I’ve written the first lines
Of a million and one poems,
With time only for beginnings,
Half-finished thoughts and undeveloped dreams.
I chase fresh starts,
Looking for Perfect,
For This Is IT.
Instead I find Good For Now.
But here, the sun is shining;
The trees are shivering into salient green buds,
And I think that’s good,
So I’ll pause, here, for now.
I wanted to be angry
When you started work on the decayed hallways
Lined with dim outlines of emptiness.
Dust filtered down
And the foundations shook;
What a mess you’ve made.
But this is the grace of sight:
Not that I can see the cracks and breaks,
But that through them
I may glimpse the sun.
Currently: A paint chip, “English Channel”,
From when we considered painting the living room
Some version of navy blue.
Previously: A gum wrapper;
An envelope with a Polish return address;
A strip of mint green ribbon;
A ticket I didn’t buy, for a Corinne Bailey Rae concert
Which I never attended.
Once, a hair tie.
Often, ripped corners of old coupons and junk mail.
I have a collection
Of real ones, neat and rectangular,
Complete with tassels and everything.
But rarely do they have the initiative
To be there when I need them,
So instead I fill the pages with bits of life
Snagged from side tables and pockets,
Colorful, folded, and sometimes torn,
But always ready to remind me of where I am.
I don’t remember the very first time
I loved driving at night,
But I recall an early July evening,
When a phone call at 1am snapped me
Out of self-pity and
Took me and my car keys out the door
In search of a gas station for supplies
To help a friend stranded on I-495.
And as I drove there, on the bend
Just before the state line,
I saw what they meant by open road,
And I felt relieved of a worry
I’d refused to consider.
Lately I’m more inclined
To driving highways at night
Without even a plan or destination,
Chasing green signs and red tail lights,
Music playing loud.
Except I don’t sing. I sit and
And I move faster than usual.
I sit quiet and straight
While the vivacity of the world
Pours through the windows,
Tugging my hair and taking my breath,
And the only choice
Is whether I’ll return home,
Or keep driving–
In the dark but
Between the lines going on forever.
Unto you this day is born a Savior.
Born into a dark, silent night,
The Light Of The World
Rests not in heavens above,
But in our gloom and in our dirt.
Transfixed by my own darkness,
I turn away from the glare —
Turn away my heart and all my spare rooms.
I leave him in the cold and the night
That I might lock myself in, lonely and afraid.
Yet still he draws near, disregarding my defenses,
As envoys of light proclaim Fear not
Until slowly my eyes adjust
To the piercing brightness of Good News For All:
Great Joy come in a humble, earth-shattering infant.
I made a wedding cake last week, and I was grumpy the whole time. I was grumpy with it for taking up all my evenings in the first week of a very short December. Normally I love baking, and I love that I’ve been involved in creating so many wedding cakes. But I wanted to be making Christmas happen at my house, and cake was an obstacle rather than an opportunity. To be sure, I got my tree up, and by sheer dint of will there is a manger scene on my windowsill and glitter and lights making my house sparkle, but none of it felt as warm and fuzzy as I hoped. Every year I want the Christmas season to be the same as when I was a child. Not that I need all things to stay perfectly static– it’s more that my fading memory gives me an unrealistic longing for Christmas cheer to be clinging to every feeling and moment, adding luster to the mundane and a warm glow to even the coldest nights.
Instead of this cozy daydream, I am presented with the reality that I’m spending my days chasing a feeling I can’t hold onto for more than a minute at a time. All my work does very little to produce any tidings of comfort and joy. I walk around disappointed because my Christmas spirit didn’t arrive on my doorstep the day after Thanksgiving.
I think I’m starting to realize that the good tidings and the comfort and most importantly the joy are not something I can conjure at will, even supposing I had the energy to do so. More often than not, they are already there waiting patiently for me, if only I will stop my frantic activity long enough to notice them. Maybe I did a lot more stopping as a child. Or maybe I wasn’t moving as much in the first place. I remember cradling the joy of small moments: the pride and delight I felt in being lifted onto my dad’s shoulders to place the angel on the uppermost branch of the tree; the Christmas songs played over and over on the CD player in the kitchen; the steps I traced in my basement as I practiced the choreography for every part I had in The Nutcracker ballet. I was surrounded by reminders of how special Christmastime was, and every year I hoped desperately that I could care for each moment well enough to take them all with me into January.
