Friday, January 27, 2012

...fog and the art of dancing by the water's edge

Last night's stroll to the store

'There are your fog people & your sun people,' he said. 
I said I wasn't sure which kind I was. He nodded. 
'Fog'll do that to you,' he said.
Brian Andreas, Story People
Writing is like driving at night in the fog. 
You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. 
E.L. Doctorow

Most days, I can be found at the intersection of Andreas and Doctorow. Not lost. Nor wandering aimlessly. I have bartered my yesterdays for today’s clarity. But I know fog. 
I love winter’s grey blur. Such days are made for meandering. My favorite memories of Ireland are wrapped in mist: long walks in my rain hat and boots followed by a cuppa tea in front of a peat fire in the parlor. 
My reading habits are a bit peripatetic as well. Some familiar phenomenom gets my attention, whets my curiosity and I'm all a-Google. After my walk yesterday, I ran my e-fingers through the Wiki. And found this interesting passage:

Shadows are cast through fog in three dimensions. The fog is dense enough to be illuminated by light that passes through gaps in a structure or tree, but thin enough to let a large quantity of that light pass through to illuminate points further on. As a result, object shadows appear as "beams" oriented in a direction parallel to the light source. These voluminous shadows are due to the same cause as crepuscular rays, [see photo below] which are the shadows of clouds, but in this case, they are the shadows of solid objects.
Crepuscular rays...and I thought this was just a pretty sunset.
Bill's iPhone photo, September 2010 
Our advection fog results when the marine layer is pushed onto land by fronts and lows and highs. The landscape, the harbor, and the air itself are transformed into ethereal shapes lit by halos of street lamps. And so am I.

I planned to celebrate the metaphorical fog that resides at the intersection of Andreas and Doctorow in this post.  [How appropriate that I now live within spitting distance of the San Andreas Fault. But I digress.] Celebrate. Yes indeed. Sometimes the well-planned life has to defer to detours in order to become the well-lived life. That's my philosophy, at least. As I sat typing this, I saw the mist creep behind our condo. The marine layer does not visit this spot...or so I thought, as I watched it break through my expectations.  Once again I could not see around the next curve. The post made a right turn. The pictures tell the rest of the story better than words but they fall short of the magic. 

Oh, what to my wondering eyes should appear!
Can't see the harbor past the trees.

The marine layer visited Marina Bay as I've never seen before.

FOREver AFTer is out there somewhere in the mist. 
This I know.
I just can't see that far.

As quickly as it had disappeared, the sun rose from the water
and reclaimed its dominion...
The color returned and brought the boats
...and with them, the gulls

wait five minutes 
(or more)
enjoy the wait

Thursday, January 19, 2012

...the morning night fell

Yesterday Jim, the husband of my young friend, Beth, died suddenly, unexpectedly. The news was shocking. A mutual friend, Melissa, wrote this morning, “I have thought of little else since I found out.” Indeed. A continent and a few decades separate us. But love binds. Forever. And with it, vulnerability, tears, memories. Beth and her children are surrounded by family and close friends. The precious message sent to me by a friend ten years ago keeps circling. “In the silence of a caring heart know that you are loved.” Her husband has also since died, her caring heart shattered. This morning I write: to sort, to absorb. Words weep from my soul.
Beth’s words pierce the hearts of all who love her: “My very best friend, my husband of fifteen years, the father of my children”...her partner, gone. She adds,”I need all of your prayers, please, because right now I am lost.”  This I understand. I have visited this lonely place. Beth was with me then.
After the screeching halt of a life joined with mine...after the knowing, the awful knowing...came a pain too deep for tears. The tears would follow, fiercely, weeks later. Great racking sobs that took my breath but left the ache untouched. With my parents, my grandparents, death was bittersweet but anticipated, a gentle ellipsis at the end of a sentence that trailed into eternity. Not so with a partner. In the middle of my fifty-first year, an exclamation point divided life into before and after. And my days and nights - especially the nights - rained question marks. 
I keep reading C.S. Lewis today. His wife, writer Joy Davidman, died fours years after they wed. This civil union between two friends allowed Davidman and her sons to remain in Great Britain. Soon after, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. The relationship deepened and they wanted a Christian marriage. Not easy since Davidman was divorced. But they were married at her hospital bedside a year later. 
These two former atheists forged a union neither could have anticipated. Davidman described her conversion following her alcoholic husband’s nervous breakdown: “For the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, ‘the master of my fate’...All my defenses - all the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I had hid from God  - went down momentarily - and God came in.”
Warren Lewis wrote this about his brother’s wife: “For Jack [as Lewis was known to close friends and family], the attraction was at first undoubtedly intellectual. Joy was the only woman whom he had met...who had a brain which matched his own in suppleness, in width of interest, and in analytical grasp, and above all in humour and a sense of fun.” 
C.S. Lewis said of his wife: “She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have had good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more.”
Of her early death, he wrote, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” The unsought deal, the dreaded exchange. In the early morning hours, I lift my sweet friend to the great good God, up to his healing light. And I mourn. For her. For myself. For us all. I do not want the deal. I want time. And yet, I know the gift is greater than my limited mind. Its length and breadth and height are unfathomable. 

