This morning I wake up and need to write. When I open my computer, I am shocked to find it says 9:22. Naomi Shahib Nye is speaking with Krista Tippet on my phone, in a podcast from On Being, the latest in a series of podcasts that have been playing since I started listening to one with Thich Nat Hanh in the middle of the night when I had been up an hour or more, having fallen asleep on my side on my yoga mat near one am, fallen asleep after a day in my house, where my younger son sat mending his jeans at the dining room table, my daughter slept til one, helped me clean out the kitchen pantry, then painted her room for the second day in a row, and I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets. Around 10, after I had finished the phone conversation with my mom which had been interrupted by my daughter needing help finding the right tool to take apart her childhood bed, an antique four poster down to three posts, my gal asked me to help her move the queen sized mattress from her older brother’s abandoned room on the second floor to her newly painted bedroom on the third. We pushed and shoved and strategized, got it stuck in the door to the third floor, could not make the thing go through the opening or turn the corner and up the stairs, in spite of all our pushing and pulling and cajoling or my removing the childhood photos from the staircase walls, tender moments of my children’s early childhood captured by their father with his camera, hung there on the stairway walls on tiny nails by him in matching 4 x 6 frames in the years before he left, a patchwork of memories of our early family life together. When we get stuck, I suggest my gal call her dad for help, something I don’t think I’ve done in the seven years since he’s been gone. She called. He was in bed. He agreed to come then or today. While my daughter was on the phone and the mattress was stuck in the doorway turning the corner up the stairs from second floor to first, I sat down and rested my head against it, feeling tired and noticing my back hurt, sweating and feeling strong, but not strong enough for this. As I told my daughter, I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t think we were physically strong enough to do it. Her dad is strong. The delivery guys who brought my new mattress up the stairs when her dad moved out had moved it down to her brother’s room, had refused to deliver the new mattress I had ordered because to get it up the stairs would damage it, invalidating the warranty. They took that new mattress back to the store and I was forced to get one made of foam that could be delivered rolled up like a burrito, which they unfolded in my bedroom, where it sprang open and smelled bad like chemicals for weeks or months, but was more comfortable for my back than the old mattress they put in Ben’s room for him and his girlfriend, which replaced the twin, or the futon I had slept on for years before the mattress stuck on the stairs, bought when my babies were young, shoved up the stairs originally by movers or my daughter’s dad, I don’t know which.
In any case, when I wake up I remember my son on stage at Improv Boston and telling him before he left for D and D with friends last night how funny his sister and I find his comedy work. I remember him on stage at Open Air Circus in Comedia Del Arte year after year after year. I remember him reading all the funny comic books as a young reader, Calvin and Hobbes, Joke books, Foxtrot, which are lined up on the shelves over his head where he sleeps on a futon we bought for a housemate who didn’t stay, on a futon frame bought for the back room of the day care, maybe, or for his bedroom when it was the project room rather than the master bedroom, I don’t remember, except I know it was from LL Bean and it was sturdy, and heavy and somehow we moved it. I don’t remember how we moved the frame, but I do remember buying the futon mattress from a place that is no longer there in Inman Square, across the street of a day care family, around the corner from their dad’s house, and I remember doing that alone, and carrying the mattress home in the van when the van is what I drove, and somehow getting that mattress up the stairs and into the back room, in preparation for that housemate, and my son taking over the room when Eduardo the student who was supposed to stay here returned to Spain, denied permission at the airport, due to the incorrect visa, given permission for a few days of visits in our home, during which he slept on that futon, before he was sent back to his home and mother, when my son took over the room he left. We here on Garrison Avenue have pretty much always improvised our life.
Why so much focus on the moving of beds and mattresses? Who knows? They emerged in the writing. My family is moving this summer. My older son moved to New York City to a rent stabilized studio apartment the size of a shoe box, after moving into the van which he lived in all summer long, old futon in the back his bed, after moving back from his studio apartment where he lived his last year of college. My younger son is moving to Emerson College in ten days, where he will also live in a shoebox, a shared dorm room in a suite of four guys, two from Asia, one from LA. In the corner of his room are a pile of plastic bins from Target, packed as I hoped we’d pack the boxes my son his older brother would take to New York City and did not, as my older son preferred packing in the purple handled cloth Johnny’s bags his dad used to move himself and the kids to his first apartment, probably used to move them to their first house with his new wife, bags which we used to bring the piles of clothes from Jonah’s bedroom and hallway bin at his dad’s house on Tuesday so we could wash and fold and stack them on the dining room table here and so he could sort and organize them as he moves on to college, bins of shorts, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks and undies for the dorm room, Johnny’s bags of the same for his dad’s house, plastic laundry basket of the same filed in his newly spacious dresser drawers at mine. There are more of those plastic bins in the corner of Ben’s room, in his closet, in the corner of the basement I’ve designated for his stuff.
Today those bins may reunite in the basement corner, making space for Miranda, who has come this week to play her cello in various rooms, in various times and tones, hoping to prove to all of us that things will work out. As my son mended his jeans and I cleaned the cupboards and my daughter painted her room and Maeve polished the day care floors, Miranda played. As Jonah said, it’s not a problem. I like it. It’s a gift, I kept thinking. It’s lovely. Still, Miranda seems unsure, and until she is sure, my son’s boxes stay where they are, in his room and closet, with loose possessions on the shelves and in the drawers of his desk, waiting to go into the remaining stack of empty bins.
At Quaker Meeting a few weeks ago a member approached me to talk. We talked about our summers. He told me briefly about his, with travels to a Quaker Conference and a Native American ritual of dance. My summer stories were about my children and their growing up. You must be very proud, he said. Yes, I am, I assured him. I have lovely children and they are growing into lovely adults, making their own decisions, which are interesting to witness. Your life is very rich, he reminded me. Yes, it is, I was reminded. You should be grateful. Yes, I am, I was assured. I am grateful. I have lovely children and a rich life, which has turned out to be the focus of my summer. The summer Richard left my life and all three of my children move into different phases of their lives, I have been the ground, making home while they move on. This week Richard is beginning a three week adventure through Maine, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, back through Maine. It’s a trip we planned or hoped to take together. I had worried if he took it without me I would miss him too much, would wish that I had gone. I had worried that if I took it with him I would miss this time with my children. Turns out being here is right. I’m happy to be the ground for my children, to take my daughter to the Cambridge Public Library on Tuesday to get her library card and her summer reading list, to help her paint her room, though she and her friend did the lion’s share of the work, to help my son organize his things for college, to clean the cupboards for our family and to make space for Miranda while Jonah patches his jeans using the sewing box given to me by my mother, fabric for patches from his childhood clothes worn out and a collection given to the day by Alice for the children. I am happy to be putting our house in order, even as two of my children move out. To witness and support their lives unfolding is the greatest gift. I’m a mom. That is what abides. The day care, yes, but that has been in support of my children as well as me. The kids will be here if all goes as planned and expected, as long as I live, in my life, if not in my home. If I make the house a place of love, they’ll return, my wise friend Macky assured me one day early this summer when she came for a conversation. When she returned this week for iced barley tea on the back porch and talk of our work together caring for young children, of her summer and mine, we talk about her children and mine my children, about the changes in our lives, and she assures me that I am doing fine.
As does my mother last night, when she wonders if my circadian rhythms are changing, as she reminds me of her brother and maybe a sister who don’t need much sleep. Perhaps I don’t either, she muses, as I’ve been getting up at four or five or six and working all day long, not so tired as I would expect. She warns me off lifting too much, also with family stories of damage to the bladder for her sisters who lifted too much. As I lay my head against the mattress, sweating, my daughter on the phone with her dad, I remember her words, tell my daughter I need to take a rest and do some yoga, that I can’t afford to lose the use of my back, not now, and she understands. While I take care of my back with yoga, my daughter moves the mattress back to her brother’s room. After I stretch, I find her crying on the phone with her boyfriend, sitting on the porch where my friend and I talked with our barley tea. I bring her a bowl of watermelon she cut up early in the week that I’ve been nibbling on between washing dishes and talking with my mom and helping her move the mattress, return with chocolate bark I made early in the week, rest a few minutes on the couch while she talks on the phone, make a tidy shopping and to do list so the next few days continue to be productive and maybe I can sleep, go upstairs where my daughter begs me to sleep, please sleep, and then when I do my meditation with the candle and the tiny lamp I’ve put beside the yoga mat, she comes up and settles her self on the single mattress on the floor of her newly painted room, shuts the door and turns on the ac. After I meditate, I convince her to let me take the painting stuff away, open windows and her door, put the window fan in the window, so she doesn’t get so many toxic fumes and another headache while she’s sleeping. I return to my room, do a calming yoga routine around one, find myself asleep there with the candle and lamp burning around two or three am, worry I’ll be up all night, move to the bed, read about menopause and yoga and circadian rhythms and people who claim to need little sleep, finally turn on the podcast, fall eventually to sleep, wake up, late, hot, listening to Naomi Shahib Nye telling me about her blessed life, her child, her father, her husband, her writing, and then the podcast starts over, the unedited version, and she reads Kindness, which I will share here, closing the circle, wishing my back continues to feel good, wishing I continue to get good sleep, wishing the loved ones moving out will continue to come home, that the ones moving in become loved ones over time, that the two who will stay, my gal and I, continue to love our home in all it’s many changes, that even my cat Frances, who we tried to give to a shelter this week but who’s been rejected, may settle in here in better behavior with more consistent love in the house, that Richard on his adventure will find what he is looking for on the road and in his life as “and old man in Northampton”, the place we had joked he would be when if life on Garrison Avenue ended, which it has. Here we are, all of us, doing the best we can.
Enjoy the poem. It’s been awhile since I shared one here. I’ve gotten it from the Spirituality and Health website. Here is what they attached to the poem by way of permissions:
The following poem, “Kindness,” is from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, Oregon. Click here to read an interview with the author, who tells the story about the making of this poem.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.