Books, wisdom and friends

H is for HawkI love reading and books. My house is full of books and I love having them around me. I love the physical and tactile aspects of books, the look and feel of the cover, flipping pages, underlining and dog-earing sections that I want to return to. I’ve tried but am just not a Kindle gal, despite all the ease and convenience. My bliss is an afternoon in a bookstore and I have more books in my “to read”pile by my bedside than seems safe here in earthquake country. But if someone finds me buried beneath a big pile of books, at least they will know that  I went down entertained and content. One of the the gems of every month is my third Tuesday dinner with my book group. I feel so lucky to have landed in this great group of women book lovers and look forward to our dinners each month. We hit our three year anniversary for the group this month and have shared so many amazing books. Books aside, this group, these women, have been such a treasure in my life. We usually start each dinner with wine and cheese and chatter, about whatever is going on in our lives, sharing in the ups and downs of life, from kids and spouses, work and travel, to the inevitable losses and grieving that comes with lives lived and loved. They’ve been a big support for me during this adoption journey and I’m so, so appreciative of all of them. Thank you, ladies!

But back to the book, this month we read “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald. “H” is memoir, about how the author, when confronted with the sudden death of her father, decides, in her grief, to take on the training of a goshawk. Although she’s an expert falconer, the goshawk, is one of the most difficult and fierce hawks to train. She pitches herself into the challenge, and taming the hawk became a metaphor for taming her grief about losing her father. In between, she delves into the history of falconry and side-winds  into the literature and life of TH White, the author of “The Once and Future King,” imagineeer of Merlin and the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Its a beautiful and multilayered book. I liked the book OK after reading it but loved it after our discussion. Having been through grief and loss and in some ways, still feeling raw from the experience, there is an aspect of the wildness and isolation that the author went through that I can so relate to…even if I can’t imagine training a hawk. Yet what I find so magical about our group is that I appreciated the book so much more after our discussion, especially from the perspective of the writing and narrative style. In fact, I came home and re-read parts to take it in again. There is a particular paragraph in “H is for Hawk” that so resonated with my own experiences about loss and moving on:

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes  a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing of many holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.

So well said. I think of my own life and moving forward from loss and lines like this offer some comfort and understanding of loss and grief as a universal experience that we all go through. Even this adoption process has that tinge of loss attached to it. There is, of course, the bright possibility of this new life, this new person and all that they will become. Of a new family and a new life together. But this all exists too in the shadow of a very real loss, for the birthmother of course but also for those of us hoping to adopt. We feel this too. How can you not, as a parent-to-be of an adoptive child not feel this loss too. It’s a loss they and I will live with and move on from for the rest of our lives.  I think so much about what making this decision must be like for a birthmother. I can’t truly imagine it let alone truly understand what this experience is like. It is not my life after all. But I do so appreciate that what will be my happiest day, will be a day of tremendous loss for another woman, another woman who will love my child as much as I do. I think about this often, in fact, and am so awed by the courage and grace that it takes to make this kind of decision.





Cleaning out and looking back

cloudsI am moving my office and have been cleaning out my files and desk drawers. I will admit to being a bit of a pack rat and prone to bouts of nostalgia, so its been fun to see what I’ve had tucked away. I found my job application for my first editorial position—a job application that changed my life! I also found a draft copy of my PhD thesis and notes for my thesis defense. Between files full of research papers that I saved for one reason or another, there were birthday cards from colleagues and a “you can do it” card from a friend from when I was thinking of applying for the Editor-in-Chief position. It’s been like discovering a time capsule of my professional life.

In between all the work stuff, I found this Mary Oliver poem, which someone sent me in a period of particular soul searching in my life, when I was thinking hard about taking the leap to become a Mom. The last line is one that gripped my heart  and inspired me to take that leap: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver