The City Mouse And The Country Mouse

This isn’t about the book – though I loved it as a kid.  It’s about the duality within me – for I am both in one very confused body.  I grew up in a city; I worked in a city.  I live in the ‘burbs;  we just bought a home in the mountains.   I’m writing you from this new house, looking out at the trees as their leaves fall like rain.  The vista is saturated in yellows and reds.  There is no one around, yet I couldn’t be less lonely.

Our house is sited in such a way that it feels like an aerie.  Perhaps that is why it is comforting to be here.  Protected as in a nest.  I’m getting to know this space, for we closed and moved in over the weekend.  We don’t know each other yet – its noises are unfamiliar, the whoosh of the heat turning on, the doorbell, the ticking of a clock.  The first night we crawled into bed with aching backs and weary legs, only to feel an adrenalin surge as the rain and wind magnified every creak and moan.  I spent some of the post-midnight hours walking through the rooms, introducing myself and listening to their stories.  Finally I fell asleep on the couch wrapped in a blanket and a better sense of my bearings.   When we got home on Sunday, I fell into the arms of the familiar.  I’m slow to commit, but once I get there,  I’m steadfast.

I came back yesterday to continue nesting (which included the third visit from the cable people with whom I’m now on a first name basis).  I went for a walk convinced I would find clues of the wildlife who are the rightful owners of this land.  Of course, I have no idea what bear scat looks like, nor  exactly what I would do if I met a bobcat along the road.   I only know what I’ve seen on “Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom“.   And I always thought that Marlon Perkins had the better job – observing from afar as Bill would be sent in to tranquillize the grizzly.  The city mouse with a country spirit.  Or a country mouse with an urban aesthetic.

So I am beginning a new relationship in these calming and magnificent surroundings.  I am feeling protective as a mother with a new baby, holding each moment carefully,  realizing that this house and I are engaged in a transfusion of our spirits, our ‘mark’ if you will.   I love the splendor, the sense of being closer to the sky.  And soon this too will feel like home.

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Kitchen Friendships

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell.   This is the first, the wildest and wisest thing I know:  that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” — Mary Oliver

You would think that the continuing saga of potty training our youngest sir (Bogey – he with the bladder of a peanut and a vacant scare which may not bode well for his aptitude), would leave me somewhat compromised in terms of fodder for posts dealing with anything other than the delight and frustration of puppyhood.   Given that my travels are limited to two and half hour intervals, it is true that I haven’t seen much other than what is going on in my kitchen.  But I’m here to tell you, there’s a lot of amazing that happens here.

Bonnie, the remarkable creator of paperkeeper.wordpress.com was here for a couple of days and in effect, holed up in the kitchen with me for the majority of her visit.  True, a better host would have planned sightseeing expeditions in and around D.C. (she left the day of the government shutdown);  I invited her to walk up and down the driveway.  And having her here was an experience in amazement.  Amazement that we started talking at Union Station on Sunday evening and didn’t stop until we said good-bye at Dulles airport.  That the kitchen became the haven for stories sad and delightful, evocative memories and whispered hopes.  There was no better place to be to explore the reality of a friendship that started with imagined dimensionality created by our words and email conversations.   I could listen and see and ask and think and travel around years of Bonnie’s life and she let me be amazed.  We laughed and considered and opined and let the comfort of the kitchen make all of that conversation safe.  It was a  joy to have her here and to realize as I sit here today, that I had so much wonder going on around me.  Perhaps therein is the kernel of truth – any moment which is attended to with sensibilities focused contains far more amazement than we might think.

I will leave Bonnie’s travels to Bonnie – for it is her story to tell.  And she tells it like no one else.  I for one have to go walk the pup.

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For Simon

Did you ever hear the one about the parish priest and the Jew?  Gotcha – there’s no punchline..

Simon (simonmarsh.org) is a parish priest in NW England.  I’m – well you know me by now.  We’ve never met, and yet I can assure you he is as much a part of my heart as any beloved friend.  I don’t remember what prompted us to start emailing each other, but shortly after we did, Simon became ill.  His voice was failing him,  a diagnosis proved elusive and his fatigue was almost taunting him.  I fretted – asking all these questions that you would expect – was he able to eat?  Had he tried chicken soup?  Was he getting enough rest?  How was the quality of the medical care?  He would respond when he was able – without complaint.  His tiredness was teaching him patience, he wrote, his hoarseness provided him time to listen to silence.  He was most frustrated that his responsibilities to his parish were being compromised.  And he worried about his wife Jilly.  Simon apologized for not writing more,  reassuring me through this ordeal.  Thanking me for being a worried Jewish mom across the pond (forget that we are close in age, I’ve always had a strong maternal streak).

Simon has improved, his posts are more frequent and I can’t begin to suggest that I understand all that he writes.  What I feel though is palpable – the love of his religion, the celebration of family, the delight in a flower’s budding.  I suppose one can argue that at core, this is what spirituality is predicated upon in its purest sense, and when I read his words from that perspective, I rejoice.

Simon sent an email over the weekend to some of his friends.  It is no exaggeration when I write that I get a visceral reaction whenever I see his name in my inbox.  My friend – he is well, he is in my orbit and I am grateful.  We hope to meet one day – sitting in some coffee shop somewhere.  Perhaps Andy and I will return to England one day; maybe Simon and Jilly will visit the States.  Who knows what fate has in store.  But there was a reason that Simon came into my life – he has taught me that the heart can hold an unimagineable amount of love, that there are people in the world who see us as far, far better than we really are and that perception impels us to try and fit that image.   Simon makes me a better Mimi.  Because he is convinced that I already am.  What do I offer in return?  I have no idea – for whatever it is, it pales in comparison.

