Feeling Alive

Sitting there on the front porch, with a dog under each arm, I felt my throat close tight. Oh, how I love life on the farm, enough to cry for joy.

From Thursday to Sunday I babysat the animals on this little hobby farm—the goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, chicks, dogs, and cows. I awoke early every morning, six to be precise, honeyed light pouring through the windows. Tugged on jeans and stained boots and out the door went I, a grin on my face. With Ruby, Lucy, and Pickles clustering around my legs, their tails wagging, I marched to the barn with metal pails in hand. Soon enough, the rooster would be crowing, the goats and sheep bleating, the cows lowing. After doling out grain to all, I entered Dot’s pen with the pails, crouched in the straw, and began that most therapeutic activity that few souls are blessed to experience these days: milking a cow. Her baby, leery at first, soon enough settled into the straw beside me, ruddy beneath the glowing window. And for a time, the barn was filled with the music perceived only by those with ears to hear: one creamy stream after another singing into the pail, fodder being munched, rustling straw. I do not think I will tire to hear those simple, rustic notes.

After stripping Dot down to the last drop, then followed the awkward releasing of the animals into the pasture. Awkward because certain creatures (ahem, Rose the Jersey) are very curious creatures and like to stick their noses where they don’t belong, such as the sack that holds the pig feed—or the goat and sheep pen, darn it. Just as in learning to dance, toes were stepped on before the colorful herd was finally shooed out to where they would spend the day grazing on lush grass or dozing beneath the trees.

I mucked the pens, threw down dry straw, and refreshed the water pails. Afterward came the chickens. I was never pecked, but there were a few close calls—particularly from one large brown hen, made larger still when she ruffled her feathers and fixed me with a blistering glare as I reached to collect the eggs beneath her. One, two, three—six eggs I tucked into my pocket from the nesting boxes, and each one varying in tone: brown, cream, white, pale green, pale blue. And then, with the dogs and cats perched here and there to observe, I couldn’t resist the swing: a thick braid descending from the loft above, a board-seat fixed to its end. I sat, pocket bulging, and pushed off. In the dusky barn-light, I contemplated my heart’s desires as I swayed back and forth like the pendulum in a clock.

Back in the old farmhouse, chores complete, I poured myself a glass of milk, fried up some homegrown bacon and sausage and an egg, cut up a little tomato and cucumber, and sat in the sunny kitchen to eat the amazing food that makes all the hard work on a farm worth it. With a heart made happy to overflowing, knowing the animals were fed and watered and content, I then jumped into Wallace, the dogs barking good-bye as I sped away to find adventures on the island.

Red-and-white lighthouses, sandstone cliffs, barnacle-covered rocks extending into the ocean, mucky back roads (where a friend and I may have found ourselves permanently stuck but for a kind farmer and his green tractor), my first raw oysters, tea at a roadside café, seafood chowder and ice-cream by a quiet harbor, antiques and thrift shops in Charlottetown. Whatever I felt like doing, wherever I felt like going, with Wallace as my wings.

At noon, I would return to the farm to top up the blue tub with water, but then I was off again, not to return until evening, when I would again tend the animals. Supper and tea and cherries were consumed in the living room, where I treated myself to a movie (My Fair Lady is really quite funny). Bed was sweet—because the day had been full and good, but also because the next day promised to be the same. And the promise was true.

Wallace

Wallace and I, we’re gonna go places. He’s got a few dents, a few rust spots, half a door handle, and no air conditioning, but he’s solid. God willing, he will get me across the states to home.

I figure, I’m young, I’m free, I’m able—why not? And so when the time comes, I will hop into my little ’98 Corolla, equipped with music (some folk, some chanting monks, and a medley more), audio talks, a rosary, homemade muffins, and whatever else to occupy the many hours ahead (this may include a companion), and off on an adventure we’ll go. From Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, all the brutally long way to Saskatchewan—something like that. We’ll putter through lush summertime country, popping into whatever antique shop, attraction, or café that calls my name. I’ll meet hard-to-forget characters, try new foods, sigh at dazzling views, gulp the sweet air rushing in through Wallace’s windows, and hopefully not find myself lost in the many cities I must navigate. But maybe losing my way will be essential to the adventure, yes?

In the meantime, Wallace and I will explore this island together—its back roads, quaint towns, red beaches—until I am content I’ve discovered as many of its freckles and smile lines as possible. Ah, I know my heart (a heart I pray is becoming a braveheart) will be crying to the sky, FREEDOM!

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Abba

As I was quietly washing dishes, I looked up, out the kitchen window to a forest drowsy with green-gold sunlight, blanketed with fragile wildflowers, and I had a moment with God. I felt that we smiled at each other, our hearts bursting. I love you so much, I told Him. It was a moment where I wished to embrace Him.

