to-do list

every 
tick tick
item
on my 
tick tick
list
is a 
tick tick tick 
from the
tick tick 
end
when I
tick tick
get
to the 
tick tick
end I cele—
tick tick
—brate
the ticking
tick tick
end
but the 
tick tick
items
on the
tick tick 
list regener—
tick tick
—ate
I ticking
tick tick
hate
that I can’t
tick tick
get
to the 
tick tick
end 
the end’s a 
tick tick 
lie

and I lie 
down
let the list 
slip
from my fingers
it floats to the floor
so many boxes
unticked
always

so many
boxes
un 
ticking
ticked
un— 
ticking
—believable
I’m
ticking
done
let’s
just
kiss
instead.

“tic clocks toc don’t make a toctic difference to kisskiss you and to kiss me”

E. E. Cummings

affair

if I were to have
an affair
it would be with you

I would have gotten
tangled up
in marriage
strangled up
and tied up
in marriage
mangled in marriage

and you with your
blue eyes and intellect
commanding respect
every syllable you utter
a shudder of my heart
I'd start to realize that

I'm awake and alive
and I've
fallen
for you your
blue eyes and intellect
and I can't recollect
time before you or space or
anything without you

awake and alive
and I've 
fallen
into a new
dimension
(did I mention
the eyes?)

so you'd be 
the one
who would lead me
astray
away from my marriage
my lackluster life

I think about that
if I were to have
an affair
but where our stars crossed
lover
blue and amber eyes locking
awake and alive
we hadn't been tossed
into mediocre marriages
yet
and yet even at twenty two
we knew
we'd fallen
into a new
dimension
and did I mention
we've been in that
dimension
ever since

metaphor

I lie in bed
metaphors on the mind
because how do you
define love
define love for me
please
I want to know the
denotation
dictionary
definition
but to know
is to feel
and to feel
is not a 
dictionary definition
it is a 
metaphor maybe
different for
every one of us
must we define it?
because the feeling feels fine
and I think
my metaphor
for love
is you.

Dad

It doesn't seem that long ago
that every day
you'd lace your boots
every day
you'd wear your boots
no matter the event
you'd wear your boots
you didn't care
Christmas day or
playing chess or
fixing cars or
walking to the park
with me

you'd wear your boots
rhythms of tightening laces
face concentrated wrapping
laces around metal eyelet hooks
you were hooked
every morning edge of bed
you said
you'd wear your boots
until your boots wore out
and out and about you went
in boots
years later
years later after sole replacements
new laces
living room spaces designated for
buffing and shining and moisturizing
the leather 
protection from weather
you cared for those boots

years later you'd wear the boots
for the last time
the last time I talked to you
about boots you said
shaking your head
as you set down the torn and warped boots
that you couldn't get 
that quality anymore
stores didn't sell boots
that lasted
you asked if
I knew of any 
I didn't

but yesterday I went to a 
boot shop
leather boots
     hanging
zig
     zagging
on
     one 
wall

and       bookshelves
of    boots    on    the
other    swaths      of
leathers all different

colors 
draping from a 
lazy susan hanging 
from
the 
ceiling
feeling oddly at home
as the shopkeeper outlined
my bare foot 
on a piece of white paper

the piece of white paper
that outlined the program
of your memorial
makes me wonder if you're wearing
your boots
in heaven
are they the ones you always wore
that you loved
or are they new from the shop
built from swaths of leathers
all different colors
shopkeeper outlining your foot
on a piece of white paper

me on earth
and you in heaven
me and you we're wearin'
our boots.

Listen: The Grief Episode

Burn All of the Things! (or at least donate them)

“Things! Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful fire! More room in your heart for love, for the trees! For the birds who own nothing — the reason they can fly.” –“Storage,” Mary Oliver–

Mary Oliver! Such truth, such wisdom! At once humble and confident, Oliver seems able to catch a ray of light and express it through words. (I love writing. I do. But I STRUGGLE with that poetic element of conveying physical beauty. Mad respect to those writers who possess this gift. Mary Oliver is definitely one of them. Check out this other post I wrote about her and her wisdom.)

So in this particular excerpt, Oliver doesn’t mince words (just one of the beautiful aspects of poetry — words are very deliberately chosen and ordered, like jewels lined up and patterned). She starts (simply) with the one-word exclamation, “Things!”

