Monday, June 27, 2011


My friend, Jane, died.

Just writing that down makes me cry. Lots of times though, I think about it like it’s a thing that happened during the day like any other thing. Like Lydia got in trouble at school. Or like Vivi broke her glasses. I might tell Dave about it when he comes home and be really upset about it for a short while. Or I might think about Phil and the kids and realize how awful it is and just cry.

My friend, Jane, died.

She died of a brain tumor that she didn’t know she had. She went into the doctor with a headache. Five days later, they operated. The next day, there was hope. And then the next day, she died. Just like that.

When I was little and bored in church, I used to imagine as hard as I could what it would be like to be the person sitting just in front of me, to the left. Or to the right. No matter. I didn’t try to imagine what she was feeling, or what her life was like. I imagined wearing the clothes she was wearing, seeing the person next to her out of my own peripheral vision, viewing the room from her chair. Sometimes it worked so well that I would feel a momentary lapse of time and space, and I would startle to realize I was actually sitting in my own seat.

That was a little game I used to play. I wish that it meant I grew up to be a really empathetic person, who could imagine herself in another’s place, but did not.

It is not hard for me now, however, to imagine myself in Jane’s world. In Phil’s place when he goes home for the first time after the funeral, and has to put the kids to bed alone. They cry and ask for Mom. And after, the house is silent. Silent except for the roaring wake of everything she last touched.

I don’t think it is hard, because Jane was my friend. She was like me, only a little younger. She was married to a man who is my husband’s friend. She has children like I do, only a little younger. She was like me in some ways, and also not at all, because she was her own person, unique in all the world, and she is gone. And it is nothing but awful and hard. And I can’t wrap my mind around it.

The morning that I learned about Jane I was reading my Bible. It is a “daily” Bible, with readings for each day arranged like this: long Old Testament reading, short New Testament reading, part of a Psalm, a few Proverbs. I like this formula. It is a little bit of everything, and it is neatly organized by the day, and I never have to open the holy scripture and think “What should I turn to today?” It is just there. And in fact, I have been reading it for a few months now just like that. Like it is just there. And maybe this accounts for why I have been having particular trouble with the Old Testament. As a kid, I would read this stuff and even then bring some sort of existing paradigm to it to explain the strange, the bizarre, the horrible. I have a lot of trouble with the parts where someone does a wrong thing, and offensive thing, to the king and then said person’s whole family, including wives, children, servants and servants’ families, are all slaughtered. I find it disturbing. I find myself reading, and then praying, “WTF, God? Really?” I mean, in not those exact words, but basically the same sentiment. (And let’s be clear, God knows what I am really saying.)

So, I’ve just had a lot of questions lately anyway. Without people I know and relate to just randomly, unfairly, tragically dying.

That morning, June 21st, I was reading the prescribed words when my phone beeped beside me on the living room couch. “In a moment,” I thought, since I was almost done, and kept reading the Psalm. One of my favorite scriptures, Psalm 139. And it said:
“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed...”
When I was done reading the whole beautiful Psalm, I answered the beep and read, “She passed away. Jane is in heaven.”

“No!” I replied.

“Yes,” wrote Johanna. “It’s done.”

In fact, it had already been done. Jane was gone before I got up that morning, before I remembered what had been on my mind the last few days and began praying again for her recovery, for a miracle. And she was already gone before I paused over those words, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book...”

I wanted to throw the book across the room. Now the senselessness that I had been struggling with suddenly became very personal. Of course God knows everything, knows all about us from the day we are born through to the day we die. Of course he knew Jane would die this day, just shy of her 32nd birthday, and that the thing would come like a thief in the night catching everyone off guard. “All our days are numbered,” I thought, and I began to sob.

