Everything just so

Now and then, I feel intensely the fragility of life, how precarious our arrangements of friends and family and work and play. I walk through my house and everything is absolutely familiar – the angle of rug to couch, couch to window, window to fence line; the trail of paw prints tracking rain across bare wood floors; the patterns of sound – first everyone home, and then only me, and then everyone home again.

A friend calls. She tells me of another friend’s divorce and in the pause before I answer, I hear the questions she wrestles with every day. Her own marriage hasn’t been happy for a long time. I exchange emails with a beautiful man who struggles to feed his heart and soul as his body betrays him, organ by precious organ. Someone dear has lost her mom. Someone’s father has had a stroke. I read a lovely, wrenching essay  about the friendship of women and a mother helping her son to die, and I think…

This is when love hurts.

This is when love feels too big, too unwieldy to be let loose amidst all the fragile, breakable things that make up a life. It is clumsy and oafish when what is called for is grace; discordant or mute when what is needed is poetry. I want to rearrange everyone’s life, put each one back to the way it was when it made sense, when the pain was so very bearable (though we didn’t know that at the time). And I want to hold absolutely still in my own life, surrounded by the furniture just so, the windows, the paw prints, the familiar noises, the familiar silences. I want to hold still so that nothing shifts. Nothing slips away, or breaks open, or dies.

This is when love is hard because it  is enormous and frightening. It can break you apart or save you, and I think it often does both at the same time. It’s hard for the people in pain, daring to reach out to me, and it’s hard for me, reaching back, willingly losing my balance, my momentary, grasping stillness. Truthfully, I have no choice. Love is like that too, it overrules and overrides, fills suddenly this precious moment when I’m alone, my fingers tapping out word after word after word, dogs at my feet, rain against the window.

I pause between that last paragraph and this one to read a text from my son on a film shoot in LA. He writes, “Ha, I just have to tell you about this…” and he has no idea how his words make me tear up, how a text that starts out like that would make me feel so lucky, so clumsy and broken and saved.

~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~

I’ve been reading a poem every day of 2012. This one, about love, has been swimming through my veins since I read it.

The lovely Estrella Azul sent me this.



  1. Jill Salahub on January 23, 2012 at 11:48 am

    I was reading a post by Magpie Girl the other day, “Choosing the Beast” (http://www.magpie-girl.com/20080918/choosing-the-beast/) and in it, she says “The choice to love, to really love, is incredibly, ridiculously brave.” She goes on to say “I choose this thing that can both protect me and tear me apart; that can and will bring me my most enthralling joys and my most excruciating and unanticipated pain. I choose the risk. I choose the possibility of endings. I chose to be as simpatico as old souls and to be equally, heartrendingly misunderstood. I choose to be at intervals rashly taken advantage of and unexpectedly worshipped. I choose this terror and this beauty. I choose love.” We are all such brave fools, warriors of kindness and wisdom, and you are so right when you say it both breaks and saves us. Everyone’s okay and no one is fine.

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      I love that, “Everyone’s okay and no one is fine.” Yes, that’s true. Thank you for sharing Magpie-girl. She is so rarely clumsy. 😉

    • Julia on January 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Whew. I don’t know where to begin. The combination of your words, J, Estrella’s image and the quote Jill included has me here taking it all in–quietly. I love these peeks into your heart, J, so very precious.

      I am so aware right now that this stepping out of our “comfort,” approval zones is everything…instead of comfort/approval, we get ALIVENESS/connected-ness–Love. It’s pretty clear to me what I’d rather have…

  2. Clare Flourish on January 23, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Not only do I not want you to rearrange my life, I am letting go rearranging it for myself at the moment. I have sought to make my healing go faster by being aware of it, and now I seek to let it be. Oddly enough, the beauty of my living room, my space, along with the beauty of the fields and lakes within a mile’s walk help. Oh Oh Oh this and that and the other are wrong- well, actually- I may allow myself to be content. It is enough.

    I am delighted to read of your son’s text, because your writing hangs together in such a way that I may say without having met you but with some confidence, you deserve this happiness. Hamlet asked “Who should ‘scape whipping?” and my answer is, all of us.

