Monday, January 08, 2007

Winter, Illusions, and a Question

I'll start with the question:

Is there anything "not Love"?

Are you beginning to suspect, as I am, that there isn't? I know I know, that's two questions. But it's really the same question, no?

Alright, enough with the questions. And anyway, maybe you're way ahead of me, and you have known for eons that there isn't anything "not Love." If so, I know you'll be ultra compassionate then (read supremely loving) with those of us who are just catching on.

What better place to start to explore this question than the first day of this new year.

There I sat, on time--early, in fact, though I'd taken time with the clothes, the hair, the face and such--about to set out for my long overdue Hanukkah visit with my sister and her family. The gifts were all carefully bagged so as not to wreck the paper or ribbons or bows. I'd made up a tall jar of homemade turkey soup to bring to my father. And I'd put my newly acquired purple disc on a cord and hung it round my neck, also with him in mind: I was all set to go. There was only one problem.

The car was dead.

Well, not dead, exactly. And that's where "winter" comes in, but hold that thought.

I have one of those quirky Subarus that from day one has not liked damp weather and requires a particularly deliberate, focused first turn of the key under such conditions. Usually, I remember this, and off I go--choking and chugging a little for the first mile or so, but I'm mobile. On days like New Year's Day, however, when my attention is attracted elsewhere, I forget. I don't catch the engine on the first turn of the key, and then I'm sunk: caput. Caput, unless I can get a jump, or have time to hook up heat lamps under the hood and wait a couple of hours (a convincing mock up of the sun coming out to dry up all the rain).

Car packed, kids excited and waiting, turkey soup, dead car.....Argggggggh! My first thought?

"What a way to start a year."

No matter that I'd started it in a most extraordinary way the night before, creating in retrospect the year ahead (see Exotic Love, below, for more on this).

My second thought?

"I could cancel. Just stay home. The steady rain, the driving's bad... It's a great day to just hang, take it easy."

But then I thought of the kids.

"They'll be disappointed."

So I opened the car door, put one foot out, and started pushing. If I was going to get a jump, I needed access to the battery. The car rolled nicely off my slightly declining driveway, and out into the street. So far so good. But oops: hadn't thought of that. The car, in the middle of the street: now I really needed a jump.

To the trunk for cables, to my neighbor-friend's house for her aid, and her car, and--well, things were looking pretty good.

"Happy New Year!" I chimed, with heartfelt cheer when she opened her door, and she cheerily returned my good wishes. Then I held up the cables.

"Could I trouble you for a jump? It'll only take a minute. I'm sorry to have to bother you..."

Don't forget it's raining, and it's New Year's Day, and probably the last thing she wanted to do was come out and deal with someone's car trouble. But out she came, and off I would go in no time flat, at which point my friend could resume enjoying her cozy, peaceful holiday, right?


For the first time ever, the car wouldn't start with the jump. I tried cranking. I tried the gas (bad idea, I know, but stress-adrenaline was in full gear by now). I tried waiting. She tried accelerating. We checked and jiggled the connections. We got rained on. We waited. We tried again. We got wetter. We tried everything again. I cursed. Loudly. I put my face in my hands. We'd have to push the car out of the street. The kids...the father...

Then I remembered the purple disc.

"Why not!" I thought, and bounded out of the car.

"We've got nothing to lose," I said showing it to my friend, explaining what it was.

I tried it on the engine block: no go. So I hung it from the jumper cables, where the disc dangled within inches of each terminal post. I waited, I summoned all faith, then I turned the key. More cranking, but no dice: the engine still wouldn't catch.

I remember thinking something the equivalent of 'But I know this thing works'. That's when I heard the car running. I didn't hear it start; I only heard it running. One second it was "rrr-rrr-rrr-rrr-" trying to start and not catching, and the next second, it was running.

With great thanks and big smiles and a little amazement on both sides, we went off in our separate cars in separate directions. Yay: the kids wouldn't be disappointed. Then I saw the clock. I was leaving at the time I'd said I would arrive. I don't have a cell phone. I kept driving: just get there, I thought. I was rain drenched and shaking and bothered, and I just wanted to get there, fast as I could.

Now couple the illusion of a dead car with the illusion of expectant kids.

My nephew was "waiting" for me at a friend's house, and would come home when summoned. While I fussed with the car, my niece was making, with her mother's assent, a movie date which left us with about 40 short minutes to open gifts and play games before she would be off to the theatre.

I knew I'd blown it, not calling, being so late, and I apologized profusely. But still, I'd thought we'd have the whole afternoon together. We'd planned a "game day," after all. And what it had taken for me to get there...

I didn't lose it exactly, but hurt, angry, and still riled from my car ordeal, I said what I had to say.

We had our game day; the movie date was cancelled. It was "nothing special" time, to use words my brother-in-law used with his dad on the phone that afternoon. Words which I wouldn't even have noticed, had he not backpedaled to add "Nice. It's really nice, actually." In my brother-in-law's, my sister's and niece and nephew's jam packed, tightly scheduled days came a day of nothing special, where everything was special, really. Pausing, for one. Eating together. Playing together. Learning from my 10-year-old niece how to weave a bracelet. Seeing how their minds work, how they visualize pictures from words. Noticing how my nephew is content as long as you give him the whole picture, the context. Etcetera.