Usually when we say someone’s days are numbered, we mean that her time is up. Most of the time, this phrase is delivered as a threat. It means something like, “I’m only going to tolerate you so much longer...” It fits in nicely with a dark sentiment that I carry around with me which waits anxiously for the hammer to drop, which suspects that Tragedy is lurking around the next corner. If only I can stay alert, I will be more prepared when it strikes. If only I worry just enough, I will not be taken by surprise. With this false understanding, I approach every corner cautiously, with my back against the wall, sneaking up on my invisible aggressor. Then, ever so slowly, I crouch down and tense up, and “Ah ha!” I spring forward into the darkness to expose Tragedy, only nothing is there. Nothing. And then I relax and take a deep breath and thank God half heartedly for my life and health and the life and health of my family, and really, thank you Lord ever so much for not smiting me where I stand for having so little faith. I am only half-hearted about it, because I feel like I was really the one taking all the initiative to make sure by my worrying that everything would be okay.

Usually, if I were praying for someone who had cancer, this is how I would pray. I would ask for healing, but I would pepper my request with clauses to cover all the possible what-ifs of the situation, because it is an uncertain world. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Sometimes God intervenes in what is the natural consequence of our action or the natural, awful pattern of the world. Sometimes He does not. I wrap it all up with some variation of, “Thy will be done,” but what I really mean by that is, “I’m terrified by this situation, and I’m even more terrified that I will ask for something great and not get it.”

Our days are numbered, and we know it.

But I think we have perverted this verse if we only see it this way. We can only think and function inside of time, and we are afraid of endings. This Psalm talks of God’s intimately knowing every part of us, forming us in darkness, seeing us before we are born, familiar with all our physical details, knowing our thoughts, and our days and moments are accounted for and precious to him as the details that make up who we are, before we even exist in this life.

Jesus described to his disciples how they should not worry, because nothing escapes the knowledge of God, who cares for us and knows us intimately, saying, “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered...” (Matt. 10:30) He accounts for this detail in much the same way as he accounts for our days, and they are precious to him.

In this way, I see Jane’s days not cut unfairly short, but unfolding like pages of a book, all a part of her like her sparkling green eyes and her crooked smile. They are precious to me, and to all who knew and loved her. We want to try and save them, write them down, capture them somehow, to wrap them up and give them like a gift to her children, because we are inside of time, and it is all we have.

So now, as I shower, get dressed, scramble an egg, write down these words, and go through my day, I am thinking of my time differently. There is no alarm that could sound at any moment. There are only moments, the putting of one foot in front of the other, and God knows my every footfall. He knows my fears, my anxious imaginings, and how today I miss my friend. And I can imagine myself where she is, outside of time and space, in the arms of God, until I startle and realize that I am sitting here, typing this.

1000 Memories of Jane


Thursday, April 14, 2011


A little while ago, I was running in circles. That is, I went to the track because it was Sunday morning, and the gym opened much later than usual. I pulled the car up to the curb in front of the door and read the sign thinking, “Well, duh,” because everyone is in church on Sunday morning. Okay, probably not everyone. A lot of people actually just sleep in. But in my head, “Everyone” is at church, because I know that is where I really should be.

I can’t remember now, but I think that I got up early that morning with the kids and grouched around the kitchen scowling and projecting my tired misery on them as I served up eggs and English muffins. I also downed about a pot of coffee. And when my husband (who had spent a typical week out of town on less than five hours of sleep each night) eased himself downstairs, I had to brew a whole new pot.

These details really are foggy now, because it was a few weeks ago, but I am certain that I huffed out the door and sarcastically wished him good luck with the kids. Basically, I was mad that I had to drink that whole first pot of coffee by myself, and now the only thing to do was to run it off. I sort of thrust myself out of the house with a righteous indignation about being the one who usually got up early with the kids and resenting being that person by default on the weekends, so when I idled by the door reading the posted hours sign, my disappointment was tremendous. This disappointment was compounded by the fact that it was raining, and if I was going to work off my pot of coffee in any way, it was going to be in the rain. Still, this was better than going back to eggs all over the floor and small people trying to climb all over me.