And then this thought arose: can I not embrace Him? I do not doubt that He desires to embrace me too. Must we wait until Heaven, though? I realized then, standing there at the sink, that He does indeed come to me in this life, with manly arms and manly smell—and even manly whiskers.

He comes to me as Dad.

I think I understand now, my father, why you so often are driven from your office chair to find me, to hold me and kiss my hair—it must be God’s love for me welling up and overflowing through you. Yes, through you God’s heart can beat against my own. Through you, He can laugh at my humor and express His own (even be it as zany as stuffing marshmallows into your eye sockets), wipe the tears from my cheeks with His thumb, tell me I am truly beautiful and that He is beyond proud to call me His daughter. You are His doorway to me.

I know that not every girl’s father is an open doorway. No, not every girl has felt God’s embrace, heard His belly laugh, or received His affirmation. But you, you will not leave me to wait until Heaven, because you are truly Abba to me.

Remembering Eden

Green hills and Gouda cheese, spontaneous friends and warm ginger cake. God is generous indeed that one memorable day be followed by another:

As we yelped at the June bugs buzzing around our legs, we found ourselves digging our toes into sand and pushing with all our womanly might—because the truck too was digging itself deeper and deeper into sand. Alas, attempting to be covert little rebels by moonlight had backfired; we would not be driving onto the beach. But after discovering four-wheel drive, we three were outta there—and giddy with pride to have extricated ourselves from that foolish situation.

Where the great and beautiful dunes slope down to the beach, we worked on a fire, huddling close to keep the breeze from huffing out our matches. Seaweed doesn’t burn well, we discovered, but luckily we had “stolen” some cardboard from a dumpster on the way to our encampment (ah, such rebels). Drawing our legs up, we watched our fire struggle to live as we munched on chips and rhubarb muffins. We discussed grand human problems. And when the stars began to flaunt their brilliance, we lay back in our sleeping bags to ponder the greatness above—and the greatness at our feet, ever rushing against the shore.

I will tell you, I would sleep every night by the sea, if I could. Cradled by the sand, caressed by a salty breeze as warm as a mother’s touch, serenaded by the waves—I was soothed to my core. I slept like a child. At least, until it began to rain.

Even still, as we retreated to drier ground (namely, a house), I loved the world. Draped in my sleeping bag, passing barefoot through the dunes and prickly scrub, I kept glancing over my shoulder to watch the thinnest crescent of peach edge above the horizon. Sheer loveliness it was.

I think I loved that night as much as I did because something in me recognized that I was in my natural habitat. Yes, my soul was remembering Eden . . .

A Thread

He hangs over the abyss—the world below that is black fire and smoke and ice. Darkness itself has seized his soul and pulls down, ever down, toward the place where he would be consumed, utterly devoured. He has nothing left; his strength has been sucked into the fathomless pit, his cries engulfed by the wailing that echoes deeply, eternally.

But he will not fall, he will not be consumed, because by a thread he hangs and is held aloft. It is almost invisible, so fine is this thread, but it is there, pale and shimmering in the darkness, like an anchor in the sea’s bluest depths. By this is he connected to Light, to the world above that is milk and honey and warmth.

He has nothing left—nothing but a thread, and it will not be broken. And this is his consolation in the desolation: no matter how great and terrible be the forces that seek to swallow his soul, he will not be lost, because the power of One is stronger.

Freedom

As I lay on the rock by the sea, I felt that my cheek was pressed against the warm breast of Christ. How I longed to remain there, a part of the island, listening to its heartbeat (which is the sea sighing on the shore or rushing against the cliffs). But just as John the Apostle was torn away from his Beloved, so too must I be.

What is it about Nahant that God should always kiss my face when I am there? Why is my heart divided between that place and dearest Canada? Why does it feel like home?

—~—

We explored, my sister and I, the haven I came to know so well last fall. We stepped barefoot through pink blossoms, scavenged for sea glass, dangled our feet above volatile waves. Grinning, we mounted bicycles and pedaled onto the mainland, following the coastline to breathe the salty breeze. We tried on summery dresses in the shops, splurged on frozen yogurt, shamelessly snapped pictures of the houses we loved. And we ended every day with our hair curling from the humidity, our faces flushed from joy and the sun.

In the airy spaces of a cathedral we witnessed a bishop lay his hands upon the heads of ordinary men and, by the Holy Spirit, transform them into the person of Christ. It was as simple and as powerful as it was two thousand years ago in the dusty land where the Savior lived—and my dear friend now among that age-old brotherhood of priests. Ah, how wondrous to receive the Eucharist from he who I met in Spain.

Beneath stained-glass windows we feasted on European cuisine, bellowed Irish ballads, and stumbled through line dances in celebration. Not since I was a child have I enjoyed a reception as much as I did that evening.

