cheats. But molasses—that is the kind of sweet you can desire all your life. The kind that is complex, and strong. It has a history to it, but unlike that unsatisfactory word bittersweet (upset you all your life, that idea of mixing bitter and sweet) it seems to consist of the sweetness left over after the bitter, or maybe the sweetness that rose up from it. A sweetness that triumphs, that gleams, that suspends time as it pours out—even if there is never a hint of glitter.
Sleeping in—soft bed—the slow presence of soft rain, the air itself softened, warm. Soft glow of stained glass, soft child who is not too old to lie across my lap once in a while. A whole morning of soft gray rest.
1. At my students’ fall recital, sitting finally—momentarily—watching and listening. These milestones—you hit them whether you feel ready or not, whether you are sick or healthy, regardless of what else is happening in your life. We work for mastery. We work to capture the spirit of the piece. But what is on display in front of us is always deeper than those things, broader than the performance.
So many dramas at play, and most of it hidden.
My pride in my students, and the fact that I am on the edge of my seat for each person who walks to the front of the church and bows and plays and bows again has everything to do withknowing them. Their stories, their struggles, their triumphs. Working with them I have gotten glimpses of these things, and I promise you even Twinkle is never the same piece twice.
2. Sitting with the pit band on the opening night of Fiddler on the Roof. Technically my first high school musical, if you don’t count the All-City Opera production of “The Magic Flute” I played in ninth grade. It is an odd and beautiful experience at 42, and I can’t get enough of watching. I am here to play, but my heart is with Oldest, on stage. Stage fright for the people you love is almost worse than stage fright for yourself, and it has nothing to do with your confidence in your loved ones or their abilities. As we start playing “To Life” the only thing tempering the adrenaline is the fact that I am used to playing despite it. Besides, I have to focus on what I am doing. And then it is his solo, and he is standing on a bench, hand raised in blessing—hand with new angles, and handsome—nailing it:
Za vasle zdorovie
Heaven bless you both, Na zdrovie
To your health, and may we live together in peace!
I get to watch, and I get to be part of the music—his music. My pride in him, the fact that I am on the edge of my seat—you know what that is. I have been watching him since what must be the beginning of time, and the story is rich and complex and I know I will never grasp all of it.
The color and shine of it, and the sweet/tart berry-ness. The friend at the grocery store who recommended it as an immune-booster, and who listened to the torrent of frustration and tiredness that emerged when she asked how things were going. The glass it was served in, how it caught the light. The hands holding the glass—the chewed-down fingernails, the fingers that almost always carry some evidence of an art project, the palms that are calloused from day after day of practicing on the monkey bars at school. Holding one of those hands walking down the hallway at the doctor’s office. Its warmth, its softness, despite the callouses. The extra time today spent with those hands, and with their accompanying eyelashes and cheeks and freckles.
Oh, the time. Of which there is never enough, but it’s still there—to press your ear against a chest to hear a heartbeat, to press one cheek against another, to hold hands, to talk, to listen. To realize you not only love but really really like these people around you, frustrations and moodiness and tempers aside.
Never enough time, and yet it sustains. Sweet-tart like elderberry juice, shining.
Maybe you were hoping things would dare to go smoothly but the ride, as usual, is bumpy.
Maybe a child is home sick, and while at first this meant an added sweetness to the day, maybe now she is shooting you glaring dirty looks in a showdown over half a cup of herbal tea.
Maybe the toilet overflowed so spectacularly that one child ran away sobbing while the others froze in amazement.
Maybe you have been bumping into too much that you cannot heal, too much you cannot repair, too much you cannot change.
Maybe, though, you are more awake than you have ever been in your life. Maybe there seems to be a direct correlation between life being this messy and your awake-ness.
Maybe life-smooth lends a certain hardness. An expectation of more smooth. And with that expectation a lack of compassion. The bumps and jolts—yes, they leave you battered and weary, damaged sometimes in ways you don’t even understand. But those jolts, the big ones and little ones—they awaken something.
