Friday, August 14, 2009


In his tour de force The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon reflects that while he can never love depression, he does love the things that depression has given him, including an exquisite gratitude for life outside of depression that people who have never known depression might just take for granted.  I have never experienced a depression of the magnitude that Solomon describes, but I have certainly suffered on and off, especially in the last several years.  Like Solomon, these days I am living in a heightened sense of gratitude thrown into joyful relief by fairly recent days of melancholy. 

Among the things I am grateful for is a rich full life, even if it means I have little time to write these days (I really do mean to get back to my marriage series, in which there are at least two more essays).  That does seem to be my life these days, though: too rich and full to find much time to write about it.  Still, I think gratitude of the sort I am experiencing these days is too much not to lift up.  

Maybe these bullet points will become essays this winter (and maybe writing them will help keep the winter blues at bay).  Here’s what I’m grateful for these days, in no particular order:

  • My neighborhood.  Sometimes my neighborhood overwhelms me with its urban grittiness; with the tensions that stem from class and race and culture, with the noise and the trash and the sheer density of row house living.  But these days it’s like someone turned the kaleidoscope just a fraction, and suddenly the image is all new.  The other day Micah and I walked around the corner to drop in on old friends from Cooperative Nursery School days who just moved into the neighborhood, and Claire and I sat at her kitchen table and chatted while the boys played Lego's downstairs.  Then I took them on a tour of the garden, and sent them home with an arm-full of veggies, while I headed home with a basket of green-beans and a riot of cut sunflowers and zinnias, which I dropped off to Miss Kathy.  We chatted about her upcoming trip to Jamaica, how quickly the school year is approaching, and how much she loves her church.  As I climbed the steps to my front porch, I watched Micah two doors down, sitting on the steps with Miss Jayne, the matriarch of the neighborhood, his bike temporarily abandoned, while they had an animated conversation.  These sorts of moments keep piling up:  several friends pop in unannounced, and suddenly we’re scheming a pot-luck bar-b-que for dinner; Micah wants waffles for breakfast but we’re out of eggs, so he just starts knocking on doors; my lovely friend Jen and I can peaches all day to her fun and funky “peaches” playlist, chatting about everything from theology to pregnancy nausea to sex to Dansko clogs, and when we’re about to drop, Julie and Tim arrive for the second shift.  Yeah, I’m loving my neighborhood these days.
  • My church.  My relationship with my church feels almost like a marriage:  sacred, covenantal, and a whole lotta hard work.  I’ve never even come close to thinking about leaving my marriage to Julie, but last year at church I began to understand how even loving marriages end in divorce sometimes.  But there’s a new wind blowing, like we’ve fallen in love with being the Body of Christ together, all over again.  It’s still a whole lotta hard work – church, like marriage, always will be I suppose – but it feels again like the bread of life in my mouth, a joyful cup shared with people I just adore. 
  • My marriage.  I would write at length about my ever-growing adoration for Julie, but it would embarrass her.  Let’s just say that I never stopped being crazy about her, and it just keeps getting better and better.  Leaving behind the all-consuming years of early parenting, so intensely physical and spiritually rich, is bittersweet; but among the sweetness is the lovely and subtle sense that our marriage continues to be a dynamic and creative partnership.  (Also, she's just so damn cute, but pretend I didn't say that, 'cause really, it will embarrass her.)
  • Old friends and new.  My dear ones Kate and Pete and their daughter Ada left two years ago for an adventure in San Francisco; they’ve just returned to our block (no doubt one of the reasons I’m in love again with my neighborhood), with their daughter, AND their son Josiah, AND another babe on the way.  They may have left their hearts in San Francisco (and I’m sure they feel they left at least a part of them there; it’s a beautiful place), but their return sure has plugged up a hole in my heart.  In the meantime, while they were gone, Jen and Tim moved in across the street, also with a babe on the way (a babe with several hours of Marta-care already in the bank in exchange for yoga); it will definitely require a whole essay to express the all the ways they are making our lives richer.  And one of my oldest and richest friendships in Philadelphia is always renewed in the summer-time: Donna and I did a lot better last school year finding time, but summers by the pool are like a little sanctuary in our friendship, for which I am ever grateful ... And, and, and ... in the category of old friends, there really are just too many.  My life is richly blessed.
  • Men.  Suddenly I have all these wonderful men in my life, and while I could put them in the bullet point above, I think they deserve a category all their own.  My world has always been an intensely female one, though not through any conscious design.  Indeed, I’ve often rued the lack of real male friendships in my life, but somehow being friends with women just feels like breathing air, you know, and breathing air is GOOD.   But now I have a son, a son who is pretty intensely male and who wears his maleness with incredible beauty and grace, like a skin that he is so comfortable in.  I not only love it, his maleness, this beautiful skin he is in, but I find myself fascinated by it, and intensely drawn to maleness these days, wanting men in my life not just for Micah, but for me too.  And how lucky am I that suddenly there are all these beautiful men in my life?  There are the aforementioned Pete and Tim, old friend and new; there are my dear ones, Woody and Joey, who share their whole selves with us so lovingly; there is Patrick, whose generosity and wit are like grace, so unexpected and undeserved (and whose ethereal self WILL become embodied sooner than later, at least that is my fervent hope!); there is Gordon, who is mostly words in my computer, but words that shine such a lovely light in my world; there is Michael, my new friend AND my new pastor (two for the price of one!), who is bringing such a breath of fresh air to us all … well, let’s just say, I’m feeling like a lucky girl these days to have so many wonderful boyfriends.
  • The Jersey shore: sun, sand, surf, Mac N Manco’s pizza, Johnson’s carmel corn, the aforementioned Woody and Joey … I'm off!

