Hands in the dark.

I rock Mae in the dark, and I hear Everett roll over on his side to discover that I’m still in the room.  The mattress creaks as he pulls himself up, standing quietly to watch us, his chin just over the rail of his crib.  From her seat in my lap, Mae reaches up her hand toward Everett, and he extends his chubby, open palm toward her’s.  They mostly are trying to stay awake– I know– and I am mostly trying to get them to sleep– but I find myself guiding Mae’s hand toward her brother so their fingers can link. One’s fingers in another’s palm a few seconds before parting.  As long as the rocker is facing the crib, they do this again and again- stretch their arms out in the dark to find one another.  Sometimes their tiny arms flail and they fail, and I grab their hands with my own instead.  But usually, I guide their hands to find one another, because there is something that feels more right about that.


Ellie drew a sailboat for Jacob and a rainbow for Gaga and she wrote the word “hear” for me.  No joke– no pictures either.  Just four large, crudely shaped letters.  “Why did you write this?” I asked.  “I asked Gaga how to spell it,” was her answer.  “Hear.”  Simple enough.


It was quiet in the nail salon; I was the only customer, Lynn the only worker, and I put down my phone to talk to her. I asked about her son, remembering a time he had been working with his mom, a quirky kid of about 11 who read me an entire puppet show he had written that afternoon while he helped scrub water basins and adjust settings on massage chairs.  I brought up the memory I had of him (the kid was truly endearing), and Lynn asked about my job teaching English and her concern for how her son (now an eighth grader) might not get into honors classes in high school.  “Did he take a test?” I asked. “Yes,” she said.  Then a pause. “But that was just after my mom died.”   She spoke quickly, her English broken.  “And he, he was very close with her.”  She tried to find the words to describe what we all know– the feeling of how difficult it is to return to an unchanged world when you have been completely changed by grief.  “You know, I cancel everything that week, and I not remember anything,” she says quickly, describing her own reaction to her mom’s death.  She goes on to tell me about how she knows he didn’t do as well on the test as he could have because it was so soon after the death of his grandma.

“Li–”  she says, (She never says the Z in my name.)  “Li, you know who I call about the classes?  Who I talk to?”  She hands me a pad of paper, “Li– you write down what I say.  Because, you know– I don’t want to sound crazy.”

Hear.  Write.

Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do right now.  Remind you you aren’t crazy.  You aren’t crazy.  You have everything you need to know within you.

I’ll listen to my life and I’ll write some stuff down.

I’ll write about my life, which is in some ways your life, and it will be like two small hands  meeting in the dark- led by a larger Hand who could very well hold us fiercely in its grip, but instead releases us so we can hold the hands of one another.



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It rained all weekend.  We didn’t do anything we should have done.

Instead, in an utterly irrational move, I spent a half an hour cleaning out the basement storage closet in order to get to my giant bin of old Baby-Sitters Club books.  Cohen read one a while back and was interested in finding more.  So I vacuumed up old easter egg candy wrappers and little styrofoam berries that had fallen off the Christmas wreaths and burrowed my way like some crazed mole back into the boxes of junk.  Behind the old wedding centerpieces and high school memorabilia box, I found the two treasures I was aiming for: a collection of the shiny, pastel-covered paper-backs by Ann M. Martin, and a couple of my own baby-sitters club stories (fan-fiction, baby!): first, Aloha Baby-Sitters.  I ran my hand over the plain aqua cardstock and I imagined my dad binding the pages together with his “binding machine.”   I still had the rejection letter I received from Scholastic Books after pitching the idea to them (though Ann would write her own Aloha Baby-Sitters a year later.)    The second: A Baby-Sitters Club Reunion, True Friends Are Forever.  This one was co-authored with my best friend, Marie (the ‘copyright’ notes a “Schmutteneimers” publication).  We had imagined what the BSC members would be doing ten years after high school graduation.  The plot included a major hurricane, a birth of a baby, and the return of drunken step-father.  We had predicted Internet chats in 1996.  Also holophones.

As I tenderly unpacked each of the books from the bin, stacking more junk (heirlooms!) upon the piles of junk in our family room, I recalled some of my favorite titles.  “Snowbound!” I squealed.  “I re-wrote this entire thing into a screenplay!”  The kids were all ears.  “We wrote the credits on a giant whiteboard,” I gushed.  “And there was this scene, where someone gets stranded in a car, and Kristy goes on a date with Bart and…”

“You’re like a trauma victim who’s suddenly remembering every detail from the scene of a crime,” Jacob said.