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      Contentment. I recently had a long conversation about contentment, how easily it comes to some and how for others restlessness is baked into our DNA. Contentment is a precious thing, I think, different than happiness. I feel it sometimes, often on or near the water, when, for just a little while, everything inside and out feels just exactly as it is supposed to be.

      I like thinking of you in that place. xo

  3. Michael on January 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    “…so clumsy and broken and saved.”

    Clumsy? Broken, saved I can see, but clumsy? Okay, I’ve felt that way too, so you get a pass. Just know, this post is anything but clumsy. True in ways that are astounding; and hopeful; and wonderfully honest; and heartbreaking… but not clumsy in any way.

    Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway, yes? That’s the kind of love I hear you talking about, the kind that holds no reserve, and risks everything in spite of, because of the enormous danger inherent in it. But really, that’s no danger at all compared to how infinite is the joy.

    Beautiful, j. Simply…

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      I am less clumsy with edit keys and time to make smooth the rough edges. In real life, though, left to my own guts and limbs and racing-heart responses, I falter. A lot. I can be terribly clumsy (and not in the endearing, isn’t-j-cute sort of way.)

      Thank you for this. And, of course, I agree. The potential for joy is worth the risk of pain… And to be honest, I think both places are better than the one in between, neither brokenhearted nor soaring, but just stuck… frozen.

      So it’s funny, knowing that as well as I do, that I sometimes want to do just that. Hold perfectly still. Not let anything move. Not let anything change.


  4. Becky Sain on January 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    When my father died, he had a special chair… it was at my house because he stayed with me sometimes to get to his chemo. It was a huge ugly blue blush recliner that he slept in because he was the only place that gave him so e reprive from his cancer filled lungs.
    The day he died, when I got home, I went straight to that chair and sat and sat and watched my kids carry on… all I wanted to do was be in my house with all my things and my kids and be safe… and I was paralyzed in that chair. I slept there for the next two nights, but then… I had to get up. I had to move and go and continue.
    “Sometimes letting go is the hardest love of all”, or something like that.
    I’ve learned and am still learning that sometimes, to stay connected to the things we love, the people we love… we have to love “the grayness”, the space between, the unknown… sometimes, I think, we have to be alone with ourselves to really know who we are or who we ought to be.
    At my fathers funeral, my oldest daughter stood up to speak… she managed to say more than I ever could, she said, “I’m going to miss my Poppy.” She already knew how to love and let go at the same time.
    Anyway… I’ve probably said too much.
    Wonderful words j.

    • LunaJune on January 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      I so know what you mean. Every day I walk that line and many times I just sigh when I walk back in my own door. Wanting everything to be ok .
      Becky having both my parents die at home I know exactly what you mean… the night my mom died I slept in her water bed letting it meld itself around me… part of me wanted to stay that way forever…. in my sister’s house where my dad died it’s the spare room.. and when I’m there even just for dinner I go to see if I can feel his presence .
      Life and love… so many things it gives us.. so many places
      it takes us.
      Here at work when I open my heart to those who are lost in their sorrow, overwhelmed by grief, as hard as it is.. and even to just write these words I see so many faces.. so many tears, from 30 years of doing this… like a river..of sorrow mixed with love…with respect…with also joy, the joy of knowing that even just being there and being open is enough in that moment….and for us who love big…there is always the risk of pain…but the thought of what it would have been like without love… now that is unbearable.

      wow I can see we shall be opening ourselves here much more than before…
      thank you for this.. ♥

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      Grief is when love hurts most, I think, when the bigness of it crushes us and saves us somehow, too. It’s different for everyone, I know, how we process the loss, and different every time. The need to hold everything in place can be as great for some as the need in others to smash it all apart so that nothing is recognizable…

      Thank you both for sharing.

      • Becky Sain on January 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

        I read in this book last night that grief and sadness can stifle us, but it can save us too.
        It talked about how sometimes we laugh so hard we end up crying and how sometimes we cry so hard we end up laughing — I totally get that, which, of course, brings us back to your thoughts (words/writings?) on how love is messy and gray. I mean, we laugh and cry at the same situations… there’s no concrete way to love, as long as we keep loving and not being stifled.
        (I think I used the wrong verb tense there, we’ll see what the English major says).