I wonder what that means to all the readers out there. I wonder what that means to you. Do we read that as if she’s exasperated? Hopeless? Angry? Excited? Surprised? Take a moment and experience the poem for yourself, from beginning to end. Pause for just a moment after the exclamation, assess your own emotion, and continue:

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared 

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything. 

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful 

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own 

nothing — the reason they can fly.

A wise student once said that good poetry changes you — that you’re not the same person at the end of a poem as you were at the beginning. Wow. (Sometimes I have these moments as a teacher when I stand in sheer amazement that I get to do what I do. The wisdom that radiates from the beautiful humans that are my students floors me.)

All that to say, I came out of that Oliver poem changed. When I got to “Things,” I can only describe my emotion as happy resignation. Things — who needs ’em? What a great reminder that this beautiful life we live with the beautiful friends and family we’re so fortunate to share it with is more important than things. Things encroach. Things overflow. Things make babies. And before we know it

things

displace.

When our lives start turning into a photo feed of (heavily filtered) stuff . . .

Thing,

thing,

thing, thing,

thing.

THING!

Thing,

thing.

Thing!

Thing.

Where are we? Where are we really?

I got rid of my “dustbuster” vacuum today. It hasn’t worked well in awhile, and I have an upright vacuum that gets the job done. (I also would probably shed real tears if Mary Oliver advised me to toss my Dyson Small Ball Multi Upright Vacuum Cleaner I Love It So Much into a bonfire.) There was no good reason to keep a sub-par dustbuster in my house, especially when it was sitting underneath the piano getting dusty and collecting dog-fur tufts.

Yesterday, I gave away three reusable bags. (Let me tell you, those make babies!)

And my husband and I make it a point to read the books we have and then give them away. We consider the public library our “storage unit” for our books. What a concept! Read more about the wonder that is the public library here.

It feels good to purge things and make a beautiful fire (or just drop them off at Salvation Army or Goodwill). And remember, when we get rid of things, we open up room in our heart for love — and in my case today, after lugging a couple of bags to the Goodwill drop-off location, I opened up room in the back of my car. I suppose the case could be made that love might happen in the back of one’s car. There are still a couple of bags back there that I need to drop off at Round Robin consignment, so maybe not quite enough room for love . . . yet.

As I write this post, sitting at a desk that is quite full of odds and ends, I know that getting rid of things is never ending. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try. Have some spots in your house that you keep nice and clutter free — spots that spark joy (check out this spark joy podcast, based on the book The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up).

But tangible things(!) are only part of the problem. Our homes and cars and classrooms and cubicles and desks and backpacks and lockers get cluttered with who-knows-what, but our minds get cluttered with things, too. I’m a firm believer that decluttering our physical lives helps declutter our mental lives.

And when we’re decluttered humans, we’re better humans. (If you’re a regular reader — thank you!! — you know that being a better human is important to me. I hope it is for you, too.) I think Oliver believes that being better humans means we’re more open — whether it’s our home for unannounced guests or our hearts for love (or the backs of our cars . . . ).

So how can we declutter?

The tangible things: Well I’d start with a good ol’ fashioned purge of your stuff. Donate it. Give it to a friend. (Burn it!) Try not to get too emotionally attached to things. (They don’t love you back.)

The intangible things: Take some things off your schedule (and therefore off your mind). Try for fewer activities. Allow your kids to have open schedules that include boredom from time to time. Allow yourself some boredom from time to time. Put the phone in another room (or — gasp — don’t bring it with you on your errands). When you’re back with your phone, reassess what you actually need (I use that term loosely) notifications for. Maybe notifications for phone calls and texts only.

And then: Go outside. Play piano. Sing. Write. Read. Talk to your spouse. Talk to a friend (not Siri; not Alexa).

I think Mary Oliver would advise sitting under a tree and listening to the birds. (Think about the last time you did that; I can’t remember the last time I did that.)

We shouldn’t let a day go by without getting into nature. Writing this, I’m hoping to finish soon and go sit on my screened-in porch and listen to the cicadas and frogs harmonizing in my backyard. This is a way I can get into nature — and not get mosquito bites. (Mosquitoes: not an element of nature I want to “get into.”)

Mary Oliver’s advice is simple: get rid of the things in our lives that we really don’t care about. We won’t miss them, and getting rid of them will release a burden. We’ll free up our homes and hearts for love. Remember the birds who own nothing? It’s the reason they can fly.

So let’s get rid of our things.

Let’s get rid of our things (in our daily planners).

Let’s get rid of our things (that notify and beep and buzz).

Let’s get rid of our things (that worry, that stress, that cause us to lose sleep).