Cohen requested my story when he went to bed.  I read the entire thing.


The 33 year old me didn’t organize her closet, mow the lawn, buy her sister’s shower invites, or check off anything else on her growing to-do list.  But the 12 year old me found a rapt audience 20 years after her first “publication.”  I’d count that as win.


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Poetry and baseball


 A small, six year old boy begins to don his catcher’s equipment for the first time; the gear hangs clunkily from from his tiny frame, the shinguards a bit too long, the helmet swallowing his small head like the unwieldy face mask of a medieval knight.  Jacob velcros the final shin guard onto the tiny catcher as the other boys run out to their positions.  “What if I get hit with the ball?” I hear him question timidly.  He stares at home plate, not following the other players out onto the field.


Yesterday afternoon was Cohen’s baseball game.  Jacob is the head coach and my dad is the assistant coach.  I get stressed out at these things.  Really- there I am, sitting on the sidelines buried in babies where no one even notices me– and this beautiful, annoying Mind of mine starts to notice all those EYES!   I’m nervous the parents will be judgmental.  I’m nervous for Jacob and if he’ll be able to pitch over-the-plate to the kids.  I’m  nervous that he will say the right thing, that parents will wonder if he’s coaching “right”, if he’s playing their kids  in the right positions, if he’s coaching too much or too little.  This stress is uniquely irrational: One- because it’s not me, it’s Jacob.  Two, because it’s first and second graders.  Three, because time and time again Life shows me that most people are good and decent when you get to know them.  But I worry anyway.  Those EYES!

Jump ahead 12 hours: Today we had Writers Day at Cary Grove.  Different authors and poets came to speak to our creative writing classes, and at the end of the day, nine student performers shared original poetry.  I was nervous for them– all of them– the students and the professionals– because didn’t they notice them??– didn’t they notice all those EYES??  I think they did notice them (hands shook/ voices stuttered), but they got up anyway; they stood on stage and they shared something they made.

Some of their poetry resonated with me, and some of it didn’t.  But you want to know what always resonated– what truth hummed– holy and sweet and invisible in the air?  It was this willingness to say: Look, here I am. I made something.  And I want you to hear it.

 “Have you ever heard of Captain America?” Jacob asks.  He’s kneeling so he is eye-level with the boy, and the small catcher nods.  “What’s his most important weapon?”  The boy stares at him.  “His shield, right?” Jacob says.   “This–” he holds up the boy’s glove, “Is like your shield.  And the rest of this is your armor.”  The boy’s glove is so big it’s an effort for him to hold it up, but he traces Jacob’s movements with his tiny arm, back and forth, back and forth, imagining shielding himself from any oncoming enemy pitches.

I’m still a little nervous, but I realize I don’t have to be.

Several batters into the game, there is a loud “thunk”.  A pitch has hit the tiny catcher right in the chest.  “You okay buddy?” Jacob asks.  There is only a moment’s hesitation, perhaps only a moment a mother would notice; then–a tiny “thumbs-up” pointed to the sky, and the game continues. 

So speak!  Our fear just might make another person brave enough to enter the game.


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Any afternoon

After school today I picked up the three youngest from my mom’s.  Everett was asleep in his carseat, his chubby thighs busting out of his “future Moline maroon” onesie.  Mae was all boogers and blue eyes.  Ellie did not want to pick up the big kids; she was in need of a nap (understatement).

I heaved one carseat up into the truckster (hoist-swing-plop), and my mom heaved up the other (host-swing-plop.)  The windows were down and the wind blew Ellie’s curls as we drove to the big kids’ school.  We pulled into our corner spot and I hoisted more babies.  Ellie ran ahead of me through the mud and the grass, close to the sidewalk but not on it.  She had a minnie-mouse shirt and red leggings and rosy cheeks.

I talked with another mom about the weather and the upcoming fun fair and waved to Sophie as she requested to be dismissed.  She bounded over to me, and I asked her how her day was.  She said “good” and quickly found Ellie flying on her belly on the swings.  Cohen burst through the doors after the second bell, flying at top speed, running at me and nearly through me.  We found our neighbor and I led the small child-entourage back to the car.  Ellie quickly entered full melt-down mode, upset that she wanted to sit in the middle seat, and refusing to let anyone buckle her except me.    She screamed and she screamed and I sang “There’s NO business like SHOW business” (because why not?)

