This is Love

When the other Dr. Meescham was alive and I could not sleep, do you know what he would do for me?  This man would put on his slippers and he would go out into the kitchen and he would fix for me sardines on crackers.  You know sardines?”

Ulysses shook his head.

“Little fishes in a can.  He would put these little fishes onto crackers for me, and then I would hear him coming back down the hallway, carrying the sardines and humming, returning to me.”  Dr. Meescham sighed.  “Such tenderness.  To have someone get out of bed and bring you little fishes and sit with you as you eat them in the dark on night.  To hum to you.  This is love.”

– from The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

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At the Intersection of Love and Passion

If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and for long enough, she can remember pretty well everything that has made her happy.  The fragrance of her mother’s skin at the age of five and how they fled giggling into a porch to get out of a sudden downpour.  The cold tip of her father’s nose against her cheek.  The consolation of the rough part of a soft toy that she has refused to let them wash.  The sound of waves stealing in over rocks during their last seaside holiday.  Applause in a theater.  Her sister’s hair, afterwards, carelessly waving in the breeze as they’re walking down the street.

And apart from that?  When has she been happy?  A few moments.  The jangling of keys in the door.  The beating of Kent’s heart against the palms of her hands while he lay sleeping.  Children’s laughter.  The feel of the wind on her balcony.  Fragrant tulips.  True love.

The first kiss.

A few moments.  A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment.  And to love someone without measure.  Explode with passion.

A few times when we are children, maybe, for those of us who are allowed to be.  But after that, how many breaths are we allowed to take beyond the confines of ourselves?  How many pure emotions make us cheer out loud, without a sense of shame?  How many chances do we get to be blessed by amnesia?

All passion is childish.  It’s banal and naive.  It’s nothing we learn; it’s instinctive, and so it overwhelms us.  Overturns us.  It bears us away in a flood.  All other emotions belong to the earth, but passions inhabits the universe.

That is the reason why passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands that we risk.  Our dignity.  The puzzlement of others and their condescending, shaking heads.

 

from Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

The True Meaning of Motherhood

What is a mother anyway?

What does it truly mean to be a mother?

In its simplest form, I suppose a woman becomes one through the act of birthing – but even that isn’t completely accurate. There are other roads and other roles women play to become mother.

The act of caring. The act of doing. Laundering. Ferrying. Carrying. Remembering. Reminding. Feeding. Bathing. Nursing.

Yes, but littles don’t even notice when we do these things. Maybe if we don’t.

Is it the arts and crafts, then? The activities? The culturally enriching experiences?

Our tremendous aplomb at managing the tightrope of work and home life? Or the cutting-edge at-home preschool curriculum we’ve essentially created to validate our exit from the working world?

Motherhood, at its core, is this.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

The gentle, yet firm embrace of a mother’s arms around her child. The child, no matter the age, wrapped in a ball to crawl into that embrace. Precious little head tucked in the hollow between mother’s chin and shoulder. The child inhaling the indescribable comfort of laundry detergent mixed with bath oil and mom’s own musk; Mother inhaling the memory of sweet baby down. A kiss planted on top of that now full head of hair.

When we think of motherhood in its purest form, we can all do this. We can all excel and revel in this most revered of roles.

If we remember what is at its core:

Love

Make Room for Ove

“It was the first time since the accident that he heard Sonja laughing. As if it was pouring out of her, without the slightest possiblity of stopping it, like she was being wrestled to the ground by her own giggling. She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space. It made Ove feel as if his chest was slowly rising out of the ruins of a collapsed house after an earthquake. It gave his heart space to beat again.”

                – from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

For the Love of Ove

“And when she took hold of his lower arm, thick as her thigh, and tickled him until that sulky boy’s face opened up in a smile, it was like a plaster cast cracking around a piece of jewelry, and when this happened it was as if something started singing inside Sonja. And they belonged only to her, those moments.”

   – from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove

We all know a man called Ove – or better yet, exactly like Ove.

A crotchety old man. The neighborhood watchdog policing persnickety policies about which no one else cares. A man who never has a nice word to say, who always has something about which to complain.

He exists in every family or neighborhood. In archetypes and novels. Small screen and silver.

