Sunday, March 24, 2019



Middle-aged mom itching for her own spring break

By Debra-Lynn B. Hook
Bringing Up Mommy
Special to Tribune News Service 

When I was in college in Baton Rouge at Louisiana State University, spring break meant a road trip to New Orleans, where we indulged in too much sun, too much cheap white wine and a much-needed break from accounting and journalism.

When I was the parent of young children, spring break meant family road trips from northeast Ohio where we live, to warmer climes,, to see the Washington Monument or Grandma in Florida.

These days, spring break is me taking my 21-year-old son to the airport after which I go home and consider the muck. 

Muck is what constitutes early spring when you live on the tundra, more literally known as northeast Ohio, which is where I moved with my college-professor husband 22 springs ago, which is so close to Canada that we share geese.

Muck is mountains of wet leaves in the back yard that didn't get raked in the fall, and when I say mountains, I mean 100-year-old oaks molt back there. 

Muck is brown gunk in the gutters that will require someone steadier (younger) than me to climb the eight-foot-tall ladder, but it’s still calling my name. 

Muck is the mess inside the wheelbarrow where I gathered up all the garden decor from around the yard last fall and then forgot to put it away in the shed. 

Last I checked, the wheelbarrow and its contents looked like a bad piece of abstract art, a block of dirty ice now with things poking up that I no longer recognize, nor want to touch, much less wipe off and put out again.

Who’s complaining, I meditate. I love all seasons, except it’s a challenge when you grew up in the South where the grass is lush and green year-round, where you go from azaleas in full bloom to summer in about a week.

And now here comes “spring” break to add insult to injury, my savvy millennial son so smart as to find a way out of brown and gray, that is a $64 flight to sunny California to hang with a buddy who lives in LA, after which they will drive to Utah to hike with more buddies, then on to Montana where his sister lives where they will have more outdoor fun, earning them trips to the local brewery every night. 

All of which will put him back much more than a couple of tanks of gas and the cost of some craft brews.

My sister said, "Does this generation ever work?"

"They work to travel," I tell her, "and they know how to do it.”

So OK, I tell myself, if I can live through an Ohio winter, where I have actually come to value human hibernation, I can make use of a “spring” that’s not really spring, even if others are enjoying Jell-O shots in tiki bars at Daytona. 

I can bask in the quiet of the house made so by the absence of Benjie and our housemate, also a college student, who is in Houston training for spending the summer in Costa Rica where he will teach English as a second language. Geez, those millennials, do they ever sit still? 

I can consider that Benjie’s complicated spring-break trip, much of which includes driving in a car the size of a tennis shoe with five people, makes my throat clog with claustrophobia. 

I can be responsible and mindful, even making the best of the muck, seeing leaf-raking as a free aerobics class. Being outside gives me a chance to check on the crocuses. There’s something Zen about waiting for the crocus that are slow to poke their heads out lest they get slammed by a late-winter storm. Is that snow I see on the second day of spring? Why, yes, it is. Om.

I’m also eyeing that imminently drivable Kia Seoul sitting out there in the driveway.
The azaleas are in full bloom down South. My work is flexible. I love a road trip.

On Sunday, I got to the book store in the big city, Cleveland, a 45-minute drive from the little college town where I live, to see if that will take the edge off. I go to my favorite book store, then my favorite Indie theater where I see the movie, “Gloria Bell” about a divorced woman my age who decides she will not cave to stereotypes.

Thanks, Gloria Bell. I came home and got on Travelocity. Not sure where I’m going but I’m going somewhere, right after I do aerobics with the leaves.

 -Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at dlbhook@yahoo.com.


Middle-aged mom itching for her own spring break

By Debra-Lynn B. Hook
Bringing Up Mommy
Special to Tribune News Service 

When I was in college at Louisiana State University, spring break meant a road trip to New Orleans, where we indulged in too much sun, too much cheap white wine and a much-needed break from accounting and journalism.

When I was the parent of young children and living in northeast Ohio, spring break meant family trips to warmer climes with the kids, to see the Washington Monument or Grandma in Florida.