Forgive my disbelief, O God. 
Comfort my friend, Beth.
Shower her with blessings.
I praise you.
This I know:
You father the fatherless;
You are the defender of widows.
And, when the night comes
and I do not know 
and you seem so very far away, 
you hold me still 
in your everlasting arms.
Peace, my sweet Beth, love and light
forever after

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

...morph happens

I watched a sand artist at work in Santa Barbara..the rest of the picture is another post

Ponderisms, my friend, Marshall, calls them. My personal definition goes like this: those soulful places wrapped in mystery that loom large, where the mind meanders much like the lost tribes of Israel: in circles for forty-odd years. Marshall’s contribution today: age is a territory that has never been explored.
Now, every day I receive at least three unsolicited emails about aging gracefully in body, mind and spirit. I can think of few subjects that are more explored than the aging process. Long before Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth (been there, didn’t work), we humans have sought to slow the march of time. On the surface, aging appears to have been explored ad nauseum.
But Marshall - who acquired his latest ponderism while on jury duty - has a point. And I’m getting there but, first, an analogy. When Bill began treating my back, I was overwhelmed and confused by the ever-increasing list of daily exercises and stretches. So I asked for a matrix. When he quit laughing and got up from the floor, I said, “Well, I’m glad I can amuse you. Seriously, though, I think this is a great idea.” 
He composed himself - barely - and said, “If I had a dime for every time a patient asked me for a matrix, I’d be a wealthy man. But it can’t be done.” Had he not spoken compassionately, I might have been offended. 
I’m nothing if not persistent. “Sure it can. And I’m just the girl to do it. I’ll just set up a spreadsheet....” He stopped me, again nicely.
“Well, yes, technically, you could set one up but the result would be useless.”
I said nothing, nicely. People who know me find silence - even a nice silence - on my part extremely unsettling.
But he continued. “The exercises and stretches must reflect where your body is at a given moment. What is out of balance today will differ from what you experienced yesterday. Or an hour ago. In fact, the very nature of therapy is fluid. As the load shifts...” 
When I hear the phrase “load shift”, I know that he is headed toward back/neck nirvana. And I listen because I’m learning a lot. These days when we take walks by the shore, I find myself saying, “Look, Bill. That fella in front of us is definitely right-side-bending.” And he points out foot drop. We are a fascinating duo. 
But he is right. As I stretch one area, the load shifts and a new dynamic results. The laws of physics at work. My matrix approach won’t work. I am learning to read my body and to respond to postural habits - and pain - on an “as is” basis. 
Oh, the seductive power of lovely, lazy life matrices: what better way to de-rail one’s journey. In delirium. The truth is - with aging as well as with backs - morph happens. I can watch what I eat. Exercise regularly. Work crosswords or do Sudoku to ward off memory loss. But that pesky interior journey can’t be plotted. Or predicted. My aging - my personal experience - can be examined only by me. Context is ever-changing.
Now, let us go back to the back...and neck. Bill really stirred the pot when he introduced referred pain into the mix.
“But my wrist hurts," I said, perplexed. "Why are you putting a tennis ball under my spine between my shoulders? Is the idea to create pain elsewhere to get my mind off my wrist?”
A C-4 or C-7 or F-3-1/2 vertebra explanation inevitably follows. As does my response. “But feel the lump on the side of my hand, please. I’m swelling.”
He then takes both hands and holds them in front of me and points out that the lump is present on both wrists. It’s called a tendon or a joint or a muscle, whatever. My mind so wants to ice my aching joint or put heat on it or wrap it in gauze. Bill, on the other hand (unintentional pun...Freudian, perhaps?), wants to drape my supine spine over a tennis ball. Inevitably the pain goes away. The first time he did this, I told him the swelling was gone as well. He refrained from laughing. Wisdom comes with age. This we do know.
So must my trek through time be studied. I must learn where I am disjointed. And come to grips with referred pain. This is a solo trip. Others can enlighten me. The wisest friends get out of my way. Even let me stumble. But only I can re-visit those places of the heart and soul and mind that I passed through mindlessly the first time around: to find context, peace, perhaps a little wisdom of my own. 
Courage isn’t my first alternative. But every time I face my fears, I am emboldened to move forward, unencumbered, no longer captive to the power of shadows. Years ago I read To a Dancing God by Sam Keen. A drawing from that book illustrates this beautifully. I lost the book in the Great House Collapse of “03 but the picture remains in my mind. Visualize this:
A line drawing depicts a vast desert, with a huge sun beating down upon the sand (much like west Texas last week). In the upper left corner, the sun. Below, a large pyramid (named “Doubt”) which casts a shadow (labeled appropriately “The Shadow of a Doubt”). A long stretch of desert stretches across the page. On the far right, a deep chasm (labeled “The Bottomless Pit”) slices through the arid land. On the other side of the chasm, large leafy trees and water. The title of the illustration: Beyond the Shadow of A Doubt.
So I plod through my deserts, thirsty, aching...and arrive at The Pit. The Bottomless Pit. The only way across is a leap of faith. The oasis on the other side is sometimes pitifully small and the visit there brief. But never a mirage. For every time I take a leap over the unknowable, I find that I am one step closer to reality. A peace unrelated to circumstance...more often than not, in spite of circumstance. A gift. The gift. Truth.
With shameless plagiarism, I hereby deem aging The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of this writer. An enterprise that may stretch well beyond five years if time allows. Or end abruptly. I am clueless about my allotted days. My mission: to revisit the worlds I have only glimpsed, to explore new ones; to seek life and to grow in civility; to boldly go where no other man or woman can go, to that I place I avoid at times: within.
Funny, the black holes that once tugged at me do not taunt anymore. Experience empowers.  I have, for instance, driven carpool for over twenty years. Once, when I was the lead car at Pizitz Middle School, my battery died, thereby blocking traffic until I could be jump-started. I survived and lived to tell this tale.