What are YOU grateful for? Leave me a comment why don’t you? It’ll make my day, and then I’ll add you to my list of things I’m grateful for!


Eric said...

I'm grateful for three weeks of much-needed vacation, that reminds me that it's good to rest and sleep. I'm grateful for being able to write (even though I've lately done little to none). I'm grateful for the torrent of dreams I've been having since going on vacation. Divine intricate puzzles that tap into deep emotions and their release. I'm grateful for you, reminding me that there's so much for which to be grateful. I'm grateful for hooking up again with Andy, Matt, and Anne in Vermont (Emily was unfortunately called away). I'm grateful for my family, and my ever deepening love for them.

Rebecca said...

I particularly agree with your comment about your neighborhood. We have a similar, albeit suburban, set up of wandering children, playing in the street, communal toys, drop ins, drop offs and hand-me-downs.

I guess I would add three things:
1) My sister. While we didn't get along well as kids, we are now best friends. And although we are three hours away and don't get to see each other as often as we'd like, there is a scary sympatico. I used to describe us as very different, and there are still differences, but when we talk about emotional issues it's amazing how we come from exactly the same place. We hardly need to explain how we feel. It's a gift.

2) My work. I'm not defined by work nor do I have high aspirations to ascend to some high place career wise. But I am grateful that I have work I love, that has meaning, I have a boss who encourages and teaches me, my commute which is painless enough, for my 4 1/2 day schedule which is always respected and I get paid a decent enough wage with good benefits. Especially in this economy, that is something to value.

3) My kids. Just as I am not defined by my work, I am not a super mom. I don't play with them much, I have lots of rules, I yell, I enjoy being without them, etc. But I know they make my life richer, and they challenge me to keep my world larger than it would be if I didn't have kids. They keep me from being too rigid. They also validate my deeply held suspicion that, despite my faults, I am a very good mom.

Marta said...

eric: you know that i long to add you in a more present way to my list of new boyfriends, right? start writing and send me more of your stuff -- i just loved the first batch you sent! or come visit again. you sound content; i'm glad. love to your beautiful grrls.

becca: i know i'm in a new phase of parenting when it occurred to me, long after i hit "publish," that i hadn't included my kids in my list. maybe that's because it's the dog-days of summer and i'm kinda feeling overstimulated by all the togetherness ... but yes, all the things you say, everything, including how you describe yourself as a parent. i often find myself wishing that your suburban neighborhood was just down the street from my gritty urban one!

Kate Haas said...

I'm grateful for the cheerful and forgiving nature of my six-year-old. He has fits of stormy temper, during which, I regret to say, I am generally at my worst as a mother. And yet, when it's all over, he seems to forget the whole thing and is as affectionate as ever, lavish with his hugs and kisses. As someone with a tendency to hold a grudge, I'm grateful that he doesn't.

Marta said...

kate: yes yes yes. that's all.