Fragile Beauty

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.Photo: Fragile Beauty

My Word on It

Photo: Early MusicBEMF. Road trip. Wedding. Dad’s Day. Arguments. Home. Adventures. “I love you.”

What do they all have in common? One word.

Family.

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.Photo: Traffic Jam

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.

I promise. You have my word on it. That word, you know—Family.Photo: The Family Dance

What has been and will always be…

Photo: In the DistanceYou have forgotten my name.

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.Photo: Other Planes

For Grandma, who dwelt in the alternate universe of Alzheimer’s for a few colorful years before wandering out of this plane forever.

50 Wishes for Happiness

Photo: Carry My Wishes to the StarsOn the most auspicious sixth day of June in human history, my youngest sister was born. If you don’t know what made it the most auspicious, you haven’t met my youngest sister. On this anniversary of her birth, I offer her these wishes for this and many, many birthdays yet to come. Blow on the seeds and let them carry the wishes up to the stars (I give you a milkweed rather than a dandelion, because the former are bigger and bolder, and every seed makes a new plant to feed both butterflies and even more wishes)—Kjæresten Min, may you:

1: Always know that you are loved.

2: Live surrounded by flowers.

3: Breathe fresh air deeply and often.

4: Be grateful for your good fortune.

5: Embarrass yourself just often enough to keep you humble (but

6: also) Wear the armor of unassailable self-confidence.

7: Find money under the furniture every time you clean house.

8: Get hugged whenever you need it.

9: Be generous at every opportunity.

10: Enjoy your ongoing status as the Smartest Sister.

11: Hear fabulous music wherever you go.

12: Never have awkward holes in your clothes.

13: See rainbows in every rainy day.

14: Rest and recover easily.

15: Never be too mature for anything important.

16: Live long and well.

17: Wear only what’s comfortable.

18: Choose joy, every chance you get.

19: Let politics roll off your back.

20: Never sit next to a person who smells awful.

21: Learn to enjoy everything you Have To Do.

22: Be a little wild when you can.

23: Have underwear that never rides up and socks that never fall down.

24: Always be comfortable in your own skin.

25: Smile knowingly with great frequency.

26: Have plenty of opportunities to stretch your horizons.

27: Stay warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer.

28: Wear your silliness proudly.

29: Revel in great good health.

30: Keep monitoring the halls because you care.

31: Be forever glad that you live wherever you live.

32: Frequently learn new things that interest you greatly.

33: Never run out of chocolate.

34: Tuck and roll when necessary.

35: Age with style.

36: Travel in comfort and explore with relish.

37: Be invisible to pests.

38: Think every day is the Best Day Ever.

39: Remember the stuff that matters to you.

40: Forget everything that makes you sad.

41: Immerse yourself in welcome silence.

42: Avoid toxic situations neatly.

43: Keep your savoir-faire intact.

44: See your beauty as clearly as others see it.

45: Miss every pothole in the road ahead.

46: Celebrate at any-and-every excuse.

47: Find unexpected goodness around you everywhere.

48: Be overflowing with contentment.

49: Continue to shine brightly.

50: Always remember that you are loved.

And have the happiest birthday yet…until the next one…and the next…!

Writing, Wandering, Wondering, and World Peace

I dream of being a better writer and artist. Of being a lyricist or maybe even librettist. Of taking many of my designs for furniture, clothing, sets and costumes, building materials, architectural elements, jewelry, inventions, and any number of the other concepts that constantly float around in my skull into the realm of actual production and use. Oh, yeah, and I dream of World Peace, too. Really.

Some people dream of simply having a healthy child with the average odds of survival and success in an average-length life. That was not my dream, but I know that it’s one shared by millions, not least of all by the author of an outstanding blog, The Hartley Hooligans. Gwen is always a superb writer and a tremendously insightful amateur sociologist-cum-psychologist with a wicked sense of humor. She outdid herself in one recent post. It’s a spectacularly beautiful meditation on how, in general, to live life boldly, fully, and richly. The article is ostensibly aimed at mothers or parents of special needs children (the author is mother to two profoundly ‘challenged’ kids and one who’s not), but I realized as I was reading it that it’s perfect advice for anyone, anywhere. (Note: Unless you’re a self-employed home-dude like me, reading The Hartley Hooligans may occasionally prove NSFW! But never, never dull.)

I don’t ordinarily publish anything that I didn’t write or illustrate myself, but in writing, supposedly, to the parents of special needs kids, Gwen offers insights so universally applicable to any of us who find ourselves with different realities than we had fantasized or expected in life, I think others should hear her uniquely graceful, bracing, hilarious, and touching take on the how-to and why-not of holding fast to our hopes and keeping up with the business-busywork tasks that make them possible.

For myself, I just substitute for her discussion of [special needs children] with the concept of any deeply felt, long-held dreams that I’ve felt unable to achieve or too intimidated or ill-equipped to accomplish, or have thought would be forever out of my reach for any reason.  I replace her talk about [doctors and caregivers] with those advisors and companions of any kind whom I assemble to support me in my life. The advice this wonderful, earthy, real woman gives on how to make the most of any situation; to give myself permission to be human, not superhuman; to credit myself with what I do accomplish and build on it; to surround myself with real, two-way relationships of love, respect, challenge, and support; and to make the most of everything I have with gratitude, is inspiring and pretty priceless.

I’m not one for sharing others’ work on my blog often, but this really spoke to me in a direct way that I think is far more broadly applicable than the already impressive comfort and wisdom of its intended point. I suspect we can all learn from it, so I feel compelled to share it here. Enjoy.

Many heartfelt thanks to Gwen for permission to share this epically useful, sane, marvelous insight of hers with my friends here in Bloglandia!