Simon and Jilly are off on holiday.  He will likely not even read this anytime soon, but that’s ok.  I wrote this more for me than for him, a meager attempt at acknowledging the power of a friendship that came from the universe and travels with continued enthusiasm across the pond.

Recently Simon posted Mary Oliver‘s “Wild Geese” and though it came from a different place in his thoughts, it is offered here for him.  For Simon, my friend.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers  itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Are We There Yet?

“I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be, and so I’m on my way home.” – Bob Dylan

‘Home’ – the definition in and of itself is intriguing.  It implies something stationary, yet I think it moves and morphs frequently.  When I was little (until the sixth grade), home was an apartment with a hallway that I thought was a mile long, the dotted linoleum in the bedroom I shared with my sister and the kitchen.  It was the night table I scratched my name into while I was talking on the phone with my dad during one of his trips to California.  It was the elevator button that I couldn’t reach when I was five and decided to run away.   When we moved to a larger apartment,  home became both safe haven and hell – as only home can be when you are an angst-ridden adolescent.

When the boys and I went out on our own, we moved a lot.  So much so that I would assure these two toddlers that home was anywhere we were together – whether we were in the car, at the supermarket, in our beds, taking a walk.  As long as we were together, we were home.  I remember feeling that I was saying this for myself as much as for them;  our various rentals somehow didn’t offer an accurate definition or image of what I wanted our home to be.  I had migrated so far from who I was, I’m not sure any four walls would have felt like a comfortable representation of home.  In a very pure way, the only home was truly where the boys were, for they were really all I was sure of, my touchstone, my heart.

So it should follow that if ‘home is where the heart is’, our address should also change (figuratively) with some frequency as we find our comfort with who we and where we are.  Where our love lies, where our being is at peace, where we can cocoon and soar, happy dance and hold on for dear life.

We’ve lived in our house for twenty-one years.  And I’m not the same person I was when we first moved in.  The walls don’t show the dirty fingerprints from little people who in principle would not use a banister.  There are echoes in some places where voices used to be.  We talk about moving and can’t move ourselves to do so.  For over time, the house was able to adapt itself to whoever I was at any given time, holding me tightly and with safety when at my most vulnerable and unsure,  and willing to open its arms when I needed room to explore and roam.  It has given me different rooms to settle into depending on my mood and greets me with comforting noises that are reflective of our ongoing conversation.  This house knows me well.  I’ve always been a little reluctant about long-term relationships, and our house let me fall in love in my own time.  It kept my children safe-ish (they did some pretty crazy things when they were younger), it held us all together until we could define ourselves as a family.

I get Dylan’s point – and I also realize that I have traveled far to arrive here.  My family is my heart.  My house after all this time, is my home.

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Coming Full Circle, Sort Of..

My sister and brother-in-law are in the midst of moving into their recently renovated house.  It’s been the longest labor and delivery – literally and figuratively.  And now that they have their little parcel of joy (so to speak), I hope they love and enjoy it and make it their own.  Needless to say I can’t wait to see the new addition to the family (I know that was a groaner, but I couldn’t resist).

There is a gentle irony in her move to this house.  Although we didn’t grow up there, it’s proximate to where my parents lived (they bought their house when my sister and I were already in college.  I used to say that had we moved to the suburbs before I finished high school, my graduation gift would have been way better than a Panasonic stereo).  It is where I remember them at their happiest.  And it became home – because it was where they were,  where my children crawled and toddled and ran – where so many memories were made.    My sons always reference this house when remembering their grandparents – the backyard with apple trees as bases and dad throwing pitch after pitch after pitch, looking for shells down at the dock, creating innumerable ways to take indoor soccer to new levels of hilarity.  It’s where Andy and I got married.

I can’t wait to visit my sister and yet, when I think about driving up 95 and getting on the Hutch, my eyes cloud with tears and there are no words.  No words.  Perhaps because my heart is too full.  There are some things that time doesn’t temper.  There are some moments that may  change in hue or shading, but remain the same in form and substance.

This sentimentality is heightened by another serendipitous experience.  My parents had a circle of friends (all European but for our dad)  that was arguably too close, too intimate, too ‘Mad Men’.  They were known as “The Group” – they had their children within months of each other,  summered together in the Catskills, wintered together at each other’s houses.  As their offspring, we identified with each other in so many unspoken ways.  All first generation Americans (again, dad being the exception), all growing up with a European perspective of child-rearing, all connected by an emotional cord tied by our parents.  Until it unraveled when we were young adults.

You know where this is going – Deb and three of these women have picked up that cord once more.  They had dinner together recently, and she described it as warm and loving.  They will see each other again; I’m hoping to join them.  And slowly I feel the ground shift, the angles inherent to any journey smoothing and perhaps unresolved elements coming full circle.  I find myself gravitating to these memories and holding myself back, venturing forward with some reluctance.  I need to protect the little girl who is in my care; she still has hurt along with the delight.  She’s never been very good at self-protection.

So I sit here in the silence that arrives with snowfall, recognizing the wonder in the nexus of these moments, their undeniable connection to the past and their inextricable relevance to the present.  As to the future?  It’s not mine to predict – I just know that it makes me smile, albeit with one tear.

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