Let’s get rid of our things,

and fly.

Sourdough, Love, and Life (And an Oxford Comma, of Course)

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

So I’m making bread today. And I say “making,” not “baking,” because the actual baking of the bread will happen tomorrow morning. Let’s just say that making bread is a process — for me, a process that normally takes around 24 hours. But about six years ago when I popped that first loaf out of the oven, I was hooked. I’ve been baking sourdough bread just about every weekend since.

And I confess: I really wanted to write about bread today. So I “cheated” and found this quote on Goodreads. I haven’t read the book (yet!!), but it is definitely on my “to-read” list. (Quick update: I FINALLY finished Dance of Thieves for those of you who remember the promise I made on this post.)

Taking a quick look at the quote itself, the Literary Prude English Teachers of America (LPETA, for those of you who don’t remember) would be simply appalled. It’s clearly a run-on. “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone” –> independent clause. “it has to be made, like bread” –> independent clause. What connects the two? JUST a comma? THE HORROR. Any self-respecting, English-speaking human knows that a comma by itself cannot connect two independent clauses. AND THAT’S NOT EVEN WHERE THE SENTENCE ENDS! Le Guin then goes ahead with a semicolon (LPETA, deep breaths here), and what follows is a fragment. (OK, I’m — proudly — not a part of the LPETA, but this punctuation makes even my English-teacher blood pressure go up just a bit.)

So here’s the deal: Look up Le Guin, and you’ll see that she’s clearly a very intelligent, very prolific author. Her books have extremely high reviews, and she has the kind of readership who reads her books more than once.

Well.

I will say it’s yet another reminder to me as an English teacher to SETTLE DOWN when it comes to following all grammar and punctuation rules ever in existence (more about being a rule-following robot here). And if you’ve ever experienced my correcting your grammar (i.e., if you’ve ever said “I just want to lay down . . .” *shudder*), here we go . . . I’m sorry. But I will say this: in a weird way, if I correct you, it’s like a compliment. It means that I consider you a true friend — one who can laugh or shrug it off and continue putting up with me.

But back to the delicious bread. As I mentioned, it’s quite the long process. I use what’s called sourdough starter (fermented flour and water) as the leavening agent (i.e., what makes the bread RISE). Because I don’t use commercial yeast, the entire process takes longer. My basic timeline typically consists of the following:

  • In the morning, take my starter out of the fridge and “feed” it equal weights of flour and water.
  • When the starter has fermented and bubbled and doubled in size (around midday for me in the heat of a Florida summer in a house that is always quite warm because I married a man who likes to save money and the thermostat is one way he does that), I start putting bread ingredients together: water, starter, white flour, whole wheat flour (lately I’ve been on a spelt kick; 10/10 recommend), salt, and perhaps some seeds or other whole grains if I’m feeling particularly clever.
  • Mix all that together and then let it sit for around 6 hours, stretching it about every hour.
  • So at around 7 pm, let’s say, I dump out the dough onto the counter and form it into balls. Balls on my kitchen counter. It’s a treat. I let the balls sit for about a half an hour.
  • Then I shape the balls according to the proofing container I’ll be using.
  • I put the shaped dough into the proofing basket and the loaf pans, and I let that sit for about another hour.
  • Then I stick the basket and the pans into the fridge to slowly continue proofing until the morning.
  • The next morning, I bake!

Repeat every weekend. Whew! I’ll tell you, it’s certainly not difficult, but there is also definitely a learning curve. I’ve been baking for years now, and I still don’t get super consistent loaves from week to week. I can understand that for some of us, the lack of consistency (especially when doing something we’ve done hundreds of times before) would drive us mad. (Quick pause here: I did the math, and baking an average of three loaves every week for 6 years adds up to 936 loaves. What a great number, by the way — all numbers divisible by 3.)

UPDATE: As I am working on this blog post, my dough is in the I’m-stretching-every-hour stage, and WOW is the dough wet! I keep looking back at the recipe, making sure I weighed everything out correctly — and I did. SO WHO KNOWS.

But that’s life, isn’t it. If we think about it, what we have the most experience doing is living life. And life is most definitely inconsistent. Sometimes plans turn out with wonderful (maybe even delicious) results. I like to think of those times like my loaves that come out with a nice rise, open crumb, and crisp crust. Sometimes plans turn out with awful results. Those times would be my loaves that come out looking like glorified pancakes instead of artisan sourdough.

