Ordinary Time, for a Moment In-Between

Dave Granlund draws Santa, leaning out of his loaded sleigh and snapping his whip at two harnessed, racing turkeys, whose buckled Pilgrim hats are flying. One turkey thinks, “This holiday overlap has gotten way out of hand!” The editorial message in today’s Columbus Dispatch lands close to home.



I clomp downstairs, odd-footed in my surgical boot, on Friday morning, and I hear the back door close softly. Mark is out for his morning walk.

I start coffee, fill the tea kettle, and head into the dining room to pull my morning pages notebook from the cupboard. The brown plaid tablecloth, the Thanksgiving tablecloth, still covers the table.

I’ll leave it there, I think, until this afternoon.

I write while the coffee brews, scenting the house. I am, I realize, hungry for the first time since our indulgent holiday meal yesterday. When my pages are filled and snapped back into the binder, I fill a bowl with Chex cereal and skim milk, and I enjoy a plain and simple breakfast while I read the paper.

The newspapers are filled with coronavirus news and coronavirus opinions. I read about football games that were cancelled and rescheduled for virus concerns. I read an article about President-elect Biden’s Cabinet appointments, and I read about a controversial murder case.

These are regular-day newspapers, filled with everyday [and some of them unfortunate] concerns, and I relax into that ordinary Friday feeling. For just this little time, that high-tension holiday wire has stopped humming.


Thanksgiving Day was a feast, of course, despite only three of us around the table, despite our self-imposed travel ban.

It was a connections feast—with texts and calls from those people we can’t hug right now. Several friends sent pictures of beautiful tables and shining faces; Christmas tree lights shone warm in the background.

“How beautiful,” I thought, even as I realized I am not ready, just yet, to get the tree out and up, to make an all-in commitment to the Christmas season.


Thanksgiving was a food feast, too, of course…with a fresh little dry-brined turkey, and so many sides that we forgot to put the homemade cranberry sauce—our first foray into homecooked cranberries—on the table. And we were so sated afterwards that we decided against making the molten chocolate cakes; no one had room, and no one had the desire.


After our mid-day dinner we lit the fire, and I read by its crackling light until we scrambled into the car to drive to Newark for the county hall light show.

But the courthouse was only half-lit; the lower lights and the twinkling, bouncing, musical tableaux were still under construction.

“What!” we all exclaimed. “I thought they always started on Thanksgiving!”

And we drove through downtown Newark, admiring the changes and additions the town has made, and glad, anyway, to get out of the house and into a little fresh air.

And then glad to get home, too, to settle back into the quiet, and to end the pandemic holiday by watching some mundane TV and wandering off to read. It was a holiday imbued, this year, with both a heightened sense of gratitude and an increased sense of worry.

People we know are sick.


Some people celebrate Black Friday after the U.S. Thanksgiving Thursday, a day to seriously shop for holiday gifts and bargains and personal indulgences. But even before ‘pandemic’ was a reality word, we didn’t do that. We celebrate No-Obligation Friday instead, a day when all the holiday expectations have been met and when we’re not, as Mark says, “…on any kind of schedule.”

So today, we linger with newspapers and email. Then, about 10:30, we take a ride to pick up cashews I had ordered from a Girl Scout a month or two before. We had been shopping for yard pumpkins and gourds at a little farm market maybe 35 miles away, and a nice young dad, a clerk at the market, was touting his daughter’s Girl Scout offerings.

I had forgotten about the cashews until the Girl Scout’s mom messaged me yesterday. Picking them up is a good excuse for a ride in the country. The trees, mostly, are bare, and the cornfields and soybean fields are, mostly, brusquely shaven.

“Sere,” I think, and there’s a kind of comfort in this fallow, waiting landscape.

The sky is a sullen gray—the kind of sullenness that says, “What have I got to be happy about? I’m laden with clouds and can’t even rain.”

Vultures circle lazily, and people, in the little settlements we pass through, are out working. A crew of young men put metal roofing on a ranch house. An elderly woman slowly, carefully, cleans caught leaves from the roots of bushes. Two small white dogs sit alertly on the front side of a wrap-around porch, and school-aged kids chase each other, grinning and hollering, around an old white farmhouse.

