Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: The Visit

Allanya, my sister, 7/2019

My two older siblings and I spent a few days together recently. It’s a welcome yearly occasion. One is a musician/photographer/world travelling brother, one a retired executive director of social services sister–and, of course, me. This is unlike the more frequent “three sisters’ trips” and visits shared with our oldest sister, now gone. And the last time we met in 2018 was after our older brother passed. (So this year it is only us, down to three from four, and before that, down to four from five.) Since it is a more rare occasion, our get-togethers mean that much more. We swap stories, share food, take walks, nothing fancy. Sometimes it is enough to just be with siblings; lots of chatter can be less important than you might suspect.

In some ways, this year’s gathering was as usual, mutual changes noted. There have been a few since we are older, as expected, and still it can hit us as surprising. After all, we grew up together, and it can be easier to hang on to how it was than meet the present head-on. But there it is; we are the same if different and it is likely to continue this way. That we are siblings will never alter; the ties are deep.

I doubt anyone accurately predicted we’d become who we have been, done what we’ve done, and ended up in our respective spots. Though since I am the youngest of five, I can’t say I recollect entirely what Wayne and Allanya (and the others) were like when I was a child. Five years younger than she and seven younger than he, I tended to feel they were a set, like semi-twins; the oldest two sibs were the same with one and a half years’ difference. I was out of the primary circle of four due to my late arrival, and how I saw them was through a lens of the littlest one who looked up to them literally, and otherwise. I trailed them about, happily but was called a “pest” often if also was routinely looked after and taught things helpful or not so much, blamed/teased and generally, at the very least, tolerated. I forged my own ways and world as they grew up, while I remained a kid a few years longer. By age 13, they had all become college students and I was alone in my room and with my thoughts. I saw them infrequently after that–until my later thirties or so.

Wayne, as I think back to our childhood, seemed quietly and warmly outgoing, helpful with many friends, and he was good with kids. Like all of us, he was from an early age a string player–viola–and played in orchestras as well as with the rest of us and our father in our impromptu gatherings. Allanya laughed robustly and this drew people to her. She adored animals but had just cats (enjoyed then lost many, played a mean game of softball (as did our other sister). he had chosen cello to start (as did our biggest sister and I) then switched to flute and then, happily, bassoon. We all sang, at church and in school; I sang with a pop trio and performed in musical theater productions and wrote and performed songs with a guitar. There were so many stages and musical performances we all were involved with, they blur in my memory. Music was our common denominator–and all arts were considered of great value from childhood on. The same is so today.

My sister and I were close but fought as siblings can. She packed a mightier punch; our parents would have been horrified to know we had a few actual fights. Three of us sisters shared a room. When it was only Allanya and me, I was by default the underling, scapegoat and accomplice. I was her comforter when another cat was run over in our busy street, and when her heart was otherwise broken, a repository of dreams and struggles.

A favorite scheme was when she wanted extra food, typically dessert–she’d she’d hand it off to me in a napkin under the dining room table so Mom didn’t see. (She tended to heavier while I have been more skinny–still fight to keep on pounds.) I knew that meant I was to somehow whisk it away to our room and hide it until later. It worked, generally, if I didn’t eat some of it first. From this experience I was learning part of my role.

When I was a teen it meant that even when no one else knew she was gay, I did, before I understood all it meant. I, of course, told no one after I saw her, a college camp counselor (I was a camper, not in her sphere) with another camp counselor at an arts camp. I kept mum until she officially came out, then eventually legally married the woman with whom she remains. (I admit that after that, I said less about my own romantic yearnings of the guys in my theater class or in orchestra; later I realized love was love.) Once I mailed a box with many journals to her for safekeeping, then we threw them out later. She shared the truth of matters no one else suspected. We grew closer, also had fun together when visiting even though she left home, then moved far away. We had learned to trust each other greatly. We are, in fact, still best friends in the way we can be.

She taught English a few years but found her true calling within social service agencies, whether helping people with HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues or pregnant homeless girls or teen runaways or battered women’s shelters. Her skills included advocating and organizing as she oversaw massive community work, and also did fund raising for millions. In the meantime, she ran side businesses–rebuilding/restoring furniture, buying and selling turquoise jewelry and other collections, investing in real estate and flipping renovated houses. My sister has always loved being busy accomplishing something. And, she’d agree, making money–it was a pleasing challenge.

Was this what our hometown folks expected of her? I think they thought she would be a teacher like she’d planned (and likely married to a man). But she did formally and informally educate others about important social matters.

Unfortunately, Wayne and I have not been as close. Inevitably, perhaps, because he is male; we simply shared less time together–though there was affection– as he roomed with our older brother (though they were not too close). He also spent more time with Allanya in school or musical events. He was tall– at least six feet to my five foot four inches–though everyone was– and he moved with a casual grace. I believe he liked tennis, and was thrilled with a good game of ping pong. And he swam often, loved to dive until he sliced open his head and got a concussion when slamming a diving board on the way down. A terrible day.

His enjoyment of the water coincided with mine and so we’d swim around and past each other in pools or northern lakes; he might show me things as we dove off a raft or board. His serious accident, frankly, did not deter me from working on my own swan and jackknife dives and flips, even from a high dive board. I figured if he could master these, so could I. The accident was “just” an unfortunate pause; he recovered. Then, in winter, we sledded, tobogganed, ice skated and built forts from which to throw monster snowballs. I was quick if not the biggest, and knew how to compete! Mostly, I admired his congeniality and his talents from afar more than from up close so am delighted that has changed over time.

