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

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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.

 

 

 

THE SPACE BETWEEN THE WORDS, Post #30

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You can almost always find me up in the deep early o’clocks of the morning. The darkness at that time is thick, almost viscous. It’s paired with a friendly, companionable quiet, a middle of the night symphony full of the muted hum of appliances, a counterpoint of rhythmic breathing from those that actually sleep. I crave this slightly rambunctious quiet. In fact, I truly adore it.

Middle of the night is never boring. There is always something interesting to do. When I was six or seven I would sit on the floor of my room creeping toward the slice of light that came from the bathroom across the hall. If I got there I could read. And if I didn’t feel like reading of course, there were always The Presidents.

Here’s the thing. At some point I’d been given a poster that was ornately festooned with tiny cameos of all the Chief Executives listed in the order of their terms of office. I would sit there in the slice of light, squinting at the page wondering about each of them, memorizing their faces, mulling over pertinent facts about their lives, solemnly considering the glowing accounts of their accomplishments.   Lulled, I would feel calm even if I rarely slept.

These middle of the night encounters with the Chiefs were inspiring. So much so that I eventually read my way through the entire biography section of the Eagle Elementary School library. These were some of the books I read:

Anthony Wayne, Daring Boy, Amelia Earhart, Young Aviator, Albert Einstein, Young Thinker, Thomas Edison, Young Inventor, Crazy Horse, Young War Chief all eagerly snatched up by Cindy Adelman, Young Reader

These were good lives, weren’t they? These were important people whose whole lives were inspiring, uplifting. They had to be so, I knew it was so because their stories were captured for all time, printed on rag stock and double-stitched into cardboard bindings. That makes it real, doesn’t it?

But as I grew I came to know people, not just know books. To talk to people. To listen to as many people as I could. Even to love some of them. Every story I came to know was too contradictory, too complex to be committed to 249 pages of adulation. The stories I read when I was small were not the whole stories for any of those people. They couldn’t be. Because a snippet captured for posterity in a book isn’t the whole story for any of us.

Peoples lives: their messy, complicated, heroic, fearful, exuberant and sometimes perfectly imperfect lives, are lived in the light. But that’s not real the story. Instead it’s the intangibles, the space between the words of every person’s story that can truly make for a beautiful, lasting, and worthwhile existence, no matter how many years we have on earth.  That’s what’s real.

Those of us who’ve lost someone dear know all of this. We remember the warm cloak of kindness. We remember the way we loved and were loved in return. We remember the understanding that filled the spaces between words.

These are the things not written. These are the things that are felt. Good lives cherished for all time.

z”l CSH

WITH LOVE AND AFFECTION

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Every morning it’s the same.

An over easy egg, a slice of Tuscan Pane, a squiggle of olive oil, a twist of salt and another of pepper. An entire pot of French press coffee doled out half a cup at a time. It has to be drunk very hot. Always the same diner cup.

30 years – over 10,000 eggs.

A sweep second hand watch belted to my right wrist, and rolled inward, just like my Dad. We are both left-handed. Our watches are timed to the second. Eyeglasses are polished and secured firmly around my ears. I sleep in my glasses. Every night. It doesn’t matter that in the dark there is nothing to see. But in daytime, when the sights around me become too harsh, sometimes I’ll take my glasses off for a few moments and let the hard edges of the world blur into gentle softness.

Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you can be violent and original in your work.” Aside from the fact that I take issue with Flaubert’s somewhat patronizing view of the bourgeoisie, I clearly have embraced the “regular and ordinary.” For me, an egg and a perfectly timed watch are both touchstones and a rubric for the day, armor to protect myself from the unknown events that will surely come to pass. As for “violent and original,” even the word “violent” makes me tense. And I do find originality a bit of a fuzzy concept. I prefer to think that creation is something that is always enriched and textured by links to thought that both precedes and often surrounds creators. Maybe that’s why so many people who are so celebrated for originality feel as if they’re frauds. They’re not frauds—they simply are attuned enough to be part of the process.

But to return to the idea of “regular and ordinary” rhythms as a thrum through our days. Every so often there’s hard driving, guilt inducing article lashed out to the world on the steady, regular daily schedules and habits of either highly successful people or downright geniuses or more likely an envy-inducing combination thereof.

These are very Flaubert-like humans:  They wake early, go for long, bracing walks in all weathers, eat sparingly. Not to be overly critical but it’s rare to note that they rarely seem to spend their quality waking hours on little mundanities such as grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking, and childcare.   I will be honest: I actually like the mundanities,  (I am a bourgeois to my soul, Flaubert!) I embrace them. There’s a fine sense of completion when I manage to fold a mountain of laundry or wrestle a mass of disparate ingredients into an edible dinner.

These small adventures are not for the faint of heart nor are they for everyone. But do I kind of like the thought of Dickens ambling through Target, Beethoven comparing jars of marinara at Trader Joe’s or Flaubert violently shoving a vacuum cleaner around the living room.

The order of my life does two things for me: it allows me pockets of calm. And gives me the possibility of safety.

I desperately need both. Genius or not, don’t we all?

I’m prepared then as well as I can be for real hurts, even the awfulest ones, where you lose a much loved companion. It happens. Of course it does. That carefully constructed structure, my egg, my watch, my grocery shopping, my rhythms, my whatever, is put in place to guard against inevitable pain. There is always happiness too, I revel in it, but I am always prepared for anything else. In this case, “anything else” will happen here soon.

And so in my pockets of calm I smile and remember. I think about one who really knows how to appreciate a good deep sleep. One whose generous heart has welcomed a lot of competition onto his beloved home turf.   One who (almost) uncomplainingly shares all the choice cuts as long as he is always is served first and rather fittingly gets the lion’s share. One who has managed to make all of us certain—in a million little ways– that we are each deeply loved. We adore him. He’s done good.

I don’t know for sure about Heaven. I cling to the idea of the Rainbow Bridge. I want so much to believe in both. All I know for sure is that memory is a powerful thing, a beautiful thing, an amazing thing that can and should infuse and enrich each and every day.

Okay enough. It’s funny. You never know where any conversation will lead you. I was comparing favorite Twilight Zone episodes with one of my sons recently. I’ll save my list of classics for another time. But he mentioned one of his favorites as Nothing in the Dark, starring a very young Robert Redford. The episode concerns an old woman who is terrified of dying. It’s never fair to spoil a Twilight Zone episode and I’m not about to do that here. But he did remind me of a key line from the show.  “What you thought was the end is the beginning.”

I hope that’s true for Big Nick when his time comes. I hope it’s true for all of us.  True for all those we cherish.

With love and affection, Big Buddy.