The Girl Scout’s mom is waiting for us at the farm market, and we put the cashews in the back seat with Jim, who re-adjusts his head phones as we turn and head back to Zanesville.


Mark takes us on a different route this time, and we pass stores and restaurants and realize how many people are out shopping, keeping to their traditional Black Friday habits. Parking lots are filled to capacity. I don’t let my mind imagine the inside of the stores, and the limited room for social distancing.

I hope people don’t get ill from tradition.

We stop at the pharmacy—another ordinary day errand,—and then we head home for lunch.


And lunch is wonderful. It’s that best part of the turkey-day feast: the leftovers. I heat green bean casserole in the microwave, gather lettuce, and slice fresh whole grain bread. Mark grabs the Hellmann’s for his sandwich and spoons out a healthy portion of the forgotten cranberry sauce.

The sight of the turkey sandwiches gives Jim pause; he puts away the chicken patty he was taking to the air-fryer, and piles on the turkey slices instead.

After lunch, I put the remaining green bean casserole into a smaller container, and I rearrange the refrigerator a bit. We start brainstorming clever leftover fixes. Jim suggests stuffing waffles with shredded turkey and gravy. I think we could make some biscuits to accommodate that turkey and gravy, too. Mark is thinking of a turkey shepherd’s pie, using up lovely, leftover, twice baked potatoes.

Later, we will carve up the rest of the turkey and pack things away in the freezer.


Right now, though, I get my calendar and sit at the table. I look at the month ahead.

I plan when to mail out gifts, and I jot down some ideas for last-minute additions.

I write out reminders:

  • Fill out paperwork for flu shots.
  • Make Jim’s dental appointment.
  • Foot doctor on Tuesday morning!

I note that Mark will work from home on the 9th and the 10th, and that Jim’s class wraps up at just about that time.

I fill in work webinar dates and Zoom meetings, and I note presentations that are coming up.

Then I start listing the things I want to do…the cleaning and the sanding, touching up trim and repainting walls.

We need to wash the Christmas china, I think.

On Sunday, we’ll trade the harvest wreath for a holly one, and we’ll put the Advent candles on the old treadle sewing machine in the dining room.

Satisfied that I am organized, I close the calendar and put it away.

Enough for right now. Enough.


Mark has the fire lit in the living room hearth, and it is perfectly right on this gray day—a day that is not so chill as damp. I get my new mystery, just begun, from the dining room, and I shake out my favorite fuzzy blanket, and I settle into the chair, feet up on the sturdy ottoman. And I settle into the story of decent people solving horrible crimes, that strangely comforting scenario creating a sense of space and safety within.


If time is a kind of geography, today is a safe, protected valley between peaks, one higher than the other, and this day offers space to shelter in that safe valley.

Tomorrow I’ll begin the cleaning, and on Sunday, the decorating. But right now, it is time to stretch and relax, to take a deep and cleansing breather; before the rush of the Christmas holiday begins, it is good—really, so very good,—to grab and appreciate a moment of ordinary time.

Different Darkness, Different Lights

Early morning: I let Greta out into a pitch black world, and I stand shivering on the cement stoop while she traverses the backyard. Her white patches glow; they signal where she’s headed. She doesn’t dilly-dally; it is cold, and there are secrets hidden in the dark.

Later that day, I clip the leash on the little dog just before supper, and we go out for our last real walk of the day. Not even six o’clock yet, but the sky is deeply navy blue, heavy with clouds, and dusk is turning quickly into a very early night.

It is the season of darkness, when the dark steals more of our hours than are owned by the light. If I were not retired, my working day would be bracketed by the dark, by a stealthy office arrival in velvet pitch, by departure into a world already settling in to night. Daylight is squeezed harshly and flattened in-between. I’m glad Mark gets out for lunch, feels the cold wind on his face, soaks in the wan rays of the furthering sun.

It is the season of darkness, and this year, I am making a constant and mindful search for the light.


