Saturday, May 24, 2008

TEN YEARS AGO


, originally uploaded by *davidsαngle.



Writer Lisa Alber recently tagged me for a meme. The rules and questions are posted on Lisa's blog, so if anyone would like to pick up the baton, please do! In any case, her answers were fun to read.

But since my life is largely internal, and anyone who visits here often probably knows too much about me already, I chose one question that felt significant:

What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago, I was in love with my husband.

I still am. But now I know more about what that means, what it demands, and above all what it gives. I understand how love holds you up when you are weak, propels you forward when you don't think you can take another step, bears the unbearable.

Ten years ago two of my chidren were young enough to sink onto my lap when they needed comfort, young enough to be oblivious to my flaws, but my two oldest sons had already left the house. They were avid athletes and the rhythmic pounding of basketballs on the next street haunted me. It was the sound I'd always listened for when I wanted to call them home, but it didn't work any more. Why didn't anyone warn me this could happen?

Now I know that kids never leave home, not entirely. Now I smile when I hear basketballs on the street, or see bikes whizzing by in the spring, or walk through a street game of soccer or softball or hockey. Now they don't remind me of loss; they bring back my blessings.

Ten years ago I was a banquet waitress. Sometimes in the "season" I went to work at work at five a.m. to set up for breakfast, and didn't leave until the cocktail party ended at one the following morning. I remember being so tired that between functions, my friend Gina and I used to go outside and fall asleep on the grass or in our cars. I remember being shocked by the cruelty of the alarm clock that woke me after only four hours of sleep and demanded I do it over again. I remember feeling certain that I couldn't. Absolutely could not. But once I was in the car, driving through a clean new morning, my spirit leaped to life. And when I left the hotel late that night, the stars were never brighter.

Ten years ago, my co-workers and I worried and argued and gossiped about who got the best shifts, who claimed more than her share of power in our largely powerless world, who slacked off, and let others carry her weight. Since then, a couple of my co-workers have died; others have moved away; and many remain enduring friends. Now I wonder what we were arguing about, and why we ever thought those things were so important.

Ten years ago, waking or sleeping, I dreamed of the stories I would write, the novels and poems and plays I would produce. I searched frantically for time and space, for discipline and quiet to write them down. Sometimes I found it.

Now I 've written a book, but I'm still haunted by stories and visions and dreams, still search for uncluttered time to write them down. But now, every day, (well, almost) no matter what else is happening, I make sure I find it.

Ten years ago, I was a vegetarian; I worked out every day. I ran instead of walked, danced whenever I could, hoisted trays stacked high with ten dinners, and amazed my fellow gym rats by the number of heavy squats I could do. I never imagined a time when I would spend whole days on the couch or count pain pills, afraid I might run out.

Now I know that the only thing that's promised us is the chance to choose our attitude about what comes.

Ten years ago, my father sometimes stopped by unexpectedly. Though he'd retired a few years earlier, he still wore his work clothes--the shirt with his name stitched on the pocket, the navy blue pants, his cap. The hands that were always fixing things seemed uncomfortably idle. I listened as he retold the old stories, but he could tell I was "busy" and impatient to get back to my computer. He always apologized for bothering me when he left.

Now when I visit his grave on Memorial Day, I will think about what a miracle those afternoons were; and I will promise him and myself I will be different. I will take the time for everyone around me. I will understand that those who feel like permanent fixtures in our lives are already vanishing, as are we. I will be more patient, more willing to listen, to understand, to give the benefit of the doubt. I will think about a quote my grandfather taped to his mirror that went something like this:

"Any good that I can do, or any kindness I can show, let me do it now because I will not pass this way again."

Ten years ago, I thought I owned the future, but now I know the only thing that's ever belonged to me is today. Somehow it seems like enough.

.

65 comments:

Patry Francis said...
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Patry Francis said...
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Zhoen said...

(o)

Lisa said...

This essay is so poignant. I can see your father and his hands. I hope you are feeling stronger each day.

Patry Francis said...

zhoen: Thank you-

lisa: At the wake, I remember thinking there was some mistake; the man in the coffin looked nothing like my father. Then I looked at the hands.

Fred Garber said...

