Tolerance is one of your strong suits. Barring that one week in the year when you have a cold in the head and all bets are off. In this bleary-eyed time of cough and sniffle small things trigger disproportionate consequences. The clanging of the garbage truck, the stain on the tablecloth, the stack of junk mail. These trifles and many like them, stir intemperate impulses. The leaking faucet and the sales call seem expressly calculated to destroy your happiness. The traffic jam, a sink full of dirty dishes and disagreeable weather are taken as personal insults. You have fallen out of the world’s favor. And the future that stretches ahead of you is unspeakably bleak. And yet, as it has happened ever before, it will happen ever again. The fog in your head will gradually disperse and the world will grow bearable by slow degrees. Your life and its importance will recede like the tide and you will remember to take a genuine interest in others. Gratitude like a migratory bird will return to your heart. Twig by twig build a nest in its branches. And at night, driving home you will catch sight of a crescent moon suspended in a dark sky . A ghostly punctuation mark that will catch your breath and tilt you from low grade wretchedness, headfirst into love.
Category Archives: Happenings
And so it is given to us. Again. As flawless and exciting as a freshly unwrapped bar of soap. Dazzling as a field of untrodden snow. This brand New Year. A vision perfect as a tiered and frosted wedding cake. It cradles our past and all our possible futures. The way the night sky holds the light of vanished and unborn stars. We have roamed the days of the last twelve months with wild hearts. A restless and precocious herd. Easy prey to fear and greed, yet capable of forgiveness. And a fierce, indomitable love. We are children slowly learning how to steer our gifts in an intricate, uncertain world. While our small, blue planet, that solitary long-distance runner, undemanding and unsupervised, begins its next long lap around the sun.
In the afternoon I stand up from my desk and look out the window. Come and play! cried the hills, ‘Old Time is still a flyin!’. And who can harden their heart against an invitation like that? I nod farewell to my to-do-list and head out the door into a bright, crisp December. It feels so good to be outside. To be placing one foot in front of the other and moving my body down the street and up the hill. So many things to see. The strings of Christmas lights fringing people’s homes, patiently waiting for darkness to fall, so that they can come alive like fairy dust or visiting stars. The man walking a big dog, who is greeted by barks from other dogs who are housebound and envious (how wonderful to be a big dog on a walk!). The teenager who is entirely un-charmed by the day’s beauty and who stalks down the street in a cloud of his own sullenness (how wonderful to be a glowering teenager at odds with the world!) The blond, tousle-haired runner, sweat-stained and disinclined towards conversation, whose legs pump up the steep incline with muscular and machine-like ease. His ears stuffed with music, his face wearing the inward expression of a soldier or saint (how wonderful to be a runner, rejoicing in your strength and sufficient unto your own two legs!). The bushes with purple flowers shaped like trumpets. The glimpses of Christmas trees through uncurtained windows. The woman with white hair, standing in her garden waiting for her courtesy shuttle service (how wonderful to be a white-haired woman in a garden!). The fallen leaves of the maple trees reddening the ground. The smell of smoke, and the sight of it faintly issuing from a chimney. The potted poinsettia plants adorning front steps and porches, like scarlet ambassadors. The man taking a walk with his very young son, who stops to stare at very un-extraordinary things, like wooden fences. (How wonderful to be very young and entranced by the un-extraordinary!). The mini-van with antlers attached to its roof and a large red nerf ball affixed to its front fender. The tall, spry woman wearing a straw hat, walking in the opposite direction as me. She smiles when our eyes meet. (how wonderful to be happy and spry and wearing a straw hat!). The mailman in his uniform and familiar white van, faithfully doing his rounds (how wonderful to be a mailman, bringing people their Christmas cards and packages!). The blue of the sky against the green of the hills. The laughter of unseen children. The splendidly gnarled limbs of the old oaks. Verandahs wreathed with evergreen boughs. Silver baubles hanging from bare branches. And then, eventually the welcoming sight of the red tiled roof and brown walls of our home. Tucked into the hills like a well-kept secret. Overrun by clover grass and memories. I pull out my key to open the door. (How very wonderful to be me, returning to this sweet home).