These days, spring break is me taking my 21-year-old son to the airport after which I go home and consider the muck. Muck is what constitutes early spring when you live on the tundra, more literally known as northeast Ohio, which is where I moved with my college-professor husband 22 springs ago, which is so close to Canada that we share geese.

Muck is mountains of wet leaves in the back yard that didn't get raked in the fall, and when I say mountains, I mean 100-year-old oaks molt back there. Muck is gunk in the gutters that will require someone steadier (younger) than me to climb the eight-foot-tall ladder, but it’s still calling my name. Muck is the mess inside the wheelbarrow where I gathered up all the garden decor from around the yard last fall and then forgot to put it away in the shed. 

Last I checked, the wheelbarrow and its contents looked like a bad piece of abstract art, a block of brown ice now with things poking up that I no longer recognize, nor want to touch, much less wipe off and put out again.

Who’s complaining, I meditate. I love all seasons, except it’s a challenge when you grew up in the South where the grass is lush and green year-round, where you go from azaleas in full bloom to summer in about a week.

And now here comes “spring” break to add insult to injury, my savvy millennial son so smart as to find a way out of brown and gray, that is a $64 flight to sunny California to hang with a buddy who lives in LA, after which they will drive to Utah to hike with more buddies, then on to Montana where his sister lives where they will have more outdoor fun, earning them trips to the local brewery every night. 

All of which will cost not much more than a couple of tanks of gas and some craft brews.

My sister said, "Does this generation ever work?"

"They work to travel," I tell her, "and they know how to do it.”

So OK, I tell myself, if I can live through an Ohio winter, where I have actually come to value human hibernation, I can make use of a “spring” that’s not really spring, even if others are enjoying Jell-O shots in tiki bars at Daytona. 

I can bask in the quiet of the house made so by the absence of Benjie and our housemate, also a college student, who is in Houston training for spending the summer in Costa Rica where he will teach English as a second language. Geez, those millennials, do they ever sit still? 

I can consider that Benjie’s complicated spring-break trip, much of which includes driving in a car the size of a tennis shoe with five people, makes my throat clog with claustrophobia. 

I can even make the best of the muck, seeing leaf-raking as a free aerobics class. Being outside gives me a chance to check on the crocuses. There’s something Zen about waiting for the crocus that are afraid to poke their heads out lest they get slammed by a late-winter storm. Is that snow I see on the second day of spring? Why, yes, it is. Om.

I’m also eyeing that imminently drivable Kia Seoul sitting out there in the driveway.
The azaleas are in full bloom down South. My work is flexible. I love a road trip.

This past weekend, I went into Cleveland, a 45-minute drive from the little college town where we live, to see if that would take the edge off. I went to my favorite book store, then my favorite Indie theater where I saw the movie, “Gloria Bell” about a woman my age who decides she will dance, no matter who gets in her way, even if she dances alone.

Thanks, Gloria Bell. I came home and got on Google maps. Not sure where I’m going but I’m going somewhere, right after I do aerobics with the leaves.

 -Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at dlbhook@yahoo.com.
















Friday, March 22, 2019

Daring decades later to debunk catechism




A lot of things didn't make sense to me as a child growing up Catholic.

I was taught, for example, that babies are born full of so much bad juju that they can't be cleared to breathe until they are purified by a priest.

Original sin, they call it, the gift of Adam and Eve's DNA.

From an early age, I couldn't grasp that a tiny baby,  who's been floating around on a liquid pillow inside her mother,  is the evil one.

As an adult, after more years in therapy than not, during which I studied the anatomy of not only my soul, but that of my mother, my father, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Mother Teresa, Rumi, Harriet Tubman, Betty Friedan, Carl Jung and the Pope, I dared to come to a different theory: that we are as untainted as we will ever be, before we gasp that first gulp of polluted Earth air.

It's not original sin we are born into. It is, instead, original perfection, which we spend our adult lives trying to return to.

We are all,  ultimately, human, with frailties, weaknesses and flaws.

But it’s not the devil or even the heritage of Adam and Eve that piles this on before we take a breath. 
        
