Listen to me with your eyes.

Long before it became a fashionable phrase, or a catchy new business technique, or even a spiffy scientific experiment, I heard my mother’s voice saying the words: “Listen to me with your eyes.”

It typically sounded very far away at first – working its way through thick pages of books, or floating over a great body of imagination; pulling me back from paper dolls, or Nancy Drew, or putting underpants and a bonnet on the dog and lifting him into the doll buggy.

“Now, listen to me … with your eyes.”

It meant: don’t just nod and say yes Mother. It meant: turn your attention fully to me and hear what I’m saying. It implied: this is important … and I’ll mean more than I say. She may have said simply: I’m leaving for the store now … but she meant: take care of each other, I’ll be back, I worry about you, I love you.

Like most mothers, I think, my mother knew that unless we turned our faces to her – focused our eyes on her face – we weren’t really listening. Not really. Not with our full minds and hearts. And, later on in our lives, perhaps we might never know how to listen with our humanity.

There are vivid flashes of moments listening with my eyes that seem to always stay with me, tucked not far away; sometimes they surge into my mind on waves of fresh experience as if they had happened only that morning. Perhaps they did.

There is one held forever within the cold damp concrete of a hospital parking garage; a man is walking by himself, tears just under the surface of his face; his shoulders bend forward, a woman’s soft yellow sweater is folded carefully over his left forearm, her purse in his hand.

There are others. A dog pulls a felt blanket out from under a small decorative Christmas tree to make himself a bed against the cold. An old woman watches the cash register total at a grocery store, putting back some of the food. A young woman, alone, pushes through crowds of Christmas shoppers creating a sort of smile on her lips that never reaches her eyes, her arms empty of packages, her coat new and barely worn, her eyes tragic. Children holding hands to cross a street. Young men waiting on a bench. Military combat veterans weeping into the necks of horses. Horses running up to a fence searching faces – searching for a particular face. A cat creeping through a strange gate and into the corner of a warm house, as if she didn’t care, but clearly does. Little girls in old coats sharing cookies. Old women in old coats sharing laughter. Men of every age and color and circumstance singing together in harmony.

Perhaps my mother understood the deeper significance behind her words – listen to me with your eyes. It didn’t just assure that we were listening, it let us learn to truly hear one another. Because when we listen with our eyes, we hear each other’s authentic hearts and silent stories. And then something happens to the spaces between us.

This Christmas season, I hope you witness the abundance of possibilities all around and near you. Perhaps you will listen for them and to them. Perhaps you will listen to them with your eyes.

Where the fairies have gone.

I suspect the spirits of the woods teased the tree branches overhead just at that moment, allowing the sun to suddenly dazzle my eyes. Because at first I didn’t see it. But then the breeze sighed the leaves back into place and shade again. And Quincy the dog became still and alerted his ears. And, following his gaze, I found what I had been searching for.

The fairy castle in the woods.

It was still there, just steps beyond a crumbling, crusted, fallen tree, only a few yards from the ragged edge of the path, just as I remembered it.

I first spotted this earthy yet otherworldly delight in the very early spring of this year – perhaps during the last proper walk in the woods I had taken. But a new dog with old illnesses, and raging summer heat and storms, and books to write and talks to give and projects to complete, and all the daily necessities (that are forgotten within another day), had taken the place of woods-walking for me for far too long. So I wasn’t sure that this bit of woodland joy and fantasy would still be there – even less sure the spirits of the woods themselves would let me find it for a second time.

But this day was different, somehow. It was a day of rare autumn warmth. A willing and well Quincy companion was at my side. I had a breath of time between promises to keep, and a heart that sorely needed to be embraced by the peace and reassurance that only the natural world creates and holds waiting in the palm of its hand for us.

The moment I entered the woods, finding the fairy castle seemed terribly important and compelling to me. Something in me longed to feel its charm and touch its substance as I remembered it, heavily draped in moss and subtext; I wanted to listen for its music and messages, hoping to hear some sort of lost wisdom or suspended secrets.

I thought back to when I had been writing the book The Secret Child. I remembered how I had explored through a depth of literature and lore about fairies and sprites, water babies and changelings, Celtic spirits of the woods and all the other beings that have inhabited the realms just at the edge of our own reality for as long as time can remember. There is far too much written and recorded about them to allow for total disbelief. And, of course, my own Celtic roots are deep, and tangled well with my childhood memories and books – and a singular ability to imagine most possibilities.

