Free My Feet!

My Poor Feet!


Viewpoint:  my feet,  from the podiatrist’s chair. After supporting me so faithfully for so many decades, the right and the left ones both show signs of wear and tear. Like my old Subaru, they need regular maintenance, and then some. But today, for some reason, I really looked at them stretched out there in front of me, and frankly? I was horrified.

It was kind of like they’re screaming out to me, Let us go! Let us out! These Nu-Balance walking shoes, touted as the last word in sturdy support when I bought them, suddenly looked like they were holding my poor feet in prison cells. And for all the good support, their stiff unyielding construction feels like prison, too.

Nobody ever got to be Miss America because of her beautiful feet, but even so, my poor feet, long and bony, with their corns and bunions and hammertoes, are kind of disgusting even to write about. In their condition, though, setting them free, really free with no shoes, would not be a kindness. Au contraire.

So where can my feet be both safe and comfortable? What are YOUR favorite shoes? How do you reward these faithful servants?


Posted in Challenge, Freedom, Health, Wonderings | Tagged , , , | 26 Comments

Borrowed Words (3): KINDNESS

In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape. 

In tough times of winter and darkness, cold and wind and discouragement, borrowed words have brought me (and perhaps you too) much warmth and comfort. Even brought occasional enlargement of spirit.

So I offer you a few more words while it’s still winter, borrowed from an extraordinary actress, author and playwright perhaps ahead of her time, which was the first half of the twentieth century. Alice Childress, a black dramatist of originality and talent, may still be ahead of her time, as these words of hers testify:

“Life is just a short walk from the cradle to the grave, and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another along the way.”

What, in our age of intense inequality, selfishness, greed, and competition, could seem more irrelevant than kindness? And yet what can be more needful? Henry James, who died in 1916 (coincidentally, the year Alice Childress was born), said it before her:

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

So it’s not a modern idea, not at all. It’s a very very old one. Perhaps it’s always been regarded, as it seems to be today, as quaint, old-fashioned, and out of date. But as an ideal, it’s had a long run. Meet Guan Yin:

Sculpture, Mount Holyoke Art Museum

Sculpture, Mount Holyoke Art Museum

Guan Yin, or Kwan Yin, is thousands of years old. In Buddhism she (or sometimes he) is known as the Goddess of Mercy, or the bodhisattva of compassion. Sometimes you will find her seated and holding a phial containing balm with which to anoint the suffering. There are no words spoken. The gesture of compassion toward all creatures speaks for itself.

I wish for all of us brightness and warmth and the kindness of others — I think that is the key that unlocks the kindness waiting within ourselves.



Posted in Buddha, Quotes, Spring, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Borrowed Words (2)

In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape. 

This winter in Northampton has meant enclosure in the house, trapped by unrelenting cold and snow, and enclosure in the car on the rare occasions when the roads were clear and we could venture out. As a devout claustrophobic, this has truly been the winter of my discontent. There’s only one thing I’ve found so far that the snow is good for:

Beer in the Snow

I’ve also run out of any innate wisdom I might have had on how to deal with it. So I’m taking this leaf from the Japanese, and borrowing the wisdom I need. Today the words I’m borrowing were written by George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, and all-around “man of letters.”

My day has been a very mixed bag so far. Some excellent things happened: the sun shone, the thermometer struggled above freezing to rise triumphantly into the low 40s (F.) by this afternoon. A visitor came this morning whom I’d never met before, and she proved to be a truly kindred soul. I love when that happens! However today also brought a leak in the den from the ice dam weighing on the roof above, and it brought a finding from the Hub’s recent scan of “something” where there had been nothing. Like I said, mixed.

So imagine how serendipitous it was to discover this quote on my daily planner:

“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.”

I’ll carry these words, especially the last phrases, as a watchword with me into tomorrow!

How do you bloom? Timidly? Boldly? Are you up there already in the light? Or does it take a struggle?

Posted in Japan, Quotes, winter, Wisdom, Writers | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

“Borrowed Words”

In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape.

Hunters in the Snow, BruegelThis winter in New England is already legendary for its deep snows and brutal cold. It’s robbed energy and enthusiasm from just about everyone, and goes a long way to explaining my rare appearances here on my blogs. And it’s not quitting yet! So I’m turning to another strategy. I’m turning to “borrowed words,” quotes I’ve culled over decades to expand my own vision. They’re timeless wisdom expressed in memorable form, and it will give me joy to share them with you. Maybe you’ll enlarge and expand them for me by your comments on them. I hope so.

