Sitting in the small built-in nook beside the fireplace, the same one Julia sat in when we first arrived at the blue house, the day before furniture came from Madison. I snapped a picture of her looking both wistful and content that day. Or is it just that I am feeling that way today and projecting onto an old picture that I only dimly recall?
I have spent the best part of a month packing and with the help of my VNM have moved everything we could possibly carry to the new apartment. This is not like the last move or the one before that when I packed up everything and moved very far away. Right now, those moves feel so much more organized—labels on every box and everything in a box, except for me and Julia and Muta and the cello, a few plants and a carry on bag. This time we carried boxes and plants and plastic bags and clothes on hangers. I labeled a lot but not everything and the piles in the new house are not orderly. Why does it feel like so much bigger a job?
The movers—three very nice guys—have worked hard for the last two hours, emptying the house of what we could not carry. The head of the moving crew, Mark, comments on the moldings and built-ins and wooden archway and we fall into conversation about the empty flat. And I cannot help but start missing this pretty blue house. I get wedded to spaces. They are hard to leave.
Sunday morning we sang Where the Light Begins (music by Susan LaBarr, text by Jan Richardson) (a pretty version to listen to here):
“Perhaps it does not begin, Perhaps it is always. Perhaps it takes a lifetime
“To open our eyes, To learn to see
“The luminous line of the map in the dark, The vigil flame in the house of the heart, The love so searing we can’t keep from singing, from crying out.
“Perhaps this day the light begins, Perhaps this day the light begins in us, We are where the light begins.
“Perhaps it does not begin, Perhaps it is always.”
This is one of those songs, whose melody and words pierce the heart like an arrow. I sang it every day at home last week to learn it. Sometimes it takes me so long to learn music, but singing it every day moved me closer to meaning. And after singing it in choir amidst many voices, I carried around a lump in my throat all day.
I’m up before the alarm, that I turned off last night, would have sounded and ready to . . . back in some old day, I would be . . . um, I wonder how far back I should be going to say what I mean to say today. This is the traditional time of gathering beloved souls together for cooking and eating and hopefully taking a walk before falling asleep in front of some movie on a cushy couch. And this time has been hard won.
I cast the net far enough back to state that my mother’s traditions did not fit me well; and during our East Village days with baby Cheshire in tow, we started to cook for ourselves and our friends. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating. Sometimes too many people crowded into our tiny apartment on First Avenue and sometimes we all went to Park Slope and celebrated in Carolina and David’s sprawling apartment. On a marble topped coffee table with one chip out of the wood frill frame, Carolina served glorious antipasto and David made margaritas. And we got to the turkey much later. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating.
“There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.”
Parker Palmer posted these lines From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee.
The words break me open. I could almost feel the crack and see the light shining through. I have lived for so so long as if death paid calls and demanded I serve him tea, as if death watercolored the garden backdrop and asked for a critique. I have grown comfortable with his presence, or at least, I have stopped fighting or fleeing from his penumbra.
I have grown use to the absence of joy that comes from inside me. I have manufactured joy, have siphoned off just a little joy from those engulfed in it. It is second hand and yet, I have been grateful for the taste of it. I have needed to chase and catch it if I was to feel any of it at all.
And then, all of a sudden, my heart is in my throat, I am prepared to tremble in anticipation, I am singing all day.
“from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.”
I woke up with such a heaviness on my heart. This is never a good holiday to think beyond my smallest world—No, I honestly thought that I had passed that stage. That this year I was free to take on the biggest world on this the eve of David’s Death Day, but the missing of him, the sorrow of the loss of him lingers, it scents the air like roses in a garden, it is in the fabric of the comfortable capris that I pull on to grab a cup of coffee before Julia gets out of bed.
The radio’s first story is about another Black man in Ohio, fleeing the police, who was shot 60 times. The eight officers involved in the shooting were put on administrative leave which signals at least some question of appropriate behavior.
Tonight is our last evening here, our last vacation evening for the summer. Five days in Newport is a short vacation but somewhat adequate. I feel separated enough from the regular round to miss it and want to get back into it.
All of that is good.