It is man-and woman-made failings after we are born that move us into human suffering, or, if you must, “sin,” which in Hebrew simply means “away from God."

Some of these failings are unintentional and relatively benign, beginning with the common mistakes of our parents. Others constitute outright trauma.

Regardless, whether we are born in a refugee camp or Lori Loughlin’s Hallmark house, none of us escapes unscathed. Even our own children, who we vow we will never harm, become wounded.

No matter, and here’s the good news: If we have any measure of awareness and a seeking soul, if we can find our way to therapy, a good love relationship, yoga, meditation, a peyote ceremony or even a good church, we can catch and hold bigger and bigger glimpses of who we were before we became incarnate.

This can take decades, don’t I know.

But spending one’s life trying to remember and return to that state of being that constituted our real identity, that place of grace and purity when all was right, or at least right-er, with ourselves and the world, is not a bad purpose in life if you ask me.

And that's my truth.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Antonio! And a life-changing face

I was on the exercise bike at the gym and the litany of thoughts was circulating: “I hate the weather today.” “I don’t like that girl over there.” “I wish my body were (fill in the blank).” 

I looked up at one of the bank of TV screens flashing news, sports, culture and mayhem and I saw “NFL something something” and I thought “What now?” I saw the name “Antonio” on the screen; somebody named Antonio was going to be interviewed.

I was tired in that moment of seeing the yuck in everything, in  the weather, in people, in institutions and all of a sudden: “Wait a minute. I like the name ‘Antonio.’” 

Antonio’s face popped up and it was indeed likable, bright and beautiful and punctuated by a huge smile. 

In the midst of this bank of stupid TVs, in the midst of this dreary day, in the midst of this confusing life, was a beautiful face named Antonio. 

I decided in that moment that I could find the Antonio in everything. 

It’s important to put this in context, to note that this comes after years of self-reflection and life education, beginning with childhood that set me up to be an ever-cheery savior.

I had for many of my early years laid cheerful on top of everything. This was my job. If I was not happy, I was invisible. 

As a self-aware, thinking adult, then (in therapy), I came to realize, I needed to look deeply at what I had been hiding, the ugliness that is part of the human condition, the sadness inside myself, the dark side of the moon. 

This I did for years, in therapy and out.

But then at some point, just in these last couple of months, I’d gotten tired of this. I realize now it's because I was done with this phase.  I even quit traditional therapy, telling my therapist I was tired of seeing the dark, the sad and the fixable in everything.

This was a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what was to come next. 

Here is where I was sitting as I saw the face of Antonio. 

I tried this on for the rest of the day and then on into the week. I called Antonio into other places and moments, when I got a parking ticket or ran into somebody I didn’t have time to talk to at the store. 

I realized, just like that, instead of grumble, grumble, grumble, I could shift my day just by shifting my perspective.

This is not positive thinking.

Doesn’t make the ticket go away. I still have to figure out how to take care of myself in uncomfortable socials situations.

It is simply seeing something on top of. It is seeing light instead of dark as the umbrella. It is shifting the paradigm overlay. It is the lens through which I can choose to look.

Funny how this works: I have been much happier.

(Who is Antonio, by the way? I found out yesterday from a friend who used to live in Pittsburg that Antonio is likely Antonio Brown of the Steelers; she said he’d been in the news recently. “Oh please tell me he didn’t do something awful!” I moaned. Thankfully, it seems only that he is considering leaving the Steelers, and he's doing so respectfully.)

Sorry, Steelers, but thanks, Antonio!

And that's my truth.

Friday, January 19, 2018

FULL DISCLOSURE AND WHY I WAS AFRAID TO MEDITATE




I come to this blog today to write about a pained time in my life that I eventually remedied. This is not an easy story to share. And yet I do so because I find increasingly that these deeply embedded stories are the ones I yearn to share, and to hear from others.  So many of us have stories like this, secret words and thoughts we hold captive. I find that telling these stories, in particular, is one way to combat the social isolation we feel in these modern times. Bringing our deeply held stories into the light of others' illuminates the human condition and brings us into intimacy and trust with one other. We share experiences. We find we are not alone.  

