“I’m traveling in some vehicle.” I am on the road, listening to Joni Mitchell, of course – as one does, or is that just me? – every road trip a hejira.
We used to drive this oh-so-familiar road as a family of two, then three, then two. Now, long widowed, our child grown, mostly I drive it alone. “I am a woman of heart and mind, with time on her hands, no child to raise.”
This same road trip has split me wide open dozens of times, with its evocative mile markers, its big sky, impossible clouds, its certain slant of light across late-afternoon fields. “A red sun came rolling down a gray sky / and the frogs and dogs and night birds then started up singing sweet country lullabye.”
“So this is how I hide the hurt, as the road leads cursed and charmed.” I sing along to stay awake, and to keep the devils at bay, bellowing at top volume as a baby might “cry it out”. I have certainly seen more than my fair share of crying it out on this smooth stretch of 95 North, as “a prisoner of the fine white lines of the free, free way.”
These days, thank goodness, this road trip is more a three hour singing meditation than self-imposed vocal therapy session. Rarely does a song make me cry, these days. Not to say never. “I met a friend of spirit / He drank and womanized / And I sat before his sanity / I was holding back from crying.”
I’ve sung along to this music for over forty years. I can sing every song, every word, every note. Well, maybe not EVERY note. This IS our cherished, exalted contralto with the unmistakable falsetto, vibrato, and three-octave range, after all.
Each song is a time capsule, reminding me of an era, experience, job, or man. Some songs bring up more than one lover; some lovers bring up more than one song. Husband, partner, beloved, erstwhile-part-time-lover-full-time-friend, or unfulfilled fantasy: there’s a song, a verse, for each of them. “…and, you know, there may be more.”
In her live album Miles of Aisles, between songs Joni chuckles knowingly, self-deprecatingly: “Here, for you folks, are two new love songs, of course. One is very hopeful, and one is a kind of a portrait of a disappointment – my favorite theme.”
Present company excepted – “when I think of your kisses, my mind seesaws.”
Two friends recently discussed their list of long-lost dogs. One used a pithy line with which I concur: “I think I’ve had more dogs than men.”
“I’ll try to keep myself open up to you
That’s a promise that I made to love
When it was new
“Just like Jericho,” I said
“Let these walls come tumbling down”
I said it like I finally found the way
To keep the good feelings alive
I said it like it was something to strive for
I’ll try to keep myself open up to you
It gets easier and easier to do
Just like Jericho
Let these walls come tumbling down now
Let them fall right on the ground
Let all these dogs go running free
The wild and the gentle dogs
Kenneled in me”
The nimble oven bird, the dignity of pears,
The simplicity of oars, the imperishable
Engines inside slim fir-seeds, all of these
Hint how much we long for the impermanent
To be permanent. We want the hermit wren
To keep her eggs even during the Storm;
We want eternal oceans. But we are perishable;
Friends, we are salty, impermanent kingdoms.
-Robert Bly, of course, who else could it be? This poem came up in my On This Day in years past Facebook feed today, because of course it did.
Today I am getting lighter and freer, and also getting my ass kicked.
Four strapping lads arrived at 9 am, filled a 20′ truck with furniture, moved it to and arranged it in my new house, ate lunch, filled the truck again with all manner of assorted junk, and have already left for the dump before 1:30. And I’m here alone crying over some random pieces of wood that were planned for something that never got built. Because cancer. Cancer put an end to all that.
That’s the down side. The upside is I never have to go into the barn again. That is beyond major. I’ve been cleaning out Jeff’s workshop for SEVEN YEARS, 20 minutes at a time, crying every. single. damn. time. for! years!
and these guys did it in two hours. And none of them shed even a single tear.
“We long for the impermanent
To be permanent.
We want eternal oceans. But we are perishable;
Friends, we are salty, impermanent kingdoms.”
This line, from a NY Times book review, caught my eye:
“All our lives are seamed with tragedies that gleam, like quartz, with petrified beauty.”
There is deep pain in love and loss. Of course. But there’s also pain in being closed off, shutting down, choosing not to be open to possibility and happiness and wonder. In deep grief I chose to lean into pain over numbness, over distraction, over all the ways of keeping it at bay (which don’t even work anyway – drinking and eating and working and shopping and exercise and sex. The pain is still there, waiting to be examined, when you are done with all your exertions. And by you, I mean me.) I don’t want to live there, in pain, but I do believe that the only way out is through. Being in that dark, dark place taught me that to lean into love/pain/love was to heal myself. Eventually.
