On presence & gratitude: Two lessons travel continues to teach

February 10, 2014 in North America, Travelogue, United States

With Gayle

Travel is a relentless teacher.

Some days, the lessons are simple: eat what you’re served, be polite, follow the golden rule, and persevere. Other times, they are more profound; lessons that aren’t learned once, in a single teachable moment, but that have layers of depth of understanding that are peeled back over and over until we grab hold of the philosophical mantra that the physical world is trying to instruct us in. I was reminded of that this weekend as we were surrounded by friends.

I haven’t written much since we’ve been in New Hampshire, primarily because we’ve been busy with work, and virtually every day of the week has included community in some capacity. We’re enjoying tucking in to a place where we’re known and pulling the blanket of familiarity up over our shoulders for the winter.

We spent the weekend in the company of children.

Two of our favourite little people  (who began packing last Monday) tumbled in for an overnight delivering laughter and joy. In a house with mostly teens, I found I’d forgotten, a bit, the zany fun of a four year old, and the endless litany of unexpected questions, interesting observations and experimental amusements a new brain poses as he seeks to frame the world.

A sampling, for your enjoyment:

“I’ve never kissed a chipmunk.”

“How do you get away from the sun? (how?) You fly up until your wings melt. (Has mommy been reading to you about Icarus?) Yes.

Deep discussion about the correlation between a solar system and a galaxy

“I’m staying here and snuggling with Uncle Tony until someone calls me for breakfast!”

Over dinner, a plate of chicken, lentils and mixed vegetables: “I only eat meat, I’m a carnivore!”

Randomly: “What about a giant?”

“I took your brain out of your nose… that’s the old fashioned way of doing that!”

“Aunt Jenn, watch how I can be a car overheating!”

“What has eyes but can’t see? (A fish in the arctic?) No, a potatoe.”

“Let’s play name a good luck charm: four leaf clover… five leaf clover… golden horse shoe… emerald horse shoe… golden egg…. silver egg… evergreen tree… ever gold tree (giggle)… ever purple tree… ever rainbow tree, with black spots… ever nobody tree… ever invisible tree… ever Hawaiian house tree… ever Hawaiian punch tree… lunch tree…”

Car racing noises at all times whilst riding in the car: “Judah lost the race because somebody dropped thumbtacks on his side of the track… it sure wasn’t me!”

While Gabe is driving: “Please tell Aunt Jenn not to worry, we are only pretending to crash!” 

Speaking Klingon (I can’t imagine what else it was, and the speaker wouldn’t tell me in English!)

Hannah and Judah discussing Latin and Old English word origins.

Singing, and singing, and SINGING about everything.

Of course to temper the cuteness there was also the requisite winter pee-mergency, in which the four year old wet completely through all layers and his snowsuit. And we won’t talk too much about the seven year old “spooking” her previously enjoyed chocolate ice cream all over the interior of the truck on the way home. She couldn’t help it. Thankfully we now have a washing machine, if not a drier!

There is great joy to be had where we are now

Just as there is great joy to be had elsewhere.

Winterpalooza babyI was grateful to the point of tears to wrap my arms around my buddy from seventh grade, who traveled thousands of miles for that hug. It made my whole year to see that our Ukrainian boys have grown like weeds and Jeremiah is beginning to make sense of the sounds his cochlear implant has expanded his world to include. Snuggling the newest, fuzzy, sweet smelling baby of one of the best families I know made the rest of the world dissolve.

I held on for dear life as a little boy I once knew tore across an open field, trying his best to make an old woman scream on the back of his snowmobile. I closed my eyes, felt the wind on my face and let the smell of the evergreen forest, mixed with fuel fumes and the whine of the engine take me back to my childhood. I realized that the last time I was on a sled was probably when I was the 18 year old kid giving rides at a community party. The old lesson returned, peeled back with the top layer of snow: gratefulness, thanksgiving for every tiny moment, every tiny gift, and the serendipity of the ways lives weave together, for enough history to have perspective.



The sticky fingered children thought we were just making birdseed hangers as the sun slid between the blinds and painted us all in afternoon zebra stripes. And so we were: pressing hard to squeeze the mixture out to the edges of the giant cookie cutter forms, listening to teenagers pass around a fiddle, and telling stories of our backyard adventures. Children are masters of living in the moment, for me, it takes more work. I inhaled their essence: simplicity, joy, earnestness, delight, single minded purpose and I remembered the second lesson: presence. There is nothing but the birdseed, sticky and wet, malleable for a little while, capable of holding a shape and serving a purpose, a bit messy and all over the place at the moment, but definitely in the process of becoming, and with potential for more than meets the eye; rather like the children and myself. Sunshine can be funny when it paints someone in zebra stripes. Small things matter. Moments together matter. Making an effort together matters. Creating together matters. Talking together, even about nothing at all, matters. Making space for people, and their thoughts and wonders matters. Together matters. Presence matters.

And so, I’m awake at five, writing.

A grey winter’s sun is rising over my shoulder. The Man is tucked into his sleeping hat and is snuffling like a big bear beside me. He is warm. I can hear Joe and Ellen moving downstairs, headed out to their cows, no doubt. The children won’t be awake for hours.

I woke up thinking about work: a job offer that came this week that I’m not sure that I want. A project I’ve got a conference call about later today. A journey I’m knee deep in planning. How to best wrangle the position I really want. Editorial deadlines. A friend’s psych paper that I’m editing. Impending dinner guests. The fact that I really need to call my mother. The craziness of this week’s schedule. I’m not even out of bed yet and I’m already in danger of losing the lessons.

Gratefulness: A warm man. Healthy, happy children. Work for my hands and my heart. Community.

Presence: The sound of a plow going by, easing my exit this morning. Quiet breath. Fleece sheets. Rare silence in which to write.

Today will be spent with my daughter, and a dear friend who loves tea and flowers. There is much to do, we’re going to work hard and fast, all day, everyday this week helping her deliver love to the community for Valentine’s Day. The moments are going to try to rush past me but I’m determined to reach out and grab a few, to remember my lessons and to travel through this day intentionally with deep gratitude.