Appreciation of Butterflies – Fourteen

I know I said I would be here, hon, last night but all the schlep of the day drained my reserve and I fell asleep with ice on my ankle and dishes on the counter.

So, last night I had an ancestor dream, and I’m going to tell you about it.

Deb and I were wandering around, looking for somewhere to get dinner.  An old Chicago neighborhood, with rows of storefront windows facing each other across a wide street – like, say, Roscoe Village or Sunnyside.  We saw a line of people waiting outside a little family place, glowing with lights and only a few tables – and I recognized someone.

The shape of his back, his neck, his head – it was Pop.  He didn’t see me as I crossed the street.  He was talking to Anatole.

I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned and recognized me.  His face was so relieved – overjoyed, really.  He opened his arms and hugged me.  It was so comforting, so unambiguous.  He held me so I wouldn’t be scared.  And I wasn’t, not at all.

We didn’t say anything, but I understood he was going in to the restaurant and I wasn’t invited.  Inside, I could see long, community tables with candles and violets in vases.  I knew I would have to leave him there.  He went into the dining room and I walked away with Deb.

I guess it is no surprise that he visited.  I want so much to ask him what to do now – even though it wouldn’t really matter what he said.  I don’t think the ancestors know what will happen.  I think they just carry the durability of love to us, from its larger dimension – the dimension they embody in our dreams so we can understand it.  He wanted me to know it endures, all the love we confuse and displace to protect ourselves.  The ancestors do understand, even if they don’t have the answers.  They remember what it meant not to know.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Thirteen

Honey, I am really just calling to say goodnight.  I have to get an early start tomorrow, so if I tell you about the rain and today’s incidentals (no incidents), I’ll never make it.  Tomorrow night, we’ll catch up.  But I am thinking of you.  Sleep tight, dear.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Twelfth

Well, honey, I think you must have heard me last night – because Today supplied me with a generous dose of LOL.

I called my friend about some serious news, and when she said, “How are you doing?” I sighed SO HARD I’m sure she thought I had sprung a leak.  She started to laugh her contagious laugh, and I realized I had said everything.  I was looking up at the tree outside my window – grey sky, grey blinds, black branches filling the view.  Inside, though – full color was shaking us back to life, propelling us across the unknowns surrounding scary things we cannot change. We were laughed until we couldn’t anymore.  I bet it was 2 full minutes before we said another word.

Then tonight a different friend called me.  Her warmhearted voice conjured bitter-cold L-platforms and cigarette-fumed books – our shared vocabulary from very long ago.  “Bee,” she says, “are you taking my advice for keeping a journal about what’s happening?”  She calls me Bee, like a punctuation mark, and takes so much mutual joy in my rants, I can’t help pouring out my most preposterous opinions, just to hear her laugh.

And then I also heard from a friend who has discovered that the way to my heart is to laugh at all my jokes.  Who could resist that?

Oh honey, I would love to hear you laugh.  The both of you were so funny, but when you loosened your grip and let yourself be broken into laughter, that was the best thing.  To feel you join us back on this absurd earth, where your striving so often boomeranged against your best intentions. To feel you let go of the impression you wanted everyone to have, and to hear you bloom with your own cheery song.


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Appreciation of Butterflies – Elevenses

Hello, dear – here we are together again, a sleepy pair as usual.  I can type with my eyes closed, but staying awake until the end of the sentence is more of a challenge.  You think I am kidding?  You know I am not kidding.  I have my eyes closed right now.  Hmmm…heaven.

Don’t ask about today, honey, and don’t let anyone tell you that washing your hands is some kind of doorway to mindfulness.  Washing your hands every time you touch a light switch or the refrigerator is Boring.  Boring Boring Boring.

We can talk about the birds arguing all day outside my window, breaking up the cold sunshine with their bickering.  “Who’s got the best branch in the arbor vitae?”  “Get away from my seed stash!”  “Hey, did you see that cute new chick?  She’s mine!”  Or about how the Frankenboot hurts sometimes.  I guess a broken ankle isn’t a walk in the park.  Wait, that sounds good…a walk in the park.  We’ll do that this weekend, dear, Frankenboot and all.  Maybe they’ll have new flowers in kaleidoscope planters at Olbrich Gardens.  It’s so fun to watch the shapes collide and transform into unrepeatable patterns.

Did I mention I’m sick of washing my hands?

