Beckon

“Beckon the lovely.” Words I am remembering today from the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an author who memorably sought a good wife for her husband in her waning days “as a person on this planet.”

I discovered her a few years ago in a newspaper story about her life, death, and legacy. I had just finished reading about a Syrian war documentary and felt gutted. I wondered then, in a world of war and drowning children, could a person living a loving, generous, gracious, wise, creative life make any difference? The question is still pressing.

Back then, I googled her and got lost in her work. I found children’s books and memoirs and videos of her making beauty and fun. A Tedx Talk that said, “Whatever you decide to look for you will find.” If you look for the dark and disappointing, that is what you will notice. So you may as well look for the good. Beckon the lovely.

I try but it is not easy. I cannot sustain it. I see the dirty dishes left in the sink by my kids for someone else (guess who?) to deal with, and let annoyance set my mood. This “beckoning of the lovely” business takes practice.

In our garage, a mess of junk piled up over the years, owing to my hoarding tendencies. It must have been not long after I read about her that I retrieved a slat of wood from a broken bookshelf, saved because I thought it might become something. I wiped the dust and cobwebs off, found some old house paint, and in a once-a-year type inspiration, set out to make something.

A sign to remind me of that elusive but important aspiration. What you look for, you’re gonna find.

Sometimes when I sit outside, the air touches my skin like a smile.

Boundaries

Sharing a favorite post, our last morning of a cross-country drive last summer. One year ago there were no vaccines and an abundance of fear. There was an intensity to time, a sense of being closer to life and death, and a pace of being together with my kids that would not have existed without it. And a lesson from my grandfather that served me well.

I am dreaming that someone is driving our RV while we sleep. This concerns me because it isn’t supposed to be driven with the beds open. I wake to realize that the sound of the engine is only the air conditioner, and the RV’s rocking is from someone walking around, not rolling roads. Rain pelts our roof and I peek outside. We are nestled in a copse of trees that seem to meet at a point above us.

IMG_2502

This is either our last day, or second to last. Christopher checks his map app one more time. Yesterday it told us we were 12 hours from our goal — twice as long as our average drive, and well worth another night on the road. But at this moment it says we are only 9 hours away, and hopes rise that tonight we will reach our destination, sleep in real beds.

But I draw a line: if I don’t move my body before we start driving again, there will be levels of crankiness no one wants to see. Besides, we are in the forest! Next to a lake! We don’t get that every day.

“Let’s go over to the beach.” Christopher and I are in agreement, and the boys do not protest.

We need to drive to get to the beach part of the lake, so we clean up, put everything back in its place so that we’ll be ready to roll when we’re done swimming. We pull away from our campsite and find a locked barrier across the final stretch of road leading to the beach. A sign says “Beach Opens 11 a.m.” Another says “Road Closed.”

Thank goodness for my grandfather’s guiding life philosophy, which helped an immigrant kid from Chernobyl fulfill his American dream, and has stood me well in settings like these: “It doesn’t say ‘absolutely.'”

We park our rig and walk around the barrier.

Actually, I jog — and I do not like jogging. But after a week of driving, my legs and heart are greedy for exertion, and they are taking what they want, step after step. It feels good to separate ahead of my family, to be alone in a circle of space for a moment, to hear the sounds of insects and squirrels and birds and leaves whispering. And  yet, when the road curves, for a fleeting moment it occurs to me to hide and shout “Boo!” when they appear.

IMG_2503

In the humidity, the jogging lasts maybe ten minutes. Maybe less. I keep walking until the lake opens before me. It is wider than the state park lake in Kansas, and wilder. I descend down a grassy panoramic expanse to water’s edge. About fifty yards to my left is the sandy beach and a small section of lake cordoned off by buoys and rope to designate a swimming area.

IMG_2507

“I wish I brought my bathing suit!” Christopher exclaims as he catches up to me, his voice the definition of wistful. I know he is disappointed to miss a chance to submerge and swim.

“Take your clothes off and go in.”

A quarter century ago, before we were engaged, he and I walked along a stretch of beach near my apartment in Venice. There must have been moonlight. I must have had my shoes off, feet in the water, and it must have felt warm. There must have been a siren song, too, because I stripped and swam in. He added his clothes to my pile on the sand, and we floated and bobbed over waves. (That was the first and last time.)

