It’s almost midnight here, but there are a couple of hours left of Mom and Dad’s 59th anniversary back in western Washington state, where they began, and still practice, the fine art of marriage. So before I tuck myself into bed, and because I couldn’t reach them in person to say so the first three times I called, I will take this opportunity to thank them for having had the excellent taste in partners that put them together in the first place, the temerity or mild insanity—or both—to have us kids and keep us, and the strength of will and love and hope to stick together for all of these amazing years. Blessings to you, Mom and Dad, and may whatever comes only strengthen your joy in each other.
May you find the wisdom to untangle whatever vexes you and revel in what you love…
May you find companions who give you comfort, elevate you, and fill you with laughter both in the moment and through the years…
May you find kindness embracing you, erasing your pains, and softening all sorrows…
May you be so enriched by the beauty and goodness around you that you find you can’t help but pass it along and share your gifts with others…
Forgive me if I seem a nutter,
the way I mumble, moon, and mutter,
but I can’t help my palpitating
when my heart is all aflutter.
Pardon that I cling to what’re
rhymes as rife with fat as butter—
maybe even nauseating—
but my heart is all aflutter.
Please absolve me when I putter
aimlessly, and stammer, stutter,
stumble as I’m indicating
that my heart is all aflutter!
I am loved. Among my greatest sources of affection and sweetness, I treasure having been loved for the past nineteen and a half years by the wonderful partner who is my best friend, a truly marvelous everyday companion whose company continues to be a pleasure, and just plain a good human being. Today, I celebrate having been married to this splendid person for nineteen years. I don’t know why the universe has conferred such largess upon me. I am merely grateful beyond words, and don’t choose to look too closely into the whys and wherefores of my giftedness in this regard lest the bubble burst.
Today, I am more contented, happy, and hopeful than I could have imagined possible two decades ago, and the more so because I know that as long as we’re both around to keep marking anniversaries of our marriage I will continue to be so loved, so blessed. Beloved, I wish you as much joy as your heart can hold. Being with you is, for me, the very definition of splendid.
We mortal beings are such a breakable bunch. The only part of my being that I can imagine ever neared perfection is my imperfection. It galls me that I am so intolerant of what I view as intolerance in others, so upset by the seeming obviousness of opposing viewpoints’ being illogical and insupportable, and so easily brought to a boil by anyone else’s anger or violence. It disappoints me that I am so easily cowed into silence when I see what seems the most flagrant of wrongs being committed against the defenseless, and I’m horrified by my inability to articulate what I believe is my wonderfully reasonable understanding of the facts of a case so as to persuade a single person of their validity.
The sorrow and fear I feel about this only intensify when I remember my suspicion that most other people experience some of these same phenomena. My failings are not entirely limited to me. It’s no wonder the world is such a complicated place.
Yet wisdom, love, justice, hope, and peace do seem to prevail at times. I know that every person alive will never agree on when and how those moments occur. Deeply studied scientific experiments and conclusions don’t convince everybody. Political, philosophical, and religious arguments, discussions, and declarations don’t convince everybody. The deepest emotional commitment and conviction, expressed in gloriously poetic prose, cannot convince everybody. We will still be weak, messy mortals. We will still be intolerant, illogical, angry, stubborn, and inarticulate. We will fall into these traps and sinkholes at the most inconvenient times, and escape from them only temporarily.
Yet wisdom, love, justice, hope, and peace do seem to prevail at times. We are incredibly imperfect and fragile, yes, but we can be beautiful, too, when we rise above our self-centered view of perfection and seek wisdom, love, hope, peace, and justice that should belong and apply not to only our own selves and favored persons but to everyone. If I can’t stoop to lift up someone else from the depths, maybe it’s because I need to reach up from my own depths to raise him. Maybe wisdom, love, justice, hope, and peace can prevail. Maybe they can begin today.
What do they all have in common? One word.
I’ll bet you were going for: Love. And of course, you would also be correct, because that’s the very definition of family for me, as you well know. It’s not biology; it’s not pedigree and legal contracts and historical ties. It’s love. And love is not, for me, dependent on any of the aforementioned characteristics and descriptors, though it may—and I hope it does—have a close relationship with them more often than not. It’s respect and trust, support and kindness, even in the middle of stress and disagreement, illness, injury, confusion, and chaos. I am so very, very fortunate and blessed and grateful to find myself in the midst of an extraordinarily big, rich family network that comprises biological and legal relatives, yes, but also much more than that: a wide range of dear friends and comrades who are more than mere acquaintances or colleagues can ever be, each one tying me further to the next.
