Friday, December 7, 2018

Hometown in December

You lock the front door. You have left your house on a morning in December. There have been preparations because you are walking away from a lot — a basket of greeting cards, strings of lights that you made sure to unplug, a back room where wrapping paper and tape and ribbon and scissors may well have been used the night before.

Until fifteen years ago the morning in December would have been a few days before Christmas, the destination a family home — either my own or a partner’s. With 2004 and the passing of the last of the parents, with 2005 and the devastation of Katrina, the routines of the holidays began to change.

A couple of weeks ago I decided on an impulse to plan a trip back to my hometown of New Orleans. The fares I found favored what I wanted — two or three days walking through old neighborhoods with a husband who had never seen New Orleans. And then back to our own home in Boston with a few days remaining before Christmas Day.

No guidebook will be needed. I am guessing that I will have the answers to the most important questions that my husband could ask as we make our way down block after familiar block.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Before Routines

I am not ill but I am home in the middle of the day.

I could have gone out for lunch (I will tomorrow) but instead I counted on the kitchen to provide a simple this and that, a slice of bread for the toaster, a small container of refrigerated leftovers for the microwave. A glass of water.

It is a sunny October midday.

There is no noise of a television left on in another room.

An armchair in our upstairs bedroom feels like the best of home right now. The bed that I made this morning after Jim left for work has its smooth coverlet dotted by an open journal, a card with a quotation from a favorite author, a paperback book of jottings that I have read at different times over the last forty years.

A space heater is purring at a medium setting.

No part of the house is really uncomfortable but the heater is a nod to the reality of New England seasons.

There is nothing wrong.

No schedule portions out the rest of the afternoon.

Nothing has to be different in an hour’s time but likely something will be without any planning on my part.

For now, however, I can remember the housework that my mother used to get done even when one of her children was home sick from school. Her day was not bounded by the quiet of a sick room.

But I am not ill. I am older than my mother would have been while her children were still enrolled in school.

I know that there is nothing that has yet become routine in these first four months of retirement.

It is simply time to be aware.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pen to Paper in the Boston Athenaeum

I used to have a fairly accurate sense of how long it would take me to write something worth posting.

Sometimes it depended on the time of day that I first put “pen to paper,” so to speak. If I started composing within an hour of breakfast, I could have a worthy product by ten o’clock. It did not necessarily matter what other tasks I might have had to handle within those hours. Sentences were ready whenever I got back to the laptop or desk monitor. The ways that the logic of a written piece might progress seemed to resolve themselves more quickly, the closer to day’s start I made the effort.

Sometimes the place where I made that effort had the decisive influence on how long I needed to keep working on a piece. My office at work — when I had an office and there was work to go to — was ideal; I was used to assuming a posture at my desk that was effective in keeping distractions at bay. I galloped ahead! The couch at home made certain factors in my life unavoidable; the quieter the room, the more familiar the furnishings, the harder it was not to allow myself the time it took to be honest in what I was getting “on paper.” I realized that I had to live with the kind of person my words revealed me to be.

All that needed to happen today, though, was to use the time I had and the new place I could go and hear what I might say. Would I recognize the voice? Could I own it?

I am ready to move beyond the three-month silence with which retirement has begun.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Plans for Next September

I am going to a monastery in early September.

I know this because I went online this morning and booked four days of retreat at a nearby Trappist monastery.

This is an abbey sixty miles west of Boston, and a stay at the guest house used to be notoriously difficult to arrange. It used to require a phone call no more than six months before the proposed visit. On the first of every month, the single land-line to the guest master’s office would be consistently busy during the afternoon hours when hopeful visitors were directed to call.

Luck was never with me. I subsequently resigned myself to an occasional car ride out to Spencer, Massachusetts, in time for one of the midday services that the monks chanted in their chapel.

How quiet it used to be when I would pull off the state highway and drive the several minutes to the entrance gates of the Trappist property.