Patry..very beautiful....you covered so much ground here....you children....fellow workers....your father.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Patry,
I sit here and stare at the screen, lost in thought over your words. I listen to my boys, one 14 the other 5, out by the fire talking. A moment of calmness. I will remember this moment 10 years from now. Kia ora Patry, beautifully written.
Rangimarie,
Robb

marja-leena said...

Wonderful to see your words of wisdom here. As always, you write so beautifully and meaningfully about life, love, family, friends, loss... And I, too, hope you are getting stronger every day - I think you must be if your thoughts are on your next book!

Lorna said...

Ten years ago, I wouldn't have had the chance to be connected to so many people in so many places whose strength and beauty and lyricism make my life so rich.

Marilyn said...

Oh, pal, this is utterly heartbreaking in its beauty. I wanted to let you know that Esther, from your reading here, was subbing at school the other day and asked about you. (I adore her.) Although the part about your father is extremely touching (and mine turns 80 in a few months, so I realize chances are slim he'll be around 10 years from now)...it was this passage that made me wince with familiarity:

"...my co-workers and I worried and argued and gossiped about who...claimed more than her share of power in our largely powerless world..."

Ain't that the goddamn truth. When we feel powerless, we fight to the teeth to try to claim a tiny share of it.

Much love to you. Maybe it's silly, but I think of you every single time I go by 'your' motel here. Think how wonderful it was to meet you...to think about you being in my hometown before you arrived here...about dropping you off. xoxo

steve said...

Patry, this post and the one before have been immensely helpful to me. Especially, "I understand how love holds you up when you are weak, propells you forward when you don't think you can take another step, bears the unbearable."

When I began writing by Dickes Challenge novel, I saw it mainly as a vehicle for my belief in nonviolence. Yet somewhere in the writing, the theme has become the transcendence of what C.S. Lewis called The Four Loves. Your posts have helped me immeasurably in my writing.

I've come to cherish my wife much more than I did ten years ago.

Your comment on children never leaving home entirely has special meaning, as our youngest, Jim, graduates from high school next Monday, and will be going to Hanover College in the fall.

Blessings to you and Ted, and to your children.

robin andrea said...

This is so beautiful, patry. The rhythms are wave-like, and the knowing as deep and vast.

My father has no grave, but every water that connects to the sea holds a bit of him. I too was busy when he had time to talk, now I listen to the sea.

Larramie said...

Ten years ago, you were in love with your husband, your children, your family circle. Lovely, isn't it, that time and maturity helps us to embrace so much more?

i beati said...

absolutely!!sandy

lisaalber said...

Patry!

Thanks for playing tag! I like the way you broke the rules. You always write wonderful and poignant essays.

Happy Memorial Day, Lisa (Alber)

Mary Ann said...

Thank you for this. Something about your comment that your life is mostly internal made me realize how little everything else matters.

I loved my dad's hands. Thanks for the reminder.

I hope you are feeling stronger every day.

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

I felt the coming heartache when I read how your dad could sense you were busy and leave with his stories; but you have honored those visits by remembering and taking time to do differently with those who stop by. I, too, was like that but with my own little girl who seemed always underfoot, always there wanting attention when I had so much to do. So much to do? My God. I honor her memory by taking time now to listen.

P.S. Patry . . . I trust that ten years forward you still love your husband?

Annie said...

This post made me cry.Beautiful as always. So important to make time for those we love, and time changes everything. OXOX

Patry Francis said...

Fred: A little bit of everything including the sweet and the bitter, like one of those wonderful dishes your wife makes. Thank you for being here.

ruahines: It's amazing how one moment can be thrown into sharp relief and remembered forever while so many are lost. I can still see those stars outside the hotel, when I left work in a state of exhaustion. I was eager to go home, but I stopped, sat on the roof of my car, and drank them up. And strangely, ten years later, they are still with me--as bright as your fire.

marja-leena: I might have also added that ten years ago, I walked by rocks and textures without noticing their beauty. Your art has done a lot to make me see the world more vividly.