BEMF [the Boston Early Music Festival] was the beginning of the most recent two-week series of family events for me and, as in my previous times there, a joy from start to finish. As an arts event, it has very few peers in the world, being a week-long gathering of superb artists and dedicated audiences who converge for the love and celebration of Early Music and all of its many concomitant delights and beauties, all in a magnificent city. This biennial visit was a typically lovely one, starting with the gathering of our Early Music family from around the continent and overseas, especially the wonderful singers, players, producers, conductors, and other aficionados of the genre; they hailed from the university where my spouse works, well-loved Canadian spots, and many of the states and companies in which we have connected with such marvelous people. On arrival in Boston, we settled into our rented digs with a pair of our dear adopted kin and began the week with the rehearsal and performance of the university’s Collegium Singers and Baroque Orchestra friend-colleague crew whose concert was the impetus for the BEMF visit. And a wonderfully successful one, at that.
What followed was a week packed with beautiful music of all kinds set into the interstices between superb performances of the trilogy of Monteverdi operas and his 1610 Vespers, one of the most significant and exquisite foundational parts of the whole Early Music oeuvre and experience. The weather treated us all remarkably kindly, the food was as always inviting, varied, and delicious, and the historic and aesthetic pleasures of the city and immediate area renewed my love of being a happy observer and tourist there.
Next came renting a car and road-tripping to the Maine and Connecticut coasts, places I’d never been before and my partner, not in many years. Wandering gorgeous little towns and seaside regions like Brunswick and Bowdoinham, Maine, and Stonington and Mystic, Connecticut, and all sorts of big and little cities and towns around them with little specific agenda other than the rooting out of great seafood and scenery (more about both will surely follow here in many posts to come) was great post school year stress relief and entertainment in large measures. Spending time simply meandering in the wonders of the American northeast with my beloved, even better. A great time to reinforce why I love the guy so much and feel immeasurably blessed to live with him for the long run.
Was there stormy weather and bad traffic in our two-week outing? Yes, both real and metaphorical. Nature dictates the occurrence of these things around us, and human nature, within us. We’re all designed to need rebooting from time to time, if not a good boot in the booty. Just before heading home after the whole two-week extravaganza of beauty, wonder, love, happiness, and unbelievably good things, I got into an argument with my most beloved spouse—really angrily, ridiculously angrily. Over absolutely nothing. We were both very tired, at the end of a whole school year of huge commitments and busyness plus two weeks of (great and glorious fun notwithstanding) travel and social events and the demands inherent in both, and knowing we’d come home to huge lists of chores and catch-up tasks for both of us.
I’m not lying when I say we are not a fighting couple. But we do disagree, and frequently. One friend cheerily calls us the Bickersons for our style of daily communication, and I’m sure is not entirely feigning his worry that we’re going to don boxing gloves and just duke it out any minute, being an equally balanced pair of supremely stubborn and finicky people. Most of the time we equably agree-to-disagree, because what we do argue about is virtually always, as in the above case, nothing. Often, it’s mere semantics, each of us saying pretty much exactly what the other is saying but in such different personal language that it sounds like we’re worlds apart, and when we really are on different pages, it’s not about anything crucial to the foundations of our marriage. We share our core values, no matter how the day is going.
So by the end of the hour yesterday, tempers cooled down, and by today, I was firmly reminded that I would do well to keep my trap shut long enough to realize how petty and pointless the disagreement is before wasting any energy on arguing a non-point. I never feared that we didn’t still love each other or that a grave emergency was going to occur if he didn’t see the light and agree with me forthwith, but you’d not have guessed that from the way I was talking. How silly of me, and how pointlessly rude. How sorry I am.
I’ll at least give myself the concession that this is how things go sometimes with those we love the most, our family. We put on the proverbial boxing gloves because we love and care too much to just stomp off into the sunset and never get back to I’m Sorry and I Love You. It hurts, yes it does, to argue, and perhaps the more so pointedly when I know in my heart it’s over something idiotic and meaningless, but I suppose it’s far preferable to not having enough passion to vent and relent.
This misadventure was followed by not only reconciliation but remembering that it was, of all things, Father’s Day. We weren’t in one place (with cell reception, anyhow) long enough to call our two fabulous dads right on the day and give them the fervently felt thanks and love they deserved on the occasion—though, arguably (no pun intended), we could have made a pretty quick call to at least one in the time we wasted arguing. Being longtime family members of the truest sort, Dad W and Dad S will undoubtedly forgive our tardiness and just be glad we get around to calling tonight with belated greetings for the occasion. They are both past-masters at the whole Real Love thing, anyway.
