Friday, October 31, 2008

Moved to Tears

Albert Camus is quoted (in translation) as having said, or written, "Live to the point of tears," and I have to say I too recommend it. There is pain in being touched, but a certain poverty in remaining untouched.

When I returned to Boston earlier this month, I found that although I still have a house there, it is now someone else's home. When have I ever returned from a trip late, tired and hungry, and opened the fridge to find
ahhhg! no food to eat. In a word, never. It was oddly displacing to find unfamiliar items where all my stores would ordinarily be. I wasn't surprised that my housesitter was making my house her home, mind you. I'd encouraged her to do so, in fact. What was surprising was not feeling at home in a place where I've lived for almost 15 years.

It seemed nothing was at hand any longer when I went to reach for it. When I needed aspirin for a headache that was threatening to turn migraine that first night, I found nothing of mine on any of the three shelves of the medicine cabinet. Even my bedside table, in a room that was to be used only occasionally for guests, had been cleared out. Where was my hand cream? My pad and pen? What happened to my waste basket? It's a little shocking how disorienting it can feel to go to throw something in a basket that's been your basket, dutifully serving, occupying its one and only spot year after year, and find it gone.

For the record, I felt really fortunate that my housesitter was amenable to my staying at the
house at all. But before long, I felt as if I couldn't get out of there fast enough. To make matters worse, I was showing up late everywhere on account of...well, everything takes longer when you've got to look for things!

Gradually stuff started turning up. They weren't gone, just moved. Put away or aside. Finding I still had food in the fridge and freezer felt like striking gold.
Pesto! Tacos! Pancake mix!!! So I returned to the medicine cabinet the next day thinking that with a closer look I might make a few discoveries there as well. When I opened it, what I saw moved me to tears. Two, not one, but two of the shelves had been cleared out. I hadn't asked for this. I had not even hinted. My housesitter had intuited completely independently to make this room for me.

"It must be weird for you to be here," she said that evening. Yes, it was. And it was weird for her too, she told me. Neither of us was at ease, both new to such a situation. But the fact is, she had put herself in my shoes and acted on what she saw from that vantage point. She'd done something I would never have asked for, something I didn't even feel entitled to ask for, but something that made all the difference for me just the same. It was as if she had read my mind. Or more precisely, my heart.

Compassion is to "suffer with." There must be a word for taking thought for another. Is that what it means to be thoughtful? The dictionary says so: " Having or showing heed for the well-being or happiness of others and a propensity for anticipating their needs or wishes." It's that "anticipating" part that gets me. And here is what touched me. Here is the Love of it: in order to anticipate the needs or wishes of another, we must
leave our own experience and enter the other's. We must see through the other's eyes, feel through the other's heart. We must, in a manner of speaking, briefly become them. From the inside, it is of course easy to know what might be called for, what might be well received.

I am reminded of the gift buying I did for my niece and nephews when they were 5 and 6 and 7. These were the easiest gifts to choose. I stood in the toy store thinking "OK, I'm five. What do I want?" Well, I didn't think those words exactly, but it was as if I had because suddenly this "
wheeeeee!" feeling took over and I made my selections in no time flat. Surprise, surprise, the kids loved them.

That's what moved me about what the housesitter did. It's her thoughtfulness that moved me. Sometimes it can certainly seem that no one has the time any more to take thought for another, that the humanity has gone out of our human interactions. In these United States, anyway. In this part of these United States, anyway.

There is a cancer treatment facility in London, or at least some caregivers there, who without prompting took time and thought for one of their patients with a daughter in the States. This daughter, my neighbor, shared the details with me in one of those spontaneous sidewalk conversations that occur between raking leaves and making dinner:

"Yes, they said 'Oh, you have a daughter in Boston... maybe we can do something with the Internet...' and the next week she went in and they had purchased a webcam. Now we have a visit every Wednesday when she goes for her treatment."

"That's so beautiful," I said, my eyes filling with tears
. You'd think it had been my very sick mother abroad that these caregivers had just brought closer. Would she think it too much? I claimed jet lag and insufficient sleep as the cause of my reaction. But in truth, I am happy to be someone who can be so easily moved. I love being arrested, surprised by the ways Love finds to have Its way.

