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When stepping back is stepping forward
why I'm taking the summer off
I’m sitting in my backyard watching my chickens and trying not to think about the children of Uvalde. “Don’t look away,” well-meaning people say. “Turn your anger into advocacy.” I have and I will, oh yes I will, but right now I cannot. So I hope you will forgive me for not writing this letter about gun violence; for there are times when we simply must listen to our bodies and our minds, to draw boundaries around the things they need.
Back to the chickens. I tell my kids that in people-years the chicks are about the age of our son Moses: not quite a preteen but also no longer “little”. As I write this, all five are snuggled together under the patio loveseat, which is one of their favorite spots in the yard thanks to the cool cement and shade from the sun. I don’t know what I expected from chickens, but it wasn’t loyalty. And yet the five of them, the little cohort of busybodies that they are, never stray more than a few yards apart — and even when they do, they reunite speedily. If one gets spooked (by the wind, or the dog, or a too-loud child) and runs to the coop, they all follow her. No hesitation, no questions asked. When I hold one, the others tweet and tweet despairingly until I finally give in and bring her back to them. Its not lost on me that a metaphor here is low-hanging fruit, but I won’t grab it. Today, uncharacteristically, I will keep it about the chicks. Just noticing their ways. Just engaging the practice of paying attention.
I recently listened to an episode of OnBeing with the late Mary Oliver and have been thinking about how her poetic genius lay in her ability to pay attention — no, not just her ability, but her dedication to it. The other day on a family hike, our son Taavi spent twenty minutes inspecting and reporting on the (rather limited) comings and goings of a spider’s web. To be honest, I was bored as hell. But not him; he was paying attention, Mary Oliver style.
On that podcast, she said that as a child in an abusive home she often fled to nature as a literal refuge. Even at the time of the interview, near the end of her life, she still didn’t like being inside buildings for too long. Her body and mind didn’t feel safe unless she was outside. As tragic as her circumstances were, it is undeniable that her work opened up a door for hundreds of thousands of the rest of us to walk through; a door that could offer us, too, a chance to be safe and held by the earth and her living things.
Here in our first summer in this house on the prairie, I have felt an unexpected compulsion to listen to my own body and mind asking me to make space for nature to do her healing ministry in me. I am tired of the hamster wheel. Ready to lie in the shade and watch the grass grow. Or, lucky me, watch the prairie flowers grow. I signed off social media for the summer and canceled the Luminous retreat just days after announcing it; a little humbling, sure, but a relief I felt in my body. And, as my friend Laura pointed out, the retreat was meant to be about listening to our bodies in the first place. Fancy that.
So my summer plans include finding treatment for neck and shoulder pain. Doing yoga instead of scrolling on my phone. Meeting weekly with my counselor. Praying about the space between anxiety and courage. Making some doctor appointments. Taking daily forest “baths”. Piddling in my pathetic little garden. Walking the dog. Slowing down and taking care. Finishing the novel I’m writing, not because its work but because its not.
I will still be sliding into your inbox (or Substack app) every few weeks. I’ll also still be on Patreon continuing the female mystics series with two segments on Margery Kempe. But mostly I’ll be unplugged and loving it. I hope that you, too, get what you need this summer. I hope you listen to your body and your mind and your appetite and your longings. I hope you make all the space in the world.
Thanks for reading to the end. ;)