But here’s the delicious part of it all: even when my loaves come out flat, the bread always tastes good. I have to remind myself of that when I start getting uppity about how my loaves look. (Speaking of which, I am a wee bit nervous today because I do plan on bringing a loaf to school tomorrow to share with the English department. So as I am in the process of making my 937th loaf of bread, I’m nervous. And actually, I think that’s OK.)

And apart from the bread always tasting good, I’m constantly learning and tweaking (tweaking, not twerking). So it’s a win-win for me.

It’s how I try to live my life.

It’s how I try to love.

Like Le Guin says, love has to be made and remade and made new. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal. I don’t dump my ingredients into a bread machine to have perfect loaves pop out. I take my time with the dough. I use my hands. I come back to it again and again. I let it rest. I help shape it. And at the end of it all, it’s still going to do what it wants.

So whether you’re baking bread, loving another human, or living life, there’s a lesson here. Do expect a process. Don’t expect consistent results. Do expect a learning curve. Don’t expect to become an expert. Do try your best anyway.

And my hope for you today and always is that even if your bread doesn’t quite come out the way you’d hoped or planned, it still tastes good.

Good bread, good love, and good life to you. (And now I’m up again to stretch my dough.)

Sourdough Bread Resources:

  • Bread Baking for Beginners, by Bonnie Ohara: This one is best for beginners who are OK with starting the learning process by using commercial yeast. The book is in order of easiest to most difficult breads, and it has great step-by-step instructions that anyone can understand. I don’t own this one, but I borrowed it from the library and read it cover to cover like a novel. I ate it up!
  • Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, by Emilie Raffa: This is good for intermediate level to advanced bread-bakers. Every recipe in the book uses sourdough starter, so you’ll want to make some or get your hands on some. I own this book, and I’ve been using it as of late. I love it.
  • Tartine Book No. 3, by Chad Robertson: This one is for the bread foodie, the broodie. I’d recommend it for the more advanced bread baker. I read this one like a novel and felt a genuine understanding and love for sourdough after reading it. It has lots of background information on the history of sourdough along with interesting tid-bits about different types of whole wheat flours. The recipes are more difficult mostly because they call for a higher ratio of wheat flour. I felt kind of snobby reading this one. Which was kind of fun for a crisp minute. I own this one and find myself coming back to it every now and again.
  • Me! I always have sourdough starter to share, and it makes my heart happy when someone actually wants to give sourdough bread baking a try.

Stranger Things, Oxen, and Love

“What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.” –Walt Whitman–

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of reading on my blog. In fact, I’ve devoted entire posts (here and here) to the importance of picking up a book and reading it. So when I came across this Whitman quote, I thought it would be a good one for me to tackle — if nothing else, to challenge my own thinking.

And even though I have (very) strong feelings about reading (lots and lots of) books, Whitman’s sentiment immediately resonates with me.

Because Whitman is talking about being human. He acknowledges that there is something elusive about being human that cannot be captured in words. We can try to capture the human (and we definitely do try), but I firmly believe that there is no way to accurately depict all of the nuances and complexities that make us human.

So in this game of “Capture the Human,” we’re losers.

There does not exist a book or even a poem that can get to the essence of expression in our eyes.

Cut to the scene from Stranger Things 3 when Erica is crawling through the air ducts with her flashlight headgear and My Little Pony backpack to find the secret Russian elevator.

(Spoiler: Erica does indeed find the secret Russian elevator.)

But I don’t think we’re quite as competent as Erica when it comes to crawling through the duct-work of human emotion.

Oddly, Whitman expresses a profound truth here using “print.” But he’s reminding us that while words help in this life, they are not the answer. And while Erica does actually find the elevator, she and her buddies realize that the elevator leads to even more questions.

Well isn’t that true of life and human emotion. We get to a point where we think we’ve figured out [insert human emotion here] only to realize that it’s simply a secret Russian elevator that leads us somewhere else where there are even more questions to be answered and even more mysteries to be solved.

Are you starting to feel the futility here?

Or are you starting to feel the excitement of the mystery?

Even though we probably feel the former sometimes, hopefully most times we feel the latter. Life is ultimately a mystery. We can plan and write and read and discover and think and discuss and work and play. But at the end of the day, Robert Burns states the tough truth in his poem “To a Mouse”:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

          Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

          For promis’d joy!

In other words, even the best plans can go awry and lead to grief and pain.

Well that sucks. But imagine how predictable life would be if we could predict what life would be.