Lorna: How could I have forgotten to include the ways that the blog community has expanded my vision, and brought me friends in places I've always wanted to visit, but may never see? Vancouver, for instance.

marilyn: I recently had a thoughtful email from Esther. A truly kind hearted soul! I'm not surprised that you are friends. Thanks for thinking of me when you pass that motel. I have such lovely members of Davis--and of Crescent City, where I stayed in the hotel that replaced the hospital where you were born. Next time I come (?) I hope we can walk through Davis eating ice-cream, and talk, talk, talk. Then, if I'm really lucky, maybe you can take me to hear Jeffrey play.

Steve: I can't imagine a more important theme for your novel, and from what I know of you and your relationship with Kathleen and your family, you are the perfect person to write about it. I'm glad if something I wrote helped you in some small way.
Congratulations and all good luck to your son. My daughter (child #3) graduated from college this spring, and she is eager to go out and find her place in the world...so we are facing more transitions, too. Wonderful ones, but transitions all the same.

Robin: You've written some gorgeous posts about your father; I know he was a wonderful man. I think that being too busy to listen to our parents when we have them is all too common--perhaps part of the human condition. But obviously we hear more than we know. The echoes resound, in the sea or on wherever we find them, for the rest of our lives.

larramie: In our society, we so discount the good things that come from growing older. But I wouldn't exchange the form of embracing you describe for anything.

Sandy: Thank you!

Lisa: Thank YOU for giving me a good question to ruminate about on a Saturday afternoon. I tried to link to your blog, but for some reason, blogger was not cooperating. I'll try again later...

Mary Ann: Sometimes I miss the more outward life I had ten years ago, but this seems to be my time to ponder. Hands say so much about a person, don't they?

Beryl: Whenever we lose someone, we become acutely aware of all the things we might have done "better"...Don't you think?

But life carries us along in its rush and tumble, and we go with it, bungling along, doing the best we can. I know you were a wonderful mother to Francesca, and I'm inspired by your beautiful, active, faith-filled way of honoring her memory. Thank you for saying I've done that with my father as well.

And yes! Ten years later, I'm still in love with my husband. Maybe I should go back and amend the post to make that clear.

annie: Thank you--I still make time and listen imperfectly, but remembering my father's rueful wave when he left my house always makes me try harder.

rdl said...

This is wonderful, as are you.
xoxo

Jessie said...

my god, woman. your words blow me away.

Patry Francis said...

Thanks, R. Love you, too Where have you been??

Jessie: You just left a huge smile on my face. I love to blow you away.

Tish Cohen said...

Patry, I love that you noticed your father's hands were idle. It says so much. I bet many of the kids who grew up with him think of him still.

xox

Patry Francis said...

Tish: I bet they do, too. My dad had a rare charisma that came from being genuinely interested in other people. He had friends of all ages, and thought all of them were "the nicest guy you ever met." Thank you for making me remember that. xxx

p.s. Would you belive that Hank looks almost exactly like him?

Sky said...

i love the image you chose to post with these words. i felt so much while reading this, patry. your posts are always so powerful for me in the way they challenge thought and channel feeling.

i wish my father had been the kind of man i would remember fondly or mention to others in the way you mention yours. when i am away from him i can sometimes pity him, but when he is interacting with me in his normal, aggressive way i simply want distance and the relief of no contact - EVER.

i feel so similarly about love and the blessing of my husband who has given me so much support, kindness, and strength, whose manner is so patient and gentle, whose heart is a never-ending source of love and joy. he and ted are similar in that undercurrent of energy and nurturance no matter what the journey or how tired they must be.

it is pretty eye-opening to consider the wisdom we have gained during the past 10 years, isn't it? ahhhh, to be young and as wise! now that's the rub.

always sending you both love and good wishes.

Maryanne Stahl said...

that's the best meme response I've ever read!

MB said...

There's nothing like having climbed some rugged mountains and breathed the really thin air, as you have done, to give one perspective.

DivaJood said...

an absolutely beautiful memory. How many of us were too busy to talk to our aging parents? I know I was. And now that I have a grandchild, I am well aware of how much I miss my parents.

Deirdre said...

I read this post last night and felt wordless in response. So I came back to read it again today and see if I could find something to say about how touched and thoughtful I feel. Still nothing. Instead I'm going to carry your words in my heart and hope the seeds take deep root.

Catherine said...

