Of Paradoxes and Pop

Hi,

So here’s what’s been rolling around in this very addled head of mine…My neighbor Gary is an avid gardener.  So much so, that we have never spoken about anything else.  He came to the door a few weeks back to tell me that our grass was being over-watered and that I should adjust the scheduling of the sprinkler system.  Ok, done.  The other day he flagged down my car to advise me that my grass wasn’t getting enough water (I’m abbreviating the conversation to keep this thing going).

Everything needs water – but not too much.  Every meal should be savored – but not so much that you get heartburn.  My cyber pal David (davidkanigan.com), is pondering the extremes of emotional bungee jumping, as I extol the state of balance.  But highs are awesome – it’s the lows that suck.  It’s all a paradox (sidebar – Annie LaMott’s Ted talk on her 12 rules of life and writing – enjoy it).  I got it – and to a ridiculous degree, it’s all a cliché.  Until of course, you get to some lessons I’ve learned from my father-in-law.

Sid calls me his favorite daughter-in-law, and he in turn is my favorite father-in-law.  Of course, we are also each others’ only person in that category, so for me, it’s an easy win.  He’s 92, one of the greatest generation, the head of Andy’s clan and he wears that mantle handsomely.  He recognizes the magnificence of my sons’ as fathers – and tells them.  He literally beams at the mention of his grandkids.  He’s vibrant and engaged and has become the official greeter to his community.  Going up to strangers, introducing himself, inviting people with an outstretched hand and an easy smile.  He’d win “Most Popular” if they had such awards for adults.

Pop has an easy walk, this kind of strolling gait that is unhurried yet purposeful.  He broke his foot a few weeks back, which only slightly inconvenienced his ability to dance at his granddaughter’s wedding.  His two granddaughters wheeled him onto the dance floor, he was handed the mike to sing along with Louis Prima and no one eclipsed him from that point forward.

And yes, now that his boot is off, he’s got golf to return to, bridge of course…you get my drift.  Pop’s unassuming and humble, he’s warm and truly finds no fault with anyone in his ever-widening circle.  He reaches out – with no hesitation.  If you surmise that I love him, you’re right.   I think he finds self-absorption boring – too much is happening for the over-examination of one’s self, or the pursuit of that kind of attention from others.

My parents were too young when they passed away.  I’ve written about them extensively and will not do so now.  What I will say is that neither was able to show me how to grapple with getting older.  I’m grateful for Pop’s lessons, because other than learning how to  play bridge, I try to play this life as he does.

Pop was married to my mother-in-law for well over 60 years.  And he still called her the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’.  We all were deeply worried about him – would he be able to get past the grief, heal enough to make a life for himself, etc.  And here’s the paradox that Pop taught me, the only one that doesn’t make me crazy.

You don’t get past grief (I knew that part);  you don’t get over love and you still live.  One can argue that it is a religious requirement to do so (it is in Judaism) – which is a pretty high imperative;  so is doing it for the spirit within that begs to sing.  Love and grief co-exist.  One doesn’t cancel out the other.  Losing someone you adore doesn’t give you permission to exempt yourself from life’s dance.  They are not different sides of the same coin – they are the same side of the coin.  There is no better moment to thank my father-in-law than today, there is no better reason than his patient coaching and his love.  What can you say to someone who asks the world to be his guest?  Thank you for the invitation, Pop – I gratefully accept and I love you.

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Who’s Stewart?

Hi,

There are many stories in here, so forgive the multiple parentheticals – recognizing of course, that really talented writers don’t use them often.  Ah well, I’ve never claimed to be a really talented writer.

Anyway, I was speaking with my builder last week.  A few years ago, her birthday gift from her husband was a girls’ weekend at an exclusive hotel.  These women have been friends for years; there are no secrets.  Well, with an abundance of alcohol there are no secrets.  And they imbibed – a lot.  One of her friends has been happily married for many years.  Great guy – sweet, attentive, doting – the kind of guy everyone else in the group holds up as the example when they’re arguing with their spouses.

After many drinks, her friend acknowledged that as much as she loved him, he wasn’t her ‘Stewart’.  Stewart was the one who got away.  Her college sweetheart – part dog, part romantic fool.  She was besotted, he was hormonal.  But she held out a fantasy, wondering for years, ‘what if’.