Let’s explore the “more” Whitman references. What is the “more” expressed in our eyes? What is the “more” that cannot be explained in words? Now if you find Whitman’s sentence in context (find his excerpt from Leaves of Grass here), you’ll see that he’s actually talking about an ox’s eyes. I don’t know about your interest in oxen, but I actually have very little. Close to none, actually. Well, maybe none at all. But I think Whitman is certainly not limiting his commentary to oxen. The idea of eyes expressing more than print goes beyond oxen.

And this is where I take the leap from oxen . . .

to love.

Tomorrow marks 15 years being married to my husband. How I wish I could put into words the way I feel towards him. (I’ve tried writing love poetry and failed. MISERABLY.) As for capturing emotion in words, he’s much better. While we were still dating, we had to spend one (LONG) summer away from each other. Both working at summer camps — me: in the Redwoods of California, him: in the lakes and trails of Wisconsin — we stayed busy and happy, but we each experienced an emptiness that only the other could fill. We called when we could (not often). We wrote letters. I didn’t write as often as I would have liked. But my husband? He wrote me a letter every single day. Never was there a day at camp that I did not receive mail. I hung on to his words. They were my lifeline — keeping me safely tethered to my love.

But when camp ended and everything was packed up and we headed back to college for our junior year and I saw him . . .

No words could express the way I felt looking into his eyes. Somehow in those few seconds of looking into his eyes there was more than all the words in all the letters.

So maybe Whitman is talking about oxen. But the beauty of literature is that when we read it, we bring with us our life experiences, our opinions, our biases, and our needs. Who’s to say farmers don’t resonate with there being “more than all the print” in the ox’s eyes? And while I don’t necessarily think of my husband as an ox, when I read Whitman’s words, they are about emotion. And the most mysterious of all human emotions in my mind is love.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to write a love poem to my husband (I don’t have the audacity to predict), but for now, a Pablo Neruda poem will suffice (to an extent, that is):

Of everything I have seen, 

it’s you I want to go on seeing: 

of everything I’ve touched, 

it’s your flesh I want to go on touching. 

I love your orange laughter. 

I am moved by the sight of you sleeping. 

What am I to do, love, loved one? 

I don’t know how others love 

or how people loved in the past. 

I live, watching you, loving you. 

Being in love is my nature.

Life, love, and all human emotion — there is a mystery here that is unsolvable. And while we gobble up all the self-help books, frantically search for the algorithm of love, and read poetry for all the rest, there will always be more. (Notice that there is no link for that one.)

And I’m so glad. I’ve had 15 years of love. 15 years of growing and changing. 15 years of learning. 15 years of living life with my favorite human. I feel like I know the guy pretty well. But the fact that there’s more?

What an incredible gift.

So maybe (for once) put the book down, and look someone you care about in the eyes. Linger. Allow for vulnerability. Allow for love.

To my husband: I adore you. Words can’t express it.

But I’ll keep trying anyway. (And thank you for always reading what I have to say — even if you might be the only one.)

I look forward to there always being more with you.

Happy anniversary, my love.

Stuff! And Other Foibles.

“The seashore teemed with no weeds, no crabs, no crayfish, no coral, no pebbles, no rocks.” –Yann Martel, Life of Pi

I finally read Life of Pi. (Interesting side-note: The novel was published on September 11, 2001.) While not my favorite, I did quite enjoy it. When I came across this sentence, I had to do a double-take. How can a seashore teem with . . . nothing? I was immediately drawn to the paradoxical statement. And the sentence proceeds to list six different objects that aren’t there. With a “no” in front of each object, the effect on the reader is overwhelming. With the absence of a coordinating conjunction between the objects (asyndeton, for the Literary Prude English Teachers of America), the six objects overwhelm, yes, but also come at the reader like rapid fire.

So why does Martel want to overwhelm us with loss? And as a fiction writer, why draw attention to what is not in the scene? How do we write using good imagery when we’re not describing what’s actually in the scene? Well, I don’t think Martel is concerned as much with imagery as he is with emotional reaction. In this particular scene, a storm has just blown through the island, taking most everything with it. Perhaps Martel wanted to emphasize the effect of losing everything? And to a seashore, losing things like weeds, crabs, crayfish, coral, pebbles, and rocks might seem like everything.

How might the seashore be feeling about this loss?

Without seeming indifferent to environmental issues, I’m not particularly compelled by the idea of a seashore temporarily losing these things. I am, however, quite compelled by the idea of how this sentence applies to us. When storms blow through our lives and leave us with nothing, how are we still teeming? What does it mean? Is it healthy? Good? Bad?

