This week began with a fantastic thunderstorm, with an especially gorgeous prelude of rumbling from the heavens, strong enough to awaken my son who was visiting from college. I excitedly went to the front porch to try to capture the majesty of the darkening sky amid the tall oak trees that line my street. A couple of hours later, my husband sent me this beautifully captured photo from his office overlooking a scene from our city awash in the storm and these words: “Enjoying my view in my descent.” Later our son remarked, “Dad is using that word alot these days – ‘descent.'” After 40 years of devoting himself to practicing law with a brief detour managing health care practices, the Dad my kids have seen suiting up for work day in and day out their entire lives is soon retiring (“descending”) and planning on finding ways to occupy himself from home. My hunch is, to everyone’s delight, we will all see much more of the guy who captures beautiful photos in the near future.
Suddenly, it hit me what season this is and many of the thoughts and feelings that have been roiling in my head and heart for months began to take shape. Each in our own way, my husband and I have spent the last 2 decades noticing things and anticipating a time when life slowed down long enough to make sense of what we’ve noticed. With retirement a mere several weeks on the horizon for Mike, that day is at last here. And because honoring my deepest desire to find time and space to write has always been a part of his plan (though I did not take notice of it until recently), I, too, have embarked on a sweet season of noticing. This time I hope to capture a little of what I notice before it slips back into oblivion.
Our story began with noticing, one early Fall morning in 1994, when each of us captured a poem written in chalk along the path of a lovely park we visited together. We mailed the poem to one another on the same day! Then life began and we got busy, absorbed in the work of making a living and a life for our children. I often felt frustrated at my limited ability to capture the things I noticed while raising our kids. I hope, in this season of noticing I feel beginning, I am able to recall the most poignant scenes and moments from their childhood.
Instead of writing while I was raising the children, I think I wound up just trying to live creatively and with an open heart. Oddly enough, this morning I came upon the perfect description:
The process of going deep within to access and then express the truth we find is the greatest of creative endeavors, whether it is formally recognized as art or not. Sharon Salzberg
My greatest hope is that my husband and I have raised 2 people who are unafraid to make time in their daily lives to notice and experience the fullness, richness and complexity embodied in all of the paths life’s journey will take them. Early in my High School education, I experienced a summer program at St. Louis University entitled, “The Academy of the Humanities.” I loved it. It was during this course that the instructor, Art Carle, introduced us to Socrates and his timeless wisdom, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” As I enter this season of noticing, with space to finally pour onto the page the memories that have made my life worth living, one thought keeps bubbling up to the surface: noticing is the purest form of loving.
Making space in my life for noticing not only invites creativity and playfulness, it sometimes inevitably will yield sadness. Author Susan Cain writes, “the mother of sadness is compassion.” To give someone the gift of being seen is to honor another’s humanity. Susan Cain argues in her book, “Bittersweet,” that the willingness to see sadness and be with another in this state leads to compassion, which can connect us all. Indeed, as my husband and I approach this season of noticing together, our thousands of shared memories raising 2 amazing children together can be very bittersweet. It hurts to think very long about that precious time being over and to notice my adult children entering their busiest seasons of life, just as their Dad and I are beginning to slow down and notice more. Like my own parents before me, my husband and I have become the “memory holders” for our children of their early lives. If we are blessed with grandchildren, I imagine we will enjoy sharing with them many colorful stories about their Mom and Dad growing up and these stories will serve as family glue, keeping us connected over time.
I am never more aware of time than when I visit my 90-year-old mother. This is my favorite photo of my parents from 24 summers ago. I was visiting home with my 4-month-old baby girl, and we all attended a wedding together. It was a very happy occasion, forever embedded in my memory bank. As the years go by, this moment increasingly feels like just a tiny “blip” on an expanding canvas of things to notice about life. But I won’t let that happen. When I look at this photo today, just shy of the ages my parents are in it, I am thankful for the life they gave me and the precious gift of this season of noticing. I recently visited my Mom who doesn’t remember or notice very much any longer. I carry sadness in my heart that never subsides, whether I see her in person or not. I was certain this last visit really had not made an impression on her, she seemed so out of it. And, by this stage of her life, those visits are more about me than her, if I am being honest. My sister told me something the day after I last saw Mom, however, that affirmed for me my Mom will always be the first holder of my heart and official “noticer” in my life. Mom told my sister after our visit, “I like Joan’s big smile.” That enormous and beautiful expression from my Mom is more than enough to sustain me for this new journey forward, into the noticing season.