My story surrounds fear, specifically a fear of meditation that begins with a friend who I knew when I was 16, who took too many hallucinogens and ended up in a psychotic state in a mental institution for a year.  Walt's story shook me up at a time in my life when I was beginning to question such things as infinity, the nature of mortality, how our minds work. 

Soon after that, partying with friends one night, I took a strong hallucinogenic called MDA, akin to Ecstasy, both classified as psychedelic stimulants. I was in my boyfriend’s basement bedroom with friends listening to Jethro Tull and Traffic -- which I can't hear to this day without triggering panicky feelings -- when I began having scary hallucinations; my sister’s head had come off her body and was floating around the room like a ghost, her long, dark hair trailing behind her. 

My boyfriend could see I was panicking and suggested we go to the store to get out of the room and distract ourselves. When I tried to walk,  the ground looked like broken bricks, and I couldn’t steady myself. Attempting to cross the family room from one side to the other, I still don’t know if it took an eternity or if it was 30 seconds. I felt I had dropped into the vast reaches of my mind that had no end nor beginning.

I didn’t go to the store, but went back to the room with my boyfriend, who stayed by my side helping me calm myself, which I eventually did. 

But the next day, I woke seeing trails on lights and feeling panicky. I thought I was still tripping and that I would never stop, that I would end up like my friend Walt. I didn’t tell anybody because I was afraid that I had done something to myself. The trails eventually disappeared, but I began, and continued for months after, to have full-blown panic attacks. I'd never experienced such a thing before, and thought I had done something to my brain. I was too afraid to tell anybody, which of course is what was causing the panic. I eventually tried: One day, some months later, I took a deep breath and braved to try to tell my mother by asking her a question about the nature of the mind; I was a tender 16, after all, and needing to talk about such things even if I'd not had a bad drug experience. Alas, the single mother of four daughters, who herself was anxiety-prone, my mother was often ill-equipped to respond appropriately to the musings of her teen-aged daughters. “Mama, do you ever want to take a break from your head?” I asked, holding my breath for her answer. “No!” she said, and that was that. She was 34 years old when I was 16. 

To my credit, I never took hallucinatory drugs again after that and stopped smoking pot with my friends, despite the social norms of my group. This further isolated me and made me feel even more like something was wrong with me, which dug me in further with fear.

But I held my story and my fears inside myself. In fact, I could never bring myself to tell anyone what happened until almost 25 years after the incident, when I found the courage to tell a friend who is a doctor and then some time after that, a therapist. It was clear to both of them that the amount of the drug I took was not enough to have irreparably harmed me. What I was describing was a dissociative experience wrought of panic, wrought of the overwhelming effects of the drug, coupled with knowledge of my friend’s experience. There are some people who should never take hallucinatory drugs. People who are anxiety-prone are among them.

I felt a great relief after that. TELL PEOPLE YOUR STORIES. But the residual fears that had built over the years had yet to be faced and understood. My experience left me afraid of the dark recesses of my mind. I was often afraid to be alone, especially in the dark. I was afraid if I thought too deeply, that I would disappear and never come back.
Matt, guest teacher, teaching yoga in Kent

It would be another decade, after my friend's son decided to become a Buddhist monk, before I would begin to move methodically into these fears instead of away from them, like the sages tell us to do when we are afraid.  Matt was teaching a meditation course via Skype for eight weeks. I liked Matt and know his decision to become a monk came out of his own fear. He’d openly shared with me that as a teen-ager he'd had debilitating death anxiety. He thought that becoming a monk might help him. I knew that he would understand fear, and so I decided to study with him and in doing so, to tell my truth. 

Matt reassured me that fear of our own minds is not uncommon. COMMON HUMANITY. Psychologists use the term "pure mind" to describe people who are afraid of their thoughts, who want to control them, who believe they can keep themselves from thinking about anything bad or uncomfortable. Hearing this was in and of itself a relief, and I began to work toward my fears by approaching my mind, by meditating, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes and by talking about my meditation experiences with Matt and my therapist. Eventually, slowly, gradually, I realized I was meditating, indeed sitting with the deep recesses of my mind, and nothing bad was happening. I was experiencing only calm. and restoration. The darkness was abating because I was bringing it into the light. MOVE INTO FEAR.