I spied the gray of the mini-van in our driveway and I could breathe a little bit more because the gray meant Jacob was home a few minutes early and he could cover the remaining hoisting of carseats. (Hoist- swing-plop-hoist-swing-plop.)  Jacob chased Ellie in a circle around the house, limping and stiff-necked from pitching in Cohen’s baseball game last night.  He hobbled around and around as she darted this way and that, always just out of his reach.  “You should have seen it,” (he would recount to me later, shaking his head.)  Ellie fell asleep on me, her arms clasped tightly around my neck.

As she slept, I watched Cohen jump rope in the family room; he would try again and again, only taking a quick break to eat a left-over piece of birthday cake.  Everett pushed the door of the play pen open-and-shut, open-and-shut, and as he stood there marveling at the notion of a swinging gate, I marveled at the girth of his calves.  Once Ellie was officially asleep, I tested Cohen’s jumprope outside because I’ve always enjoyed jumping.

We made Everett and Mae laugh while we waited for dinner.

We ate tacos while Ellie slept and I asked Cohen if he had found his lost library book.   He said “yes” (pause) “in the garage” (longer pause) “on the toilet.”  And we laughed, because where else but here would that be true– really? (It’s true!)  Jacob gave the babies baths and I filled out fun fair forms, and math workbook forms, and reading club forms (I was DOMinating those forms) and felt productive until I saw the war-torn state of the kids bedrooms and I just threw in the towel.

Ellie woke up from her nap and ate cheese sandwiches and I read Horrible Harry, and Henry and Mudge, and Magic Tree House (a good line-up, I must say.)  I sang “busy day” to Ellie (half an hour ago) and she is still singing right now.  Everybody’s up.

We’re awake on this evening at the end of this afternoon, which could really be any afternoon– an afternoon that in a hundred ways will repeat itself, but will never be quite the same again.

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Mid-week reflection

Every time I write, I hear a thousand different voices.  The voice of the cynic who asks why I should be posting about my story when leaders are dropping bombs and people need to be fed and justice needs to be found.  The voice of the academic who chides that this line was overly sentimental and that line was too cliche.  The voice of of the the parent, the childless, the conservative, the liberal, the married, the single, the rich and the poor, the old and the young. There is even the voice of my future-self, whispering “if you only knew what you’ll one day know…”

There are always voices.  Not just for me when I write, but for all of us, all the time.  To ignore them is narcissistic, and to cater to them is weak.  What do we do with the voices?

For me, writing and sharing, if nothing else, is a process of chipping away at the ego, at the outer exterior whose facade says “thoughtful, intelligent, kind”– because most of the time there are no deep thoughts, most of the time I do not understand, and more often than not kindness does not come naturally.  But so what?  These traits– even though these characteristics are good– are the ego.  The outside Self.  The inside Self is not defined by depth of intellect or vocabulary, or even kindness and selflessness (or the amount of comma splices in this essay.)  The inside me– and the inside you– is Loved and Enough.  Plain and simple.

I believe we know the truth of “Loved and Enough” from infancy, but somewhere along the way, we forget.  It is something we cannot help but know in the beginning, as we only are because we are sustained by another.

I think we must start with Loved and Enough if we are ever going to deal with the voices.

I typically see this assault of perspectives as a a paralyzing curse, but what if- in some holy way– it could be a blessing?  What if we- in our fear that we are not Enough- are being crushed by the very gift that could bring Wholeness to the world?  How is it that we have turned what could very-well a super-power into something de-habilitating?  For the power to step outside of myself and see the world as you see it is the very force that will compel me to truly love you.

So I will write and I will share and I will live (and we all will live)- risking judgment from the voices, exposing our imperfections and ignorance, and trusting that ancient wisdom of “weakness becoming strength.” The story we celebrate this weekend– the Easter story- re-affirms this transformative power, telling us once and for all: Loved and Enough. And once we know Loved and Enough, we hear the voices for what they are– a chance to truly connect with the Other.

This weakness-turned-strength, little by little, without gusto or fanfare– is the force that will transform the world.

