I am always grasping at the straws of time, trying to clutch them into bundles. And never quite succeeding. In 2013, I can drive at 65 mile per hour, research ancient history at lightning speed on Google, cook a meal in twenty minutes, and complete five tasks at once with the benefit of a laptop and an iPad. Still, this faster pace, this slip-slap stream, makes time ever-more elusive. The moment always seems to rush right past, just beyond and gone.
When the quickness of this passage leaves me reeling, I find solace in the eloquence and wisdom of my guest today, the writer Lindsey Mead. In A Design So Vast, Lindsey chronicles her own search for peace inside the skimming present. She peels back the skin of our obsessions to reveal the bones, the ligature and muscles of a search for home inside a fast-paced world.
To do so, Lindsey often dives deep within the complexities of childhood and the natural world. Both nature and our children are in constant flux around us. We cannot catch or hold them tightly. For Lindsey, the answer lies in mindfulness, in our attention to this and here and now. With these tools, she crafts a moment breathless, stilled, replete. She catches time and releases it in the same deft and agile move.
Such fragile balance does not come easily, and one of the aspects I love most in Lindsey’s writing is her honesty in the face of the repeated challenge. She finds “fleeting, stunning glory” in light and shadow, trees and snow, in the changing seasons and the solstice. She weighs enduring truths against the necessity of change in the moving essay, “10 Things I Want My Daughter To Know Before She Turns 10”. Elsewhere, she has written that motherhood may be shaped from “this combination of fear and sureness.” It is nothing easy. Lindsey suggests that we must live inside uncertainty by embracing it. “None of us dances without stumbling.” She invites us to jump in.
If mindfulness can place us, take us home, so too can the “solace and kinship” of books. A prolific reader with a talent for reviews, Lindsey shares her love of words in powerful quotations from the likes of Anne Lamott, Henri Nouwen, Wendell Berry, Rainer Maria Rilke, Andrienne Rich, and Mary Oliver, among others. Her post today celebrates the power of stories in our imperfect journeys towards what claims us, towards home. I am honored and delighted to share the path. Welcome, Lindsey.
“Inspiration”, by Lindsey Mead
I believe we are all full of stories.
I believe we are all looking for the way home. To whatever our essential, fundamental home is, where we are truly ourselves, where we are seen and recognized and known and witnessed as such.
I believe that telling our stories – to others, maybe, but most of all to ourselves – is the only way to find our way home.
Some days, the words of my stories shower over me, like a waterfall or a sudden torrential squall. These are the days when I pull over on the highway to tap sentences onto my iphone. The days I wake in the night to scribble thoughts onto the pad of paper beside my bed. The days I run with words tumbling over themselves in my head, the words of others, songs and quotations, somersaulting over and with my own images and thoughts, and as I run I repeat them over and over, hoping not to forget them before I can get home and write them down.
Many other days, though, the words are thin. I fear they are gone. I might catch a glimmer of them, like the surprising sparkle of mica in concrete pavement. But there aren’t enough to hold onto, not enough words to form a rope that I can use to go hand-over-hand from here to there. They are a fragile line, the streak of a snail’s slimy passage, the evanescent foam on the edge of a wave, the fading white path of an airplane, disappearing before my eyes in a hydrangea blue sky.
When I feel like the words are lost, I’ve learned I need to do two things: to look up at the sky and to look down at the ground. In the sky I see the vastness of the universe, and on the ground in front of me I see the granular gorgeousness of this actual, concrete life of mine.
On a recent flight I looked through years of photographs that I had saved on my computer. There were hundreds and hundreds of pictures of the sky. Of course no photograph can capture the assortment of clouds, the searing gorgeousness of a clear cornflower blue sky, the subtle depths of a vista of changing grays. I take pictures looking up at the sky, mostly, and once in a while I take a picture out of an airplane window looking down at it. This winter I have been obsessed with the poetry I see in the patterns that the trees’ black bare branches, often ice-slicked, make against the steel-gray sky. My children have taken to teasing me when I stop, stock-still, often in the middle of the street, and fumble for my iPhone.
I’m realizing that my preoccupation with time’s passage informs this close observation of the sky. The changing quality of light as we move through the seasons speaks of the earth’s relentless rotation. The sky’s meaning is found in its simultaneous permanence – it is the sky, the vaulted cathedral ceiling over our lives – and momentary-ness – every minute the composition of the sky changes, never to be the same again.
When I look up at the sky I am inspired because I remember the vast grandeur of the world, and also the loss that is inherent in the planet’s every rotation.
When I look down I’m inspired for absolutely different reasons: the spray of autumn leaves across a sidewalk or the trail of damp towels down the hall to my childrens’ bathroom reminds me of the palpable truth of right now. There is so much beauty, right under my feet: when I don’t pause to look down, in every sense of the word, I miss it. This is the actual life that is held in the bowl of the sky.
Looking down, also, yields reminders of impermanence and brings tears to my eyes: late-spring blossoms, shed from branches, piled up against a curb, or March’s first, bright-green shoots pushing through a carpet of dead leaves. The unavoidable truth that time is fleeting throbs through every second of my day like a heartbeat.
Whether I look up or down, whether I immerse myself in the echoing enormity of the universe or in the tiniest tangible detail of my life, I am reminded: it passes. This reminder, which I seem to need every single day, daunts and inspires me in equal measure. This is all there is, and it is already almost gone. Pay attention.
And when I pay attention, I take hold again of the tail of my story. With words forming my path, I keep walking home.
Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives with her two children and husband in New England. Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and on-line sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood and So Long: Short Narratives of Loss and Remembrance. Lindsey writes daily at A Design So Vast and is also on Twitter (lemead).
Thank you, Lindsey, for a full measure of Emily Dickinson’s “solace in the gale.” I am grateful. Readers, how do you navigate the slipstream of the moment? What marks, for you, the space of home?