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A Seed in Darkest Winter
The New York Times, 27 January 2020

For most of my adult life, I wore a red coat when the weather got cold. It started when I was 22 and searching for new outerwear during my first winter in Philadelphia. I kept being drawn to a bright red peacoat in a mail-order catalog. Perhaps it reminded me of home in Alabama, the color of the ubiquitous cardinals perched among green pine needles. (more….)

An Open Letter to John Lewis
The New York Times, 6 January 2020

Dear Mr. Lewis, I write with a heavy heart. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is a brutal diagnosis, so it’s no surprise that last Sunday night the internet erupted with anguish as news of your illness became public. Treatment may give you a “fighting chance” to continue working “for the Beloved Community,” as you wrote in a statement, but it’s painful to think of what you will be called on to bear in the coming months. You have already borne so much for us. (more….)

What Happened When My Son Asked Santa for a Golden Trumpet
The New York Times, 23 December 2019

It was 1994, a week before Christmas, when my not-quite-3-year-old spied a shopping mall Santa and insisted on paying him another visit. I tried to demur. I tried to deflect. His official Santa visit had taken place weeks earlier. This trip to the mall was just a chance to escape the gloom that is Nashville in December, to wear out those busy toddler legs in a place where it wasn’t raining and cold. (more….)

Why I Wear Five Wedding Rings
The New York Times, 25 November 2019

Whenever I’m nervous, I find some sort of amulet to drop into my pocket. A buckeye. A feather molted from a blue jay’s tail. The river rock my middle son always called a “worry stone.” The spent egg sac from a praying mantis. A seashell from my mother-in-law’s grave. I hold onto what’s in my pocket the way an anxious baby clings to a beloved blanket at bedtime. (more….)

Ode to a Dark Season
The New York Times, 11 November 2019

This is the month of blank, lowering skies, when the last of the leaves lift and drift away into a drizzly wind. The hardwood trees would normally be bare by mid-November, even in the South, but seasonal cues can be hard to read in this changing climate. It was 98 degrees in Nashville on October 1, and before that the usual September rains never came. I feared there would be no color at all this fall. (more….)

What if the Real Act of Holiness Is Rest?
The New York Times, 21 October 2019

My great-grandmother was a lifelong Baptist who spent the last four decades of her life worshiping with the Methodists because by then there was only one church left in that tiny farming community in Lower Alabama. Mother Ollie gladly attended Mass at my family’s Catholic church in Birmingham, too, but she never drifted from her quiet adherence to the King James ways of her Baptist youth. (more….)

The Last Hummingbird
The New York Times, 7 October 2019

From inside my air-conditioned house, the light through my windows looks the way October light is supposed to look — mild, quiet, entirely unlike the thin light of winter or the sparkling light of spring or the unrelenting light of summer. In normal years, October is a month for open windows in Middle Tennessee. For cool, damp mornings. For colored leaves that quake in the wind before letting go and lifting away. For afternoon shadows so lovely they fill me with a longing I can’t even name. (more….)

Tennessee Makes Way for Monarchs
The New York Times, 16 September 2019

A few years ago I started noticing wildflowers blooming beside the highway: ironweed and goldenrod and snakeroot and black-eyed Susan. The first time it happened the sun was in my eyes as I drove west toward Memphis, and a late summer drought was filling the air with dust motes. For a moment I thought I was imagining flowers where flowers had never been before. A daydream on a lonesome stretch of highway as twilight came on. (more….)

Country Music as Melting Pot
The New York Times, 9 September 2019

Last spring at the Ryman Auditorium, sitting in the audience for a concert filmed to celebrate the new documentary series by Ken Burns, I couldn’t help but notice that the folks around me didn’t look much like the usual bro-country fans swarming Nashville these days. Just who exactly was this documentary aiming to reach? All of us, it turns out. People of every age, every political persuasion, every socio-economic class, every race. The goal of “Country Music” is nothing less than to remind us of who we really are. (more….)

ICE Came to Take Their Neighbor. They Said No.
The New York Times, 5 August 2019

Residents of a quiet working-class neighborhood in the Hermitage section of Nashville woke up very early on July 22 to find officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement trying to arrest one of their own. An unmarked pickup truck with flashing red and blue lights had pulled into the man’s driveway, blocking his van. Two ICE agents armed with an administrative warrant ordered the man and his 12-year-old son to step out of their vehicle. (more….)