Yes, two posts ago,I gave you a list of upcoming blogs. This one wasn’t on it. Proof once more that matrices inevitably fail. The other posts on the list are forthcoming. I just don’t know in what order. Or when. Adrienne’s fifth grade teacher was a unique individual. He had each student copy this Hellen Keller quote at the top of every paper: “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I never know what’s around the next bend. But I’m enjoying the trip more each day.

Monday, January 9, 2012

...twisters, hurricanes and twists of fate

It's not a road trip without Waffle House.

Love is not a matter of getting what you want. Quite the contrary.
The insistence on always having what you want, 
on always being satisfied, on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible. To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everything is "getting", and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return. 

Merton, Thomas. Love and Living

A taker and a giver do not a couple make,
because "giving in" is not the same thing as "giving".
Your Mother

We are back in San Francisco. Bill is busy treating patients this morning. We have driven over 4500 miles since we flew south in mid-December. While there, we collected my clothes and a few stored items, loaded them in my 1997 Ford Explorer, Dora, and began our circuitous journey. Dora just plain fits. We buried Bill’s beloved Aunt Dora while in Georgia. My granddaughter Ciara loves Dora the Explorer cartoons. And Bill’s office is on Dora Street. We hit every compass point along the way in this newly christened old car. Reunions were brief - mostly drive-by huggings - but sweet. The vistas - some familiar, others new - swept past us at sixty-five miles per hour. Dora likes this speed best.
Last night we watched the sun set between the spires of the Golden Gate...a beautiful welcome home. We unpacked completely for the first time in three weeks. The car, that is. The bags are sitting in front of me at the moment.
I had planned to go through boxes that are stored in Birmingham and select items to bring here. The four days allotted for that segment became one. I stood in front of the open warehouse door that afternoon and stared at large armoires, chests, and chairs carefully stacked. The boxes were behind them. And underneath. A heaviness settled over me as I stood there. The energy to shift, sift, sort and re-stack seemed too great. Time could be better spent with family and friends before we made the long trip west. I chose wisely, I think: we closed the door and left, locked and un-loaded.

The healing has just begun: pockets of destruction remain
as do scars, within and without
The next morning, a touching encounter: I spoke with Urvi, the young lady behind the hotel desk in Tuscaloosa. I told her that this was our first visit since the devastating tornadoes last April. Eight months later, former neighborhoods are a mix of new construction and empty lots. In some areas, debris remains stacked by the road. I couldn’t recognize where I was at times because blocks of once-wooded land now stands barren. The church where my granddaughter attended daycare was swept away in the storm. Not even a foundation remained.

