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I met Patrice Gopo during a week-long writer’s residency at the wonderful Collegeville Institute. I was just beginning the book that would become Placemaker. She was nearing the end of the book that has become All the Colors We Will See. It was always a treat to take a break from writing and run over to the kitchen for tea or coffee, only to find that Patrice was taking a break at the same time. Even a brief conversation with Patrice would give me something to laugh about and something to think about.
A notable endorsement of Patrice’s book says that in this collection of essays, Patrice “sets herself apart as one of the most promising and talented writers of faith of our time.” And it’s true. She has written a beautiful, enjoyable, and quietly powerful book. It was an honor to offer my own endorsement:
It gives me so much pleasure to share a guest post from my friend Patrice Gopo on the blog today. Her reflection on a moment of seasonal transition feels just right for these days when I am contemplating (and longing for!) that subtle shift from summer to fall. The seasonal shift Patrice invokes is much less subtle, even a little violent perhaps, but it reminds me of the deep tremors we can feel when we navigate even the most seemingly ordinary life changes.
Patrice has offered a free copy of All the Colors We Will See to one reader! Read to the end to find all the details.
In Charlotte, where winter brings no guarantee of snow, small children press their palms together, close their eyes so tight they see waves of color, and plead with God to unzip heaven. And last night God answered their prayers, pouring a fine dusting across the hard ground. This morning the radio says, “No school.” Twitter commands, “Stay off the roads.”
After my young daughters slip into seldom-used boots and pull fuzzy hats over the tips of ears, I open the front door to the sound of melting snow. We emerge into the bright sun as rivulets of water already gush down the road. Grey concrete peeks through our trail of footprints. Tiny icicles clank against the ground, succumbing to the same warm rays beating my brow. Tomorrow, I will stand on this bare sidewalk, absent the melting song that declares the cold can’t remain.
In my childhood home, we referred to today’s symphony as “breakup.” Breakup in Anchorage was a thing of weeks, maybe stretching beyond a month. A whole season. First winter. Then breakup. Finally spring. After months of snow and ice, breakup reminded us that winter could not prevail. That spring would always swallow death. Drops of water plunking against still frozen ice. Tiny rivers in search of street gutters. Frozen fangs released from roofs, shattering against porches and decks. My rubber boots—breakup boots, we called them—pounding puddles, splashing slush.
Now in my front yard, thin blades of dead grass poke through the snow. The girls lean back on the white lawn, thick tights and fleece pants shielding them from the damp. Flapping arms and legs, they leave behind the outline of angels.
“Listen,” I say. “Do you hear the snow melting?”
“Listen,” I say again.
Can they know the music? Can their ears discern those sounds in a world where snow leaves in a day? Tomorrow we will stare at yards returned to winter’s norm, at our world carrying on in muted colors. Then on a Saturday in the near future, we will awaken to the hum of lawn mowers and the soft fragrance of fresh cut grass. Without realizing it, we will step into a season that splashes pinks, purples, and vibrant greens on flowers and buds and lawns.
But what of the waiting, what of the longing for an end to the grey? What of a season that reminds us of what we leave, but hints at what still will come? The in-between time when we start to believe for another year that winter will pass. When we muster hope that the spring we remember will come again.
Standing in the driveway, I watch the girls tumble around the yard, puffed out with coats, weighted down by pastel boots. They lean towards the ground and run mittened hands across the snow. We walk to the sidewalk, a mixture of feathery white and patches of wet concrete. Around me the air sings, and the curve of my mouth mirrors my daughters’ smiles. The girls remove their mittens and slide warm fingers across chunks of ice while I languish in the dripping, the cracking against the ground, the music of today’s breakup.
Feel the ice, I think as I watch my daughters. Feel the melting ice. With both her hands, my oldest breaks a frozen gem into smaller stones. She presses a piece against her cheeks. My youngest takes another to her lips. And I imagine what I hear today, I will hear tomorrow, and the next day. Until one bright morning, a bird will sing amidst fresh buds pushing through the branches of a tree.
I sat in my hairdresser’s chair this morning feeling too worn out for small talk. Summer days at home with four children will do that.
She asked about my trip to Tuscany: “Did you bring home ideas for your writing?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” I added.
What did I bring home from this spiritual retreat for writers?
Two bottles of olive oil. A duty-free bottle of lemoncello. Hard candies in pretty little boxes for the kids.
Also, a retreat journal full of prayers, epiphanies, and meaningful quotations from the likes of Henri Nouwen.
