Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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A Small Poem for New Life

This poem is written and posted in honor of my cousin Melissa, her husband Tim, and the baby boy who came into the world just before noon on Thursday.

*****

Sometimes,

after a long, hard night,

three births take place

simultaneously.

 

Mother.

Father.

Baby.

 

Each new life is fragile,

already exhausted

from the work of being born,

the casting out

of every familiar womb.

 

Each new life is born strong,

woven with the thick thread

of miracle

as stunning as one body grown inside another,

fierce and resilient as love.

*****

Welcome to the world, all three of you.


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Waiting, the Most Annoying Way to Build Character

“You have to learn to wait.”

How many times have I said this to my children?  Life, after all, is full of waiting.  Waiting in line, waiting for your turn, waiting for something to be over, waiting for something to begin.  Life is full of waiting, and so we include it in the kid-life-curriculum.  Be patient, honey.  You have to learn to wait.

But… umm… grown-ups?  Have you got this lesson down?

*****

Part One:  Highland Ave.

The bridge is under construction.  The bridge, the main bridge, the one that connects the area of My House to the area of Places I Need to Go.  Last week, on Friday afternoon, I attempted to come home.  With tired children in the backseat, I tried the alternate route.  It was gridlocked for miles.  I had been out all afternoon.  So I tried the alternative to the alternate.  There was traffic on streets where traffic has never been before.

And there was nothing to do but sit in it.  And inch forward.  And wait.

So I waited.  “Mama, she hit me!”  “No I didn’t!”  “Yes, she did!”  “Arghargheeeee!”  I kept inching.

And waiting.

I was one mile from my house and it took me a half hour to get home.

And I did.  But…

Anyone who considers themselves a patient person should try out this situation.  Let me know how it goes for you.

*****

Part Two: Advanced Waiting

Several of my friends are in the final weeks of pregnancy.  As I think about and pray for them, I remember what it was like to have nothing to do but wait.  Well, nothing to do and everything to do.  There are preparations  of course, seemingly endless preparations.  But there is no direct correlation between the work of preparing and the timing of the baby’s arrival.

Fix up the nursery?  Don’t fix up the nursery?  Doesn’t matter–the baby won’t come one day earlier or one day later.  You just have to wait.  Take a long walk?  Well, it’s worth a try, but there are no guarantees.  Keep waiting.  Make plans to go away for the weekend before the baby’s due date?  Well, the average for first-time birth is a week and a day after the due date, but that’s just an average.  Better be ready.  Or not.

The life-changing event is coming, but no one knows when.

If you have to learn to wait,  the last weeks of pregnancy are like getting a doctorate.

*****

Part Three:  Waiting Well

Of course, traffic and pregnancy aren’t the only, um, opportunities to practice the skill of waiting.  We wait for the potential employer to set up the interview, and then we wait for the call.  We wait for the test results.  We wait for the house to close, for the right car to show up on Craig’s List, for the acceptance-or-rejection letter.  We wait to see how our careers will unfold or how our children will turn out.  We do what we can, but then…

The question is not ‘will we wait?’ but ‘how will we wait?’

And the problem with waiting is that it implies we are not completely in control.  Many of us do not like this one bit, and we equate waiting with being passive, and being passive with something like laziness or lack of ambition.  “I just need to work harder” we tell ourselves, “I can fix this.”  And if we can’t, like being stuck in $#@^&% traffic, our frustration with ourselves, with the situation, or with somebody-who-is-to-blame just grows and grows.

It can make us not very nice to be around.  Just ask my children.

There is a great freedom to be found in learning to wait well.  If waiting implies not being in control, then waiting well implies trust.  Like a frustrated child who looks into the eyes of a loving parent and thinks, “Okay, if she says that it’s almost my turn, it must be.  I’ll wait.”  Of course, this implies that the one running the universe is on our side, and even some of us who say we believe this get a little nervous sometimes.  The evidence, after all, is mixed.  Really beautiful and really bad things happen to us on a semi-regular basis.

If I wait, if I attempt to trust, how do I know that it will be okay?  I have no easy answer to this question.  However, I do have a good answer to this one:  If I work and worry myself into the ground, will it be okay?

Nope.

 


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Why Winter is Worth It

I have been around my Los Angeles-born husband long enough to know how the conversation will go.

*****

Person (meeting my husband for the first time):  Where are you from?

Husband:  Well, I’m originally from Los Angeles, but I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for ten years now.

Person (inevitably shocked):  Wow.  Why in the world did you move here?

*****

As the conversation continues my husband will explain what brought him here (a professional fellowship) and why he decided to stay (a variety of reasons related to work, church, cost of living, and a really attractive wife).  But I never get the sense that he convinces them, especially if the conversation happens to take place, say, in early March.  “But… but… but…” they protest, always with different phrases, but 90% of their arguments boil down to the same two grievances.

Winter.  And clouds.

“Why would you move here from there?” (said in the same tone that you would use to ask someone why they decided to rent a U-haul in Heaven in order to descend to Hades) really means “Why would you move from warm to cold?  Why would you move from sunny to cloudy?  Why would you choose to endure winter if you didn’t have to?”

There are so many answers to these questions.  My husband and I (believe it or not) love living in Pittsburgh.  The low cost of living has allowed us freedoms unheard of in other urban areas, we are surrounded by people who inspire us, and my husband can wear his favorite flannel shirts much more often.  But there are two other reasons worth noting.

Winter.   And clouds.

There seems to be a rumor that happiness is composed of warmth and sunshine.  You can take this literally or metaphorically–given a choice wouldn’t most of us choose an easy, problem-free existence?  Who wouldn’t want to just lie around on a warm beach, and hire someone else to deal with our finances, responsibilities and hardships?  Who wouldn’t want (and this is a caricature of LA) 80 degrees and sunny, 350 days a year?

Me.  I wouldn’t want it.  And here is why. Pittsburghers are really, really happy in April.  Go to a park on the first warm weekend and watch the people walking their dogs.  Look at the weary parents smile as their children climb the playgrounds.  Heck, go downtown at lunchtime and watch people in suits fight (very politely) for the sunny park benches.  There is a lightness around here in the spring, a sense of we-survived-another-one.  There is a savoring, a satisfaction, even some pride.  And there is annual amazement (and not just from the children) as the crocuses peek through the snow and the trees begin to show the faintest hint of green buds.

Look at that.  The trees weren’t dead after all.  Spring has come again.

*****

I’m becoming more and more convinced that seasons, real or metaphorical, bring substance and depth to our lives.  The ability to appreciate the sunshine or be grateful for rest are gifts in themselves.  People in seasonal climates certainly don’t have a corner on this (and really, there are seasons everywhere, even in Southern California), but every year we have the tangible reminder that winter can be worth it.

Worth it.  Absolutely.  Because every single winter is followed by a brand-new spring.