First up, then, is a quote from Southern writer Eudora Welty, who said:

“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

As someone who also came of a sheltered life, her words resonate with promise for me. Adventure and daring can be possible in unlikely ways and places and times.

And a related quote, this one from Tolkien (yes, J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of hobbits and  the lord of the rings). He too offers a promise for the sheltered and less than conventionally daring:

“The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft.”

“For the heart is hard though the body be soft.” I love that. How about you?

(I’m sure he didn’t mean hard-hearted, either —)

Posted in Quotes, winter, Wisdom, Writers | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments


Yes, snow. Stark and simple word for the white wilderness that circumscribes our lives here in the Northeast US. I can’t find adequate words to do justice to it. Maybe photos can convey some of our winter:

Winter's ComingOur patio at the beginning of December — Chairs stacked and tarped, table with its own tarp. Not as neat as some might get it, but the best we could do.

The first snowfall held off until the beginning of January.

Winter View from the Window

A delightful winter vista it provided, we thought, viewing the snow from our bedroom window.

After the First Snowfall

Pretty on the patio, too, yes? But then came February, and the white stuff really hit the fan. Every Sunday into Monday, like clockwork it fell, until the joke made it to Facebook: Welcome to Massachusetts. Closed on Mondays. (Of course it’s contrived to snow on other days also, Wednesday being another favorite.) By now we are looking like this:

Same view, a few more snowfalls

Recognize the vantage point?  But it doesn’t show the icicles!

Complete with Icicles

Here they are. We have icicles, and black ice on the roads, and ice dams on the roofs  (don’t ask). Temperatures haven’t managed to rise to freezing for weeks now. We drop down to -13 and lower (that’s Fahrenheit!) at night, and struggle during the day to reach double digits. Often we don’t manage it at all. And the wind chill numbers are simply ridiculous.

As for the view from the bedroom window, here it is:

Hunters in the Snow, BruegelWell, minus the hunters and their packs of dog (even our hunters are out of season). But this painting of Hunters in the Snow by Netherlandish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder is what comes to my mind every time I look out the bedroom window these days,  across the trees and rocks and little hills, with the sky an ominous gray and the snow falling —

And falling —

And falling —

And I also think of this line from, who else? Shakespeare: “Now is the winter of our discontent…”

You said it, William!

Posted in Nature, Pioneer Valley, winter | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

Laid Low

Ever since I first read the English author Jane Austen when I was a girl, I’ve been in love with her and everything she wrote. I’ve reread all of her novels periodically over the years. Winston Churchill read Jane (her devotees tend to call her by her first name, a practice she herself would have despised) at night in the bomb shelters during World War II for solace and equanimity. At difficult points in my own life, I’ve done the same.

And yet, despite my reverence and respect and adoration, there’s always been one single note in her work that’s rung untrue for me. It’s an episode in arguably her greatest novel, and certainly my favorite, Pride and Prejudice. 

The older sister, Jane, of the heroine Elizabeth Bennet, has gone to visit new neighbors (with a most attractive and eligible son). Their mother has insisted that Jane go on horseback, even though it looks like rain. Mrs. Bennet’s hope is that it WILL rain, and Jane will be caught in it, and therefore have to be asked to spend the night. All of which happens. Even more to Mrs. Bennet’s delight, Jane — having been soaked on the ride over — catches a violent cold.  So alarmed is everyone by Jane’s terrible cold that the doctor is sent for, and she ends up spending a week with the Bingleys. Because of everyone’s alarm and concern, Elizabeth Bennet walks over (yes, all three miles) on the second day, and she stays on as well to help attend to her sister.

For plot purposes, this all works brilliantly. Mr. Darcy, the friend of the attractive and eligible Bingley, comes more and more to be attracted (much against his conscious will) by the vivacious and clever Elizabeth. What does NOT work, from my point of view, is Jane’s cold.

I mean, really! Everyone is so concerned that Jane is kept in bed and then remains delicately convalescing for an entire week? Hey, people, it’s just a cold! Jane Austen might have figured out an episode a little more convincing.

Yet here I am, just beginning to recover — after SIX WEEKS — from a cold that has laid me so low that this is my first post since Christmas!

And yes, it’s been just a cold. Not the flu, not bronchitis, not pneumonia. A cold. With a cough sounding like whooping cough for weeks and weeks, and not 100% gone even now. An overwhelming drain of energy, and an oppression, even depression, clinically worthy of the flu. I began to despair of ever feeling better. I even went to the doctor to make sure; I couldn’t believe that it was simply a cold that had laid me so low. But that’s what it was.

