When Small Talk Isn’t So Small After All

The vets staying at the Veterans Hospital in town hang out at the local strip mall. We see them every time we stop for milk and a five dollar bunch of flowers. Often, there will be one or two vets smoking on the corner, leaning heavy into a cane or crutch. They call to one another across donuts and coffee, or chat in the aisles of the Rite Aid. Sometimes their wounds are obvious–lost limbs, disfigurement, a limp. And other times, it’s the faraway stare, the nervous glance over their shoulder, the war-weary eyes that hint at invisible damage.

I pulled into the parking lot last week, and an older veteran stood on the corner of the Stop and Shop and followed my car with his eyes. I got out, grabbed my bags from the trunk, and he continued to stare. His face told a thousand stories, and his leg, permanently damaged in one skirmish or another, told a story too. I tried to look away.

Minutes earlier, I’d huffed my way out of the house after hours of household chores, while my husband lay prone on the sofa with a cold drink and an ipad in his hand. My annoyance led me to speed my way to the store, slam the car door, and attempt to sneak by the man without so much as a nod hello.

He called out to me, “Hey there! I used to drive a car just like yours. Do you love it? Is it a stick shift?” For a split second I wondered if I could walk by and pretend not to hear him. His left leg held all of his weight, and my polite, fake, smile held mine. I turned to face him.

We chatted cars for a minute, and while I considered how much time this conversation would cost me, he considered sharing a piece of his history. His story tumbled out. He spoke of the years he was stationed in Germany, the multiple languages he speaks, and his love for European travel. He told me of a car just like mine that saved his life in a head on collision with two other vehicles on a German highway. He told me a story of near misses, something akin to salvation.

After we chatted for a while, and I turned to enter the supermarket, he called out a blessing on me and then again on my family. I mumbled a brief thank you, and I walked away thinking I should say something to bless him too, but the words buried themselves in my own discomfort. The conversation was as awkward as you imagine it to be between a war vet and a harried housewife, but I walked away feeling as if I was richer for this chance meeting with a stranger. Near misses can cause one’s fake smile to transform into a real one, and one’s harried heart to enlarge in size.

I am so quick to dismiss the gift of a timely conversation. I almost missed out on a opportunity to see God in the face of another human being that day. I almost rejected the gift of a blessing from a stranger. When the man reached out in conversation, I wondered what he wanted or needed from me, not realizing I was the one with the greater need. I needed to stop tending my small wounds, exit my own story, and receive the gift of another’s.

How to Make Space at the Table

In our twenties, my husband and I thought nothing of using garden furniture for indoor dining. The wrought iron chair with the crooked seat cushion scraped against the pine floor as my neighbor pulled it up beside the table and sat down. Theresa eased her pregnant body into the world’s most uncomfortable chair with a sigh, while I puttered in the kitchen, preparing our make-shift meal. My daughter kept Theresa company from her high chair, kicking her feet in staccato against the foot rest, which Theresa politely ignored…

To read the rest of the story, join me in the kitchen at Grace Table.

Looking Back and Learning to Love Your Past Self

A few weeks ago, my husband decided to clear out the basement for the third time since we moved into our home nearly four years ago. As we began The Great Sort Out of 2017, boxes and bins I’d shoved and forgotten behind old picture frames and stacks of throw pillows made an appearance. We found our wedding album stashed away with the few photos left over from my childhood. On the highest shelf, we re-discovered three small, nearly empty bins I’d set aside for each of our kids’ keepsakes. I found most of their keepsakes–tiny pre-school t-shirts, stacks of drawings, and pottery pieces shaped like fairies or snakes–sitting in forlorn piles next to half-empty paint cans.

For days, I snatched moments here and there to flip through an album or rifle through old school papers with German vocabulary words from the kids’ school in Switzerland. There is nothing more bittersweet then realizing the keepsakes of motherhood are no longer of the fingerprint and ceramic variety, but rather memories you file away and watch unfold again and again from behind closed eyes.

As we shuffled things from one spot to another, I discovered a box filled with photographs I’d torn from my favorite home and interior design magazines. I began the collection fifteen years ago, long before Pinterest made its debut. We lived in London, and I was the mother of a toddler and had another little one on the way. I remember the quiet days of life with one child and an increasingly round belly, with the soft British lilt of cartoons on the tv keeping me company, while the rain tracked patterns down the windows. I sat with a cup of tea and a few biscuits, and every week, I carefully tore out sheet after sheet. Photos of baked bread, English gardens, and toile wallpaper rose up to greet me. With each page I saved, I’d planned for a life I didn’t yet live, creating a home I could only see in my mind’s eye. A home filled with children, home cooked meals, whitewashed french furniture, candlelight, and vintage china.