But we all got separated year by year, went to different colleges, landed jobs, married, moved to other cities. Though I did live with my sister a year in Seattle after high school… truth was, I was given a one way ticket by our parents to stay with her after I ran into trouble with drugs, and wrestled with PTSD from past abuses. We lived in a great mossy cabin on Lake Washington with an artist she knew who also became a longtime friend. It was at the lapping lake on a half acre of land. We smoked pot and made art and music, studied eastern religions and had philosophical discussions into the early morning. It was 1969; that was how many of us lived. My sister did alright in work and life. I didn’t make much progress as I racked up hours at an A&W drive in restaurant as a roller skating waitress, and hung out with an older, wilder bunch, a guy who loved his motorcycle and partying. I learned about drug dealers and drug dealing and often looked out across the lake and wondered, in tears, who I had become and how I might reclaim what mattered most. Yet we sisters had each other’s backs no matter what. It should have been better for us both. I might have styed and enrolled in college there, but did not. We remained in close touch after I went back to Michigan.

My brother, meanwhile, had taken a required ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program in college, and later entered the Army though he held a music education degree, a minor in history. I did not think we had much in common and was likely correct. While I had been railing against the Vietnam War, he was overseas enmeshed in it and what we hippies called The Machine. Then, when he returned to stateside, he was not the same. There was a stunned stillness to his typically animated self and it scared me. Yet he stayed on with his Army career many years.

Was this what people would have expected? He might have been a choir director, an historian, or a teacher of music theory like our father. I don’t think most would have expected him to become a career Army officer but it made sense to him and he did his work well.

It would take me decades to get to know Wayne again, due to differences in our lives but also actual miles between us. You, too, have to build a habit of genuinely engaging even with family (maybe especially). When I did visit with him, I watched, listened, shared what I felt I could, though some still felt too private. I waited. Over time, life got less arduous, more normalized. I visited him on the East coast; he flew out to Oregon every year or so to see us four sibs living in the Pacific Northwest. When, for my 60th birthday, my siblings bought me a ticket to celebrate it with them at his home (with his second wife, whom I enjoy) I felt enriched with the growing appreciation and love. It was one of the best family gatherings I’d had, just being together a few days. And we later met up as much as we could.

Wayne has traversed the world constantly since he and his wife retired from the Army. It is as if their stops at home are a brief respite before they return to lives they more need and desire to lead. It is so far afield from from my life; I cannot keep up with all the countries they’ve been to–most all, some several times. It exhausts me to consider the miles they fly and how they partake of what they encounter but the experiences also fascinate me. I eagerly await tales they share. This last Oregon visit was on the heels of more European travels (lastly Switzerland and France, I think). And I sure look forward to viewing the photos since they are both fine photographers.

Wayne got engaged with his passion as a young adult when he was stationed overseas; he snapped and developed black and white pictures then. Some of those wartime images are moving. haunting. Since then he has studied, learned and exhibited often. It has been a pleasure to see how his work has evolved over many years.

He and his wife have been professional string instrumentalists and vocalists; he recently retired from rigorous performance work. I am sure he will still sing for special occasions when he called to do so, as he loves music, still. As we all do, in our way–how can we not? It is in our blood and heart. But while he continued to perform, I did not, but left it to raise a family and more. And sometimes that feels like a very large chasm between us, though we talk music, embrace it together, nonetheless.

I have shared much of my life here so it is known that I was a home care manager for elder care/disabled adult services for a few years, then was a clinician mental health/addiction treatment field for 30 more. And raised five kids. I didn’t reach certain goals I had growing up. I believe Allanya and Wayne have. I’d guess my emotional and physical trials were of a different nature than theirs, and fall-out less private than my siblings’. But I am first to praise them and so enjoy being their sister.

Would people have expected this life for me? My close friends were likely just relieved I stayed alive– and created some happiness. And as far as the career, I think some would while others may have expected I’d seek a life of performing. Having a big family? I doubt it. Writing more than this? Perhaps. Life happens and we often plan around it, just live it as it unfolds- I do not regret it. There is good in this living every single day. There are lessons to be gleaned in all changing circumstance. I am a willing student, and a seeker of Spirit and so I go with the river as much as I am able.

My family makes a patchwork design; we have all kinds, of course, with many so-called eccentrics or to use a modern term, “creatives”, with unique perspectives. Dysfunction or any significant challenges also impact members differently in any family. People learn to adapt, survive, strengthen and find healing, and it goes better if they use several resources and work at it. I would say the three of us have recovered from much if not most all of our woundedness over time. We let go of more with each year, I feel. No one can know for sure, even a brother and two sisters, what we have lived but ourselves.

But we are strong and bendable, thankfully. We’ve made or captured countless wondrous moments, taken chances to forge our own way. We also share a heart for others. Our passion for fine and performing arts is primary; we value and respect differences even if it demands much; and we believe in a loving Divine Power, a genius web of vast creation. This, despite scars and remaining secrets we must sort out or release, our defects and weaknesses and those failures to do what might have been much better to do or say. Like every family, we are so fallible individually and also as a whole.

Wayne had to fly back to the East coast after 4 days; Allanya and I, of course, remain in Oregon. She has worsening dementia, almost unbelievable and yet she is herself, who she always was, and we flow with her flow. She remains amazingly good-natured, and does realize she has short term memory loss and confusion. We talk about it– and many other things, as ever we have. It all began with several car accident and resultant concussions but has has evolved into a quite foreign illness we are trying to grasp and accept. This has not been in our family; we are new to such necessary understanding and are improvising as we learn more.

Our brother and I are not sure what is next. I am here, while he will be there and yet we will figure things out together. It is hard to accept at times that what or who she knows today she may not know or be able to share the next day. Or even the next hour. Wayne and I are the last who can remember much of the family’s past and also this busy present–and will hopefully for a long while. He is 75; I am 69. And blessed to feel well, overall, well engaged in living. He will again be travelling to, I think, South America to start with, along with his equally adventurous wife. And they will be taking more photographs.

I will be tending babies and my family, enjoying friends as I can, taking my own impromptu photos and writing with time stolen, and immersing myself in nature’s gifts, as ever. And praying for more strength and grace, please, Lord.

I gave a last-day-of-visiting barbecue for some of my kids and their partners and my youngest’s new baby twins for Wayne last week-end before he left. I found it absorbing to just sit back as my son, Joshua, asked questions about Wayne’s military career inception, how he rose in rank and why he remained in the Army. And if you had been there, it would have been this: a forty-something house painter/pro skateboarder with many scars and tattoos and also beads around his neck–asking his only surviving uncle, now–with sincerity– just what he learned, and more of who he is. And his uncle told him some of that story. And then asked after his nephew’s skateboarding and life. And we talked about other relatives here and long gone, and our genealogy. Life as it is, common, valued.

And how lovely as we sat in the glow of sunshine on the balcony, eating tasty grilled fare, sharing it all and laughs. The company of those I love is so worth keeping.

We start out seemingly empty of personal agendas, hands and minds clean of miscalculation. As a grandmother I can attest to this, and study my twin granddaughters and see only eager and immense possibility for their individual life paths–it is vividly apparent in their searching eyes, ready responses, new skills and guileless anticipation at four months.

My brother cradled each one of the twins, smiled and chatted with them, then he hummed and sang and said: “A flat? Can you sing A flat with me?” And they cooed and smiled at him and maybe, just maybe, one of the girls hummed in response, that note or in its vicinity. This is our family. This is our way of caring. Who will the little ones become? As we all discover, there is a momentum as we undergo a curious series of events, just journey through each hour upon this earth. I feel fortunate to have my two remaining siblings and to witness their decency. To share affection that shapes time and tales. To be able to say, I am one of this small tribe, blood of this blood.

Thursday’s Words/Nonfiction: The Better Deal

I went to a mini-country flea market a couple of weeks ago and was at first disappointed. It was a lark, something to do on a lazy July afternoon. I expected a vast array of fascinating items, pretty things, possibly antiques, as well–like the flea markets you see on TV, where most things look interesting. If I try again, I will have to research the best ones to browse–although I have said I’m not keen on collecting anything now. Possibly never again. Yet afterward I felt it was a satisfying, even cheery time.

I have written before of the things I managed to hang onto. But I haven’t even been a bonafide collector–rare books or other pricey specialties–oddities like intact fenders from 1940s trucks, say, or fine lacy collars from France. No, I am no expert or even wanna-be expert. Rather, a gatherer of bits and pieces: hand-thrown ceramic mugs; arty blank greeting cards; magnets depicting interesting places or people; excellent pens and mechanical pencils (not pricey–just a strong, smooth delivery). And more useless things, of course, like rubber bands and old glasses. Because you never know…

When we moved in March, we gave the heave-ho to those useless and many superfluous items. I kept thinking that I wanted to lighten my life load and also that I do NOT want my children to have to deal with extraneous items when I am finally gone. Lots of drawers and cupboards were emptied and sorted, memories no longer requiring vast material semblances. There was a whole storage area in the basement whose contents I didn’t tabulate. I don’t care what was there; it hadn’t mattered for decades. I didn’t watch those hauling, nor the truck being filled and leaving for the dump. The haulers sorted out any good stuff and did what they wanted with it. I was entirely relieved to see empty space.

So I am not wanting to replace the old with newish old things. I have done that for years–church rummage sales, garage and estate sales. I would stop in a flash to see what was good, or just to browse. You couldn’t imagine what might jump out of a dusty stack or a pile on a table. Something useful or lovely, all was game– though most of the time I walked away empty-handed, pocket currency intact.

Second-hand shopping was, in truth, the affordable way to manage our household’s needs for many years. It wasn’t about collecting good stuff. With five children, clothing and shoes were expensive to supply. My husband, a businessman, got good togs, but I was happy enough with hand-me-downs. (Appreciated Goodwill stores many times over.) So were the kids until they thought they knew better at 12, 13. Our four daughters shared clothing, anyway–even wore some of mine, since we were all about the same size for years. Our son was the only one who sometimes got brand new clothes. I’m not sure he even cared since dirt and sweat permeated all.

The same went for household things. I’d seek out decent pots and pans and replacement dinner sets and glasses. Another good bed frame. A usable lawn mower or cheap bike. A chest of drawers I could paint or a small desk to refinish. End tables for the den. Vases and picture frames and unused candles–always desired and useful, it seemed. Everything I needed could (and can) be gotten somewhere for much, much less. Back then I could not– and later, would not–pay full prices. All could be gotten for a song at any sidewalk sale opportunity. Why not go for it? One could always walk away with a shrug; on to the next possibility.

I also have appreciated chatting with the sellers as I searched, hearing stories of why they were clearing things out. Sometimes–like I had a few times early on–money was needed badly enough to sell their goods, say, to cover rent or a looming car payment. Other times they were revamping, hoped for a fresh decorating or fashion start; were moving and starting over far away. Divorce seems to always demand unloading much. Babies growing fast, children leaving home. Job losses, illness. Or just a desire to clear out the cobwebs, be free of their–they just faced it head-on– junk. (All situations I have been familiar with over decades…) It was clear if they were real collectors of valued items, they could even make good money. Then go out and buy more. What could I say? I’ve always adored books and had (perhaps) too many. Still do and buy them used mostly–and re-sell later.

I have to say it is hard for me to spend hard-earned money on new and costly items. I can see new computer or washer, for example, dressy shoes or beautiful handmade art or jewelry now and then from art fairs (have to support artists and crafts people!). But my forest green Laz-y-Boy sofa came from my sister’s years ago; it is still serviceable. As is the fine woolen tulip rug my other sister sold me for cheap. (She is gone; I think of her every day as I walk on it). And by the way, they have both been serious bargain hunters out of principle, my remaining sister far more than I. And she has been a serious collector of turquoise jewelry and Native American totems, old tools, musical instruments and more. She’d take used furniture discarded on the street, restore it to its gorgeous origins and sell it–she long had bought and sold certain items for a tidy profit. It must be in the blood, as my deceased brother collected wind instruments, silent and foreign movies and jazz records and motorcycles/cars and their parts– and more. My son salvages broken things, fixes them for fun, gives them away. We love to find hidden treasures, I guess, to keep or gift. And if we really save on a big sale or with smart haggling it is a happy purchase, indeed.

But I am, I believe, done with accumulating much more. I just like to look. I don’t need much, nor fancy things (okay, good clothing left over from my retired work life), though I’m sure some think I could enjoy better possessions than what we have. Truth is, I like our pared down belongings, and the emptier spaces that suit our current home. Less to take up my time fussing over, maintaining.

What matters more to me is the simpler life, a life swept of miscellaneous stuff and of absurd agendas (like cleaning fancy silver, which I was brought up doing–who needs it?). My mind grows more orderly, calmer, as if sunlight illuminates and breezes sweep in to freshen up my thinking. My heart is steadier and less constantly taut with life’s aches. My soul feels a stirring that can be overlooked or even lost when revved up with pursuit of this desire, that finery, that temporal need. I want to stand alone with myself and feel alive and quite alright, just as I am.

My husband and I gravitate more to the outdoors in drier, warmer weather. The rustling, nearly meshed canopy of leaves above, balcony overflowing with potted flowers, hummingbirds and bees flitting in and out: heavenly moments. I cock my ears at birdsong (and kids’ voices far off) while taking meals, reading a book, or practicing daily meditations and prayer at our outdoor table. My breath moves through me like silent music, filling and releasing me. What I have cannot be seen nor noted as admirable, but the joys and wonders are embraced within, absorbed and passed on, I hope, in living well with others.

I am less burdened since getting rid of much. I could live with even less. My spirit feels good. aligned with itself, not cluttered by irrelevant distractions. What matters even more to me is not what I own but if I inhabit this day and night truly and honestly. And what I can give of self and time.

But… having simple fun matters. Going to the country flea market was a brief stop during an outing on a toasty summer day. There was nothing for me but two new hand-stitched burp cloths for my twin grand-babies. Cost me five bucks. But we wandered about, anyway, conversed with congenial, interesting people. We enjoyed a happy hour with family, after which we had a delicious meal at a humble grill in a town we had never been to before.

One can wander, peruse odds and ends and share warm greetings for the simple pleasure of it, after all. I think we can use more of that kindly sort of thing, and less the actual material ones.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Young Strength to Greater Strengths

Photos copyright 2019 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

 

Way back then it began with

big energy of desire behind arcs

of movement through flowery air,

your flash of bravado like

(at 2 you jumped in the pool and swam),

some cellular lightning rising off head and feet,

arms outstretched for the world and beyond.

No one knew in ’86 what was coming,

that such play and work with those wheels and board

would crest and carry into mainstream places.

This was strange outlaw living then–

you weren’t trodding a middle way,

alive at deep edges, the high heat of competition

never greater than when against yourself.

 

Heart of warrior, alchemical dreamer,

adventurer’s sinew and bone,

mind swinging open sizzling with joy:

you were so young and wildly brave.

Slight and intense, admirer of sport, I followed your progress

(breath held, police watch), cheered

each feat–more so incandescence of hope

as your passion reshaped air, time, thought.

 

You are older, braver, stronger, wounds knit

together into tattooed tales of loss and discovery.

You’ve expanded with things endured,

a richer faith, and every time you test bonds of gravity

that essence shouts, flies as you rise, fall, rise.

A circuitry of life imbues you by sculpted

propulsion of fire’s calm– your daily devotionals.

Still out there, and I yet watch (going grey now)

you skate with zero regret and a fine crackling of

laughter and sweat, mastery of gratitude, sheen of wonder.

(And still I hold my breath then let it go with the winds.)

 

Many still do not understand the allure and respect for skateboarding but it is a demanding athletic endeavor (it became an official Olympic sport is 2016), beautiful and fascinating in motion. My son, Josh Falk, has been a pro skater for over 20 years and has been on several teams. I have never regretted encouraging him in his passion. You can find many photos, videos, film and magazine feature info as well as his Northwest Skate products online if interested.

   1986-Josh and me

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Celebrate, Anyway!

Celebrate summer–a surprised, perplexed but happy dog sure was!

Another 4th of July brings to mind celebrations of many sorts, not just of our beleaguered, beloved USA with its complex warp and weave of surprising variegations these days. Far be it from me to offer political commentary that is truly astute and reasonably calm. If that is what you want to muse over today, read on elsewhere and bless you. This is about humbler celebrations.

Many are the other experiences to which I can relate and articulate better. I am thinking of times that bear reconsideration after first being embraced and then, as circumstances fully dawn upon you, are slogged through step by step. There is the initial elation: unique challenges, freshness of change! And then may come a giant whump!… as gravity tugs, you may end up flattened a bit or at least bewildered, agape.

A metamorphosis is likely in the offing; sometimes the best you can do is try to step back and observe while surrendering to its quiet power. Transformation is not meant to be a snap but a complex process. The relief and encouragement of little successes mean something and deserve small celebrations we can share with others. Or even alone. No fireworks are required nor one hundred bright balloons set free into the ether or parades to toot one’s horn. Just an acknowledgement of another stone removed from the shoe, another hill crested, another day gotten through–a nod at more gratitude. It takes those first small steps towards victory. We can be like swimmers who finally survive by floating even as legs start to sink, or straining with a side stroke when arms tingle and go numb, the water threatening to submerge the whole attempt. I get it: you want to sink but keep on going. And eventually reach the shore–cue lighthouse beam cutting through the stormy ebony veils.

Cinematics aside, it has been like that off and on this spring/early summer. The big move; a hard birth for our daughter; the twins’ arrival after which came subsequent postpartum depression. Daily and sometimes odd hours with babies and new parents; becoming overtired and falling sick with a respiratory illness that began with a small cold passed around at their house. After two and a half weeks of feeling unwell, I have trouble getting through a day with enough energy, without a rattling cough. Lst week I was felled and spent three days in bed, on the couch, sleeping between spasms of coughing. But I saw the doctor today; she looked at me steadily, shook her head, eyebrows lifting (she may have been in her forties, about my kids’ age; I liked her). “Grand-mothering…! More germs to come. You need a steroid inhaler to ease those respiratory symptoms, I think. And get more rest.”

Right, check–will do. I start training for eight to ten hour days next week with the beautiful, amazing babies that make me so happy to give love. And also so tired. How did I raise the five I had? Well, they were spaced out some, not multiple infants all at once. Though I did raise four teenagers at once… for many years.

My daughter, the one who has surmounted so much, is soon returning to work, yet it seems so fast. (Her husband is seeking part-time work so he can help more, longer. Years longer, perhaps; two is like three times more baby some days.) Somehow we can figure this out so eventually I can do it alone: with the little ones’ feeding/sleep schedules, the right attire for varying temperatures according to dad, the correct degree of light in each room so they are not disturbed, the different baby monitors’ workings, the cat’s whereabouts so he doesn’t lick their tender feet or faces. The inconsolable crying–I lived through it before, didn’t I? Of course I did.

I am a person who is not averse to seeking help–I have had the therapy bills to prove it, as in one form or another it acts as basic self management. And there have been many events during which I did not stand tall and shine, to say the least. (One counselor decades ago stated bluntly she was amazed “you are alive, even standing upright– and well spoken and well groomed.” What? It was rather shocking. But the truth was that I was barely on my feet.) Everyone I have known has fought battles; more come out smelling like humble but gorgeous roses than those who do not. How can one accurately determine the “hard-harder-hardest” of hurdles when approaching each? Best not think about it–go forward to meet it.

I sure wasn’t in the market for pity back then (or now), and certainly not for the counselor’s weirdly near-admiring undercurrent. I, as ever, wanted knowledge of methods to make smarter choices, to become more adept at being the me I had actual faith in. I think I half-laughed at her, gave some facsimile of a smile (with tears masked–I acted tougher then). I had and have been worse, and better. Any time I’ve snagged a shard of light or a waft of humor–drier is better–I hold it steady in eye and mind, then use it as a tool, a lifesaving thing. Who else was going to do it? Resilience is often predicated on resourcefulness.

As I muse on these things I find a finer, stronger energy despite the rumbling cough– and a foolish romantic impulse to be a superwoman. Haven’t I learned by 69 that this is not a smart idea? Instead, I choose to celebrate what is coming together, then work on what is lagging. I tallied up the positives. Smaller steps that have cumulatively become greater steps forward. I, of course, know more challenges are to come; we will rise to each occasion as best we can. Who would not? Very few.

Below are a few ongoing mini-celebrations in my life: Cheers and hooray!

My daughter–new mother–has so rallied. I have never seen her more raw and distressed when all she wanted was to be joyous and confident. She not only came to grips little by little, she ultimately took the problem by its perilous horns, tamed it and rode it toward its demise, transforming it into more health. Every resource she could find was utilized from acupuncture and Reiki energy work, group support and therapy, meditation and prayer. She did not give up despite haunting urges to do so. It took two months. She reached out to those who loved her, became so vulnerable with her family and close friends. She learned new skills, took charge of what was biochemically powerful, and gave her recovery infusions of an analytical mind, a bright if aching spirit and a profound heart. And she showed up for her babies even as she wrestled with daunting fears, sadness and exhaustion. This is an ongoing investigation into unknown territory, this being first-time (ambitious, working) mother, and of twins. She deosnt; kid herself despite the healing. I watched her make sacrifices that I never imagined she might choose to make… but I have to note that fighting for betterment of life is not a new labor. As a child (and into adulthood) she had significant medical issues that did not deter her, or not for long. And she remains one of my heroines.

Her husband, our son in law, rallied. He actually quit a job in order to take over as he and I went into high gear at their home. He used his bent toward methodical perseverance to tackle boundless chores, increased demands. He schooled himself as he took charge and mapped out ways and means. He took meticulous notes, shared his concerns and insights. I recall one time when I broke down in tears. I was embarrassed by losing my generally calm demeanor but it was overwhelming for a moment. He came over, put his arms around me and said quietly with surety: “We will get through this, things will be better again, I promise.” Then he got busy again and so did I. It was what I had been telling my daughter every other hour, but when he said it, I believed it more. And he’d understood how I hurt, too; his kindness was never more evident. I appreciate his various strengths and genuine compassion.

My own husband has a sure knack for feeding and burping infants and diapering, even after a day of work and long commute back home. I had forgotten how good he was at these things. He has had a good nature about my absences, my random prickly, unbidden sensitivity, the worry and weariness. Just sitting on the sofa with me, watching an old mystery series one episode after another was fine with him…conversation can be overrated sometimes. And he still cooked dinner, sometimes for all of us at the kids’ place, even at eight at night. We still read aloud to each other here and there, and take daily walks as possible in the cool of overarching greenness. And listen to birds settling into twilight, our mugs of tea at hand. And he knows how to pray with me and apart from me.

And those twin girls are thriving, now two and a half months. They have double chins and fat knees now; grasping, soft hands; kicking-strong legs and arms. They coo and try to talk in their own ways, blow tiny bubbles, smile suddenly as they reach for our faces and hair. You know how there is a spark of happy recognition when a baby looks at you and you know she knows you? And likes you? They are unalike in temperament, we think, but time will tell their stories. They look uniquely themselves–one more fair with wide grey-blue eyes; the other reflecting other roots with large deep brown peepers, slightly tawnier skin. They still primarily need to be fed, diapered, soothed, cleaned up. But they also now enjoy playing, love to be sung to and danced with. What a pleasure to find their skill levels increasing, to share in their new journeys and their delight.

From hearts nearly breaking to a sense of peace hard won and a deepened hope: it has been a period unexpected and lived through together. And yet the same can be said of other human lives being lived a day at a time. Humans loving one another, not flawlessly but richly, and as a fierce and loyal team. It is a story that is replicated in every culture: taking care of business, caring for family, working against daunting odds at times.

Another scene that pops up: my oldest daughter visiting. We see her once or twice a year; she lives and teaches in the South Carolina, she travels, she is busy making art. One day she was having a full, lyrical conversation with Baby A, whom she was carrying around a long while, then feeding, then diapering, then burping. The little one gazed up at her, clung to her and nuzzled her neck and N. snuggled back gently. Her face against the baby’s was a snapshot of tenderness. She does not and will not likely children; she creates things, and when she departed for an art residency, she left with me an elegant indigo-dyed silk scarf from her new collection, a woodblock print of a blue butterfly, fine chocolate, and a very strong, quiet hug.

But the best moments came when her sister–the twins’ mama–played with the little girls spontaneously, sang them songs in her lilting voice and really laughed with them. Held them in wonder, eyes radiant with the loving hopefulness she had so needed to experience, to believe was true and lasting. As it was and is now.

And then finally, there is this: my only surviving sister has advancing dementia at only 74. I do not live close to her since our move. It has been a slow losing of one sort of person for a new rendition of my sister, for she was during her working life an executive mover and shaker, a real estate “flipper”, an greatly engaged person who spent much time on her hobbies as well. In short, a dynamo, bright as can be and given to easy laughter.

I brought her over for a large family gathering and she chatted as she could, and asked questions, and held babies, great-nieces! She never had her own kids. She hugged grown nieces and nephew. It was nearly like old times with the laughter and gabbing, except it is not old times. No, it is this moment, and it is what it is. And so wonderful to have her in our full circle, our embrace, to share her love. She is still my sister inside, despite memory loss, and the awkward shyness that never suited her before. I will be there as much as I can, though it is hard to find time now, as time can just leak away.

I often am given pause as I realize this world seems to be tilting ever more within our solar system and generally uncharted universe. Who are we, the homo sapiens living here? Who can we yet be? Time may be really running out. We hear the worst of things. We are asked to prepare for more devastations. And there are agitations everywhere, and schemes, wars of all sorts brewing. The terrible failures to communicate effectively and for our collective well being is glaring. The neglect of common courtesy proliferates while acts of good will seem sparse. I question that, though, as there are so many being kind everywhere. And yet, there is still this risky business of making one’s way on earth. I do wonder just hoq the babies and all others will find their way. But I believe in the Divine Creator, God, the source of all true wisdom and so pay attention and nurture trust, despite the noise around us.

So I will yet celebrate the smaller moments, the ones that do not show up in newsworthy spotlights: ordinary courage, a forward momentum when work needs to be done. A dragonfly’s small pause on a thin reed and summer wind singing in the big leaf maple’s shining crown. The sweet touch of one warm, even when trembling, hand on another. Water for the thirsty and healing moments for the broken–affirmations of faith when the long days are done. At the end of more loving/sometimes weeping, I close my eyes and feel it, the truth of goodness of things, all the redeeming moments there are. Ones we can create. I yet do celebrate each morning that still arrives with the rising sun. And all that is worth a modest party now and then, at the least.

PS Have a safe 4th of July, those who are marking the day!

(I am not labeling all our motley crew but there are three of four daughters present; my son and fiancee; my sister; son-in-law; my husband; me.)

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Move to Something, Somewhere

The photo is deceptively personal, full of the sense of a certain communal peace, an idyllic setting most would love to insert ourselves within even for a short time. It is my home, so I should know. Or, rather, it is not my actual property; I do not live on either side of those river banks. But it is within my territory since we moved from the close-in city neighborhood to the current spot. And it is much like this–green-treed, near water, seemingly far from the constant din of city life heaving itself into consciousness. Here, the conscious mind is alive with nature and at a distance from much else, and this results in a stunning quietude.

But it has felt like living a small mystery, being here, and every day when I first look out the large opened windows or take walks along serpentine pathways that surround acreage, I am surprised.

For one thing, it is a wealthy enclave. Let’s call it Lakemont. It is a city set apart from the Portland metropolis or other suburbs. And we are not wealthy, so it may seem odd that we are here now. We do alright, could’ve done better if we’d planned differently (if life hadn’t thrown curve balls, if the economy hadn’t nosedived in 2008–if-if-if!)– and will likely manage when we’re fully retired. But we certainly don’t aspire to occupy the manse-like or maybe a bit more reasonably classy homes that characterize the city, each nestled within ubiquitous trees. I like to look at them–I enjoy such variety of architecture– but we’ve been apartment dwellers awhile. And so we now appreciate our spot within green, birdsong-infused expanses.

It was a joke that I even looked here as the deadline pressed upon us beginning in January. The goal was to vacate the old place and inhabit the new by 1st of March, in order to be much closer to one daughter undergoing a hysterectomy (so we could have here with us to support recovery days after the move), then another giving birth to twins 6 weeks later (so we could help daily). And, too, my husband was leaving for a long business trip within days of relocating.

So it was with urgency that I searched for something affordable–not at the top of the limit, not too cheap–and roomy and comfortable enough, with walking areas close by, too. I wanted to get to all within five minutes. There was little to be found anywhere within five miles of them. Places were way too small, worn out, lacking in sidewalks or parks nearby, or way too expensive.

And then an advertisement on a website caught my eye. What– in Lakemont? So fancy, no way! But I kept going back to it–looked at the square footage, the prices, rooms. And that location. Under 7 minutes drive, depending on traffic, to the daughters.

The decision was made after a visit and a long drive about the neighborhood. When sharing that, people we knew couldn’t believe we’d choose to live there. Far from our city’s fab bustle, for one thing, which we’ve enjoyed decades. Wouldn’t we be lonely? And Marc and I are aging hippies, still working on living more simply. Moderate, overall (but I am still well in more liberal zone), in lifestyle and ideological choices. Far more invested in various intellectual pursuits and nature’s delights/activities than money or–really, just forget this–status. Those simply do not cohere with who we are–and would not , still, if there were greater means.

And yet. This apartment felt like home even empty, like it would be the best place when all was said and done. We called the movers. I was ready to go. Now, each morning we open our doors and windows to refreshment of mind and body.

Today, after visiting my new, more pricey dentist, I reflected on the costs of that choice. I do think of money some, though I cannot deny one tends to get what is paid for. How much more do I get? Well, the solitude and tranquility of rolling woodlands, for one. Every time we step onto the long, deep balcony–a treat–we are inspired by towering trees, bird watching, bright summer skies; the lack of fire/police/ambulance sirens and not-infrequent night-time gunshots and late night revelers weaving home from bars around the corner. Our old area was pretty well heeled, but it was deep within big city stuff. Which we were comfortable with, overall. And which, strangely, we no longer miss much. We can always get fast into the city to attend a concert, visit the huge farmers’ market, stroll amid colorful jumbles of humanity and events.

It, though, sometimes feels as if we are living a charade–even though this matters much less than proximity to family now. No, I do not drive a Tesla or Mercedes; yes, I adore my worn Teva sandals; and we enjoy sandwiches and Italian dishes and chicken/veggie/rice pots with a seltzer water, not rare prime rib or fancy French cuisine (okay, a French bakery for week-end brunch) with fine wine or whatever else is eaten and imbibed here.

As I drive about, I grow more accustomed to circuitous streets, aged woods, cleaner parks, valley and mountain views, lake and rivers. It is a sweet relief on tough days, a sudden happiness on easier ones to enjoy these.