I sheltered my iPod in the lea of my wrist and began my circuit. It really is not too different to run on a track like that versus the gym, because it is repetitive. Just circles. You don’t much have to watch where you are going or ever have to think about crossing the street. I love this sort of mindlessness when I run. I mostly run for this reason. I basically want to get out of my own head for a little while. (Unfortunately, when you are on a track, mindlessness can make it a little difficult to keep track of how many times you have gone around. Sometimes I will pick rocks up to keep count. But even then I forget.)

Anyway, I was trying to shake my crabbiness and wondering what my lap count was, and thinking about how most of the people I know were in church at that moment, just running circles in the rain, when God gave me a vision. I was thinking about the eggs on the floor at home and the impossible to-do list. I was remembering how it rained like this all the time, all my life, living in Washington, and I never minded. I was worried about my iPod getting wet and rather lost in the melancholy of the music it was playing. I was thinking about how those girls wanted those eggs three different ways (or none at all, thank you) and try as I might to make everyone happy over it, most of breakfast ended up on the floor and, God, I am so tired of cleaning the floor...

And in the midst of stewing like this, I thought of flowers. I didn’t imagine daffodils, just the sunny faces of my children. I stopped my circling for a moment and caught my breath, “My flowers.” A revelation. And if these children are my flowers, well, then I have a garden. And if my children are a garden, that would make me the gardener. And this seemed to me very important. This was also very foreign to me. (I like to say that I have a “brown thumb.”) I keep one sad plant alive (barely) inside my house and have mixed luck with those that have to fend for themselves outside. I couldn’t help but giggle over this just a little, though I also couldn’t help delighting in the comparison.

I picked up my pace again and thought this through. It may be a lot to say, “God gave me a vision,” but honestly now, I had been thinking about eggs. And I was rather pissed off about the eggs too. In my experience, one of the clearest ways to know that it is God speaking is that the thought would never have come to you otherwise. You could never claim it as your own. And a pattern that I believe God loves is bringing beauty out of ugly things, small things, and even nothing. I thought that he was very gracious to do this for me at this moment when I had chosen to wallow in my negativity, to bring such a pretty thing to my attention when all my own thoughts were so ugly and small.

I turned this garden image over in my head as I circled the track. It was like finding a shiny coin in the mud. I could tuck the thought into my mind as I might put the found coin in my pocket, and every time I would happen to rest my hand there for no reason, I would recall finding it and smile. So it was when I went home to the children who were fighting, who had not eaten their eggs, and who had instead spread their breakfast mess far and wide across the floor. Mentally, I reached into my pocket and found my treasure and held it between my fingers. I thought about the responsibility I had over my garden. I made them clean up their mess and managed not to yell at them in the process. I held on to the image of their faces bright like daffodils and to the knowledge of such a good god who chooses to sprinkle my path with tokens of love and affection that turn my thoughts back to him wherever I choose to tread. I treasured all these things in my heart.

That night, as I tucked the girls in and prayed for them, I thanked God for “my three girls, my little flowers,” and Lydia giggled, delighting in the comparison.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


It’s been snowing here. Not so unusually much more or less than ever for this place, but I continue to be taken aback by the volume of it. I have only a handful of memories of snow like this in my childhood where, west of the Cascades, we only ever accumulated a few inches at most in a season, and it was mostly wet, icy, and unpleasant. If there ever was enough on the ground to form some snow-person-like shapes, we certainly took advantage.

Among my fondest snow memories: The year my aunt and uncle came to visit, and we had enough snowfall to build a snowman in the front yard. Afterward, my parents hitched a disk sled to the back of my uncle’s motorcycle, and we took turns being towed around our middle-class development at a gentle speed.

There was the year my dad woke my sister and me up in the middle of the night to go play in the snow. I must have been six or seven. I thought he was kidding, but he roused us out of bed, and we went outside and made snow angels in the moonlight while the flakes were still falling.

