Post #53: A Climb Through the Clouds

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Meditations on Friendship

Well, there it is! Stretching invitingly out before me like a sweet and sinuous pull of taffy, curving around hills and sweeping around vistas.   The trees are massed tight and are swaying in the wind like kids at a campfire kumbaya. It’s Woody Guthrie’s true “ribbon of highway” and my car banks the curves of the road with the rhythmic skill of a skier mogaling gracefully downhill.

As we move further west the land flattens. I can’t see the destination ahead or the point of origin far behind. I feel alone. Friendless. But am I? I look out and see that the sky has spread its arms wide to embrace the earth, so close that I feel as though I could climb the clouds into the pockets of quiet, to companionship and solace. So, of course, I do.

***

The Sweetness of Friendship

“Okay, so what’s the plan, what’s the plan, what’s the plan?”

At my house there is ping-pong, and People Magazine and the pool. Walks to the corner market for peaches and cherries and grapes, to the drug store for Mars Bars and Milky Ways and Twizzlers, We can maybe even walk the dogs. Charlotte the sheepdog on one leash for you, Tina the chihuahua on another for me. Want to splash together Vernors Floats? Mash together chocolate chip cookies? It will be so fun!

At yours?

We will swing so hard and so high that for sure (well probably) our swings will wrap themselves around the swing set just like in a Tom and Jerry Cartoon.   Spread Monopoly or Scrabble or The Game of Life all over the living room floor and play beginning to end, all the way through. We’ll take piles of McDonald’s burgers from your freezer and zap them back to life in that microwave thing. Be very careful. The pickles will be extra hot.

Different interests, different schools, different lives. Winter or summer. Rain or shine. During the week we each walk alone. But every single Saturday, your house or mine?

Someone finally asks us, “How have you two been friends for so many years?” We shrug and grin at each other. It never occurred to us not to be friends.

***

An Interwoven Friendship

Well frankly the miracle was that I managed to get a top bunk. You, a double session girl, are top bunked too of course and in a choice corner spot to boot, right across from me. You have the coveted Levis to my Danskins, the braces to my buck teeth, the cool, shambling walk of an athlete to my short stepped shuffle. And yet? While playing a desultory game of flashlight tag I spot you! Curled up in your bunk passionately scribbling away in that notebook. No one, but no one, writes a letter home like that. You weren’t writing a letter home.

I am soon to find that you are not what at first you seem. But then, it would appear, neither am I.

Swept Away by the Dream of Friendship

After the play. After the after party. After hours.   I am not sure exactly when I am supposed to be home but it certainly is well before this. But it is 3 am and I am perched high on a stool in your kitchen and rooted to the spot. How can this be?   My dreams are echoed in your words, my hopes are buoyed by your thoughts, my brain prickles with yearned for connection. Oh! My breathing is ragged and my heart is expanding and expanding and expanding yet again. I will risk all for the sheer pleasure of this conversation, I can’t leave, I just can’t, it will break the spell and that would break my heart utterly.

But I do leave.

In the daylight I spot you. I can feel myself curl inward, like a styrofoam cup melting in the fireplace. I avert my eyes. I don’t stop. Instead, with nary a stutter step, I keep walking by myself.

But why?

***

In the True Spirit of Friendship

The creature of habit, day after day I am sitting in the seat I’ve claimed as mine for the history of music class. And you in yours. Right next to me. Do gregorian chants bring to mind the tight harmonies of the Beach Boys? A sublime Mozart aria, the zing of Django Reinhardt? Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever , the muscular thrum of Buddy Rich?

I gamely toss in For Me and My Gal and you firmly lob Gene Kelly and Judy Garland right back.   You serve up On the Waterfront and I complete the volley with Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Adam’s Rib with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is a total slam dunk.

When we graduate, you’ll fly to the left, I’ll fly to the right. Our dreams will take us from one end of the country to the other.   But I Know Where I’m Going!, dear friend. As do you.

***

And here we are on the road once again.   The path ahead is not a straight, unblinking journey at all but rather seems to fold back upon itself in the gorgeous, jagged unending pattern of a fractal. Memory does that. On the road for sure, but not alone. Never really alone.

To all of my old friends, even if connections have been gnarled or twisted, the pattern continues, time untangles.   Friendship, whether felt in a burst of connection or a lifetime of longing, is a privilege with the possibility of a kaleidoscope of joy. I am still a bit besotted with all of you. As well I should be.

As he neared middle-age, Henry David Thoreau wrote “I sometimes awake in the night and think of friendship and its possibilities.”*

I reach out my hand and my heart in possibility to all those friends I’ve known and loved. And I extend my hand as well to those friends I hope to know and hope to love someday in the future.

Looking forward.

 

*Thank you to the marvelous Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org) website for the reminder of this lovely quote.

 

 

EUDAEMONIA: Post #50

FullSizeRender (3)Oh it was swank, it really was! In one fluid motion the black jacketed waiter lofted the glass from his tray and set it down decisively before me. A tall, elegant flute, full of tiny bubbles cavorting in endless games of tag, a drinkable lava lamp, The Lawrence Welk Show in a glass, my very first Kir Royale.