To abbreviate the tale, over the years her feelings for her husband have replaced that wonder.  She adores him – even though he wasn’t her ‘Stewart’.

I’ve never had a Stewart.  Perhaps it’s because I married often enough that by the time I hit 30, the prospect of a fantasy romance would have just enervated me.  I was a single mom with two boys under the age of five.  And honestly, being a mom was pretty much the only fantasy I ever really had that I insisted on making a reality (but that’s another story).

So let’s move on.

Have I told you that my sister is flippin’ brilliant?  On so many levels, this woman amazes me constantly (Debbie, I know you are shaking your head, telling me that this is same-sex, birth order bullshit – and even if you’re right, so what?  It is what it is.  Truth for sure – and some residual younger-sister-will-never-be-as-good neurosis for good measure).  She is beautiful, scary smart, talented beyond measure – and she is a writer – the legitimate kind.  In one of her recent stories she wrote “you fall in love with the way someone falls in love with you”.  Brilliant.

And true.

I fell in love with the way Andy fell in love with me.  He made himself fit into my life with such an abundance of heart, romance, delight – he introduced me to his magic and I was ultimately mesmerized.  He is my Stewart, but he isn’t the one who got away.  He’s the one who stayed.

We may fall in love with the vision of love that we see, but we stay in love with the person who orchestrated the imagery.  The person who may not be who we first saw (and are we the person they first saw?), but who’s in it with you.  The person who can be your best friend and some weird extra-terrestrial at the same time and still be cute.  The one who drives you crazy in every conceivable way.  I’m a kite;  Andy is an anchor.  He’s judgmental;  I’m not (but for my expectations of sub-contractors working on our house, but they’re not reading this).  We are opposite sides of the same coin – and that is the kind of love that can’t be fabricated by fantasy.

We fall in love with the way someone falls in love with us.  True enough.  We love the person who knew how to make that happen.  Perhaps I never had a Stewart because I have an Andy.  And even though this has absolutely nothing to do with what I intended to pen today, it is what’s been on my mind all morning.  So, I guess therein is another story.

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Keep Moving

“My, my.  A body does get around.” – William Faulkner

Oh William, you have no idea.

We’ve moved.  We’re in our new house.  It is lovely, really.  True, the microwave doesn’t open, the dishwasher is confused about its purpose, there’s a wine fridge but it too is inoperable, and though I have a double oven, it has to be replaced or repaired.  Did I  mention that our refrigerator legs aren’t locked, so that it creeps along surreptitiously,  advancing with little notice until it kisses the wall?

Of course, as with every new house, there’s a punch list that is lengthy – and I now understand why it is in fact called a ‘punch’ list.

At night, our boxes multiply as if their souls were rabbits.  And each morning, I look around in disbelief that there are so damn many them.  The yard is not seeded, sodded or fenced, so the Sirs and I walk with our heads down – our neighbors must look at the mosh pit that is the front yard and shake their heads with displeasure.  Some of the doors don’t lock properly yet, but what the heck, I can always make someone a cup of coffee.

And yet.

I love that I have landed.  I may not be able to find my way through this morass even with a compass and clear head (I lack both) – but I am home.  A place to create new memories, walls that will hold laughter and baby giggles, words from family and friends, new secrets and old stories that are told and re-told for their lessons and familial value – all will be protected by this structure.  When you cross our threshold, you will know you are welcome.  I think that is what I have missed most about our old home (other than the fact that my kids were still under the roof).  It was ‘home’ to all who entered – shoes were off, people curled up on couches, succumbing to those drooly kind of naps, big Thanksgiving dinners, intimate moments with friends around the kitchen table.

I wish my whole family was local, but I am so, so grateful for those who are here.  I think as you get older, you treasure ‘home’ differently.  It isn’t about acquisitiveness any longer – on the contrary, that which isn’t essential to your heart is purged – it’s about holding on to that which is most important to you.  And reveling in it.  Perhaps therein lies my impatience.  I want to find the pictures of my parents, the cards my sons gave me when they were small.  I want to ‘feel’ my life in what I touch.