He excels in Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_lg

A third person narrative and clever titles for each chapter continually referring to the main character as ‘a man called Ove . . .’ (backs up with a trailer – as in chapter three) establish a sort of psychic distance between Ove and the reader. We see him as the world does. The archetypal cranky old man.

But just as many of us secretly yearn for the day and chronological age at which we can tell the world around us how we really feel, such outrageously brusque behavior almost endears Ove to the reader. At the very least, it entertains us. His dysfunctional interactions with his neighbors and clerks at the Apple store made me laugh out loud more than once. The fact that Ove is resolutely dedicated to his lifetime car of choice, Saab, brought me – as a Saab driver myself – even more joy.

While the chapter titles are structured the same throughout the book, readers slowly move closer to Ove and his motivation, the reasons for his dysfunction and underlying sadness. He wants to be left alone. He purposely pushes people away because the one person in the world who made him live – his wife – is gone.

“If anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either.”

And so now, “Ove just wants to die in peace.” He wants to meet his wife on the other side and will try whatever means it takes to get there.

What I appreciate about this novel is the empathetic way it deals with depression and attempted suicide. Ove, while archetypal in other ways, does not fit the stereotypical profile of a suicidal person. Backman’s portrayal shows that depression can be situational – and elicit feelings of such dire circumstances that the only option left seems to be suicide.

However, Backman’s novel also shows the amazing strength and redemptive powers of love. It may be love that causes Ove to yearn to be reunited with his departed wife, but it is also the long reach of her love that reminds him to be a better man. It is through the initially annoying love and attention of his neighbors that Ove finds a reason to live. It is the hard fought and won love of a feline companion that offers him solace.

There is love in a riotously abstract portrait blasted in color by a three year-old. In a hand to hold. A skill transferred. A deed proffered. A meal shared. There is love in a sense of belonging, community.

A Man Called Ove reminds us all what it means to truly live and love – and I loved every minute of it.


In fact, I loved Ove so much, the next few ‘Weekend Write-Off’ entries will be dedicated to favorite excerpts of the novel, which is just full of gems.  Ove and I will see you next Friday!

This is YOU

When you come across a picture of oneself and are impelled to use it as your profile pic, you know you’ve hit a good one.

Scrolling through the images my daughters snapped when they commandeered the family camera, I found one such picture.

One hand on my knee, other on that hip, I am leaning into the camera. My face is the first thing the lens encounters. I am smiling, my laugh lines and crow’s feet in full effect. My eyes alight with joy and love.

People who’d seen the photo commented that it was lovely, adorable, beautiful, terrific. One friend said it made her smile. Another said:

This is YOU, very much alive and ready… Love it

All very wonderful, but it wasn’t until I gave photo cred to my daughter that I realized that was why this picture was so successful. It wasn’t how gorgeous I am or how fashionable my scarf was; it was the love radiating toward my daughter through the lens.

Now, the average parent – or grown child who fully grasps the connection between parent and offspring – might think this explanation is obvious, unnecessary. To me, it’s a huge a-ha moment.

Amidst the anguish and uncertainty that followed me through the postpartum period of her birth, I was afraid she wouldn’t feel loved. I was afraid that soft yet strong, gentle yet fierce protector of a mother would never show through all the layers of dark, depressive, disgusted and disgusting matter hiding it.

Yet, here I am, five years later, beaming at her radiantly. Looking the best I have in awhile and all lit up because of her. If I ever doubted whether my love shone through, now I have photographic evidence.

YOU* Please note that simply smiling will not heal postpartum depression.  I am still shoring certain parts of myself up after five years.  It’s okay if you don’t feel like smiling right now.  There are other ways your baby will know love and there are ways you can get help.  Talk to your physician, your baby’s pediatrician, or sites like postpartumprogress.com

Good and Awesome like It Is

I’m going to keep a folder of notes from my daughter, notes that are so poignant, so ‘heart-on-the-sleeve’ emotional that I see through the difficult behaviors to the core of our love, the elemental mother-daughter bond at the heart of our relationship.  For the days when she thinks she hates me and I think I hate my life.  When I forget the soft little heart beating in that proud little chest.  When I forget the absolute honor of mothering fragile little beings.

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In the eyes of my daughter, I am loved just because I am.  And simply being makes her life good and awesome like it is.  If only I could live such affirmation every moment of my waking and breathing.

 

 

For This Child I Prayed

For This Child I Prayed

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