One afternoon recently, I gave myself the gift of a few hours with my younger, fanciful self, and I sat down to look through all of the paper and ink dreams I collected over the course of fifteen years. The memories hit me with a wave of longing for the girl I used to be, and with each turn of the page, I felt my affection for her grow. How rare and sweet to discover I love her and her dreams, however unrealistic. I never did bake that bread, and my version of an English garden exists only in my imagination. But, I see the current, middle-aged me sitting there beside her, in waiting. How unexpected to realize that she birthed forty-year-old me into being.

All of the worn pages my younger self tore out, all of the days spent dreaming of the future, all of the long walks to the antique shops to search for bargains, all of the recipes collected, the books read to squirming children, the tea cups filled to brimming– they created more than a few memories boxed in the basement. They created the life I wake up to every morning. Much to my surprise, my imagined-future became a living, breathing reality. The location is different than I expected, as are the ruts and detours we’ve encountered along the way, but the essence captured by my collection is alive in our home and our hearts today.

Making Peace with Our Bodies

In my early twenties, a friend invited me to a performance of the Royal Ballet in London. I’d only been to the ballet once as a child, and it had left me with the impression that I was on the outside looking in on something fragile and untouchable, but so very lovely. I agreed to join her, and wondered how I would experience the ballet this second time. I thought I would find it boring. I was in the thick of raising little ones, breastfeeding, exhausted, in a silent war with my changing body. My friend sat beside me with her leg in a cast, carrying crutches. We were a jacked up pair, as we waited to watch men and women with strong, able, obedient bodies create magic.

During the performance, the prima ballerina descended an entire set of stairs en pointe. It was so stunning, I held my breath. I stole a glance at my friend and saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Afterwards, we talked about that singular moment and how it wrenched the heart right out of us with its precision and difficulty. We left one another a few moments later–she hobbled to her taxi, and I rode the Tube home tired, but transformed by beauty.

I watched the dance movie Step Up while running on the treadmill a while ago. To be fair, I’d just watched two foreign films with subtitles and an art house film so subtle, I’m still not sure anything happened. I justified Step Up by telling myself one piece of fluff entertainment couldn’t hurt, but I forgot what watching dance does to me, how it brings me to tears every time. There is something so beautiful about the connection dancers have to their bodies that moves me in a way I don’t experience with other art forms. It evokes a longing in me for a similar connection to my own body.

I’m no longer in a silent war with my body, but I also don’t feel entirely at home in it either. Over the years, I’ve taken up various practices to help me begin a conversation with myself. I took up running in my thirties, and my body told me it is strong and resilient. But, I’m also prone to age and injuries. I practiced Pilates, and my body told me it can recover from the wild ways three pregnancies affected it. My body also revealed an inherent weakness, an incurable curvature of my spine in the form of scoliosis. We’re still negotiating this discovery. Over the last year, I added occasional yoga classes to the mix. My body tells me things in the quiet, slow movements of this practice. We share secrets, and it has been healing in a new way.

But, dance? This is the one thing I’ve always wished to do, the one challenge I’ve never attempted, having no sense of natural rhythm or grace. While watching Step Up, I recognized everything I’ve ever wanted for my own body. Dancers are at home within themselves, and this is the longing from my childhood identified–to feel that pain and beauty, fragility and strength, restraint and freedom of movement are part of wholeness. This is living at peace with one’s body. This is understanding the incarnation in a new way.

I carry a tiny seed of hope that someday, dance and I will become friends, and I will learn how to express myself without the crutch of words getting in the way. My body will reveal its secrets in a tactile, earthy way, and the untouchable art will no longer be a stage or screen away.

The Significance of a Sister Circle

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After the family funeral, one of the older women approached me in the buffet line between scooping spoons of mac and cheese and chicken piccata onto my plate. Another peppered my daughter with questions through the stall door of the church’s ladies room. A third struck up a conversation with my son while waiting to greet the family after the memorial service. They spoke as if they knew the intimate details of our lives, asking questions only a magician, or someone in the family’s inner circle, could pluck out of blue sky and thin air.

When my son turned to me with wide eyes and a questioning look during the granny brigade’s interrogation, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He had finally come face to face with a lifetime member of his grandmother’s infamous Sister Circle…

To read the rest of the post on lifelong friendship, join me at More To Be.