    • Estrella Azul on January 25, 2012 at 4:06 am

      Yes, grief is a different kind of love, one that hurts the most, even (or rather especially?) after a long time, when one doesn’t expect it to, when it seems like a big fat cruel cosmic joke…

      Thank you for sharing these thoughts, j, you’ve made my day so much better!

      Oh, and thanks for sharing my found love here, looks so good with the post 🙂

  5. Cynthia on January 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Ah j, the images you evoke bring tears to my eyes. You’ve captured it perfectly. I’ll be back to comment. Right now, “I’m verklempt…talk amongst yourselves.”

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      Thank you Cindy. I await your return (as always).

  6. Lance on January 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Odd how parallet our lives are, J.

    Two days ago, my close friend from college called. Seven months ago, he found had a preteen daughter from a failed relationship. After the engagement was called off, the woman moved out of state and never told him of the daughter. He’s been calling me weekly to ask parenting (don’t worry I don;t give advice, I provide reassurance) and whine that he’s “not like me”, meaning equipped to be a father.

    The point is, my friend, in his early forties, has found the love of his life in an 11 year old little girl. His awkwardness in establishing the relationship is showing how big his love is for her.

    Thought I’d share. Beautiful post as always.

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      That’s a beautiful outcome. I wonder if that’s a typical reaction, the instant falling in love, even after missing the first eleven years of his daughter’s life. It kind of sounds like he’s equipped where it most matters to me.

      Love that story. Thanks for sharing it, Lance.

  7. Pam on January 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm


    I’m so glad you wrote this down. <3

    • j on January 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks you, Pam. Me too. <3

  8. Nancy on January 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Judy, I have to agree with Michael and his question about clumsy, and yet I think I know what you mean when you say it.

    Love is, unquestionably (at least to me) messy. Grief compounds it. Misread/misdirected communication compounds it. So many little moments can go right or go awry and it seems there is so little we can do about that, except either to be delighted at how perfect it is, or mourn that it somehow got screwed up.

    I used to long for a tidy life, and that tidy life was supposed to include tidy love. Ah, but I’m so much wiser now. Life isn’t made to be tidy, and so many of the grace notes we find are part of a messy situation. I don’t have romantic love right now, and I really know that I’ve chosen against it, and yet I still have hope to learn to choose it. When I do? I’ll try to remember that I wanted the messiness of it so that I know it’s a living, growing, ever-changing thing.

    I love you, that I know. It might be messy the day we eat cheesecake 🙂

    • j on January 24, 2012 at 8:26 am

      Ha! I guarantee it will be messy. No one has ever accused me of being tidy, emotionally-psychologically speaking.

      I absolutely love this line: “…so many of the grace notes we find are part of a messy situation.” YES. Which is why I think some people feel as though they have no regrets, and I see that logic. It is interesting to me that I’ve never longed for tidy or safe (though my life, compared to so many, has been largely both), but there are times now – especially now, having gone through a period that put a great deal of what I love at risk – when the preciousness of love feels painful, daggery, far too fragile, too temporary. Other times, it feels like love is at the core of everything good in my l ife, and there’s nothing stronger.

      And the most interesting thing of all is that I think both statements are true.

      You’ll choose romance. I predict it. You’re more ready now.

  9. Nancy on January 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    p.s. thanks for sharing the link to the poem. I can see I’ll have to read it a number of times to grasp all of the meanings. I like that! I’ve also subscribed to bentlily’s daily poems thanks to you. I love starting the day with that in my inbox.

    • j on January 24, 2012 at 8:28 am

      I am, after years of resistance, falling in love with poetry. Bentlily was the beginning. I think she has been for many. (I had to make a rule for myself. It’s one poem a day, and they CAN’T all be hers.)

  10. Travis B. Hartwell on January 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    “so clumsy, so broken and saved”

    I can’t think of a better, more poetic way of describing when I fell in love. And it was beautiful.

    I used to think (still trying to convince myself not to) there were those that gracefully moved through life, making all the right choices, not having limitations, and they just walked into the life of love.

    I wasn’t one of those people. And that must be why I hadn’t found love, or lost love, or had a hard time finding it inside.