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Letting Life Speak

Today I am going to begin a new weekly writing tradition.  I’m going to practice noticing.  I’m going to, as Frederick Buechner said, listen to my life.    I’m going to try to let Life speak for itself, in an attempt to coach my eyes to see again.


Yesterday we took all five children to a Brewers/Cubs game in Milwaukee.  I overpacked a small blue and black backpack, stuffing down diapers and extra clothes and formula.  I jammed three pieces of white bread and two bananas (just call me Betty Crocker) into a jewel bag and forgot bibs.  I changed and re-changed Everett and Mae, finding tiny old shoes that haven’t been worn since Sophie and Cohen donned them years ago.  They both kicked them off within seconds, but I appeased my need to control the situation by balancing the shoes in the carseat, telling myself they would wear them in the stadium, right?

After waking up too early to binge-watch Elena of Avalor, the kids were operating at less-than-optimal levels.  Fights ensued before we even wrangled them all into the car, Cohen furious that Sophie had “stolen” his seat. Amidst kicks and cries and wails, Jacob attempted to calm the temper of our eldest: “Buddy, buddy, just try and use some strategies to calm down” he said from the driver’s seat.   And then- without hesitation from the backseat: “I don’t LIKE STRAT-TEH-GIES!”– the words spilled from Cohen’s mouth, so loud and primal his voice rivaled the throaty grovel of a seasoned rock singer.  We laughed (because really, what else?) and ignored him (until we couldn’t ignore him because he was kicking Sophie’s seat). But then we ignored him some more and he got tired of being mad.

Our drive continued, and Jacob noticed his receding hairline in the rearview mirror and Ellie noticed the cattails in the fields outside.  I researched road trips on my phone and Jacob said “seriously?” and I’m proud that it only took me few seconds to discover the irony. With our destination 10 minutes away, GPS lost its marbles as we encountered new construction, and we marveled at the height of the crisscrossing ramps and swore and barked at the kids to stay quiet. But even with GPS off the table, we found our way (like people do).

Upon arrival at Miller Park, we squashed the babies legs into carriers and Ellie clutched my hand as we made our way up the escalator to our seats in the upper-deck.  We caught the opening home run on a TV just before finding our seats.  By the bottom of the first inning, Everett had pooped.  By the top of the third Sophie was whining for food.  I changed Everett in a stinky bathroom and noticed another mom waiting for the changing table.  She was kind and said “take your time.”  Ellie called out from a nearby stall that she didn’t have any toilet-paper and the woman in the next stall over slid her some, saying “I have a daughter her age, too.”

We gathered our free hotdogs and apple-sauce and made our way back to our seats.  There was a moment when Everett sat on my lap munching on his bread, when I slowed down and breathed in the warmth of new spring air.  The sun glinted off the west end of the stadium, turning everything beyond his little head golden.

There were requests for ice cream after cheering for the “cowboy” in the sausage races. We ran into an old college friend eating our mini-chocolate cones.  I was scarfing cheese fries (because a hotdog isn’t enough), and Everett was eating breadcrumbs off the ground.  We said we should get together over the summer, and I think we will.

We made our way back to the car just before the bottom of the 9th.  Ellie and Cohen raced across the footbridge, weaving their way in and out between the throngs of adult legs.  “They’re with me,” I would say to the onlookers, my own feet shuffling along, Everett’s head bobbing in the carrier.  The kids poked each other with an umbrella on the way home, but we didn’t have any tears (except from the babies.)  Everett bit Jacob’s thumb with his two little front teeth, which made Cohen laugh uncontrollably.  We ate spaghetti and then wiped spaghetti off the floor and picked spaghetti out of hair.  We fell into bed.

After all was quiet, I found myself in my darkened room. The windows were wide open and the summer-like wind was strong.  The stillness was broken only by the occasional, gentle snap of billowing curtains.  After my breathing slowed, I could also hear the faint sound of a clarinet playing, the wind carrying its melody gently from a neighbor’s window to my own.  The music lasted for at least twenty minutes; it changed– or perhaps revealed– the atmosphere in the air; it conjured a gentleness that could only be felt.  I fell asleep to Rhapsody in Blue.

