Updated: Sep 25
In reading Kate Bowler’s evocative essay, “How Cancer Changes Hope” and revising poems for my next book, How Times Moves, I’ve been making a U-turn from manifestations for the future back towards surprises from the past. What delights me most in life — and maybe you too — is exactly that: how something far better and more amazing happened than what we pined for, depended on, or planned, like right now when, in middle of writing this, Bruce Springsteen’s “Surprise, Surprise” starts playing on KCMG (my large itunes collection).
My moments of genuine surprise include these which all happen to be moments of education too:
I realized, while in the bathtub on Memorial Day, that I was going on leave from teaching after measuring my life in semesters for 33 years without a break in the pattern. Further thickening the plot, about a month into my leave, I caught myself up on how my soul had actually decided not just to take off a semester but a full year. A corollary surprise was that I had organized enough extra work and income to take such an unpaid leave.
One-on-one coaching is so much akin to holding someone’s hand as we step into the wild landscape of their creative callings. It’s also something I love doing.
I’ve fallen more deeply in love with Lake Superior, my husband’s laughter, what a crockpot can do, all three of my kids, walks along the curving perimeters of cedars on shining days, yoga, the pink shimmering ring around the full moon, making art (parfait dyeing, sculpey, watercolor pen play, etc.), homemade butter, reading, long lunches with dear friends, mackerel clouds, Call the Midwife, Shay the Dog and Miyako and Sidney Iowa, the cats, and music I hear, witness, and make.
The death of a very central being in our family — my mother-in-law — isn’t at all what I dreaded it would be, but instead a panoramic immersion in fierce and tender emotional states, all lit from within by love.
Each of the 25+ reading and workshop I did for my novel Miriam’s Well felt completely new and alive.
Ecstasy, or at least some dose of contentment and satisfaction, is readily available to me when I embrace the seasonal tilts here and now, whether driving up autumnal mountains in Vermont rich with goldening maples or looking up into the snow dazzling down in Kansas or walking to the edge of a peninsula on a cold day in Madison or sitting on a sweltering porch on a too-still summer day full of birdsong and cicada roar. It’s even available right now on a blank-sky day while the rain bounces off the deck outside and the cats sleep inside.
Sometimes a new friend is so obviously a life-long old friend that it’s a puzzlement to answer the question, “so how long have you two been friends?” (thinking of you, Laura), and sometimes an old friend chimes back for new discoveries (yup, you, Ravi). Related to this, the friends who hold my stories are godsends when it comes to reminding me where I came from, what I got through, and what freedom I inhabit right now to follow what calls.
Health and maintaining it is just about more everything that I imagined. Likewise, certain things (I’m looking at you, chocolate mega dessert) that used to embody great mouth joy can quickly trigger a Rube Goldberg-like chain of pain.
It’s an old adage to be careful with or lower our expectations, but I expect we can keep expecting gratitude and surprise, which leads me to share this poem from my new collection-in-the-works:
No One Tells You What to Expect
A downpour as you’re running down Massachusetts Street
in sandals that keep falling off in unexpected puddles.
Ice on power lines. The dying who won’t die,
then a single bluebird dead in your driveway.
The deadline or lost check spilling the orderly papers.
The part that isn’t made anymore for the carburetor,
or the sudden end of chronic sinus infections while lost
in a parking lot looking for where you parked the car.
Your best thinking won’t be enough to save your daughter
from a bad romance or your friend from leaving the man
she’ll regret leaving. Across town, in a quiet gathering
of maples, someone drops to her knees in such sadness
that even the hummingbirds buzz through unnoticed.
The dog you thought gone returns wet and hungry,
the phone call reports the CT scan is negative,
and your husband brings you a tiny strawberry,
the first or the last, growing in your backyard.
Life will right itself on the water when the right rocks come along,
so put down your paddle and let the bend tilt you
toward what comes next: the bottoms that fall out,
the shoes that drop, the wrong email sent while
a cousin you lost touch with decades ago calls,
his voice as familiar as the smell of pot roast
while that song you forgot returns like an old cat.
Expect to be startled.