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What life brings…

img_0897  Silver Lake, CA, late August, 2016.

In the wisdom years, I am so often grateful for those moments, those rich times that have certainly been part of life all along, but which I was too busy to notice in my busy, important life. What joys I have missed. Now, I witness the changing light of the days, I see the grass bend slightly to mark a passing breeze, I watch our local towhee dance only a few feet from me, watching, and I see the red streak of light over San Francisco Bay as the sun sets, a line of fire across the sky for only a few moments.

Since my beloved and I have returned from a few days in the Eastern Sierra, I have seen a few yellow leaves flying on the branches of my other witness to the changing seasons, the birch tree I love, outside my front window.

Just about 9 PM the other night, the phone rang in the kitchen.  I remarked to my husband, who, along with me, was already in bed, reading, that our phone rings so seldom.  I did not register the number of the caller, but when I answered, the frantic voice of a life long friend spoke to me.  I responded to something in her clear, commanding voice, by asking:  “is something wrong?”

Her husband had spent Labor Day in the hospital, including an MRI that returned with the news that he has a fast-growing cancer, a tumor in his brain.  When the short call was over – what can be said, after all? – I leaned over, bare feet on the kitchen floor, and cried.  Then, I told my husband.  I placed the book I had been reading on the floor next to the bed, turned over, and tried to pray.

How do I  pray at such a time?  What do I ask?  How do I do this?  I ask you, but I expect you do not know the answer, either.  There is nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing except to be a witness to this, also.  How big is God? I thought, my thoughts guarding me from my feelings as I lay in bed.  Thoughts will not guard me forever, though.

My prayers, my most heart felt prayers are with my friends, today.  I don’t know how to pray, so I expect my spirit, our spirit – yours and mine – will know.

Life, after all, brings these true and bliss-filled moments of beauty, and pain.

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What do I want?

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What do I want? Such a simple question. What is it I want?

I was sitting with a group of friends, and someone asked simply the question: “what do I want?” She reflected, then, on what she had “wanted” at times in her life. She mentioned her choices, choices that became clear in her wants.

I had feelings, then. I realized that what I had allowed myself to “want,” was a long way from what she had allowed herself to want, to desire, to consider as a choice in her life. I could not, given who I was, given where I had come from, given who my parents were, who I was, given the circumstances of my birth and even my ancestry. Who I am, as well as what I can want, had certain limitations.

We can see “want” reflected in the world around us. Some of us can “want” what others have. Some of us want what can never be ours. Sometimes, we cannot even want, at all. The places we come from, socially, politically, culturally, intellectually, allow us, or do not allow us to want.

Even to “want” is a luxury,  not given to all.  I felt that when my friend mentioned her choices, which had offered opportunities for want that I did not have, had never had.  Sometimes, even now, in my 60’s, I can begin to want for something I had not considered before.  Do I want to travel to India?  Do I want to learn to swim?  Do I want to know another language?

I think that as children, we can be given the gift to “want,” or the gift will not be given, at all.  Some children can never want.  There is no room in their home, in their lives, in their world, to want.  And that is true for the privileged as well as those who are not born into privilege.  Some children have all that they want fulfilled, the basket of their wants over-flowing, even before they know want.

Such a simple word.  So much meaning, so much depth, so much potential in that word:  want.

The ancient Hebrew word for want is:  chaser.  It’s meaning can be translated in these ways:  “to lack; by implication, to fail, lessen:  be abated, bereave, decrease, to cause to fail, lack, make lower.”  (blueletterbible.com/lexicon).

When we want, then, we lack.  We lack something we do not have.  We are without that which we do not have.  We are in a place of lessening, by our very want.  And we experience, we know this place of lessening, every day.  And we know this place of lessening, or we do not even allow – in ourselves or others – this wanting, this lessening.

What is it I want?  Sometimes, even now, I ask myself that.  What do I want, today?  Do I want this, for lunch, to wear, to see, to experience?  Am I allowed to want, to have this place of lessening awakened in me?  Perhaps I cannot allow this to be awakened, perhaps there is not room for my want.

*

“My children want for what they cannot have.  I have only these hands among your roots and a few places of sunlight in the house.”  – Mary Elyn Bahlert, “Houseplants.”

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“Notice,” by Steve Kowit

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This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
showered,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.

