Choosing the given

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“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular–shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?–but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.”

Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard.

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A little more on my animal theme this week. I also have sad news: We learned that dear Aoive, Guion’s parent’s springer spaniel, had to be put down last night, after an excruciating cycle of non-stop seizures. She was such a sweet, affectionate girl. Rest in peace, Aoive; I hope you are stalking birds to your heart’s content in heaven. Happy weekend, everyone.

Family love: Win

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my immediate family. This is the sixth installment. All high-quality photographs from a wedding are courtesy of the brilliant Meredith Perdue.

Windley, Brother

If I was nervous about meeting Windy, I was even more nervous about meeting Win. He was, after all, Guion’s only sibling. What if he didn’t like me? What if he objected to my dating his only and older brother? What if we fundamentally didn’t get along?

As I was pleased to discover, it is impossible not to get along with Win. He’s probably the most likable person you’ll ever meet.

We love him!

Win is gentle and understanding. He listens far more than he speaks, which is such a commendable quality (and one that I could do well to emulate). You would think that more reserved, withdrawn people could have a harder time amassing a large circle of friends, but nothing could be further from the truth with Win. His quiet nature is magnetic to so many people. When we travel into Win’s territory — Raleigh — we are mobbed by his countless friends, his warm community that can’t get enough of his company. And for good reason.

The reader

I have always been fascinated by the interaction between Guion and Win. In many ways, they are very different. Guion talks almost constantly; getting a full sentence out of Win is a great victory. Guion possesses his parents’ endless social energy; Win seems content to be alone or to be with just a few people. Guion could get dressed in the dark without a thought to what he was wearing; Win has a well-cultivated wardrobe.

And yet. Despite these marked personality differences, their interests are almost identical. Both brothers are musicians, award-winning brewmasters, creative writers, former YoungLife leaders, and soccer players. Hobby-wise, you could not find two more similar people.

Love my bro-in-law

All of these brotherly overlaps and similarities aside, what’s been important in my relationship with Win are the things that the two of us have in common that I do not necessarily share with Guion. For example, Win and I share a love of literature and classic novels (something I have long tried to instill in Guion, but to no avail). We can talk with great enthusiasm about our love for dogs. (Our only point of contention is the family’s springer spaniel, Aoive, whom I love, but the Brothers Pratt are not so sure about.) He teaches me a lot about theology and principles of loving one’s community. As many ways as he resembles my husband in his interests, I love having conversations with Win that lie outside of those shared interests.

I am excited about the opportunity to have more of those conversations in person, because as of last week, Win is an official resident of Charlottesville. He will be participating in the Christ Church fellows program and we could not be more thrilled about having him in town.

Win welcomed me into the family with genuine warmth and a degree of trust that I did not deserve. He is willing to sacrifice his time and energy for the people who matter to him (as he so heroically displayed this past week when he drove to Lynchburg to retrieve my purse). He has always made me feel like a valued sister, and so I continually hope that he knows how much he means to me as a valued brother.

I light up when he introduces me to his friends as his “sister” — not “sister-in-law” — because that’s exactly how he treats me. No divisions. No qualifications. Just family.

Family love: Windy

I’m writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the second installment. All quality photographs (the professional ones) courtesy of the incredible Meredith Perdue.

Windy, Windz, Winder, aka Best Mother-in-Law Ever

As any new girlfriend would be, I was very nervous before I met Guion’s mother for the first time. Guion was, after all, the firstborn, beloved son. As life and literature had taught me, mothers have a thing with their firstborn sons and often don’t take to other interested women kindly. It took me a few days to decide on the right dress to wear. I pestered my roommate about how I should wear my hair. I was anxious.

Mike and Windy were taking the two of us out to dinner at 411 West. The men had a hard time finding parking, and so Guion joined Mike in the car–which left Windy and me together for almost 15 minutes in the restaurant. I was so worried. What would she think of me? Would she decide in these next minutes that I was an unsuitable match for her matchless son?

Windy, however, instantly put me at ease. She talked to me warmly and confidentially, as if I were an old friend.

Mike and Windz!

Windy is one of the most gentle and laidback people I know. Nothing seems to ruffle her. She has always welcomed me warmly into the family, even when Guion and I were only dating. She has never emitted even the slightest trace of rivalry or jealousy toward me, those vices that mothers-in-law are traditionally supposed to possess; Windy has only ever shown me love without condition.

Windy and I forge an alliance when we’re with the family. Aside from Aoive, Windy lived in and raised a household of men. Unlike my mother, she had no band of fellow women to support her and her causes. We were magnetized to each other by the mere fact of our common sex. Windy made me feel valued and welcomed by trusting me as her feminine confidante. I know I can always count on her to be in my corner during playful family disputes.

We keep secrets and clean the kitchen together. We set the table and tell the men what’s up. When I am with her in Southern Pines, I feel like I am a part of this generations-old tradition of reciprocal trust and reliance between women. This sounds weird, but I see it this way: Windy showed me how naturally one can fall into familial unity with another woman, to be welcomed into the family fold of womenfolk, to instantly assume domestic roles of cooking and keeping the peace. It sounds very old-fashioned, but I like it. When I’m with Windy, I feel like I’ve finally been given a membership to this club of good Southern womanhood.

She is loving, generous, and patient and I wish that all married women were as lucky as I am to have such a mother-in-law.

All is calm

… with the exception of Aoive, the Pratt’s beautiful and crazy English Springer Spaniel, who is whining because she can’t stick her paws in my face… We are in Southern Pines again for a few days and will be jumping back and forth from here to Durham for a wedding this weekend. Then we’re back in Davidson for our annual New Year’s Day party. It has been a long, perfect, and peaceful holiday break and I wish it could go on forever. Even Reuben has been having a great time.

I’m enjoying the time to sit, read, drink tea and talk with much-missed relatives. The time to reflect has also allowed me to collect my ideas for 2011 goals. The women in my family are all fanatic list-makers and goal-setters; Grace perhaps most of all. So, family women, here’s my preliminary list:

2011 Goals

  • Start running again.
  • Read 50 books. (No more slacking! I was disheartened when I realized I had read 65 books in 2009 and only 44 in 2010–unless I can finish this Italo Calvino by tomorrow!)
  • Attempt to finish Francine Prose’s Books to Be Read Immediately book list.
  • Practice yoga 3 times per week.
  • Volunteer.
  • Thanksgiving Project: Purely inspired by one of my favorite blogs, THXTHXTHX, I am going to write down something I am thankful for every day for the whole year.
  • Drastically reduce my consumption of sugar; give up sugar for Lent.
  • Memorize Scripture.
  • Finish my Women in the Bible study.
  • Write and edit more short stories.
  • Start studying for the GRE; begin investigating flexible grad programs nearby.

Talk to you soon. In the meantime, please enjoy Guion’s face upon opening The Greatest Christmas Present of All Time. Grace, we are indebted to you for the rest of our lives.