The bubbles exploded on my tongue with a cool sizzle, the taste an intoxicating and lingering blend of memory and possibility…

***

I am reading, my eyes bobbing through the paragraphs like a motorboat nipping over the waves when the word fairly leaps out at me and plants itself in front of me, hands on hips. chin jutting out, stomping it’s foot for my attention. Eudaemonia. Eudaemonia? I stop and pronounce it once slowly and then over and over again, instantly loving the roll of the syllables over my tongue. It is an effervescent word, at once joyous and musical and I find myself embracing it like a long lost friend, wrapping my whole self around it even before I know what it means. For a little while, I just leave it that way. Then finally, I look it up.

Eudaemonia. From the ancient Greek. A complete and flourishing life. I pause for a moment. But of course.

I sit on the edge of my chair on the cusp of a miracle. A small miracle maybe, but a miracle nonetheless. Two years, a hundred weeks, every other Tuesday without fail, my fiftieth post. I’m pleased, I’m proud, I’m astonished, to tell you the truth. But let’s face it, this moment is merely a flourish. A quick little “ta da” and let’s move on.   Because, of course, it’s the continuity that enraptures me and the continuity that really counts.   Flourishing, not the flourish. Flourishing takes time. Flourishing takes a lifetime.

If you think of living as a constant succession of flourishes it’s nice I suppose to occasionally gather all the blooms and arrange them in a carefully constructed display. But to truly flourish, it’s important to leave some blooms to grow, even if they need to be left to the vagaries of the wind and the rain and sometimes the far too hot sun, am I right?   There is always renewal. Why else to call them perennials?

For all of us human flowers to flourish I think our personal gardens need to be seeded with connection and kindness, watered with contemplation and memory. It’s why I”m writing. Perhaps too heavy handed a metaphor? Forgive me. But I mean it. My intentions are good here. Here’s a prime opportunity for you: Be kind to me on this one.

In my romance of the word Eudaemonia (oh, how I love to say this word!) I am finding that one part of this short definition is catching me a bit off balance. A complete and flourishing life.

How can any life be considered complete? There are always mistakes we make, connections dropped, opportunities squandered no matter how exemplary some of us may be. All life, each one magnificently messy, cannot be tied up in a nice neat package and considered “complete.” And if one of the key elements to a good life is connection, as I am certain that it is, there isn’t completion but continuity. It’s our attempt that matters, our links with others that form an ongoing chain from the past to us to the future.

“However,” said the great gourmet and writer Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste, “I have lived long enough to know that each generation says the same thing and is inevitably laughed at by the next one.”

Hmm.   Some generational connections are a bit difficult then, but I maintain they are connections nonetheless. We continue to play the game.

And so to return to my Kir Royale. A new glass, filled to the brim, is placed before me. I still love the bubbles swirling through space! It’s as if each tiny sphere is set to burst with thrilling possibility!

I raise the glass high in a toast to all of us, a small flourish in our quests for flourishing lives.

 

 

 

“Your One Wild and Precious Life”

FullSizeRender (3)It was really no big deal. Except it was. One heavy, sluggish afternoon I was at home. Alone in the empty kitchen. Alone in the house. Alone. Like an aproned conductor poised on the podium I really knew this melody to my very soul, I’ve played it so many times before. I pulled ingredients from the cupboards, pots and pans from the shelves. Oh please! I could do this with my eyes closed. But I didn’t. When I was finished things were different. There was a plate full of cookies. But not the usual blondie squares. Not the standard oatmeal chocolate chip. Not the ubiquitous rice crispie treats.   I had made poppy seed cookies. No one’s favorite. Except mine.

.***

Before I was born my Great-grandmother Rachel Leah made taiglach, hot honeyed pastry mounded into tiny hills, my mother’s memory so powerful that decades later even I could taste the sweetness on my tongue.

***

With the pride and bearing of a queen, my Grandma “Anne with an e” presided over her kingdom. Her edible coffers emptied upon the white tablecloth and spread before us with the glory of a cornucopia, should a cornucopia be filled with platters of sliced meats and bowls of whipped potatoes. At the end we were awarded tins crammed full of Mandelbrot. Chocolate chip for us. Walnut for her boy, my Dad.

***

“It’s nothing,” my little Gram demurred, “it’s not even baking really!” but still she would casually toss ingredients up into to a bowl. Then with the coiled strength of a Billie Jean King backhand she would use her whisk to serve up perfect Lemon Meringue pies. Love all.

***

Every Sunday morning The Egg Master reverently unwrapped his iron skillet. Do you want your eggs scrambled or boiled, stuffed or shirred? Guaranteed delicious, guaranteed perfectly done, guaranteed done exactly the way he wants them for you.

Later he would pile everyone into the car for a long ride for big scoops of ice cream. We could never finish. And no matter the flavor, be it Bubble Gum or Butter Crunch or Blue Moon, The Egg Master would manfully lick down the excess, no complaints.

