I step outside into a bracing morning. The day is almost too blue; the air is so clear that is seems alive. Far above me, the clouds march in celestial cadence across the sky. Years ago I used to drive a cab for a living. There was a blind woman I used to pick up. She was taciturn, proper, almost British in her sense of propriety and reserve. And though she seldom talked, we gradually became friends. One day I asked her what one thing she would wish to see if, for only one minute, she could have the gift of sight. She smiled and thought a moment. Then, she said, ‘Clouds.’ The answer surprised me. ‘Why clouds?’ I asked. ‘Because I can’t imagine them,’ she…
Another early morning finds me sitting in the office atrium, catching up on the day’s rhythm, seeing if I can match the beat. The energy is too slow, involving shuffling instead of stepping, a resignation in the bend of the head. Clearly I am not going to be a helpful dance partner. I need to carry the day differently…which propels me towards an entirely different train of thought. How to carry the day.
Should it be carried gently as a sleeping baby in your arms, held with acute awareness of its inestimable preciousness? Or with abandon? Tossing the day up in the air with delight, watching it return to your hands gleefully anticipating the breathlessness of being thrown higher again and again.
Perhaps it should be carried over your shoulder, as one carries shirts fresh from the dry cleaner? Protected in plastic that provides the security that they will make it home spotless and pressed (assuming you don’t fall into a puddle).
Do you hold the day like a briefcase – holding so tightly to the handle that your fingers ache, secure that no one will be able to take it from you?
Like a well-worn handbag held casually and almost mindlessly – its weight comfortable in your hand, its contents familiar (save for the occasional forgotten lipstick and dollar bill at the very bottom of the bag).
How do you carry the day?
Held tightly against you like a cell phone to your ear, doing all you can to make sure that no one can hear what you are attending to? Protectively guarding your privacy despite being in the middle of all this humanity??
Do you carry the day with confidence or trepidation? Delight or dread? Is it one more parcel to hold along with too many others to effectively juggle? Do you push it away as a stroller or a shopping cart, keeping control of the direction by keeping a certain distance between you and it? Is it pulled along like a rolling suitcase, casually unaware of its contents (for after all it is always behind you).
Do you balance the day like an overly full cup of coffee that is thisclose to spilling over, taking mincing, tentative steps to avert sartorial disaster?
I suppose different days require different handling. Today my arms are at my sides, keeping questionable rhythm with my feet. Today perhaps the day itself will carry me.
Whenever I have a meeting – of any kind – I’m early. It’s my definition of being on time. I was facilitating a meeting yesterday morning, and with the rain pummeling the house, I decided to give myself more than enough time to get downtown. What does one do then with an hour to kill? Head into the open, skylit atrium with a cup of coffee, review your notes and then watch the world go by. Another olio from yours truly…
Rather than look like I’m just sitting there ogling people, I make notes, raising my eyes subtly to take in the action (Actually, I like to think I look surreptitious – I have a hunch I’m not so graceful).
– A guy walks by wearing a grey cap, striped sweater, wire-rimmed glasses…he looks like he could be a student at GW, but for the absence of a backpack. He’s so intently texting that he slams right into the corner of one of the metal (heavy, wrought iron) chairs. Unfortunately, said corner is of a particular delicate height and I wince for him. He lets out a “oooph” – a restrained exclamation if ever I heard one, and gingerly walked into the coffee shop. Those of us sitting nearby all look up with sympathy and even a little amusement (that’s what you get when you don’t watch when you walk and text). Ok, the women look more amused then the men.
– The skylights which are supposed to welcome all the natural light look like they are bearing the traces of a really good cry. It’s that kind of day.
– Beige lady – I swear this is a beige lady. Beige hair, outfit, shoes, necklace, purse…urban camouflage. Her posture is perfect, her strides are long and her heels strike the floor with emphasis. She covers a lot of ground with maximum efficiency. A person on a mission, confident, hyped, ready. She comes out of the coffee shop holding two Red Bulls. I feel for the people with whom she’s working today.