I watch the other women at church, at the library, on the trails or on quiet streets and wonder who I may meet, who I might become friends with here. I don’t care how much money is made, who you know. I care how you act. I smile at all; I often enjoy a smile returned, a hand raised in greeting. I look for graciousness, a friendly sort. I hope at least some are genuine… as well as basically accepting of varieties of persons, genders, statuses, religions, races–or at least courteous, kindly. Do I ask too much? Though I am short on time and energy, anymore, I think of ways to reach out.

It is true that Lakemont is known as a mostly white community; I was looked at askance for moving here by some since we do have an interracial family. And an extended family of eccentrics, creatives, and those challenged in varying ways, most all of whom are generous and can be zany fun. Maybe a few of our friends forgot what matters most now: to be closer to family, with a room enough for all to gather; to be situated within nature’s bounties–walk outside and find peace as an antidote to a multitude of life stressors. We’ve lived in well over a dozen places and a high priority has generally been to stay close to nature. Now, again, we are. So we embrace change even as we learn to adapt.

This afternoon I seriously muse on this feeling of dislocation–is this the right choice made, can this be a true home for us, at least awhile?–that may be closer to resolving as each week passes. We are intent on making it so but I wonder what really lies ahead. For it is not just new housing. It is an emotional and spiritual territory that is different for us. The birth of our daughter’s twins was not an easy event. It still is not but rather a most intricate dance, a breath-taking journey, and a time of consternation, too.

I remain restrained in what I share here but this has been a period of upheaval and worry and of deeper, broader love. A daily laboring toward better but healthier times. Prayers are said every busy day, and in the still deep cup of night, there come tears. Yet pitching in to help a new mother is standard labor no matter what comes. We hold those new ones so close, helping feed and diaper and soothe them, usher them toward better slumber, a gentle security. Tapping reserves as we go, and finding, too, small cheer here and there, moments of victory. Things will get better in time, always it takes time, we tell each other and offer love songs to the grand babies, these heartbreakingly wonderful ones.

Becoming a neophyte mother is a monumental transformation, perhaps more so when a bit older–and so is becoming a new father. Why does modern society insist it is roses and moonbeams and laughter from the start? Or gloss over many variations, including those of endless confounding, exhausting days and nights, plus the hugely unexpected? There is such judgement, so very high expectations, and there even seems a lack of empathy, at times. Birthing into this world is a risky venture for every parent and that each infant undertakes–in this case, two–and for some, more so than others. A risk but additionally opportunity to discover ways to thrive. To become one’s self more profoundly– as the little ones will do, too.

My daughter asks questions I cannot answer well enough. I sit with her, work beside her. And there is a well of silence as she summons courage to sort it all out. Her husband is stalwart, stressed, yet I witness their bravery every day, am overwhelmed with respect as well as love. I feel the ache of things paired with beauty of the twins’ lives, and want to obliterate any harshness that dares to impede the rooting of happiness. They are resourceful adults, are so conscientious, and will prevail. Rather, commitment to parenting will; it is that mammoth push that initiates movement in right directions.

Being a 69 year old mother and a grandmother is no walk in perfect weather, either. It is accepting the storms and waiting for transparent, lush rainbows. It is having faith when faith is pummeled and the bones are hurting, tired. And one wonders if one did the best thing or the worst; if one was a smart young mom or a foolish one way back then, if too misguided, impulsive. We can only have done what we did and let the past be past. I have this one day to carry on with my life tasks and missions, even if insignificant to others. I also stand right beside or protectively before my family; that will never change.

Those of us who have lived longer lives know what that stone lighthouse means as it prevails, shining and defiant, amidst all weather. There is a print of such, right above the bed. I look at it each day, then I pause on my balcony, scan branches for juncos, hummingbirds, chickadees, stellar jays, listen to wind song and squirrels scrabbling. And I do know why I am here: we were blessed to have been led to this haven. In truth, I knew it was critical to move as close as possible to this part of our family. The reality is that these are very hard and beautiful times… and here Marc and I can gather sustenance like blooms of light.

We are never sure of well being in this world–so why do we persist in believing life is so finely wrought, a story brilliant and bursting with wonder? Because it is this, too, whether we can perceive it or not. Because we can make it so if we become open to such, and realize persistence in becoming a more compassionate and courageous human is key. How can we live well without these as guidance? To be brave we have to put one foot in front of the other, not win awards for major heroics. And seek a helping hand as well as offer one. We must not attempt this life alone, not for long.

We arrive here with expansive heart and eternal soul, a calculating mind and so well-outfitted body; we have been given excellent tools. Thus, we carry on, with even thinnest of hope as a tether and perhaps a plethora of fears striving to sink us. We create ways to celebrate what small gifts are found and shared even as we know that, yes, it is true, once again tears will come. I am too well acquainted with grief, as sooner or later all of us are. Yet I will corral potential for better and brighter, within and without. There is no other worthy choice than to reach for and grab hold, then get on with it. Whatever it takes. This has aided me well for nearly seven decades. So often we must simply stand firm when shaken, take a first step when we can. And I count Divine Love as my most constant companion for those endeavors. My truest compass is God.

We each sooner or later make a move for something more or different, to somewhere else. To find out what’s next. We are just travelers in one way or another. May we make the move count. Make it wholehearted. I am taking it all in, creating my story while mending ripped portions and weaving in new pieces with many others’; then, the whole of it is richer. Heartier. May it be, oh God, enough, as I praise this life that yet allows me to live it with opened hands: let me have every, I mean every single moment.