I never told them I'd planned a stop at the folks'. I didn't want them thinking I was rushing to get somewhere else, because I wasn't. Still, I had the soup, and I wanted to deliver it. But I'd stayed a long time - through dinner, which was wonderful but "unplanned." Plus, being up at my sister's meant I could zip into the Christmas Tree Shop on the way home for tea light candles (nice price, especially when you use them in quantity as I do)--I'd run out before Christmas. Still, I took my time at her house, then made my choices in the moment, on the road.

Christmas Tree Shop? Yes. I'll just pop in. Tea lites.

Not even the "20% off Everything in the Store, New Year's Day Only" sign on the door dissuaded me from walking in without a shopping cart, or a shopping basket even. I was only there for tea lites, after all.


A brimming shopping cart (top and bottom--a first for the likes of me) and $198 later, I laughed with the clerk as I checked out.

"I came in for tea candles," I told her, as she rang in frame after frame after mat after frame.

"I have a show coming up, can you tell?" I felt I was perhaps stating the obvious.

Here, to my mind, is where the real story comes in. Or the real question. Or the real illusion, revealed.

"Do you live on the North Shore?" I asked her.

She looked a little puzzled, but replied just the same. "No, Lynn."

"Oh," I explained, "I thought if you lived near enough, you could maybe come to the show."

I handed her a Love's Freeway business card as I paid and packed up the last of the parcels.

"There's contact information on the back, and a website link if you want to see what it's all about. Maybe I'll see you there....Danielle," I read on her employee badge, making a mental note of her face and name, in the event that she came. She seemed interested, and tucked the card over the drawer of her register. Imagine my delight and suprise to find an email from Danielle late that night saying she had visited Love's Freeway and liked the pictures and could she have more information please about the show, since she'd like to come with a friend.

But back to the Shop.

"I'll just have to freeze the soup and bring it another time," I thought, as I loaded the parcels in the car. Blessedly, the rain, by now, had stopped.

But as I drove south toward Boston and approached my parents' exit, I could not pass it. They'd be barely awake, if at all, but I had to chance it. "How many more times will I get to pull off Rte. 1 like this and go see my parents?" I thought.

It's hard to convey in words what happened next.

It is rare and a treat when I get to "stop in" and surprise my parents. My mother greeted my as though she were receiving a visitation from the heavens:

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you. We're so depressed. We've just been lying around thinking he's going to die..." Smaller and shorter than ever these days, she folded gently into me and put her head against me. There was a certain quality to what was unfolding; I might as well have been an angel for all the glow around us.

"Look what I made for you?" I said to my father, holding out the soup where he could see it from his bed, before bringing it to the fridge. Then I returned and sat by him. My mother came and sat in a side chair. I told them about the steal on the frames. I heard from them about their day. At her request, I cut an annoying tag off the neckline of my mother's nightgown. I introduced my father to the purple disc.

"Will you wear it?"

"Of course I'll wear it."

"Well then, here."

And he put it around his neck where it's hung ever since, in close proximity to where cancer has been found in him.

"That thing started my car today. Expect a miracle, that's all I can say."

Then they kicked me out so they could go to bed.

So what about winter?

Simply this: I don't think I've ever been more keenly aware as I am today of the life abundant in the winter months. And sure, this winter's not typical by a long shot. But to say it?

Well, I have interspersed these words throughout--refreshingly I hope--with images from two walks this weekend. This is the "dead" of winter in the Northeast, no? January 6, January 7? But there is so much alive, so much astir. Simply said, I am believing less than ever in death per se. I am in numerous ways acutely aware of the appearance of death, or of dying. At the least (but in more ways than I am ready to write of here), the earth's myriad, abundant, exquisite, whimsical, sensual creations fly in the face of it.

What appears dead is not dead at all; rather, it is life taking new form. There is no death. There is but a pause, an interruption, in the space of which erupts a birth. Something new which required the death of the old in order to be.

A beginning.

What a way to start a year indeed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am mulling over how to respond to your latest post. This, against a backdrop of two matters: One being the recent and sudden death of a deeply loved former student of mine and two, counting myself as a paradoxical presence in your life (one of the no's that speak to you as yes). I will venture forth in the name of communication and of dialogue and of no expectations (emptiness/open-ness).

I have reflected mostly on this that you wrote:

'What appears dead is not dead at all; rather, it is life taking new form. There is no death. There is but a pause, an interruption, in the space of which erupts a birth. Something new which required the death of the old in order to be.'

In the absolute sense of course this is true. Nonetheless, it is also true that death is real. It actually happens, life ends, sometimes suddenly, violently, without warning. Built into life is this ever present possibility. Death is our truest friend, it is steadfast and loyal and will never leave us. It hovers over our days.

Now perhaps my former student, a wonderful, talented, generous young man died in order to make room for someone or something else to come forth. Again in the absolute sense this could be true. We can ask ourselves who is it that dies when life inevitably gives way? Who and What dies truly? An excellent perhaps essential question to ask if one desires to live on life's terms. It beckons to be pondered, to be bathed in. But maybe only after one leans into the wrenching loss caused by attachment, caused by Love itself. We lose what we love the most. This is what happens too, always.

Is this Love speaking? If Love is synonymous with Life then yes, I suppose it is Love speaking. I'd be hardpressed to say that to the parents of this young man; hardpressed to say that to his best friend, the driver of the car that killed him. It seems I am suggesting that you run the risk of distancing yourself from that which you most desire to embrace. Life is real and holds us in its arms and so too is death, the best reminder we have to Live while we're alive.

8:55 PM  

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