This year I am drawn, just about every day, to use the fireplace. Dinner dishes done, Mark lights the gas insert; its flames blaze up, blue-tinged and charring white. I take my book; I settle into the chair closest to the fire, putting my stocking feet on the ottoman, looping a light blanket over them. I settle into the contemplation of someone else’s words and thoughts. Often Mark and Jim turn the TV on in the next room; their laughter is warming, too.

And the dog slips in, climbs onto the couch, sighing, and circles around and settles, her snout pointed toward the fire. Her eyes slip slowly closed, setting like the sun: a last glint and then they’re gone. Her soft snores underscore my reading.

The firelight dances; I look for light in the words I am reading, and in the little family gathered beneath this roof. An oasis in the darkness, I think, and I know that one of the values of winter is the gravitational pull of a gathering light.



Lanterns 1

We search for light-filled ways to mark the season. I read on a local blog about the Chinese Lantern Festival at the state fairgrounds in Columbus. That sounds intriguing to all of us.

On the very night it opens, we head off: first to a theme dinner at a Panda Express, where we fuel up on orange chicken and fried rice, then on another twenty miles to the site. It is cold and inky black; I think of another night similar to this,  not so many years ago, when we dragged Jim to see the Zoolights. Everyone likes the Zoolights, right?

Jim hated them. He was too cold. It was too crowded. Raucous Christmas music shouted from the whirling, twirling exhibits, and everywhere he turned an aggressive baby stroller threatened his shins. We insisted on seeing at least the greater part of the light show, but no one was happy, and three grumpy people (“I can’t believe we spent all that money for that little glimpse,” Mark muttered more than once) stalked the long way back to the car and huddled in their uniquely miserable complaints for the long ride home.

I was crazy, I think now, to plan to see the lanterns on opening night, and there’s a little dreadful foreboding dancing around my gut. But Mark drives us into the parking lot, where a car pulls out of a space right in front of the ticket gate. Score number one: a great place to park.

I have purchased and printed our tickets on line, to avoid waiting in line; there isn’t much of a crowd anyway, but we skirt the few people gathered and hand our tickets to a smiling young man who waves us into a lofty, barn-like cement building. There are food concessions and (yay!) indoor restrooms; a big set of double doors are open into the outdoor path to the Chinese Lantern festival.

It is a cold clear night. We walk through a kind of tunnel, arched by giant, glowing, silken candy canes. Bobbing silken red ornaments sway over our heads. Jim looks a little uncertain, but, “I like the music,” he says. (I am too ignorant to be able to pinpoint what kind of music this is–“Asian” is my best attempt at categorizing it–but later that night I read an interesting note in To Siri With Love, by Judith Newman. She is writing about her autistic son Gus, who loves music and is pitch-perfect, and she mentions that many autistic people are drawn to Asian music. “Pentatonic scales for example, ” she writes, “used in Chinese and folkloric music–are open-ended, and don’t call for resolution the way dissonant chords do. They are seductive and meet you on your own terms [Gus’s music therapist] says.”)

The candy cane exhibit is the last aggressively Christmas-y display, and it is clear immediately that this show is something Jim enjoys. We pass through a long covered walkway where traditional red silken lanterns sway overhead. Then there is a splendid dragon, maybe half a city block long. Eastern princesses dance, suspended in swaying silken lanterns, watched over by sharp-eyed egrets.  There is a life-sized tea set, blue and white porcelain rendered in silk and lights.

There are fields of glimmering butterflies, and there are characters rendered in an almost chibi-manga style. There are fish and owls and a long, triumphant phoenix. There are dinosaurs. There is an archway of hearts; lovers bundled in winter coats and hats kiss inside while a friend snaps pictures.

“Awww,” says Jim. “That’s sweet.”

A pavilion houses a series of displays that show how the lanterns were constructed. Mark, with his engineer’s soul, plunges enthusiastically, hands deep in pockets, dancing a little, but taking the time to read each installment. Jim stands right beside him, cold be damned. They learn that once the lanterns would have been made of rice paper, susceptible to rain and wind and fire. Now the intricate sculptures are made of wire with a sturdy, silk-like cloth stretched over the frames. They are illuminated from within. They glow but do not glare.