A one-time student for the priesthood, I always prided myself on my readiness for these cloistered settings. I considered them natural places for me to want to spend time exploring. Long, slow, contemplative walks were a specialty of mine. How easily I could settle down with a journal and pen my reflections.

The silence over the monastery fields would take me by surprise every time, though.

I felt out of my depth.

There were men here, I felt compelled to admit, who could do something with this silence that I had not yet learned.

For the first time this coming September, I will be away from a work setting where I have been one of the people who knew best how to handle the start of a school year. Instincts trained over the past thirty-seven years of working in the same school may find it hard to quiet down.

I have chosen to take myself away. I have chosen to find something different to tackle and listen to.

Retirement for an educator needs time to figure out what it might be about.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Lent: Forty Images for Meditation


I cleaned the bathroom this past Saturday morning.

I had recently been cataloguing floorboard corners and porcelain rims in need of attention. When there is no time for Soft Scrub and Pine Sol before the daily coffee and toast and six o'clock departure, the resolution grows not to let another weekend go by without an hour dedicated to household tasks. Sometimes it means making a trip to Target and restocking all the disinfectants that Lysol markets for toilet bowls and tubs.

Twenty-four hours later I am sitting with Jim in the fourth pew of Trinity Church in Copley Square. Our preference is a quiet service that starts at 7:45. Unlike worship later in the day, there is no music, no organ; no choristers sing the antiphons. On the other hand, there is always a polished reflection on the Sunday’s readings, a psalm to join in reading with the celebrant, a collect and intercessions from the Book of Common Prayer, needlepoint cushions on which to kneel at the communion rail.

It is a privilege to spend unhurried time in a church that the American Institute of Architects includes among the “Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States.” Beyond murals and stained glass by John LaFarge and Edward Burne-Jones, the labors of countless nineteenth-century artisans recall the interiors of a Venice from long ago. The most prominent color on the walls as the building was planned and decorated by architect H.H. Richardson is suitably called Venetian Red.

In our Dorchester home, the prominent downstairs colors are Shaker Beige and Chestertown Buff. The paints were selected by a young couple from whom Jim purchased the house eight years ago. Those previous owners had taken the modest 1920’s single-family in hand, introducing Benjamin Moore colors, installing oak kitchen cabinets, and renovating to the standards of the local Home Depot. The basement work bench still has red linoleum tiles left over from a kitchen floor makeover.

No cherry wood, no granite counters, no recessed lighting. There is space in this mill-worker’s home, though, for the parlor piano that Jim bought when he lived in Illinois. Appropriately it had been the product of Chickering and Sons, a Boston-based piano manufacturing company. From time to time Jim takes out hymnals from what he calls his “Anabaptist farm boy” days; he takes his place at the piano bench and plays regulars by Fanny Crosby and other church composers about whom I must claim to know very little.

Our home, however, on those evenings takes on a mission feel.

Every day, every hour,
Let me feel Thy cleansing power;
May Thy tender love to me
Bind me closer, closer, Lord to Thee.

I feel in tune these days.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018


I was suddenly looking up between two walls of snow. The walls had the smoothness that only a snow blower could have carved. No more than two feet apart, the walls of snow were about a foot high.

I had fallen. No warning. The thickness of my down parka had protected me as I tripped on the sidewalk within sight of my home.

I looked down at the sidewalk and listened for the approach of anyone nearby who might have seen my tumble. Apparently no one had. I checked for pain as I rolled over. No movement caused any immediate discomfort.

Soon enough I was up, easing my weight on each leg as I walked the remaining distance to the gate and my front walkway.

Inside the house I explained to Jim what had happened. There wasn’t any indication, though, that I could not continue with the tasks he and I had planned. So out we went.

I just hadn’t imagined lying outside flat on the pavement, the temperatures about me as cold as they had been. Would I have looked to random onlookers as a man in his sixties unsure of his step? Did I fit the description of the kind of neighbor about whom forecasters had been alerting us all last week?