The Fox at Dawn

8.24.19 A Visitor
August 24, 2019, 12:12 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Saturday morning, blessedly cooler, the humidity gone. The insects sang with the birds and I sat outside with my coffee watching the cats’ lively play, invigorated by the reprieve from summer’s hammer. They charged up into the Golden Rain Tree and swiped at each other from their perches. I grabbed my phone to take their portrait. Down the hill on the lane that runs in front of my house, a man walked by. He talked softly to himself, looked up and saw me there looking down to him. I waved, as I do. He waved, stopped walking and started talking to me as he turned to climb up through the old lily beds and ornamental grasses of my yard. I couldn’t follow what he was saying, something about trying to get up this way every year to do a bit of work, something about picking broccoli spears in Shelby County. He was a white man with long graying hair and a beard, both of which were red once. Perhaps he was in his sixties, perhaps older. He wore loose jeans and a zipped up jacket the color of earth and moss, both of which looked to be worn a long time though not dirty. It was startling how he climbed right up into my yard, ignoring boundaries most folks wouldn’t consider crossing. The dogs rushed down to him, giving him a friendly welcome, and he greeted them with pats. Still he continued his climb toward me, his hands restlessly picking and pulling leaves and branches as he passed. Some were weeds, some were plants dying off at the end of summer, but some were not. He snapped off a branch of the Golden Rain Tree and the head of a sedum that was fixing to flower. His hands had their own will, a need to be picking and snapping as he worked through the farm rows of his mind. Soon he was upon me, right up on the patio bricks by the little fish pond. I was more puzzled than alarmed.

“How about I walk you this way down the path” I said, hoping to lead him back toward the road.

“A path is alway good” he said. He followed me but looked over his shoulder toward my house and its door open wide to the living room inside. “You have a nice house. I bet you have a bedroom.”

There was nothing sinister in his voice, just a simple kind of wistfulness.

“Yes” I said. “Here, this path leads back down to the lane.”

“A path is always good” he said again. But instead of following it, he kept walking into my neighbor’s yard, turning to continue his ascent up the hill.

“It’s good that there are still Indians in this place” was the last thing I heard him say as he made his way, pulling and snapping plants along his way up to the little bit of wood we have behind our houses. I watched him until he was gone.

Was there something I ought to have done for him? He asked for nothing. He seemed to be simply passing through, a visitor from another world following a path I could not see, and as I write this, I am suddenly doubting that it really happened at all.

8.18.19 The Night Before
August 18, 2019, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Cleaning out the attic eave storage space this summer, after the possum frat party that had been raging there all winter, I found many treasures I had stowed away. Some that still cause pain, some that are bittersweet, but many many that are simply sweet. I’ve set some sweet ones on my desk to look over when I need them, like tonight as my daughter is downstairs packing her things to leave for college for the first time.

This is her “Where I’m From” Poem, written in Ms. Sorise’s middle school language arts class. It is based on a famous template by the Kentucky writer George Ella Lyon, who has become both a treasured friend and a teacher of mine.

I found that poem again. It has been pinned to my bulletin board above my desk. And I found again the words I wrote for her baptisms, for she did indeed have more than one. The first took place in the church I grew up in, Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky. The second was in my Chicago church home- Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ.

From the Kentucky baptism:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  I did not know what to pray for, what to hope for.  I tried to live with the idea of never having a child of my own and I found I could not.  But I did not know what path to take or what path to make.  I didn’t even know who to ask.  Then between projects, I took on work as a nanny through a service.  My very first job I walked into an apartment to find Katie, a 2 1/2 year old girl adopted from an orphanage in China.  I became dizzy, the ground moved under me and I quite literally saw a curtain open in front of me and I heard the words, I really really did, “This is your future”. 

See, the miracle is not that the bush burned without being consumed, the miracle is that instead of running away from a brush fire, Moses stopped long enough to notice that fact. The miracle is that absorbed as I was by my own fears, my own despair, my own feeling of being abandoned, I was able to look at Katie and see that curtain open. I was going to adopt a daughter. There was an answer to my wordless prayer, and I was the answer to hers. A motherless child and a childless mother, and now we are we. 