We wander out, finally, to the last exhibit, a huge, colorful pagoda, ornately bedecked with a profusion of symbols–among them, Chinese dragon heads guarding each of the corners. We circle slowly; our hands are freezing and those bathrooms beckon, but we are reluctant to be finished with this evening.


Before he leaves for work the next morning, Mark says, kind of wonderingly, “The boy really liked the Chinese lanterns.” And when Jim gets up he says, again, “Those lanterns: that was really cool.”


I let that enjoyment tumble in my mind all day. Why was this so much better than the zoo lights, despite the same, cold, wandering kind of format?

I think about Jim’s particular set of challenges. He has autism, which brings with it some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. He also struggles with the bear of major depressive disorder. I have known others who walk with that black bear for a companion, and the bright lights and glorious music of holidays do not seem to scare the beast. If anything, the strident holiday reminders agitate the bear, make it rear up and show its claws.

So maybe piercing lights and in-your-face music are too much on the raw skin of depressive disorder.

The muted lights of the Lantern festival, the simple and elegant Asian chords, and the  symbolism from a different culture entirely spoke more clearly to Jim than Deck the Halls or reindeer sleighs.

There are different kinds of darkness–inky seasonal darkness and the relentless darkness of the mind. There are grief and regret and consuming loneliness. There are physical challenges that restrict sight and sound, the ability to move and to communicate.

There is terminal disease; there is addiction. Mental health challenges. Disability and different ability. So many challenges the human family faces: so many shades of darkness.

And different kinds of light illuminate the different shades of night.


It is another early morning, and Greta and I wander down the hill, and I realize that the folks in the white colonial are all decorated for Christmas, still over a month away. Our door is wearing a glittery orange leaf; it catches the gleam of the little sconces we hung on either side of the door after the house was painted. It mirrors the leaves blowing into the front yard, and it beckons the whole yard-full of leaves still stubbornly stuck up in the front-yard tree: C’mon guys! Take the plunge!

The glitter leaf will stay there until Sunday, at least, and then we’ll think about how we’ll decorate for this yuletide season.

We have small, thin fake evergreen trees, pre-lit, that we’ve put on either side of the front door for the past two years. We store them in the old garage; this summer Mark peeled a long, leathery snakeskin off one of them. The bloom is off those little trees, at least for me.

We have stake lights that Jim picked out some years ago; they look like giant, old-fashioned Christmas bulbs. He liked them a lot the year he got them. Each year since, they’ve lost a little luster. We’ll let him decide if he wants to plunge those into the ground this year, lighting the path to the house.

There are tangled bales of colored and white twinkle lights. There are oversized plastic ornaments that have sometimes danced from the boughs of the tree outside the oversized kitchen  window.

I am happy, this year, to go with whatever the boyos decide about outdoor illumination. (Last year’s November was downright balmy, if I remember right. This year, it is cold, and dark, and not great weather to be climbing on ladders and stringing twinkling lights.)

I’m thinking simplicity: green wreaths with red bows on all the windows.

I’m thinking we need to buy candles for the Advent wreath, which is just a green wreath we lay on a side table. We snug in four mis-matched brass candlesticks and begin, four weeks before Christmas day, to light one candle at dinnertime. I like the idea of the candle glowing in the bay window, of another joining the chorus each week. I like the symbolism of the light intensifying as winter grows darker, and as the celebration grows nearer.

Sometimes we buy the traditional colored candles: three purple tapers, and one pink. Sometimes we go with green and white candles, or with red and green. One year, I think, we had blue and silver tapers. We’ll wander out on Friday, Jim and I, buy chocolate for Christmas packages, get the last of the mailing-out gifts, and we’ll pick up the candles that will light our path to Christmas.

And we’ll look for light-filled ways to get ready. We may do something traditional; there are some drive-through light exhibits, including one at a state park not too far away, that don’t require leaving the warmth of a car. Driving allows us to control the loudness of the music, too. Maybe we’ll explore that this weekend.

This morning a friend sent a notice about a historical yuletide exhibit in a nearby town, in a restored Victorian house–a Christmas tableau lit by candlelight and flickering flames from a broad brick hearth. Maybe we’ll visit there, too.


