what takes your breath away?

Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

A few weeks ago, as I was making a routine journey back and forth along the busy street I traverse several times a day, I couldn’t help but hear the leaves.  I heard them.  Yes.  That’s what I wrote.  I  h e a r d  them.

They were the deepest, most crimson red they’d ever be this year.  Saturated with beauty and singing their highest notes.  An opera for my ears, a crescendo of color.  Have you ever noticed that?  How autumn leaves are this most vivid, crisp color just before they begin to fade and fall to the ground?

There are so many things like this that take my breath away.

Yesterday marked the winter solstice, the darkest night of the year, and at a time in which we find our world community tempted toward anxiety and despair, when I know so many of us are caught up in the tumult of life, it’s these moments of awe and wonder that fill me with gratitude and propel me forward in hope.  There are kind strangers holding open doors for you.  There are clerks smiling behind cash registers.  There are even drivers nodding and letting you in to jammed city streets, waving back at you, you’re welcome.

There are so many things . . . just listen.

By now the rains have come, and those beautiful leaves have fallen at our feet, a small sacrifice for the springtime flowers to come.  But it has me singing, welcoming the coming light into the world and wondering, what takes  y o u r  breath away?

 

 

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

wintercouple

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, from two or three little birds.

 

3    Email This Post

seeking human kindness

People are overwhelmingly trustworthy and generous.  ~ Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist

holding-handsSo as I mentioned in a recent post, littlest love and I have been reading The Odyssey together.  (Her idea, I swear!)  As much as this is an epic poem chronicling Odysseus’ adventures on his return home to his family in Ithaca, it is also a story of its people and their culture–the palpable interconnectedness between them and the divine, their sense of fate, destiny, their own humility and their obligation to honor one another with kindness and hospitality.  Part of the joy of any story is that imaginative act of being transported–and we are loving journeying through this mythical land of kings and goddesses, gilded palaces and warm Aegean breezes.  Homer’s seductive Dawn, with her rose-red fingers . . . .

So we’ve finally reached Book 4–the last chapter of Telemachus’ journey–and littlest has been attentively listening each night as Telemachus travels from one kingdom to the next in search of news of his father.  She loves the interplay between Athena and the mortals and I suspect enjoys imagining her in disguise among the courtly atmosphere.  And perhaps she’s even enjoying the language and the other-worldliness as much as I am.  The way Telemachus is cared for and welcomed. The way his hosts greet him with wide open arms and offer him seats of honor at their tables, the best cuts of meat, their finest wines.  Why, he’s even bathed and anointed by his royal hosts’ most beautiful daughters–and they don’t even know who he is!  He’s an uninvited guest–a complete stranger–and even when wandering into an elaborate wedding feast, the hosts drop everything they are doing and rush to greet him and offer him hospitality.  Help yourselves to food, and welcome! says Menelaus.  Once you’ve dined we’ll ask you who you are.  Does that even happen anymore?!  I suspect if you crashed a wedding banquet in Beverly Hills today, you’d be swiftly escorted to the curb.  No Cristal and caviar for you, and certainly no hot oil rub downs so sorry Charley.  Buh bye.  And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

We certainly have devolved into a culture that is immediately suspicious of strangers and selective with our generosity, haven’t we?  I don’t pretend to offer any theories but only know that, even though I like to think of myself as charitable and kind, I have grown hardened to that woman walking up and down the median with the sign reading Help! Need bus ticket home. Only $50 short.  I look in her eyes and see the dark circles of addiction.  A hooded sweatshirt covers her stringy hair, but I can tell she’s only about twenty years old.  A bus ticket my ass, I’m thinking.  And I can watch everyone else thinking the same thing, too, as they turn away from her.  We tell ourselves,  If I give her money, she’s going to spend it on drugs.  But as I type this right now I know that I should be more generous with her, that even if I gave her money and she did spend it on drugs, the gesture alone would extend some kindness to her.  And if enough people did that, maybe she’d grow more hopeful . . . .  But yet I never roll the window down.  She’ll just mock me and call me a sucker,  I tell myself as I pull out of the grocery store parking lot and head off to pick up my daughter from school, a brown paper bag in the backseat piled high with canned goods bound for the local food bank.  As I drive past women like her, I often wonder, if only she held an honest sign that read Forgotten: need drugs to numb the pain, anything helps, would I be more generous?