I have meditated off and on since then and with renewed vigor of late, as I have been making physical and metaphysical changes in my house. I developed a space in my living room near a big window that lends itself to calm, quiet and intimacy. At the same time, I found beautiful meditation pillows at the local Farmer’s Market and a little book in the checkout lane at Earth Fare that has been helping me. "How to Meditate," Buddhist Practices for your Heart and Mind"  is a great entry point for the beginner and full of reminders for the seasoned practitioner.

My new meditation space
I have been meditating now this last stretch for about a week,  just 10 minutes at a time, and sometimes 20. My friends who’ve not meditated tell me they could never get their minds to stay still for that long. But that's not the point, I know now. The point is to be still with whatever our minds are doing, to make friends with our human, fallible minds. I am grateful as I write now -- for the experiences that have made me, grateful for the space, for the people who made the pillows, for Matt, for increasingly finding a friend in integration, mind, body, spirit together. It all makes me, me. Finally, all together.

Thank you for listening and reading.

Monday, May 8, 2017

NEW ORLEANS JAZZ FEST WRAPUP 2017

~~~~~~~~~~~
Trombone Shorty, King of Jazz Fest this year,
re-inventing New Orleans music with his combining jazz, R and B, soul and funk.

Not only a musician extraordinaire and a great bandleader, 
but a communitarian and ambassador for the city.

And the 2017 DLJF awards go to: BEST CONCERT: Stevie Wonder. Such the ambassador of love, such the performer, so good at getting people smiling, praying, thinking, singing and on their feet. SECOND BEST: E W and Fire. So many favorites! Such performers! Everybody up for this whole concert too. FUNKIEST CONCERT: What is hip, and don't we know it's Tower of Power. BEST SURPRISE: NOLA Diva Wanda Rouzan (with our own Charles Moore on bass and groupie me back stage!!) who tore up the Blues Tent. HAPPIEST ENERGY: Gospel Tent on Sunday morning with the Zion Harmonizers and once again our own Charlie on bass. Stomp your feet, clap your hands happy joy. The tent was rocking almost!  BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Lake Street Dive. Love this band, but I think they show much better in a smaller venue. HAPPINESS FACTOR: Weather. Temps in the 70s Thurs, Fri, and Sat. Sunday only 82. And unheard of low humidity! We were actually cold a couple of times. PERSONAL JOY: I survived with only one camera and going to only one of the weekends instead of two



Rockin the Gospel Tent with the Zion Harmonizers
Partying with Stevie


.
For some perspective: In the 1970s when the JF first started, tickets were $3. You could drive your car onto the fairgrounds, and performers were mostly local musicians. These days, tickets are $80, Jazz Fest brings in $300 million to the city every year. The fest is rivaled as a tourist attraction in NOLA only by Mardi Gras, and it attracts not only local musicians but the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Snoop Dogg, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, U2, Jimmy Buffett, Rod Stewart. 

Named festival of the year four times, JF offers every kind of music possible. And yet it is more than a music fest; it also features Louisiana culture and history, bringing live demonstrations of cooking and folk craft. It is an arts fest as craft and art vendors bring clothing, jewelry, instruments and art. It is a style fest as photos seen below can attest. It is a festival of food -- wow, crawfish bread and shrimp bread and alligator po-boys, jambalaya and seafood gumbo and pecan catfish meuniere, seafood merliton, mango ice, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, artichoke casserole, the list goes on and on and on and includes more and more vegan and vegetarian options like spring rolls with tofu, plantains and jama jama (spinach). Seventy vendors in all. 


Crawfish monica

As for my own personal history, my first Jazz Fest was in 1973. I remember seeing Bonnie Raitt, skinny as a rail, playing slide guitar. Over the years, after I left New Orleans and began growing my own family, I was able to get to the Jazz Fest only sporadically. During recent years, beginning in 2004, meanwhile, I started making it a mission to come every year. Those first years, I left elaborate handouts for sitters and my husband to make sure my children, 7, 12 and 16 were cared for in my absence. I'd come back heavy laden with spoon rests, Charles Moore CDs and playing cards for all the people who helped. So far since then, I haven’t missed a festival. kow. My children are old enough these days to make their own PB & Js. As of this year, I can say I’ve come 14 years in a  row, most of the time both weekends.