Digital illo from a photo: Everyday Superheroes

What do superheroes look like? Ordinary people who believe, and persist. No masks and capes required. Halos optional.

Rosemary, that’s for Remembrance

Photo: RemembranceBecause its distinctive and elegant, resinous perfume and flavor are so potent, the herb rosemary is intimidating to use. Hyper-sensory persons like my spouse can be reluctant to choose dishes when they detect a larger presence of herbs, and this beauty is among the most extroverted and easy-to-spot on that list. It can overpower extra delicate ingredients if used heavy-handedly.

But, like many accomplished and self-assured characters, when this fabulous herb is showcased to its best advantage, it’s the life of the party, the belle of the ball. With such a unique, recognizable scent and flavor profile, it’s easy for me to see how it would be the obvious choice as a symbol, and indeed, stimulant, of memory. Whenever I pass a rosemary plant I am compelled to stroke its incense-laden leaves, their odorous stickiness seeming to hold my hand in a reciprocal grasp. I inhale a long, deep draught of that alluring oil and am transported hither and yon in time and space. Of course, I was thinking about this unusually potent attraction when I wrote about the garden just last Tuesday.

Then, last night, I was reminded of how long the name has had a special resonance for me as well. My email held a little note informing me that my great-aunt Rosemary had just arrived at my blog as a subscriber, and without the aid of any herbal catalyst to take me there, I was transported back in time to when I first remember her, when I was very young and small. This Rosemary, too, has always had for me great beauty both inwardly and outwardly, not least of all because she was kind to little me and my siblings and our young cousins and friends and, especially, to my great-uncle, but also because she was eagerly intelligent, thoughtful, and full of quiet strength.

My great-uncle, her husband and companion of so many years, died just recently, and I can only imagine what a sea change this makes in her life. It’s a strange thing when relatives we have rarely been near in person for great lengths of time, whether the distance was one of miles, ages, life paths, or a combination of these as in our case, die. My great-uncle’s sister, my grandmother, left this world in an entirely different way, having been usurped by Alzheimer’s some years before she died and thus becoming a wholly different person than the one I’d known, while still living in a place where I could manage to see her occasionally without crossing the country. Two different sorts of separation, but in both instances, the person I knew from my youth had effectively been removed from my sight and my daily life for a long time; yet when each died, I was surprised to find I experienced the loss afresh. I suppose it’s partly being able, now, to mentally return to the place and conditions in which I felt I knew them best. Memory, yes, it is a strange and magical thing.

No more icebox cookies while reading in Grandma’s living room, or watching her crochet her perfectly aligned tiny rows to make the best potholders on earth while we visited. No more leafing together through Uncle Ralph’s gorgeous black-and-white photos of a full life and all of our relatives looking ever so much younger and more mysterious and glamorous in them, or hearing him discuss anything from nature’s beauty to what was on the table to psychology with avid, probing attention. Heaven knows there are enough quirks in our extended family to have kept his keen and trained mind busy with this last topic to the degree that I can only imagine it will continue to entertain him equally in the afterlife. He’s probably our there having a good laugh over my having said so.

But as for Rosemary, both the herb and my great-aunt, the preciosity lies, not just in the beauties of memory but also in being stalwart, graceful, and remarkably unassuming for such strong and lovely creations. It is truly good to reconnect with and be blessed by those gifts. One chapter of the story ends and a new and sweet one begins.

Motherly Love

It’s no secret that I love my mothers. I post about both the wonderful woman who carried me into this world and raised me and the marvelous woman who joined in mothering me when her son and I became partners for life. No amount of Mother’s Day posts, no matter how heartfelt, can tell anyone who doesn’t already know it how important these two superb people have been, and will always be, in my heart and in my daily existence.

Even telling you that I had to compose this post entirely from scratch twice, thanks to the joys of hiccuping technology, and was still willing to do it, can’t convey the height and depth of my affection and respect, of my love for them both. Though, if you know how technologically inept I can be, the latter might come close.

I’m here, though, to say thanks not only to Mom W and Mom S, with sincere gratitude and delight, but also to the innumerable stars in the sheltering sky of motherhood. Those who conceived (with a bit of help) and carried (with, or without) children and raised them from infancy. Those who have raised, or helped to raise, others’ children. People of all ages and socioeconomic levels; the educated and the self-taught; the mild-mannered and the most colorful characters on earth. Nature doesn’t guarantee aptitude or attitude, nor does nurture: like many people raised by outstanding, wise, and loving mothers, I did not feel the call to motherhood as a biological imperative myself, and of course many who do are not granted the opportunity.

I think men can mother. Youth can mother age. Persons with no genetic or legal relationship can mother. Anyone with the commitment to bettering the lives of those around them who may have a moment—or a lifetime—of need may be motherly material. I think that the truism “it takes a village to raise a child” isn’t far off the mark, but might be interpreted more broadly than some would do. History has handed us so many examples of familial bonds and gifts that extend far beyond an individual marriage or household or lineage that it surprises me we don’t celebrate the motherly instinct in any and everyone who is willing and able to exercise it for the good of others in their life’s path.

So I say Thank You with my whole heart to my beloved mothers. And I must add my deep appreciation, too, to every next-door mom, teacher mom, sports team coach mom, lady at the local convenience store mom, psychiatrist mom, librarian mom, delivery truck driver mom, classmate mom, and dive bar mom who ever counseled, taught, comforted, held, humored, read to, chastised, fed, and showed patient kindness to the rest of us when the time arose. My “village” has been a grand one, and good mothering is one of the best reasons it is so.Photo: To Mothers of All Kinds