Maybe that same year, but definitely that same house (my memory is organized by houses), we lived on a great hill. We had a vast yard populated with fruit trees, evergreens, blackberries, and morning glories. Every night we watched the world roll away from the sun against the silhouette of the Snohomish Valley, Everett, and the Puget Sound beyond. The year that it snowed enough to cover everything and thickly ice the roads, my dad fashioned make-shift sleds out of carpet padding and thick plastic from the same carpet rolls, and we rode our scraps down the street on our hill for maybe half a mile before slowing down. It was our own rollercoaster ride as we sailed down the street, swept up in the middle where the road lifted just a bit. We flew. But not every year. Just that once.

In my memory, there were no other winters of significance until I was in college.

Already in Pennsylvania this year we have had three snow days, ushered in by three different frosty weather systems, and now this mean little dusting just when the temperatures began to tease us. None of this has been extraordinary or record setting. This last little gust shows that we may even have several more before the season is through. For me, much has changed.

Is anything so wonderful as waking up to the whole world washed white? What is more utterly transforming? Under a blanket of white, the ugliest city street is dazzling, even mine. There are no potholes. There are no oil stains. We almost cannot tell one covered car from another. Everything is leveled, but not to the ground. We are all elevated to beauty.

As a kid I had a strong sense of this. I had a strong connection to the wonder and magic of the world around me, and I understood that under such a covering of beauty all was forgiven. I suspect that this is a talent common to all children, who await the prospect of a snow day with almost as much anticipation as of a visit from Sana Clause. To a child, snow is grace.

Here’s the thing I am wrestling with: I now hate snow. I hate it! I am old, and crabby, and when the weather man says there is a storm coming, I let my head fall back, and I slump defeatedly, thinking, “Oh, great!” There is no very good reason for my negativity about this- I don’t even have to leave my house. I don’t even have to dig my car out (well, not for a morning commute, anyways). Immediately, my mind recalculates the to-do list for the coming day, factoring in things like, shovel the walk, clean up puddles of water, extra laundry (drying, mostly), and pondering the question, “Do we have enough milk?” Forget angels. Forget roller coasters. Forget a day off. Forget being let off the hook. Forget the forgiveness offered by a snow day. Instead, I will be up early, digging myself out of a dark parking space, and when I am done with that, I will find a chair or a garbage can to use in place of a bright orange cone, and I will mark what’s mine.

You know you are officially old at heart when you are irritated by snow. Because you have to get up in it, and function in it, and the magic of it all is lost on you. But I have to attest that at this moment there are, outside my window, the most voluptuous mountains of snow that have been plowed aside (for the convenience of the grownups, mind you) which have been tunneled through again and again by all warring factions of neighborhood kids in relative harmony as they carved out caves together in the parking lot. It’s a little secret city. A little magic right here on J— Street.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Well, here I am up at night and trying to write something. I am deeply insecure about writing, because it seems like something everyone is doing these days. Everyone writes and posts, and it is usually more entertaining or insightful that whatever I can come up with. At least that is how I see it. I go around all day thinking about what I want to write. I do this especially when I am on the treadmill, running. I haven’t run outside for a long time. I haven’t even run on the treadmill too much recently- my knees suffer every time- but every time I do my thoughts always wander down the same paths. First, what I want to be doing with my day, and then my life, and then what I shall write about the moment the treadmill stops. I will go back and sit in front of my locker and take out my phone and start text-typing my thoughts before I lose them. No, that won’t do. There are a lot of naked old ladies in the locker room, and that seat in front of my locker would not be very comfortable. And I am a terrible text-typer. I will have to arrange a time to go sit in a cafĂ©. I will have to coordinate my intentions with David’s work schedule so that he can watch the kids and put them to bed. I will have forgotten whatever it was that I wanted to say. No, that won’t do. I will have to go home, wrangle the children into bed early, take a hot bath, and drink a lot of wine. Then I can go to my happy place, where I don’t care about the piles of clutter on my desk, and can write at my own computer without any distraction. My exhausted husband will already be asleep anyway. No, that won’t do. I still will have forgotten everything I wanted to say by then. Only now is it all crystal clear to me. Now, while I am moving steadily forward without thought about where my foot will fall. Now, every thought comes together in a rhythm. Regular. True.