Everything speaks.  Everything.  Tiny baby toes too small for shoes, a big brother’s indignant shoves,  swaying cattails and slightly cold hot dogs.  Fly balls and foul balls and home runs.  Summer winds and tired limbs, silence and song.

It all comes together in the marvelous symphony of what IS– each smell and sound and sight, each taste and touch coming together to create a life.

May we See.


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Losing Our Grips

I would sleepwalk through this morning.  The clouds would hang low in the sky, the air too warm for February.  I would see people in the halls, smile and say hi, hold doors open, nod my head during class discussions, squint my eyes into half-moons to indicate inquisitive thoughts.  I would stare at my computer screen, google doc after google doc, and I would make three loops to the bathroom to avoid having my face crash into my computer.

But in the middle of today, I was jolted from my somnambulatory haze.  Because today, there was a fire alarm.  I followed the crowds outside and found a small circle of teachers.  We hugged our elbows or stuffed our hands in our pockets to avoid the cold, shuffled back and forth in an awkward dance to adapt our bodies to the brisk February air.  We didn’t have our phones and we didn’t have our laptops.  The tasks and to-do lists we carried had been left back in the abandoned building, and all we stood outside with was ourselves.

The air woke me up, and so did the other people.  It was bright, and I bet they could see the zits on my forehead.  They could see the lines around my eyes and I could see theirs.  We talked about the weather “it’s supposed to hail tonight” (shuffle shuffle, hands in pockets, more dancing) and we talked about the upcoming afternoon’s obligations.  We talked about a project due for gradschool class (sniffle, shuffle, sniffle). And then the bell rang again, indicating that it was safe to return to the building.

Small conversations are kind of revolutionary for me.  I am kind of an anxious person.  Having your life be governed by bells is actually a glorious thing for a person who dreads small talk.  Awkward silence?  That’s okay, because the bell will ring in a minute, and it will be time to gather up your laptop and keys.  Too many tasks and deadlines? — no need to fret, because after all, fulfilling these duties is something I can control— I can hold my responsibilities in the palm of my hands, carry them in neat, manageable piles; I can master deadlines with to-do lists, check-boxes and hardcore multi-tasking.

But the system controls us by making us believe we can control it.  Thankfully, however, a fire alarm rings, the routine is upset, and we’re faced with real people.  People who must dance to keep their feet warm, people with zits and wrinkles, with eyes that are hollow or shining. People who have fears and awkward quirks and dreams and maybe some spinach in their teeth.

Any time you are brave enough to look someone in the eye, you lose a little bit of your grip.  Because you cannot control a person like you can control a task, you must surrender to what is instead of what could be.

I practiced the art of losing my grip tonight with my birthday girl, Ellie.  We sat across from one another at a small table in Dairy Queen, she sipping an Orange Julius, me wolfing-down an oreo blizzard.  Kids are the ultimate antidotes to the illusion of control– — they remind me that my incessant attempts to hold their behavior, their feelings, their future in my protective palms is futile.  What I can do is be present (which is SO FREAKING DIFFICULT)– I can bear witness to their joy and their sadness and they can bear witness to mine.

“What makes you laugh?” I ask Ellie.  “Jokes,” she grins, stealing a bit of my Blizzard.  “And what makes you angry?” I question. “When people steal my toys.” “What makes you happy?” She smiles, her mouth wide and her teeth brown from chocolate, her hair stuck out in untamable, staticky wisps.  “My family,” she says.

She finds my shining eyes, and I find hers, and we are tired and happy together.

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from reaction to response

Up until now, we have said things to the babies and they smile.  Sometimes, when we say their names loud enough, they turn their heads to meet our gaze.  They play in their cribs after bath time and the rising pitch and pace of our repeated ‘peek-a-boo’ refrain makes them bend their knees up-and-down with excitement.  Before dinner every night they crane their necks to follow whomever is in charge of dishing out the purees– they trace our steps from the bib drawer to the pantry, and their eyes follow our hands as we spin the rice cereal into mush round-and-round.  Before tonight they have reacted to our words, but until tonight, they have not really responded to our words.