Amazing essay.

Aimeepalooza said...

I'm gong to remember this is my life. I'm going to really try.

chiefbiscuit said...

I agree with so much of what you have written here - and you write about it so beautifully. Keep regarding the stars!

Carleen Brice said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!!! Ten years ago we weren't blogging and didn't even "know" each other. Glad that's changed. Looking forward to reading more of those stories that haunt you.

TheElementary said...

Every word of this is meaningful and sincere. I enjoyed how you shared what you learned along the way, and it's a reminder that what we think we know, can be changed so quickly.
The part about your father was particularly poignant- but we learn and we move on and get wiser. Sometimes it seems it comes too late but it's never the case. Life is all about learning, and your writing is a beautiful reminder to enjoy life.

Patry Francis said...

Sky: Kind, patient (except in traffic) strong, and gentle and loving...You are so right. We are both powerfully blessed by our husbands. Love to you both.

maryanne: I always get so excited when I'm chosen for a meme. It feels like being picked for a team at school, or invited to the cool kids' party. Thanks for your kind comment.

mb: Even your comments are poetry.

diva: So true. Being on the other side gives perspective. I always understand when my kids are "too busy," which makes me believe that my dad did, too.

Dierdre: You are NEVER someone with nothing to say. Thanks for coming back and leaving your beautiful words.

Catherine: Thank you. I enjoyed my visit to your blog, too.

aimeepalooza: For me it's a lifelong struggle, and I stll fail all the time. But I think it's the process, the continuing desire to try that matters.

chiefbiscuit: I've always sensed that you and I--"strangers" from opposite ends of the globe--share many similarities.

Carleen: I'm glad about that, too! You may have even inspired me to plant a garden.

theelementary: "it's a reminder that what we think we know, can be changed so quickly." Yes! Learning that (or TRYING to learn it) has made me much less judgmental.

LitPark said...

I could not have read anything more necessary to start my day.

Love to you, cutie.

Spider63 said...

reminds me of the song, Ten Years Gone, by Led Zeppelin

debra said...

Ten years ago I was grieving for my mother and grandmother who had both just died. My kids also climbed into my laps and called me Mommy. I know what you mean about your father, too. Mine had a massive stroke on Father's Day last year, and died 3 weeks later. It has been an intense year.
You have sparked many sweet and bittersweet memories with your quiet words. Thank you.

Patry Francis said...

litpark: You make my morning shine, too. xxx

Spider: I don't remember the words, but I think my son used to play that song on the guitar.

debra: Sorry to hear about your dad. Hope the sweet memories overwelm the others.

RobinSlick said...

Oh...

What Sue H. and Maryanne S. and basically all the others said. There's nothing I can add, other than what I am feeling right now -- that you are the most natural, unaffected spiritual person I've ever met, Patry. You really are blessed.

kyra said...

beautiful. all of it. especially the reminder about all any one of us has: today.

Patry Francis said...

Oh my god, Robin: that's got to be the nicest compliment I've ever gotten. (It's a good thing you didn't see me this afternoon when I got into a very cranky mood about my writing being interrupted.)

kyra: Thanks for sharing a little bit of your "today" and your always positive voice here.

bloglily.com said...

Dear Patry, This was a lovely and inspiring post. It made me think about what matters, and that isn't something that happens very often. I hope your writing's going well! Sometime, I'd love to hear about what you're working on. xoxo, Lily

Becca said...

Patry, how this touches my heart. You know better than most how much life can change and how we take so much for granted.

This was stunning - thank you.

Your words are flowing beautifully these days - a sign of strength and recovery :)

KG said...

I read this a few days ago, and I've been thinking about it since then...now I'm back. ;)

It's really good to look back on life. Ten years is definitely a span of time wide enough to show significant change and development.

You always provide such deep food for thought! Have a great weekend, Patry. :)

Patry Francis said...

Lily: Always love to hear from you. I'm working on a new novel. Right now, today, the writing is going very well. We'll see how I feel tomorrow. Somehow I suspect you understand.

becca: At least as far as the writing goes, I do feel recovered and strong.

kg: I can't wait to see where YOU will be in ten years!

damian said...