Earlier this month, Love put me on a winding passage through the Luberon Mountains in the South of France. We were bound for Aix-en-Provence after
visiting at the home of a woman whose acquaintance I made 20 years ago.

On a hot July afternoon in 1988, prompted by a poster I had seen around town, I followed the strains of a heavenly music deep into
Cathedrale St. Saveur. I was a bit late; the concert had already started. But all the better for me, as I could follow the music to locate the baptistiere, and join the audience already assembled. When I turned the corner, I was stunned to find all that music was coming from one woman, from two small hands. I was immediately captivated.

This would be my
tomber as in "tomber amoureuse"--to fall, in love--my official introduction to classical guitar. I was so taken from beginning to end that, however shy I felt or lacking of confidence in my ability to communicate my sentiments en francais, I approached the musicienne afterwards to thank her. In my best French, I said I was American, not so sure I could say it well, but that I felt I had just been given a great gift. I felt I wanted to give a gift to her in return. And what does this Martine France do but introduce me to her friends, invite me to visit at her home sometime, offer her telephone number.

I called that number, and I went--by foot then bus then taxi--and stayed for two days and another concert about an hour north of Aix in a tiny village up the road from the Centre-Ville of Apt where Martine's home sits like a throne for a king (or queen), holding dominion over the seduction that is the Luberon Valley.

We shared other time together that July, ending with a
soiree at my little apartment in Aix, then another visit chez elle when I returned the following summer, and we kept up a correspondence for a time. But 18 years had passed with not a word between us when I sat to write her on the eve of my birthday trip to her part of the World, to that region of la Belle France that had stolen my heart so many years before. This being the Internet age, I reached her almost immediately, and her reply was quick and warm and welcoming. She was delighted to receive my news, she was happily surprised, she invited us over!

I was a little nervous about the meeting. How would it go? What would we talk about? Would my French hold up?

We spent a sweet, sunny
Provencal afternoon of sipping and strolling, grapes from the vine (viognier), an impromptu concert (guitar, vihuela, drums). And when asked, on that road to Aix after our rendez-vous, "How was that for you?" my reply was a tearful one.

"To be so welcomed...after so long..." I wasn't sure how to express what I was feeling. "Someone I knew so briefly so long ago... Why would she welcome me like that?"

It almost didn't make sense. At least in my cultural context it didn't make sense. Martine was not being cordial, let alone cool. On the contrary, she was warm, enthused. She wanted to hear about my life, she wanted to share hers. She'd made a real effort - calls, emails - to get us together.
How can I be that close and not see Martine? I'd thought. But I wondered if too much time had passed, if perhaps we had become irrelevant to one other.

In a few hours' time, straining my brain to follow the French, trying to drag words and phrases from the cobwebs of memory, I saw how not random had been our meeting, our acquaintance. We had a lot in common, in fact: poetry, philosophy, listening, in our lives our work our art, to
the heart and soul, the love of if not reverence for the natural world. Fresh air, chocolate, good tea, honey.

"Where's the fire?" she was saying as we made motions to leave, and though I didn't understand the expression at first, I could sense what was going on. She didn't want us to go. She wanted us to stay. But if we had to go, she wanted us to return.

"La prochaine fois..."
Next time we would meet her companion, Michel. She was already speaking about next time. Which had me remembering the last time, 18 years ago. When we'd parted on a street corner in Bonnieux, there was the baiser, of course. The "bisous" of the Parisian French is four kisses delivered alongside (not touching) each cheek alternately: left right, left right. But the bisous in the South of France is three. Martine explained it, all those years ago, when I had leaned in for a fourth:

"It is left undone, to finish at the next."

Provencal bisous is the true "au revoir": until the next, until we meet again.

It was humbling to be so generously received. It was beautiful to me to realize that we had in the
brief life of our active friendship made a true connection. It was moving to me to see that that connection remained. Without any care or nourishment for almost two decades' time, it remained. It was alive, we were alive. More advanced in our years and in our life work, but otherwise, not so changed.