And certainly we will explore other ways to pierce the darkness–with floods of words that speak to our hearts, with music that uplifts us, with films that make us laugh and sniffle and think about what could have been, what shouldn’t be, and how we can touch the future. We will gather with friends; we will reach out to family.

We will each confront our own special darkness, the physical and the spiritual, the emotional and the intellectual. Because, I realize in these latter days, we can’t ask others to constantly hold the lantern, to shine our demons away. It is our job–it is MY job–to find the sources of my darkness, and then to light the flames or turn on the spotlight that will illuminate those dreary, darkened corners. And only then, with my own darkness under control, can I, perhaps, help others light their special ways.


We will each this year, in our own way, search for the light that illuminates the season.

Chay-Chay-Chain: Chain of Yules

‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I was so happy to see Maggie, my former student, on a trip back home. In class, way back in the day, Maggie was a bright and funny over-achiever, a perfectionist, and a wonderful writer. I lost track of her after we moved. Then, when I finally figured out FaceBook, twelve years after everyone else had embraced it, Maggie found me and sent a friend request.

It’s been a delight to watch her soar, career-wise, and to see her find a mate and establish a family of her own, too. Now here she was, looking a little tired and a little frazzled.

This is what she told me:

I have to make twenty four cupcakes, from scratch, for my daughter Annie’s first grade class tomorrow. Jillie’s dance recital is Thursday night, and I still have to sew fifty-seven sequins onto her leotard. I’m in charge of the Christmas party at work, and I’m organizing a collection for some students who are dead broke this Christmas season. They’re debating whether they should stay in college or give their kids a real Christmas; we decided to take care of the Christmas part for them.  There are kids’ concerts  coming up and we’re both singing in the cantata at church and I made my own Christmas cards this year and Joe’s parents and sister are coming to stay with us. I have to plan the dinner and shop for the groceries and clean the house and hand craft gifts for forty seven of my closest friends…

What I did was hug her and wish her a wonderful, wonderful holiday season.

What I wanted to do was shake her and say, NO, you DON’T ‘have to’!

But, having once been a victim of “The World’s Most Essential Mommy” syndrome myself, I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Maggie, right now, wouldn’t hear me.

As I said, Maggie is smart. She’ll figure it out; she’ll come to see that running herself ragged from September until January 2nd is not the best way to celebrate the holidays. It’s not even a route to making sweet children magically happy.

Until then, though, Maggie will wear the chains she’s forged herself–chains of super-mom selflessness and exhaustion. She’ll throw herself into bed on Christmas morning at 4 AM, having filled the stockings and etched an authentic looking note from Santa, thanking Jillie and Annie for the milk and cookies, having arranged the presents in person-centered piles and insured that everyone’s goodies were equal in cost and intent, having whipped up the breakfast casserole and wrestled the 16-pound roast, somehow, into her over-stuffed refrigerator. She’ll look at her blissfully snoring husband Joe, and she’ll feel a rising tide of resentment.

“Merry freakin’ Christmas,” she’ll think bitterly. “And once again, I did most of it myself.”

And, with a self-righteous little ping of satisfaction, she’ll drag those onerous chains up from the floor, wrap them around her tired self, and sleep until 5:15, when Jillie and Annie erupt to drag her and Joe out of bed.

Oh, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I know a wonderful wife and mom who stops at her favorite pizzeria every Christmas Eve and buys two enormous unbaked pies. On Christmas evening, after the visiting is done and the explosion of wrapping paper has settled, she cranks the oven up high and throws the pizzas in.  That’s their Christmas dinner; the kids look forward to it every year, and if she whipped up a full meal of roast and mashed potatoes and gravy, with cheesecake and handcrafted chocolates, they would groan and ask where the pizza was.

What a smart mama. She says she wants to be awake and rested at the end of Christmas day, so they can clear the table and get the board games out and enjoy each other’s company.

Never once have the Essential Mommy police shown up to ding her for offering pizza instead of a seven course meal on Christmas night.

We chain ourselves with imagined obligations.


