Saturday, May 24, 2008


, originally uploaded by *davidsĪ±ngle.

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.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

UNREASONABLE HAPPINESS: The Existential Question of the Week

1st birthday, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

The other night around one a.m., I was lying in bed reading, as I usually am at that hour, when I felt so overwhelmed by happiness that I had to put my book aside. I could no longer concentrate on the words. I wanted to go outside and run down the street with my arms wide open. I wanted to lift my creaky voice and sing an aria. But since my health wouldn't allow for the former, and my sleeping family didn't deserve the latter, I just sat in bed and smiled.

Exultant was the word that came to mine. "Perfect joy" was how Ted described it when the energy I was giving off woke him up--in spite of my best intentions. And yes, it was that--indescribably perfect joy--for absolutely no reason. Happiness as free gift. No one had called me at one a.m. to tell me I'd won the lottery, or hit the bestsellers list; I hadn't recently fallen in love. Or maybe I had--though not in the way the term is usually used. Maybe I'd left the shallow, mundane world I usually occupy and fallen through a trap door to the place where being in love is quite simply our natural state.

So what triggered this crazy intemperate fit of happiness? It seemed to be a confluence of circumstances: the peace of the house late at night, the cool wind that was blowing through the window, and the presence of Ted beside me. But most of all it was a passage in the book I'd been reading-- a yet to be pubished novel called THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson which the publisher sent me for review. In that passage, a young debut author had managed to accomplish the highest thing a writer can hope to do, at least for this reader: open the trap door, and reveal the goodness and the love we are meant for.

with my beautiful emma

The next day I went back and re-read the passage, wondering why it affected me as it did, but I couldn't recreate the way I felt the night before. I couldn't feel the cool, dark wind that came through my window, couldn't see the way my reading light illuminated my messy, imperfect bed, or my equally messy, imperfect life. I could remember it and I could smile about it, but I couldn't have it back--not exactly. I guess that's the way it is with free gifts. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed.

In my late night hour of perfect joy, I thought that this time I might remain exultant forever. This time I "had it." But the next day, the trap door quickly shut behind me. I allowed myself to be offended when a friend commented rather unkindly on my weight loss; and I repeated my petty complaint to everyone I encountered--spreading the negativity. "How insensitive can she be?" I raged. "Would you say that to your worst enemy?" I ranted. But as usual, nourishing my outrage only left me feeling drained and sick of myself. Eventually, I realized all I had to do was shut-up and let it go, and poof! It was over.

So no, I don't yet "have it." I haven't trapped bliss under a hat or captured it in a jar. I haven't moved permanently into the country behind the secret door. But for some reason, I seem to visit with increasing frequency. For some reason, I find myself startled, accosted, flooded by happiness in the damnedest places, at the most unpredictable times more and more often. It comes in hospital beds, and in the bed where I've slept for more than twenty years; it's there when I'm tired and on the wonderful days when I feel a surge of my old energy. I don't know where it comes from, but I can only hold out my humble cup, and say, "yes, please" when it arrives, and "thank you" when it passes by.

So here it is--the existential question of the week (remember those?): When was the last time you felt incredibly happy for no particular reason?

Lexi, right before she nails it

*And speaking of perfect joy, all photos were taken at my grandson Hank's first birthday party.