We come for the music. We come for the culture. This festival, like I imagine no other, oozes culture and place. Musicians love coming to this city to perform, because this is New Orleans, where jazz was born, and the audience expects a good party, with good music. There is also an international feeling throughout the fest, just like the city itself. Music comes from all over the world, as do vendors and visitors. There is always a nation represented, celebrated and highlighted. This year it was Cuba.

Blues Tent with Wanda Rouzan

Even the weather is signature NOLA. But hold the  umbrella, the fest has its own elaborate pumping system for getting water off the grounds when it rains, and believe you me, it rains in New Orleans. This year, on the Wed. before the first day of the second weekend, we got five inches. It was still raining Thursday at 10:30 a.m. just before the gates were to open at 11. Sister Sue and I expected major mud and went to two different places looking for rain boots. But the fest has got this down: By the time we got to the fairgrounds, water that we later heard was knee-deep in places had been pumped into a nearby pond. Straw and sand had been laid. Et voila, there was not nearly the mud we've seen in later years, not nearly the smell of manure like that one year when they made the mistake of spreading hay from the horse barns (note aforementioned). Temperatures and humidity soaring past 90 in both cases cooked the hay, which they didn't think to consider, had horse waste in it. The smell was enough to send some people home rather than stumble around in mud and manure six inches deep and more. 

More Gospel Tent again: One of my favorite places to be. No greater,
 collective happier energy anywhere on the planet that I can see.


 This year, as aforementioned, I made a few major changes in my festival-going behavior: 1. I did only the 2nd weekend whereas in the past I've done both. 2. I brought only one duffel bag of Jazz Fest outfits instead of the usual two. 3. I bought only one camera instead of the usual two camera and lenses, including my heavy long one. 4. I booked one-way tickets to NOLA and one-way tickets back. 5. My sis and I also paid for primo parking, which means close to the gate,  instead of a mile away. The $40 per day, split in half, wasn't all that bad.


































There were disadvantages to this. I barely got my Jazz Fest legs and it was time to go back home. I didn't get to see Leon Bridges and other people I'd like to have seen the first weekend. The most major downside was only having one camera and not my long lens; I didn't get the concert closeups I like to get.

However and still, I found myself happier without so many cameras to carry and with parking so close. It was easier to decide when to come and when to leave with one-way tickets. (Airlines are doing crazy things these days; wasn’t much more expensive or hard to pull off. I booked tickets the night before in both cases for around $210, not counting luggage, each way.)  Instead of a backpack full of stuff, I carried a little purse, one camera and a chair. 

Everything was so much better. I still took a lot of photos. But I relaxed more. I didn't feel the need to run between stages so much. I also, finally, learned to put on the sunscreen before going in so I don't have to carry it in with me, to hydrate before I even walk in the place, to keep a large rose mint tea going the whole time and to bring toilet paper in my little purse for when the port-a-potties run out, which they inevitably do. (Special side note: I took note of the best way to smuggle in alcohol: breast milk pouches hidden in the unmentionables. See below.)



Meanwhile for now, I'm always, always, always glad I came, and this year, I am especially glad I came the way I did, a little lighter, a little more flush with fluid and a lot less expectant of myself. My legs and feet aren't killing like they usually as I trudge my way through the airport and to home.  Less cumbersome, less work, makes more energy for more fun. Party on, greatest city in the U.S.

Cops and staff were extra happy this year.
Weather was nice.Music was good, including Earth, Wind and Fire,
where this woman (above) got to dance on a bridge
even though the men in green usually keep people off, 
and where this couple (below) got to fall in love again.






Love how street parties continue after Jazz Fest each day.
This is To Be Continued Brass Band, a group
of kids from a local high school who wanted
to not be a statistic and began to do music together
Vendor
At Widespread Panic at Acura Stage























Cajun stage, Fais-Do-Do, on that rainy Thursday. You can see a little wet, 
