☕️ On Gratitude Calendars

A Saturday Caesura

Rain and grey defines this day. The few leaves left on the trees appear tired and waterlogged. Fall is fading towards a some sort of finale while winter lurks backstage. The drippy chill has not hampered the chickadees and blue jays cavorting outside my window, however. They appear delighted and energetic, as if rain is a thing of joy. The calendar may remind us to set aside this weekend for giving thanks, but my feathered neighbours remind me that gratitude can be written into every calendar day. Consider the past week:

Monday: reading through some brilliant-funny-wistful pieces my grade 12 students wrote about “the stories we wear” brings to mind a pair of hiking boots that have played a supporting role in many stories and adventures over the past 40 years. Gratitude for the miles and memories I’ve hiked in those boots spills over into gratitude for the man who encouraged me to buy them, then married me so we could continue to tromp through life together.

Tuesday: it is the season for glorious sunrise vistas from my classroom window. I turn off the lights and sit and absorb the rich colour, the majesty, the fading brilliance. I breathe it in and then breathe it out in gratitude throughout the day as students pull my attention away from windows and sun and clouds to books and assignments and forgotten pencils.

Wednesday: my evening walk or run is sometimes not much more than a forced routine I go through because I know my body needs the movement, the catharsis. But today I come home out of breath from both exercise and wonder, amazed at how the same routes and kilometres can contain such nuanced beauty that no two days look, smell, sound exactly the same.

Tiredness seeps in on Thursday. Lack of sleep, too many to-dos, the ongoing challenges of teaching in a pandemic restricted environment evoke a sense of weariness that clings to me all day. But weariness does not excuse me from being grateful: for the student who has a cup of hot tea waiting for me when I return from the photocopier, for the bowl of thick chowder for supper, made with fresh corn gifted from a friend’s garden, for a good rest at night.

Friday: just the thought of teaching a double-block of my most challenging non-academic class on the day before a long weekend puts me into survival mode. So I am not only grateful, but also pleasantly surprised when this rag-tag, rough-and-tumble group of mostly boys (only two girls — quiet, dependable) completely usurps my plan to have them listen to an audio-book version of the novel we are studying in favour of three of them, self-appointed, taking turns reading aloud to the rest of the class. Sixteen-year-old boys who would much rather talk about trucks, fishing gear (yes, one student brought his rod and tackle box – not sure why), quads, dirt-bikes, hunting, farming, skateboards, food, and all manner of shenanigans characteristic of such boys are actually reading a book together — without me. I watch and listen and breathe gratitude for what feels like a miracle.

Our calendars don’t come with the particulars of thankfulness neatly typed into the allotted box for each day, but if we look closely, if we have the right heart-posture, we can see all the ways that minutes and hours and events and landscapes and people point us towards a grateful response to the Ancient of Days, the God who cannot be contained in boxes –calendar or otherwise.

☕️ The Almost Didn’ts

A Saturday Caesura

The first three weeks of school in the midst of a pandemic with all its uncertainties, regulations, and anxieties has left me feeling like the world and my words are speeding by, the shape, form, detail lost in an indistinguishable blur. One of the reasons I write is to pay attention and to notice things, to find beauty and discover wisdom and wonder. Lately, my eyes and ears and heart have found it difficult to focus on anything in the jumble of life zipping past the window. I’ve not noticed so many things.

So I’m grateful for the things I almost didn’t notice.

I almost didn’t notice the skies pockmarked with dusky clouds and reverberating with the animated chatter of hundreds of geese making travel plans, discussing weather forecasts, channelling the energy of young ones caught up in the excitement and anticipation of their first Great Migration.

I almost didn’t notice that the trees have shivered and shimmied out of some of their summer garb, letting it drop in disarray at their feet like a discarded memory.

I almost didn’t notice the gradual slouching towards darkness that cloaks the morning commute with mystery and evokes a comforting cup of hot chai tea.

I almost didn’t notice the shifting colour palate of the marsh, not so long ago a richly nuanced green, now a motley gold-russet-chocolate-lemon that flavours and textures this year’s marsh fall fashion.

I almost didn’t notice the tracks trespassing on the newly graded road a few hundred metres from our home — a young bear venturing out to leave his bear-foot mark on the edges of society. I wonder if he felt brave and adventurous.

I almost didn’t notice the tears forming above the mask. The voice behind the mask was trying so hard to be brave. Even in a pandemic, school is already the safest place to be for too many teens. I wish I could give hugs.

I wish I could list all the things I didn’t notice. They probably contained so much beauty and wisdom and wonder. But I missed them.

☕️ And Who is My Neighbour?

A Saturday Caesura

I call these weekly reflections caesuras because I want to pay attention to the things that force me to pause, to ponder and examine my lived experience in the world. I want learn, to grow, to wonder. Many times these pauses are connected to something that ultimately brings comfort or encouragement. But not this time.

I’m still processing a conversation with a neighbour that happened earlier in the week — a neighbour with whom I have never had an actual conversation. Ever. And he and his wife have been our neighbours for several years. These facts alone make me pause…and squirm, and then start listing my justifications for being a neighbour-by-proximity-only. At the top of my list of justifications? They are aloof and don’t seem interested in anything more than a casual acknowledging wave across the fence. Even if this is an accurate observation, it was the neighbour who initiated and invited me into the conversation when I could just as easily have done the same.