Steve Kowit (1938-2015), The Dumbbell Nebula

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A Friend Returns – and Memories

life-and-friends

About 40 years ago, “Mike” was my supervisor at my first professional job. We were both in our 20’s, and although Mike was just a couple of years older than me, he always seemed so much older. Maybe it was his role; maybe it was my being so young, even too young for my age.  Mike was smart, and he was funny.  He was 40 years ago, and he is now.

I was involved in the evolving feminist movement of the time, and I brought my growing consciousness to my job.  I read every month’s issue of “Ms. Magazine” from cover to cover.  Now, young women do not realize what women of the last generation confronted; sometimes, when I remember or tell the stories of those times, it seems as if it cannot be true, as if those were ancient times instead of the 1970’s.  When I think about the treatment of women the world over, the wage inequalities in this country, the limited rights of women as human beings in other countries, I realize these are still ancient times.  We have a long way to go.  And that’s an understatement.

Because of my feminist consciousness, Mike said to me one day:  “You have to meet my wife.”  She worked in the same job as I did, in another office.  Many months later I was sent to that office to work for several days, and I met “Jane” for the first time.  I remember sitting across from her at her desk for a moment, the conversation beginning.  The conversation we began that day would continue until her death, in her early 50’s, over 10 years ago now.  I miss her every day.  Mike was right.  I did need to meet his wife.

Over the years, our lives evolved and changed, as lives do.  Mike and Jane moved away, to another state.  They had two children, two beautiful daughters.  I remained single until my 30’s.  Every few months, Jane would visit me for a weekend. She’d drive  to my apartment late Friday afternoon, arriving in the evening.  We’d sit in my living room, talk for hours, Jane smoking one cigarette after another.  At some point, we decided we were hungry, so we’d dress up, put on evening-out makeup, tell each other how wonderful we looked! – and go out to dinner, talking all the time.

What did we talk about?  What didn’t we talk about?  What do we talk about with those particular people who meet us on so many levels?  Still, when I think about Jane now, I realize our conversations were mainly about our thoughts, our thinking, our opinions, our politics, our ideas, our hopes.  We didn’t talk about feelings, or motives, or foibles.  We didn’t go to those darker, those deeper places in ourselves.  Now, I wish we had.  Now, I’m not sure Jane could go there at all, although she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.

Our lives unfolded in different ways.  We took different paths.  I moved across the country, went to seminary, married my beloved at 34, and stayed.  Jane and Mike divorced, although I remained friends with both through the years.  When Jane met her second husband, I liked him, too, and I was proud to be asked to officiate at their wedding.  Ten years later, Jane died of complications from surgery, after she developed lung cancer.  I saw Mike next at her memorial service.  He came up to me after to say:  “Jane would have liked it.”  I had my own grief, and I was grateful for his thoughtful comment, but we didn’t connect that day.

***

By that time, Mike had developed Parkinson’s disease, and it was hard to see him.  In my mind, we will always be young.  That’s something young people don’t know about – how “old folks” are never old, in their minds.  We seem to stay stuck at some age, some age we have always, will always be.  Some time, I’ll write about my “stuck” age.

Through the years, I heard about Mike from time to time. I heard about his new marriage through Jane.  I haven’t met his second wife, although they’ve been married for many years.  I expect that if I did know her, I’d like her, too.  I’m  connected with Mike and Jane’s daughters on social media, and I can see their mother in them, often.  I see her eyes, her expression, her look in the pictures of her grandchildren.  I look for her in them, in her daughters.  I can hear her in the musings her daughter posts.

***

Sometimes, social media can actually help people connect.  Not just through “selfies” or meaningless comments; in real ways.  But the real connection is still real because we are human beings, with feelings, and memories, and relationships, and lives. This past weekend, I saw a picture of Mike on social media, posted by one of his daughters.  I “liked” the photo.  Later that day, when I checked in again, I had a private message.  It was from Mike, and it had been typed by his daughter, who is his caregiver every other weekend.

We “old folks” know how to connect.  We know that connecting isn’t simply having hundreds of friends.  We know that connecting is something else, and we know when it’s there, and when it’s not.  And in that message, Mike connected.  He told me some things about his life now, with Parkinson’s.  He told me that there had been many changes in his life.  He told me a few things about what life is like for him, now. That message has stayed with me.  That message has reminded me of so many happenings, so many events, so many images that are a part of the fabric of my life, and have been for a long time.  That message brought me gratitude, a gift.   That message opened a door in my heart, one of many doors, an important, feeling-filled door.  Images arise, moments with Mike and with Jane, other moments with other friends, other connections, other times.

Sometimes, it’s just good to remember, and to be grateful.