This week brought more than its share of shocks and abrupt reversals. And grief. My old friend and neighbor died on Tuesday night, finally escaping the grasp of frontotemporal dementia, that robbed her family of her bright spirit and boundless energy. As sad as I am, she is free. We used to have so much FUN.
One time, you called me after I had left you a message about something infuriating and unjust that happened at work. You said, with complete dignity and composure, “What did those mean people do to you?” And I didn’t stop laughing for at least a minute. I’m laughing right now, just remembering it.
As soon as I heard your voice, I knew everything was going to be ok. I didn’t need to know what to do, because I didn’t need to do anything. Someone else in this world understood my worries, and believed that I would be ok.
I can’t make you laugh as hard as you made me – because we don’t want you to rupture anything. But I know there is not one thing in this world that can cloud your brilliant, shining star. You make everything better, better, better. And if those mean people can’t tell the difference, well then – Bless Their Hearts.
I imagine you want to see these tender sides of me because I have to believe someone does. Whether that was true or I only convinced myself of it doesn’t matter. That hope found its home for a while, and opened.
So – in my imagination – I send you little mementos from any ordinary pleasure that ambles through my day. This morning, it was reading Hal Borland describe the mystery of winter twilight, and the song of running water, ushering life back into the landscape, and all of us. His kinship with the unremarked delights of the everyday makes me think of you. Kind and funny and observant, and so quietly aware of the unremarked delight in me.
Maybe just a day like Friday, where your laughter burst through the misgivings that start my day. Ahhh! ha ha! ha ha! Ahhh! Each of us coaxes the other along, just to see how far we can go.
What do you say, isn’t it almost the same when the laughing fits us together, as that other longer melody? Its call and response meanders a different path but resolves with an equally sympathetic outcome.
Delight that needs to have its say. The sweetness in my own heart I never knew was there, until you were there, too.
My brain keeps trying to re-set to what my friend calls “The Before Time,” as if I am waiting for a call from someone I miss. It doesn’t make any sense, but the habits of familiarity are like a major chord – you can’t avoid hearing how it should resolve. You know right where the notes should be.
Did you ever love certainty so much? Appreciate its delicious comforts? Sink your teeth into what happens without much thought. Fill the kettle, smooth the bed. Call your cousin and laugh the way that only family can.
Apparently some people like the excitement of arbitrary change. Continuous improvement, I think they call it now. Well, you bring your adequate performance right on over here, my darling, and let me marvel at how the routine of everyday has made you smart and strong and good at something.
You let other people do the improving for a while, they could probably use it. I’ve got plenty on my hands, getting to know you, and listening to the petals every Sunday.
When I bought these tulips, a thin red outline edged each lemon-yellow petal, all drawn as close to each other as the rings of an onion. And yet – as the buds plumped with light and water – the red spread imperceptibly, infusing the yellow cups until they were as rosy as a sunrise. It was such a sweet surprise, to see them blush as they revealed their secret.
The tightly folded buds didn’t care that the daylight was bleak and colorless. Inside, they knew what they needed to do with whatever sunshine they found. You can’t get your heart set on things turning out they way you want – because, you may not know everything about the tulips you bought. Things might even turn out to be more beautiful than you ever could have imagined.
Tonight there was almost an extra half hour for the flowers to take their turn in the window, humming around each other in their cordial melody. It’s surprising, isn’t it? How quickly we respond to that extra light at the end of the day, as January begins to wring just a little more sun from the clock – even when she hides it behind milky grey clouds. This brightening can’t help but include us in its subtly spreading increase. Despite everything, we remain creatures of the natural world, and it works its rhythms in us on a scale so magnified, we barely even notice.
My friend reminded me of the reasons this isn’t about flower arranging. It’s about finding something beautiful, something to make me feel that I’ve shown (shone?) some of the love in my heart. Which I do want to share, and hope you will see what I see, too.
Of course, the colors and the shapes are what come into the light. But they gather their aliveness in the velvet dark, along with so many tender things that emerge from that other language of forming and waiting.
