Sunday, August 25, 2013

Empty nest

Yesterday, Cheryl and I returned to an empty home.  For the first time in 21 years, we had no children living underneath our roof.  Actually, we’ve had kids for 21 years and 2 weeks … but who’s counting?

I remember talking to a guy, many years ago, after a Wednesday night church service.  He had just dropped off his youngest daughter at college, and he and his wife were planning a road trip up to New England to see the fall foliage.  He sounded almost giddy.

I also remember hearing another guy—a minister—say how much he enjoyed the empty-nest years, because he and his wife could now be “romantic” any time of the day or night.

I have to say, I’m not feeling those things right now …

Yesterday, Cheryl and I returned to an empty home after saying goodbye to Kate at Hope College.  A week earlier, we said farewell to Cal at Liberty University.  Hope is 676 miles from home.  Liberty is 169 miles away.  But who’s counting?

We returned to a house that was as quiet as a church on a Saturday morning.  After unpacking our bags, we settled in for a couple of hours of uninterrupted television.  2 hours without a phone call or text.  2 hours without music playing in the background or video game explosions or showers running or toilets flushing or people in the kitchen popping open the fridge to look for a snack.

Absolute quiet.

Not even the sound of crickets.  Not even a peep from our cat who was asleep on the family room floor. 

And I’m beginning to realize that this empty-nest stuff is a mix of emotions.  Some are happy and some are sad, but right now the scales seem to be tipping a little bit toward the sad side.

I understand it’s a necessary transition.  I know it’s for the best.  I believe it will get better with time.  But I do miss our kids.  I do.

And so today, I go online to check out campus calendars, and I see that fall breaks are just around the corner.  It’s 39 days until Liberty’s break, and 47 days until Hope lets out.

But, then again, who’s counting?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Buddhist who helps me write

I’m a slow reader.  I’ve said it before.

And some books, I read more slowly than others.

Like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I’ve been working my way through this book for over 3 years.  I’m not kidding.  I read some.  I put it down for a while.  I complete some of the writing assignments she gives to me.  And I continue on.

Sometimes I start feeling guilty that it takes me such a long time to finish things.

But I do like to read.  And I do like this book.  And sometimes, it just takes me a half a decade or so to absorb it all.  And when Natalie Goldberg speaks, I want to absorb every single detail.  She’s that good.

She’s a Buddhist, by the way.  I feel like I should tell you that, so if you’re put off by such things, you won’t download her words onto your device.  But if you write, or need to write, or want to write, she’s the best person I’ve ever heard on the subject.

With that said, here are a few nuggets from Nat G.  It was difficult for me to narrow the list down to 5, but I did:

·         Allow yourself to be awkward.

·         … freedom … means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.

·         We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.

·         Stop!  Really stop when someone is complimenting you.  Even if it’s painful and you are not used to it, just keep breathing, listen, and let yourself take it in.  Feel how good it is.  Build up a tolerance for positive, honest support.

·         And let us always be kind in this world.

She’s says good things.

Watch out for page 133, though.  Natalie throws down the gauntlet when she challenges us to write 10 short poems. 


I’m not a big poem writer.  I do a prosy sort of thing every now and then, but poetry is really my wife’s specialty.  But since Natalie told me to do it, I did it.  I wrote 10 poems over the course of several days.  And nine of the them were mostly junk.  (Seriously, ask Cheryl … she’s the nicest person I know, and she really hated some of them.)  But one of them turned out okay.  It seemed to express a little something that I feel sometimes … or more than sometimes.  So I’ll share it with you, if you don’t mind:

waits patiently in the distance
like a friend on a street corner
nodding and smiling
until I arrive
and then fleeing to the next block

Can I get an amen?

And now I’m back to Writing Down the Bones.  I’ve got 67 pages left to go.  Wish me luck.


Since you’ve made it this far into the blog post, how about a little homework assignment?  Take 5 minutes and write something.  Something that means something to you.  Don’t outline it.  Don’t edit it.  Just write it.  From your mind through your fingers and onto the paper.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Conga line

This picture is tacked up on the wall of my cubicle.  I picked it up at a museum photo display.  It was free, and I liked it, and now I look at it every day.  (Weekday, that is.)

The picture captures, as all pictures do, a moment.  This one is a speck of time from August 1945.  World War II had finally come to a close, and people were gathering across the street from the White House to celebrate … together with strangers.

And what did this group of soldiers, sailors, clerks and children do?  Well, they formed a Conga line of course.

And in that moment, with hands on hips and grins as wide as America, they danced.  Ba, ba, ba, kick!  Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba kick!

I love this snapshot.  I wish I’d been there, an easy three-block walk from my office.  I imagine myself swallowing my shyness and my fear of looking foolish … and just hopping into line with everyone else.  (See, that’s me in the back, the gray-haired guy with fedora and two-fingered victory sign.)

I might have even hugged a sailor or two before all was said and done.


There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days. ~ Rebecca Stead in When You Reach Me


Wondering how to start your own Conga line?  Well, I’m glad you asked …