And I find this marvelous, how Love finds Its way, how Love knows the way, and will have it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Walk to Phoenix Park

It was my last Saturday in Dublin before I would return to Boston two days later. For all I knew it would be quite awhile before I'd see Dublin again. It was a sad thought, but we didn't let it spoil our day.

Following a hearty breakfast in Ranelagh, we set out for Phoenix Park. Even before I set foot in Ireland, I had wanted to visit Phoenix Park. This would be the day!

It's a long walk, but we had our tourist map, and there was much to enjoy along the way. We bought birthday earrings from a jeweler on Wexford Street, an Anglophile who raved about her time in the States. She was friendly, conversational. She took time with us; we enjoyed a visit, really. And she even forgave the remaining euro or so of the price that I could not produce because...well, we were going to Phoenix Park, not shopping!

A few doors down, I found John Dunn of Dunn's Camera Shop and purchased my first tripod, which I've had a hankering for for quite some time. John joked with us in a gentlemanly way. We enjoyed his good humor and we returned it. While paying, I noticed an art card or two for sale at the register.

"Those are my daughter's," he told me.

I found her wonderfully gifted and told him so, then invited him to invite her to write me on Love's Freeway, to submit some photographs perhaps.

"Would you like my card?" he twinkled.

And when I said yes, he drew another bag from the stack imprinted with his store name address and phone and handed it to me.

"What's your daughter's name?" I asked.

"Fiona," he replied.

So on the Gunn's Camera Shop bag I wrote "John," and underneath that, "Fiona." I felt as if I'd just made two new friends.

We found a street market, craftspersons selling their crafts. We found Walton's, "a name synonymous with Irish Music," and before we knew it, had bought a Bodhran, the traditional tambourine-shaped Irish drum. We had tea at the Queen of Tarts, while horse and buggy passed. We happened upon a children's choir warming up for an evening concert at Christ Church Cathedral, and paused to enjoy their heavenly voices.

But telling of all these stops along our way does not tell the real story, the real point of this telling.

As you may have guessed, we never made it to Phoenix Park. By 6 p.m., our energies were fading and so was the sun. We would save Phoenix Park for another day. We trusted there would be another day. And that, really, is the point of this telling. All day, in so many ways, I felt Dublin saying "Stay, stay. We'd like you to stay," to guide and fortify me in the days to follow. Alongside this message was another, equally important: be flexible. Be willing to be led. Stay open. Because for all you know, the detours aren't detours at all, but rather the destination you would have chosen had you known to choose it.

Not once did we resist the unfolding of that day, and so a dynamic was created I suppose. To embrace the flow I do believe brings more flow. It was as if Life were saying, "You like that? Well, how about this! You'll love this!" It was as if someone had sprinkled a trail of fairy dust, and we unwittingly kept following it. The day was one I will not forget anytime soon. And all because we said yes. All because we picked up our feet and let the current take us.

At times, I have been accused of being stubborn, known to grab onto a plan or a mission or an idea and not let go. Sometimes such determination serves me well. But on this day, it would have cost me a lot. It would have cost me a magical co-creation with Life and countless delightful surprises.

I am reminded of the infinite wisdom of Lao-Tsu and the Tao te Ching:

If you want to grab the world and run it
I can see that you will not succeed.
The world is a spiritual vessel, which can't be controlled.

Manipulators mess things up.
Grabbers lose it. Therefore:
Sometimes you lead

Sometimes you follow

I am so glad we recognized this as a time to follow. And I am grateful to Dublin for her warm welcome, her clear message that there is more and more and more to discover here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


This month's Big Love hug goes to Lynea Lattanzio and all the caregivers at the Cat House on the Kings Lifetime Sanctuary and Adoption Center in Parlier, California. Here's to Love having Its ever-loving way with Lynea and company: what a vibe! This is one big happy family if ever I've seen one. How magnificent, Lynea, that you heard and answered the call to what in the world you were "supposed to do."

Abundant thanks also to Jack Perez for spreading the Love on YouTube!