Sunday night is here, and here I am writing you. Which you I’m writing to changes with the inner weather, but I always hope you’ll see yourself in the edges of the words – and of course, the things I don’t say.
The flowers are my way of making this some place I want to be. In the picture, it’s my little room, but it’s not. The window is looking in and inwards. I’m traveling somewhere as real and made up as any wish fulfillment dream – a mash-up of actual light and distant hope. No one else knows the difference if I take this journey or not. Not even you.
One of the staff at Trader Joe told me I’d done a good job with the flowers I chose. That made me feel so good, and at the same time very self-conscious. I’m hard to miss, ogling the alstroemeria in my leather coat and polka dot mask and indescribable hair. Maybe it was just something to say because we kept crossing paths – first by the flowers, then by the butter, then by the tea and coffee he was re-stocking. Such is my life – first flowers, then butter, then tea and/or coffee.
There are so many blunders that I have run out of time to remedy. Things that can’t be fixed with flowers. But every week, I keep trying.
A cabbage sort of rose, blood red ranunculus, alstroemeria and scabiosa, with remnants of last week’s larkspur.
If I don’t put it into words tonight, can you take a rain check? For one thing, I need a little more time for everything to sink in. No. That’s not true. I don’t have the energy to let it all sink in – which is what will happen if I start writing.
Before Wednesday, my imagination was starting – just starting – to entertain the afterwards. I indulged myself in future arms and kisses, and the smell of your cheek – reciting a familiar spell I used to cast on myself for other reasons. I fooled myself into a little mirage of destiny on the horizon, as if I had misread the map.
But then came the worst turbulence yet – another sickening drop into the depth of empty air. The nearer we draw to safe harbor, the more the demon howls.
And yet the real world – the world we are entitled to live in again – still has us in its orbit, pulling us through this awful storm. A beacon with its own center of gravity. I believe it. The precious, ordinary day is coming when I can stand a little too close to you and ask, “Where were we?”
Lilies, larkspur and single-flowered stock – the fragrance of Old Spice and Easter, blooming in vases from the White girls.
New Year’s Day is my favorite. You get to make it what you want – and who you are hoping to be. Of course, this is true of every day but it is too terrifying to live that way. We need the security of our familiar obstacles – at least, I know I do. My cozy Reasons Why are among my oldest friends.
There are some things I want in 2021. But mostly I think I’ll work on letting myself be. I feel like I’m about as improved as I’m going to get, and any way who am I trying to impress? One of the big lessons of adult life is that people are not paying that much attention to your flaws. In fact, people are just not paying that much attention to you, period.
The Shepherdess vase has some big scars on the back of her cornucopia – the result of an accident serious enough to justify tossing her out. Not hairlines or chips but fractures glued back together. Mended and serviceable, but not the same. And yet, more beautiful to my friend who inherited the broken vase because of the stories it contains. Meaningful to me because my friend trusted me to love a mended vase all the more when she passed it along.
I would like this year to be like the Shepherdess vase. To forgive things for breaking, and to patiently glue the pieces together. Not to forget what broke, or hide the scars – or make too big a deal out of surviving. To know that a mended life still holds water, and can still be a beautiful container for lilies and larkspur.
I had the camera out three of the past four days. On the other afternoon, I napped in the last of sunshine that warmed my chair – right there, behind the flowers.
The proportion of onion to chuck roast was just about perfect, and the crock pot did the rest. You can’t beat CrockPotRoast for Christmas – unless you have Brisket. Nothing beats brisket.
Four days living as myself – the sound of your voices, your laughter echoing like timpani, recalibrating my heart to its own natural rhythm. The ghost of Christmas Disappointment failed to appear, and I was free to give you love and hold your hand. That made me so happy, to be able to help.
The losses endure, but they are not the burden. They are a sign that life has not forgotten us (to borrow a little Rilke). Putting on the Face – that’s what takes the toll. But not until tomorrow. Right now, I’m here, and you are in my mind and heart as always. I remember. It was really a fine Christmas.