Your words about your father and impatience to get to your computer and not listen to he old stories rehashed are so resonant. My own father loves to tell the old stories when I go home to Ireland to visit and I become impatient after a time, yet I know as I try to dismiss my impatience a day will come when I yearn to hear thesed stories.

Such is the duality of life.

Melba said...

I am having one of those days where I want to hide under the covers and cry for many reasons both real and imagined or I guess we imagine it all. But Maggie is sitting on my lap while I read your post and it lifted me a bit. because I know these days are precious. still. still. life is feeling impossible today.

Melba said...

I re-read my comment which I don't always do and felt I should have said something lighter, but then I know you know and you appreciate the realness of it all.

lisaalber said...

Hi Patry,

Just FYI: I'm listing your site on the blogroll I'm finally putting together. Please let me know if you want off...

Thanks! Lisa

Patry Francis said...

damian: The scary thing is that I'm developing a few of the old stories myself...Enjoy your trip home. I look forward to reading about the ways Ireland has changed, and the ways it's remained the same.

melba: I'm glad you said how you really felt, instead of how you thought you were supposed to feel. I had a crappy day, too. Spent it in CC Emergency room--first waiting for a couple hours, then on IV for a couple more.

lisa: Thank you. I will do the same!

Laura said...

Ten years ago, I hadn't even started writing yet. I had been steaming through tons of paper, mostly scraps that I had accumulated over time, making very tiny pastel drawings and watercolors, but suddenly that had dried up, and I felt that I had nothing more to say...I hit a dry spell or "a phase"...I would make oil paintings after the pastels that I made the previous summer hoping to capture their essence, but it wasn't the same, the pastels were too beautiful, as delicate as the dust on butterfly wings, I couldn't duplicate them or improve on them. Nothing seemed to please me all that much...

Ten years ago, I took a new job at the museum thinking it was what I needed, maybe I was just bored typing letters, answering the phone, answering the door, data entry, fetching mail, making endless pots of coffee, keeping tabs of "the boys" as they went about the business of the day. Going from the secretary to the registrar was a switch...I frantically flailed around trying to keep up with the intensity of the job...I'd go home exhausted from schlepping artwork, matting, framing, packing crates, shipping, documenting incoming donations of artwork, data entry (didn't shed that responsibility, it carried over cuz I was good at it). In the meantime, I felt my creativity slipping away...it wasn't a good time...I began to read a lot "to step outside for a bit"...gobbling up books like I was starved. I found Virginia Woolf and rediscovered Joyce Carol Oates...things were simmering, but it felt better to sit still and do nothing, just conserving energy for the next day.

Ten years ago I already had Fibromyalgia bedeviling my life, but I didn't have a name for what was wrong with me, and a doctor wanted to put me on Prozac for my depression, which I promptly told him in a firm and blunt manner where to stuff that prescription!

Ten years ago...wow, it feels like another lifetime. A year later I was immersed in front of my very first laptop, typing the rough ideas for my first novel...scribbling notes into a salt n' pepper notebook, or on Post-It notes...what a difference a year made!

Gillian said...

That is the best damned meme answer I think I've ever read.
xoxo

Patry Francis said...

Laura: Thanks for sharing your journey of ten years here. It really sounds as if you've found where you need to be, and are doing what you need to do. What more can we ask for?

Gillian: I don't know if the people who think up memes would agree, but thank you!

floots said...

beautiful - and brimming with truth
thank you

Patry Francis said...

floots: Good to see you around again.

Sustenance Scout said...

"Those who feel like permanent fixtures in our lives are already vanishing, as are we."

And then your response to Lisa's comment.

Hugs from Denver, Patry. K.

Coll said...

There is so much to take with me from this post. Thank you

Diana Raabe said...

Very nice...

colleen said...

Life seems the same day after day. And then one day it all changes. I particularly resonated with your words about your dad.

I hope you are not in too much pain. Your spirit seems so healthy.

paris parfait said...

Beautiful piece, Patry. Your poignant story of the visits with your father reminds me of so many men of a certain generation, their manners, their (often) inability to express their emotions, their wanting to be needed.

My life is very complicated - unquiet - at the moment and I came to visit you, knowing you'd have something calming and compelling for me to ponder. xoxox

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