– Choices, choices..a man in biking shorts and a heavy sweat (or rain-soaked) checks out his options at the coffee shop. Grabs a yogurt. Puts it back. A box of Special K. Shakes his head and places it back on the shelf. Granola bar? Uh uh. This is a small Au Bon Pain, there are limited choices. He looks conflicted. Ah!! He grabs a an apple turnover. I like this guy.
– Cross-body bags with cross-body briefcases is not a great look. People look like pack animals heading up Everest. And the puce thermal lunch bag? Um, I vote ‘no’.
– Why does no one smile? I must be missing the memo. This feels like a very unhappy place, with questionable elan (but this is DC after all, we don’t pride ourselves on elan or fashion sense – or any sense at all for that matter). I am on a crusade to get people to smile. I consciously smile at everyone – the garage attendant, the vanilla-outfitted girl who passes my table with vacant eyes, the maintenance person who traverses the perimeter of the atrium scrupulously checking for…something.
I’m not talking maniacal smiles here – just a small smile that someone could choose to ignore or return without fear of a Jack-Nicholson-in-‘The Shining’ reaction. So far I’m 5 for 6…wait, 6 for 7 – not bad. Each moves along in his/her own moment, which is totally cool. I’m not looking to create memories here. I just want to break this wall of impassivity – see if there’s any light behind those shuttered eyes, as if there is too much risk in letting someone see any emotion at all.
And I want to know all their stories – where do you work? Do you like what you do? What’s on your mind this morning? House? Condo? Tent? Pets? Kids? Partners? What could change this moment from one that has merely passed to one that is fantastic? Are your shoulders bowed from the weight of your backpack or the weight of your woes?
Why fuchsia lipstick?
They need music here – something to lift these sagging commuter spirits, to imbue the morning with the hint of the possible, the funny, the sublime or even the stuff that really matters. Time for me to head to the elevator with the guy who looks like Stubby Kaye when he was in “Guys & Dolls”.
Mother’s Day is Sunday. When my mom was alive, this was a day feted like few others. Dad would have it no other way, for he knew how much it meant to her. We’d stand by her bedroom door waiting for her to come out, give her a cape made out of a sheet, a scepter (which in actuality was one of our batons) – even the dog had a ‘Happy Mother’s Day‘ sign around his neck. Coffee first – always. Then gifts and cards (she felt cards were a critical component of the whole thing). In retrospect, we took the Hallmark holiday to almost ridiculous levels. As teenagers, Deb and I would roll our eyes at the theatrics involved – Dad reminding us repeatedly to make sure that she not be disappointed by any failure of our memories, the Queen for a Day spectacle expanding in scope as we got older. As dad’s health began to fail, we just celebrated her as much as we could – though nothing really compensated for what she was losing.
I come at this though from a different place. Boys perhaps are different – more muted in their expressions, though arguably more consistent. And this is really about them. Whether they read this or not is moot; it is for them in absentia.
If it wasn’t for the boys, I wouldn’t be one of those women for whom Mother’s Day is intended. My boys. Really, the appreciation should be directed their way. They are not perfect; I have no illusions. They are however the perfect sons for me. They each came equipped with unique characteristics that amaze, delight, occasionally frustrate and always, always reinforce my wonder that I got so lucky. So blessed. I wish I could still hold them in my lap, yet I also love hearing their expanding world views. I can touch their heads and remember them nestled in the crook of my neck, and then blink and re-focus on a conversation about work, current events, the Stanley Cup. I crave them – I aways have. And though I knew from the time I was able to toddle that I wanted to be a mom, I never knew I would be a mom to men who I like as much as I adore. Their love is nutritious – even though I’m not sure what the RDA is. All I know is that when I’m with them, I am the better part of me. I look at them with occasional disbelief – these men, as boys were mine. These men allowed me to be a mom. And as convoluted as it may sound, Mother’s Day celebrates them. They are my greatest treasures, my heart, my soul. They are my history and I am watching them travel into their futures. And to take a line from my dad, “more loved [they] cannot be”. Thank you for being the sons I always wanted, and becoming the remarkable men that you are.