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.

 

 

 

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TAKE FLIGHT

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1920

She was tiny and dark, lithe and nimble. An effervescent stream of seltzer, shot right from the bottle.

The story, as I heard it, was this: that once upon a time, Little Gram, our grandmother Ann Venitsky Chudler, was our own Superman, able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

Well, perhaps not quite. But long ago in raucous games of tag played wild and free on the flat city rooftops, she was an elusive sprite, leaping away from the outstretched hands of her playmates, so fearless that she could escape a tag by literally leaping over the gaps between the buildings.

Our grandmother could fly.

***

1970

Really, no one ever knew where we were.   How extraordinarily wonderful was that?

Equipped with red rubber schoolyard balls and a few plastic jump ropes, afternoons after school we were out and about in the neighborhood, roaming around making up games to play. We lived where flat tracts of land were fast being crammed with Lego like constructions as builders raced from quarter acre to quarter acre.

The rules were that weren’t any rules. So the half constructed houses in our neighborhood became our playground. Games of intrigue, games of tag, we ran up and down the half finished stairs, tumbled through open windows, perched casually and coolly on rooftops. And most memorably, once on a dare I leapt from an upper floor balcony into the soft dirt below. I know all about Galileo’s experiment from the tower of Pisa. Science confirms that I fell hard and fast. But then and now I thought I lingered in the air. I was floating, I was flying.

***

1950

For our Grandmother, the games of tag are a memory. Around her swirls a hive of activity, husband, children, sisters and family revolve around her center. There is always something to do, someone who needs something.   She does it. Tied firmly into an apron she makes porcupine meatballs, ethereal lemon meringue pies. No one ever made a bed better. She grows tough and hearty roses that reach toward the sky. Our grandmother’s tiny feet are now closed into perilously high heels, her feet firmly planted on the ground.

But are they really? Often and always, those tiny high-heeled feet trod a path back and forth to the local library. Curled in an armchair late at night she reads and reads and reads.  Alone and in the quiet, there are times she is sure that she is flying.

***

NOW

We face off on an overcast fall afternoon, my middle schoolers and I. They sit; some slumped, some squirmy at their desks. I sit, trying not to slump or squirm, facing them at mine. They are tired and tense. Maybe I am too. For today then, maybe just for today, the lesson becomes looser, more fluid.

I ask them to take out paper and pencils. I want them to draw.  They do. I open a book and begin to read. The room is completely quiet and calm, save for the scratch of pencils on paper and the rise and fall of my voice.

“Something above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the graveled carriage drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, “Up we go! Up we go!” till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.”

Kenneth Grahame, Chapter 1,  The Wind in the Willows

After a time, the bell rings of course. It always does. We shake ourselves and start to move, tentatively, awkwardly, as if waking from a dream. “You know,” said one of the girls said as we were packing up, “That was so nice I almost felt as if I was floating.” I felt the same.

There are so many ways to fly. How wonderful that our Grandmother knew that too.