Celebrations continuing, we found ourselves crouched on boulders, prying with primal gusto into lobster that had only minutes before been live, now cooked to scarlet in seawater, dipped in melted butter. Such is how I first tasted lobster last summer, and how good is God to give my sister the same experience, on the same beach no less? By the brilliance of a burning Christmas tree and a wicker chair rooted from garbage, we laughed and nibbled on dark chocolate and sang into the night, while beneath the moon the water receded from the shoreline.

And because summer is too short, on the hottest afternoon we found ourselves leaping to our feet and racing down the beach into wicked-cold water, clothed and why not? We may have gasped and shrieked and gasped some more, and though we never dove under a second time, we never regretted diving the first. On sun-baked rocks we stretched out to muse on the mysterious ways in which life unfolds, intertwined with sufferings and blessings alike.

I think, though, that my most treasured memory is that last morning, a seamless memory from the evening before, because we never slept but remained awake to await the dawn. Barefoot, we were present when the world is most beautiful but most rarely seen. Softest blue light lit the sea. I sat on a bench above the beach, gazing upon the water below that could be a mermaid’s sparkling lagoon, my head resting against the mother and friend who is my kindred spirit. I will never forget her words: Even when you are away, 40 Steps is still a beautiful beach . . . Even when we are apart, we still have a beautiful friendship.

A few hours we slept by the sea, warmed by the naked sun, lulled by gulls. I laid my palm against the rock and wished to never leave. Yes, when away from that place, my heart strains toward it.

Because home is where you feel free.

Darn Technology

Well, at long last, my website and email are up and running again. For the past three weeks or so we were experiencing some maddening technical glitches, but it looks like things are working again. If you contacted me in that time and did not receive a response, it wasn’t because I was ignoring you, be assured, but because your email was lost in cyberspace.

Stay tuned—finally I am able to post a blog on my trip to Nahant!

—D.

A Year Ago

A year ago today, I was sore. It was hot; the sky was blank. I was in Spain.

On May 15th, the dirt road before me was a bold orange hue (like nacho dust, I remember thinking), and the forest on either side housed pines and bushes rife with tiny violet blooms. Mile after mile, I walked through that nacho dust, separated from my companions, alone with my thoughts and a God who was as quiet as myself that day.

It does not feel as if a year has passed since I walked El Camino de Santiago. Not at all.

Yesterday I gathered with friends to sip Spanish wine, eat a little prosciutto and gazpacho and sweet Tarta de Santiago—a foretaste of what is to come for those islanders who are soon to fly across the Atlantic to Europe. Yes, soon they will walk the paths my own feet tread. I ache to see again what they will see—roses crawling up a lonely stone shed, golden eagles gliding through the fog, vast cobblestone plazas, cathedrals that carry one’s voice to Heaven, cropland spattered with poppies, an ancient fortress on a hilltop, pilgrims from across the globe laughing together at table, misty cherry orchards, faces wizened by the Spanish sun, mountains as blue as the sea—for my heart has yet to let the beauty fade from memory. I cannot forget, because to forget would hurt more than it does to remember.

A year later, I find myself on Prince Edward Island, no longer sore, but impacted forever by the pilgrimage that drew me nearly 500 miles across Spain. Indeed, I do not believe I would be here on this island if I had not first been to Spain. As I have shared before, along the way to Santiago I befriended a seminarian from Boston who later bid farewell with the invitation to visit him in his beloved city by the sea. I accepted. While there, I stayed with his friends—a family that is crazy with contagious joy—and by the time my visit was through, I had discerned to return to live with them. It was to be my first experience as a family missionary. Three months later, I discovered I had gained the courage to respond to God’s prompting to come to this island of red soil and live with a new family.

Next week I will again be on American soil. Almost to the day we met, I will witness my dear brother in Christ become a priest for the Kingdom. I think, somehow, we are still pilgrimaging together.

They say no one walks the Camino by accident. I believe it. And so I eagerly await the stories my friends will bear home, knowing that what is inscribed upon the heart by El Camino de Santiago cannot be forgotten.

Remembering Mother

I’ve met many mothers on my travels. Quietly, I am learning, pondering their words and their ways in my heart—and I am piecing together the kind of mother I want to be one day. Funny, but the more fragments I gather, I am beginning to realize that the image materializing is my own mother.

Yes, you, Mother-Mine.

I remember your fingers running through my hair, scrubbing shampoo into my scalp or fixing my long, brushed tresses into a ponytail. And while I no longer need those fingers to work through my tangles, your ladylike nails still give darn good back scratches.