With that being understood, and that perspective in mind, I sat and watched and listened to the fairy castle in the woods for quite some time. And I remembered reading the texts that recounted how fairies had once walked beside and shared the earth with humans on equal ground. Until human conceit declared its own superiority. And discrepancy and disparity were allowed to exist. And in the gaps that formed, respect fell in from both sides. And trust crumbled and dried into dust.

The fairies were suspected of all crimes without reason or reality. They were driven into slavery, captured and imprisoned, hurt and hunted into the woods.

Some accounts say they retreated underground. And then, in some dark, liminal crack in time, the fairies slipped away to the other side, to another plane of reality. And with that loss, all their magic and secrets and knowledge, their music and art, all their stories and dance, their friendship and cooperation, their affection and loyalty and laughter and energy disappeared from our world as well.

Sometimes you can still hear their echoes on a clear night under a full moon, or see their remnants in the woods between the sun and shadows or next to streambeds or where the wildflowers grow. A few times there may be a perfect tree stump castle still above the ground, or a field of smooth cool moss patched over a bed of rocks, or footprints left in an early morning dew. I suspect that these are left only to remind us. To keep our memories of them alive just enough.

I left the fairy castle in the woods glad that they had shared this bit of themselves with me. Yet my heart was exceedingly afraid and ashamed and sad that the lesson of the fairies hasn’t resonated deeply enough among the humans of the earth. We haven’t heard it or seen it or felt it or recognized it for what it is, or embraced its universal truth.

Perhaps one day we will. Perhaps then we will stop losing each other.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.” The words belong to poet Rainer Rilke. I want terribly to live them.

But I suspect it is a conviction very few of us allow ourselves to experience. I wonder if it is because we may sometimes fear beauty as much as terror. Perhaps we avoid both when we are unable to discern one from the other. And perhaps that is the trick of it all, exactly what Rilke hoped we would realize. That they can be, at times, bound together – beauty and terror happening as one. more “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.”

Irises and open doors.

“Not knowing when the Dawn will come,

I open every Door.”

Emily Dickinson wrote that thought in 1884. I suspect she meant it relative to inspiration. Because she went on to finish the poem with the lines:

“Or has it Feathers, like a Bird,

Or Billows, like a Shore – ”
more “Irises and open doors.”

In search of the child in all of us.

She said she was nine years old. She stood fingering the corners of my various books that were stacked and displayed at the edge of my table during the book-signing.

“Do you have any scary ones?” she asked with one of those half smiles to which nine-year-olds seem to hold the patent. “Ones with bad guys in them?” And then, as an afterthought: “For kids?” more “In search of the child in all of us.”

A Tale of Two Feathers.

The small post on Facebook caught my eye. Probably because of the photo – of a large, wonderfully marked owl feather – an unusual find in the wild.

The woman who posted it was extremely appreciative of the way this feather had so unexpectedly entered her life, and was most intrigued with its potential meaning and intended message for her.

She and I are fond of, but not well known to, each other. And so, I began to scroll past the post as one strolls past open conversations at parties and other social gatherings.

But I was caught by her next, smaller, almost hesitant message: “Have you ever found a cardinal feather?” more “A Tale of Two Feathers.”

Generosity Without Reason.

Quincy dog and I were out walking – working our way down some of the quiet, shade-filled streets of our neighborhood. It was one of our typical early-morning, warm-weather walks; rather sultry, sleepy, silent – both of us still a bit rumpled from our beds, still half living in our dreams, not quite across that threshold into the reality of the day.

As we approached a house we often walk past on such mornings, I stopped to admire the thick green lawn, and Quincy began to note the merits of a large pile of fresh grass clippings gathered at the curb.

Quincy loves exploring such heaps of dew-packed clumps warming in the rising sun, and sniffing out the hidden treasures waiting just below the surface. So I was prepared to be there for a while as he slowly began his excavation. more “Generosity Without Reason.”

Shopping cart friends.

He isn’t my closest friend. Or my oldest. He doesn’t love me best. We don’t even really belong to each other in a relationship sort of way. But in a recent conversation together – one that had taken a rather odd sidetrack off into the weeds and lost horizons of “what ifs” and “I have a fear” – he confided to me that he was afraid he was going to wind up in a home for the crazies one of these days – put away for everyone’s convenience. I responded that if that ever happened, I would come break him out. more “Shopping cart friends.”

The Chairs.

They’re both quite happy chairs, I think. Not because of appearance – not due to look or style or finish. And they are, in fact, quite different from each other in that respect. But it is their history, their accumulated experience and energy and “spirit” (one might call it) that makes me sense their peace and satisfaction with life, and call them happy chairs. more “The Chairs.”