There are other holiday ways we chain ourselves, too—like Scrooge and Marley, we might have wrapped ourselves relentlessly in coils of nastiness, hoping the worst for our enemies, withholding love and joy from those we feel have wronged us. Maybe we are stingy with the tip for the paper carrier or the hair dresser; maybe we cut someone off our Christmas card list because we didn’t like an offhand remark they made last year. Fifteen years of friendship fries in the fires of resentment, and out pops a heavy metal link. It attaches itself to the growing chain we’re  wearing around our waists.

When others party merrily, we watch bitterly. “Sure. Easy for you,” we think.

Easy for US, too–if only our chains weren’t quite so heavy.

Chains of worry and resentment and frustration. We wait for a shining savior-person to come and, wielding gleaming metal cutters, cut away those heavy coils from our weary persons.

But, really, all we have to do is let them go ourselves.

Thank goodness Christmas brings other chains, too.

There are the paper chains crafted by childish hands, clumsily stapled or glued together, dangling, maybe, from one end of the curtain rod in the living room. Each day, the kids take turns ripping off a link. Soon, the littlest one has to stand on a chair to reach the bottom-most link.

When the links are gone, Christmas will be here.

For each link they tear away, those children do a secret nice thing for someone–clean up a mess, or bite off a nasty retort. Or say a little prayer in the silence.

They tear away the paper chain, but they’re creating another, more wonderful kind of linkage.

There are chains of connection–the long-awaited Christmas letter, the every Christmas evening phone call, the reunion that always happens on New Year’s Eve.  We forge these chains, too–the joyful maintenance of communication, of friendship, of caring.

We join hands with those odd people sitting next to us at church, and we are surprised by the warmth of their grasps.  We dish up the meal at the food kitchen and recognize ourselves in those we serve.

We launder the still-snuggly winter coat, mend its tears, replace its buttons, take it down to the homeless shelter, and hand it over to a retired teacher who volunteers there. She will get it to a person who needs it, a person who doesn’t need to see me or know where that coat originated. But, strangers to each other, we will still be part of a chain.

Those chains, too, are chains we forge in life.

Oh, Maggie. I want to send her a gift card for a massage, bidding her to take the afternoon off. I want to call her husband Joe and tell him to make the girl slow down. I want to sit her down and spill all the wonderful wisdom I’ve gathered, over a somewhat self-satisfied life, into her already full lap.

But she’s no fool, our Maggie, and she will come to a day when she realizes that being fully present is the very best present, that having a perfectly peaked meringue never made the difference in a holiday celebration, that treating herself with all the kindness and energy she treats others is a gift to everyone, not just to herself.

She wears the chains of obligation, Maggie does, but she also wears the chains of joy.  And deep down, under the thrum and bustle of deep-felt oh-I-have-to’s, she knows (we ALL know) which chains are made to last.

The Lord Be Thankit


The last work day of the week before Christmas, and I bolt out of bed at 6:22 AM, not really awake, but up and moving, anyway. My autopilot lights before my thinking brain engages.  A dream slithers away, down the mental drainpipe, irretrievable, but for some reason, a refrain of Robert Burns’s grace-poem frolics through my head:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it…

I stumble into the bathroom, avoiding the sight of the oversized pallid troll doll in the mirror and begin the transformation to respectable professional lady of a certain age.  The process takes longer with each passing year; the results grow noticeably less perky. But I can smell the coffee brewing downstairs–Mark, God bless him, has the machine gurgling along for me already.  The dog sighs audibly in the next room, snuggled in the warm spot I left behind.  When I finally emerge, girded for the day, she will heave herself out of the bed, which I am then allowed to make.  She’ll hoof it down the carpeted stairs to meet the Dad, who will let her outside and then stand watch on the stoop as she greets the morn by piddling.

It seems like an aftermath day: we had our division holiday gathering yesterday.  We gathered in the classroom in the new building that has the comfortable chairs–padded, comfy chairs, on wheels.  Jim, our boss, had rolled them into little pods, sprinkled the swinging desktops with foil packets of Ghiradelli peppermint bark.  Linda and Jaime and Terry quietly loaded up a rolling cart at 11:30; they toted the tablecloths and the bread, the tableware and the crockpots, up on the elevator.  They laid out a feast.

