On life and hummingbirds…

Summer heat, haze of humidity presses down.  I am sitting on the porch swing.  It is August, and I have escaped to get a break from the children, from the craziness going inside the house.  I settle in with a good read, or so I hope.  And occasionally, I look up from my book to gaze down at the blue of the water, at the river traffic.  Sailboats, kayaks, speedboats, catamarans.  It appears somewhat peaceful out there.  While the veranda is still only a scream away from the hubbub inside our home.

As I am reading, a blur appears before my eyes.  An apparition.   It comes directly between my eyes as if to attack me while I peacefully recline.  In an instant, I recognize it as a hummingbird.  It comes close enough to my face that I can feel the beating of its wings.   All seventy-five beats per second from what I have read.   It remains suspended before me, a blur of feathers, wings and motion.  And then it moves to the side of my head, toward my ear, as if to feed.

I wear a bright fuschia t-shirt, comfy and well-worn.  And to this small creature, I appear to be food.  A source of nourishment.  I am flower, provider of nectar-life to a hummingbird.  For a brief second, creature and human are transfixed with one another.  A meeting of a supernatural kind occurs.   And I am left spell bound.

All for the life and wonder- indeed the miracle, that is a tiny hummingbird.

Life.  Such a vague, abstract concept.  For many years I have wondered when my ‘real-life’ will begin.  When the dreams I had as a child will be realized in a final, ultimate sort of life plan.  When the exciting life I envisioned for myself will kick in and set into motion everything I have ever dreamed my time here on earth might be, unfolding in some kind of providential way.  Like in the movies.  Or in a good book.  Or as I see it happening in some people’s lives- famous or otherwise.

And sometimes I think this: maybe there is an ultimate plan that God has for me which will soon begin- a plan to be a change-maker, a difference.  To make history.  To be part of something bigger.  Anything bigger and better than this- my ordinary, everyday life.  Lived in the hum-drum of work, after-school activities and housework.  Lived in the often monotonous hamster-wheel of duty, responsibility and commitment.    Seriously.   I dream of more than this.  And if we all were honest, we do have dreams, some bigger than others.  But dreams nonetheless.  And there is a little part inside us all that dreams or imagines that someday- one day, those dreams will be realized in a climatic fashion.  As can be the case.

Sometimes.

But what of life that plods along, never to become that ultimate plan of realization?  Is that life lived up to its utmost potential?  Is it life well lived?  Is there always an ultimate plan awaiting us all?

Or is everyday life itself the plan.

Some online reflections written by friends and family this week have given me pause for thoughtful deliberation of my own.  On the subject of life.  Or Life.  Or is that LIFE.  With ‘life’, being that which is lived behind closed doors- in private,  ‘Life’ being that which is lived in public and ‘LIFE’, which I would submit is all-encompassing.  LIFE in its entirety- the quiet moments of obscurity to those very larger than life moments of recognition and acknowledgment.

Do we live our life as the public persona or the private self?  Or do we live equally as both?  Is the life we live in the day-to-day enough to carry our dreams or do we dare dream of more than this?  Why is thinking about life so important anyway?  If the public life is going well and the private life is not, have we still a claim to have lived well?  What is more important- the relationships we hold closest to our heart, but which bring us the most pain and trial; or are the most important relationships those that are held at a distance, shared with colleagues and acquaintances that might support us in our biggest dreams, but which are not forced to deal with the inner struggles?

And where is God in all of this- this stuff of mortals, time and distance?

I am uncertain of what lies beyond today.  Beyond this moment I am in.  Right now.  If there is an ultimate plan, it must be this: to be all that I can be right now.  To live large in this moment.  To be honest and true in my writing.  To be kind and fair to my children.  To be patient and wise with my students.  To be compassionate and grace-filled with my relationships.  To make a difference in the lives of all whom I cross paths.  Today.  For today is all I can be held accountable for.  And if today has been well-lived, then my ultimate life plan will have been realized.

For being the best I can be, giving the most I can give, offering the most I can offer as I live moment by moment is all I can do right now.  I can only live what I have been given.  And the life I have been given for today is enough.

Who can put a value on a life?  Does life lived out quietly bear the weight of significance equally with that of the life lived visibly?  Who can tell which is worth more to the Father?   Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26, NIV)

A hummingbird is among the smallest of birds.  A vulnerable bird, with a relatively short life span.  One could say as birds go, it is rather insignificant.  Beautiful, but rather non-consequential as feathered creatures go.  And yet a chance encounter with a hummingbird on a mid-summer day was a pivotal moment for me.  Reminding me time and time again that life is not always about the biggest moments.  It is more about the beautiful moments lived out in the simplicity of everyday life.