I am positioned in front of a wall of windows. I fix my gaze on the reflection of my left eye in the glass. No, that won’t do- I fix my gaze on the old brick beyond my reflection, where the architect’s office anchors. I follow the trail of the mortar in my mind and lose sense of time and place and have only breath: in. Out. Out. Out. Cars pass in before me, going somewhere. I am going somewhere. I am stationary. I am out of this world.

Monday, January 31, 2011

thin as a pin!

So, I am sitting here reading my favorite blog, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, and thinking about finishing one of the handfuls of blog entries I’ve started. I keep starting them and not finishing. And then not posting.

It seems to me everyone these days has a blog!

My thought is: Why would the average person want to read this one?

Well, for one thing, my kids are hilarious. Especially Viv. Just now, she came in to tell me about this and that as she was getting ready for the bath. I offered to pull the elastics out of her hair before she got in, and when I managed to successfully do it without hurting (at least too much), she exclaimed, “That was as thin as a pin!” which basically translates as, “Congratulations, Mommy, on not pulling all my babyangel hairs out of my delicate scalp!”

A couple of nights before when getting ready for the bath, she was *ahem* doing her business (I really am sorry that the topic always seems to turn to this, but...) she was having quite a difficult time. I was beginning to be concerned, such were her obvious pains over the process. However, all my worries were quickly dispelled when she hollered (straining), “Somebody bring me some broccoli!”

I don’t know, but I think I could possibly spin something off of that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

small milestones

Funny. I wrote this last June. She does sleep though the night now. She does! And I DO wake up, deliberately, before she does (most of the time) to just get my bearings. (It is necessary!) But for such a time- all the days and nights run together...

June 16, 2010

The day started off with a bang. Or rather, a shrill cry. Blythe woke up just before 6 a.m., an hour before I am willing to get up and start the day with her. Usually, I try my hardest to soothe her back to sleep so that we can get off on the right foot together at precisely 7 o’ clock, when we commence our daily schedule of naps and nursing at certain times, just so. We end at 7:30 p.m., setting her little internal clock on a course for success for this day and all the days of her life henceforth. Not today though. After about five times of putting the pacifier back into her mouth and caressing her cheek with the little lovey in her crib, I said, “Fuck it,” probably out loud, and threw my hands in the air. I picked her up as gently as I could and then stormed around in a stupor, fuming that I was already awake for the day.

It really wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that I’d already been awake with her about four times that night. Every two-to-few hours, Blythe wakes and cries for me, and my body flings itself out of bed before my mind even has a chance to evaluate the situation. I nurse her and lay her softly back down, hoping to go quickly back to sleep myself. On an alarming number of occasions, she will cry again at precisely the moment that I am drifting off, which is a torture like no other I can think of for comparison. Though the interval between cries in such scenarios must be quite short, my body propels itself skyward with as much urgency as ever, and in this manner the night slowly wears on.

For this reason, when 6 a.m. rolls around, and she makes every indication that she is not willing to go back to sleep, I (having no wit or rationale left) stomp around the house and curse.

So on this morning, I got up and texted my husband, who was already off to work, early as ever, but with the advantage of having a full night of sleep under his belt. Once when Lydia was new, I had a terrible cold and drugged myself up with Nyquil while Dave volunteered to sleep on the floor of her room and get up with her in the night. I still heard her first. Dave eventually awoke when I was stepping over him to pluck her out of her crib and tend to her. I still hold this example up when trying to explain to anyone else how well he can sleep though the sound of the crying child at night.

Blythe and I made ourselves comfortable downstairs with strong coffee, brewed already from the programmed coffee pot, and I chose as my devotion on this day, “Sleeping Though the Night” by Jodi Mindell. Basically, I knew I was going to have to go back to relearn something, somewhere, about getting your kid to sleep.