But that changed, because Everett learned how to clap today.  I think my mom taught him, but she didn’t say that she did so maybe we taught him?  I noticed him waving his chubby, smooth hands together, cushions of soft skin separated by the lines of his tiny palms, like the curves of a padded seat cushion around its buttons on a hard-backed kitchen chair.  One palm finds the other and I ask “are you clapping Everett?”  He catches my eyes and haphazardly waves his arms back and forth, smiling with delight when one hand unexpectedly meets the other.  He has always liked to bang things (oh Crush– you Bruiser!) and it’s almost only natural to let the one arm swing without direction and without aim (but oh, with gusto!)– into the other. We cheer and applaud every time, circling around him.  “Yes! Clap, Everett, clap!” we yell.  And he claps and we yell and he claps.

Later on,  to test his memory and to justify my awe, I ask him to do it again.  No actions, no modeling– just the word.  The sound brought forth from the idea in my mind that came from I don’t know what before that. (What comes before the idea?)  This abstract request  takes on shape and sound and rolls across the room into Everett’s tiny ears where he is perched sideways on Jacob’s lap.  They enter into the wide empty vessel that is his mind– up until now a mind filled only with little bursts of pre-lingual longings.  Just an amorphous, mist of yearning- desires to be held, and to drink, and be held again. The mist knows darkness is lonely and warmth is better and nothing beats the goodness of peach-flavored puffs. The sparks and synapses do not yet know the names of things but somehow know those things.  But that was until tonight.  Because tonight a word took shape and entered that fog– entered that fog not as sound but as meaning.

The wonder!

I say “clap” and he claps! Not a reaction but a response.  From idea to word to mind to action.  And I see the meaning there, on that no-longer-blank canvas, spilling out across his mind in beautiful white burst, like the seeds of a snow-white dandelion pressed up tightly against glass.

He’s delighted and we’re delighted.  Who knows what words will come next?


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This Now

I can remember rocking Cohen as an infant in his room in our old house.  The yellow glow of the streetlight dimly illumined the outline of the blue curtains his great grandmother had stitched in preparation for his arrival. A small CD player crooned lullabies, and our first board books lay shiny and new in neat stacks on a sturdy bookshelf that is now broken to pieces.  I held him close with my nose to his cheeks and I imagined how he– this infant– would take care of me as an old woman.  I saw him carrying me up the stairs, my arms draped over his strong, broad shoulders, my legs too weak to carry the vessel that would be my body.  In my mind, he carries me the way my mom carried my grandpa in the weeks before his death– our bodies frail, rested, and fully reliant.  The tiny life I held in my arms that night would one day hold me.  Past and future blurred. This baby holds me.

It is an odd thing, to recall a vision of the future within a memory. What was and what will be blur together in this present moment– this Now in which I write.  This now is– as all the great mystics have said–the only reality.  This now holds eternity within it.

This Now holds a six year old Sophie awake in her bed, spinning yards and yards of stories, words tumbling from her rosebud mouth; words that were once indecipherable have become inextricably linked with meaning.  Through her smudged, purple glasses– she no longer sees just pictures, but now understands the words that will one day– and I see this future– bring her to life.

This Now in which I type holds the softly breathing, three-year old Ellie.  Bruised knees, orange toenails, hair uneven from too much twirling.  She’s in our bed, comforted by my sheets and my presence.  She is dreaming of the joy she has brought and will bring.

This Now in which I type holds the eight year old Cohen writing at his new, black desk by the light of a lamp that belonged to me as a kid.  He scribes thank you notes for his birthday,  testing out loopy and unfamiliar cursive letters.  He wears ninja-turtle footy-pajamas and his tongue sticks just slightly out of his mouth as he concentrates.  He takes the time to write out the word “sorry!” to the respondent whenever he makes a mistake.

This Now holds a sleeping, open-mouthed Mae, her belly full and content, her skin shiny and smooth and covered in soft pajamas now faded from her sisters’ wear.  Everett fell asleep a while ago, “finally” content to sleep in his own bed after weeks of only sleeping in our arms. A few nights ago we had to let him cry; it was necessary and so awful. I know this “finally” that I type will one day only be fleeting,  and I hope the future me will show the current me some tenderness, will tell her it’s all right that we did this.  I believe she will speak tenderly to her past.  This future me whispers what she knows from experience and what I know from advice:  that it’s all fleeting.  I cannot seem to shake myself of the gravity of this truth. And perhaps I cannot shake myself from this truth because even now I hold this future wisdom.  By grace there are glimpses of eternity.  The baby I hold, holds me.

