14 July 2010

only love

It is early summer, and my family loses one of its patriarchs. My friend loses a child. Another, her father.

The season is cool and unseasonably wet. In the midst of it, I spend several weeks with my 91-year old grandmother. She is frail, slow of step and hard of hearing, but with a quick wit and a girlish giggle. Her hair is a perfect coif so white it is silver.

Grandma tells me stories easily. I have only to ask a leading question and then sit back and listen. Her courtship and marriage to my grandfather. A miscarriage. The births of her children, three cesarean deliveries. The military years. The family Cadillac. Her house in China where they were stationed until the Americans were evacuated. How she was the only one to get off the ship in Japan, a young military wife with three small children, to wait for my grandfather. The estate in England. Her bridge club. The car crash that left deep purple scars on her knee. The other one that left her unharmed, belted into the flipped-over car. The beloved red cocker spaniel, stolen the night before they were transferred from Ohio. Texas rain. Hill Air Force Base.

She tells me how it was for her the night my grandfather died. She had become fatigued by his extended illness, and on that night, she slept alone in their king-size bed. She had been his wife for more than 70 years.

When we walk together, I support my grandma at her left elbow. In the grocery aisle. At the hairdresser. On Friday when we go to Ruth’s Diner with my aunt and mother. Grandma orders mac and cheese because it is soft for her new teeth. She eats most of her lunch and drinks two full glasses of raspberry tea. She is engaging and chatty. By the time we get back to the house, she is tired. I hug her goodbye.

"I love you, Grandma."

"I love you, too, dear."

Blue rainclouds hang low over the Wasatch Front on the morning I board my plane for home. The teenage boy next to me says he is from Kansas City. Missouri, not Kansas. His mother has told him to watch out the other side of the plane when we land in Oregon to see Mt. Hood. He's on his way to summer camp. The plane taxis down the runway for takeoff, and I am crying. Goodbye.

So many gone from me. My grandfather, his last days in the nursing home. Goodbye. My bright, beautiful, addicted cousin, last seen through the glass window of a jail cell. Goodbye. My friend, like a brother, died too young. Goodbye. My first two babies, given for adoption more than 25 years ago. Uncle John. Aunt Vernetta. All of my other grandparents and great grandparents.

Grief opens up a hollow space, fresh as dug earth and rich with the loam of loss that I will carry all my life. The plane turns at the end of the runway. Sunlight slips through the clouds to glitter in the rain, and I understand that only love could give rise to such sadness. Profound love.

The boy in the next seat fidgets and tries not to look at me. Our plane takes off, circles the valley, turns out across the Great Salt Lake. Goodbye.

I have nothing else, so I wipe my face with my jacket.

"Missouri, huh?" I say.

"Oh, yeah," the boy says. His eyes are blue. He looks relieved.

"Is all your family there?" I say. "In Missouri?"


The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

~ Thomas Hardy (1900)

28 June 2010

the edge is okay

So I'm at the gym yesterday on the recumbent bicycle, iPod blasting (thankfully) an Audioslave album over the piped-in techno-remix muzak, reading a book about quantum physics and Buddhism. One of my friends waved and then called me a "strange duck." I think I'm okay with that.

Mainstream has never been my gig. I always felt out of place growing up. Outside the group. Not at the cool kids' lunch table. Not quite the back-of-the-bus crowd. Flailing to find a place, I acted out in a lot of different directions to fit it, some more harmless than others.

If you can survive the cold and inevitable heartbreak, there are gifts to being on the edge. Perspective. Objectivity. Scope of vision. Variety of thought and experience. Deep friendships. Freedom. Love.

I've stood at the tops of the tallest buildings in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo. Sheared sheep. Danced the Charleston. Sang Ave Maria on stage in a nun's habit, no less. Played the piano in a New York City penthouse. Rafted the Snake River. Stood on Mt. Fuji. Built a barn. Roofed a house. Barrel raced from Butte, Montana to Rigby, Idaho. Rock climbed. Loved a man with long, dark hair and eyes like blue ice. Skied heavenly powder and raucous moguls. Ran away. Milked cows and mucked stables. Looked down into the Grand Canyon. Stole food for my children. Witnessed a solar eclipse. Fished deep rivers. Played my guitar and sang nursery rhymes to children in a single-room schoolhouse in a Mexican village. Hiked over the Great Divide. Shot a rat in the kitchen of a house in Malibu. Laughed with my friends. Walked through rice paddies in Taiwan. Birthed babies. Saw whales. Rode a horse over a rattlesnake. Lived on the streets of big cities. Jumped waves in Lake Michigan where the sand squeaked under my shoes. Played the violin. Married my one true love in a meadow at the foot of a volcano. Camped in the rain. Sang until I thought my heart would burst with happiness. Shook hands with a President. Rode an elephant. Saw green sea turtles on a black sand beach. Flew over the English Channel in a WWII-era Russian bomber trainer. Stood in Hiroshima. Watched a river of lava flow into the sea. Drove many miles to see meteor showers. Bought cannoli at a deli near Times Square in the middle of the night. Lost children. Drove across the United States, coast to coast. Witnessed a thunderstorm rise over the Grand Tetons and sweep across Leigh Lake. Put my bare feet in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans from both sides. Wept.

Eyes open, I'm just happy to be here.


"To live in an evolutionary spirit means to engage with full ambition and without any reserve in the structure of the present, and yet to let go and flow into a new structure when the right time has come."
— Dr. Erich Jantsch, astrophysicist

06 June 2010

meditation on rain

A gentle tapping on the leaves outside my bedroom window. Music in the drainpipe.

Grieving for a friend, my night had been restless. The rain soothed me to sleep in the early morning hours so that I awoke purposefully in the gray of dawn before the phone or any alarm clock.

In this life, I have spent many years in drier places. East in the high-mountain deserts of the Rocky Mountains where rain is scarce and water sources instead from snow-melt, there are massive clonal colonies of Quaking Aspens. Populus tremuloides. Quakies. The round, silver-green leaves shake at the slightest breeze, a soft patter. The sound of rain. I came to call them "raindrop trees." A dry rain. Same soothing sound.

My home in the Pacific Northwest is blessed with rain, glittering, wet drops to adorn each leaf and branch with brilliance. Rain is not exclusive; it touches all. White oak and cedar. Lupine, stonecrop, vine maple. Garden path. Weeping cherry. Black basalt with silver slick skin. Walnut shell.

Its whisper is deep water, ocean surf, waterfall, tide. River. Fog. Cloud. Heartbeat. Sweat and skin and blood. Water in and through me. Of me.

I am rain.

I am nothing.



"Human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another."
— Tom Robbins (Another Roadside Attraction)