I missed the latest SCt decision. Checking in on Facebook, I see it is about prayer in schools and that is a soap box I have climbed onto too many times. Not tonight; however, I do look forward to all the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, wild UU and pagan prayers that will be heard all over the USA in classrooms and on the 50 yard line next year.
Morning. Almost two hours after Julia leaves and I am getting down to the writing that I wanted to do since I opened my eyes. This morning the round of tasks, not overwhelming by any means, has induced anxiety, enough to notice. And I wonder if my anxiety can be compared to the way that Julia feels whenever she is asked to do more than two things when she is intent on something else. It appears that she cannot hold all of that—two asks and her desires—in her head and get to what she wants to do.
Alarm goes off at 7:15 and Julia does come into my bedroom to wake me up shortly afterwards. A great start to the day. I have a burning desire to start writing, immediately—something which definitely does not happen every morning. I can’t do that but I consider that there will be only a short hold on the writing.
I prepared to read a story adapted from a blog post a few months ago. It was for a very small storytelling symposium called Newton Speaks-voices of our city. It was moderately attended, there in the middle of the day on a Tuesday but nevertheless, I prepared. Everyday for a week, I read the story out loud—such is the practice of an old stutterer preparing to speak in public. I did the same when I’ve spoken in church over the past two years. Those readings were mostly done via zoom, although I did read two poems on Christmas Eve in the church building. Those readings of my own work and the work of some poets went well. I felt I could be expressive and I was not overly concerned about my speech which was not perfect, but not bad. This time, I was interested to see what I could do, how I might feel about the reading, how I judge my expression to be and my speech. Everyone was still in masks. Recently, going without masks into a few places has got me thinking about more of the implications of mask wearing. Apart from health concerns, masks hide, masks protect, masks make it hard at times to communicate which sometimes reduces the number of words spoken, ideas exchanged. Masks hide reactions and expression. And walking around the world masked can feel very safe and comfortable. I hadn’t understood that before this pandemic.
The pace of life is picking up and has been for a while although I admit to becoming aware of it long after other people who are more of the busy world. I know many people who have already gone to far away places, stayed for a month and come back with healthy looking skin and bright eyes.
This coming Sunday, I am scheduled to teach pysanky writing at my church and a friend wanting to sign up noted that there are two others events going on—a zoom Moth Story hour and an in-person music rehearsal. Wasn’t it just last week when every gathering happened in front of a computer monitor? How glorious that there are now conflicts. How glorious that travel time is now part of many plans!
But I live a small life.
On Sunday, on our way into church—we arrive an hour before services begin to go to choir practice—Julia and I noticed perfect small yellow narcissus blooming in corners around the back of the building. Without a spring garden of my own, I notice and cherish those brave little yellow blooms. I know that even though the day may be warm and sunny, there are cold days ahead. Silently, I wish the brave blooms are sheltered enough to survive another freeze.
And I wondered, had I seen blooms in this place before? I might have just before we were locked down two years ago, but what I remember from that time is only the spring flowers we saw on our Covid daily walks. I think it is probable that these little narcissus bloomed in 2020 after no one was walking into the church building and last year it was the same. I think to thank them for their perseverance and persistence, their willingness to be so beautiful even when no one was looking.
A few friends, knowing of my Ukrainian heritage, have asked me about the war. One asked if I was writing about it and I stuttered my way to some answer. What can I say to possibly add to the conversation? I know what I read in the Times and hear on NPR. I hardly belong to that part of the world.
I watch. My heart breaks. I am angry. I want the world to respond. I understand why it doesn’t. I have no answers. The fact that I have the privilege of sitting, of watching, of thinking, of even writing that I have no answers breaks my heart again.
My job, to ready Julia for adulthood, is ever present. She hears the news I listen to. Sometimes she comments. She wants to know about the war. She is a black and white thinker. She does not understand inference.
So, when she asks if the war is wrong and bad, I quickly say yes. When she asks if Putin is bad, and when she asks this she remembers that Trump liked Putin, I say yes again. She is able to put together that they are both bad people and she would never vote for them. Then she asks what will happen.