but not anything like last year when the field was ankle-deep in mud and manure.







Stylin





Post-Stevie after-glow

My traveling companion

Me

Monday, December 28, 2015

The ache of nostalgia

By Debra-Lynn B. Hook
Bringing Up Mommy
Special to McClatchy-Tribune News Service

As Christmas moves back into storage bins and my grown children move back into their respective time zones, as people begin to work on New Year’s resolutions and December hubbub becomes January quiet, I find myself remembering a moment of clarity on Christmas Eve.

Gathered with my family in a small darkened church lit only by the candles in our hands, our voices raised in the stark beauty of “Silent Night,” I found myself yet longing — for Christmas past, when my children were young and Santa-crazed, their little fingers wrapped around wobbly candles, their sugarplum bodies close to mine.

I thought of pre-school concerts and rows of excited children singing in their high soprano voices “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” and always the last song, “Silent Night,” which made the mommies — and sometimes the daddies — cry.

I even wandered into nostalgia for the year just past, when my youngest child was yet in high school, singing beside me at church with his arm around my waist, and I was decidedly still a mother with babes at home.

I found myself aching for these profoundly beautiful moments.

But then I realized: If these moments are so painfully beautiful in retrospect, won’t this moment be one day, too?  Won’t I one day, when the children are off with their own families, long for this moment, too? Which means, isn’t this moment beautiful now? Which means — is it possible what the sages say — that every moment is, and can be, beautiful, not only in the memory, but in the living of it?

This enlightened concept of “living in the moment” has become almost overdone in our time — compressed into words on pillows and calendars, emblazoned on our chaotic brains like branding on cattle. But to discover this concept for oneself is different, I told myself that night.  To experience it in the magic and mystery of Christmas Eve is to grasp what the great wisdom traditions try so desperately to have us hear. 

For the rest of Christmas, and beyond, I determined to stay firmly planted in “this moment.”

Instead of longing for Christmas past when my children played with their toys while I made sticky buns in the kitchen for breakfast — I told myself “This is good, too, right here, right now” as the five of us adults in Santa aprons danced to my husband’s favorite Jimmy Buffett Christmas album while cooking breakfast together.

Instead of recalling years gone by, when I was the self-satisfied queen of Christmas, looking on while my young children opened the dozens of presents I’d chosen and wrapped, I determined to see beauty in our new grown-up traditions, as we five adults opened thoughtful gifts each gave the other this year.

Gathered for our annual Christmas dinner with friends, I looked around the table at our six collective children, all grown now, and, instead of longing for the reindeer sweaters they used to wear, I marveled at the stunning adults they had become.

But of course, there is always a second lesson behind the first. 

Despite my willingness to find ultimate joy in the moments of a more adult Christmas, my mind continued to wander again at times, into wishes of Christmas past when my children were always going to be here, and fears of Christmas future when they might not be here at all.

I was disappointed to realize I had not fully adapted — until, on the Sunday after Christmas, I came across the forgiving words of author Jeffrey Lockwood in his book of meditations, “A Guest of the World.” 

Lockwood, writing about personal peace and the “hard work of life,” says it is both the blessing and the curse of humanity that such work is never done.

“It’s a curse in that there is no utopian culmination of our labors, a blessing in that we will always have meaningful work,” Lockwood writes. “We forget that virtue lies in the doing of good works, not in the completing of our task.”

And so it is, that I learned this Christmas what it means to do the good work of not endlessly reaching for the past, but seeking joy as best I can in every new moment.

I also learned, just as importantly, that I may not always get there. 

I imagine, for example, I will always tear up at the sight of red velvet Christmas dresses, girls’ size 3T.


--Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. Her blog is http://debralynnhook.blogspot.com/.Her web site is www.debralynnhook.com. E-mails are welcome at dlbhook@yahoo.com.

Middle-aged mom itching for her own spring break By Debra-Lynn B. Hook Bringing Up Mommy Special to Tribune News Service  ...