I will always choose leaning into love, in all its manifestations. Pain being one of them – where there’s no love, there’s no pain.
My mom’s ancient cat died. We know, when we choose a pet, that we are just setting ourselves up for heartbreak down the road. Do we stop? No. Because the joy they bring daily is worth the pain when they go. Or is it? Apparently so, because we welcome Molly, Mom’s new kitty, into the fold. The house was just way too quiet without her.
Love is all there is, in all its many forms. Love has so much to teach us. It cracks our hearts wide open.
Wide the fuck open. Bring it.
Turkey stock is simmering fragrantly, fire is glowing merrily in the wood stove, and my girl is ensconced under a comforter with her laptop and kitten. Outwardly all around us is a peaceful haven.
But last night the world lost an important puzzle piece. Suddenly lost a man who held many other pieces together, bravely and quietly, without ever drawing attention to himself or saying a word. He was a linchpin, a keystone upon which many people depend. His family is immeasurably poorer today for this loss which echoes outward like a ripple
“in still water/ when there is no pebble tossed/ nor wind to blow”.
Damn, a hushed standing-room-only crowd sang along to this verse just last week: a funeral which all wished there was no need to attend. Is there no end to this? Of course we know there is not, until it’s our turn to go. Some of us will be lucky enough to die as we lived. This is such a man.
Right now it’s hard to imagine how the family can go on with this gaping hole in the center. They will, because that’s what people do, somehow, against all odds. How on earth they will manage without him, it is far too early to say.
But if your world was not rocked by something unimaginable last night, something no one saw coming, if you didn’t have an unexpected phone call or police knocking at the door, consider yourself even more fortunate than ever. Then say a little prayer for your family and another for this other family who has to figure out a whole new way to live this morning. Namaste all. Blessings and much love to the family. Safe travels, Charlie.
They told me you just can’t predict what the triggers will be.
First weekend of November: at the theater, contentedly waiting in the buzzing capacity crowd for the play to begin, I was suddenly stricken by the sight of a play program advertisement for a gourmet cheese shop that my husband Jeff, now gone from us, wanted to patronize before what was to be his last Thanksgiving. Ever the gracious host, he wanted the best for our gathering. After the last treatment of his first 12 chemo cycles, we stopped in and spent a lovely hour there, tasting samples and chatting with the friendly staff, buying a few tidbits and promising to return the following week. We never did get back there.
In moving my suddenly, inexplicably tear-filled gaze away from the painful printed ad, my eyes were distracted by a gentle motion a few rows ahead. It was the hand of a woman, idly stroking her mate’s neck and shoulders, which were clad in a shirt just like one Jeff used to wear. Oh, it is ever thus! I cry over the strangest things, but the constant is the crying. My friends and family now are quite used to the sight and know it is fine to avert their eyes and continue the conversation, or give me a friendly squeeze, and it will be over soon enough, until next time. Someday these episodes will spread out, and fade, and then eventually will come the day we will say, boy, remember back when we used to cry over stuff like this!
I guess in my heart of hearts, I knew last Thanksgiving that he would not be here this year. I worked so very hard to make a lovely day for him and for all of us gathered together that day, and by all measures, succeeded in that effort. This year my girl Anna and I will drive over the river and through the woods to the welcoming home of the last remaining Flanagan, his sister Karen, who was with us the last week of Jeff’s life. I don’t know what I would have done, how we would have coped, without her here, and we are now as close as any friends or sisters could ever be. Indeed she and Anna and I did walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we did come out the other side, and we will never be the same.
I have never been more grateful, more aware of every blessing and tiny scrap of kindness and grace, both accidental (perhaps a sunset or a flock of birds) and purposeful (any number of examples from any number of people near and far). The kindness of other people is making me a better person than I ever would have been without this. And whether or not this makes me a sap, I wish fervently for everyone to notice their own moments of beauty and goodness that their own worlds contain. Before Thanksgiving, in time to be properly grateful for your own pieces of wonder and grace. I will end this musing with a favorite quote of my brother’s, from Kurt Vonnegut:
“God damn it, babies, you’ve got to be kind!”
C. Stephens, November 2009