I'm usually somewhat solemn around this time of year, sitting quietly at my desk listening to the quiet rain and even quieter fog outside my window, enjoying the damp quiet day in my own little way as my not-at-all-damp-thank-you cat quietly looks on.... But not this year. This year, something's gotten into me. A bit of trickster spirit, maybe. A bit of fire. Since March, which is when Sir Terry Pratchett died, a part of me has become really, really angry. Another part of me can't stop praying.
I'll never forget the day (nearly five years ago now) when The Oldest said, in a tone so like her mother's snide dismissiveness, "If you didn't want to be a stepmom, then you shouldn't have decided to marry a man with kids." It hurt. I felt blind-sided. I had no good answer. Instead, I sat for a second speechless and nonplussed, and then the conversation moved on. I didn't want to be a stepmom. I don't know if anybody ever wants to be a stepmom. So why did I become one?
They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but that's only half the truth. In the face of our assembly-line obsession with efficiency and expendability, keystone species like mistletoe serve as powerful reminders of why individuality is so essential to abundance. True prosperity lies in the diversity of our communities and the ways that we support that diversity with our own unique gifts. It can be lonely, even a little frightening, to be different. But nature is messy. Nature is wild...
Tidepooling is a practice in patient observation. It's also a reminder that some things happen in their own sweet time. That's the thing about low tide. Sun, moon and earth turn through the steps of their celestial dance, and once in a while you get lucky and the three of them meet just right in a moment of revelation. You have to be ready. I'm often humbled to realize how oblivious I can be to the wonders of the natural world all around me. And what treasures might yet be hiding right in front of me, in plain sight. After all, there are so many different ways to hide.
This post is about small things. It's about moments that we take for granted. There is no big revelation here. I took a bunch of pictures of my cat and put them on the internet. I write this post in defiance of the expectation that only big revelations matter. I write in homage to the repetition of small rituals, in honor of grounding and self-care. This post is about the simple companionship of ordinary objects and creatures and beings, and the way their presence shapes our lives even when we think we're not paying attention. A part of us is always paying attention.
I was still pretty young the first time I heard an animal speak. It was a lazy summer morning, and I was curled up on the back porch with a book in my lap. All around me in the yard, the birds were singing... and then I saw, only a few feet from me, a robin. I tried to still every part of me — heart, body and mind — quieting even my thoughts so that I wouldn't startle him away. Then the voice spoke, precise and articulate, nonchalant, almost amused. It must have all happened in less than a minute. My reasoning mind struggled to make sense of what I'd experienced. But the words still echoed. Had it all been in my mind? No more than the stars are in the sky.
This past weekend, we lost a beloved pet. Shou, a little gray mouse named for the Taoist god of longevity, joined our mixed and motley family six months ago along with her two sisters, Fu and Lu. Even from the beginning, she was the obvious Big Sis, bossing around the others, taking it upon herself to obsessively reorganize and redecorate their shared tank, transforming the new house we'd provided them for into a home. She loved playtime, but she was never one to clambered up my arm to perch on my shoulder. She preferred tunneling under blankets and exploring the dark recesses of empty tissue boxes instead. Still, she blessed our lives with such sweet-tempered assertiveness that even in the short six months she was with us, we came to feel like she'd always been a member of our family. She was dearly loved, and she will be deeply missed.
Maybe I was a weird kid, more enamored, more sensitive than most, and as I've grown up, my perspective has changed and evolved. But that this is true only convinces me all the more of how important it is to appreciate the diversity of experiences and the many voices that strive to share them, and not to be too quick to dismiss certain experiences or perspectives as less valuable or insightful than others. Is there only one way to appreciate nature? I can't believe there would be just one.
When we see nature itself as a constantly-unfolding story about the deepest, most sacred truths of life and death, we can adapt the practice of Lectio Divina as a creative approach to meditation that can strengthen our relationship with the earth. Here are just a few ideas about how to use the practice of Lectio Divina to engage with the stories of nature. Although we can approach each of the four stages of Lectio Divina as distinct activities that we can do one at a time on their own, we experience the most benefit from this kind of spiritual work when we bring them together into a single coherent, continuous practice.
Being a stepmom is like having to learn how to be bravely and joyfully wounded. How to be fiercely protective and graceful in your impotence all at the same time. It's having to be honest about your wounds, to learn how to teach by example what it's like to bear them courageously and lovingly — while at the same time fighting like hell to make sure the kids don't grow up with any deep wounds of their own, if you can possibly spare them. It's also learning to accept that they might grow up with wounds anyway, and they might think you're full of shit no matter what explanations you give them for the choices you made... if you're lucky enough to get them to listen at all. It's knowing that they might even be right, and you're making all the wrong choices. But you suck it up and have a little trust and try to practice some preemptive self-forgiveness.