We chatted about birds and golf and COVID — comfortable and relevant enough topics, but he made one comment that stuck in me and won’t let go. “I feel like maybe you don’t think very highly of me,” he said. My response at the time was something about not really knowing him, so it wouldn’t be fair to have an opinion one way or the other. He accepted that response (or appeared to), but the truth is that I have had an opinion, or at least a perception of our neighbours based on what little I see of them. And obviously, his perception of me somehow included an attitude of disapproval or superiority.

But how and why could he possibly come to such a conclusion?

He may simply have been looking for a form of acceptance. He knows that we are Christians and that my husband has been a pastor. He is a self-professed alcoholic and a “little rough” (his words, not mine). Does he assume disapproval from us based on our different lifestyles? By the same token, over the years have I attributed an aloofness to them that actually had its origins in me?

My husband and I think and talk a lot about the importance of ‘second commandment living’ — that practical working out of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). But if my actual next door neighbour doesn’t sense that love, it should make me pause and evaluate. And squirm. I should not be comfortable with this.

Months of a pandemic crisis and the recent weeks in a long and painful history of racism have exposed our collective willingness to truly love others as Jesus commanded (and exemplified) or to ensconce ourselves behind rights and justifications and self-protections. In this vortex of global and national issues that do indeed call me to a greater love, it was one particular comment from a particular neighbour that ultimately challenged and exposed me.

We need to do better. I need to do better. Here. In my neighbourhood. With real people with real needs who live across the fence, across the street, down the road.

If I can’t live love in the particularities of this place, can I honestly claim to be living out Jesus’ love in the broader context of the world?

🌿 Sounds of the Day

I hear the shuffle of wind folding itself around the eaves outside my window.

I hear the percussive honks of geese bidding on nesting sites.

I hear the rapid fire rat-a-tat of a squirrel defending his stash

I hear the hum-gurgle-slosh of the sump pump dutifully preventing a flood.

I hear the lazy drone of the fridge, the crackle-clatter of the ice machine making a delivery.

I hear the clicks, dings, and pops of my pandemic induced classroom.

I don’t hear the laughter, the banter, the chatter, the ruckus ‘n nonsense of a living breathing class

and I really, really miss this.

🌿 Distance vs Depth

Two metres — six feet

We maintain distance but

long for community.

Two metres — six feet

We use parking lots for conversations

that belong in coffee shops.

Two metres — six feet

We become hyper-sensitive to

P h y s i c a l___S p a c e

Two metres — six feet

We manoeuvre or detour to avoid

fatally crashing a personal bubble.

Two metres — six feet

We bury too many loved ones

we could not keep safe.

🌿What I Noticed

This poem didn’t make it from my writing notebook to this space yesterday like it was supposed to. Something else interrupted. It was an important something. So today I’ll post two poems – unless important things interrupt again.

What I noticed today:

a giant moon tucking itself away

clouds leisurely floating through the day

birds making time for play

In a world floundering in fear and dismay

I just needed to notice peace today.

🌿If

A Saturday Caesura poem

If we can join together to

stay apart and

stay at home to

keep each other safe and

flatten the curve

a pandemic has thrown at us —

Can we also band together to

stand up and

stay aware that

“safer at home”

is a cruel mocking illusion

for too many people and

we need – we must –

break the cycles

systemic violence has caught us in,

keep everyone safe.

Every day.

🌿Shoulder Check

A raven flew past my kitchen window

and turned to look back over his shoulder

where another raven was gaining air

on his starboard wing.

Were they playing cops and robbers?

Racing madly to the river?

Competing for First-to-the-Food?

(Who knows what ravens do!)

It was the shoulder check that caught my eye;

I, too, have been casting backward glances

at all the ways our world was

but now

isn’t.

Paused…but not

A Saturday Caesura

Who knew that Caesura would suddenly gather its relatives both near and far and commandeer our news, our conversations, our ways of living: closed cancelled postponed distanced isolated quarantined. A giant pause button, pandemic-induced.

So much has changed since last Saturday.

But not everything.

Spring was not cancelled and arrived in typical northern prairie fashion. Which is to say that the trees are as bare as they have been since forever ago and snow still congregates en masse along roads, on rooftops, on our woodpile, and throughout our yard. Congregating is a wishful word in a coronavirus world.

Inklings of spring are here though if I look beyond first appearances. Chipping sparrows and red polls are more prolific at the feeder. Chickadee chatter has distinct mating overtones. Pussy willows poke their tousled heads out to test the weather. The sun, as brilliant as ever on a clear day, extends its daily visits and snuggles into nooks and crannies with warm delight.

I need spring. I need to notice it in all of its nuanced arrival. Noticing keeps me anchored in the deeper rhythms of life during a time of unprecedented helter-skelter anxiety and uncertainty. I need to pay attention to the sun that still rises every day. To the snow that melts and refreezes, melts and refreezes, melts, melts, melts…mud. To the trees that will yet bud and grass that will turn up and turn green.

I need Spring to remind me that there are deeper rhythms of love and grace and kindness and joy and lament and worship and goodness that are still here, must still be here when the season of pandemic has released its wintery grip of isolation.