Within me lies the woman I will become– and perhaps it is she who whispers to me these truths I cannot shake.  All is well, she whispers gently, all is well because all will be well.

It is true we contain multitudes, for within us lies both past and future.  Within us lies the eternal Now.

“I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

“…And then I turned again to that other world I had taught myself to know, the world that is neither past nor to come, the present world where we are alive together and love keeps us.” – Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter

” In every cell of our body, in every trait of our face, in every movement of our soul, our past is the present.”- Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now

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The Real, True Dulcie Campbell

It is believed that Plato and his Greek peers at times referred to God as “the really real.”

A few days ago Sophie brought back a picture book from the school library.  It was called The Real, True Dulcie Campbell.  On the cover a young girl in a red, gingham dress stood atop two large barrels of hay.  She clutched a thick, story book to her chest with one hand and a gardening pitchfork in the other.

The book opens: “One Saturday afternoon, when Dulcie Campbell was doing her chores, it occurred to her that a terrible mistake had been made on the day she was born…” Our main character finds herself amidst pig slop and chicken feathers, shoveling straw into a dilapidated chicken coop.  She belongs to a mother who wears “worn-out old bunny slippers” and a father who sports “scratchy whiskers” on his face and cow poop on his boots.  She’s got a brother who  “steals her underpants” and a dog “who sniffs people in embarrassing places.”

The chicken coop and the cow poop and the annoying brother are just a little too much for Dulcie.  So she reads.  She reads to escape.  She reads about princesses in silken gowns and royal thrones.    She figures she must have been switched at birth, right? The real, true Dulcie Campbell doesn’t belong in this mess!  So one day she declares to her family,  one fist poised high to the sky in a gesture of triumph– “I must go now to live the life I was born for!

I’m Dulcie.  Searching for the real me.  Convinced she’s to be found in some castle– perhaps with some prestigious post-graduate degree and a published novel under her belt.      In a home with coordinated vintage decor instead of honey-oak trim and 90s striped wall-paper. I imagine kids who bathe nightly and go to bed after one tuck-in.  I’m Dulcie- and I’m not getting my story from books, I’m getting my story from news feeds and advertisements and constant comparisons.

I’m Dulcie when I’m convinced I must go elsewhere to find my life.  When I search for myself anywhere but here.

But here’s the thing.  Dulcie marches off in her gingham dress and slouched knee socks clutching her book full of fantasies.  She finds herself in a barn-turned-castle and reads and reads.  And she becomes that princess.  And she discovers princesses are put through some crazy shit.  Sometimes they are forced by wicked queens to wear rags and sleep in ashes.  One was poisoned.  Another was locked in a tower.  And as Dulcie lives her fantasy, the barn-turned-castle begins to fill with terrible trolls and ogres– witches and wicked fairies.

But then, an epiphany.

Dulcie stares at all that evil, all that wickedness and says “Hey, wait a minute!”  A pause.  “If I’m not a princess, and I truly am not, then you guys aren’t real either.”  And the barn is a barn again.  Sure- it’s not a palace.  It’s milk pails and rolls of baling wire– it’s syrup stains and dirty socks, daily lesson plans and stacks of crudely written, to-be-graded papers. It’s reality.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

When I see my world for what it is– not for what I fear or hope it could be– it is true, I’m not a princess.  But the reality is that I’m here.  And when I see myself for what I am, I am able to see the monsters for what they are.  And they are milk pails. And dirty socks.  And crudely written papers.  Sometimes the monster is even narcissism or racism or fanaticism.  Or death.  But in the face of the real me, those villains are less villainous.  They are real– yes.  But being grounded in the realness of me has put them in their proper place.

And now– to conclude our story- something beautiful happens.

Dulcie is in the castle-turned-back-to-barn.  Far away, a voice was calling. ‘Dul-cee!  Dulcie Campbell!’  And faster than the West Wind, Dulcie ran out out to the barnyard.  She flew toward the sound of her real, true name.

I want to run to the sound of my real, true name.  I want to leave behind the fantasy of comparison, of earning self-worth, of proving myself to an audience who doesn’t matter. I want to fly toward my real self– faster than the west wind.  I want to return to reality, return to myself.  Because The Really Real is calling my name.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear your name?  Let’s run.

Quotations from The Real, True Dulcie Campbell by Cynthia DeFelice

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