I turn to look up the hill at my boys approaching, and when I look back for Christopher, I see his clothes hung on a hook and him gliding into the water, a look of peace on his face. We all walk toward him, each of us is weighing our options. He looks so content. The water is so warm. The boys take off their shoes and socks. Emmett removes his shorts, and Aaron pulls his sweatpants up to his knees. I remove my shoes and socks and roll up my sweatpants like Aaron, thinking it will be enough to wade in up to my shins.

It will not.

“Sorry, boys, you’re doing to have to deal,” I say, taking off my pants. I wade in to the height of my thighs, my hands gracing the water. Better, but still not enough. Back I go to the sand to hang up my shirt and — “Sorry again, kids” — and I am down to my skivvies. I plunge in. Emmett is in all the way, too. The three of us encourage Aaron to do the same, to come further, to do what we like. “Stop inviting me!” he implores. “I always thought I wanted to be included, but now I don’t.”

IMG_2508

The water is as warm and soft as the air. I swim to the buoy and chain delineating the swimming space and repeat my grandfather’s mantra and go past. There is something in me that needs to prove — usually to myself — that I am not contained by others’ artificial boundaries. Is this despite my conventional life that appears completely contained by boundaries? Or because of it?

Later we will stand in our wet underwear trying to air dry enough to put our clothes back on. It’s not working, so I tell the boys that if they don’t want to see me naked they should look away, and then take off my wet stuff so I can put on my shirt and pants without soaking them. Feeling renewed, we start to head back to where we left the RV. Just then, the National Forest staff pull up. Clothed, in the nick of time.

“That your RV back there?” The man has a silver mustache and is driving a green golf cart. His voice drips Kentucky molasses.

“Yes sir, we thought we’d swim before a long travel day,” Christopher explains. I stand off to the side, my arms folded across my chest for modesty.

There is no reckoning or admonishment. There is only small talk and kindness. “Y’all be safe now, and y’all come back.”

Sage

It is my baby’s 17th birthday. The kid is funny, possessing a sense of humor that ranges from dry to raunchy, but always quick. He is thoughtful, inquisitive, and kind. I ask him if he would like to be my guest blogger today, offload my responsibility.

What does that mean? he asks.

You share your thoughts. I publish them.

He accepts. The first draft of his pearls of wisdom come without hesitation: Life is short. Eat cake.

Got it.

Then he says, No no no, wait. He thinks more, then says, We waste our lives worrying about what we have to do instead of doing what we want to do.

It has been a while since he cried anguished tears over the cruelty of having to spend his childhood doing something he hated — going to school. The cure was pulling him out for a year of independent study; after that he could not wait to go to back. Nine months in, he and his generation got sent home again; be careful what you wish for.

I think about his words of wisdom while scrubbing egg off a pan and loading dishes into the dishwasher.

I guess washing dishes is a have to?

Yeah, I guess. The dishes have to get washed. Is it a waste of life to do it? He is playing a new video game, but listening: Though sometimes washing dishes can be relaxing.

Hmm. I notice the metal sponge in my hand scraping yellow and white off steel, the cool splash of water on this warm day, the proximity to him giving us a chance to chat, his observation transforming my have-to into want-to.

Happy Monday.

Reunion

We came together for a weekend, five women in our fifties (well, one almost at that mile marker), friends for twenty-five years. Two years since our last in-person gathering, the world has changed. Four more kids have left the nest. Two fathers have passed, and one marriage.

I look forward to these convenings with a fervor. I love these women. They are brilliant and kind and fun. They helped me pass the Bar Exam, harness a Baby Bjorn, and pack a son for college. Their grace and perseverance, and their belief in me, carries me when I waver. They remember parts of me I have forgotten — most that I am happy to have back.

Our reunions, however, are not for reminiscing. This one especially is for extended hugs. For catching up. For checking in on the health and welfare of parents and kids. For running career options past a trusted council. For counsel. We eat. Drink. Cook. Walk. Float. Laugh. Cry. Laugh. Commiserate. Question. Debate. There are some things I do not share. Things I hold back because I have not yet spoken them to myself. Things to simmer on and bring back next time.

As we say goodbye, one passes a greeting and a message from her mother: You are so lucky to have each other.

I know this. And I also know that I take our friendship for granted, despite my best efforts, like I take the ocean for granted. It has been so reliable for so long.

How do you gather the gratitude you recognize in your head, so it can explode to bursting in your heart as you know it should? Is it a magic trick? Is it like a sponge holding water, invisible until you squeeze it and your hands and wrists are drenched? Are there things you can appreciate only when you lack them, like a hungry person longs for food the way a sated person cannot? The camaraderie, support and love of true friends over decades leaves me here, a saturated heart so full it cannot imagine life without it. 

Community

Community is a Fourth of July small town parade, dormant for a year, pushing out of hibernation toward sunlight. Tentative, yielding, finding its foothold.

Thanks to Katie O’Neill for sharing her painting (“Pali Marching Band” 18×14 oil on canvas), inspired by Mark Galasso’s photography of Palisades July 4th parade.

Community is your kids’ high school friends watching the parade alongside you and your high school friends. Or not watching, but gathering on the sidelines to socialize, like you used to do at your high school football games. The parade goes by, or the game plays on, and you float along the stream of conversations, pausing to clap for an outstanding feat before retreating to that person, that thought, that sip of wine in a plastic cup. All down our block and through the town, people gather with the excuse of the parade. To gather is all we have wanted for a year and a half.

But community is also complicated. I do not know every neighbor on my block, not by name or by sight. I have mixed feelings about the parade and fireworks and the absence of nuance in both. The militaristic marching. The unnerving booming that damages our PTSD veterans and pets. The razzmatazz sparkles in the sky. The bass resonating against your breastbone. The collective “ohhhs.”

Community is conflicting perspectives butting up against each other. The graffiti painted in orange at the park — You celebrate a country that conquered native people, enslaved an entire race, and dropped two atomic bombs (undisputed facts) — against my silent answer that I celebrate a country that also self-embedded mechanisms to improve itself, and that elevates aspirational ideals. With liberty and justice for all.

Community requires holding a sincere curiosity about another person’s experiences, whether it is self-described liberal sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s deep listening to the people of a conservative community of Louisiana in her transformational book, Strangers in a Strange Land, or my curiosity and deep listening about the experiences of being Black in America, without feeling defensive or threatened.

Community is listening for the sake of understanding each other, for the goal of moving forward together to a better way. Community is arguing, as Jewish tradition requires, “for the sake of heaven” not victory, or as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interprets this, “out of a desire to discover the truth, not out of cantankerousness wish to prevail.”

The parade ends, people dissipate, the moment of community ebbs, we retreat to our homes, our comfortable silos, with a choice. Either we commit to listening, considering, and pausing before responding, or default to “knowing” what we want to know. Community is ours to have or to lose.

My arts and crafts project from last summer adorns our porch with our flag, With liberty and justice for ALL.

P.S. Community is a writing group that meets online, with writers from all over the world expanding their circle for you and welcoming you to step inside, as told to the South Seattle Emerald.

Writer’s Life: Laurie James

For fans of Glennon Doyle’s Love Warrior and Trading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother by Sandra Bullock Smith, SANDWICHED by Laurie James, (on sale 6/23/21, She Writes Press) offers a hopeful example for women juggling the responsibilities of caring for elderly parents, dealing with a challenging marriage or a recent divorce, raising children, and seeking purpose in their life. 

After her mother’s heart attack and an unexpected visit from her husband’s lawyer, Laurie James finds herself sandwiched between managing caregivers for her aging parents, raising four daughters, and trying to make sense of the overwhelm. Through trial and error, she learns to cope through therapy, yoga, rediscovering nature, and writing. Her memoir will resonate with even more people after a year in which so many families have found themselves sandwiched between their kids in virtual school, working, and concern for their elderly parents.

I am pleased to share this “Writer’s Life Interview” with Laurie James.

hoto by Bradford Rogne Photography

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I learned from my mother the importance of creativity, but it wasn’t until later in my life that I tapped into it.

My mother was an artist and a teacher most of her life. Growing up, I remember she decorated her classroom walls every fall and they always looked so imaginative. She also painted the most beautiful landscape mural on our living room wall that was there for at least twenty years. Many friends encouraged her to sell her artwork, but she always scoffed at the idea. She stopped painting and drawing when I was eight because she was too busy raising my two older brothers and me while teaching.

When I was young, I equated being creative with being an artist like my mom—not realizing that creativity has many forms. My stick figure drawings didn’t compare to my mom’s paintings, so I never identified myself as a creative type. I did not truly appreciate her talent until I was a young adult, and it wasn’t until I started writing that I realized the importance of expressing my own creativity. It took me several years after I began writing to identify myself as a writer and creative type. Now I honor my own creativity and see how it can foster ideas, dreams, and careers.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Carpe Diem. I have always tried to live life to the fullest and now that my kids are out of the house, I have more time for that.

Who inspires you?

There are so many inspirational people in our world, but my four daughters are at the top of my list. They are all very different, but they are each following their interests and doing things I wish I had the confidence to do at their age. I am truly in awe.

Is there a charity or community service you are passionate about?

I find myself drawn to non-profits that help women and children improve their lives. I am an active member of a Los Angeles based giving circle. We pool our donation dollars together to support many non-profits that help the most needy in the Los Angeles area. It has been a very rewarding experience.

What are you reading now and what books do you recommend?

I am currently going through Martha Beck’s Wayfinder Life Coach Training, so I have three of her books on my nightstand: Finding Your Own North Star, Steering by Starlight and Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. I highly recommend any of them if you are struggling to find purpose and direction.

For pleasure, I recently read The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah. She is a beautiful writer.


Laurie James is mother, caregiver, divorcée, author and transformative coach. She enjoys coaching women who are searching for happiness and helping them discover what that means to them. An active community volunteer, she co-chairs a youth program for high school students, exposing them to a variety of career paths before they apply to college. She is an active member of a collaborative giving circle that pools donation dollars to help Los Angeles-based nonprofits.

Laurie graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a BS in business and was a corporate recruiter before staying home to raise her children. She launched her four daughters into adulthood and is the primary caretaker for her elderly parents. She lives in Manhattan Beach with her adopted husky, Lu. When she is not walking her dog, volunteering, or coaching, she can be found skiing, sailing, hiking, doing yoga, spending time with her girlfriends or planning her next adventure.

Keep going

It was not only the pain that surprised me, but its staying power. For a full week my hamstrings ruled my life, keeping my strides short and slow, the unexpected ache a reminder that life was unpredictable. That the choices we make have ramifications beyond our awareness.

I had done 108 sun salutations in a row on a prompt from my yoga teacher. And I could barely walk. There had to be a lesson in here somewhere.

The practice had something to do with the equinoxes and solstices and a new age yoga tradition, our teacher said, as she announced at the beginning of class that that was what our next hour (or more) would hold. It felt like a dare, or being brought in on a secret. Since that day I have been wondering if I would do it again today, the summer solstice.

What is it about a dare? We dare ourselves to test our strength or will, accept challenges for our own entertainment or self-evaluation. Am I strong enough, determined enough, curious enough to try something new and complete it? And while yoga is not supposed to be a competition, I admit that is embedded in this practice for me, too – am I as strong in mind and body as others who complete this? (When my husband climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, those had to have been some of his motivations – to test his strength and determination, to satisfy his curiosity, and to harness his competitive nature with the powerful knowledge that Martha Stewart had summited the week before.)

So yes, each of these questions pushed me to start and kept me going when I wanted to stop. Then I waddled around in pain for a week wondering how something that in smaller amounts felt soothing and restorative could hobble me so? Too much of a good thing? If I repeat the practice today, will it lose some of its power because I have done it before? Our yoga teacher reminds us that every day we show up different. Some days our work or relationships flow, other days are more of a struggle.

So, yeah, I’ll try it again. I want to see what I’ve got today. My mind is not as set on success as it was the first time. That may make it harder to get there. I may need to take it in chunks of eighteens, or nines, or even threes. I may be reminded that there are many ways to complete something that feels too big, so big you might as well not even try. These are the lessons I anticipate, to be reminded that there is nothing too big, so long as we determine to keep chipping away at it, or building it, inch by inch, whether writing a book, or starting a business or repairing a relationship. The only way to find that rhythm, that flow, is to start. Feel your way, stretch yourself, breathe, rest, sip water, be gentle and forgiving, keep going.

Reopening

Tomorrow California’s economy reopens. What does it mean to reopen ourselves?

Remember where we were:

March 22, 2020. I’m online, a Zoom meditation, and I’m cheating. I need to get all those thoughts I cannot quiet written down. What are we eating this week, while we wait for our grocery delivery that probably won’t come until Thursday, or maybe Friday? Can I stretch it to last? There’s the chicken in the freezer, that can be soup, then chicken tacos, then maybe some stir fry. There are frozen hamburgers, dated July 2019, but I am willing to defrost those, have started to defrost, just in case. There are cans of crushed tomatoes, which maybe could hide that hamburger into chili. Or become masala, with the spice I found at the back of the pantry, used once, I do not remember when. There are crushed pineapples – why? I have never bought that before. NE-VER. But I threw them in my basket on my mad dash through the market, trying to shop as fast as possible, dodging the invisible errant vectors of virus that could be floating in the air (no one knows for sure). It was the opposite of my usual lingering over labels, the opposite of Me.

To read that is to understand what reopening means these fifteen months later, my family fully vaccinated.

Reopening means summer. It means that half the time I leave the house, I forget to bring a mask. (I regard this as a positive mental health development.)

Reopening means I can barge into my parents’ house, my face naked of cloth, and call out, “Anybody home?” without me or them fearing that I am a transmitter of death. It means me asking “Want to go for a walk?” and them answering “Let me get my shoes,” all of us forgetting that I could not do this a few months ago.

Reopening means a stroll along the bluffs carries greater concern about tripping than contracting a virus. It means fewer people are setting up chairs here, now that the beaches below are opened. It means looking down and seeing the beach is full today, clusters of colorful umbrellas, coolers, towels — a civic party. Reopening means I am tired from the two birthday parties I attended this weekend, and that I may need to retreat for some quiet. Reopening means adjusting.

There are still questions — are we really safe? Did we make it? What will come next? “Are those sailboats?” my dad asks, as if they have been gone for years, their casual presence confirming that life has returned.

Awaiting

Last Monday, Memorial Day, my mind was fixated on the asylum case I would present two days later — my first. It had been a rush of chutzpah three years earlier that brought me to this moment. In the face of the ubiquitous misery at the border in 2018, I had had the urge to do something. I discovered a local non-profit law firm that was training volunteer lawyers to take asylum cases they had vetted but did not have enough staff to handle. Although daunting, I figured that if they believed a lawyer like me, who had never done a trial and knew next to nothing about immigration law was up to the task, who was I to disagree? Their rationale was “it’s better than nothing,” and now the fate of a family was riding on that calculation.

Getting started, we had focused on the tasks at hand. We signed the the forms that said I was their pro bono lawyer, met for interviews, drafted their experiences into declarations fitting the framework of asylum law, and submitted the proper forms, all along squelching my fear and doubt about my ability to ably represent them in court the following summer, and trying to project confidence for their benefit.

Three months before their scheduled court date, it was postponed nearly two years to the spring of 2021. My heart sank — where some might expect them to welcome a delay, they longed for certainty. And we felt they had a winnable case. I consulted with my young mentor, who advised that the law could change in two year’s time, so I should table further work on the case until we were closer to the new hearing date. But the case and the family remained on my mind, my nerves building at low volume.

When it was finally time to resume our preparations, the case was postponed again, but this time only three months, to the summer of 2021. We got to work. I would need to write a brief explaining why their situation merited relief under the law, and prepare them to testify.

The closer we got to the court date, the higher my anxiety. I consulted my ever-patient mentor, now approaching a maternity leave, with frequent questions. As I worked on the brief, which would also be the basis for an appeal if we should lose (no pressure), I woke up every morning thinking about it, consumed with the fear of failing. The only thing that resolved my fretting over the brief was filing it. It was not perfect, but it was out of my hands.

Now it was time to prepare my clients to testify. I recalled that when our foster daughter had been preparing for her asylum case, her lawyers had scheduled several meetings to practice. I decided to do the same, though I was not sure exactly what to do during those meetings. Over zoom or facetime, we reviewed the questions I would ask them in court about the death threats to them and their children, the attacks and ambushes, their terror. I felt a rock in my stomach all day in anticipation of our afternoon and evening calls. Yet my burden was a grain of sand compared to what they carried, having to articulate their harrowing reasons for fleeing home fresh on their lips.