Then Urvi told her story. She was with her parents that afternoon in the motel they own. They huddled in their apartment behind the office as the giant twister took half of the building. Suddenly the roof above them disappeared. Urvi, terrified, looked up into the center of the monster. Inside the funnel, she saw only white, a bright white light that she saw as the throne of God...with this, calm. But the fear returned after the storm passed. For two nights she couldn’t sleep. Then she began - as so many did - to volunteer. While she carried water and food to the hardest hit areas, peace returned. And sleep. But she watches the skies now. Her parents have rebuilt. Their motel, which once had forty-eight units, now has twenty-seven. 

We visited briefly with friends whose heavily wooded lot is not...wooded, that is, anymore....not since that April day. As we drove south, the tornado damage merged with the remnants of Hurricane Katrina. The casinos of Biloxi have been rebuilt and large new homes now stand in place of those washed or blown away. But Gulfport is deeply scarred. The gracious old southern homes and the large oaks that lined the coast road are gone. We drove past block after block of sidewalks and driveways that lead to empty lots, a cultural loss that can only be grieved, not replaced with new buildings.

Beach Road, Gulfport, 2012...almost seven years later

 But the beaches have healed. 
Nature is mindless of man.

Gulfport, Mississippi January 2012

New Orleans, Super Bowl morning
No crowds, not even the usual number of people on the streets

In New Orleans, tourists are returning. But the 9th Ward and other hard-hit areas have not been touched. We spent three hours in the city for a walk and Brennan's, a treat after miles of interstate food.

Through Louisiana, then Texas, reminders of the transient nature of places and people and things surrounded us. We stopped to stretch and walk beside I-10 in Texas one afternoon in the detritus of what was last promoted as a ghost town, n
ot a victim to natural disaster but to changing times and economies. The tours no longer exist and even the ghosts appear to have moved on. While we traveled, we thought of the people who have passed through and out of our lives. We are now caregivers to those who once nurtured challenges, uncharted territory.

Kent, more

Across Arizona
Back in California...Palm Springs, Santa Barbara beach art, San Luis Obispo
Text in the sand:
"Reality Check"
When the last bird has taken flight,
The last fish taken from the last ocean,
The last tree cut down...
Only then "we" will know [that]
"we" can't eat money.
Finally HOME to Marina Bay

Now I unpack the rest. 
First I'll hang this much-loved art that made the trek to California via Italy. This framed paper casting was made in Venice by an artist whose shop my daughter and I visited. Adrienne returned after I left Italy, bought this beautiful piece for me, lugged it through several countries and across the ocean. The delicate paper art arrived in pristine condition. When I look at it, I remember the sweet miraculous moments when I held my babies: the smell of baby powder, their heat against me. Fleeting, really. Roots and wings...that’s the deal. Otherwise the miracle would smother.

Every day is homecoming, an interior work...
a move toward integration and authenticity. The journey insists that I be decreased in order to increase. But out of the shattering comes wholeness...the blessings of brokenness redux. So here's to new beginnings, new friends, and to a greater appreciation of all my relationships whatever their duration: I am richer for what has gone before.

Monday, January 2, 2012

...yes, we are still on the road

We really need to clean the windshield

We will be traveling through January 8th. From the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific shore. Before we began the drive home to San Francisco, we managed to log 1500 miles going around in circles. Since I can’t type for any length of time on a cell phone without losing my equanimity AND since I am pooped by our evening respite, I hereby issue a caveat: My posts in transit may be just a bit disjointed. More along the lines of “here’s what I saw and heard that stuck.” I marvel at these ordinary moments: the serendipity of unexpected conversations or small kindnesses.
I want to share them all with you but cannot do these encounters justice quite yet. Here, though, is a preview of coming attractions:

...twisters, hurricanes and twists of fate: The tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa last April also struck close to my heart.  My son, his wife, and my precious granddaughter live there. While in Tuscaloosa, Patrick drove me through some of the hard-hit areas. And I met a lovely young woman named Urvi who looked up as the huge twister hit. Shortly after these storms, another mega-twister devastated Joplin, Missouri. Our friend, Ben, is a long-term volunteer coordinator for Relief Spark which has spearheaded re-building efforts. Along the Gulf coast, the imprint of hurricanes - particularly Katrina - is evident. 
...a proper southern funeral: Bill’s sweet Aunt Dora died during our stay. Her funeral - the inimitable Southern tribute - and other encounters reminded me of my southern roots.

...encounters with food: from gas stations to fine restaturants, we sampled them all. Words and pictures to follow. 
...take the pain out of traveling: Observations about - you guessed it - travelling..

... it’s all about choice: wait and see.

We have several days left, new reunions and sights to telling what's around the next corner.  And no end to posts in sight.