Now I’m grown(ish), and while I’m doing all the things — the tree, the Advent services, the gingerbread cookies — I’m finding the best moments are the ones where I sit and let Christmas catch up to me. I curl on my couch beneath a warm blanket and I finally remember how each piece of festivity I’ve engineered should be a signpost directing me towards greater things than twinkling lights and presents beneath pine branches. I remember the first manger scene, which I’m quite certain was not so warm and clean and put-together as the porcelain one on my windowsill might lead me to believe. I remember that, praise the Lord, I am not called to a life that is always warm and perfect, but to a life which welcomes the grace still emanating from that dirty, dingy stable. And it’s when I remember these things, sitting on my couch in my quiet house, that I find the good tidings and the comfort, and, most importantly, the joy.
I’ve been doubting peace
On such a broken earth.
And questioning goodwill toward men
So wounded with sin.
But perhaps it was peace
Which permeated the prayer before our meal:
Sinuous yet strong
Enough to hold our hands
Together as we stood
In a haphazard circle around the kitchen.
And maybe it was goodwill
As we relinquished comfort and elbow room
Along the long rectangle of table
That we might send smiles back and forth
Between bites of turkey
And sweet potatoes drenched in sugary butter.
Moments to hold in my hands:
Here is Peace on our little spot of Earth,
A gentle reminder of hope.
Goodwill within these walls–
For glimpses of a joy to come.
Some friends of mine recently released a gorgeous rendition of the hymn “He Leadeth Me.” I can’t recommend it enough:
I’ve been listening to it on repeat, not only because the music is heart-aching in how beautiful it is, but because the words of this hymn are true and yet entirely foreign to my unwieldy and sinful heart. Below is the only response I can summon.
In the Shadows of Small Understanding
My Lord is not intimidated
By my heart’s stubbornness.
He uses even my most begrudging steps
To draw me nearer to Him.
Glory and wonder–
The Most High stoops
And gently clasps my most lowly hand.
And my soul sings for joy;
My imperfect melodies,
Born from a broken and helpless soul,
Finding a tune of grace
For the God of all praising.
I really want to talk about autumn, but I’m afraid I can’t do this season justice. Neither can I ignore it. It won’t let me. You see, I count my years, not in the cold winter of January, but with the advent of September and October. I’m sure it’s a by-product of being a teacher. The start of each school year sings with new beginnings. The unscheduled haze of summer fades as new rhythms and routines curl slowly into concrete form until I can trace their patterns with my eyes closed tight. Fall means comfort and reliability even as it means a chill breeze bringing change in its most pleasing form.
I’ve been taking a long look at the trees each morning as I walk into school. I’m not sure what species they are, but these trees have mastered the art of transitioning gracefully. The sun hasn’t quite peeked over the branches yet, so the golds and oranges are softened by a mist which hugs the soccer field, and geese fly overhead as black silhouettes against a rose-gold sky. I slow my steps so my caffeine-deprived brain has time to realize that this warm rainbow of color is a good reward for being awake at this ungodly hour.
Today I teach 7th grade. This class is the pile of leaves swept gaily into small flurries by an October breeze. The chaos of it all is heartwarming in a way I’ll never fully understand. These students come in every day spilling over with rambunctious curiosity, bearing stories of Latin words found adorning pizza boxes and making appearances in episodes of Spongebob Squarepants. One sweet boy has no qualms about loudly proclaiming his love of prepositions, and every day he tells everyone how he decided to highlight every prepositional phrase in his favorite novel. Their enthusiasm fills me with joy, and I realize how much I love them in all their quirky weirdness.
Monitoring lunchtime is a gift in its own way. Along with the noise of 80 students attempting to talk and eat in the same breath, it brings conversations and inside jokes with two wonderful women who have years of teaching wisdom to share. We end mealtime with a break outdoors to soak in the late morning light. I make sure no one suffers a major injury playing soccer and touch football, and standing on the edge of the soccer field I see the trees from this morning shining in even brighter golden glory.
Driving home is at its most enjoyable in October. The classic rock and country music of summer have been moved to the side as I work through a list of wonderfully hipster indie music. My relief at the close of another workday is amplified by the afternoon sun beating upon the rusty leaves overhead. The world slows down and the passing foliage falls into rhythm with the quiet music playing in my car. It’s now that I feel all the beauty of autumn insisting upon words from me. But even my best ideas seem cheesy and cliche. I know I’m not the first to realize how beautiful the dying world can be. I remember the poem I posted near my desk at school, the one that talks about the wonder of a world always reminding us to rediscover her beauty. I remember my favorite lines at the end. I repeat them to myself, and I open my window to feel the chill breeze.
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.