Look in your top left-hand drawer

December 19th, 2008

Steps of Encouragement:
1. “I understand, I know it’s hard.”
2. “I think you can handle it.”
3. “Want to give it a try?”
4. “When you’re ready . . . “
5. “Look in your top left-hand drawer.”

Today, shopping done, leaves raked, laundry spinning and the computer waylaid one more day in repair, I cleaned out my desk. My desk may be no different than the one you have, drawers so full of detritus that I hardly open them anymore. Into the drawers I went, and I found:

1. A short stack of rejections I saved while hunting for an agent. There were eleven of them here, among more that weren’t, because these were the dozen that favored me with a written reply. What struck me was not the disinterest these strangers showed, but the civility of their response. So I keep them still. The most civil of all was the one who called.

2. Scrap papers of notes written on the plane home after my first retreat with Maezumi Roshi 15 years ago. What I jotted: “He says he doesn’t want to flatter me, but he has been waiting for someone like me, someone with a big capacity to learn and teach others.” You can see he still has an infinitely big capacity for flattery! And while I don’t doubt he told others the same thing, I was the one who found it today.

3. A photo of my mother giving baby Georgia a bath. My mom’s head is a post-chemo cap of newly grown, wiry black curls. She is not the radiant woman who still lives in my heart; the baby is not the precious girl who still lives in my home. Time has passed but I’ve lost nothing and no one.

4. A snapshot of El Santuario de Chimayo taken on a visit in 1992, a magical axis from which my life turned in a totally new direction.

5. A print out of the first and only of Maezumi’s teachings I edited for him before his death. It was from three hours of his talks on Dogen Zenji’s fascicle, “Tsuki,” or “The Moon.” It took 36 hours of listening to tapes, craning into the earphones of a Radio Shack portable cassette player, to transcribe one inscrutable word at a time. I had no idea what I was doing.

6. Stuck on the first page of the completed transcription was a Post-It note written by my current teacher when he read it five years ago. “Maezen, Thank you so much! Keep it going – N.” This was the first time I’d read the piece since. I was afraid to.

7. A sheet of paper with the first four of the above Steps of Encouragement given to me by a preschool teacher when my daughter was three. My daughter never needed them; I still do.

8. And thus I found all the encouragement I need right now in my top left-hand drawer. There’s more than enough here, so please take some to tide you over until you look deeper inside for yourself.


  1. I wish I had a drawer. my life seems to be strewn about…maybe one day I’ll collect it all in one place, right now there are just piles:)

    Comment by amy — December 19, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  2. My drawers are full of junk. But maybe that’s just my perception!

    Time to go digging…

    Comment by Lana — December 19, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

  3. What a wonderful drawer! Give me a week or two and I’ll find a drawer of my own to uncover…

    Comment by Shalet — December 19, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

  4. What a treasure chest!

    Comment by Kristin H. — December 20, 2008 @ 12:55 am

  5. I eliminated desks with drawers awhile back because I would always stuff thing in them. But if I had treasures and inspiration in there, they might be worth having!

    Comment by denise — December 20, 2008 @ 1:32 am

  6. my husband just gave me a drawer of his desk about 2 weeks ago. oddly enough, it’s the top left hand drawer.

    Comment by Sarah — December 23, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  7. I’m presently looking for a mis-layed Christmas present for my ex, the new inserts for my day planner and my digital camera. I will look in the left hand drawer. Wish me luck.

    Comment by spielbee — December 24, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

  8. neat exercise! I love life’s time capsules. I found one recently myself, my old “god box,” filled with now answered prayers.

    happiest of new years,


    Comment by Kyran — December 30, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

  9. Oh, Chimayo! I have a poem about that place:

    The Healing Dirt of Chimayo

    New Mexico

    This is dust from the hills—
    the burnt orange of the adobe houses.
    These mountains should be in Paraguay,
    just hills stumbling one over another.

    Just a post office in a portable,
    a gas station with glass returnables,
    scarred white, and filled with cola.

    Church water wrinkles in a silver bowl
    when the carved door slams.
    Another believer, lit with amber light
    thrown from votives, kneels

    before the altar. There are depressions
    where hands have gathered grains
    and pressed them to a bruise,

    to the chest above the heart or lung,
    to an atrophied muscle, to a broken bone.
    There is no doubt in the woman’s voice
    that claims this dirt has healing power

    for even the worst disease.
    Perhaps her faith is light — one ray
    holding dust in its beam, turning under

    the mercy of air, under the stillness
    disturbed by opening and closing of the door,
    resting with the apostle
    cast in blue glass, parceling out forgiveness.

    Comment by 32poems.com — January 13, 2009 @ 5:48 am

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