Read any self-help literature these days, and it’s teeming with tips on how to minimize our lives. I did a quick search on Goodreads using the word “minimal,” and 100 pages of results came back. Minimalism as a way of life is quite popular. I’d like to say that I adhere to the philosophy (on a very small scale) in my own home. I purge on a regular basis, and I am mindful not to become emotionally attached to my things. I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, and I’ve watched all the episodes of Tidying Up on Netflix. In other words, I’m a pro.

OK, not so much a pro, but I’m trying!

Before my mom passed away, she hired a moving company to pack up her entire apartment into boxes and move them to my house. She split living her final days between my home in Florida and her cousin’s home in Tennessee. My husband and I took some of her things and fixed up the guest bedroom for her — we wanted her to feel comfortable and “at home” as much as possible. And I think she was as comfortable as she could have been as she lived the last of her life.

But let me tell you, nothing prepares you for the loss of your mother. Martel captures the scope of it when he says “To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you.” It is very, very difficult to sustain life without the sun.

And yet.

My life went on. Not only that, I had to take care of the rest of the boxes of my mom’s stuff sitting in our garage. It was at that point that I realized that I couldn’t allow myself to form an emotional connection to my mom’s stuff. My mom was gone, and her stuff wasn’t going to bring her back. And while my mom loved me, her stuff did not — and would not ever — love me.

I lost my mom. And then I got rid of nearly all of her things.

And yet.

My life went on. With less stuff.

When my dad died 7 years after my mom, I had to go through all of his belongings as well. I picked just a few things to keep, but the bulk of it had to go. So my husband and I set up a “poor-man’s” estate sale at his home and let strangers pick through his stuff. It was humbling, sad, and exhausting. I resonated again with Martel’s words in Life of Pi: “To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches.” (For more about how I dealt with the loss of my parents, read this post.)

Resiliency is a fascinating thing. Nature has plenty of examples of it: natural forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes. Given time, nature takes its course and the forests that were burned down reseed, the earth that was ravaged by hurricanes dries out, the fault lines exacerbated by earthquakes fill back in. Nature taking its course doesn’t mean that things go back to exactly the way they were before or that the land is necessarily better for it. But nature is pretty good at healing itself.

And I think humans are, too.

It’s interesting that after a storm hits, people come together. In 1989 the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. I was 7 years old, living in California, and what I most remember about it all was neighbors gathering in my garage eating together because my dad had a camping stove. It was awesome! To me, it felt like a party! (To my mom, not so much. Her china cabinet fell over, and every dish except one shattered. She cried.)

When Hurricane Irma hit in Florida in 2017, I wasn’t naively thinking there would be a “party” in my garage over a camping stove (we didn’t have one at the time, but after that hurricane, we bought one), but the neighbors came together to help each other out. There was a lot of destruction, flooding, and power loss, but what I remember most was the kindness.

So when Martel writes the “seashore teemed,” perhaps he wanted us to understand how overwhelming loss can be. Or perhaps he wanted us to realize just how much we will always still have left in us — even after experiencing great loss. Perhaps he was reinforcing the idea that we don’t need “things” in our lives as much as we think we do. Yes, the seashore teemed with the absence of all of the things.

But the seashore still teemed. And “teemed” is an action verb.

There was action.

There was movement.

There was hope.

And just as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us, “The tide rises, the tide falls.” Life will continue. Healing may need to happen, and it may take time, but life will continue. Take a minute, listen to the ocean in your head, and read his poem:

“The tide rises, the tide falls, 

The twilight darkens, the curlew calls; 

Along the sea-sands damp and brown 

The traveller hastens toward the town, 

      And the tide rises, the tide falls. 

Darkness settles on roofs and walls, 

But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls; 

The little waves, with their soft, white hands, 

Efface the footprints in the sands, 

      And the tide rises, the tide falls. 

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls 

Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls; 

The day returns, but nevermore 

Returns the traveller to the shore, 

      And the tide rises, the tide falls.”

It may not be the most inspirational, hope-filled, happy poem. And, yes, it does seem that the “traveller” in the poem dies. But the commentary on nature is clear: it goes on. And as natural beings, so do we. We’ll deal with loss — and even we won’t live forever — but we’re resilient and can pick ourselves up and move one. And though I don’t have my parents living this life with me, I do have a wonderful husband and three wonderful sons. My life?

It’s teeming.