I love this hour. And when my children are sleeping in on a consistent basis, I love to get up before them. Even though I am naturally a night person, I relish this time alone in the morning, time to get my wits about me, time to let the caffeine kick in before being touched, demanded of, complained to, or otherwise needed by three very small, complex persons who’s sense of the world is quite urgent.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Playlist 2010

This is not so much a top ten list. It definately does not cover music mostly from this year- some songs are pretty old. But it is what we were listening to and why. We give out little homemade discs for Christmas each year. Here was our Playlist 2010:

1. Fans (Kings of Leon, Because of the Times, 2007)
Sara- I listened to this album a lot while running this year. There is nothing particular about the lyrics of the songs that moves me, but the big, open sounds on many of them, or what iTunes describes as songs that “luxuriate in mid-tempo [and] bump and shuffle with loose grooves” that makes me want to open up and move forward. Not just on a treadmill.

2. You’ve Got the Love (Florence and the Machine, Lungs, 2010)
Sara- This album was my new favorite this year. Florence has a sound that reminds me a little of Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. Throw in some harp, power drums, and a slightly unhealthy yearning for the underworld, and you’ve got a deliciously dark and brooding album that actually does a lot to cheer me up.

3. Right as Rain (ADELE, 19, 2008)
Sara- This is from her critically acclaimed debut album of a few years ago. (She has a new release this year called 21.) I think “19” is because that is how old she was when she recorded it, which makes her soul-queen diva sound that much more impressive. These lyrics really do resonate, and though they are a little bleak, the overall mood of the song is pretty carefree, saying, “What’s so great about being ‘fine,’ anyway?”

Who wants to be riding high
When you'll just crumble back on down
You give up everything you are
And even then you don't get far
They make believe that everything
Is exactly what it seems
But at least when you're at your worst
You know how to feel things"

4. Southbound Again (Dire Straights, Dire Straights, 1978)
Dave- This is just a favorite traveling song for me since I do so much of it each year. Always to the north so at the end of each project I am always headed Southbound when it’s time to come home.

5. All the Roadrunning (Mark Knopfler and Emmy Lou Harris, All the Roadrunning)
Sara- This is one of my “desert island disks,” and I listened to it over and over while running this year. This beautiful, wistful song is one of my favorites on the album.

6. River of Tears: Live (Eric Clapton, One More Car One More Rider: Live on Tour, 2001)
Dave- After watching this DVD, there is no other version for this song. Clapton’s studio albums are a disservice to the passion and emotion he plays with. I love how the emotion of the music he is playing matches perfectly with the lyrics he is singing. Also I relate not to the heartache of love lost but to the constant overwhelming feeling of wishing

“In three more days, I'll leave this town
And disappear without a trace.
A year from now, maybe settle down
Where no one knows my face.”

7. Impossible Germany: Live (Wilco, Ashes of American Flags, 2009 – but I had to get this live recording from something called Rock the Net: Musicians for Neutrality)
Dave- Beautiful guitar parts. Great tone. (3 different fenders I might add). I love the layers spun from the melody.

8. On My Way Back Home (Band of Horses, Infinite Arms)
Dave & Sara- Simple, melodic and gorgeous. We love it. If you love this too, it’s worth buying the actual disk just for the accompanying album art. Another traveling song.

9. Into the Mystic (Van Morrison, Moondance)
Dave- This song makes me think of Sara and I when we were young.
For most of my life I wasn’t much of a Van Morrison fan until I learned recently that he and I dislike some of his same songs. He was rather socially awkward and would often have panic attacks before a show. He didn’t even show up for his own induction into the rock and roll hall of fame. He was kind of uncomfortable with his own success and felt it discredited his music. He is an artist and a great songwriter. I love this whole album. Rediscover it. It’s worth the listen.

10. For the Summer (Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise, 2010)
Dave- Ray LaMontagne is one of my recent favorite singer-songwriters. I love this song as well because it is about traveling home after being gone for too long. I share the feelings behind every lyric in this song. This is probably my album of the year and my favorite song on it.

11. Windows Are Rolled Down (Amos Lee, Mission Bell)
Dave & Sara-
We both love this guy. Hands down one of our mutual, absolute favorite singer-songwriters. You’ve heard it all before. This is a new song from his album that will be released in 2011. We are looking forward to this new album and to a new year in 2011.