And every day, maybe, you are more awake. Every day the sun rises and sets, always different, always beautiful. Every day you get to try again, to see more, to soften a little.
Earlier this week when three of our alarms went off at once, the sound for a moment was visible. Before I opened my eyes I saw glass shattering, the pieces glittering as they scattered. As I got up the image lingered. I wish I could have held it longer. Oldest sets two alarms for morning—5:55 and 6:00 a.m.—and when the first went off that morning I took this lovely comfort in the fact that we all had five more minutes before facing the day. I remember nothing else about those five minutes—the next thing I knew was that vision of sound as shards of glass, spraying out into the dark. I suppose I had fallen asleep just enough to dream.
This is one of the luxuries of life, I think: waking up and realizing you still have time left to sleep. The extra rest is a gift. But that chance to lie still in a place between two worlds—between waking and sleeping—that is also a gift. I love that kind of edge-place, and the way it breaks in on reality.
Maybe my love of those in-between places is a throwback to the myths and fairy tales I loved so much as a girl. They resonated deeply and caught my imagination. They filled me with wonder, and a part of me always believed they could be true. Maybe I was supposed to grow up and put aside all fantasy. But no. The thing I’ve learned, getting older, is that most of the time this world is stranger and richer than we expect it to be. Not that I don't have a grip on reality, and not that that reality isn't full of pain and frustration, sometimes. But dreams break in on alarm clocks breaking in on sleep. Those things that we think of as larger than life or outside reality—the myths and fairy tales and flights of fancy—they are braided all throughlife. And the wonder—it is there in the corners and edges and small hidden places, and it is more true than I could have hoped.
Sunday morning: Youngest is serving as an acolyte, and gets to help serve communion.
When it is our turn to go forward we join the line on the right side of the aisle, even though we were sitting on the left side. Communion is almost over and we came from the balcony, anyway, so we aren’t disturbing the flow of things. When Youngest sees us coming up the aisle on her side, I’m pretty sure I can hear a tiny little Yes! but I for sure see her grin. We are—of course—in exactly the right place.
The pastor breaks bits of bread from the loaf in his hand and offers a piece to each person who approaches. “The body of Christ, given for you.” To children he says, “The love of Christ, given for you.” The line inches forward. As each person moves to the side and takes a cup from the tray she is holding, Youngest says, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” The three phrases are a quiet chorus, repeated over and over.
Except when I get to Youngest, she smiles brightly and whispers, “Hi, Mom!”
“Hi, Sweetie!” I whisper back. After a pause I prompt, “Are you supposed to say anything else to me?”
And she smiles brighter.
Without thinking I take a cup, put the bread in my mouth, and move to the railing to kneel next to Middle. Now I am grinning.
And then I remember what I’m supposed to be in the middle of.
Did I prepare my heart properly for communion? I had meant to. And really, is it ever properly prepared? As I hold the tiny plastic cup I admit that it’s not. But that’s what this is all about, isn’t it, the need for grace? I came to the table and was received in love. As I drink, I thank God with every deepness for this holy moment. For the holy words we expect, and for the others, too—just as holy. For the way the sacred breaks in, even on itself, sideways and unscripted.
Wednesday I brought the new violins to class, and the rest of the week was an even more pronounced mix of our usual brilliant moments and chaos. The anticipation building up to this week has been thick, and now that it has been released—oh. Wednesday pretty much everybody forgot about snack. They forgot to be squirrelly when we went to the bathroom. They were focused only on the violins, and for a certain amount of class I gave in to the noise and the spirit of discovery and watched them explore. My seasoned second year students helped the first year students, showing them how to put their shoulder rests on and how to tighten the bow, and then everyone just tried stuff. It was beautiful and loud, and I wish all of you could have witnessed it. The pictures, I think, tell the story well: