This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

- AMY GRACE

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It’s only when we are turned inside out, that our darkest parts finally meet the sun.

The Serenity Prayer never took hold with me, no matter how I begged it to. I tried it for years, and each time I spoke the words I got tangled on the wisdom I was supposed to have, in knowing the difference. I could accept things most peoples’ sense of dignity or preservation would abandon immediately. I could have the courage, to bear all these things I accepted. But to know how to filter all that dark and light and in between – that was every color of the prism at once, burning my retinas, flooding my mind. So I wrote this, my own prayer. I say it in my sleep, to the dark, to the banishment of it, because oh, how I want to meet the sun.

 If I want to save someone, I give them words as a ladder out. When I need to save myself, I make metaphors. I turn myself inside out in my head a few times a day, skin peeled away, primal light leaking out to meet sunlight. When it feels like my breath might stop without willing the in and out, the words give me a reason to remember. They let me spill before I break open. I will spill for you too.

The same voice that pulls you under can lift you out. We can’t talk about the dark without talking about light.

Years of my life have gone dark. The memory repels me. The sour smell of skin against my own, equal parts comfort and cringe, remembering who I was and don’t recognize. I don’t even want to touch it for fear it will suck me in – like that song you hate that plays on a loop in your head. Parts of me still want to listen, feeling the darkness and lightness of every mixed up second, not knowing which to choose. This is life, being life, I thought. There are stretches I want to push away into a closet that will barely shut, to forget about, empty yet taking up too much space – a balloon whose helium leaked and left no memory of the party, a giant parenthesis around us. We were suspended in a beautiful black hole of time going too fast, happy and hurting, found and lost beyond searching. But the dark got me here, emptied but with a new space to fill, the old keys burning a hole in my pocket. Our life is by nature unprecedented, as we move through new rooms.

Some days I can’t conjure my brother’s face for anything. Then I look in the mirror and see him in my jaw, the smile I force that actually works, the post-tear swelling of my eyes. We can’t talk about love without talking about the constant threat of hurt. I can’t really forget the past, unless I want to forget faces with it. All this juxtaposition brutal and beautiful, lies in blood and petals at our tired feet. My little boy says “black is all the colors at once.” Not exactly true, but like his mama, he spins those metaphors to make sense of it all.

I have blinded myself with eyes squeezed shut. Because the dark needed to do its battle. So I found the night, let it in, stopped pretending it was a sunny day when it was pitch black three in the morning. Turned off the lamps, let my eyes adjust. Let them do the hard work they were meant for. I’ve made a life barking up wrong trees, hoarse and lost. So lost it became a place I found. I want to know the forest now. It won’t care or love me back; I won’t expect it. It will be what it is. And maybe teach me to do that very thing.  Enough of this folding in a thousand times and shrinking and slow dripping from a leak I can’t even find because it feels like I’m ripped open, everywhere. But ripped open can mean unleashed – bare, new, flooded with light. And hurt can mean the very start of healed. I became a fish who had swallowed its tail. I was afraid and the fear made its own fears, that swallowed the ones I was afraid of. All this feeding my feelings, when what I needed was the air around me.

When we finally see ourselves we don’t need a mirror.

Let starving minds find words to feed them – metal shavings to a magnet. Be the truth of you. No matter how much you’re convinced you’ve built this thing on your own, for the first time in history, toiling and wringing your hands in the dark – you haven’t. For the good and the bad. When the lights go on, and they will go on, you will look around and you won’t be alone. Because we all want to be moved – moved up, beyond, out. But through it, is the only way to be free from it. Pain plants us, love roots us. Every day I try harder to see and act upon that distinction. There must be an impetus, a spark, the ache to get us up into a new position – stuck in bed, our backs gone numb. That mystery shift that jolts us up, that cracks our tear crusted eyes, that moves our hands to draw the curtain. Enough. We are enough. Swollen and shamed, starved and too full of too much, as long as your head is out of the sand and your feet are moving forward, you are braver than many.

We may even have to fight ourselves for peace. A knockout, hair in fists, earrings ripped, bloodied and desperate, sweaty, panting, heartbroken fistfight. This may be a living oxymoron. Or maybe I’m just being real about my own resistance. You can only breathe your way through a tornado if you stand in the eye. We fight demons by fighting demons. I used to think walking away was the best fight. And I realize now I was too tired to battle it out. I can’t unknow it now. I flipped on the lights.

We are all so close to desperate. Or swimming in it. You aren’t alone in it; I am trying to believe I’m not. This is the optimism we hold on to. That the human condition is a condition of ‘we’:

One friend in crisis with a child, my own mom telling her, “don’t listen to the pushers of tough love.” That these moments are her only moments of regret with my brother in his dark war. That all we have to give is that love, so let it be pure and your own. Another friend in the middle of a divorce whose husband took his life: “fuck it all, is all that saves you.” Quiet the voices and listen to your own, is what she tells me as she lives a new life. Be the person you need to be, to be the mother you need to be. My soulmate, honorary big sister, taking my hand through the loss of home and husband and hope, now facing her own divorce, in a blink we never saw coming. Be new, she shows me, be a badass, have a new ring made for your middle finger.

Perhaps the antidote to darkness is not light, but release. I make these notes, write them before I have a chance to polish their sharp edges, send them off to friends who feel wired to my heart through this surgery of life, without a lick of second thought. I’ve moved past the self-edit. I want to catch the truth with my hands, and free it when it’s still beating, writhing from my own body to yours. If we are as sick as our secrets, then may we work them out of our systems, get them out and into the light. The same voice that pulls us under can lift us out. I wake up nearly every night to my own S.O.S., the words come like miracles, the voice delivering them, my own. Have it be your own too. It’s there, curled up in dark corners, waiting to find you.

- Amy Grace

jote

The current is swirling again. The eddies that are supposed to offer some reprieve, in the darkest times, still churn, more gently, but clearly echoing the undercurrent of the troubles in my heart. Breathing through the doubt, reaching for the reasonable answers, pushing through the voices that speak of unworthiness, of fear, of weakness, of rejection, has become my greatest challenge. Here, I sputter…surrendering to the notion that the waves will eventually carry me to clarity, and that I will find the surface if I just push off the bottom and allow myself to trust that it exists as it always has.

- Jote Khalsa

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Jane Eyre says to her little French student, “Remember, Adele, the dark is just as important as the light.” Jane then reaches over, takes the paint brush from the young girl’s hand and deliberately gives a heavy shadow to the portrait being painted. And indeed, the portrait comes alive with the shadow. Without our shadows, we are not fully alive.

- D’Arcy Benincosa

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When I opened the door to the police officer standing on my front porch, I knew the words to come out of his mouth weren’t going to pleasant.
“Are you Jennifer Downer?”

“Yes, that’s me”

“I have some bad news. Your father has passed away,” he said.

It was a very thoughtful suicide really. He had purchased the handgun in July, they told us. He had called 911, told them what he was planning to do & asked that they send an experienced officer, not a fresh one who had not witnessed this kind of scene. He waited until the sheriff arrived at the front door before he pulled the trigger – to ensure that it wasn’t one of us that found him. There were spread sheets, and documents, and instructions laid out neatly around the house. Quite considerate.

By the time we arrived, the scene was cleaned up and his body was already at the crematorium.Death on his terms. He went straight to the light, but left the rest of us twisting in the dark of the most confusing sort of grief. And so we make our way through.

jenna graham

the face that looks back at me in the mirror is hardly recognizable. what has become of the strong beautiful woman i once was proud to be? the lines around my eyes have become pronounced and the dark circles seem permanent. the simple muscle tone that once was overlooked and taken for granted has now become soft and life-less. nail beds that have clearly been neglected for the first time in what seems like forever. things so trivial i know, but that i swore i would never let go of. but the most noticeable change, my eyes. stone black, portraying a sense of hopelessness and an indefinite pain as if they are an actual reflection of my heart. they look empty. once full of so much light and love now they seem dark and lost. who am i? who have i become? oh how i loathe this time, a time of reflection when i am able to take a minute and truly look at myself. “how did i get here?” i will often ask. and questions like this almost always lead to visions of that day. the day that changed my life forever. that day when my world that was once so simple and safe came crashing down.

motherhood has become something new to me. a fresh breath of air so desperately needed, yet at the same time a weight that holds me down unable to breathe, to live, to feel. oh to feel,  i mean to truly feel. this past year has been nothing short of raw and intense feelings, and when under such an emotional war it’s almost impossible to exist without desperately clinging to a state of numbness for survival. i miss feeling.

when i look at myself now, in this season of life, i see a woman, who so desperately wants to be alive again. a woman who wants to believe in love and goodness. a woman who although endured a painful truth, is constantly looking for hope and clings to it like its the very life preserve that pulled her out of her dark truth some time ago. i am a woman full of wounds, yet still i stand.

- Jenna Graham

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“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
-TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets
It was 2am and I was sitting on the floor next to his twin bed the first time he ever answered me. It was dark and he was sick. I asked if he’d like me to stay awhile, until he fell back asleep. “Yes,” he said. The shock of the word felt a little like being plugged into an electrical outlet. “Would you like me to rub your back?” “Okay.” And then I cried as quietly as I could, cried and smiled, until he was snoring the way that children do, in grunts and squeaks. I barely slept that night. And if I did, I was still smiling.
My husband figured it out before I did. “It was the dark,” he said. “No faces to read or sensory input. Just words. He could hear you because he couldn’t see you.” And he was right. We had stopped seeing the speech therapist six months before. I’m not sure how to explain it. It does not seem significant to you, I know: “Yes,” and “okay.” But it could have happened differently. It could have not happened at all. So this is the story of how my son and I began to talk, there in the dark, where there had been only silence. And this is also the story of how the answers only found me when I learned to stop expecting them. This is how I learned to love the dark.
kristen yound

 

Even though I called them it from the moment they were tucked inside my womb, they were never really mine. The older my children become–the more I am in this amazingly humbling role of Mama and then Mommy and then Mom and even, on some days when emotions run amuck, Mother–the more I realize they were never really mine. They are on loan…entrusted to me for a short time to nurture, protect, advocate, love, pamper, support, guide, discipline and disciple…and then they are supposed to be sent on to who and where they are meant to be. Yet, they have become my Achilles’ heel…that one sensitive place in my heart that will forever be vulnerable.

In the darkness of having a child suffering with cancer, this truth is painfully yet lovingly seared into my heart. There is Someone who loves him more. There is Someone to whom he really does belong.  There is Someone whose goodness is never changing in the midst, in spite of and even if… My son was never meant to live on this earth, in this way, forever. None of us are. That is my Light in this darkness. That is my Hope when I feel the constriction of my throat. His Light is like a beacon in the dark abyss that wants to drown me. The gratitude is deep that it only takes a little bit of Light to illuminate the darkness…to show me it is okay to let go…or hold on.

Please do not misunderstand me…to live in hope while everything seems dark is not an easy task. It makes for an intense cerebral game of thrones…which thought will win the prize this hour? Live in the moment. Do not dream too far ahead. The hope is not in what I see but what I believe to be true. Do not be afraid of the darkness or the pain…it is a part of living. I live with tears ready to burst from the rims of my eyes at any moment; yet, seek deep belly laughs daily.  They both co-exist in my world lately and it is okay.

My darkness has taught me to trust deeper in Him…to release the chains of control I gripped so tightly…to gratefully offer back to Him what He has given to me…to know that the pain is never wasted…and there is an immense amount of freedom in that.

- Kristin Young

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all the keene girls wear lipstick. or rather, most do. okay, at least my mama, and her own. when the babies were around, my grandmother was sure to wear her deepest berry shade, so that when she grinned into their faces and singsonged, “wynken, blynken and nod, sweeheart”, the big eyed round faces of her grandchildren were sure to smile back.

i usually go with an orangier red.

when she first told me about being committed, my grandma’s voice was factual and breezy all at once. like a weather woman. as if i already knew (i did not);  like being locked away in a mental hospital, six electroshock therapy treatments, (six children left at home), was as common a story as the ones about how great she used to look in a bathing suit or the time the she first met papa, on the beach.

i remember her face in the lamplight, comfy in her corner recliner; (the same one she swooned over regis and heckled kathie lee from); calm, still beautiful, serene even, as she remembered trying to escape, hiding in the morgue. IN THE MORGUE. how they found her from a trail of her menses. how they’d taken her teeth.

it was like a great retelling of a horror film.  i was transfixed and aghast. it seemed impossible.

ours was the family that my friends found movie-like. my mother and four sisters all lovely, all talented, all a bit bigger than life. the photo of them setting up a faux french restaurant for their parents anniversary; one aunt the quiet designer, one the sultry entertainer, the two youngest, servers in chiffon aprons, my mom the maître d’. we kept this up as extended family, putting on productions each new year’s day. many years we were together; all six of grandma’s kids and their own, and we’d dress up in exaggerated costumes, usually performing a little ditty, depending on the theme. the “hawaiian” year, my dad and uncle wore leis and a paper canoe and sang don ho’s “tiny bubbles”. the year we were musicians, my mom was (of course)  tina turner, belting out about what love has to do with it, and my siblings and i lip synched the B-52s.  just a few years before the night grandma told me of losing her mind, the theme was “japan”, as several of us had hosted exchange students, so honored their recipes, wore gifted kimonos, and ate cross legged on the floor. grandma showed up as a sumo wrestler.

it was all bright lights and terribly entertaining. just don’t look behind the curtain.

there are pages and piles of these images in my memory. it’s taken years to suss out the contrast of these pictures with the truth that lived behind them.

when grandma shared her story, the impressions of the family i was from turned watery; a mirage. more secrets, many still held closely. some of us would like them never to be spoken. some of us are learning to set them free.

secrets need the dark to grow.

as the truth (littered with dangerous men and deep instability) has leaked out slowly like a stain, i’ve been afraid the brutal would eclipse the beauty. we’ve been taught that mentioning the monsters in the room will wake them up. i thought we were never supposed to let the dark in, but maybe we are just supposed to beam light right in it’s big ugly face.

i still crank my head away from roadkill. i still let out the bugs. i still want to know everything, every story, but wish much of it wasn’t true. i’ve seen every episode of “the walking dead” and managed only to catch a couple zombies in the kill. i am excellent at closing my eyes or hiding my face. which is funny, since i think i hate the darkness, but gift myself just that, rather than seeing the ugliness that light sometimes reveals.

now when i slide hibiscus red on my lips and miss the same part on my bottom lip that my mama and maybe grandma did too, i think of all the opera voices and the dressing up, the grand hilarity, the making everything pretty. and i think of a broken young woman with no safe place to shout, of little girls asked to be quiet. i try to stare deep into the depths, and know i’m channeling the complexity of being “us”. all that’s true is that we’re here. that we are made up of the twilight and the sunrise, the nightmares and the daydreams all together.

light needs the dark to be noticed. darkness can be survived. one seems to need the other to be recorded. so it’s okay, necessary even, to look straight in the face of both. and peering back is not just who you are, but the legacy of the dance of these things in the people you love, all swirled together. composing your life.

 - Amy McMullen

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It’s been weeks since my mom died, and Abby has moved in. When she is gone I sneak into her room to try on our mom’s glasses. They rest on a shelf just inside the door. Heavy and thick. They call to me. Beckon.When I learned that she had them, I was overcome. Angry. Bitter. Such a tangible part of our mother. Those final weeks all we did was take them off and put them back on her. Adjust them. And now Abby has them. I would come to find peace with this, eventually, but not for a while. Not now.Around the corner I creep, when Abby is at work, and gingerly pick the glasses up. I cradle them, stretched and fragile from years of wear. I close my eyes and press them against my face. They feel cold and heavy, the lenses much thicker than my own.Walking light and timid steps to the mirror, I realize that if I strain hard enough, pull my hair back away from my face, and look just the right way – I can see her.Other times I grab her comb. Red, and plastic. Thick. For weeks it smelled of her. Of a scent so strong and real. Of hair and shampoo, and body and life. Inhaling deeply, slowly, I begin to feel a sense of calm. Like a drug, I need more, and more, and more.

Soon though, the scent of my mother begins to make me uneasy. Sick almost. It’s too real, as though she should be standing here, but isn’t. This physical presence is so near, too near, when I smell that red comb. Soon it gives me a stomach ache and I have to stop visiting it.

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Struggling, like a fish in a net

When the harsh, bloody mornings come back

Light stark smacks you in the face

You’re sure you can’t. You’re sure all you need is to curl in the damp

Because no one knows the half of it

And can’t ever get it, even if you try to explain and detail line by line (But who wants that kind of sodden sadistic play by play)

So you’re left again

Alone with the weight no one else can bear for you

Flapping wings tied down fins busted and bruised

You know there are upsides

And up days,

Shiny balloons to lift you sometime

But in the dark

All you wish is that everyone would stop talking about them.

- Brooke Schultz

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Recently my four year old and I had a conversation about bottomless pits.

Thinking about how dark, scary, and never ending it would be,
I said, “Ohhh, I wouldn’t want to go in there.  There is no end.”
With her small voice she responded, ” We would dig and dig and dig and dig and dig….through the center of the earth.  And then we would dig some more and then we would come out on the other side of the world.”  She’s right, we would come out…or rather we will come out of this “life pit” on the other side. Somehow…with broken nails, tear stained years, and enveloping darkness we will come out on other side…standing and in the light.

Calgary Family Photographer (Photo by Dana Pugh) danapugh.com

This time of year, much of my life is spent in darkness. We go to work in the dark. We come home in the dark. There is very little light in our life. So, as a Canadian, I have had to embrace the darkness in my life. There have been times when the darkness threatens to snuff out the light. When it has felt like I would always be there. Like a long winter. Stuck bumbling around trying to find my way out, but then I would remember to look for the stars. Amongst them you will find hope. Hope for new worlds. Hope for new beginnings. They shine like beacons calling me forward. I am grateful that, in the darkest of darks, I have always had someone grab my hand and show me the stars.

 - Dana Pugh

Monica Calderin-a chorus-the dark-autism-february-2016

I whispered into your ear the other day as you came and sat on my lap like you always do so that I can give you tickles on your back and arms, “I am so sorry that I am failing you.” It was completely heart felt and uttered out of desperation. Desperation that I have been feeling for some time now. I no longer have the answers; maybe I never did. I always thought as your mother that I knew exactly what you needed. You have never uttered a spoken word in your entire life and yet, I thought I knew.

I find myself reaching, trying so desperately to find new answers. I want to help you, but I don’t know how. You are getting older and this new road we are walking down just seems so very foreign to me. It is so very dark and uncertain and I’m scared. Sometimes I feel like I cannot breathe. Help me son. Show me.

When you bite your knuckles and punch your head out of frustration what is happening? Are you mad, sad, frustrated, anxious? I cannot imagine what it is like for you to have your thoughts locked in your head without being able to put words to your emotions. Do you think with words? I do not know. No one does. I am so afraid that one day you may have a pain or urgent request and I won’t be able to help you.

When you wake countless times in the middle of the night did you have a bad dream? Are you thirsty, hungry, cold, scared? I am so sorry that out of my selfish need to sleep all I want to do is scream. It must be hard for you too.

The obsessive compulsive behaviors make me insane; clothing on and off, on and off again, and again, and again… is it ever going to stop? So many unanswered questions. We have to keep everything locked down. The doors, cabinets, drawers, you will eat yourself into oblivion if I let you. Do you ever feel full? Surely you could not still be hungry. You have no concept of danger. I fear I will lose you. Twice already you have gotten out the front door and in a panic we have found you down the street, once completely naked.

Stop. Don’t judge.

Unless you are living this, I promise you do not understand, and that’s ok, how could you? I never imagined this either. Depression can be a bitch.

I’ve always thought, “As long as you are happy that’s all that matters.” Now I wonder if it’s enough. Is it enough to just be happy? So many labels: autism spectrum disorder, mental retardation, chromosome disorder, epilepsy. I’ve tried your whole life to not define you by those labels and in many cases have succeeded.

You are a beautiful, unconditional loving young man and there are so many light-filled amazing things that make you uniquely you. When my days are at their darkest, I try to focus on the good. I’m fighting for you Matthew, I’m fighting, but lately my fight is a distant cry from what it used to be.

- Monica Calderin

briana

I let ghosts take up residence in my being.
I believed this was Love.
spirit nestled in with spirit
fantasy of merging and fusion

It was a sickness

To believe that I am not Enough.
Alone.

There was immense suffering.
fallacy
false highs
falling from heights

no more.

I take up all the space in my being.

- Briana Cerezo

The Dark - Niki Boon

I don’t know what it is about the dark that fascinates me, as much as it scares me.

I am not sure of it is the shadows or what they hide.

The stories , the history, the unknown and the yet to be known.

My dark, my shadows, my stories are as present as everyone else’s, just there in the background.

Over the years stories have revealed themselves from their depths.

Some…memories, arriving unannounced , uncalled for,  sharp and painful. Others woefully tender , revealing a story so deep and so gut-wrenching that it can only revealed in parts and never completely.

As I spend more and more years on this earth , I realise I am not alone with my shadow stories, we all have them.

They companion us all, making our lives richer, giving us more to talk about , dream about , write about and weep about.

I don’t fear the shadows as I once did.

I know now ,they add to our story, our life story, the one thing we have that is all ours, that no one can take from us, the only thing we have at the end, and all we take when we go.

So I stay fascinated by the dark, I continue to be drawn to and photograph the shadows and their stories.

- Niki Boon

jolene bresney

Life is a seesaw, the blade of balance never quite right. Fear of failing, suffocating all her might.

Taking refuge in corners, tucked far away, telling others to go, but secretly wishing they would stay. Hiding hurts and failures, stories never told, hoping the pain would dissipate, rather than unfold. Her voice and self crushed by the words and actions of others, no shoulder to cry on, not even her mother’s.

There’s safety in seclusion no one has a say. Hope and dreams can flourish or slowly drift away. Broken promises and never quite belonging, scarring her soul, carving an empty longing.

She filled it with “stuff” and temporary pleasures, each time less fulfilling, void beyond measure. She fixed her sight on creating art, telling her story, just not from the start. Picking up the pieces, crafting a new beginning, this is life, her way of winning.

- Jolene Bresney

holly d

there was a time as a child that I was very afraid of the unknown. but having looked into the abyss head on, it has taught me that roots rarely grow above ground. there is mystery in blackness, a germination of soul and consciousness, realizations of our possibilities and the fear of physical pain and loss. light cannot exist without the dark, but there is no satisfaction in the grey areas, and without this variance, there is no reflection.

- Holly Donovan

britt

I’m new here.

I just earned my Mommy badge three weeks ago, and have since been in the throws of endless spit up, farts you can’t trust, and having my hands pooped in. I’m learning about things that bring comfort to this beautiful creature, and feeling my heart melt in the newness of my momhood when just the sound of my voice or my cheek next to hers can settle her. Many middle of the night tears have been shed as I struggle to find our own unique rhythm in breastfeeding. My insecurities, and self doubt have reached new lows that have the power to break me in some moments. God, it’s so hard.  It’s hard to be needed so fiercely, but it’s also so wonderful. The fact that no one can comfort her like I can is both suffocating and divine. “It’s all about the little victories!” they say to all of the new parents, and I finally understand that concept entirely. I am now a believer that the little victories along the way have the ability to fill the darkness with an abundance of light. Those little victories are rich and bright and filled to the brim with delightful enchantment, and I got to watch one of those little victories as a quiet onlooker last night. Music. It’s been such a joyous element that connects my Dad and I on a profound level. There are so many songs that have the ability to take me back to such vivid and wonderful moments of time spent with him. So when I come around the corner from doing Sunday dinner dishes to take in the sight of my Dad holding our sweet sweet Josephine, and Van Morrison’s Moondance album is playing on the record player, I just have to pause. I have to let my eyes fill with water as I remember dancing with him in the living room of our old house as a little girl. I let myself think about years down the road when I tell her this story, and years after that when she tells this story, and years after that when maybe she finds herself dancing or swaying with her own baby. The little victories, they truly do heal the battle wounds of all the poop, and all the pee, and all of those late nights and tears and darkness.

- Britt Hueter

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In a momentary fog, I stand on thin, dark ice.

The frigid pool below is fear.

 I begin to slip.

 I hear my baby crying, only he’s not a baby anymore.

 It reverberates in my ears.

 Make it stop! I yell.

 Then I hear the drum of the door slam.

 More shrill crying.

 A good memory is overwritten.

 And takes away one without a picture.

 I regret the sound of my beastly reprimand.

 I feel a bitter chill: it’s resentment.

 My stomach whirls in melody.

 The endless refrain. If only I’d refrained.

 These notes wrap a dark veil all around us.

The crescent moon is waxing.

 It reveals a river connected to streams.

 At first unseen, but THERE.

 I feel a hug, long and tight.

 A new lens rests in my hands

 One that may connect us more deeply.

 Looking through, I see light, and find myself again.

 - Cate Wnek

(C) Summer Murdock | Photographer

I don’t like the dark but just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with it. The dark is uncertain. It requires me to blindly put one foot in front of the other without knowing where I am stepping or where I will end up. It’s a place where fear and uncertainty thrive. A place where that voice in my head is constantly yelling “Go back to where you started.” or “Lay down, curl up in a ball and just give up.You are not worthy and completely over your head.” It asks me “who do you think you are?”

When I am in this ugly, dark place, if I look really, really hard, I can find bits of light that illuminate my path just enough to give me the courage to take just one more step. One. Step. At. A.Time. One. Step. At. A.Time. One. Step. At. A. Time. Pushing though fear. One. Step. At. A.Time. One foot in front of the other,  Eventually the dark gives way to light. It always does. Always. The light may not always stick about for long but after being in the dark, the light is the most refreshingly, peaceful, joyful relief I have ever felt. So as much as I hate the damned dark, I am grateful for the perspective it gives me.

- Summer Murdock

brooke schmoe

She picks her scabs at the breakfast table
crying because they honey dripped off of her toast
and onto the floor.
Her sister will drag a blanket through that later on her way to find me,
sore, bent over a sink full of crusty dishes. She needs me to button her dress.
And to retrieve a marble from the bottom of the bathroom trash can.
She rubs it against my cheek
presses it into my eye sockets while I wait on hold
and feed the baby
and try to remember what I’m planning to do today.
Early motherhood.
I am performing these mundane tasks on the planet Jupiter
where my arms are as heavy as logs
and I might suffocate if I don’t remind myself to breathe.
Out here they cling to me like heavy magnets.
Gravity, heavy, pulls them onto my lap,
and into my bed when it’s dark.
We lay here fused together like four little molecules floating through space,
wondering where we’re headed
enjoying the view.
  • Katrina - Wow this whole post moved me to tears. This is something so very special and just what I needed today. Thank you everyone. Sincerely.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - It really was a special and honest collection. I am so happy it moved something in you, Katrina.

      - AmyReplyCancel

  • Meagan - I do not think in my entire 42 years of life have I ever read such powerful words….understood so clearly each and every word and felt each image. An Amazing and powerful collection.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - Meagan, your comment makes this even more worth every hour spent. What a beautiful and generous thing to say. Thank you…ReplyCancel

  • Becs - So so much beauty here!ReplyCancel

  • Ingrid - To open up like everyone has so beautifully honest and raw means so much. You wrote about darkness but let out so much light.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Voelker - Thank you for this project, Amy. I find so much community and solace in this honest and heartbreakingly beautiful chorus.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - amanda, i could not have said it better. thank you, so much. and i would love to have you.ReplyCancel

  • Annie Otzen - What an amazing post. I don’t think I could ever express how much I love this project.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - and i can’t tell you how much your words mean. it feels wonderful to write and share and put this together. and it feels equally wonderful to know it’s been heard. love to you, annie.ReplyCancel

  • Sharmilla - Because words remain my first true love, even over my passion for visual art, because truth and honesty continue to compel in a world full of carefully crafted facades, and because the stories of mothers and women are so important, for this I am totally smitten and grateful for this project.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - sharmilla, what an amazing compliment, and testament to why this means so much to me. thank you so much for being here…xxReplyCancel

  • 8/52 » STUDIOBLOOM ♥ PHOTOGRAPHY - […] was featured here among a few creative favorites from around the world. The subject we were asked to contribute was […]ReplyCancel

  • jessica uhler - just. beautiful. thank you all for being so raw and real and shedding so much light on the darkness. you have transformed it, or begun to….keep working and making and truth-telling.ReplyCancel

  • What I have to Say » Monica Calderin - […] just written a blog post for Amy Grace’s “The Chorus.” You can read what I wrote here. This is a photo project that is a collaboration of other artists/parents coming together and […]ReplyCancel

{Last week, some unseen force moved me to revisit these pieces. It has been eleven months – of tornadoes and losing faith and home and security, of being skinned emotionally, of having the thin veil of protection fall away, left with love and desperation. Love and Desperation. A complete sentence, the most human parts of us, a good place to start again. And as always, I stand by these words…}

This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

- Amy Grace

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I cannot remember what it feels like not to be a mother. Like you can’t unknow some innovation the world gave you before you were born, or the pain after a heart sliced in half, we can’t forget who we are now enough to completely remember who we were before.

But oh, was there a before. For all of us. We were little girls dreaming of boys and horses and saving lives, making wishes on 11:11, choosing between the abstract lotteries of “love or money,” making our original mistakes when we knew we were making them, writing songs as pure as hope and actually singing them to someone, getting lost in imaginations that felt more safe than escape, learning that the worlds of our girl friends are more exquisite than any romance in the world, knowing to want to be something bigger than we were, remembering years by the ideas we devoured, feeling the first tingles in our solar plexus, with wet hair and cigarettes in our hands, learning that first kisses meant last everythings and never enoughs, being in love with something or someone we yearned for but couldn’t quite place. Until years later we realized it was ourselves, in bloom, full of all that might or might never happen, on the verge of everything.

We can get used to anything that doesn’t stop our hearts. Until our hearts live outside our bodies, fused with new ones, in the fragile, caged walls of our children’s chests. And the dance becomes a dance for our lives. It isn’t until then that we become desperate for the tribe we know is there like the ghost of our grandmother running through our blood. Real, if silent, always present, awake with the fevers and wheezing, and stretches with no partner or money or heat, the betrayals that knock out jet stream winds and lives and hope like downed wires, the questions so embarrassing we blush over the phone asking them, the wanting so much to share the overwhelm that defines and unravels us. We want to share like tea and food and lines committed to memory, the poetry that comes to life when words aren’t enough. It’s not that we want to hurt together, but we want to be allowed to hurt together.

I was twenty six when I became one. Hers. By the far reaching standards of this planet, it was older than most girls get to be, but in my lassoed circles, I was the first. The hurt of getting her here was the most alive and awake I have ever been. I screamed like a terrified, drowning sailor pleading with the storm to back down. We are split in two as an initiation into the forever splitting in two motherhood gives us. The man at my side was the most intense thing I knew before that small hours, snowy March night, and the wide moon eyed girl that woke up my primal heart. He got more intense, more dangerous, my love for him was its own storm, but no match for my wild love of her. She took over, swallowing every want that didn’t match her need. We planted ourselves in safe ground and cracked together, into new light.

There is not only one kind of mom. We are not all married, nor do we need to be. Some of us have never been and never will be wives, some of us have one, some of us lost ourselves to being one to the wrong person, believing someone who didn’t even believe himself, years worth of life’s weaving in the pull of a single thread. We are not all happy or completed, we are unfinished, yearning, spilling over with gratitude and terror, young, old, sick, and strong. We are broken and taped back together with anything we can find to mix with capital L Love. We are as strong as this love. We are trying harder than we thought we could.

Many of us are by accident. I was, twice. Accidents can be hard and miraculous.

Some of us were mothers. I can hardly bear to type it. I watch my own pull herself out of dark soil every day with this weight.

We are all daughters, caught in a forever in between of what we aren’t and what we wish we were.

We are all the real deal. Or we can be. It is a matter of peeling back the layers, skinny dipping with our insides, without a screen, a robe, hindsight. If we all countdown together and say the thing we are most afraid of saying, at the same time, I will bet my precious messy life we are all still standing together afterward.

My right now is the inverse of my daughter’s – that breathless charge of possibility building in the air around her. I could drink it with a straw. Just like I long to drink in her baby smell through time. I feel the negative image of that, chattering teeth, shallow breath, squinting to see some dim candlelight in the deep thick of the tunnel. Still knowing there are infinite tunnels with infinite ends and infinite kinds of light. I feel the teenagers watching me hold the hands of my little boy and his friends, wistfully and with distracted pity. “Her life is over,” they think,  getting everything and nothing right. And I have countless conversations with other mothers in which it’s as if we were never teenagers at all – rated PG when we are all starving for R, telling the happy ending story when we all just want to spill our bloody truths, as if our kids are listening when they aren’t close enough, as if we are all as put together as we want the world to think, as if we have forgotten the Before while setting up the picture for the After. Every time, wanting more.

The mother in me is the most forgiving and most exacting to myself. I have gifted both of my beautiful souled kids fathers who failed them. We think we know the value of self forgiveness until we face something like this, staring us down every day. When I say we, I mean me.

We learn that it isn’t black or white, or even shades of grey. It is every shade of every color all at once. We are saved by the right slant of light, in which we see their faces, making something singular, pure, and clear. The real hand to touch your own and pull you to a dot on the timeline. To make life linear for a second when you’ve gone nebulous, from solid to gas, dispersed in molecules so far away from each other there is no glue you believe might hold you together in your suchness. Our kids do this, necessarily, miraculously, without therapy or play books or medicine. The invisible thing that binds us, the collective, sharp inhale that we never release is something we all know; they will always reach for us, and we will always have to be ready for anything. My five year old boy said to me a few weeks ago, “Mommy, I think I know what you are talking about when you talk to Poppy and other people.”

“What sweetheart?”

“Loving me,” he tells me. And he gets it. He has the quick of me, electric and soft at once, the part of my spine raw to everything, fused to him always, without any surgery.

What will I tell them? What can any of us tell them, in truth and kindness? About a world that drops out under your clenched toed feet. Most of the time, I don’t know – the end points, the how, the what if’s. But the why is the clearest, most solid thing I’ve felt. Them. That most of the time, the fog will lift. Reverse gravity, a pyre of their troubles, becoming air we can take into our lungs and use and exhale. Cells of it will live there just like the lungs of our babies – traces of them in our hearts, our bones, our brains. I always say motherhood changed me on a cellular level. Maybe metaphors do come true. Everything lifts, yes, everything dies and resurrects. And no matter the loss, you will fall in love with the world again, always be changing, always everywhere to me.

- Amy Grace

pamela joye

We arrive naked and shattered 

yet whole. 

 The mother carries us from a dark comforting place into an unfamiliar light.

The father takes us forward with strength and protection.

And I don’t mean to imply that these have genders for many stand as both mother and father.

 Mothers and Fathers can help us to navigate the tangles of the world. 

They can invite us to stretch our arms and reach for the skies. 

To fly high and wide.

 But while they teach us to live in the world, they often dismiss the purity of a young soul spirit as we arrive much closer to the source.

 It can be a messy business 

for some of us land like butterflies trapped in layers

the strands of the past, 

the knots of the present 

tangled up in a web that dims the colors of the future.

 I once attended a forum filled with 200 or so people. At one point, the instructor asked all those age 20-25 to stand up. He then asked those of us sitting down to consider that these were our parents. Looking at the faces, I understood in ways I hadn’t before.

 Mothers and Fathers can take many shapes and emotional forms. 

But when I dig through to the underbelly   

They are the whisper that carries the echo

The leaves that soften the thorns

The stem that nurtures the bloom

- Pamela Joye

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This life is lived in a constant state of ebb and flow. A life lived for a child, a partner. But also for a self. I strive to hold on as pieces of myself drift off into the body of them. I reach for what remains, giving up the rest. Not all is lost, for I too am gifted bits of a self that are not my own.

We are each our own selves, trying to understand and accept what our life is. Yet we grow together. Learning, searching, guiding, living and loving together. And still, separately. We are individuals, taking one another along for the ride.
Though the memory of what was given always remains. For when we are apart there is yearning. A hunt begins. A search for the fragments of light that may only be reflected by those who possess them.
You are you and I am I. But you are forever of me and I of you.
kirsten mckee
early rise, peach-tinted dawn; soft air and the thrum of possibility. we pack our picnic while anticipation blooms. the sun ripens. it’s a long drive; a blur of motorway and wind turbines and clouds burning away and the blue sky, the rush of air through open windows and singing ourselves hoarse and one too many sweets. laughing at nothing. laughing at everything. then the rush through the sand dunes. his hand curled in mine. joy made sharp by the sting of beach grass and the cackle of gulls and the slap of feet on wet sand. we dash into the cool sea, shrieking each time a wave hits, emerge sopping wet and itching with salt. sun on the water. gold horizon. him and me and me and him. we lie breathless on the warm sand and i can almost hear his heartbeat, just barely out of sync with mine. as if we share a pulse. gleaming with happiness, the eyes of son and mother, mother and son, shine.

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“Who we are and how we engage with the world is such a far more accurate predictor of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.” Brené Brown.

I’m the mother now. And yet I don’t have all the answers.

My father left when I was little, and yet I turned out okay. Sure, I sometimes feel like I’m never good enough and I have a tendency to try to be perfect in all things, and I’m sure some therapist out there would tell you that’s because my father left, which left me feeling not quite worthy of staying for. But overall, trying to do things really really well isn’t the worst thing in the world.

But now, as a mother, I think about how I want to be in this world as their mother, what indelible memory I want my children to have of me as their mother, and what I’ve come up with is that I want them to know that I will never leave, that I will always have their back, and that forever and always I am happy to be their first phone call. But I recognize that in order for them to want to call me in the first place, there needs to be more than a status-relationship, mother and child, there needs to be an actual living feeling breathing emotional give take honest truthful relationship with all its highs and lows and in-betweens and love, always love.

And what is that? “Love is making a safe place for another person to be fully themselves.” Henri Nouwen.

And that for me is the crux of it all. I want to truly see my children, individually, for whom they really are. Not for whom I want them to be, not for whom I think they are, not for whom they were last year or two years before that. But today. And tomorrow. Standing before me. Sitting next to me at the table. Who is this person? I want to listen and be curious and accept each of them. I want to look into their eyes and truly see them. I want them to know and to feel deep into their soul that they need not hide here, that everything is okay, that you will be loved. That here with mom is safe. That mom is home.

Nothing else truly matters in this world to me. And if I don’t get it right today, I’m trying again tomorrow.

- Aileen Reilly

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her hands are my hands are my daughter’s hands.

strong, capable. veins like little green rivers, skin like butter and butcher paper. and that ring she wore, that sterling silver dogwood ring, the one I can’t ever remember not on her left middle finger. on that day, she took the hands of her mother, my grandmother, and they danced. grandma’s cheeks, fresh with rouge, a creamy coral dabbed on just before mom slipped the strand of plastic yellow beads around her neck. this was the ritual. I watched from the edges, willed myself to ignore the faint intermingling scent of urine and lysol, concentrated instead on the faraway radio sounds of dolly parton and the two dancers in the room. they lit up the place with that dance, spilled light into the dark corners of the nursing home, the ones nobody likes to talks about.

in two short years, just one year after her own mother, she would be gone. how could I have known she would be gone? in those last days of her life, I held her hands in mine, sat by her bed while she slipped in and out of that deep place morphine takes people when the pain is too much, the cancer is closing in and the world is about to swallow them whole. I sat by her bed and held her hands, television flickering in the background, toddlers and tiaras and wild gypsy teenagers on repeat while my worst nightmare played out in real time. I held her hand like she held mine on the first day of school, the first day of dance class, the first time I had my heart broken. I held her hands they way she held her own mother’s the day they danced. I held her hands and pleaded with her to live, quietly, desperately, to please, please live, pleaded with God for the miracle of all miracles, begged him in messy, shameless ways over and over again.

a few months after she died, I found her jewelry pouch. there it was, tucked beneath a tangle of polyester camisole slips and snagged pantyhose. all my favorite pieces were there– the bracelet with the silver charms she’d collected while traveling through europe in college, the oval locket my dad gave her for christmas one year, the one that held our teeny tiny baby pictures, the collection of bangles with the real turquoise stones and the ring. good lord, the sterling silver dogwood ring. as much a part of my mother as the small crescent-shaped scar on her cheekbone and those amber brown eyes. I slipped it on my middle left finger and gasped. there she was. in the shape of my hand, my fingers, in the color and texture of my skin, in the way her signature ring looked on my left hand. she was as close as my left hand, I could see her, feel her any time I stopped to look down.

my daughter’s hands are nothing like mine, nothing like my mother’s. her fingers are long and slender, her skin, smooth by comparison and fairer in complexion. her hands are the hands of a concert pianist, though interlaced with mine, the differences fall away. she held my hand my through those months, the the before and after, held my hand when I shut down, pushed everyone else away. she was quiet but sure about it, acted with the same gentle tenacity as her grandmother did for so many years. her hands are my hands are my mother’s hands. and she’ll slip the silver dogwood ring on one of these days. she’ll see me, feel me, remember her grandmother. she’ll look down and she’ll know. we’re with her, always.

- Andrea Jenkins

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mothers and fathers are not told at the hospital that having that brand new baby will come with the darkest moments of your life as well as the brightest. they are not told that they will feel their children’s disappointments and pain as though they were their own but magnifiied times a million. and they are not told that no family escapes those moments — that its inevitable — that you must watch your children fail for them to succeed. that sometimes you have to hold them as they grieve and that in worse times, they will push you away and hide their troubles or pain. you will see them struggle and know the outcome through your life experience but yet they won’t listen to you or learn from you, but they must learn the hard way always and you must watch. that they will throw away the best opportunities and do the stupidest of things. and that all your hard fast rules and great parental ideas will fly out of your head and be useless in the face of such times. and as an overly optimistic person, i can easily showcase this in rainbows and say that there is always a bright side (which I do believe in my soul). but i also know in my heart that having children can be very painful and can force you to see yourself as you truly are and not as you wish you were. my children have broken me. but broken me in a way that makes me more human and more able to be compassionate and to love and be loved.

- Wendy Laurel

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there is this chipping.

chip, chip, chipping away.

nagging. irritating.

annoyance that one, perhaps, cannot even imagine before the pick hits ones ice-y hard.

i am melting. and sculpted by the second. from all directions, it comes at me.

no solace… no socially acceptable option for a clean escape.

could i bare one, an escape? telling my whole mind, bliss.

i have become. dripping with cold. shimmering in dust, shavings, dancing-s. could I have this written my wildest dreams?

crawling and caved, my insides. each scream, torment, each small, important question reminds me, i exist.

through frozen time, in magic.

and still i close my eyes. pause. silence.

more space i have inside… more breath i have. to hold. to swallow. to exhale.

to exist.

- Katy Tuttle

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Journal entry from a cold December

Rough week on the motherhood front. A few careless comments in regards to how I’m not as great of a mother as so and so thinks I should be. Blah, blah, blah. So on and so forth.

Tantrums, tears, and the like. It’s how childhood and adulthood seems to be. Call me childish.

I tried to fight back. Outings, sweets, and home cooked meals. Climbing the giant fig tree and ripping cat tails into heaps of snow. We skipped rocks saving the smoothest to line our pockets.

Ah, but some days are meant to drag out. 4:23 pm. Signing off to go win this battle. Some children are worth fighting for.

- Maryanne Gobble

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Your birth still echos, ringing in the faintest of places. A chant leaving bruises I can’t seem to bandage. We mothers tend wounds where violets grow.

Girlchild.Mother.Bride. Each strung round my neck with great care. Yet heavy as tires on my skin. This life of being split in two is forever. I look out the window and see myself flapping tar soaked wings into the purplest light. Fleeing. Then I notice — you are flying with me.

You wrap your long fingers around my face in the darkness. Fingers like string. I whisper, “You’ll do better than me at this. Your heart is softer than mine.” Your eyes melt into the pillow. And I rest my heart against yours. I smell spring and soot and hot sunshine. We lie on a bed of moons. And are one.

- Roxanne Bryant

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Us Solars are going through a really rough period of life. Having a son who’s been sick for 2 years and not knowing what it was has been so stressful and horrible and anger inducing. He was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and not only does he have it, but one of his sisters does as well. Two kids with cystic fibrosis. Dealing with a horrible insurance company. Closing up shop on a few businesses, not failures, just not helping us support our family. We have been planning a trip to Europe for the past 3 years. We were going to be there for 5 months, adventuring all over with our family. Learning so much about new cultures, and just enjoying one another’s company. We had the plane tickets booked. We had the car leased. Max was supposed to be healthy by now so we could go. Our businesses were supposed to be making the money we need to have the time freedom we so desperately crave. But life swooped in and had other plans. Jenny + I always tell each other… “We don’t talk about doing awesome shit, we actually do awesome shit.” So, life telling us we can’t do awesome shit makes me a bit angry.

And, yet, I can’t help but see there’s so much good happening in our life. Since Max’s diagnosis, he’s put on over 15 pounds. He’s been off antibiotics for longer than he has in the past 2 years, and isn’t showing signs of getting back on them anytime soon. He’s got the energy of a 10 year old boy back. He can play baseball again. Blessing. Ava’s diagnosis came early enough that she never had the major problems Max had to deal with. Blessing. The closing down of businesses that didn’t serve us has opened up the space to create something beautiful that is filling us up and is showing signs of momentum that will carry on to (hopefully) be our path to time freedom one day. Blessing. This whole process has led Jenny + I to connect on much deeper levels. It’s forced us to get really clear on the life we want to live, the way we want to parent, the people we want to surround ourselves with, and to say NO to everything that doesn’t fit into that plan. We’re so much closer than we ever have been, and that’s saying something since we’ve been together for well over half our lives. Blessing.

There’s so much good, and it deserves to be recognized. People keep asking me how I can be so positive given all life’s thrown my way, and to them I say, no other choice makes any sense to me. I get angry, frustrated, stressed out, true. I lose my faith and hope from time to time, true. So I sit with those feelings for a bit, and then I get up and push forward. I must keep pushing forward into a deeper love for life and those around me. A deeper love for Jenny, for my kids, for my friends and family, for myself, for humanity. I can’t control what cards I’ve been dealt, but I always have a choice in how I react to them.

I want my kids to see the full range of human emotions. Lord knows we’re living it. I want them to know I’m not perfect and I’ll never be perfect. I don’t expect them to be either. I want them to know my flaws, to see and experience them, and I want them to see how I move through those flaws to a place of love. A place where I can bless others. A place where I can be grateful for all the messiness this life is, because it’s such a beautiful messiness. That’s mothering and fathering to me. Being real. Being vulnerable. Being honest. Being loving. Holding tight onto one another and doing the best we can.

- Josh Solar

Jennifer Potter Chorus web

I want you to feel all of the magic of the Earth while it is still magic to you. My hope is that if you know it this way, you will always love it….. you will always see the wonder and beauty in the simplest things it offers. In difficult times, when I can not hold you,  you will find yourself comforted by the feeling of the wind and the presence of the ground beneath you….. and you will find the strength to carry on.

- Jennifer Potter

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In their freedom, in their wild abandonment of societal norms, I find my own permission to exhale, and be the woman I was placed here to be.

- Michelle Gardella

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make of my heart, a nest.

some of my earliest memories are of looking through the sears catalog and circling toys and pretty dresses. i circled them not for me, but for the babies that would someday be mine.

i’d sit around on the scratchy tweed couch at my grandma’s house with a kickball tucked under my shirt, pretending i could feel a baby growing inside, pretending i could grow someone to love me in the way a lonely four year old needed to feel loved.

…and now, with four children in the nest of my heart, i find myself thinking, often, of that little mama bird of a girl. and how she dreamed a wonderful life for us.

- Angela Hendrix Petry

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I didn’t stop loving my husband when my children were born, but love – in general – became redefined. My love for my children was all-consuming and nothing in the world seemed to measure up to the love I had for them. Today, four years after my first and two-and-a-half after my second, that love for them is still all-consuming, incomparable.

I paid less attention to my marriage in those early days as my new motherly instinct took over. I didn’t love my husband any less, per se. Rather, I had one little man whose life literally depended on me and one grown man who was more or less capable of caring for himself. And so my attention went to my son. In hindsight, it’s all so strange. You spend your young adult years dating and searching for “the one” and then, if you’re lucky, you find him and choose him to be your husband. Some time later, if you’re lucky again, you give birth to a child who you don’t really know at all. And suddenly you forget all about the one you’ve chosen and become totally enamored and enmeshed with a complete stranger.

Before we knew it, there were two. Having a second–especially so close to the first–has a way of knocking you over the head, repeatedly. Our world became much more chaotic–not necessarily all at once, but gradually. Everyone says your love multiplies and, while I agree with that (with a few asterisks attached), I would say that your attention gets divided. Suddenly, my husband fell further from the front of my mind. I didn’t nurture our relationship like I once did. In fact, at times I even resented what seemed to be inequities in responsibilities for our family. I had envisioned entering motherhood as a team, as equal partners, and the reality of it was that my life felt more heavily impacted.

Thankfully, our marriage didn’t suffer. I can’t say that this was a hard time for us or that we fought a lot; there was just a lot of adjusting and sorting and trying to keep our heads above water. Life continued on and eventually we got our bearings as new parents, while the negotiation of our husband-and-wife relationship continued in the background. At many points in the chaotic shuffle, I’ve looked over at my husband and felt overcome with gratitude. He is my partner. I get to navigate this madness with him.

Today, we’re back to going on dates; Not always as often as we’d like, but definitely as often as we can. Just him and I. And it’s wonderful.

- Ashley Jennett

Posy Quarterman Photography, www.photoposy.com

Will you stay in our lovers’ story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you
Soon you’ll grow so take a chance
With a couple of Kooks
Hung up on romancing

We bought a lot of things
To keep you warm and dry
And a funny old crib on which the paint won’t dry
I bought you a pair of shoes
A trumpet you can blow
And a book of rules
On what to say to people
When they pick on you

‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty Kookie too - David Bowie

- Posy Quarterman

rebecca coursey

who knew, stumbling upon this life of motherhood, i would love it so fiercely.

nothing else has defined me as much and nothing ever will define me more.

i am sure of this.

as i watch you gallop away into the arms of adolescence, i hold back little sobs of joy. you love. you will be loved. you are fiercely loyal. you love to argue your points. you are slowly becoming a man.

as much as i love this, i would, in an instant, turn back time to walk down the doors of your childhood once more. drink cup after cup after cup of cup of tea made in your pretend kitchen. bake with you, play dinosaur with you. hide out in forts with you and camp again under the stars knowing that all is right with the world.

in my dreams, i sit on the edge of a long pier. my feet are dangling off the end and as i stare off into the expanse of the mist and layers of fog lifting off the lake, i see that i have worlds of unknown lives to still live, but i don’t ever want to take the plunge, i don’t want to heave off the end of the pier into the water, i don’t want to stop being a mother to your littleness, i don’t want you to be big and me to be older. and as much as i don’t want it, i know it will still happen, even if i had ten more children, it would never stop you from leaping into the unknown of adulthood, and me watching your ripples slowly slip away as you swim out of sight.

- Rebecca Coursey

 

This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers and fathers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

- Amy Grace

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I remember sitting in a bath gone cold. Looking at my body like it wasn’t my own under slanted Spring window light, tired inertia following the war, gluing me safely, briefly in time, knowing my parents were watching my tiny girl downstairs, our lives changing at the speed of light and I couldn’t outrun it. The police had come the night before. I had called them, surprising myself, trusting the last bit of instinct that hadn’t worn away. Barricaded in a bedroom, knowing the feeling of someone wanting to love me to death, and wanting me dead if he couldn’t love me, I had to face the end of the maze and bring out the sledgehammer. Done, a complete sentence. Leaving the madhouse didn’t turn the world to technicolor, but everything sparkled a secret that matched the deep healing cuts’ hurt. I cannot call it happiness, but it was the closest thing to a new page after cramming tiny, shocking stories onto a sheet i folded and hid in my pocket. It was the state of the absence of pain, after a life like a migraine, when every molecule of air has some quiet gift it slips in each breath. Pulling back the curtain and showing everyone the lengths we go to to put on the show, is maybe better than any standing ovation. How young I was, to feel so old; at twenty eight, knowing the in betweens of life and death, love and hate, streaks of silver through my hair. How lucky and heavy and free.

So many of us have to teach our lungs deep breaths. My first hits of peace were relative to chaos, my stasis is longing and worry and playing zone defense against fate. Or is it anymore? The stories we tell ourselves about who we are are more like soap operas than poems – we are unpredictable, episodic, prone to suspend disbelief and leap into new plot lines. We are changelings, we try as we ponder our aging reflections, happy by surprise, by accident. I am terrified to grab it, terrified by how i fall in love with the world – covetous and hungry and running through open hearted, ready to lose it all. But I know I will fall in love with special parts of people, throw lines out to the promise of another human being as frail and wild as me, and in that I put all of my scarce stock. Quite a lot of our joy has taken place in messes, in limbo, waiting for the crash, in other people’s houses, rooms we share, never dressed for the part, on a canvas I am waiting to paint over, on terms for which I apologize to the forever Joneses…but always awake to each other. We fall into rhythms of breath as we live and sleep side by side, metronomes with heartbeats, being each other’s lesson. I am learning.

I used to obsess over the exact moment we would go back in time and plot our getaway, kept it like a secret wish on birthday candles, holding it in my tight, dark palm so that it might come true. The minute I found out I was having a baby and knew she was my girl before the doctor, wishing it was on my own, seven pregnancy tests with sharp lines pointing to the unknown – that was the time machine moment. The two of us should have run in the opposite direction, me the cocoon, her the perfect winged angel. Before her, I wanted to find my line, my vector but I was nothing but tangled string, too loose to stretch, swimming in a honey vague dream to a lost mooring. Or I raced against the ghost of myself, my legs too human and slow and bound. I was sinking and flailing my soul, my sentences missing a subject. Some people add to who we are, others subtract. With each brush, each exchange, we are less. Then some people hand you a palette of color and ask you to paint the way love feels. That is her. We have nicknames for streets, times of day, people we’ve just met. We speak in a shorthand of poetry, cryptic and fraught and ready to spill over with laughter, sometimes even “kythe” like in our favorite, “A Wrinkle In Time”, reading each other’s twin minds. We drape our soft and loose lasso over as much of the world that will let us imagine it, blurring the line between us and them with language and hope and days gone wrong that we call ‘adventures’. You take the truth and flip it until you find the shape that makes sense, that solves your puzzle. In the searching and waiting it out, holding our breath with crossed fingers at our backs, in the trying way too hard, we are sometimes found: lucky, impatient for purer air, happy, with dust clouds and thick heads and tiny sweaty hands in our own. My girl reminds me that “our best days can be someone’s worst. Our worst days can be someone’s best,” swimming in the same cloudy soup, becoming it as we dip in our toes and dissolve.

For my kids, there is no serving up of the perfect that I chased blind my whole exhausted life. But love is practice for love, especially love for which you’ve fought. We find the luck in our situation or move the hell on, find courage or know where to find it. We swim through, inelegant and sincere, getting stronger by the stroke. And the further we get on, the story of love in our lives turns out to star our friends and family. If you are uncrossed stars lucky, then maybe not. But you are lucky either way, closing your eyes to watch the sun dance in its warm, fluid colors across your closed lids, just maybe having someone’s hand to hold. It’s all there, from the inside out; in that last second, I hope my words are ‘thank you’ and only that there is a person I love to hear them.

My four year old asked me about death a couple of weeks ago. The shock hit him hard and vast and lonely, eight thirty at night, sitting on the potty, his sister singing in the shower, the inside joke shorthand we use to talk about our days filling the small steamy room. “I am going to DIE? YOU are going to DIE, mommy?” I cried the invisible melting tears of a parent staring down a long day and dark eternity. No band aids, no promises, no solid answers, only love forever and ever. That’s how we fight it, I told him, and let’s fight it together, for anyone we can help. And our new plan, about which he reminds me on the daily: “we come back as ghosts together, and we haunt each other.”

We are never going to make it out of the world alive. Gulp. Exhale. The best of us, the most loved, the most hungry, we are all mortal, in all our raw disbelief. And there is the great tragedy and freedom we share, and have to turn into light, mouthing the words “I’ve made it.” It shocks me electric and deep when I can’t sleep, just like it does you. And I hope it stays with me, the poker at my back the next day.

Here now, worn down, wizened, and wiser, leaking tears and light, the silver lining is spilling out, tripping over itself comfort that can’t be contained in the zipped up, scripted, grown up day; the clear space sharpened, awake, stripped to the quick. It is showing up to the cocktail party and knowing you get to be exactly, frankly yourself. It is being honestly okay with any picture of myself because hey, it’s just my face, not my soul. It s a heavy thing with the strongest wings the world can build. It is that I am not going anywhere, no matter the strength of the itch, the buried over fifteen year old roar of longing, the mistake from which I want to be forever away, the darkness in me without my kids. The silver lining is that they know this, firm and vocal and sure as gravity, and fear for the person who gets between us. The silver lining is that we get to do this together, to be alive and broken in pieces and mended by the glue of time and sewn together grace. We get to choose our tribe and love it fiercely. As we clean up messes we forget ourselves and find ourselves too. From the rear view mirror everything is laced with silver, getting smaller, feeling bigger as we leave it.

- Amy Grace

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This separation of father and son is not what I thought it was.

I am becoming someone new. And so is the boy who had to leave. He isn’t the same as when I held him. He isn’t how I remember him. He is so much bigger now.

The eyes in my head cannot see the ways in which we remain together. My turn to be held.

A vision. Given to anchor me in this time of frequent lifestorms. A foundation. A launching point. A hundred-thousand-milestone. Sung into my being, carried across the dome. Like the biggest rainbow, vibrant with the pulse of thunder. A vision, seen through the eyes of another, voiced in confidence and bewilderment.

Glimpses of beyond in our midst, as real to me as anything my hands have touched.

I am moving again in life, glancing back at this new milestone. Remembering. Supported. One step at a time. Move the smallest piece on the chess board, one space forward.

And trust.

- Jeremy Brown

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It’s Cancer.

“Excuse me? Wait, what?!” (did he just say what i think he said?!!) I think that is the first thing I said, and thought, once they told me the news. Because even in the days before my diagnoses, when I was going back and forth to the doctor trying to figure out what was going on….never in a MILLION YEARS did I think they were going to tell me I actually had Cancer.

And then I cried…I cried more than i think i have ever cried before. I cried for my kids, for my husband, for our little life that I love so much….because life as we knew it was now over, or so I thought in that moment…..and it was for a while. The truth is when people say Cancer sucks, they are right. Treatment is awful. Recovery is awful. Those are the hard truths. But, with all of that awfulness laid out in front of me there was an amazing feeling of comfort that all would be okay in the end if I just pushed through.

And in the days that follow I watched as my girlfriends come to my house each morning to gather my kids and take them on an adventure for the day….so that while I was having a “bummer summer” they were playing and laughing with their friends, distracted from what was going on at home. I watched as people near and far brought my family dinner each night for months…people, some I have never met in person, made sure all of our basic needs were taken care of so that all I had to do was make sure I got to my doctor appointments each day. And so even though I was deep in it all I could think was WOW….HOW LUCKY AM I to be surrounded by so much goodness and love?!

Things are not always good but the truth is there is always always something worse. There is a time to wallow and scream and yell and feel sorry for yourself. But life is short and really what good is it going to do you…feeling sorry for yourself will not make your situation different. Thinking postiviely may not make your situation different either but it’s a hell of a better way to be.

So my only choice was to pushed through the dark clouds…and though retesting is not done until November…when the doctors told me I could resume normal life, 4 weeks after my treatment was over, I picked up right where I left off…like I had just woken from a nightmare…the sun was shining, it was a new day and I awoke on the other side with more perspective, more love, more gratitude for my friends, family and the normalcy of of life!!

- Tory O’Leary

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When I was younger I thought, “if I just get to this point in my life, I will truly be happy.” Or, “When I’m married with a few kids, a home and a dog, I will be set. I will have everything.” I never expected some of my loneliest days to have been as a wife. Some of my most selfish moments to have been as a mother. I didn’t expect to still be figuring myself out at 30 years old. I didn’t expect to, some days, not really like the person I am at 30 years old. I also didn’t expect to love her as much as I do.

Life is good. Life is heartbreaking. Life is a crying while watching The Notebook for the millionth time. Life is the goosebumps you get when you lover gives you that smile that made you fall in love with them. Life is that lump in your throat when you see strangers help each other. Life is death of loved ones. Life is betrayel. Life is not having expectations of how life should be but seeing the silver lining in the moments that make you feel alone or misunderstood. Life is always going to give you beautiful days. Life is all about the journey.

- Becky Earl

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how does that quote go? the one about becoming stronger. oh yeah. “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” that one. i call bullshit. sometimes life gets to be so much that you cave. and some people never get back up. depressing i know. but here comes the feel good part. it doesn’t matter how weak i feel. no matter how lost i get, you never stop searching for me. life keeps on getting messier, crazier, deeper, fuller. but through it all you find me and i find you.

- Heather Robinson

AMRX5808

I listen as my mom explains to my grandmother for about the eighth time in two hours that my grandfather died over a year ago. My grandmother is already in high amount of distress because my grandfather “isn’t home from work yet.” He spent their marriage as a NYPD Detective. It was dangerous work. When he didn’t come home on time, she would fret. On this particular day in Maine in October 2014, she is reliving that distress. On top of that, she can’t find a phone to call him at the office, and no one there will give her the phone number for the police department (she can’t remember it). She also can’t figure out why her mother (my great-grandmother) hasn’t stopped by yet because she promised to be there, and in fact, hasn’t been there in days and no one will tell her where “Mama” is (my great-grandmother has been deceased for 21 years).

As she hears my mother say, “Mom, remember, Dad died last year,” my grandmother caves in on herself in pain, reliving the loss of her husband of 70 years all over again. “Why didn’t anyone TELL ME?” she cries. “Mom, we did tell you. You were there. You said goodbye. We had the service at the church and lots of people were there…” And fifteen minutes later, the same conversation is repeated anew. As if it had never occurred at all one thousand times since my grandfather’s death in April 2013. Sometimes it’s easier to answer that dad is at work. He’ll be home later. He called, everything is okay. He loves you and will see you later.

I suppose the silver lining is that she doesn’t remember this conversation each time it occurs. To her, it is only one conversation. But to be in that deep anguish over and over again throughout the day, day after day, and to be a witness to that pain, well, sometimes it’s more than one can bear.

My grandmother tells me she’s not happy. “It’s too much. Everyone is leaving me.” She moves in and out of reality. She wants her wedding photo removed from the nightstand — she recognizes her husband of 70 years ago, but isn’t sure who is standing with him. “Why did he give me this photo?” “He’s married someone else in this picture and no one will tell me who she is.”

Yes, my grandmother is still with us.

But then again, she isn’t.

When the literal silver linings of her brain, her gray matter, began disappearing taking my grandmother with it, the metaphorical silver lining disappeared as well. There are three remaining photographs on her nightstand — one of her which I took only 4 years ago, she is alive and vibrant, fully herself and only occasionally forgetful; one of my aunt, only 59, who recently passed away in May, six months after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis; and one of my grandfather who I photographed 4 years ago, one of the last portraits of him when he too was fully himself.

I suppose the silver lining is we had that time four years ago. Because that is the time I want to remember.

- Aileen Reilly

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I am not one to see the silver linings.

Catastrophe and missing pieces I’m quick to spot. The world comes crashing in every moment, cars smash and doctors call, homes are lost, children walk away. It’s always been hard for me to see through all this mess to the joy running like a thread through it all.

But here he stands, five years after his older brother slipped quiet into my arms. Five years since I handed his brother’s cold body to the nurse – nine months growing, hours birthing and then my baby was gone. Five years and here stands the one who grew inside me two months after I scattered his brother’s ashes in the sea.

He stands like he has conquered the world for me, and he has. Spiderman mask, and sometimes I think that could be his brother’s face behind it. But as he grows tall, speaking his own words, holding me when he’s scared… The more I know he never could have been Joshua, and Joshua could not be this blond boy I hold now.

My baby born five years ago is gone, and this child I hold is my silver lining. He was always ever, only him – Jeremiah, sent to rescue me.

- Sharon McKeeman

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​I had a conversation with an old friend over a few beers this weekend. We haven’t seen one another since our grad school days. Since then, our paths have led us different directions and as much as I wanted to hear about all of her latest endeavors (which were no doubt more exciting than mine),  she was the one overflowing with questions for me.  “Tell me everything about being a mother to  your sweet daughters, your ‘baby birds’,” she said.  She wanted to know what it was like, how it was done. Oh , how disappointed she must have been when she realized I didn’t have the answers for her. I wonder as much as she does about all of the other sweet baby birds of the world and how they’re  being cared for. I wonder about the ones caring for them and what it is  that holds them together. “I don’t know if I could be a mother,” she went on to say, “it would be hard for me to  bring life into such a broken world.” I paused. The truth is, I am a doubter too, a grasper of the glimmers, a weary soul that needs rest. Sometimes, I feel as if there’s a veil right in front of my eyes that I long to have removed so I can see clearly- to  breathe peace in and out. But, just before this doubt consumes me, I remember that there is such a beautiful silver lining  to living in this world full of veils. It’s not one that we have to create ourselves or conjure up through our own merits but one that is powerful and speaks of a real, freeing hope. I told my friend to take heart, I told her that there’s a  silver lining that breaks through this broken world and that while it can be hard to see, it’s real and worth seeking and if a doubter like myself could find it in my daughter’s eyes then who knows where she’ll find hers.

- Elizabeth Koehler

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I spotted a penny on the ground this week but I didn’t pick it up. I just left it there.   “Tails you lose.”  Yet as easily as I discarded that penny, I spent a dollar on the office lottery pool.  The “sure” bet remaining on the ground.

As long as I can remember I’ve always stopped to make wishes when I spot a dandelion.  Just something about closing your eyes and embracing “possibilities”, each one waiting to be given life with just one breath.

I realize that often in my constant praying and hoping for some things to get better I forget to live in the present.  I forget the right here, the right now. ..the small stuff , the real stuff.  So busy reaching with both arms stretched out wide grasping high for better, it blinds me of the very silver linings gently poking at me right now.

Better has to be today…despite how unclear today may seem.

As I sit here writing this I realize that on my saddest  days there have been silver linings present everywhere.  Little bits of promise peeking their heads whispering “hey you  …look over here.”

Silver linings disguised in the smell of my daughters hair brushing up against my nose at night  as I wrap her up in just  one more hug before she goes to bed.  They manifest themselves in her piercing uninhibited laughter down the hallway, Husky in tow when all I want is just one quiet moment to think.  It was there the very day I miscarried again as two small squishy hands held out a board book waiting to be read appropriately named “Dónde Está el Bebé?” ..”Where’s the baby?”

They constantly come in the form of reminders … they’re constantly disguised as her.

Seven years ago I arrived at the hospital a few hours too late.  My father had died. I was completely out of breath from the shock of the news and the race to get to him.  My train broke down and I never made it to his room before he had to be “moved.”  The last place where we would have our final one on one was the hospital’s basement morgue. There I found him peaceful with a crimson kiss mark on his forehead. It was my mother’s shade.

It was a gentle reminder that she was still with me and that I needed to be there for her. Although I still carry the open wound of someone who has lost a parent I know how very blessed I am to have had the father I did..and the mother I still have.

Silver linings manifest themselves into the people that I love but just as often in the kindness of strangers I meet.   They are the true hope.  They never make promises of a storybook ending. They don’t make promises at all.  They just make me take notice and realize that it’s time to start living life right now just as it is.  Penny in hand.

- Ingrid Rivera

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Their shoot was supposed to take place at a giant waterfall. Majestic and wild. Instead I got sick and couldn’t stop throwing up. So they came to me and we made magic in my backyard. Sometimes the silver lining isn’t poetic or grand. Sometimes it’s just enough. And that’s enough.

- Michelle Gardella

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It’s all in their hands. The one whose caresses I’ve felt when my skin glowed with youthful promise and as my hips stretched with the weight of our unborn son. Those hands that I hope will trace the years on my face, lines traveling through the joys and sorrows of a life well lived. It’s in the growing hand wrapped around my finger squeezing helplessly just a few hours in this world and now leading me to the places he wants to go. Those hands that discover and grow. Those hands that made me a mom.

It’s in hands long gone, those of my grandmother wrinkled and beautiful who thumbs traced circles on my wrist when she held them. It’s in hands still here oozing with my mother’s strength. A strength I’ve relied on all my life. In my dad’s hands callused with work and sprinkled with saw dust. It’s in the hands of my sister that have held mine for as long as I can remember.

My silver lining is in these hands that have held me from my birth to the birth of the only legacy worth leaving behind. They are lined with hope and promise, connected by love.

- Elaine Palladino

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Going to fast for myself I missed
more than I think I can remember
almost everything it seems sometimes
and yet there are chances that come back
that I did not notice when they stood
where I could have reached out and touched them
this morning the black shepherd dog
still young looking up and saying
‘are you ready this time’

W.S. Merwin

When my brother passed he left behind a poloroid of himself with his handwriting
scribed that read ‘the time is now’, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Nothing good came from his death,
grief was the darkest hallway I’ve ever resided,
I took up a long twelve month residency there.
My only peace was that he no longer suffered
from addiction.
I searched for signs everyday and when I found that photo
I knew it was for me.

There is a silver lining in second chances.
His death allowed me to slow down and to take them,
his message forced me to pay attention, and
putting fear of not being good enough aside with not just photography
but everything else I wanted in life and going for it.
The time was now.
We are all terminal.

This silver lining came to me again during
my breast cancer diagnosis this summer and surgery.
Getting cancer in your 30s is not something you ever see
coming. There is nothing more frightening with four
children who love their momma but you can’t show your fear.
I can’t control my cancer, but I can fight it. I can’t control how many years
I have left earth bound, but I hope its many. I can’t control my fate but I can control my destiny.
I’ve never before in my life hoped to reach 75, because I always just assumed it
would be so.  As scared as I am with my health, I continue
to be fearless in all other endeavors, in my creativity and art,
my spoken words, my thoughts and dreams. Fearless is my new thing,
and I hope to make things happen on the first chance because I’m
going SLOW enough, that I won’t need that second. Unless it comes
in the form of recurrence.

I believe in life after loss, be it a brother or breast(or two).
I believe in love.
I believe in second chances.
I believe in slowing down.
I believe in soul bodies.
I believe there are no accidents or coincidences.
I believe in silver linings.
I believe in hope.

- Holly Donovan

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I used to feel alone–for the longest time and for as long as I can remember.  I vacillated between the desire to hide and yet the desire to be seen.  To be acknowledged, fully known, accepted, and loved, these were some of the deepest longings of my tiny and fragile heart. Even as a young girl I felt as if people knew me, really knew me, there would be nothing to love, nothing to esteem.  And yet the need was still there, so I did the only thing I could think of and that was to become excellent.  I felt as if becoming excellent (at everything) would at least earn those deep-seeded desires.  Striving for love and acceptance though is a tricky black hole.  One step forward, ten steps back and the ever present feeling of hiding as an impostor.  The same deceptive voice that told me I could work for love also told me that I wasn’t that smart and I wasn’t that talented; people would surely find me out.

Through it the identity of deceiver became my own with the constant thoughts, “If they knew.. if people knew… if anyone knew… If they knew who you really were… if people knew where you really came from.  If anyone knew…”  I just want to scream at the ridiculousness of it all!  The exhaustion, the vicious cycle.  The irony is that I felt so alone.  Yet as I’ve gotten older, wiser, more life-experienced, I’ve learned that so many people, women especially, feel this way.  Our stories and circumstances may be entirely different, but that mocking, deceitful voice tortures so many of us into hiding and striving, into a black hole that leads to internal death.

The silver lining in all this and every other one that remains present in my life stems from the realization of Truth.  Redemption.  Grace.  Realizing that love should resemble freedom and not a prison, a reflection of the love that abounds from my Creator.  Being acknowledged, fully-known, accepted, and loved… truly loved, the longings of my heart that were already mine for the having.  The birth of my daughter provided the right lens to see it and opened me up to feel it.  No need for hiding, no need for striving.  Love that flows endlessly, without condition; a beautiful promise that swells our hearts upon the first breath like unadulterated worship.  Really, I could not think of a more beautiful privilege of living.

Sometimes I still hear that old voice and often it’s easy to recognize and ignore.  Other times I have to realize that I’ve stepped back onto its train.  It’s the one that says I’m not enough, I don’t deserve, I don’t belong, I won’t make it.  It still tries to make me feel ashamed of where I come from, still tries to allure me back into hiding.  Fortunately the fix is as easy as stepping off the train.  Choice.  Freedom.  Empowerment.  Refocus.  I pray, delight, love, and find rest in all the blessings.  I think of them fondly:  my sweet daughter who broke the barriers and burst open my broken heart; my incredible husband who sees and wants all of me, who loves me so well; my amazing friends who have shown me what true family is, who know my story and are encouraged through it; and my Heavenly Father who called me out of hiding, who redeemed my brokenness, who believes in me above all others, who is my biggest fan.  Yes, they are the silver linings.

- Marla Cyree

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I wake up each morning with all of the bright and shiny hope of a fresh start. I move through my days, navigating all of the hills and valleys and twists and turns and tangles that come my way. And at the end of the day, as I rest my head on my pillow I work to let the tension of the day go, and the silver lining is that I get to wake up in the morning full of hope once again.

- Jen Downer

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You came to me in the space between child and adult, much closer to the child side. I remember when you were a baby—Nana was with me, teaching me to be a mom—and, as newborns do, you began to cry. I heard you, but the child I was knew my mom was there, that she’d respond because that’s what mothers do. But then she hollered to me from the other room, calling Mommy! Mommy! as though she were you. Whether she knew it or not, she was passing the baton to me. I was 21, and two weeks shy of graduating college. And in that moment I became Mother.

I remember our little one-bedroom bungalow with the cardboard walls in the hallway connecting the hollow-walled bedroom and living room… trying to hang pictures, but the nails just pounding into nothing. And that desolation paired with our spotless, white rug and perfectly fluffed pillows, our ceiling high Christmas tree, your sparkling nutcracker and your face on Christmas morning. And that hominess paired with the nights I may have skipped dinner so you wouldn’t. And that paired with the perfection of you sleeping each night in the crook of my arm.

I remember the first time someone mistook us for brother and sister. We were boarding a flight in Burbank and stopped to buy concessions. It was her, the lady at the cash. I kept waiting for her to laugh at her joke, but it never came. You tipped your chin up a little and gave me a nudge; you were nine. I felt a little bottomed out; it was the first time I felt our age gap narrow.

I remember your quivering lip, how you stopped cold and cried when you walked into the room and saw your sister for the first time, quickly batting your tears and wiping your eyes before gathering her in your arms in a weirdly natural way, and smothering her in kisses. She was 17 hours old and you were 10. You’d always been my sensitive one. . . but this?

I remember last week when the stick you brandished on our hike—which I’d thought was a walking stick—turned out to be your means of fending off mountain lions. How you lead the way, scanning left and right as your sister and I bounded down the trail behind you, stopping only if you heard something up ahead or to pull her onto your shoulders when she became too tired to walk.

That hour before sunset on a regular Friday night bore the moment I saw you trying to be my protector, not a child-explorer. You are 14, Francesca was three, I’m 36. My son, that May day you came to me all those years ago, you didn’t complete my world. You built it. You’ve shaped the child I was into the adult I am today. You are Me as much as I’m me. You are my silver lining.

- Kelly Sweda

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Silver linings, making lemonade, looking at the bright side. Sometimes lemons come fiercely raining and lemonade is abundant. Others the lemons are wasting away in compost bins. Last week I took all the silver linings out of my marriage and sat to discuss the business of divorce. How do you put a price on marriage, motherhood, giving up a career, a dream, my life? I spent the night prior reading letters written by my former love. Reminiscing on tender moments and wondering if i was making the right decision. Wondering if knowing the pain I was causing my son was worth it? The heartbreaking transitions from one house to another, the drawings from school every day of the three of us together in the same house, EVERY DAY. The undoubted knowledge of the love he has for both of us. I’ve spent the last 7 years protecting my son, shielding him from pain, and yet, I’m the cause of his greatest. Did I do all I could, should I have stayed for my son, was I to blame for all of this? The honest answer is, I don’t know. These are questions I will someday have answers to, but until then, I hold my sliver lining. His name is Lucca. He is 6, and tender and wild and loving and crazy. He is the best parts of me. I have protected him for 7 years and he is my reason to all of these questions.

- Heather Perrera

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The world is a mess in so many ways. It scares me and keeps me awake at night.  Worry, worry for my sons future. Poverty, hunger, lack of drinking water, climate change, hate, infectious disease, terrorism, population explosion, war and on and on and on. I feel we are failing our children and our parents generation has failed us.  Yes, I sound like such a pessimist, and I’m truly not.  I’m more of a realist I suppose, however I want to be an optimist! I refuse to believe that together, we can’t fix this broken world we’ve made. And if time gets away from us and our generation doesn’t succeed?  The silver lining is this kid right here. He and others like him.  My kid together with your kid and your kid and your kid.  They will not fail.  I have to believe that. Raised with love, that’s all that can happen right?  They will succeed where we have failed.

- Tytia Habing

  • Annie Otzen - So so so much beauty once again!! Thank you to everyone who shared a bit of their souls here!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Geddie - So beautiful, again, and always much needed things to hear… xoReplyCancel

  • Breanna - so grateful to see this back this week, always so deeply personal, and so incredibly beautiful. thank you for sharing your heart with us Amy, and inspiring others to do the same. xo.ReplyCancel

  • Elise Hanna - Heart and soul laid out upon the table again this week. Beautiful in the darkest and brightest of ways.ReplyCancel

  • leah - lovely. always. xReplyCancel

this is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. we all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. we sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. mothers are always and never alone. i want to focus on the never part. i want to hear the voices together. i want to start a chorus.

- Amy Grace

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Time has never felt linear. Years and memories and mistakes and love collect in nebulous clouds. I can’t trace it, I fall into it, wet and turbulent, with every color, and smells that beat a pulse. Like Janis Joplin fed out to her crowds, “tomorrow never happens, it’s all the same fucking day man,” and with family we swim in that long day, in communion, wanting the tide never to go out. We become the mythic soup, the love that pulls us under, blindfolded, where we are needed.  As alone as it is when the edges are sharp and jagged, we dream the same waking. We are all desperate for each other, and arms form smooth, unbreakable circles.

Coming home to the smell of your own house, after time away; it is as foreign and familiar as your face after anesthesia. Seeing your parents’ lines and angles and fingertips, in the arc of your children’s movements. Fated and gifted are the same fabric in different garments, born of common place: blood and grace and time spent together. All of us like riffs in a jazz ensemble, cadence and chorus, repeated and reworked, woven and fresh, thinking we’ve improvised, come alive because of it. I am already a ghost, scattered in our past, trying to breathe new life like the most stubborn mourner. I am squinting with white knuckles and blind faith into the future, hoping for karma and symmetry. We are known when we know, and if we are lucky, loved when we love. The best families are made up of we. The worst too. The most complicated and fraught. The ones wearing blinders, throwing distance and shade.

The way my four year old uses the word “intimate”, with a preternatural understanding of its context. I listen to what was carried down by hand in lines he sorted in utero, born to poetry in wails. I hear echoes of what I whispered to him about what is beneath the surface of the world; the plans of his becoming, written on his bones in code. A collective consciousness that always seemed so hypothetical and poetic is as real, now, as the full moon eyes the kids and I get from my mother.

 Our stories are ourselves, tiny and sweeping, stacked into our spines. My son stands staring at the gallery of his sister’s drawings in our kitchen: “I want to remember,” he says, memorizing her imagination. Like he feels my reverence for my own brother.  The way he could crash a car and do it with style, the way he did the best, open hearted drag impressions while being the only kid in his high school class to defend the one openly gay boy, his handwriting – an uncanny mirror of my daughter’s, the laughs he could conjure while we hung from the last threads of our ropes, his work ethic that matched his loyalty and strength, the scare of his brushes with death as a young man, which kept my breath shallow until the final shoe dropped. Our stories, our aches, the everythings of me that were folded into air and atoms when he passed his body on to the earth. There are so many stories I cannot forget to tell. The stories of myself swallowed whole into deep night.

What is left and what is becoming, with traces of that rich soil of being someone’s sister. The way we all speak without an accent, but for the voice of books devoured, my daughter like an old movie star, proper and surprising and deep with words. We make friends in body shops, grocery check outs, passing cars, open and of comfort. The legacy of humanism and never taking oneself too seriously that breeds a kindness you can catch. The inescapable fate of a life overly examined that trips and lifts. A propensity for candor and self doubt. A character my girl describes now as “quirky, wacky, and smart.” Nicknames when we have only just met, songs written to rhyme with new routines, endless words and notes. A vast reserve of patience and pain, gentleness and fight. The ever present possibility of a dance party, looming in love dense air.

And then the way we are caught by serendipity’s net, the same invisible spider web strings that stick to people we choose to love. The friends for whom you were lonely before you knew they existed. The ‘we’ grows like a ball, picking up layers as it spins.

Family is what gives you life. I have been part of a few. Sealed and torn and sewn with sinew and hope, mended and turned inside out. Born, flown away, grown apart, it is a rhythm that circles its way through crowds. When my girl was two we broke off from one, an iceberg of two, free and giddy, scared and sobered. We talked Sesame Street style about what made a family: sometimes a grandparent, a special uncle, two mommies or dads. One person who makes you first in line and get goosebumps watching you be you.

Our family was so tightly nuclear. A tangle of love and limbs and worry that we all still keep in a fist of filigree next to our hearts. No surgery could remove it without taking my life with it.

I tell my daughter with all my belief, “blood is nothing, love is everything.”

- Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo

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Summer is coming undone as tail ends often do.

My youngest says he wants to be a writer.  I’ve read enough family memoirs to know I should start scouting for a defense lawyer starting now.

I’m guilty as sin.  Of losing my temper, yelling too much, and last week I made them cry.  I miss far too many school functions, birthday parties, and sometimes forget to kiss them goodnight.  Storming to my room like a five year old, wailing “just go to sleeeep, mommy needs sleep toooooo”

So I melt into my bed and sigh, “what do you like about our family?”

We go on adventures other kids don’t have!  Like the trains!

And they recount the stories of the trains, abandoned places, redwoods, caves and climbing the volcano.  Except one of them is not fond of the volcano.  Causing a short argument over the pros and cons and who did or did not play music with the flute like device pulled out of a backpack on the peak of said volcano and is now claiming it wasn’t fun.

But do you like flying?

Oh yes, we love flying.  Flying through storms and watching lightning in the clouds!

Good.  Because we are going to do a lot of more flying.  A ton of adventures and anything else that gets mommy out of little league sign up or school fundraisers.  Not that I don’t care about the American Heart Association or the PTA.   It’s just…  Baby, don’t forget to write about the trains.

- Maryanne Gobble

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It’s the downtime that means the most to me. The in-betweens. The car ride conversations. The after school hanging out in the kitchen while they grab a snack or ten. The moments when they choose to hang out next to me instead of retreating to their bedroom with the door closed. It’s a balance with my teen and tween girls as they work to separate themselves but yet find they still need (and want) Mom. I’m happy for the stolen quiet times, no screens present, even if we’re only there breathing the same oxygen, soaking up each others’ presence. Contemplating and dreaming, sharing the day’s stories. In the end, I want most to remember those times. The birthdays are great, the holidays wonderful, all those expected predictable “family times” that fill the requisite family photo albums, but in the end, when they’ve walked out that front door into their own lives, I will miss those quiet times together, the unstructured moments that arrived serendipitously. I will miss their warm bodies emanating life and energy into my home. I will miss this. So I soak it all up as much as I can, and when they allow me, I pull out my camera to remember. The seemingly boring mundane nothingness of nothing going on. Except it’s everything. Absolutely everything.

- Aileen Reilly

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My husband plays classical guitar late at night, when I’m already in bed, sending me off to sleep with Bach and Mozart. My son makes little people out of Coke bottles and I find him buried under books when I wake him in the morning. And then there was that time in the snow, the Sunday mornings watching that news program I like, the walks home from pre-school, the book that made me cry, the first bike ride, the lost teeth, the graduations, the marriages, the adding on of more family and then one by one, we go and all of that is eventually lost because all those pictures we took, trying to hold on to everything beautiful, won’t tell a stranger a goddamn thing about us. I will die, he will die, they will die and then -.

- Summer Lee

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“Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.” Brad Henry

When I think of family I think of them.
Their laughter, support and love.
They are the beginning I know.
They shaped my mom and my mom shaped me.
My kids grow in the love that began with them,
love that will continue for generations.
Truly, they are my compass, my biggest inspiration.

- Leah Zawadzki

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The lake that nurtured and watched me grow has the sweetest earth as its foundation. Its waters gently caressed the skinned knees of my child’s body, seeped through and cooled the burning heat of my youth’s broken heart. It slipped quietly over the slope of my woman’s breasts, rocked my womb in solidarity after I had molded and brought forth my own child. For over two decades of summers, it strung seaweed through my hair, a crown of misfortunes seasoned with savory blessings.

It dreamily lapped at my ankles while I watched, face upturned, hand shielding my eyes, my Nana’s weathered fingers comb through the sand, searching intently for the most pristine shells. Her hands brought with them to this journey three babies’ worth of holding, touching, soothing. The fingers that tucked my hair behind my ear until I crashed blindly into sleep scoured the beach with the same sense of calm practice. This taught me patience; when she found the perfect shell and held it up to the sun, this proved to me that grace was there. You just had to be willing to dig.

My aunt surrendered herself entirely to the sun’s rays. It painted her body with the healing only it could offer; a warming of a scar, a slash, a wound. It melted into the bones that had stood up and refused to yield to a death that had come horrifically close. She had smiled through the tears, through the blood, through the physical ravages. She taught me that when you love someone enough, you get up off the floor. You always get up, and you live your life loudly enough to smother the fear.

My son looks to me to make the world make sense for him. I can only teach him what I’ve witnessed, what stirs my own soul, so I bring him here, to this lake. I bring him home to the epicenter of what is family for me. Each time the tide comes in, my chest swells with new hopes for him; with the possibility of not who he might become, but of what magic he will create by being who he already is. I am filled to the brim with the richest ancestral gifts and it is that peace that lets me give myself over to the water, his tiny hand intertwined with mine, and with all the mothers who have come before.

- Jennifer Summer

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He landed flat on his back, his head within an inch from the metal
pole that held up the lifeguard tower. That feeling of being 6 years
old, running full force down a hill that ended with the wind being
knocked out of me came into view; that feeling of your lungs
collapsing completely and anxiety quickly settling in as you fight to
find air despite all the oxygen around you. I saw first the fear in
his eyes. And then the tears.

I held him in my arms and looked up at his brother who was still
standing on top of the life guard tower, his hands being the last to
touch his brother’s strong and sturdy but still one-year-old frame. He
didn’t appear guilty or concerned.

“You must always protect him”, I told him on the way home, “he’s your
only brother”.

- Ashley Jennett

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She shrugged her shoulders at me and told me it would be fine. We’ve been through this before and they don’t really know exactly what it is anyway. It’s more precautionary than anything. No need to be concerned. I would tell you if you needed to worry. I heard her words but the tone in her voice told me she was lying. She and I have always sung the same verse. Part of a strong song that I recognize from the very first note. I am made of her and when I forget the words she spills them back to me so I can remember.  It’s always been this way between her and I. Few secrets exist in this space. I nodded and spent the day clearing my schedule and making hypothetical plans. I sat in the waiting room the entire morning that next day waiting for a familiar face to come. He came late that afternoon – smiling and spewing words I heard aloud for the first time. It was a difficult surgery; he said. It took much longer than he thought it would. She will be sore from the length of the operation. But I think we got all the cancer. She slept while I read instructions regarding recovery and follow up appointments. I made phone calls to concerned siblings and unknowing family members. This has always been my job and I did it happily in this moment. She woke and bragged that she already felt fine. A part of her song I was used to hearing. It wasn’t until weeks later that we were both caught off guard at her follow up appointment. Your lab results aren’t favorable. We ran extra tests. Words floated by that pack a strong punch and she and I looked at each other with no words to respond. Chemotherapy. Nausea. Hair Loss. Blood Tests. Insurance. Schedule. Within seconds my hands were filled with pamphlets explaining each drug. I glanced her way and and in that moment I felt her song change. A new verse that I didn’t know. Over the next five months she wrote her new verse and I watched from a chair by the bed while an IV dripped slowly into her. She wrote a strong verse that would make anyone proud, but none prouder than a daughter. A verse where she still showed up to teach her children, even when she didn’t feel like getting out of bed. A verse where hair loss doesn’t win but becomes part of a challenge, even once that last straggly strand fell to the ground. A verse where achy bones and shaky steps didn’t win out to gardening, swimming, and walking. She wrote a verse that I am so proud of I sing it even though it is not mine. That’s the thing about family, though. We are woven together in a way that can never come apart. Her strand and mine are close even when the weave pulls them apart. Our verses change and become succinct all at the same time.  Today she has started a new verse and it is even stronger than the last. It’s a verse of new short hair and physically therapy. It’s a verse of weddings and grand children. It’s a verse of growth and set backs all at the same time. These new verses are just as much a part of her as the old verses we used to sing in unison. Now I sing those words to her when she needs to remember and it frees us both – remembering and letting go all in one moment.

- Carleigh Fager

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Every single moment. Life is happening.

Moments of joy, bliss, amazement, happiness. Moments filled with frustrations, overwhelm, stress, anger. Life is happening.

It doesn’t matter how or what I’m feeling in the moment, life is still happening. Every moment spent being angry is a moment of love lost. And either way I’m spending my time, life is happening.

Life isn’t waiting for when I’m ready. It’s here and now. All we have is this moment.

My kids are growing up way too fast for my choosing. They whine (sometimes). They fight (sometimes). They make life a whole lot more complicated (it’s all worth it). And I’m grasping at all the moments I get to spend with them. Watching their faces delight at the wonder of the ocean, dancing in the waves as they come and go. The giddy excitement that comes from making your own s’more on the beach. Even the simple things of getting dressed up to play ninjas, making masks of paper and stickers and tape. The quiet moments each night as I lay them down to sleep and we chat about what they’re thankful for, how can we give more love to those around us, and what our biggest dreams are. Life is happening. And it’s happening fast.

So I have a choice. I can fight against the nature of things and live closed off, upset at what comes my way, frustrated with the things in life that aren’t going exactly to plan or I can choose to live with an open heart, being a vessel to awaken love in those around me and keep making that choice of love, moment after moment, and showing my family with my actions that love always wins. No matter what choice I make, life is happening.

- Josh Solar

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there is this sweet, little old lady who lives across the street from us.  she lives alone.  her husband died a few years ago and her children are all grown with adult children of their own. everyday she walks back in forth in front of her house.  i sometimes see her out my window and think about my own future.  her house was once filled with toys.   artwork adorned her fridge.  piles of laundry covered her sofa.   dishes towered in her sink.   the trashcan overflowed with dirty diapers.  stacks of books teeter tottered.  there was music playing, singing, dancing, stories being told, making believe.  so many tears, heartaches, struggles.  but there was also laughter, joy, love.  that intense love that sometimes fills you up so full that you have to cry just to relieve a little bit of the pressure.  we sometimes walk together and talk.  although her gait is no longer steady, she seems to have held on tight to her mental capacities. yet, surely many of her memories from those early times have burned out.   i have never been in her house and i wonder what it might look like.  are her walls covered with photographs?  does she have albums filled with photos of her children and her husband, her ghosts?  do the photographs help her remember them and those days when family meant everything to her?  i want more than anything to believe this.

- Heather Robinson

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The freckles, I hated when I was her age but later prayed would kiss her cheeks and nose as a sign to the world that she was mine

The piles of beautiful masterpieces, of chalky toes on my hardwood, milky fingerprints on my refrigerator door, crayon wrapper mounds and fallen down sheet forts that seem like confetti sprinkled throughout our home

Sharing the tiniest sliver of a king sized bed, with him, With them and twenty five of their favorite stuffed animals

The tears and “owee’s” I am grateful to kiss daily. And the big tears that get wiped away by the one that sang and swayed with me in her arms

The unending, overwhelming, irreplaceable love That makes my heart feel perfectly full yet ready to explode All at the same time.

All defined by one simple word… That stays stitched together by our collective memories, each of our hopes and our wildest dreams

- Shalonda Chaddock

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cook,
clean,
kiss,
drive,
repeat.

But of all the basic needs of life, there is one need that seems grander each and every day.
Teaching my boys to love each other.
My love can comfort and encourage but it can only go so far. My love is limited to an age and a specific purpose. If I can possibly teach my two boys that above all, Love is what will keep them afloat, then they will win.
No greater joy in parenthood so far then watching them bond.

- Noel Besuzzi

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If you’d knew how much I’ve waited to look into the eyes of yours, my growing son. My mysterious child. That look you have, when you look at me. Enigmatic. Clever. I captured it, right there. But what does it means? Are you happy? Do you feel the love I have for you? Do you feel my total devotion for you? Is it too much? Not enough? My certainty, is that I will be giving you my whole until you become a man of your own. And if you allow me into your life then, I will finally know I’ll have succeeded my quest. Until then, I’ll be right there, looking into those blooming eyes of yours. Trying each day to tame your secretive soul, with all the love I have for you. Mom.

- Valerie Baillargeon

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there are many. but then there is this. mom in her apron and giggling auntie. encompassing all of us. weary steps and mended fences. good food, hilarity, gaping hearts. hiding and guarding and breaking wide open. many theatrics. top of lung singing. parties with themes. costumes galore. walks and walks and walks at the shore. millions of times where we map it all out. thousands of tears and the warmth of real hugs. things remembered slung out of sling shots of years. leaving the rest in the sand.

- Amy McMullen

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my hands are your hands. arms of blood and bone. meant for holding onto and letting go of. all days.

- Katy Tuttle

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“We think it’s weak to surrender, but sometimes it’s the bravest thing we can possibly do.”
― Toni Sorenson

Sometimes it is overwhelming to us, these things happening in the world.   It wouldn’t be prudent to shield our children from reality, while at the same time we have to maintain a level of appropriateness knowing what they can handle emotionally.  How can we explain it all to our children in a way that can keep them optimistic about the world, about their future?  In a way that is fair?
Like me, my boys have the tendency to absorb it all, and then suddenly feel an incredibly helplessness.  “How can we help?  What can we do?”  We can only try our hardest, and then we have to let go.

Surrender.

Otherwise, it would simply be too much to bear.

- Lynde Alvarez

  • carrie geddie - Oh Amy, just beautiful words and work. Cuts right to the quick every time, but so necessary and cathartic. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Holly Donovan - Reading this blog always leaves me feeling so many different ways. All introspective and good things. Life is good, life is tragic too. There is no escape from real and I know how much the word ‘real’ gets thrown around but it’s a good one. This blog to me is fresh air and no fluff. Just light and being. You all are inspiring in your own unique ways, it’s wonderful.ReplyCancel

  • Andrea - Every single time I read the words here and see the photos I am left in a mess of tears. Tears of joy and pain at just how beautiful life is. Every story. Thank you. They are happy tears that cleanse my soul.ReplyCancel

  • Kate Densmore - I loved every cherished, raw word.ReplyCancel

  • Lucia Massoni - How lovely that all of you were able to translate your deep love into words….I could actually feel the love. Thank you for publishing this!

    LuciaReplyCancel

  • candy - I wish I had friends that were here by me as real as all of you. It is a lonely world when nobody understands… ;) love the raw. always.ReplyCancel

  • Linnea Sauer - I absolutely loved this piece! It touched me in so many ways and I can not thank everyone who participated! My wedding photographer (Carleigh Fager) was one of the people who contributed to this piece and I am truly honored to know her and lucky to have her shooting my upcoming wedding. Everyones beautiful words hit me differently but with an enormous amount of meaning and inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - Duuuude.ReplyCancel

this is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. we all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. we sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. mothers are always and never alone. i want to focus on the never part. i want to hear the voices together. i want to start a chorus.

- Amy Grace

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 I avoid mirrors now, after years of being their magnet. A bad friend who gives us that sharp hit of alive, while equally making us feel like shit. For whom we say ‘it’s complicated’, and eventually grow bored and wistful. But whose old pictures we hold onto without understanding why.

As a tiny kid i sought out any reflective surface. The mottled, mirrored side panel of the oven controls, our sliding doors when the sun went down and I self regarded by lamplight. The kitchen window reflecting the outline of my face, while talking to my mom, my brother bathing in the sink, ‘Dallas’ on the television set in the next room, on our sweet, simple 1980s Friday nights. Dancing like the Breakfast Club, singing with every nuance of Cyndi Lauper, acting out the grown up parts in movies with second nature. Feeling the sweetest buzz with what I saw, and who I was when I saw it. The faraway looks, the hard stares, the kisses my babysitter described matter of factly; I had them down, and folded them in to my inner reserve of future experience. There was this implied sense that childhood was practice, that the years would bring me closer to meeting my true self, actualized, successful, and brave. Now deep in the future, I yearn to feel the quick of what I wanted to race from. After the change I never saw coming. When I began looking for something beyond me. For someone else. For hair that didn’t have a life of it’s own, for recognition of that tiny wild voice that echoed from years ago I could swear I’d lived through, for something deep inside that would still me.

There have been a thousand times I’ve gone to the bathroom to cry. Often the only lockable door in the house. After ‘The Champ’ or ‘Charlotte’s Web’ or ‘E.T.’ or Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Had a Dream’ speech, at three or four years old, my face hot and humiliated, and hurting like i would continue to for every character of every sad or happy ending for the rest of my life. And then came the real life business of mean girls and early puberty and feeling lonely without a concrete reason at which to point. The bleating torture of knowing I should love what I saw, but feeling only a bottomless ache for what I did not. A mirror is always there to keep us honest. The hard truth, stained face, desperation. Our reflection in self conflict is most like our insides. Dark and twisty and of forces that operate without our will.