Appointments over, phone calls made, work-errands done, I joined the little throng walking into a modern day Fezziwig’s–drifting in on floating scents: oxtail and vegetarian potato and Italian wedding soups, a bubbling pot of spicy chili.  Plates and bowls of crusty bread and mounds of butter; crisp and savory salads; cheesecakes and ice cream desserts; cookies and cake and candy.

Music played; people milled–a mellow, respectful crowd, the gentle people from IT, we female middle managers.  We waited for Nancy; when she rushed in, Jim dropped the flag: the feast was on.  Voices rose and fell and bodies sorted themselves into clusters to eat and talk and then get up to fill another bowl.

I was lucky enough to sit with Ron and Cindi. Ron talked about an oceanography class he’s taking, and his eyes lit up and his fascination shimmered.  He is three courses away from his bachelors degree; you can see him on fire with the learning.  It reminded Cindi, I could see, of the rigorous high school program her daughter has just entered. She told us about a project the kids are doing, one that requires them to think rather than memorize, to hypothesize and analyze rather than merely extol.  There was the over-banquet and the under-banquet–the food Ron and Cindi enjoyed almost absent-mindedly while they talked about that feast of thought and ideas and discovery, a feast where all is new and exciting.

We hae meat and we can eat…

Jaime, peaked under her skillful make-up, wandered thoughtfully, making sure everyone had a drink, a filled dish, a piece of chocolate to cleanse a palate.  Jaime had been out sick the day before with a virulent stomach flu; her four year old twins brought it home from preschool.  The twins are new to the preschool world, and every vagrant virus finds a welcome home in them.

“My healthy babies!” Jaime laments, and by the time she’s done caring for them, staying up late, getting up early, mopping up and laundering, she is run ragged and an easy target herself.

“I feel better,” she assured us, but she wasn’t really chowing down.

Some hae meat that canna eat…


We had cast about for an after-lunch activity, something not silly or sweet enough to make our teeth hurt, and we thought about the facility next door, a mysterious place that shelters adults with all manners of disabilities.  Close neighbors, we have just begun to talk: how can this little community college and this haven for grown people with autism, with Down’s syndrome, with traumatic brain injury and other challenges–how can we work together?

We came up with a surprising number of ways.  Now we would begin the process of learning about each other, probing the mysteries.  We walked over, a varied (if not motley) group, and we were warmly met by Sheila, our first contact.  She introduced us to Erik, who’d help give us the tour.  Erik is a handsome guy with dark curly hair and a baseball hat pushed back on his head. He was happy to see us, happy to be in the role of host.  He told us about the job he holds in a retail store; he barely needs any coaching anymore, and soon will just be working, all on his own. Just like anyone, he said.

We traveled through a maze of offices, where people waved as they talked on phones, and looked up from paperwork or gift-wrapping; the halls were bright with artwork and noisy with chat and laughter.  We saw a group of people working to finish one final order from a corporate sponsor.

“No more piecework,” said Sheila firmly.  She explained that they are moving toward a person-centered philosophy.  Strong in the knowledge that folks with handicaps have gifts and talents, they are daring to ask their clients, “What would you like to do?”

Sheila said it’s hard for the older folks to even think about it; piecework is all they’ve ever known.  They’re puzzled by choices, puzzled at being asked to dream.  They spent a long time learning the close-walled limits of their conditions, and now to have those walls shifted away feels threatening.

Some hae meat but canna eat…

We saw artists at work; I admired a truly vibrant picture of a rustic pig on a green background.  It’s a painting I’d hang proudly in my kitchen.  I will watch for it at the First Friday Art Walk, when these folks sell their wares.

We saw people, mostly young men, absorbed in computer work.  One, securely locked in a world bounded by headphones, belted out whatever song played into his ears.  He was unfazed by grinning staff and strangers. He waved us on with one hand, his singing uninterrupted.

We saw people, mostly middle-aged women, knitting and crocheting.