I had harbored a fantasy that when the government lawyer read my brief about their plight they would think, “Wow! Let them in! Request for asylum unopposed!” Of course, when I finally received the government attorney’s reply to my entreaties to discuss the case, her tone told me how naïve my hope had been. There would be a contested trial. I would have to go through with this.

Which brings us back to Memorial Day. The blooming spring and vaccine-engendered freedom inspired us to invite my parents, sister, niece and cousin for a small backyard barbeque. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs and played ping pong, exquisite activities after a year of quiet isolation. It helped to distract me from thinking about the last nervous day of what had become a three-year countdown to the asylum hearing.

I did not sleep well the night before the hearing. I stayed up late preparing, and in the morning my eyes popped open so early that I had time to do yoga breathing to settle myself down before leaving for court.

I checked the traffic app and left in time to arrive thirty minutes early. (To those who have known me long and well, this fact alone says everything about my mental state.) The months of worrying had motivated extreme preparation. I had arranged binders with evidence, briefs, relevant cases, direct testimony questions, and closing argument summary in my briefcase the night before. I had taken my one suit out of the closet and tried on my shoes to make sure everything still fit. I had identified a parking lot by the court and sent its address to my clients. I had transformed as many unknowns into knowns as I could think of.

Driving to the court, I recited aloud every question I wanted to ask my clients. I found a few better ways of asking them. I warmed up my voice and brain. This added to my sense of readiness. The time was here.

In front of the court, I waited for my clients to appear, impossible to imagine the nervousness they must be feeling. The stress of everything riding on this day. I cast my eyes toward the direction of the parking lot and saw a group that could be them, dressed as if for church. The children had to miss school, the parents had to miss work, but today was their moment, their chance to prove to a judge that they deserved the safety of America.

Before we entered the building, they asked me to take their picture. The kids protested, as kids do, but I agreed with the parents: This could be a day to remember in their family’s history. If everything went well.

Through security, up the elevator together, all with masks on, even the youngest, now five years old. She kept saying she was afraid of getting a vaccine and rubbing her arm; she thought this was a hospital and smiled with relief when I told her there were no doctors here. The eldest daughter would graduate from high school later that week. A party was planned for Friday. We hoped it would be a double celebration.

We were early enough that the courtroom door was locked. We waited. When it opened, I entered the well of the courtroom and took a seat at what I hoped was the correct table for the petitioner’s lawyer. I arranged my notebooks, laptop, and a yellow legal pad on the table within reach. The judge emerged, took her seat, and glanced at us before dialing into a “court call” system on a speaker phone. Here we go. She announced her presence, and asked who else was on the call. The government’s lawyer and the interpreter had both chosen to appear by phone, as Covid rules permitted. We wanted to be there in person. I wanted the judge to see this family. I wanted them to see me, to be able to reassure them as we proceeded. I wanted to be present in case of the unexpected.

I had not noticed two other people seated in the back of the courtroom, another lawyer and immigrant also expecting to present their case. The judge announced that she would proceed with his case first. He had been waiting for thirteen years.

So I piled up my notebooks and computer in one arm, and pulled my briefcase behind me into the hall with the other. My clients followed. Maybe his case would be quick, since it was only one person. Maybe we could start in an hour or two. Maybe we could continue after lunch. I was confident we would proceed.

An hour passed. I reviewed my questions and closing argument. Another hour passed. I gave the youngest child a pen and paper to draw with. One of her older siblings showed me some anime drawings she had done. “You could sell these,” I told her, and showed her Etsy. “I’m bored,” the five-year-old said, then danced down the hall.

At 10:30 a.m., the door to the courtroom opened, and the other lawyer waved to me, and then toward the courtroom. My presence was required.

I pulled my belongings in with me.

“Ms Diamond, we are not going to have time for your clients’ case today.”

The judge’s words hung in the air between us like a mist, despite the clear plastic partition that separated us. I did not speak, as if she might retract them if I did not acknowledge them. The one thing I had not prepared for.

The sinking feeling of not being able to control your destiny. The bargaining began – I asked, what if we stayed until afternoon? There was another case scheduled. What if they do not show up? The judge seemed to entertain this possibility, but the government’s lawyer’s disembodied voice on the speakerphone objected; there was a different government attorney for the afternoon calendar who was not prepared to oppose this case. The judge agreed; we would not proceed today.

