anthem of the empty room

August 28th, 2013

jill_bedroomI’m cleaning off the desk today. Then I’ll tackle the drawers. By process of elimination, I’m headed for the floor.

I finished the manuscript for Paradise in Plain Sight, the book that New World Library will publish next spring. By finished, I mean I had the thought that I was finished. Every day I’m more finished than before. Soon I will gather the files and shoot them into a life of their own. I want my hands free to do simple things.

These hands. What will I do with them? That is the question that keeps coming around. Now what? Now where? What’s next?

My sister told me she has decided to retire next spring. She is younger than I am, and she has worked longer and harder than I ever did doing complicated things. She is at ease with her decision, the only ruffle coming when people kindly say, “I can’t wait to see what you will do next.” It is just small talk, but right there is the expectation that there’s got to be something great and interesting to show for ourselves.

All around, the year reaches crescendo: kids starting kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, and college. Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts, and leave the emptiness of closets and chairs. It seems impossible to be finished. No less impossible to begin. But impossible things happen every day. Today.

My friend and dharma sister Jody Kujaku Glienke came to me after sitting zazen on Saturday. She handed me a pair of headphones and asked me to listen to a new song she’d written and sung about her daughter now grown and living in New York. She stood behind me like a good mother, so she wouldn’t intrude on my hearing and force a response. She was surprised when I turned around, sobbing at the end of her sweet song. She held me in her arms. Because I have a daughter still in her room, but halfway to New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don’t we all? Let this console you, let this hold your song: the empty room where we find ourselves alone and together again.

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  1. Oh my… My daughter is leaving for college in 3 days. This one hit home. Thank you for the moment of shared experience. It helps to know that countless others have walked this path before me.

    Comment by Beth — August 28, 2013 @ 10:10 am

  2. Congratulations on finishing the manuscript!! You made the deadline 🙂
    And thank you so much for sending Kujaku’s voice right into my living room in Amsterdam. What a gift. Suddenly you are all so close again.

    Comment by Roos — August 28, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  3. Congrats on your manuscript! And the song is just beautiful.

    Mine lives in San Francisco, not too far, so I am lucky. We had lunch with him today and he gave me some of his new business cards. Egads….my baby has started a business!!!

    Comment by Clare Kirkconnell — August 28, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

  4. Sharing your moments is such a joy,even now, so far away from my daughter’s first flights. You always shed light on my present moment, as it is me now the one who has a room to empty out, inching towards a retirement I put off (How brave, your sister!) You speak of the “expectation” of what comes next……and if I can’t find strength and consolation in Jody’s sweet song, I can always find it in the wisdom of your words Karen.

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — August 28, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

  5. I go into homes of couples, whose children have all transitioned to relative independence, to see impeccable housekeeping, an order to the household, and hobbies thriving from all the attention given to them. In my head I think of how lifeless the house is. Suddenly these things I yearn for while working full-time and raising 3 kids seem dull. For a few minutes I can embrace my chaos, my corners of the house with dust bunnies, and my complete lack of personal time. These young beings have taught me that life is this crazy, messy, busy, chaotic place that works best for me when I practice acceptance of the moment.

    That being said I dropped off my oldest for his freshman year of college 5 days ago. After 18 years of expansion in our little clan, the contraction has started. My role as mother suddenly shifted with only two in the house to tend to. It’s a lot to accept that this moment is here.

    Comment by Joan — August 29, 2013 @ 7:21 am

  6. I have twin 3-year old girls. Thank you for this timely reminder. I will scream less at spilt pasta sauce, potty-training accidents, and instead savor the hugs and kisses more, imprint deeply the feeling of 2 monkeys fighting to see who can entwine more closely their limbs and press their faces as close as possible to an exhausted mommy who thinks she’d rather disentangle herself from such a priceless gift, so she can load the dishwasher and vacuum the trail of crumbs on the floor. Though they might call it the “Terrible Threes”, I say, please stay awhile – for my sake!

    Comment by Evelyn — August 29, 2013 @ 8:45 am

  7. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy our moments now. Being a parent is such a blessing although it doesn’t seem so at the moment.
    Looking forward to your new book.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — August 30, 2013 @ 1:28 am

  8. Loved and felt this line: “Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts.”

    Comment by Rachel — August 30, 2013 @ 11:53 am

  9. My husband is 86 and has recently lost his driving license. What a terrible wrench for him. I recently found a quote from Winston Churchill’s wife, after his first stroke: “This is the first death”, and I realized again that each day on this planet is another day closer to the end. When we are young, when our children are young, these ideas fade into the background. And so, we must stay in this precious moment. It is all we have.

    Comment by Jude Smith — September 2, 2013 @ 8:57 am

  10. thank-you for this…

    This song has provided a place where I can touch and feel my fear without reacting…almost like befriending it instead of demonizing it…giving it love, warmth, and kindness, forgiveness…and above all acceptance.


    Comment by Deborah Boettcher — September 4, 2013 @ 9:32 am

  11. Quite very truly an appropriate song for the subject at hand. Jody has this certain “gift” of being able to communicate the thoughts we all have but seldom express so eloquently. I’ve alwys considered her songs such sweet meaningful little treasures, and I wish more people could hear, then appreciate the true subtle beauties of her collective works. Not everyone writes from the heart…..but Jody sure does.
    Best wishes on your writing project !!!!

    Comment by W.A.Gorak — September 14, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

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