And it is about the extraordinary miracles experienced in the otherwise ordinary here and now.

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Joy in the river…

Why do Mom’s cookies, eaten straight up from the cookie jar, taste best when indulged as a bedtime snack?  Gingersnaps, rolled in sugar.  Pressed with the hand, perhaps and then baked to perfection.  These sitting on this mahogany table, tempting me until I cannot resist, have crackles like tiny rivers running randomly across their golden tops, intersecting one another and then branching out to their upturned sides.  The rich scent of ginger meets my nose.  Tender pieces of moist, doughy goodness with each bite.

I need to find the cover and close the jar before I eat the whole lot of them.

And yes.  I have eaten far too much today, but it was all so good.  I can describe my encounters with food in such detail that one might think it is all I have to think about.  I made a delicious carrot cake this morning topped with maple butter icing; it was for Sarah’s 8th birthday party this afternoon.  It is moist and chock-full of REAL carrots.  So delicious.  As my father-in-law says, “Tastes like more.”  Then for a bedtime snack this evening, we had fire-roasted hotdogs over a campfire made from driftwood, followed by gooey s’mores on Celebration cookies topped with milk chocolate squares, melted underneath molten white lava.  Unbelievable.  Can one stomach contain even the thoughts of another ingested morsel ?  Alas, it is summer and that is the way of the summer.  Food and fun go hand in hand.

And what a day of fun it was.  We spent the majority of the day at the Gard family’s log cabin, nestled at the foot of a long, dusty clay lane in western P.E.I.   A quick turn to the left and a few bumps more, and there you are: destination, Hill Billy HavenHill Billy Haven, or as we call it ‘the Cabin’, is a log structure built circa 1970s.  It is one large room with a loft over the part of the cabin that once served as the dining area.  Opposite the loft, and at the far end, is a large stone fireplace built with sandstone rocks from the beaches of surrounding areas.  Many a lazy, peaceful evening has been spent playing games of Rook and cooking marshmallows at the base of that sturdy fireplace.

The beauty of the Cabin is you never have to fuss.  If food falls on the floor, no one jumps to get the broom or a cloth.  Everyone comes in with shoes on, the dirtier the better.  We sit around a makeshift table on fold-up camp chairs, underneath the dim light of a propane lantern.  And we never give a second thought to clean up or the like.  To be at the Cabin is to feel relaxed.  It is the inherent nature of the place.  It is why we come so often and stay so long.  It welcomes, doors flung open to those who grace its humble presence.  It always beckons you to come again.

The view from the stone steps of the Cabin is spectacular.  Second to none.  Through the overhanging branches, one can view far up river to distant cottages and potatoes fields, across to wooded brush and then past that to the newer, swankier lots where people have built homes on the river for their jet skis, sailboats, Catamarans and speed boats.   One can walk the length of about 10 meters and find oneself on the precipice of a cliff, created by erosion of the land.  Tree roots do their level best to keep nature at bay.  Down the rickety staircase and across the shell-strewn beach.  And on to the bath-water warm swirling liquid of Mill River.  Dirty, smelly, choked by sea grass, oyster shell-littered yet beloved Mill River.  How do we love thee?  Let us count the ways.

For starters, I have spent some of the most relaxing moments of my life on that river.  Yesterday, we idled along in the boat until we came to our cove.  Husband threw down the anchor, and the family swam in view of the Cabin.  The kids had a field day jumping off the back of the boat.  Our oldest tried his hand at tubing, while the girls enjoyed swimming and jumping off the stationary tube.  I stayed on board and read a book.  Pure, unadulterated pleasure.  One of the small pleasures of my life that I shall try to keep from feeling guilty about.

Mill River is beautiful.  On a sunny summer afternoons, when sitting up river on my in-laws property, we watch the boats do circle-eights up and down the river while we sip juice from rose colored tumblers.  And in the winter, we bundle everyone up in their warmest gear and throw skating jamborees complete with blazing bonfire.  There is always hot chocolate and cookies to keep our spirits up, whilst we skate another lap through the plowed maze shoveled by those so inclined.

I have been thinking.  I often want to go away from all of this.  Choosing to deliberately find rest and relaxation in other destinations far from home.  But living here is really like living in the Promised Land.  When those complaining  Israelites asked to go back after they had entered that land flowing with milk and honey, how deluded were they?  They had arrived in a place of exquisite beauty and providence, and yet.  It was not enough.  That is me much of the time.  I want what I do not have, and choose to willingly resist that which is mine for the taking.

This land, land which stains the feet an ocher red.   Land which meets water in thin places, sand bars stretching out dangerously into the water like jagged spikes.  Land of ancestors and future home to children’s children.  Land of promise and blessing.  Land of hope and potential.