I think we are a suspicious cynical people when it comes to strangers, especially strangers that seem in the most need of our help.  We are selective and direct our acts of charity to known communities and organizations rather than to unfamiliar people, I think because we don’t want to feel cheated or duped or vulnerable.  Reading Homer with my littlest love is making me wonder if there isn’t some small way we can try to let go of some of that fear and be more hospitable, kind and generous.  To look at the Homeless Vet Needs Work sign and see instead, Lonely and Cast Aside.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Craigslist Joe, which was about this very notion of hospitality.  In the film, unemployed twentysomething Joe Garner decides to travel the country for a month with no money or car or cell phone contacts.  He vows only to use the internet swap meet site Craigslist to connect with people in hopes he will find work, food and shelter from the strangers he meets.  It’s a spiritual quest of sorts intended to test our capacity for kindness and generosity.  Now, Joe looks nothing like a wan-eyed meth addict.  There’s nothing counterculture about him–no tattoos, no piercings, no patchouli or dread locks.  He’s a clean, well-educated suburban kid with a cameraman in tow, not to mention a two-parent safety net and a living room full of friends to welcome him home after this experiment is over, so of course he’s not bound to draw suspicion on the road.  While this may be a small flaw in the film, I don’t think it detracts from his journey in any way because what you see much more than him are the strangers he meets.

His plan is simple:  he looks for community on Craigslist, and once he connects with a person or group, he asks for their hospitality.  He answers all kinds of ads–advertisements for free dance classes, calls for open mic comedians, requests for tutoring or soup kitchen volunteers.  He shows up and participates in the activity and then hopes he can find someone willing to put him up for the night and share a meal with him.  What you see in the film is stranger after stranger inviting him into their home.  He also uses Craigslist to locate drivers looking for travel companions, and these take him from LA to Portland and Seattle, across to Chicago and then on to New York, down through Florida and New Orleans, and then back to San Francisco, which I am sad to say is the only city that shut him down and forced him to sleep on the street.  In each of these other cities, he meets kind and generous people who shelter and feed him.

Are we at a place in our society with you know the technology of the internet and websites and human interaction where we can take care of each other? ~ Joe Garner

It’s a remarkable concept for a documentary, and as I watched the film, I was conscious of how each of his hosts seemed a little off the grid, some more so than others.  They were eccentric or lonely or cast aside in some way and perhaps in need of his companionship.  They were people I would be suspicious of–POWs as I have been known to call them– pieces of work I’d size up and dismiss as too much trouble.  But Craigslist Joe was forced to put his trust in them and opened himself up to their stories, and we see instead of their strangeness, their kindness and humor and generosity.

Some of their interactions were deeply moving.  In New York at Christmastime, Joe decides to begin placing his own ads for volunteers so that he can provide assistance to anyone who needs it, and one of the best portions of the film is a scene where he and another volunteer visit the home of a woman dying of cancer who posted an ad asking for help of any kind.  They have no idea what they have signed up for and arrive at her apartment ready for anything, only to discover she is not only suffering from cancer but is a mentally ill hoarder with quite a story to tell.  When you witness the kindness they show one another, it will remind you that these sorts of meaningful encounters can only happen if we put aside judgment and instead are open and trusting and generous with one another.  Because aren’t we all in some way, each of us, holding a sign that reads Seeking Human Kindness?

Craigslist JoeThis was by far and away the most inspiring experience of my life–the generosity of people–the stories they shared–the connections I made in one month were so deep . . . just meeting everyone and telling them my story and the journey–having people invite a complete stranger into their homes and feed me and invite me to go out–it was truly inspiring to know that we can take care of each other.  ~ Joe Garner AKA “Craigslist Joe”

 

Add Craigslist Joe to your Netflix queue

4    Email This Post

come away with me, or how to get lost on one kings lane

There’s a certain kind of magic when the city is bathed in
light, buds begin to bloom, and parks swell with people.
With those perfect early spring days in mind, we gathered
all the elements of a chic Parisian apartment in a softer,
lighter palette. Your sunny hideaway awaits.

Click!

Marta_Chair

the marta chair

Lately I’ve been addicted to the One Kings Lane ads that clutter my inbox every day because they use editorial storytelling to sell a heap of beautiful things I don’t need and can hardly afford.  This is an online retailer disguised as a design blog, and they push out clever emails inviting you to various themed “events” featuring all the designer-selected furniture, decor and linens you’d need to achieve the desired look.  The key word being

desired.