And from the Chicago baptism:

Three years ago on this day I was a couple of months away from my epiphany, still grappling with myself, wrestling the angel to the ground to demand my blessing. Two years ago I had gathered my demand for a blessing into a dossier that then sat on a pile of such demands in some Chinese official’s In basket. A year ago today I held the little photo of the blessing in my hand and today my arms and heart are full of blessings, full of her, my daughter, my gift from God.
            Her name came to me long before she did. At a time in my life when I was particularly alive to everything around me, especially the natural world, I was struck by the name of Jessamine County, Kentucky. It was early spring and I was driving through it a couple of times a week, commuting to Eastern Kentucky and those blessed mountains. Jessamine. And then from somewhere another word attached itself- kindred, one of the most beautiful words I know. Jessamine Kindred, the daughter I dreamt about, my secret child whose name I wrote in places that no one else would ever see. And now that name appears beside mine on a piece of paper that says we belong to each other, and on her very own Social Security card, and on this church bulletin. My eyes still can’t quite believe it. The daughter I dreamt of. The name that she was given when brought to the orphanage was Meng Ai. It means “Dreaming of Love”. 

We both dream of love still, conjure it everyday, make mistakes, try again. “I am from those moments where my mom and I walked hand in hand looking for new adventures”. Now it’s time for her to walk on her own and it’s breaking both our hearts, but golly I’m grateful. She’s healthier, she’s ready, it’s time.

8/17/19 Saturday morning on the hilltop of St. Joe’s
August 17, 2019, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: ,

God bless the young rabbit 
with the early morning sun 
shining through its ears.
God bless the chimney swifts and mourning doves, 
the adolescent robins 
careening from branch to branch.
God bless the red tailed hawk
enduring the harangue 
of the self righteous jay.
God bless the fox who knows
the back way,
slipping safely home.
God bless the runners 
(god knows why they run),
moving as one down the empty street.
God bless the orphans 
waking up to their free morning,
the caregivers who planned for it all week.
God bless the thirsty grass, 
The parched trees and shrubs,
the flowers that bloom anyway.
God bless the old dogs 
with their busted knees
and their young hearts.
And God bless the mother
who dallies on the hilltop
for a moment, just a moment
before launching into a list of chores
that would bury a regiment.

A postcard I made this morning to send to someone in Germany.
Another Saturday morning dalliance.

8.10.19 What will we teach
August 10, 2019, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Teaching, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

This week has been spent back at school, a week of preparation for the teachers. Faculty meetings, room prep, brainstorming, catching up with colleagues. All the gears are beginning to turn, meshing with each other, cranking up to launch another school year. We all have things we plan to teach.

Two more horrific mass shootings within 24 hours of each other. The work of young white men who believe they know who deserves to die, who feel they have the right to destroy the lives of The Other. One of their imagined enemies was a school girl who just finished the eighth grade. She didn’t flee when the shooting started, she tried to help her grandmother who uses a cane. Who taught that young man such hatred?

Teaching is a sacred endeavor. What is taught is not nearly as important as who is teaching. Someone who really sees each student. Someone who respects them and believes the absolute best about them. Someone who loves them. That is who I strive to be.

Our head of school began our first faculty meeting by addressing the shootings. She stated that on our journey together we will focus more than ever on taking care of each other, all of us- students, parents, faculty, staff. We take care of each other because The Other is our family. And this is why I am deeply grateful to be part of my school, because it is more than just talk. It is what we do. We teach love.

Designed by senior Caroline Kessler for last year’s Pride Day.

8.3.19 Something Afoot
August 3, 2019, 12:46 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , , , ,

There is strange energy at work, a churning sort of energy. Walking the dogs these past few days, my head has been crowded with old unhappy thoughts of lost love and betrayals, large and small. A male Cooper’s Hawk has been sitting vigil atop the dying ash tree in the lane and yesterday I spoke to him as I set off. “Hello old friend. I see you. I do wish you would leave me one of your feathers.” And early this morning, there it was, laying on the gravel- one of his tail feathers. A few more steps and there was a feather from a Blue Jay, then a small taupe gray feather from a Mourning Dove. Then I saw a neighbor being led down the street in handcuffs, the mustached officer gingerly carried her pretty pink handbag as he held her arm. He was leading her gently and she had a curious little smile on her face as she climbed into the backseat of the cruiser. Then I found more and more feathers, black ones perhaps from crows or grackles or starlings. I picked up fourteen feathers in all, an extravagance of messages and prayers. Evidence of growth, evidence of someone’s demise.

Then at home I saw what I had been suspecting- that a frog has indeed made its home in my little fish pond. I saw it sitting on the rocks by the waterfall, and just now, I saw a second frog there! Two frogs in the pond that has not known any for two years. I have been wishing for frogs, sorry that I’ve not tried bringing in tadpoles these last two years. And here they came all on their own. So now, like the greedy Fisherman’s Wife, I am wishing for all kinds of things. I’m wishing for my daughter’s mental health to improve, wishing for a successful transition to life at college. I’m wishing for my own daily commitment to writing, carving out time and space for it, protecting it from interruption. I’m wishing for success and prosperity. I’m even wishing for new love and friendship to come into my life. Because what the hell. There is something afoot.