Your future depends on how you choose to remember your past. – Henri J.M. Nouwen
How do I remember my time in the Tuscan countryside of Italy? How do I remember those days lived in community, in a garden, around a table, surrounded by beauty?
I remember rest.
Simple rest. A total focus on the here and the now and the people right at my elbow.
The kind of rest I believe is available to those walking the Jesus way.
The kind of rest I rarely, if ever, manage to enter on my ordinary day to day.
What is rest? What is its substance?
It feels like being held. It feels like the absence of fear. It feels like no anxiety for tomorrow and a quiet acceptance of yesterday.
It feels like stillness.
It feels like freedom.
It is a spacious place.
I am a gardener who has never yet found rest in my own garden. Who can rest when mosquitos are biting, weeds are waving, and overgrown cucumbers are beginning to rot on the vine?
Who can rest when children are growing, my cellphone is dinging, and the cucumbers I meant to make into pickles are beginning to rot in the fridge?
I found rest in a garden in Tuscany because that garden wasn’t mine. It wasn’t my responsibility. Someone else made that place, and I had only to enjoy it.
If rest is a place made for us, where is the door?
In Tuscany, rest was a stone bench beneath sheltering leaves, a kind of green grotto within an enormous shrub.
Our word grotto is related to the Greek for hidden place, the same Greek that gave us our word crypt. That should not surprise us. “Blessed are the dead,” we read in Revelation, “they will rest from their labor.” In this life we sometimes glimpse the ultimate rest, but ours is only a glimpse, a momentary vision, for “there remains … a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
Man-made grottos, whether green and growing or stony and still, are often markers of gratitude: gratitude for some miraculous encounter or some answered prayer. Grottos shape how we remember the past. They tell us God is near. They say all shall be well. They hint at a reality we have yet to enter.
My own garden has no grotto, but, since returning from Tuscany, I have discovered it is possible to shelter within gratitude, as if leaf by leaf or stone by stone, I can be transported, not leaving my ordinary everyday but somehow sinking, a little more deeply, within it.
When fear or worry invade, I say Thank you for this and thank you for that and I find that the list goes on and on.
Until the list becomes a door.
I wanted to write something about these long, summer days: how they are suddenly upon us, how they leave me laughing but also desperately trying to catch my breath. Then I did a little digging in my blog archives and realized I’d already written the post I was imagining. No need to reinvent the wheel, then. Summer is easy like that.
In slightly revised form, here is my summer manifesto. Every word just as true as it was one year ago.
Summer days are here: cool in the morning, a little too warm by afternoon, and every window open.
We wake early but find that the sun has already beat us to it. These are the longest days, and they start without us. I sip my morning coffee and make my list. How is it possible to feel so behind at 6:30 in the morning?
Summer to-do lists are like none other:
Pick the snap peas while they’re still tender. Cut the sweet peas before they wilt. Visit the u-pick berry farm. Make freezer jam. Write that magazine story due tomorrow. Carve a dent, at least, in the email inbox. Write that check and mail it. Help the boys catch fireflies.
Summer priorities are topsy-turvy. Ripening strawberries and fat peas are things of urgency, but I’ve forgotten where I left my laptop. Was it two days ago, I last used it? There’s an important professional conversation I need to have, but I’ve missed the phone call twice. The first time, I was at the creek with the kids. The second, I was picking cherries.
An afternoon storm rolls in, the kind of summer storm that is all sound, little fury, and I think Lord, I love summer.
The boys start fighting (again), and I pray, Lord, let me survive the summer.
Summer days are so long, we have more than one second chance.
Here is one, and here is another. We explode in anger. We apologize. I make them hug. One shrugs. One runs away. We laugh. And we do it all again, three or four times. I maybe cry once, and then I tell my kids how I used to fight so terribly with my sisters I made my own mother cry.
Summer is crying mothers, and fighting kids; summer is fat, sweet strawberries, and lightning crashing like a cymbal on your head.
Summer is more, and more, and more.
Summer is magic.
Summer days run fast and hard until evening. Then the summer sun slows, almost stops, and you can hardly tell it’s sinking. Summer evenings taste like forever. I could finish that to-do list if I wanted, but urgency fades in the evening. Why didn’t I realize sooner? These are the longest days, and there is time enough.
Swift, swift times flies, but still there is enough for what matters: porch rockers, bubble wands, strawberries, one last visit to the new tree with a watering can.
The kids watch a movie and stay up too late. You and I walk in the meadow we made when you decided to stop mowing the grass.
There is time enough.
Summer is here. Why don’t we sit a while?
Tell me, I’d love to hear. What is your summer manifesto?