Zen. Broken Sink Drain. A Meaningful Life.

back porch view

I’m lying on the couch reading Sigrid Rausing’s Mayhem when my daughter calls from the kitchen, ‘Mom, you’re not going to like this!’

The sink drain has split apart again and gray water floods the kitchen floor. For a moment, I think, whatever, and then ask her to get an old towel.

I have now repaired this drain three times, each time in nothing but sheer annoyance and impatience.

The problem, naturally, has something to do with PVC and epoxy, but more to do with me. My ex-husband put in this drain, in his trademark cob-job way, fitting together scraps of plastic pipe. I’m irritated at my own ineptness, my unwillingness to devote real time to YouTubing a solution, the scantness of my nonworking hours.

I’d rather paint a wall than repair a drain.

After we mop up the water and pile the unwashed dishes on the sink drainboard, we put on our boots and take a walk in the falling snow. It’s the first snowfall of the year. Snow is our old friend, falling silently, sparkling in house and streetlights. This first bit will melt today and return again soon.

Sunday morning. Put the house in order. Take the broken pieces to the hardware store. Ask for advice.

True recovery is a profoundly ethical journey, finding meaning and dignity through solidarity and restitution. Without that, there may be a cessation of drinking or substance use, but there is no real recovery.”

— Sigrid Lausing

Small Journey

My younger daughter drives the two of us on a cold January afternoon to Montpelier. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to the state capital, although (pre-pandemic) I was in Montpelier at least once a week.

We’re in search of a birthday present for my oldest daughter — a single present, that’s all I’m looking for — and we go into only one store. At the register, the owner tells me how happy she is to see people; the city has been a ghost town for the last week.

In the downtown’s heart, we pass empty storefronts. I’ve never seen so many vacancies in Montpelier before. On one main corner, my daughter notices the bakery where I once bought her chocolate chip cookies is locked, too.

Where I can’t bear to pass by is the library, the beautiful stone building where a year ago I often spread out my laptop and papers and worked for hours. In the large reading room, the well-heeled snapped on lamps and read and wrote. There was a couple who always appeared who seemed to be gambling online. The homeless and college students filled chairs. After school, children ran through.

At my daughter’s request, we walk through Hubbard Park in the cold and up the stone tower to see the city surrounded by mountains.

When we walk down the snowy steps, a mother and her daughter are sitting on the tower’s stone floor. There’s only openings for windows and doors, and the girl is crying with cold. The mother struggles to tie an icy lace on the girl’s ski boot.

Been there, I think, done that.

I no longer have the keys to my own car. My daughter drives past the state house where no one is out. Not a single person on the granite steps. Driving home, she suddenly says, The good thing about living in Vermont is spring. Even if winter seems forever, there’s always spring.

[Kintsugi], the Japanese method of repairing broken pottery [uses] gold to bind the pieces together. In this way, the break becomes what is beautiful, what is valued. It is a way to embrace the flaw, the imperfect. In place of the break, there is now a vein of gold.

— Nick Flynn, This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire

Photo by Gabriela S.

Finally!

In the midst of surely what will be known in American history as a lousy time, Bernie Sanders inadvertently made knitting cool.

When my youngest daughter was a toddler, one winter I cracked open a knitting book my mother had given me from her stash and taught myself to knit two-stranded mittens. In those days of diapers and playdough and winter isolation, I experimented with yarn weight, needle size, and colors. The prettiest mittens I knit had one cuff gnawed by mice when I left the pair overnight in our sugarhouse.

When we moved from one house to another and we jettisoned so many belongings, I considered that particular knitting book before I packed it in a box. At that point, I wasn’t sure I would ever knit another pair of mittens, but I packed the book, more out of sentimental affection than anything else.

This morning, I pulled the book from the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I was looking for a pattern after offering to knit my brother a pair of mittens. In the center of the book, I found pages of one daughter’s artwork. She had a set of Noah’s ark stamps as a little girl, and had carefully stamped and colored a scene.

This daughter went through a period when a hand-me-down paperback Noah’s ark book was her favorite bedtime tale — all those animals and Noah’s family cozied in a handmade boat, first having a party, then enduring through a tediously long journey, with the rewards of the olive branch, the dove, dry land, and the rainbow at the end.

Border Crossings

On inauguration eve, I dream of wandering through my childhood hometown and wake thinking of the November morning four years when I woke early and realized I would have to tell my daughters that Donald Trump won the presidency.

Four years seems so long ago — far longer ago than my own childhood of the 1970s when not all that much seemed to happen.

As I lie in bed reading about the Vikings — these ancient, fascinating people — snow drifts down outside, twinkling in my neighbor’s porch light. She’s up, too, as are my neighbors across the street, all three of our houses awake this morning long before dawn. In a different world, I’d pull on my coat and slip into my boots, walk through those unshoveled inches of fresh snow, and offer a piece of coffee cake my daughter baked.

In my own family life, we’ve slipped through so many borders and changes in these four years, one tiny ripple in the endless ripples of human life. Today, January 20, yet another change. May this be for civility and decency.

The Viking Age was very much a time of borders—between cultures and ways of life, between different views of reality, and between individuals, including at the level of liberty itself.

— Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

Photo by Gabriela S.

Getting With The Program…

A few days of snow and rain and slush and scattered sunlight — mid-January in Vermont when the snow-heavy woods are enchanting.

Again, drinking coffee in our Subaru while my youngest daughter drives. These mid-winter days are wound through with the mittens I’m knitting and the book about the Vikings I’m reading, the phone call I made to a friend — come walk with me in the cold rain — and she did.

For a while now I’ve been saying that the bar is low — it’s something that I can offer my daughter the chance to ski with a friend. The friend’s parents and I stand in the parking lot, talking, talking. But, more accurately, the bar has vanished, and I didn’t even realize it. The world we live in is changing. History is reshaping our world. This weekend, for whatever reason, I realized: get with the program.

And the program at our contains the tangibles of yarn, colored pencils, snow.

Strangers’ Laughter

I step out of our house just after sunset, and a crescent moon hangs over the road — a silent slice of gleaming beauty in a dark blue sky. By then, I’ve been on a school board call for hours, and I’ve had to remind myself repeatedly that what appears to be illusion at times — this strange, Hollywood-squares conversation — will shake out in ways that affect people’s lives directly: adults’ livelihoods, kids’ educations.

Although it’s five on a Friday, there’s not much traffic in town. In the little neighborhoods where I walk, no one is out. Against one maple tree, I see two plastic red sleds propped against the trunk.

As I round a corner, I hear laughter. I pause for a moment in the twilight, listening. A row of adults is bundled in coats and hats, sitting on a porch, talking and laughing. The cold air is wet with tomorrow’s approaching snow.

I’m no stranger to Vermont’s long winters, but mid-January 2021, and such a deep loneliness has set in — not just in my house, not just in my town, but spread ubiquitously. I stand under that gleaming sliver of moon, listening to the laughter of strangers. For the moment, I’m utterly stunned by the unexpected bliss of the moment, the sheer luck I have to be standing here, part of this shifting world.

“I don’t like ironing, but it reminds me that once, long, long ago, there was a semblance of order in the world.”