The Art of Catch and Release

DSC_5712 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I watched him from the kitchen window as I washed the dishes. He bent his blond head over the purple riot of echinacea and moved a cupped hand slowly over a single bloom. He pulled his hands to his face and discovered they were empty, just as the object of his affection fluttered to another part of the garden.

He approached the Tiger Swallowtail a second time, cupped his hands, and caught it with a shout of delight. He brought it close enough to trace the black markings on pale yellow wings with his eyes. Then, he reached above his head, opened his hands, and let the wings beat air against a blue summer sky.

Like the little boy, I have seen beauty and chased love. I have run after dreams. I have reached for one vision, only to find another a bloom away. I have imagined the world in my hands, and I have caught it, spinning there. I have cupped so much abundance in my hands, and still felt the beating of wings against my palms, the innate desire for many of these gifts to fly free.

For a moment, I called them mine. But, over time, all wild things return to the freedom of green and petals and honeycomb and sky.  I have released homes, friendships, and the voices of a wiser generation. I have cupped Inspiration until it fluttered away. I caught words, and then, just as quickly, let them go. Jobs, callings, cities, desires, children–every one a single whoop of joy, a triumph, then a flicker of wings, a call for release.

I often think of Robert Frost’s poem, in which he closes with the line, “Nothing gold can stay.” I have found this to be true, over and over again. Love is the only thing that remains after everything else flies away. I am living a long season of catch and release, and it is at once joyful and also full of pain. There is grief over the losses, but also love has grown here. I have held beauty and courage and adventure in my hands. The brush of something alive has beat against my skin. And when I have opened my hands to watch it fly away, they’re covered with a fine dusting of gold–a reminder that I will catch something alive again.

When Life Turns Out Differently Than You Planned

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Twelve years ago, I stood on the precipice of a decision that would shape the future of my family. Staring into the chasm between what I desired and what God desired for me, I wondered which ledge would hold my weight, or if I’d find myself lost, falling in the echo chamber in the center. Our family had made a home for ourselves in London for almost four years, and the tendrils of roots had begun to take hold. We had extended my husband’s work contract twice–this time, we needed to decide whether to stay long-term or go back home.

Together, we had birthed a life of deep friendships, rich culture, and journeys across the English Channel to enjoy Paris for the weekend. Tucked away in my wallet, I carried my hard-earned UK driver’s license and our National Health cards. We grew in new ways too, our family of three grew to four as I labored in the upstairs bedroom of the house on Second Avenue, giving birth to our son. We filed my son’s British birth certificate under “Important documents”, and from the filing cabinet on the third floor it pulsed like beating heart, reminding me that we had birthed a life here.

We’d labored long and hard, shaking with the pain of  tender skin stretched taut, watching our family breathe the oxygen of adventure for the first time.

I wanted to stay. I envisioned a future rooted in sprawling London under low grey skies heavy with rain. But, it became increasingly clear that our future lay on the other side of the chasm, across the Atlantic Ocean. I refused to loosen my grip, but the ground beneath me crumbled and fell away. I felt myself falling and falling and falling. I didn’t know if I’d ever reach the other side.

I stand on the other side now, after many tears and accusations and flashes of anger, and I know we ultimately made the right decision for our family. After the fall, we are planted on the other side of the chasm. Rooted. Thriving.

I continue to dream big dreams for my future, but at times I still fear the tearing away of the ground where I stand. I fear the wide gap between my own desires and the unknown plans God has for me. I fear the crumbling of solid ground, the loss of my footing, the falling.

Over the last few months, I’ve scrambled to safety as I’ve watched some of my desires crushed beneath my own weight. The future I envisioned in minute detail has grown more and more fuzzy, and across the way, I see other opportunities beginning to take root and grow. I didn’t dream them into existence, but there they are, pushing up out of the ground, an unexpected unfurling.

The ground holding my sacred circle of dreams no longer holds up beneath me. I’ve wondered whether or not it’s time to release them entirely, but I’m not ready yet, even as new things unfold across the way. I’ve decided to carry them with me, tucked under my ribcage, beating like a record of a new birth, beating like a heart.

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What unexpected or new thing is being birthed in your life? How do you reconcile it with your vision for the future? Where do they intersect?

Blessed are the Peacemakers

 

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I sat on the beach listening to the sound of seagulls squawk in circles while searching for a sand-covered potato chip or a half-eaten sandwich. Beneath them, white foam and waves of dark gray crashed on wet sand, and as I watched them roll in, I thought of the waves and waves and waves of endless violence and grief we’ve experienced this year in America and beyond. I have no more words–they are caught in my throat, and have become a stream of tears beneath a stone of sorrow.

A few days ago, before our country bled red once again, I watched a school of dolphins swim close to the shoreline. It’s a rare sight on this coast, and I felt joy bubble up as they dove and rose again in a synchronized dance. A swimmer paddle boarded out to catch a glimpse up close and returned with the report that a baby dolphin swam beneath them. Every time the young one turned in a new direction, the the entire group of dolphins followed, protecting the baby from harm. Eventually, they swam away together, and their bobbing fins disappeared where the sky meets the horizon.

After the news reports, I find myself turning inwards, wanting to grieve for the losses alone, wanting to swim in the current of my own feelings. But, I recognize this is not a time for private grief. When the news shows face after face of dead men speaking to us from the grave, the grief must be a public one. This is not the time to swim alone.

