This summer was about nothing special, which allowed every little thing to become special. We moved into a new house (our 4th move in two years) that quickly felt like home. Our porch became a gateway to a whole new community, which was the best part of all. I need a community to raise my boys, and for us to feel a part of. I need dinners and brunches that unfold without evites. I could not get enough of watching my boys burst out the screen door with the sunrise, yell out friends names out into the trees...and then, hearing their names yelled back from across the street. “BRUNO! LEO!!” “JACKSON! ASHER!”This summer I spent the most time with my family. Most baseballs thrown. Most trips to the frozen custard stand. Most moments being so happy doing absolutely nothing. We really did nothing this summer. Didn’t travel. Didn’t get caught in traffic. Didn’t pack and unpack. We went to a bunch of Rockies baseball games. Saw Rufus Wainwright after a picnic. Even saw James Taylor, which is kind of embarrassing to admit how much I enjoyed that. Spent alot of time on the incredible farms that are just within reach of our home with the Meadow Lark troupe. Lots of friends visited. Our moms came for great long visits. It rained almost every day for a moment or so. It got greener and greener and in the end the peaches dripped uncontrollably down our chins. We knew Labor Day was coming. School started too early and kind of messed up the timing. The weather pretended to bring fall earlier than it was welcomed. It began getting dark before we closed the curtains at night. Then Labor Day weekend. Bagels and fresh orange juice. Burrata and chicken. The ice cream truck waved down by Jackson. Salmon skewers and grilled peaches with ricotta and pine nuts. Baseball slip and slide. Hoola hoop contests. Baseballs sailing over into Tim’s yard. Laughing so hard at pictures that were impossibly silly. Mostly, it was about making sure our new friends were on board when the heat goes on. That they know the calls out from the porch will only get louder when storm windows come down. Labor Day always makes me melancholy. But the fall is starting out fast this year. Jackson is circling the days on the calendar through next spring he wants to get the lunch at school, then he is circling back to mark everyone’s birthday. Asher is diving off the picnic table into his blue blanket, which is the world’s smallest and most dangerous pool. Stephie and I are as close as we have ever been, which is saying a lot. The window behind our heads is blowing the cool breeze from the mountains over our sleep. Labor Day is like sealing an envelope full of peach pits. That chapter is gone except for the memories. The outdoor pool is closing. The sun streaking across on the porch is slipping away. The mental pictures. Maybe some of the real ones. Tomorrow morning starts early and new. OR, as Styron wrote, “it was not judgement day, only morning. Morning, excellent and fine.”
There are so many kinds of friends. Your old friends from growing up. Your college friends. Your neighbors. Your daily friends, who evolve through the years. Your new friends you so much want to trust. There are friends who disappoint when you want to share secrets from a deep dive and they can only swim with the thoughts on the surface. Friends who say, “what can I do for you.” when things are hard. Friends who say, “that must be really hard for you.” There are friends you can help by just believing in them when they cannot see through the fog.
One friend called recently just as I got to work and asked if I could meet him on a private plane at midnight to visit the Rio Grande before dawn. He took me to a place I could never have seen. Where the light from my iphone illuminated the sad personal garbage of refugees in the sticky heat before dawn.
Another friend moved out of a 17 year marriage and was living in a trailer next to his work. He showed me his new japanese knives, a beautiful round cutting board, and begged me to help him finish off a big bowl of cherries. He was stripping everything away and testing what he was made of. I believe my career is built on the confidence to dare. I told him that was a place he also knew how to build from.
Then there are friends who appear at just the right time, say the exact thing you need to hear, and without a single excuse they get why our lives are so precious.
My friend Mark Epstein was on a book tour passing through Boulder this past week. I picked him up at his hotel and we went to lunch. The thing I like about Mark is how sure he is about things I cannot quite accept. He validates. He confirms. He is not very big at embracing insecurities. I always leave a visit with Mark full of “yes” and “of course” as answers to all my questions. ( As I write this, I am listening to Aloe Blaac crooning, “Love is the Answer” - of which I would say, “of course it is!!” and “yes - the answer IS love”).
After lunch we could have gone two ways. Either a hike together or some other very Boulder indulgence - or Mark could share part of my life that is so normal and completely precious. I asked Mark if he wanted to go pick up my three year old Asher at campl. He was all over that. We drove up to the camp, walked down the driveway to the back playground to find Asher at home plate. He was swinging a big blue plastic bat. He whacked it, ran the bases, then looked up and screamed, “DADDY!”
For the rest of the afternoon Mark played with the boys. Basement hockey. Baseball on the front lawn. Sidewalk tennis. He sat on the porch and drank coffee. It was all about the boys. “Mark! can you play some more tennis?” “Mark, watch me on my scooter!” “Mark, are you sleeping over?” We were just - there. It was a perfect summer afternoon. We took a walk with Stephie and the boys around the neighborhood. We talked about how much we love summer porch life. Mark told me amazing stories about his wife Arlene Shechet (an extraordinary artist truly coming into her own), his son Will a great musician who has started singing so beautifully when he pulls his sax away from his lips, and his daughter Sonia who is navigating the world with the confidence you dream your children will learn. We shared some stories of fancy people we have known. But it was mostly an afternoon of nothing more than a ball, a racket, a porch, a walk and two boys running circles around Mark calling out his name over and over.
The funny thing with all of this is you would think if you get to spend the afternoon with one of the great buddhist (and human) thinkers around, that you would want to pick his brain. That if you have a whole summer afternoon with one of the great New York shrinks you would want to spill your guts.
And yet, with my friend Mark, we just hung out. Did absolutely nothing short of allowing me to share all the joy my family gives me with him.
On page 45 he shares this story: Before saying a word, Ajahn Chah motioned to a glass of water at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters. I say, “Of course.” But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”
In the email Mark just sent, he writes:
On the plane just waiting to come home. High point of the trip was the porch with you, and tennis with Jackson. So fun! I love your home.
Arlene will be jealous I got to hang with you and Stephie and your kids. Talk about precious!
Lots of love.