What is it that you sometimes lose, and then find, that turns the day from bleakness to splendor in an instant? What to call it — that nameless flash, that infusion of un-summoned energy that flies you across a chasm believed uncrossable? On this side, a very capable gloom takes hold of your ankles and refuses to let go. Like a child throwing a tantrum on the floor. Its stubborn weight makes it difficult to walk with any semblance of grace. On this side everywhere you go, you drag an invisible, horizontal sadness with you. On that side, your feet have wings and whatever is so much as grazed by your glance, sparkles. Joy floods your being, gathers at your fingertips, stands ready to be released in the world like a spell. On that side, you live as royalty. Each moment unfolding like a red carpet in front of you. What transports you from this side to that, is a mystery. Nothing calculated or studied does the trick. It is triggered by things that are, but did not plan to be. Like the sight of a hummingbird hovering above a riot of purple flowers. Or a child’s hand stretched towards the moon. Yes. A thing so slight now electrifies you, draws you up, returns you to your proper home. Flouting the laws of gravity and time. And how to explain this feeling? Imagine a blighted apple falling in reverse. Raised up from muddy, trampled ground and reattached, round and whole to its green bough. Free to shine again. A small red sun. It feels…like that.
Our marriage is 9 years old today. Were it a child it would be in 4th grade now. Chances are it would have lost its front baby teeth, and have memorized the names of all the planets (minus Pluto, which got demoted). It will have been informed that our Earth circumambulates the sun, but will not yet have been introduced to trigonometry or taxes. If, on the other hand, our marriage were a medium-sized dog, it would be 56 human years old today. It will have acquired, after years of frenzied puppyhood, an air of gravitas. It will have lost some hearing and declared a truce with the squirrels. It will spend inordinate amounts of time asleep in golden swaths of sunlight wearing a smile. And now seeing that we are considering hypotheticals, here’s another: if our marriage were a sturdy oak somewhere on a windswept hillside, it would still be waiting quietly for its first acorns (yet a decade perhaps two away). But hidden deep in its heartwood, it will have already begun a stunning and concentric collection of rings.
Our marriage, assuming you care to know, happens to be at once all and none of the above. A thing unto itself, unfolding and alive. Teachable, warm-bodied, deep-rooted. Mortal. And somehow more — so much more — than I dared ever ask of this dazzling world.
I have an incurable love for lines at the post office. This is a luxurious indulgence, I know. The kind important people can ill-afford. But I am comfortably insignificant. Nothing catastrophic happens to the world when I am made to wait for indefinite periods of time, so I am at liberty to love these lines and the speed of molasses at which they move. They give me opportunity to admire the cheerful competence of our postal workers. How brisk and good-natured they are. Even the curmudgeons among them, the ones who speak sharply, criticizing sloppy packaging, pointing out missing zip codes, seem ultimately kind at heart. Before you leave they will inquire gruffly whether you need any stamps. Like the stern grand-aunt who delivers sharp lectures then tries to slip money into your pocket. I love too, the long patience of the people who wait in post-office lines, one behind the other, the way we used to wait everywhere when we were children. My favorites are the ones who wait the old fashioned way, without any digital assistance. The ones who stand clutching parcels and packages of every size and description, their eyes full of dreams and dinner menus. I even love the shelves of empty boxes and envelopes that line the walls waiting to be filled with a sliver of someone’s story. I love the ledges bearing piles of unaddressed labels and I love the tethered ballpoint pens that don’t always work. How many beloved names of people I have never met and will never meet have been recorded in this very spot! How many missives have been launched here. Expressing gratitude and love, conveying longing and regret, singing joy and comfort, sorrow and surprise and every glorious state, and every inglorious state in between! In the long lines of the post office I am slowed down enough to see the smudged and shining face of humanity. And I learn again how much I love being alive in this world. A beating heart amidst many beating hearts.