Andy keeps telling me to go slow, that this isn’t a marathon – he’s right of course.  I’m driven by a compelling force to snuggle into what I know, before I begin to create something new.  If our fence was up, I’d have one foot in the new and the other in the old.  Barring that,  I’m just going to keep going until I uncover all those priceless treasures that I have missed for almost a year.  And whisper with delight and gratitude, ‘There you are!  Thank you for waiting for me!’.

Ok, time to get started –

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Heartbeats

The year is coming to a close…and I struggle to write of joyous moments and rhythmic episodes of delight.  I know they were there – as I often say, in those spaces in between.  They were in the moments with Sophie’s head on my shoulder or singing (so to speak) on our walks; listening to Sienna imitate all the animal noises she knows and feeling the tenderness of her cheek; watching my sons as adoring fathers…the incredible kindness and love of friends near and far; the excitement of a new home (which with a little luck and prayer we will get into next week); sunsets that took my breath and sunrises that gave it back…

Yes…undeniably there have been moments, magical, wondrous moments.

And yet, this has also been a particularly strange and disorienting year.  Certainly being in temporary living quarters, without Andy more often than not, has been particularly upending.   Somehow as we get older it seems we lose more people – or perhaps age makes us more sensitive to these departures.  And in every corner of the world, there is pain – palpable, horrid, unrelenting pain – that one can’t ignore.  The faces of children – hungry, broken, scared; real-time nightmares from which one cannot look away.  I spend a lot of time seeking comfort, for it all hurts so damn much.

And I don’t get it, I swear I don’t…I don’t get hate, vitriol, bias, ignorance…I don’t get power grabs considered more valuable than the heartbeats of our children – anywhere in the world.  What are we doing?   Kleenex stock must be doing really well, for I’m certainly using my share.

And yet…yet, I hope.  I hope that you all receive all that you wish for and wish for all that you have.  I wish that the orbit of the earth, spins just slightly askew, so that we can stop perhaps, rewind and try again to create something enduring and universally  reflective of the beauty of the heart.  I hope…for all of us..

“Hope

Smiles from the threshold of the year to come

Whispering, ‘it will be happier’ –  Alfred Tennyson

 

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Disbelief

Dearest Simon,

It has been too long since I’ve written – but if you knew how often I think about you and Jilly, you would feel overwhelmed with warmth, friendship and arguably quiet smiles.  You are so loved.

Your pictures have filled me with delight (and is there any way I can make copies of some of them – seriously – I want them in my new house) and comfort and hope.  Even when hope sometimes seems too ephemeral to hold.

This is going to be a bit political, perhaps more than a bit.  I ask that people refrain from posting ‘hate’ rebuttals.  At the risk of sounding harsh – you are entitled to your opinion as much as I’m entitled to mine.  But this is my blog, so perhaps you can begin your own if you want.

Audrey Niffenegger wrote – “There is only one page left to write on.  I will fill it with words of only one syllable.  I love.  I have loved.  I will love.”

I don’t understand what is happening in our world.  I don’t understand why we don’t hold our children in the highest esteem – so that we raise them in a world that doesn’t feel like it’s one breath away from self-implosion.  I can’t wrap my head around vitriol, hate, rage that foments more rage, violence that – like a cattle prod –  propels people to consider more violence.  Yes, this is about Orlando.  Yes, this is about insincere apologies (if they are offered at all) and veiled intimations that extremism is the best answer to extremism.  What can I say?  I’m an aging woman who marched after Kent State and was hit with lead pipes for doing so, who wore a necklace for too many years with the expression “war is not healthy for children and other living things”.  And yes, it turned my neck a hideous shade of green.

I wasn’t going to write about this today.  I was going to tell you a funny story about my new temporary neighborhood.  It can wait.

There is no comfortable way to end this – other than by sending love to you and your family.  To insist that I will just try greater kindness, find opportunities for compassion and work like crazy to make sure that my walk and my talk are in sync.  There really is only one page left – and we are writing it with our words and deeds.  I write to you because I write with the deepest, most loving conviction.  We have to stop killing each other.  We have to stop jumping from individual perceptions to massive generalizations.  One person at a time, one heart at a time, arms wide open.  So, with head bowed and heart hopeful and saddened, I send much love, Mimi