Do you remember the garlicky fragrance of kielbasa in the basement? I think the only thing that surmounted our incredulity that you would let us use an electric frying pan in our bedroom was our glowing pride to have such a mother—one who often says yes when others would not. (And because you also said yes to candles, you should know we had a lovely candlelit dinner featuring European sausage, fried puffed rice, and grape-juice wine.)

I remember waking up to discover, laid out in the living room, what treasures you had plumbed from the depths of Value Village for your girls. Treasures like new aprons and peasant-like skirts to wear out into the fields, or a wooden dish to hold whatever food you let us steal from the kitchen.

I can’t remember every silly song you sang us as toddlers, but when I do hear one, I can’t help but grin to remember those three speckled frogs sitting on a log, eating the most delicious bugs.

Do you remember our sandy feet on your white coverlet from Cracker Barrel? An annoyance, I will agree, but those sandy feet were emblems to our days spent at the Gulf of Mexico, collecting shells and sea combs, days you carefully tucked into Dad’s concert tours.

I remember Grandma saying presentation counts, and I finally appreciate that she passed that conviction on to you. Potatoes aren’t served in the big silver pot but in a pottery dish, because it’s not only about getting people fed, it’s about enjoying something beautiful together. And for that, I’ve always loved preparing meals with you, from Sunday supper to sautéed shrimp after Christmas Eve Mass. I think that is why our festivities are a joyful time, not a stressful time—because you’ve taught us how to make food preparation a gift of love wrapped with artistic flair.

Gifts—yes, you’ve never given a gift that didn’t say, “I thought this through for you.” Do you remember Shenanigan, the Beanie Baby Leprechaun? In the store, when she caught my eye and I begged to have her, you wondered aloud why I didn’t want the one with curly golden hair—but no, I insisted upon the one with grass-green hair that stood straight up. And even though you thought she was unappealing, it was Shenanigan that I found folded inside wrapping paper that Christmas.

I cannot count them, but my heart remembers your every kiss—not just because they leave lipstick marks, but because they are not squandered, like your hugs, like your I love you’s. Just enough sunlight to let that flower grow, but never too much to scorch it.

Not that I haven’t felt your dragon’s breath. Do you remember yanking our ears? I can’t say I appreciated it in the moment, but I appreciate it now—because it taught us to sit like angels in Mass, to stay on our chairs at the table, to come when we were called. I still sit like an angel in Mass, stay on my chair at the table, and I am learning to come when God calls.

I remember the sounds you made at your babies. I find myself making them now at other mother’s babies, and I can’t wait make to be making those sounds at my own babies. They may not make much sense to anyone else, but they are a language conceived from love overflowing.

Do you remember my anger, my tears, my occasional foot stomp when I could not figure out my horse and would not listen to your encouragement? But you never gave up on me. I don’t think Islander would be mine if you hadn’t believed I could tame his feral heart. And I did tame him . . . but I don’t think it was so much me who did it as it was you.

I think everyone who has visited the Malletts remembers the home you’ve created, no matter the house we’ve lived in—and we’ve lived in many, haven’t we? (I blame my nomadic heart on you and Abba.) I know it is a home that is warm and inviting and safe, because even strangers will take the tea poured them and sit themselves on the couch and draw their legs up as if it is their home too.

Do you remember telling me not to fly to Madonna House, or walk the Camino, or live on Nahant, or leave for half a year to live far away in the east? Of course you don’t remember. You were never anything but enthusiastic.

I remember your tears as Tianna pulled the curtain back and you saw her standing there on the pedestal in a wedding dress, an elegant bride-to-be. It was beautiful, because it revealed a heart that is as tender today as when Ti-Bird was your little buck-toothed kid. Maybe someday I’ll be in the same place as she: Peester, your little pooky-eared kid in a wedding dress.

Do you remember accepting my every apology? I do.

I remember that most.

Yes, Mother-Mine, I want to be a mother like you—forgiving, spontaneous, generous, laid-back, strong, patient, passionate, thoughtful, unwaveringly supportive—because though no mother is perfect, a rare few are close to it.

A Spring Wells

Somewhere in the mountain a spring wells, somewhere so deep in the mountain that I once believed I was pure rock. When others cried, I could not, even when I wanted to. But then one day, You opened a fissure in the mountain, and the spring overflowed. And I realized my heart was placed so deep in the mountain because, when released, it is a tumultuous thing. And it hurts, this crashing down the mountainside. You knew this, O Beloved, knew how easily my heart could be wounded—and the mountain was protection. But then the time came for the spring to water the fields below, no matter the cost.

Down, down, down the mountainside. My heart sinks into the waiting earth and nurtures the seeds planted by You; who but You knows what beautiful flowers will arise and unfold beneath the sunlight?

Always now, the spring is overflowing, sometimes only as a trickle, sometimes as a torrent, but always I feel. Yes, always now feel.