If you were here, I think you would say something to burst my bubble and make me laugh.  Because you were always so unimpressed with me, sometimes you cracked me up like popcorn going off.  I wish I knew what that little something was, but I’m laughing right now, and I don’t even know what you said.

I’m avoiding philosophical talk about the monster inching closer and closer to us, engulfing everyone in its gravity like a black hole.  We know with complete certainty not everyone will make it through.  I really don’t want philosophy.  This doesn’t feel like an opportunity to me.  I want to go see the people I love and squeeze them closer.  I want to lick my fingers after I wipe spilled cream from the side of my cup.  And I don’t want anyone to be sick.  I can learn to pay attention to my life some other way.

How often did he say, “I’ll let you know when it’s time to worry, honey?”  The joke is, it was never time.  Worry never helps.  But I don’t like it.  Not one bit.

Well, darlin – I guess my little kettle needed to let off some steam.  We’ll talk tomorrow night.  I love you, honey.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Ten

Alright, honey, I guess we really don’t have to talk about today too much.  I did get a Frankenboot for mein foot, along with a scowling eyebrow from the physical therapist when I asked her – really – how long this would take.  “Four weeks,”  she said knowing I wanted the truth, “and I want you in this thing all the time, unless you’re sleeping.”  It’s like she could see me plotting excuses to get out of it.

Last summer, I finally decided to make friends with the view from my room. There seemed to be so many obstacles at first – fake mullions and thick tree branches loomed across every sunny moment with their dark, unmistakable presence.  My place in Verona spoiled me – I knew it, even then.  I had open sky through the windows, and nothing across the way except an second-story, outdoor landing.  But that was 5 years ago.

I had to remember why I started making pictures:  to see the enchantment in my actual life.  Soon I found that things could happen in front of this window that Verona never offered.  The light is like a capricious dance partner.  It gives and takes, and I have to be quite a bit luckier – and, if I’m honest, improve my camera work – to follow its lead.  Now, I love the tree and its shadows, tracing out a place where something unexpected can happen.  The shadows and the highlights never leave a mark.  They start fresh every day.  It just takes a split second- but you can see so much more in those moments.

Oh darlin’, I loved spending tonight with you, and telling you these irrelevant things, as if they might matter.  I can’t see you, but I can think about you.  Your wavelength tunes in and out, like distant broadcast waiting for a clear sky at night to reach my heart.  I’ll be here tomorrow, dear.  Nighty night.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Nine

Honey, I’m sorry I didn’t write you yesterday or Friday.  Friday, we had to pack all our work up to take home, so that we can try not to get each other sick with this terrible virus.  By the time I went to the doctor (it turns out, my ankle’s broken, not sprained) and the grocery (see: ankle broken), and fixed dinner (chicken, was it?), all I had left in me was sleep.

Then yesterday, I made you something in the cloudy afternoon, with some rocks I have been pondering for a little while.  But it takes some time to see my way through to the right picture.  (Also, I might have been watching Antiques Roadshow for a little longer than is really necessary.)

So, about these rocks. My friend gave me the red ones, from a big bucket of river stones he collected.  (Because I’m the sort of person who has friends with treasure buckets full of rocks.) They are from somewhere called the Brule River – one of these ancient waterways Up North in Wisconsin, where people go to their cabins and pretend to fish between naps. (Or so I assume.  I have never seen this Mysterious Realm with my own eyes).  I scrounged the small stones from the pedestrian path through the Pheasant Branch Conservancy – 2 chunks of petrified wood and a bit of quartzite.

Is the heart obvious enough?  No matter how I put them together, these incongruous shapes – rough and smooth, sharp and worn – seemed to fit into a heart.  I know that’s improbable.  It must have something to do with me – eye of the beholder or wishfulness.  It takes so much discipline to see what’s right in front of me. I’m rarely sure if anyone else sees what I see.

But really, the light just chose it’s time – and this was how the pieces had fallen into place.  The light in the heart is what matters.  That’s how you see that things are beautiful, and the sense they make, exactly as they are right now.  So I kept this one, even if the heart isn’t obvious.  The light was everywhere.

I’ll write tomorrow, dear.  Sleep tight.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Eight

Hello, dear.  It’s a little less late than last night, but don’t get your hopes too high.  I didn’t wake up any smarter this morning, so I can’t promise much improvement over yesterday’s jumble of words.