Toward the end of the tour, we filed through a room called the Beauty Cube.  A beautician sat with a tableful of women; they had curled and plaited and ribboned their hair; now they were working on nails.  A tiny sprite of a woman sat patiently as the beautician painted her nails and then adorned each with a glittery star.  Sheila told us that was Natalie, who is vice-president of People First.  A younger woman wandered over, hearing that; she was Naomi, and she is the president.

“Tell us about People First,” I prompted.  “What do you do?”

Naomi and Natalie looked at each and shrugged.

“Run meetings,” said Naomi.

“Help people,” said Natalie.

We were just about to leave when a young woman swiveled around, extended plump arms and said, “Hug?”

I reached down and hugged her and she hugged back, patting my back, sharing true comfort.  I straightened  and she grinned at me, and as we filed out, she began chanting. “I got a HUG now; I got a HUG now…”

We hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.

It was an anticlimax, after that trip, to head back to offices, to email and details and tiny, trivial crises. And now this day feels like an unnecessary add-on; what can we do that makes sense after that?

But the day rolls on to be surprisingly rich. Our work group gathers and we tackle assessment challenges.  Pathways that were murky clear; we all catch fire and work swiftly, efficiently. Later, a  new adjunct comes in and a textured and interesting conversation unfolds as we enter his application vita into our new online system.

At lunch, I make sure my son James has his clothes all organized, has hair combed and shoes presentable.  He has a job interview at 4:00; his job coach will collect him at 3:30.  Oh, he wants to work, and oh, he is excited about this opportunity.

I am not positive it’s the right opportunity; I am not sure they’ll see his potential.  My mom-gut twists with apprehension, but I am proud of his spirit, and I tell him so. He hugs me and grins.

Back at work, the afternoon melts away; a student from years ago surfaces, pulling a new husband behind her.  He is gentle, she is vibrant.  She talks about journalism; they dream of moving to Boston.

I send emails thanking adjuncts who completed a training, got their grades in on time;  almost immediately pinging responses flood in.  Mike calls to say he’ll take the last course that needs to be staffed and I happy-dance around my office. He’s a great teacher. It’s a meaty course.  We can start the weekend unhindered.

I finish up a database, get a text from James saying the interview went well; he’ll hear on Monday whether they’d like to see him for a second round.  I say goodbye to Jim-the-boss, and Jaime, and, in the car, before I head out to the office supply store to pick up a gift I’d bought online, I check my phone.

There is a message from Sandee, a forever friend on her way to see a new grandson. And, warmed by her joy, I remember the gathering tomorrow, and I text Kathie to see if she knows whether Keith and Cynthia can join us.

She responds quickly.  She thinks they’ll be there, Kathie says, but she and Dan won’t make it.  Their nephew died and the memorial is tomorrow in Cincinnati.  Hodgkins lymphoma.  He was 33.  He was a boy, really.  Kathie texts a picture of him with his cat, thoughtful; then another of him with his wife, ignited by love.

I think of Sandee on her way to see that baby.  I think of Dan and Kathie, on their way to grieve and comfort.

And then, of course, it begins to snow, the first real snow of the season, blowing and swirling, beautiful and treacherous, festive in the extreme, and I am overwhelmed by it all–by the loss and by the treasure, by the joy and by the closed doors, by reunions and partings, by potential unleashed and potential locked up. What is it about this season that reveals it all, every single possibility, sends them, hurls them, into our midst?


I run my errands and I hide my presents, and the boyos and I cook up a wonderful Friday night stirfry, and then I begin, finally to bake my Christmas cookies–late this year; late, as always.  I putter and I pray for Dan and Kathie and that bright extinguished light; I pray for that beautiful young wife and her empty arms.  I pray for Sandee, arrived by now, and surely with her arms full of a giggling baby. I pray for James and jobs and colleagues and neighbors and people on roads coated and slick with snow.  I pray for disabled adults, that it’s not to late to teach them hoping skills.

This year, we are safe; this year we are whole; we are yearning and we are uncompleted and we are awaiting wondrous next steps.  But we are blessed to be together, and charged with giving care. This year, we can share in the banquet wholeheartedly. I flip cookies onto platters, and I feel the randomness of my good fortune.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
Some wad eat but want it
We hae meat sae we can eat
And sae the Lord be thankit.