***

Tureens of soup from my mother, thick with vegetables and anchored with chunks of flanken bobbing like buoys in a thick pea green ocean. Endless bowls from a never-ending tureen of serve yourself. Full of warmth.

***

My husband is stretched like a long pull of salt-water taffy, all six feet of him. When we walk together he holds my hand and I am practically horizontal as I’m pulled along. Like Miss Clavel rushing to Madeleine, I run fast faster fastest to keep up, my legs in a whirl.

But when I walk by myself I can move more slowly, keep my feet right on the ground. Then there is time then to see. Then there is time to think. So I do.

As I walk, Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” floats into my mind. That last imploring line sticks fast: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I barely take a breath before I blurt out “anything I want!”

Then I realize that is precisely what I’m doing. That’s just what all the others did. Caring for those they love most. I hope too, like me, they learned to sometimes make their own kind of poppy seed cookies and care for themselves as well. Because the combination, mixed up all  together, is simply sublime.

 

 

POST#41: A SLICE (OR TWO) OF CAKE

IMG_1680There they all are, lined up on the banquet table of my life, in the sumptuous buffet of memory. Carefully placed, one after the other, row after delicious row. Cake after cake after cake.

The endearingly homely homemade ones, baked with love, meant to be mashed by jubilant infant fists.

The years of “the best idea ever” Baskin & Robbins ice cream cakes, Mint Chocolate Chip or Jamoca Almond Fudge or Pralines n’ Cream wrapped by a roll of chocolate cake. Sweet gooey slices melting on the plate.

Fancy bakery cakes, festooned with butter cream roses, dotted with sugared violets, scattered with piped green ivy, more longed for, and sometimes more fought for, than the slightly stale layers of the cakes themselves.

A birthday masquerade on the cake stand: cinnamon or chocolate coffee cakes. They perch there uncomfortably and rather ridiculously, porcupined full of candles. Everyone is holding out their plates, dutifully waiting for their slices, silently wishing for chocolate layer or maybe a nice strawberry butter cream instead.

For years a succession of earnest and sprouty carrot cakes were demanded and dutifully served up.   Some were beguiled with their vague notions of healthfulness. Others quietly revolted and later opted for Carvel cones.

Finally, befitting the dignity of the passing years, comes the succession of the stately lemon cocoanuts, ethereal as the clouds themselves, the taste a perfect blend of the sweetness and tang of life itself.

I can see them all, lining the long tables of my memory. All candles blazing, anticipation and hope emitting from each and every cake.

I come from a place where birthday cake is always served for breakfast. That way there is also time for cake for lunch and hopefully, cake for dinner. Candles are spent and then tucked under pillows to make certain wishes will come true. They almost always do.

It’s so simple! Cake is just wonderful. But cake, especially birthday cake, is not just meant to be eaten. It’s meant to be shared. And that’s the plan.

So here is my birthday wish for each of you:

Think of someone you love who’s far away. Think of someone you’ve perhaps loved and lost. Eat cake. But eat that slice of cake in their honor. You can pick their favorite cake or yours. It doesn’t matter. The sweet taste of cake and tang of happy times will linger on your tongue.

A slice of cake to feed the body. A sliver of memory to feed the soul.

Many happy returns to you all!

 

 

A Slow, Viscous Sip

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I can feel them rolling slowly over my tongue like the first slow, viscous sips of The Famous Grouse. (Katharine Hepburn’s favorite tipple.) A pause and then they melt away to a pleasant tingle.

Some caress with the warmth of a beloved companion. Others pelt with the rata tat insistence of a torrent of hail. Either way, I greedily gather them up and hold them close. I want them. Knitted together like a riotous, crazy quilt that’s remade again and again.

Treated honorably and placed with care a single one can remake the world.

They are all mine. My gems, my jewels my Kingdom. But I have been known to share. Some of us do. Everyone should, albeit carefully. Handle lovingly and with care. They are so very powerful.

I know you know what I’m talking about. A marvelous jumble, a never-ending torrent, a luxuriant cascade of what is arguably our most valuable commodity. Fill your head and your heart and your soul with them.

Words.

They don’t have to be fancy. They just have to be the right ones at the right time.

They deserve to be used for the right reasons: to reach out, to connect, to communicate.

If they are used to obfuscate, then at least let the message behind the mask be honest and kind. Some of us have our reasons.

Long ago at school we memorized list after list of them. Daunting for sure but we were not being handed an arsenal with which to go forth into battle. Instead we were being given the keys to an overflowing treasure chest to constantly draw from and replenish for always.

“Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.”

They are my joy and my path to everything: my understanding of the world, my loves, and my whole life.

There is no greater honor than finding the right one at the right time for the right person.

They are there for the taking and they are there for all of us. They are meant to be savored and they are meant to be used

wisely.

***

Note: This post is dedicated with the greatest humility and deepest thanks to the great La Rouchefoucauld, author of MAXIMS. He spoke volumes with mere handfuls of words.

 

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