This water, muddied by clay.  Cooling my children on this hot summer’s day.  Water with power to lift and to pull.  Water where children learn to be buoyant, tentatively striking out on their own from the shore, gaining confidence with each stroke that takes them away from me and closer to the raft.

Sky which meets land and water and creates a trio of unmatched harmony.  It is the simple things in life that bring the greatest joys.  As I am learning each and every day.  It is joy at its basic that is most precious.  And wise we are to realize this before it slips through our fingers like sand.

Joy in small moments…

I broke a fourth tooth in less than a year, all while eating a bagged lunch the other day.  A lunch that my husband had prepared for me, nonetheless.  I was eating alphabet pretzels when the tooth crumbled, in case you are wondering- creating a taste sensation of unparalleled proportions as it mixed in with all the other crunchy bits and pieces in the process of being swallowed down gulp at a time.  I had originally purchased the bagged snack/teaching tool for my students so as to make learning fun. FUN, I say.  Just like I was having now that my appetite had suddenly vanished.  Glad my little friends never had the joy of eating these tasty little morsels, as they are like crunching on driveway gravel. Particularly when mixed in with enamel.

I have been a bit of a cranky Mama bear lately.  And for good reason.  Turns out I have been grinding my teeth into gunpowder while trying to catch a few zzz’s in the process.  The dentist today remarked on the extreme power in my jaws which would have been flattering if he hadn’t had my mouth propped open with a two-by-four made out of a cotton ball and a piercing bright light shining on the gaping hole in there, further magnifying my chipped teeth and swollen gum line.

I look like a light-weight boxing competitor who has seen better days.  And indeed I have.  Seen better days, that is.

Life is all about perspective, right?  So with that in mind, I set out this evening to find a little piece of joy in nature so as to cast some illumination on an otherwise expensive ($2,200 worth of upcoming dental work), depressing (there goes the camper we were going to buy) and discouraging (I am wondering if false teeth are an option for a 38 year old mother of four) day.

I took a walk sans children, husband or friends.  I set out with a view in mind, that being the picturesque Mill River winding its way gracefully along the shores of red clay in Western Prince Edward Island.  It was for me, more of a pity party at first.  Poor me, why me, why now…yada yada.  Then, I began noticing a few things.  A  fuzzy caterpillar, and then another, crawling along the side of the road.  The elegant lupins, just beginning to emerge in hues of pink, fuschia and indigo.  A broken clothespin.  How did that arrive in my path?  The Queen’s Anne Lace, stooping to touch soft grass growing beneath.

And after a few more moments, I drew my gaze up and far down the path I was travelling, and the view of the water quite took my breath away.

The deep blue of the river, gently lapping the red sandstone. The road leading fishers to a point of entrance.  A boat floating tranquilly in shallow water.  The jagged rock underfoot.  Wooden staircases from cottage lots down to the shore.  A black dog, standing still and free in the river.  The sound of a lawnmower in the distance cutting blades of green summer lawns.  The smell of the water- pungent salt mixed with sweet algae. The beauty of the evening, soon fading to twilight.  This glorious evening of an almost-summer day.

And in the beauty of these moments, these brief interludes of time, in between reality past and reality future, I realized that I could be happy.  Right now.  I did not have to make a promise for fifteen minutes away, nor did I need to make compensations for the misery of hours ago while under the drill of my watchful dentist.  I could just commit to right now.  This was pure, unadulterated happiness.  To be alone in nature in blessed quietness. Does it get any better than this?

When we allow ourselves brief moments in which to feel joy, we find happiness is not so elusive.  And what makes us happy will in turn bring us joy in wave after wave of memory, as we return to that place of pleasure again and again in our minds.  Like those waves on a shore formed of red clay that I experienced tonight.  Our memory, that collective of sounds, sights, triggers and emotions that help to form for us reminiscences of those freeze-frame windows in time that we hope never to forget.  It is a gift.

We touch the face of joy, those of us who can live out our days as small moments rather than large time periods.  I can say I have had a bad day, but really I had a few bad moments.  Those moments will surely lead to more unpleasant moments in the days to come, as I seek to remedy these chipped and broken teeth.  But, there were moments in this day that were pure pleasure.  The moments right before bed when I cuddled with each of my children, one by one.  When I snuggled the youngest, read with the next in line- my middle child, when I kissed the warm forehead of my oldest daughter, and shared a laugh with my very oldest, my son.  Those moments are just as much a part of my day as were those horrific ones at the dentist’s office.  And so, I choose. JOY.

Again, and again and again.  I choose joy.  In the small moments.

Because that is not too much ask.  And I can commit to something small like a moment.