I used to delete these emails without question but that was so yesterday.  One or two forays down the lane and the storytelling’s got me hooked!  I think last week or today or the day before some day they lured me into “The Gentleman’s Study” and before that I wandered through “The Lost Art of Afternoon Tea” and lingered there for a few minutes until moving on to ponder how I might “Achieve the Library Look.”  Noted tastemakers have done all the shopping for me —  they’ve trotted the globe gathering vintage fleamarket finds and art deco jewelry, tufted linen club chairs in soothing Montauk hues and decorative books to line my shelves.  It’s all taken care of!  All that exhaustion, all the decision-making — at someone else’s expense and artfully arranged.  It just sails across the lawn and lands smack on your doorstep every morning before sunrise.  You can just wake up, grab your morning cup and find yourself transported to an elegant English Manor or some other equally imaginative landscape, all while snuggled in your robe and slippers with your hair still in a scrunchy!  I’ve gotten so drawn into the storylines I’ve begun pinning $199 turquoise vintage typewriters to my Interiors Pinterest board with no hope in sight.

But this post isn’t about that typewriter.  Of course if you love me and have some change to spare I wouldn’t mind if you snatched it up before it sells out.  Maybe stow it away in the garage until my birthday — I won’t mind waiting and I promise to fall over with surprise before finding the perfect spot for it in my study.  No, what I really mean to blog about is not that typewriter at all or my wasting time on One Kings Lane but something else entirely.  After a few minutes browsing a recent event entitled “Wake Up In Paris,” I wandered over to the “Weekly Click List” and bumped right into a plug for a lifestyle blog called Modern Hepburn.

Did you say, Modern Hepburn?  . . . CLICK!

Modern Hepburn is a simple, elegant tumblr site, a visual feast filled with beautiful photographs and lovely quotations.  More Katharine than Audrey, it’s one woman’s decisive digital scrapbook with minimal text or commentary.  Unlike this blog with its heaps of blathering, you can make a quick visit to Modern Hepburn and just take in all the beautiful things.  One step up from Twitter and yet another from Pinterest.  It’s more like a graceful glide from the tree instead of a mindless chirp.  Now there are many creative tumblrs like this because that is sort of what tumblr is known for, being more like a portfolio or pin board, but what I love about this particular site is its entire page devoted to hands, two of my favorite things.  I love hands.

hands clasped.  hands outstretched.

hands holding other hands.

hands pressed in prayer.

This Modern Hepburn, whoever she is, is someone else on the planet who loves hands.  And now there’s this lovely place to go when I need one, when I’m writing about them.  Hands.  Where, because I don’t have that $199 turquoise vintage typewriter, I will be able to use my computer to scroll through the photographs, upload one to my blog and share the stories they tell with you.  Stories of kindness, generosity, and hope.

 

An average of seventy-four species become extinct every day,

which was one good reason but not the only one to hold someone’s hand.

~ Nicole Krauss “The History of Love”


 two or three little birds: hands

tumblr_n29u17kahN1syearho1_500I wrote this post after two weeks spent driving across four states in the southern united states, and the only thing I could think to write about were the father and son holding hands on a train:

But at one moment during his conversation with me, the man took his son’s pale hand in his and held it gently, patting him softly with his other hand.  Their fingers seemed worn smooth with familiarity and they playfully intertwined as the man continued in his quiet way to tell me about visiting his brother one time in the prison I had passed just outside Bakersfield.  It was a seamless gesture of affection, but I noticed it, and I can’t seem to get the image out of my mind.  The way his son rested peacefully with his touch.  The love between this elderly father and his adult son traveling together on a train to spend the day in Santa Fe.

holding hands, 24 july 2014

tumblr_ltwe2dfJVc1qi8o10o1_500And this describing my favorite hour of the week with my favorite people doing my favorite things:

We’ve spent another Sunday morning sitting close to one another for a whole hour, though, locking arms and holding hands, singing . . . smiling . . . praying

resistance is futile, 10 november 2014

tumblr_n1ieqlc77E1r21xm5o1_500

More hands . . .

Heraclitus says, day by day, what you do is who you become, and isn’t that wisdom for all of us to think about?  I know this is going to sound sillyhearted, and God if I can’t get the memory out of my head of my friend recently referring to me in jest as Mother Teresa, but I’m going to say it anyway.  I do.  I really really do want to spend my days holding hands.

leap, 11 september 2013

 

2    Email This Post