Late April–writing and garden news

I subscribe to a writers’ newsletter compiled by Cigdem Kobu who develops and maintains the Inky Path website and writers’ community. The newsletter arrives in my email inbox each Monday and is packed with articles, tips, prompts, and other writerly inspiration. A few weeks ago, Cigdem posed the challenge to answer the question, “Why do I write?” and submit the results to her for posting in the newsletter. My brief essay appears in the most recent issue, here. Thank you Cigdem for posting this!

Spring is finally here–it felt very slow in coming this year. Each day I go for a slow wander around the yard to see what’s coming up, what wintered over well–or not. I note that last summer’s drought and months’ long watering ban took a toll, especially on shrubs which went into winter stressed. I see browned leaves, some dead branches, especially on the two mountain laurels. They won’t bloom much this year. Yet I’m pleased and surprised by the resilience of most of the plants.

At the front of the house, clumps of tulips add bright, hot colors.

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The andromeda on the east side of the house is covered with creamy bloom.

IMG_0672The lilacs are full of flower buds, which will soon be deep purple, fragrant flowers.

IMG_0678The small PJM rhododendron is in full bright pink bloom.

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Live life to the fullest…

“We need to live life to the fullest,” friends say, often in the midst of conversations about someone who has died or is dying. “But what does that mean?” I asked during one of these conversations. My friend didn’t answer. We were at a party and it really wasn’t the time for such a conversation.

If I’m contentedly sitting in my living room reading a book am I living life to the fullest? I’m enjoying myself. But the injunction to live life to the fullest conjures up images of zest and joy, of almost hyperkinetic activity, a woman of a certain age (my age) whirling around on a dance floor on a cruise ship in the Caribbean somewhere or bungee jumping off a cliff or traveling by motorcycle through Mexico–not sitting quietly with a book.

I’m sitting here on the back porch on a bright, sunny, cool early spring day. I’d usually be at work but am working from home today as I nurse a painful knee. I’m stretched IMG_0344out on a daybed, laptop on lap, ice pack on knee, looking at rhododendron leaves flicking in the breeze and patches of blue sky through the leaves.

Live life to the fullest. My work day moves at great speed, with many tasks that require full attention, which is the good news/bad news—good that I’m not sitting watching the clock, but I often end the day depleted, fatigued.

Live life to the fullest. I hear a lot of shoulds in that sentence. I should use free time to engage with my writing, play the piano, get involved in some community group, go to a play or an art exhibit or a lecture or a thought provoking movie, read a good book, listen to challenging music.

I do some of those things, some of the time, usually on weekends, along with visiting with friends and tending to life maintenance tasks. But I also binge watch Netflix or plunge down a YouTube music hole, one clip leading to another clip, and on to another and…hours later I emerge.

Live life to the fullest. I imagine looking at that injunction through the eyes of my friend Fran who died of cancer 10 years ago and it becomes less about always being in motion, doing and going, and more about just being awake, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching moment to moment.

In each small second

I come from a long line of Protestants of varying degrees of fervor and belief, but I won’t be going to church on Sunday. I can’t remember the last time I went to a Sunday morning service.

As a teen and young adult I tried out various religious homes—flitting from church to church, trying them on like a dresses in a dressing room and then putting each back on the hanger. Presbyterian, Unitarian, Episcopalian. I went to temple with a Jewish friend and mass with a Catholic friend. I sat in the back of an evangelical church in Cincinnati and went to the alternative Episcopal service in a coffee house in Ann Arbor, tore hunks off the loaf of bread, sipped the wine.

I’ve continued this search, sporadically, throughout my adult life. Quaker meeting. Unitarian again. United Church of Christ with a left-leaning pastor and lots of talk of Jesus. Services at a monastery in Vermont where I sang the hymns, sat and rose, but didn’t repeat credos or approach the altar rail, not being Catholic, except for one Easter Sunday the year my friend Fran died, when I ate the bread, drank the wine—the body, the blood—needing communion, community.

Every other Sunday I get together with four friends to meditate. We talk—meditate—then talk some more. Spirituality. Faith in the power of connection.

Perhaps this trying on and casting off is in my genes. One side of the family descends from Mennonites but our line left the Mennonite faith behind and became Lutheran and then Presbyterian. The other side of the family includes Quakers who left the faith to fight in the American Revolution.

Do I believe in God? Maybe, kinda, sorta, god with a small “g”, a belief in something bigger than myself but I’m not sure what. Do I believe in an afterlife? Not really. Mostly I believe in here, now, life and if I have faith it is faith in myself, in those I love, in the power of connection.

Growing up, church was part of the fabric of the community. To be a good citizen, you went to church—my dad had faith in the value of civic involvement, doing the right thing. My mom might have had faith in God, although I’m not sure. In a journal she kept sporadically she wrote about her views on immortality—that we live on in the lives and memories of children, friends, and work.IMG_0662

So where does this leave me? I work at establishing a meditation practice, a writing practice. I stay connected to friends. I remind myself to slow down, to go for a late afternoon walk, stop to visit with my neighbor, to simply look and listen without planning and worrying and commenting, to be part of each moment as it unfolds. I tell myself that this is where divinity lives, in each small second. Sometimes it’s enough.