Which brings me back into the middle of the story. I haven’t forgotten that way back in the first line of this post I mentioned a wedding. It was the excuse for our road trip after leaving Boston…why fly home to Texas and then back north within a week if a week’s holiday in between beckons? It was also, and no surprise, one of the clear and dazzling highlights of the whole fortnight’s expedition. Two other dear members of our extended family (both former students of my spouse’s) now uniting in the contract of marriage, in a fairytale sort of wedding held in the bride’s parents’ garden where the long threatening rain consented to abeyance, not because to do otherwise would have been a crime against the sweetness of the day but because it was probably more appropriate that the tears being shed were all joyful ones by various members of the wedding party and fond attendees.
There was visual gorgeousness throughout, just as with last year’s wedding of another such pair of adopted-kin sweethearts that took us to Puerto Rico, and as in that instance, also perfectly thought out and enacted to fit and represent the couple in question. The settings were spectacularly prepared, music exquisitely performed by musicians near and dear to the marrying couples, the wedding parties looking like some kind of ethereal Hollywood-designer versions of how wedding parties usually look, and the after-parties a couple of ones guaranteed to be recounted for ages by everyone who attended. And the friend who performed the marriage ceremony for this week’s bride and groom, for whom I am told this was her first such duty, spoke simply and eloquently in the most appropriate of ways for the occasion.
The centerpiece of her brief address of the bride and groom was recognizing their deep and remarkable commitment to family. To the community of care and comfort and love found in people who have chosen each other and stand together willingly, if not willfully, through thick and thin. Those present on the day were a clear part and example of this way of life. And it was impossible not to respond in kind, to acknowledge the connection and delight in it, and promise together to continue to seek it out.
My face is familiar, but you’re not sure in what context it belongs. Am I from a magazine cover, or someone from your healthcare team, or am I your firstborn child?
What was it we were discussing there a moment ago? It floated away in mid-sentence, along with the coffeepots and suitcases that just now floated by the window. Never mind, we’ll talk about it again sometime soon. And again, and again. We may not ever reach the end of the sentence anyway, since so many things, unmoored, float by the second-story casement while we’re sitting here.
We sit here a great deal now, indeed, because you’ve forgotten that you can walk. Once in a while you stand up, out of the blue, and stroll to the hall and stand there, pondering, until someone at the nurses’ station twenty steps away sees you, strides down to your room, and swings your wheelchair over to where you sit back down in it without noticing and ask, Are we on the way to My House?
The answer is always Yes.
When I come to see you, yesterday is millennia ago and you’ve missed me in the long years since I saw you then. If you speak, it’s of the more recent yesterday when you were newly out of school and first in love, and you speak in the present tense of how you expect a visit at any moment from those you knew—now dead. If you speak at all.
Often, in silence you look out that second-story window to see the world projected from behind your eyes. Whenever you turn to the room it’s as though I’ve just arrived. And you still can’t remember quite how you know me or why you can’t put a finger on my name.
You tell me a garbled but elaborate tale about someone with my other parent’s name, your late spouse’s, who according to you has just run off with your (also dead) best friend from school and they’re now shacked up in Tahoe, a place you’ve never been. Then you’re silent again, perhaps thinking further on these events so vividly real in the new world of your mind, never finding it improbable though that school-friend moved to the East Coast years before you’d ever met your One True Love.
Later in the week, their names have been bestowed on two tiny stuffed koalas that arrived clipped to the stems of a small bouquet that was sent last winter when you had had your sixth, or was it your seventh, minor stroke. See? I can’t remember now, either.
But over these last few years, it’s come to matter less. I stopped correcting you, only after much futile and agitated foolishness on my part. It took me too long to learn that. It took me too long to learn that Denial was a river that would only drown me, while you might float along with much less sorrow if I let you go wherever it is you need to go. I learned to agree with you no matter how odd the claims, and to remember at last that my reality is hardly the only one; perhaps it’s not even the truest one, at that. After all, wasn’t it you who allowed these possibilities in me when I was very young?
Yes, I recognize it now, though you cannot. When I was small—in days that even I can’t recollect—you agreed with my outlandish claims and played along when I imagined things. It wasn’t purely to amuse me and encourage my imagination, but you knew, as parents do, that it was real enough to me. When it mattered, you’d agree, and they you’d carry on with the action of Real Life, sheltering me from its harsher blows and steering me around the dangers calmly as we’d go. I talked my nonsense and you were there to set me back on my feet when I forgot I’d started learning how to walk.
I couldn’t always remember right from wrong, let alone the difference between pretending and what was real. You remembered it for me so I could live comfortably in those spaces in between where most of us exist a lot of the time when we are small and the boundaries are still so permeable. I’m just learning, now, to find my way back in and visit with you there. And you, forgetting that I’ve lost my way, lead me, without the need to try, because we’re headed Home. Yes, we are. The answer to that is always Yes.
For Grandma, who dwelt in the alternate universe of Alzheimer’s for a few colorful years before wandering out of this plane forever.