On Friday a man ahead of me in line shuffled to the counter. The air crackled around his white hair. He was dressed in an old, dark sweatshirt, wrinkled pants and displeasure. “I don’t want this,” he said. The words hit the air like pebble on glass. Nothing shattered, but my attention was successfully riveted. He pushed a wide blue and white envelope across the counter. It looked blameless. “This is addressed to you?” the woman at the counter asks. She has long hair and a wide face, calm as a lake. “Yes,”says the man, “It came for me, and I Don’t Want It.” His voice is emphatic, strained at the edges, daring the world to stand in his way. “You haven’t opened it.” the woman observes, her voice bright and party pleasant. “No,” says the man. “But WHY?” I want to cry out from my place in the line. I am lit with amazement and dismay. Packages that come to you in the mail are infinitely irresistible. What tragedy or bitterness has bit so deeply into this man’s soul that it has overpowered his curiosity? Or does he already know the contents? And if so — who is this package from and what is it they have sent that he cannot tolerate holding it in his possession? My questions flutter unspoken in the air eager and timid as butterflies. A part of me wishes to invite this stooped old man and his storms to tea. “Let’s talk this over, shall we?” I would say gently. Then I’d crush cardamom pods into steaming teacups, and all sad stories and unreasonable grudges would be wafted away on a cloud of fragrance.
“So you are refusing the package?” confirms the woman dispersing my spice-scented-daydream. “Yes,” says the man. A stamp is applied to the troublesome package. And it is tossed out of sight. But three days later it still lingers in my mind. I relate this story to my husband, wondering why I feel so invested in this stranger and his unopened package, so implicated in their fate. “Odd to feel like this when technically it’s none of my business,” I muse. “Only technically?” smiles my husband. “Yes, only technically,” I reply, “because the truth is we are all connected.”
It is a Monday afternoon and now as I sit listening to the church bells spilling across the hills, the real reason for wanting to invite the disgruntled old man at the post office to tea begins to ring inside me. I think I wanted to tell him something I needed to hear: That life is a package and while we breathe on this earth no part of it can be successfully refused. No part can be returned to sender. What is sent away un-lived will always come back. The shore has not learned this yet. Even after all this time it tries to banish waves back to the ocean. But what we attempt to banish will always find us again with the unerring instinct of waves and other wild things that have never required zip codes.
I wanted to say these things to that stranger. So that I might hear them myself. We both would have smiled then, and sipped our tea with freshly unclouded hearts. Filled with a new readiness to stand on the shore of our lives and welcome the waves.
Just for today, I would like to dance at the edge of the roof
and encourage some general madness. I shall unloose a flock
of snow white doves into the sky. Failing to find doves,
I shall release eight times a hundred petty grievances instead,
set the air a-tremble with soft wings and forgiveness. I shall
throw my head back and fling my arms wide as if to embrace
the sun, the moon and all the slow-winking stars. Onlookers
will gasp and fear for my safety, “Come down!” they will cry
with upturned faces and hearty disapproval. Laughter will
erupt from my belly, and ripple over the surface of this world
like a purple banner, like a proclamation, impossible to ignore.
I am ready to renounce words. Yes. The shapes and sounds
I’ve held most dear, I have no need for now. Save only one —
Love, I will say, Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.
I want you to know that I have made mistakes
Enough to fill ten thousand king-sized bathtubs
Enough to try the patience of a hundred saints.
I have been terribly stubborn, frequently selfish
And am prone to devastating bouts of pettiness.
Yes. I am quick to fall, slow to rise, full of faults.
Yet I want you to know, that even to my window
Each morning, knocking with long, golden arms
Comes the sun.
The poetry of the new year is problematically punctual. An impeccable guest who arrives on time when you are running frantically behind schedule. Catching you precisely at that awkward stage of housecleaning when the contents of closet and cupboard are strewn across the room and there is no sensible place left to sit down. No, you haven’t had a chance to change the guest room towels, your clothes or your habits. It is at this stage that you begin to stammer out apologies and resolutions. The visitor fixes you with a gaze that breaks like dawn over your clutter and chagrin. “What a beautiful life,” murmurs your guest, pressing an oddly shaped package into your hands. Gladness rises in the heart like a cloud of hummingbirds. Always the same, unpredictable, utterly original gift. You consider the paradox of that as you hold it between your palms. Like freshly kneaded dough: this brand new day.
The poetry of rising is the poetry of upward mobility. It belongs to the sun, the moon, the mythical phoenix, hot air balloons and don’t forget — bread baking in the oven. Also paper kites, rattling elevators and the fluent rush of steam from a tea kettle. Superman in his red cape. Not to mention hope — the thing with feathers — that cannot be grounded like a plane at the San Francisco airport (no matter how thick the fog).