The time we get in front of the mirror is in reverse proportion to the time we need. It wanes as we get older. All the primping and daydreaming of 15 is cruel and ridiculous from the rear view mirror. And nostalgic just the same. Just when we think we’ve memorized our faces, the map changes, we get lost in the lines leading to our eyes, we need to write our own directions, rethink the route. Like someone returning to their hometown 30 years later, a different landscape, bigger and lost at once. With a story.

I am all a blur these days. The getting outside ourselves that frees us, and the kind that makes us lose our dignity – I am caught toeing the border. I suffer from migraines, with an aura to them that precedes the explosion of pain. My vision is a crazy prism of a kaleidoscope, my face a trippy fun house distortion. For someone hard wired to see the shape of her insecurities in her reflection, there is a fitting, inverse poetry to it. There is sometimes a cracked glass rainbow that lets me see like I should have, forever ago. When it hits that the mirror shows nothing. Like the selfies the world takes with forced smiles, duck lips, serious-about-the-beauty-we-hope-you-will-see looks. Like the grown women groups of friends whose outsides are so virtually identical, you wonder about the insides. The luck of the draw is what most of us see. Our ancestry and symmetry, or the sun and cigarettes we let leak into the mix. Sometimes it’s my brother, like a gift, when I cry for him, sneaking a minute in the restroom under the guise of a full bladder. His light and dark in wavy shadows through the day, ink through tears that can start with the deepest memories of laughter. Aches so deep they change you in a cellular level. Love that does the same. It all works it’s way to the surface, the mix of time and stress and collagen. The creases left from a hundred kinds of smiles. We are getting hit from inside and outside. It’s a strange battle to fight. For our personal x-ray vision eyes only. The difference between mascara and completely, perfectly myself. Accepting (at last) that I’m an insides kind of girl. That my reflection looks rougher and glows more with each year.

And when me becomes we, this miraculous we that my daughter and son make real, the sharpness liquifies and the heat of love turns to steam and soft focus. I can look at myself in a pair, in a trinity.

We have only one mirror now. A simple sheet in the bathroom, in which I see from the neck up. A tiny sticker in the bottom corner reads “you are beautiful”. And this sticker doesn’t lie. My little boy hadn’t seen himself in months. Watching his reaction to his own face was like watching an older guy reunite with a buddy from high school. We got a tiny handheld one he smiles into now, carries around for check in’s, to start to memorize what is changing by the day. But I’m here. I can see it, him. Learning his face. We all have to.

Here is a mirror to my life right now:  9:30, the night after the last day of school, an old T-shirt, hiding in a dark corner of my open-walled house, dictating all of this into my phone, laughing at myself, but needing to tell the truth out into the cool night. This is who I am, in all of its glamor and honesty. I don’t need to see it anymore. I have eyes on the inside.

(photo by Zalmy Berkowitz)

- Amy Grace

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A mirror is my hair with pink strands flying every which way in a mischievous wind – playful, flowing, fluid; a visual echo of that which seeks from within. I strive to hang onto these times knowing that the wind can shift in a blink of an eye and turn my strands into a tangled knot of complexity; a reflection of a mind that moves too fast and irregularly. I’ve learned to be still and slowly unravel the strands with deep breaths; to turn my face to the wind and let it flow through; it is here I find solace in silence and stillness and peace.

(photo by Amanda O’Donoughue)

- Pamela Joye

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I am from carved stones, intricately designed crosses

I come from rugged mountains won and conquered

I am from loud voices, negotiations seeped in familiarity

I am from dreams, beauty and hope

I am from war and conflict, sadness and grief

I am from love and survival

Against the odds I am from a language unique and beautiful

I am from two worlds neither here nor there, belonging to neither

I am from certainty, at times uncertain

I am from dances expressed with graceful hands

I am from a life sometimes so beautiful, I am from a life lived and unlived

I am from snowy peaks little and large, I am from the voice that speaks for others

I am from wonder of this world’s cruelty and kindness

I am from a land of talent, poetry and music intertwine

I am from many languages all mixed into one

I am from checkpoints at many borders

I am from reasoning when there is no reason for any of it

I am from a diaspora dispersed within

I am from generosity and from high expectations

I am from watermelon on hot summer evenings

I am from the sea right opposite me

I am from grandmothers memories of church, culture and language

I am from all these memories within.

- Tamar Haytayan

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See that girl in the middle? She’s the one with the secret. A lifetime of hurt and pain lived in 11 short years. The father who was the alcoholic. The father who flings painful words and fists. The house filled with anger and hatred. Love was hard to find. The neighbor who took her innocence and robbed her of her childhood. The secrets that no one wants to know…that no one wants to believe. Her eyes speak volumes…the screams she wishes she could scream but her pretty face seems to hide the eyes and no one asks about the pain hiding beneath the tan skin. The secrets will stay buried for far too long and that pretty little girl…the one with so much promise will flouder and fail and fail again. She will reach for perfection and never achieve it. She will disappoint and find disappointment. She will hurt others and be hurt. She will lash out at anyone who dares to get near. And then it happens. Gradually she finds her feet and her voice. Eventually, she will heal and find a place where love can flourish. Slowly she learns to run again and then jump. She first grows wings and then learns to fly. She learns to drown out the naysayers, the critics and those who would doubt her. She listens to voices of promise and power and believes. She finds strength in herself and her abilities. She will find love and allow herself to trust that she is deserving of it. She overcomes. She will grow inside of her four beings that bring with them so much hope and promise for the future and she loves them without reservation. She will teach them about love unconditional. She will never allow words or fists to destroy their light. She will shelter and protect them with the hope that they will never carry the secrets and silenced screams.  She forgives. She lives a life of happiness that she designed…not happily ever after because that is the stuff of fairy tales and she learned long ago that fairy tales do not exist but the deep and all encompassing happiness that comes from seeking it out and allowing it to envelop her life. She finds peace.

- Shannon Wilkinson

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Leela told me she was beautiful. And as she assessed herself in from of a full-length mirror in a vest and the boxer shorts of the customer asleep on the bed beside her, I had to no reason to disagree.

But Leela as Leela has been born was in there too, and it was this natural ‘booty’, ‘straight from the hand of God’, that she was most proud of. The other girls, she said, were ‘black, like Banglas’, and once they’d scrubbed their faces clean of the Dreamflower powder without which they wouldn’t leave home, they were no prettier than the beggar-monkeys snatching bananas out of the hands of devotees at the Hare Krishna temple down the street.

But not Leela. Stripped of everything, including here knicker-bra, she was still a wonder she said–not unlike the Taj Mahal of Agra city bathed in moonlight.

~ from Beautiful Thing, Inside the secret world of Bombay’s bar dancers by Sonia Faleiro

Growing up in India, I was not the beautiful one. The middle child, sandwiched between two fair-skinned siblings, I was the dark one. As a young girl, I was convinced that I was switched at birth. You hear those horror stories all the time. If it weren’t for my hazel eyes, the ones I share with my siblings, I would have believed it to be true. I grew up in a culture with a fair-skin obsession across high, middle and low class people. Your shade of skin color determined your beauty and ultimately, your fate to marry a ‘good’ Indian boy. I remember all of my young life the ads, cinema, matrimonials constantly bombarding the message of fair as being akin to beautiful. Ad’s read “Match for Smart, Fair, Slim Brahmin Girl” or “Seeking fair, slim, b’ful girl.” I am sure that my own bio-data listed by my parents in the Times of India used “fair” liberally to encourage responses from suitors.

I went to an all girl’s school from kindergarten to tenth grade. My school identity was being the younger, less attractive sister. Somehow, it didn’t matter and I was happy to live in my sister’s shadow. I recall being asked by a school friend, “Whatever happened to you?” The implication was why was I so dark when my siblings weren’t? It wasn’t the first time someone had commented on my skin color. Those words stayed with me for a long while even as I entered the advertising world as an art director. We promised women a “fair and lovely” complexion using skin lightening products. And when you think you have seen it all, a couple years back a “intimate wash” was advertised to whiten vaginas. The message was you need to be fair not just up there but down there too.

A couple decades later, living in America, in this different world, I wonder if things are the same here as they were there. I got married to a man with a much lighter skin color than mine. And gave birth to a boy with the most perfect skin color. A few years back, my then seven year old asks me out of the blue, “Mama, why is my skin so dark”? I can’t believe what I am hearing. Did someone say something? Why does he care about his skin color? Have I failed as a parent? It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin and it was after I came to America. So I say, “You are just perfect the way you are. People pay big money to make their skin look like yours.” Yes, my child, you are the most gorgeous child one could dream of having.

- Alpana Aras-King

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when i look at this image that my daughter captured i see a woman with strength, yet i am that woman and i don’t always see it or believe it within myself. however when i look at this image i think to myself…there she is! there’s that woman that i want to be. she is me. seeing her capture me this way gives me encouragement not just for her but for myself and i’m grateful for that. i truly want to be the woman that she sees, the woman that i see in the image. deep down inside i know that i am. i just need to find the courage to find and accept her. i think i’m halfway there.

- Celeste Jones

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This is me.  The year I turned 21.  The year I took my first film class, my Dad’s Konica slung around my neck.  I spent the three years before wedged in front of canvas pushing colors.  Spewed, ugly.  I remember watching the girl next to me, headphones on, nimble with a brush — she looked happy.  I actually slashed canvases that year.  Threw them in dumpsters barefoot, in the pitch of night.  But then this class.  The first time I didn’t think, critcise, judge.  Just MADE.  This photo is splotched brown with fixer.  It has mesh marks from the drying screen.  It’s Illford smooth and I can remember clutching the thin box of sheets at the bookstore close to my chest, $12.99, hearing none of the sounds around me.  I might as well have had my eyes closed.  I do remember the hum of the darkroom.  My teacher named Charlie.  The feel of bathing in red light.  Swishing paper across from my future husband, hoping our hands might touch, watching time tick on a round wall clock.  A long slow crawl, while shapes emerged from liquid and the moons aligned.  I don’t know who took this photo.  I grabbed it on the last day of class from the bin destined for the trash.  But now it hangs right outside our bedroom door, like a prize.

- Roxanne Bryant

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“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.” – Khalil Gibran

Three decades lie in the four-pixel space between this image of me and the one of you. At once side-by-side and 30 years apart here we are, mother and daughter yet two little girls, each dressed by our moms in the sweater your great-grandmother knitted for me. Could my Nana have known—or even wondered—as she worked a spool of wool into something more tangible that it would become a time machine?

Could she have known that my mom—once I outgrew it—would tuck it away in a cedar chest where it would lie in wait for the off-chance a girl would raise her head from the sea of great-grandsons that came long after she’d gone?

I’d like to think my grandma knew one day I’d have a daughter. And that I’d freeze the likeness of you next to one of me like mirrors… the child you are today and the one I used to be.

- Kelly Sweda

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I pass by the mirror earlier than desired; with a baby who’s not really a baby anymore, snuggled tightly into my side. Chubby little baby legs that are more of the lanky toddler type, wrapped firmly around my midsection, making certain I don’t set her down. Forcing my exhausted self to start the day; but I stop, distracted by a pocket of light hitting our hair. Staring at our reflection, I realize how complete this is- this puzzle we’ve created, with pieces of determination, happiness, pain and pride fitting together just right, to make something pretty damn special.

- Breanna Peterson

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We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay—and rise! – Maya Angelou

(photo by Kati Dimoff)

- Posy Quarterman

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with our chopped legs, cross fit scars, pacifiers and in all of our potty training glory.  my sweet, sweet girl.

- Sarah Morris

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In my younger kid free days, I was a spontaneous free sprit who was always up for a last minute adventure. I swore that motherhood wouldn’t change me. I would still be the same carefree, fly by the seat of my pants person. I just planned on taking my kids along for the ride. Well, I had my first child and realized I was incredibly naive to think my life wasn’t going to change. And then I had another baby, and another, and another. Suddenly, I realized somewhere along the way, I had nearly lost that carefree side of myself. I was fully submerged in mothering my four kids. I’m not saying I wasn’t happy to be doing it but sometimes I really missed that side of me. And when I was home with a newborn, 2 year old, 4 year old, and 7 year old, I wondered if I’d ever see that person in the mirror again. It’s interesting how when you are in the throws of raising young children, you think it’ going to be like that forever. You think you will never get a moment to yourself. You think your kids will never grow…and then one day you wake up and realize they are growing and how fleeting time is. My youngest is almost four. I’ve been mourning the idea that they days of having babies are over. Its a feeling that I think will never totally go away. Somedays that mourning feels intense, but I am starting to have glimpses of the old me and I feel excited for what the next phase in my life will bring. I’m happy to welcome back parts of that spontaneous person I used to be and to merge that person with who I am now…much wiser and more thoughtful. A person with much less insecurity and self doubt. A person who likes herself more now than she probably ever has. Our society is so youth obsessed but you know what? I wouldn’t trade how I feel about myself now for less wrinkles. Middle age feels good to me.

- Summer Murdock

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If I could tell this girl about a different time, one so far removed from where she is now, I would.

I would tell her about a day when she’d feel safe from the panic and unrest that lives inside her head, a day when she’d be free from the fixed smile on her face.

If only I could tell this girl of a thousand kisses from someone who knows how to love her, really love her for who she is, not who he wants her to be.

I would tell her that she would look upon a sea of beautiful little faces that she would one day call her own.

That the holes in her heart would heal and repair, that she would feel complete.

If only I could tell this girl just to hold on just a little longer, stay strong and wait for her dreams to unfold.

- Emma Wood

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It takes great effort to remember a time that this wasn’t me. It’s who I am, and who I was always meant to be. Their mama.

- Andrea Hanki

  • Annie - So beautiful and profound. I appreciate the words and images here so much — these posts brought to mind my own artistic struggle, the story of my life, and my journey into motherhood. Thank you so much for having the courage to share your stories and art with the world. Such brave women — such a remarkable sisterhood.

    Much love,
    AnnieReplyCancel

  • carrie geddie - Somehow missed this one. More tears. What amazing women. <3ReplyCancel