Well, it comes belatedly, after many many years, but my very dear Jane Austen, I humbly apologize. Not only was your little plot episode with Jane Bennet’s cold dramatically effective — it was also accurate to a degree I never credited, but should have. I should never have broken faith with you, Jane.

(P.S. At one point, perhaps after a month or so, I managed to think of the blog, and I took a selfie to show you why I was being so neglectful. But when I looked at it, I realized that there is NO ONE in the world upon whom I could inflict such an ordeal, and I trashed it. So there’s no photo accompanying this post. Let your worst imaginings fill the gap, and that’s it!)

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Different Beaks

“Each bird sings the song its beak allows.”

                                             Mère Tarsisius

This piece of wisdom has long been an important one for me, because I am too much given to repining, that is, feeling (and expressing!) dejection or discontent. Complaining is part of it. But it isn’t simple complaining, actually; it includes a nuance of longing for something, something which one does not have, and hence — dejection or discontent.

Repining is the opposite and enemy of contentment.

Instead of enough, there is only what’s missing. Instead of satisfaction, envy. This sad dynamic plays out in a realm that’s very important to me, the realm of blogging. I work hard on my two blogs. I take them seriously. I try to be informative, or entertaining, or amusing, or whatever takes my fancy at the time. I try to generate conversation, which is in the end what I (and many others) blog FOR. To expand my own narrow limited experience, to stretch my own limited imagination and boundaries.

And it works. I have a global acquaintance, through blogging, that puts me in contact, even friendship, with men and women here in the U.S., but also in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Singapore, England, France, Germany, Canada, all over! These are my extraordinary companions in the blogging world.

This one has great camera skills and instant rapport with strangers, and she produces marvelous posts of photo journalism (Nylon Daze). That one, actually two, go adventuring all over by kayak, and their blogposts give me a waters-eye view I would in a million years never see on my own. (Wind against Current) The other one may or may not be able to sing like a bird (it doesn’t come up on her blog) but she is on intimate terms with all feathered creatures, and her posts generously introduce them to all of us. (Time and Tide)

Then there is the blogger whose world most often runs on metalled tracks (Thoughts from Finchley) and the naturalist who looks UP and DOWN and all around on her fearless explorations in the woods (Random Acts of Writing). There is an around-the-world adventuress of graceful prose, extraordinary photos, and a bent for justice (The Urge to Wander); and an elegant lady who recounts her doings (and misdoings) with wit and pointed humor (Being Mrs. Carmichael); and a photographer/philosopher who leaves many gaps for us to fill in on our own (Empire of Lights).

I’m leaving out the poets, and the bon vivants and so many! I wish I could cite each and every one. My blogroll testifies to many of these amazing people. Check them out! But when the moon is in a dark place, perhaps, and the wind blows out of the north — I also repine, because I can’t do all these things. And I wish I could. Actually, it’s worse than that. It isn’t just that I want to do everything. There’s some kind of scold or taskmaster in me who says I should be able to do everything. And I, poor chump, believe that inner Simon Legree.

To return to some sort of balance and perspective is always an exercise in humility. I repeat to myself the wise saying of Mère Tarsisius: Be content with the shape of your own beak. Don’t waste time repining. Sing the song that your mouth allows. Do what you can do. Each of these bloggers whom I so admire is doing what they can do. Each one is singing the song that his or her beak allows.

A browse through WordPress and other blogging platforms reveals are so many beaks, so many songs. In a world of hatred, furor, violence, and disrespect — perhaps we are creating a contrast, a sign of harmony, a true sign of hope. Put all our songs together, and what resounds is a mighty chorale of human aspiration, dreams, and desires. A mighty song, a beautiful song — and none of us has to sing it alone.

Going Global

Who was Mère Tarsisius? The Mother Superior of the order of St. Andrew, one of whose houses is in Taizé, in Burgundy, where the sisters work together with brothers of the Ecumenical Community of Taizè in a mission of reconciliation. She was a living legend in the days when the Hub and I went frequently to Taizè, but I never got to meet her in person. Various people would relate her teachings, and tell stories about her, and that sufficed. She was Belgian, and doubtless she taught: Chaque oiseau chante le chanson que permet son bec. Wisdom comes to us in many ways.


Posted in Friendship, Personal Essay, Quotes, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | 41 Comments