Many hands, many hearts


Entirely without planning for it, last weekend was one of community and that was exactly what I needed.

Community events for me are like exercise: I know how great I’ll feel after doing my part and pitching in, but I still feel reluctant to go. I want to help, I want to participate, but I also want to be home (this is pretty much our family’s unofficial theme song).

But the constellation of events this past weekend, following so closely on the heels of a really difficult week, made it seem obvious that we needed to go out into the world and be small cogs in a machine for good.

On Saturday, we attended a fundraising auction for H’s lovely little elementary school, and did our part by socializing, eating, and buying a couple things we never intended to but are happy to have. And even happier knowing those dollars went to a place that makes a difference for kids who really need it.

On Sunday, I helped a friend move to a perfect little cottage of her own. And as we returned to her old, unfriendly apartment to do the final vacuum and clean, I remembered vividly a day long ago when I moved from an unfriendly place in a single afternoon and evening, with the help of friends and family who were willing to drop everything and hustle to my rescue. These are things you don’t forget.

And also on Sunday we spent time with old friends who have suffered an unfathomable loss. When we all asked, “What in the world can we do for you?” they said, “Come over and help us stack firewood.” So that’s what did. We formed two long curving lines, stretching from the woodpile to the woodshed, and we handed logs to each other, bucket brigade style. We stood shoulder to shoulder and talked, or listened, or joked, or thought as the logs flowed from hand to hand and the woodpile melted while the woodshed filled.

It wasn’t hard work. It was hard being there, in the midst of such grief, certainly, but it felt so good to be able to do something tangible, practical, helpful. It’s not enough. It never is enough, but just because you can’t fix it all in one fell swoop doesn’t mean you can’t pick away at it bit by bit, log by log, hug by hug.

On our way out, I told our friend that we were always here for her, and she said she knew, and the one thing she asked is that we not forget the one she lost. And I promised that.

I’m saying his name now in my head, and will add his name to the song of names I soundlessly hum some days when I walk, reminding the universe that they existed, stood on this earth, helped friends, made ripples in the atmosphere.

There’s only so much we can do, but doing anything at all is the way to get through it. Sometimes you just have to wake up, put your feet on the cold floor, pick up the day’s work, and get on with it.

52 Photos ~ Street Art

Hand prints

19 years this summer. That’s how long we’ve lived in this house. Three times as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere else.

Some days it feels like I never have lived anywhere else. Until I take a new turn off a familiar street and discover a road in my own town that I’ve never seen before.

That’s interesting. Maybe they just put that road in?

Well, it’s nice that this old place can still surprise me.

I gripe about the unimportant things that annoy me about living here, but my list is pretty short: the cold winters, the dearth of decent restaurants, the frost heaves in the road that sort of never go away, the bicyclists who can’t seem to ride single file, the lack of places to shop for basic housewares, like sheets and pillows.

But, really, my only significant complaint is that we can’t get a pizza delivered to our house.

Mostly, I love living here, in the house of my childhood fantasies, posts and beams and creaky floorboards and all. The comforting hills, the foggy morning river valleys, the piercing peeper chorus, the star-strewn nights.

I love that I drove all over Vermont today, on my way to pick up a used mini refrigerator where we can store milk for making cheese, and I looked hard for some graffiti that I could photograph, and you know what I found?

Not much. Sets of initials on bridges, summed together with heart operators. A sketch of a funny face on a highway overpass. The word “Respect” on the side of a building. And a mural entitled “Community,” painted on the side of a rough, cement wall that buttresses a railroad bridge. At the bottom of the mural, the river is painted wide, bright blue, the foundation of everything else. Above it are the mountains, a pair of hot-air balloons, a rainbow, a sun rising above puffy clouds, a leafy tree with a little owl in its branches, and hand prints, in all colors and sizes, some perched on branches like birds, some taking flight on a perpetual summer day.

It’s an idyllic image of a place that doesn’t really exist. Except when it does, briefly, out of the corner of your eye, when you can’t feel the difference between your body’s temperature and the air’s temperature, and you and the day are one perfect thing.

This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.