    But then, would I had known so fully my parents loved me, if they hadn’t had to fight to keep me alive? Would I had realized my love loved me so much, if she hadn’t patiently waited those months and then being direct when I still didn’t get the hints? Would I understand the love of a mother, no matter biological or not, as another made a beautiful sacrifice so I might live?

    Finally, I see what I really want is in the messy, as I take care of my niece and nephew. She fed herself, who cares it was all over, the moment was beautiful.

    I’m trying to understand love. It isn’t neat and perfect. Often it hurts like hell. I am slowly gaining understanding of the Christian teaching of offering a broken heart, why that battered and bruised heart is critical for a change in life. I don’t know how else I would even begin to approach love if it weren’t clumsy and full of pain and un-neatness.
    That’s the only love I have experienced, even in my most exuberant joy of young love. Starting from the moment of my birth, with no doubt, love I felt and sought was clumsy.

    But most of all, real. True. And life itself.

    btw, thanks j.

    • j on January 24, 2012 at 8:37 am

      It is funny how we all assume, standing in the messes that we’ve made that other people never make any. That they love without complication, make art without sweating, declare themselves without trepidation. I do that too… assume everyone has it together more than I do. And it doesn’t seem to matter how often I get proven wrong on that. I meet (or start reading) someone new, and I’m overcome again with how “right” they seem to have it, how mixed up I feel by comparison.

      I love Jill’s comment, “Everyone’s okay and no one is fine.” That it happens to be six words is just, you know, a bonus. 😉


  11. Cynthia on January 24, 2012 at 4:20 am

    It’s like the weather here
    if you don’t like it
    wait a minute

    It’s like a woman
    bursting out in laughter
    through her tears
    A ray of light
    and a rainbow appears
    through the rain

    It’s like jazz
    notes dancing
    tripping along the scale
    dipping low
    suddenly flying high
    pause, glide
    ending mid-note
    a promise hanging
    that never comes

    We’re left breathless

    We lay down
    like sleeping beauties
    tell life and love
    I quit
    can’t do it anymore

    Love’s tender gaze
    looks on
    leans in to listen
    to our breath
    and with a touch
    of it’s lips
    sets the heart on fire
    quickens to life
    with golden flame

    We think we can’t possibly
    embrace it all
    fit it all inside
    we were never meant to
    we were meant to flood
    let go the last moment
    pour it all out
    fountains playfully
    shooting stars in the air
    falling with grace
    splashing each other
    with color

    Slowly, I think
    we learn to be still
    while our hearts
    to the weather

    • j on January 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

      This is beautiful. Love the stanza on jazz, which feels like a riff in itself.

      You’re my poem for today. <3

      • Cynthia on January 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm

        You’re so sweet, j, but I don’t think that could be called poetry. I’m not sure what it’s called. I only know that’s what your post, and the comments, inspired in me, and that’s the only way I could express it.

        Thank you, j, for what you bring and share here, and for evoking the heart of us all.

        • j on January 25, 2012 at 10:55 pm

          I’m still counting it. I was poetry to me. (But I totally get the “it’s not a poem” claim!)

  12. Issa on January 24, 2012 at 6:13 am

    I love this. I don’t have any insightful comments or even extended thoughts but it just seemed to capture so perfectly that moment when you (I) realise how amazing life (and by life I seem to mean the relationships which make up a life which is an interesting interpretation) is and yet how it can be lost in a single moment. I think I used to paralysed by the knowledge of that and now I am trying to live with it. Not quite a better to have loved and lost thing but a that’s part of the bargain. Thanks for expressing it so beautifully.

  13. j on January 24, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Yes, that is the feeling – that it’s precious and it can be lost in a moment. I’ve never felt it as strongly as I do now… maybe that’s a byproduct of a year focused intently on love, as fearlessly as I knew how. Fortunately, that’s also the thing that won’t allow me to simply hold still.

    And, even when you think you don’t have anything insightful to say… you always do. Thank you, Issa.

  14. Annie Neugebauer on January 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    J, I don’t have anything to add here. I just wanted to let you know that you’re a wonderful writer. Beautiful, beautiful post.

    • j on January 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      From you, that is high praise and definitely, definitely worth adding. xo

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