POST #37: THE SCREEN TO THE WORLD

 

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It’s an assault from within and without.

We’re urged to stay in. Of course we’ll stay in.

TV weathermen, shirtsleeves rolled, buoyantly flapping their arms in the general direction of indecipherable, crayola bright maps are glorying that–at last!– the camera lenses settle on them for more than a heartbeat.

The men match their ties to the seasons. The women flex their biceps in sleeveless dresses and earnestly intone about wind chill factors and whiteout conditions. No mistake about it — everyone’s teeth are white as snow.

After 20 minutes or so of Mensa worthy graphics and cozy chats with regular people about soups and shoveling and sock liners, I turn off the set.

Instead, I look out the window.

It’s just before dawn. It’s still quite dark. The street lamps are glowing yellow and in that light I can just see the snow swirling, each flying with the daring do and tenacity of a million little Eddie Rickenbackers engaged in a tiny mid-air dogfights. How wonderful then that each flake is destined not to crash, but to calmly descend to its proper place, one atop the other.

Unused to quiet at this ungodly hour I’m sure it should be silent. But that’s as foolish as Aristotle’s untested assertion that heavy objects fall faster then light ones. It took Galileo’s climb to the top of the Tower of Pisa with his to put that fallacy to rest. Because of course, all silence is full of sound.

I listen and there it is! A muscular wind that leaps from its corner at the sound of the bell then feints and punches like a prizefighter. Wait! And just then, it blows with the power of a thousand sneezes!

If you believe what you see in picture books, snow comes down straight from the sky, clouds billow like so much marshmallow fluff, and the sun is conveniently tucked in the upper right corner. Nice and neat and we’re done.

But this snow does not stay between the lines. As I watch the snow comes crazily from all angles, riding the curls of the wind as it moves across the lawn, and rattles down the empty street.

Our beloved little dogwood trembles alone on the front lawn, its branches splayed like disheveled hair on a pillowcase. It’s immobile unmoving, — um it’s a tree, after all—but I shudder. I’ve just remembered that the tree, and so much else out there, is alive too..

Just then a little chipping sparrow lights on the snow-covered bush in front of me. It looks about for a moment then shakes itself off before diving deep into the labyrinth of the knitted branches.

Smart little thing! It’s found a safe cavern, as snug as the bed sheet fort my boys would construct with chairs and pillows under the kitchen table. Maybe it has stashed some seeds or crumbs there, just as my boys once hoarded bags of Rold Gold™pretzels and Apple & Eve™ juice boxes.

How many creatures then are bravely burrowed just out of sight? There is no Accuweather Minutecast ® to tell them when it all ends. They snuggle, they dream, they wait. They do know how to wait.

Can they feel the end of a storm? If we try, can we?

Instead we obsessively watch our glowing screens, our nervousness increasing with each 8-minute update, like anxious readers halfway through a book who impatiently jump to the last page to find out the ending.

If we didn’t watch would we fear for the end of the world? Or would we burrow in, believing as hard as we could that it would have to stop sometime? And when it did stop, we once again would dig our way out.

Either way we wait. We are not in charge. When was the last time I sat still for this long?

I look out again. The light has increased so the whiteness of the sky blends with the billows of the snow. The snow is blowing sideways. I didn’t know that was possible. I bend down to check my compass. It’s coming from the east.

I have no idea what time it is. But I haven’t moved from my window. Snowflake Bentley photographed thousands of snowflakes, each one of them ephemeral, beautiful and different from every other. I can see them piling atop each other, the piles rising and rising.

I know there are mathematical formulas to determine the exact amount of snowfall per hour. But I don’t care.  Let me leave that for others. But I wonder if my lifelong aversion to math relates to the truth that I really don’t want to control the world and it’s forces?

What I want very much is to be immersed in the world. To feel it. To respond to it. To respect it.

We are urged to stay in. Of course we’ll stay in.

But I go out.

Just for a moment I do. The snow, bolstered by the wind, peppers my face. It smears my glasses. It is so very cold. My outside breath feels thick, almost tangible. I can see it.

But I smile. Because I can actually feel it.

 

 

PUSHING PAST DISCOMFORT

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I still love them. In truth, I still covet them. Gyroscopes, the best spinning tops ever. Quick flick of the wrist and you could make it perch on tiny pinpoint or even balance on a piece of string. Though the whirl was powerful, the balance was so extremely delicate. The tiniest wobble would topple it from its fragile perch.

This week, we wobbled and fell. This week we found ourselves helped to rise once more to our feet. This week we found ourselves lofted on high, set to spin once again.

***

Over the years I’ve improved at the engage, parry, and retreat of social connection. Blunt tip, foil fencing matches which begin with a salute and end with a dignified bow. I can do this. Really I can. I know when to break eye contact, when to refill my wine glass or garnish my plate with more crudités. A deep breath and then once more into the fray, dear friends.

But I steal nervous glances at my watch. But I inch towards the door.

How is everyone else so happy and comfortable?

What if I am snubbed ignored, avoided?

What if we threw a party and nobody came?

Is it over yet?

Only me. Only me. Only me.

Only not.

***

This week we were caught off –guard. We were shaken by the call. Ninety-two should not be a surprise. But somehow it is. Sadness, resignation, feelings with no words split us like an ever-widening chasm. We balanced on the edge.

There was no time to think. There was no time to fuss. There was no time to clean. All we could do was send out the word.

All we could do was our best.

And everyone came.

***

They did not come empty-handed.

Like Thanksgiving dinner in January, like a voluptuous Roman banquet, like an all-you can eat Sunday supper, the house was suddenly filled with food. Platter upon platter of bagels and lox, cakes and cookies, roast chickens, and deli sandwiches. Russian dressing and potato salad and pickles on the side.

My mother-in-law loved to eat. How could people have known about all her favorites? She yearned to be part of gatherings. And everyone was here for her, together in her honor.

Mostly they came alone, pushing past the red door, pushing past their discomfort. Jovial masks set aside, their faces were as open and as vulnerable as ours. When we relaxed, so did they, uncertainty and fear utterly useless and happily tossed aside.

Of course the world is full of rebounds and second chances. This is good. But the truth is there are times in life when you only get one chance to do the right thing. Thanks to everyone who did so for us. We’ll remember. We promise to do the same.

 

z”l LSF

ON THE EDGE OF THE KNOWN WORLD: 1972

IMG_1045If you wanted it—and I mean really wanted it—there were rules to follow. You had to be willing to shoehorn yourself out of your top bunk in the black licorice dark of night. You had to be brave enough to survive the seemingly bottomless drop to the carpet if your groping foot somehow missed the ladder again. You had to have the conjuring abilities of Houdini escaping a straightjacket to be able to in fling your nightgown off and your sweatshirt on in one single fluid motion.

I was so good at this!  But I should have been. I did this every single Sunday morning.

I made my way downstairs. The walls of the house seemed almost to breathe with a steady rise and fall to the gentle rhythm of everyone sleeping.

My mother was already waiting in the kitchen. She’d beaten me downstairs again. I come from a proud line of light sleepers, early risers. Plus she knew how to be quiet. My mother could get out the door without a squeak of her shoe or a jangle of her keys. She motioned for me to follow and I did.

Buckled into the Delta 88 we were on our way. If we got to the bakery early enough—and we almost always did–the bagels would be hot out of the oven. These were Detroit bagels, small and a little sweet and really pretty good. Better still were the onion rolls, the round flaky ones and the square ones that were called New Yorkers. A perfect silver rectangle of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Sometimes we added an incredibly valuable pink packet: prepackaged lox, yearned for mouthfuls to be carefully divided and dolled out only in slivers. Once in a great while we’d get my very favorite, a whole chunk of sable.

Greedy little thing that I was, greedy little thing that I am, I wanted more. I always did.

My mother got that for me too. Three inches thick and an all day read: The Sunday New York Times. Pages and pages of jazzy, neon blitzed sophistication and elegance. I couldn’t believe that it miraculously appeared where I lived; on what I was sure was the edge of the known world, the suburbs of Detroit. Hot off the presses, the world and all it’s possibilities, now lay in my lap. Along with hot bagels in a crackling brown bag.

If there was a straight route home we never took it. Instead we meandered, driving slowly through the sleepy, tree lined streets of Birmingham. It was much too early for anyone to be out. The trim houses were Tudor or brick or ranch and contained by sidewalks. They were all different but uniformly tidy, with yards that were so manicured they appeared to have been combed out and then precisely hand-edged with nail scissors. Through the open windows, even the breeze felt just right.

As we drove slowly, yearningly past I could almost imagine each perfect house tied up with a bow. Unmade beds, messy closets, dishes in the sink an unimaginable impossibility. Did they read The New York Times? Did they live The New York Times?

Someday in Times Square I’d pluck newly folded copy of the Sunday Times right from a newsstand’s big stack. It was Saturday night but I’d already be living Sunday.

Someday, in a doorman building on Riverside Drive, piles and piles of Sunday papers would teeter in unread towers as night gowned and exhausted, I double fed infant twins.

Someday I swore I’d finish reading an article or maybe two—just as soon as I got back from a pick up or a drop off. Just as soon dinner was made and the laundry folded. I swear.

Someday Sunday mornings would again be very quiet. Three inches thick and an all day read.

The sun was coming up. We drove home. Everyone else was waking up. We were home once again to the happy cacophony of TV and spilled dog food and unmatched pajamas. But we had hot bagels. And we also had the delicious possibility of The Sunday New York Times.

Thanks, Mom.

 

Tangled Quilts

FullSizeRender (2)I don’t really remember the movie. But I do remember this scene.

At the end of Reuben, Reuben, (Tom Conti and Kelly McGillis, 1983) the two lovers are outside in a park and they angrily part ways. It’s over.

But as the woman leaves she turns and looks back tentatively to the man. He’s looking down and misses her vulnerable, longing glance. She turns away. Just as she turns away, the man looks up hopefully but sees only the woman’s back, walking resolutely away from him. And so the relationship irrevocably breaks, lives are forever changed, for want of split second of timing.

I can hardly bear it. So much conveyed in a glance. But the glances were missed. What would have could have happened?

**

I desperately do not want to miss glances. Nor do I want to misconstrue notes or emails or texts. And those looks and notes and calls keep coming at me, they come at all of us, so thick and so fast! I try to keep up—I can’t really keep up. I delay, I phumpher, I make mistakes. I know that I do. Worse, even if I am looking up am I reading that glance or that text the right way? What am I missing? What might I misinterpret? And selfishly, how fearful might misunderstanding make me? Worse still, if I err, how alone?

Interpreting glances, bold attempts to understand the clumsy, truncated haiku of a tweet, text, or an email is an art form, one made of split second timing and the kind of bravery that cliff jumpers possess.

I know it’s a kind of bravery worth cultivating. Bravery worth having.

Even though I’ve placed so much emphasis on the meaning of a fleeting glance, on possibly misinterpreting the off-hand wording of a message, there is something even more important to consider.

If you’ve ever said, “I love you”, you know. Because if one is brave enough to say those words, to feel them, to mean them, one has to be brave enough to fight through the inevitable insecurity and fear—all the missed glances, all half-written thoughts—that will follow.

A relationship is far more than a series of glances—missed or otherwise — haphazardly laid atop one another. Instead I think of relationships as wonderfully tangled quilts —those sewn together steadily, slowly, over time– which we can pull from our bags and wrap ourselves in whenever, however we need to. These are the words and the stories and met glances that knit together to tell the deeper stories of our connection, of our lives and to remind us, as we all need to be reminded sometimes, of our love.

We want our connections to be like a firm, unbroken chains when too often they’re twisted like those little metal conundrum puzzles. The kind that take patience to work through and give such pleasure when they’re completed.

Remember the puzzles. Reach for the quilt when you need it. Much love.

TANGLED QUILTS

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I don’t really remember the movie. But I do remember this scene.

At the end of Reuben, Reuben, (Tom Conti and Kelly McGillis, 1983) the two lovers are outside in a park and they angrily part ways. It’s over.

But as the woman leaves she turns and looks back tentatively to the man. He’s looking down and misses her vulnerable, longing glance. She turns away. Just as she turns away, the man looks up hopefully but sees only the woman’s back, walking resolutely away from him. And so the relationship irrevocably breaks, lives are forever changed, for want of split second of timing.

I can hardly bear it. So much conveyed in a glance. But the glances were missed. What would have could have happened?

**

I desperately do not want to miss glances. Nor do I want to misconstrue notes or emails or texts. And those looks and notes and calls keep coming at me, they come at all of us, so thick and so fast! I try to keep up—I can’t really keep up. I delay, I phumpher, I make mistakes. I know that I do. Worse, even if I am looking up am I reading that glance or that text the right way? What am I missing? What might I misinterpret? And selfishly, how fearful might misunderstanding make me? Worse still, if I err, how alone?

Interpreting glances, bold attempts to understand the clumsy, truncated haiku of a tweet, text, or an email is an art form, one made of split second timing and the kind of bravery that cliff jumpers possess.

I know it’s a kind of bravery worth cultivating. Bravery worth having.

Even though I’ve placed so much emphasis on the meaning of a fleeting glance, on possibly misinterpreting the off-hand wording of a message, there is something even more important to consider.

If you’ve ever said, “I love you”, you know. Because if one is brave enough to say those words, to feel them, to mean them, one has to be brave enough to fight through the inevitable insecurity and fear—all the missed glances, all half-written thoughts—that will follow.

A relationship is far more than a series of glances—missed or otherwise — haphazardly laid atop one another. Instead I think of relationships as wonderfully tangled quilts —those sewn together steadily, slowly, over time– which we can pull from our bags and wrap ourselves in whenever, however we need to. These are the words and the stories and met glances that knit together to tell the deeper stories of our connection, of our lives and to remind us, as we all need to be reminded sometimes, of our love.

We want our connections to be like a firm, unbroken chains when too often they’re twisted like those little metal conundrum puzzles. The kind that take patience to work through and give such pleasure when they’re completed.

Remember the puzzles. Reach for the quilt when you need it. Much love.

NOW HOW CAN THIS BE?

IMG_4258Now how can this be? I know him so well. I’ve known him for so long. I love him so much.

I wasn’t quite sure that I recognized him, the sweet and animated face of this beloved person. It hadn’t been that long. A few months? But even so.

Looking at him I felt the angles shifting, a real-life Picasso, cubist period. He seemed to be changing before my eyes. Squint as I might I couldn’t get a clear view. I was shy and awkward. He grinned anyway. My boy.

It didn’t quite make sense.   I should have been able to see him clearly, to recognize him! I kept his photos close, looked at them often. But then really I should have known.

Photos don’t tell the whole story but rather the stories we want them to tell. I look at my own photo, my profile shot, the image of myself that I want all of you to know me by. It was taken on a good day where I look relatively thin and my hair is reasonably neat.   My cat, Big Nick, is not expressing utter devotion but actually demanding lunch. My photo is not just my presentation of myself, but my shield. You’ll know me by what I want you to know. As Wilfred Sheed once said of author Clare Boothe Luce, “She crafted herself a myth and lived up to her invented creation. “ Don’t we all?

We primp, we post and we manipulate shots for best angles covering ourselves in photos like a Roman phalanx heading into battle, their overlapping shields an impenetrable barrier to the coming onslaught.

And why not? Why not, indeed.

***

After our wedding I actually refused to look at the wedding photographs for months. I was afraid if I looked at the photos my own memories might get lost. They were not. And so I remember:

*That there were lilacs strewn everywhere and the scent, as always, was intoxicating.

*The sheer terror that overcame me before I walked down the aisle.

*My husband’s adorable and scrunched face when he had to take a bite of vanilla wedding cake when he yearned for chocolate.

*The swoon that nearly overcame me as I circled my husband under the huppah. Or perhaps I swooned from something else entirely?

*The solitary wedding guest, hidden away in small room, who spotted me and thinking me lost at my own wedding, invited me to share her slice of cake.

Not one of these images is captured on film but they are still firmly etched in my memory.  I am so grateful.

***

And yet, I think, all of us deserve the right, if we so choose, to protect ourselves with the images we want to present to the world. But sometimes, maybe even often, that protection can be a barrier to what many of us want even more. To truly know and connect with those we love most. To remember things in a way that even with a photographic record we might otherwise not.

***

And so to my boy, shifting and changing before my eyes. The person behind the photos. He was still there. I knew it for sure the moment he hugged me hello.

.

 

 

 

FOR ALL TIME AND BEYOND TIME

IMG_3013The phrases still echo in my ears and rattle around my brain.

After innumerable dozy hours of class time, my hand mechanically raising and lowering to answer questions for perfunctory pats on the head, having written essay upon essay upon essay, there are really only two phrases that I recall from school.

“We are all creatures of habit.” “Crowds are always potentially dangerous.”

That is all. That is it. And it’s absolutely cringe worthy that these jewels of wisdom are fished from the maelstrom of 8th grade, compliments of Mr. Wepman’s psychology elective held in the cinder blocked glory of Warner Junior High School. But there you have it.

Mr. Wepman had noted that each of us chose the same seats in his classroom day after day. He challenged us to sit somewhere else. We tried. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Even unnerving. We wanted our seats back. Most of that lesson is a blur, but that one part remains quite clear: some of us, maybe even all of us, grasp for safety in the rubric of routine.

*The coffee poured into the same chipped mug every morning.

*The parking space at the grocery store we gravitate to every single time.

*The tattered shirt we wear when we feel a bit hollow or need to feel lucky.

*The egg and toast placed just so on our breakfast plates.

*The path we walk from the train to the office.

*The seat we choose in the theatre.

*The song we play over and over.

 The bell clanged and we struggled out of our seats. “Remember,” he said as we prepared to throw ourselves into swirling mass of kids rushing through the hallways, “be careful out there. Crowds are always potentially dangerous.”

And so they are. From junior high school hallways to the streets of our greatest cities.

We’re told that the world, and all it’s limitless potential, spreads before us like a blanket shaken out on the soft grass before a picnic. It’s vast and thrilling, and there just for us. How can we not embrace it, take as full advantage of all it’s excitement and possibilities? To turn inward, to curl into a protective shell like a sow bug is to go nowhere, to do nothing, to wither. But we are attuned and aware always. To live life afraid is not to live. We need to live in the world. The world needs us to live in it.

In my dreams there is some magnificent, unknowable force in the world that continues to protect those we love and care for from crowds and from dangers. I hope that it’s so. And for those for whom protection lapses, it’s my fervent hope that somehow, somewhere they are cared for and comforted and beloved for all time and beyond time.