Today was one of those days where you barely blink and it’s almost time to go home.  Those are usually pretty good days.  I listened with all my heart to a donor who said she was a completely different person because of coming to school here.  She was so full of gratitude, I heard tears well up in her voice.  She told me about her husband, who really was a rocket scientist.  And her dream to be a concert violinist, and now she is going to give some money to help the musicians.  I told her anything we can do to keep the musicians playing, that’s a good thing.  We felt like sisters in the end, and it was hard to say good-bye.

Can we talk about the bigger things another time, darlin?  It’s not that they don’t matter.  But if we are doing this right, the big things are either all behind us,  or here right now in the words we give each other without hoping for more than a smile in return.  In how I make the bed each morning, just for the pleasure of getting into it at night.  In how I like everything covered with flowers to remind myself that I am blooming, too.    The things we needed from each other, honey – they were just ordinary.  And yet they built the sum of all the time we had.  And time carried all the larger things along for us, the way the ocean engulfs the most immense and intricate creatures in this world.  Best to let the ocean have them now.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Seven

Well, dear forgive me. You know, don’t you, the words are so much harder to make, and now, it’s very late.  If I start unspooling all the knots and crannies with words, I’ll run out of brain before I can get us anywhere close to what I need to say.  Before I turn into a pumpkin.

Oh, honey.  Why do we wait?  Isn’t that the message ripening in this silence?  If there is magic now, in the light through the window, in simply being closer, what else is there to trade for?

I will be here tomorrow, hon.  Sleep tight.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Six

Now, honey, it has gotten really, really late.  Honestly, the night slipped away from me so fast, I almost went to bed without writing you.

Remember the nights when I used to call you after I got settled into the hotel? At the time, I wouldn’t have admitted it helped me as much as it helped you – but it did.  I never got the hang of feeling at home in those rooms.  I knew people who’d bring splits of champagne, figure out how to make brownies in the microwave and spread out across the beds and tables, like the place belonged to them. But for me, it was your voice – not comforting, not reassuring but like a grounding wire, taking me down to solid bone.

Sitting on the edge of the edge of the bed, watching the clock while we talked – I’d let you ask me again if you could call me on my cell phone from your landline.  “Yep, honey – it doesn’t matter.  It’s just like a regular phone.”  I know just how you felt – I’m equally mystified by all the layers of alleged connection that intervene between talking to someone anymore.

I’d close my eyes, exhausted from driving, from insecurity, from figuring out how to eat nothing I really wanted, and listen to your aches of the day.  Maybe sometimes I’d have dinner with Deb or someone else fun, and we’d have a little story to tell you.  But alot of times, I was practically asleep when we were talking.  Did you know?  Of course you knew.  I couldn’t fool you about that.  You’ve been tucking me in since day one.

This picture will be 9 years old tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ve ever re-posted an image before, but everything is here.  Our mutual prayer that we could somehow accomplish practical magic.  My conviction that leftovers of the past could be re-shaped into a mystery that would allow me to understand you.  A clearer voice now, still a grounding wire.  Taking me down to solid bone.

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Appreciation of Butterflies – Five (Pause)

“Oh, bother!” said Pooh. “I shall have to go on.”

Well, honey, yesterday did not go As Planned.  Because as I was tra-la-la-ing on my daily walk, enjoying a visit to the Kenilworth of Madison, an invisible drain cover – lurking sinisterly below the level asphalt – grabbed my ankle and twisted it in a Very Uncomfortable Way.  Ironically enough, my tra-la-la-ing thoughts just moments before had been:  Walking Around is the Best Thing in the World.

So today I missed my walk for the first time in almost 2 years (June Oneth 2018).  But, piloting around on these crutches (yes, I got crutches) takes enough out of my arms, I really think I am almost walking around on my hands, like a disoriented acrobat.  That’s got to count for something, right?

I worked recumbently, at home, and  I did get quite a bit done, once my friend pointed out that if she could make coffee with a broken leg, I could do it on a sprained ankle, FFS (that’s a quote).  All I needed was my back pack, a little shopping bag and a mason jar.  I swear, whatever you are imagining I did with those items – YOU ARE WRONG.  I drained the first pot and felt my humanity return.   Then I made a second pot, and I was almost myself.  Then my roommate came home from a grocery run for me with the biggest jug of cold brew coffee I have ever seen.  She really gets me.

The butterflies I imagined are definitely grounded this week.  Yesterday, I couldn’t bear any weight on my foot, and I can’t stumble around on crutches with the camera – yet.  But, I’m not ready to say I can’t make any butterflies at all.  Because I really had some things I wanted you to see, and that’s how we always do together, dear.  We’ll just see.

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