The judge was kind, not gruff. She offered us the next closest day, five months away. Thanksgiving. She has another case scheduled that day, but only one, and our case is older so we will have priority. Someone else will be bumped.

I told my clients we would have to wait. Disbelief, then disappointment, then resignation. Making peace with what is. Later that afternoon when I checked in with them, I sensed that their voices were already lighter. Accepting the situation better than I could. Maybe it helped that this delay means there will be fewer unknowns when we return. Now they have seen the judge’s face, and the quality of light inside the courtroom, the placement of the witness chair where they will sit and tell her what happened and what they hope for.

Driving home past the beach, I thought of each wave pulling a billion grains of sand, tossing and displacing and depositing them somewhere new with each pull. The waves have no malice. The grains of sand no resentment. And this family, already displaced from where they had expected their lives to unfold, understands more than I do about adjusting expectations, flowing with the tide. I try to take my cue from them. We mark our calendars and take a breather. My body craves sleep. It will be days before the adrenaline drains from my body, before my breathing resets to normal.

Keepsakes

When a bedroom became my home office, I chose the things I wanted around me. A framed black and white photo of a pier. Books on writing, memoirs, poetry, and journals. A particular copy of The Giving Tree. This book remained precious even after a Women’s Studies classmate destroyed the ending for me (it really is terrible — give your whole self away…and happily!). This Giving Tree represents something else.

At sixteen, I went to a summer high school theater and dance program at Northwestern University for six weeks. Six weeks that felt, at first, like forever. Homesick for my friends and family and California. Exhausted from hours of dancing every day. Not sure how to insert myself into the social life that everyone else seemed to know how to do. Not sure anyone would want me to. One night, pressing back tears, I told a dance teacher that all I wanted to do was sleep, but thought I should go downstairs where everyone else was hanging out. He encouraged the latter instinct. “Yes. Go down there.”

I did, certain it would be horrible. That no one would say hello. That all friendships had been formed. I knew how this worked; there would be cool kids and outsiders, and I was never in the cool kid group. Down the stairwell of Allison Hall, unairconditioned in the Midwest humidity, I could hear the hubbub and laughter and energy of the theater kids splayed out all over each other on the lounge sofas. I pictured entering and no head turning. Or worse, heads turning, and then turning back. I walked through the wide opening to this lounge, and stood still. Then I heard my name called from someone sitting in the middle of everything. There was room.

Every day we had “movement for actors,” where we learned to salute the sun and mean it. We felt a connection to something bigger, something remembered and still reachable from childhood. We could be open and unafraid and unembarrassed and unencumbered. One morning, our teacher turned on the Talking Heads at high volume and let us go, and we danced like wild things, playful and with abandon. That album still opens that space in me.

The day before we were to go home, our teachers woke us early and told us to come downstairs, no questions. This was a time before cell phones (let us recall with gratitude), and a space of trust and connection had been built. We moved down the stairwells and followed them to a green space. In groups of ten or so, we stood in circles centered around a sapling and a shovel. We shared how we had grown over these six weeks, then planted our tree and blessed it with our intentions.

Then, we each received The Giving Tree, personalized and signed by every adult who had nurtured and watered us over these weeks. They had stayed up all night signing every book. They told a 16-year-old girl who was not the best dancer in her group — not by far — what made me special, that I gave my heart when I danced and that it had moved them. One signature stayed with me most, a blessing and an admonition from the same dance teacher who had nudged me to go downstairs that night: “Your artistry shone brightly here. Don’t ever hide it.”

I pick up this book every few years, read what my teachers wrote and wonder if I am living up to it. Some years more than others, they have reminded me that I am more than the family grocery-shopper and appointment maker. I am that sixteen year old who felt the sun on her face and stretched her arms out wide without a sense of cynicism or shame, and danced in a space free of judging myself or others. It reminds me of the power of rituals and words, and the way a few generous words can send a young person into a future with a sense of their power, the impact they have on others, and what they can aspire to. That the right words can remain a touchstone decades into the future. We all have an artistry — whether it is dancing, or writing, or making someone laugh, or baking a cake, or tucking in a child, or caring for a parent. Whatever yours is, may my teacher’s words be my gift to you today: Your artistry shines brightly. Don’t ever hide it.