Have you found a place for your grief or fear? Have you found a place to lament or repent or cry or pray? Have you found a place to show your weakness and allow yourself to be guided by another’s strength? If not, I encourage you to look around you. I have leaned hard into the strength of my friend Deidra, and her online gathering Prayers of the People. Look for the people who are gathering together in peace, look for the ones in whom you recognize courage, look for the ones who hold hope behind a veil of tears. They will be a shield and binder of wounds. They will be our peacemakers.

Perseverance Is The New Sexy

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My husband and I sat huddled around the computer with our houseguest, watching the video of his interview with a South American beauty queen. She asked him about his recent book release, and after she asked in Spanish and he answered in English, my husband said, “I didn’t know you speak Spanish.” “I don’t!” he replied. “We talked about it in advance and faked it for the cameras.”

“Watch this part,” he said, when the beauty queen switched to impeccable English. “She gets personal, and there’s a bit of a frisson between us.” We smiled as we watched this otherworldly beauty, with a talent for languages and for hiking up her bosom with an industrial strength push-up bra, ask our friend, who was slightly hungover and wearing a toothpaste stained t-shirt, how he enjoyed his time in her country. They bantered a bit, and he used his British accent to great effect, and she laughed, and we, on the other side of the screen, laughed with her.

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This month, my husband and I celebrated twenty years of marriage. I’ve been married for nearly half of my life, waking up to the same man on the other side of the bed for as long as I can remember. The early days of nervous laughter and sweaty palms and  sensations of excitement, frissons if you will, have matured into something deeper, something solid, something daily.

This is the strength of a long marriage–discovering passion is built upon the cornerstones of like-minded purpose, and encouraging your spouse to become who they’re meant to be. Over the years you find a “frisson” looks less like a camera-worthy flirtation, and more like your spouse unexpectedly washing the dirty dishes. Strength isn’t built on a rush of sudden emotion, but on choosing each other day after day after day.

Those of us who’ve made Ebenezers of these milestones in marriage, know this is what it takes. It’s not what the world considers sexy–there are no reality shows called “Housewives of Suburbia: Committed to Making It Work.” Reality roots itself not in the show, but in the quotidian rhythms of life.

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I know this about marriage, and I know this about mothering, but I am still learning this about the pursuit of art and higher education. I want it to feel a little sexy. I want the frisson of the blank page, of sitting down to write and discovering I have strung words together like stars across a midnight blue sky. I want it to feel like magic exists in the craft and in the pursuit. I want the fizz of fireworks when I create, and that flash-pop rarely exists. Pursuing our dreams often roots itself in the quotidian rhythms of life, just as it does in marriage.

I wish I had known it meant choosing my art daily, even when I don’t want to look it full in the face because we’re barely speaking. Or repeating the same tasks over and over to build up the muscle memory of love for my work. I wish I had learned sooner that the strength of creating a large body of quality work is built on the foundation of small, daily decisions not built on my feelings.

I know I am not alone in this pursuit. You have a family, a career, a goal, a dream. And you wake up to the reality of how much hard work it requires everyday. You wake up to look it full in the face, and you wonder if the choices you make today create a difference in tomorrow’s story.

Growth comes when we place one foot in front of the other, string one star across the sky, and live by the daily rhythms rather than fight them. A glance back at how far you’ve traveled from your starting point becomes the source of true pleasure. Forget the flirtations. Perseverance is the new sexy.

Faking it since 1975

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My oldest daughter is guiding me through a reading of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. She read and analyzed the novel for English class in the spring, and initially, I promised to read alongside her to keep her company among the pages. Life intervened, and three months and a rather large library fine later, I’m finally sitting down to read the book long after she finished it. Saturday night, I texted her while she was on a date: “What is the significance of …. Is that just a weird detail or is it meaningful?” She replied that it was important, and it is a “known thing”. Known to whom, I’m not sure. Certainly not to her mother with the questionable education in English Literature.

My child is sixteen and far more educated than me in many ways. This causes no end of internal conflicts for me as the “authority” figure around this joint. In conversations with her about her school work, I find myself standing in the kitchen holding a greasy spatula or an over-flowing laundry basket wondering what I have to offer her. I often feel as if I’m missing the “known thing”, and I’m winging it on the general knowledge of spot removal, one thousand ways to cook chicken, and how not to tend a garden.

I told a friend recently, “I’m not above faking it,” and I realized this has unexpectedly become my rallying cry.  So far, my faking it has kept most of my former patients out of the morgue, three kids thriving across three countries, my marriage and home (mostly) intact, and my relationships breathing oxygenated air. Inexplicably, faking it has also landed me in a master of fine arts program for creative writing. Apparently, they are unaware I spent the better part of the ’90’s reading questionable novels with a healthy side of People magazine.

I find myself faking it a lot on this journey to discovering the “known thing”. As a kid, I naively believed that once I became an adult I would know everything–I would draw closer to flawless wisdom with age. And the more I age, the more I realize how far from flawless, how far from wise, how far from knowledgeable I truly am. The answers I once held fast, unravel with a swift tug. The facts and figures once memorized, drift away on a constant stream of new information. The dreams and plans I made, continue to shape-shift like shadows at sunset.

My hope is that faking it will eventually lead to doing it. And doing it will eventually lead to mastering it–mastering the mystery of the known thing. It takes humility to let my children lead me into the knowing, but I believe I’m better for it. And certainly more well read.

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Are you learning anything in unexpected places?