I spent my Christmas break in Petaluma, CA, visiting E. She was 101 in July, 2016, and it had been close to 2 years since I had seen her. Although there are signs of deterioration, she is still able to go on road trips and enjoy them. So, in the course of my 5-day visit, we went to the top of Mt. Tam, into the Muir Redwoods, over to the Sonoma Coast, through the Sonoma Valley, into cheese factories and wineries. The weather was perfect: blue skies, crisp air, clear light.
She fell the first night, splitting open the thin skin on her left forearm. Her daughter took care of the ER visit, and I wasn't aware of the incident until the next morning, but the rest of the visit I started each day changing the bandages and examining the arm for radiating red or pus. She was disoriented, convinced that she was at her aunt's house in Bakersfield, instead of her sister's house in Petaluma. But otherwise, she was her own wonderful self, delighted to see me and to be with her family. "Oh I'm so glad you are here, did anyone tell me you were coming? It almost makes up for that great disappointment." She was referring to the visit I had planned in October, that was canceled the morning of the flight because of the violent attack of vertigo. So, her memory is intact for some things.
It was a special time, a renewal of a special bond. It was possibly the last time I would see her, probably the last time I would see her able to go out and about. I ached as she said "when will you come back, why don't you move to California," as I replied, "I'd like to." Her niece drove us to the airport on that last day, and the conversation consisted of telling E that she was going to her home in El Cerrito, and I was going to my home in Taos. That we were separating again. That I was not staying with her. A final hug, and I walked into the airport. I had a cold, but that's not why I was sniffing.
2. Snippet 2: Politics
I delivered my rent check and he said, "So, it's 2017 and the world hasn't come to an end." I nodded, "Not yet." "Give him a chance," he said. I mentioned the new Cabinet appointees, and the denial rocked me. "He's not a racist....I don't believe in Climate Change either." I walked away. This is the other side of it. I'd like to believe that Trump supporters are thoughtful, that they voted him in because they don't like the status quo and they don't believe he is a sociopath (or that it matters in terms of what he can do). But, some of his supporters, maybe most of them, are like my landlord. I am frightened. I read my Daily Action text and call the number to protest the first action of the new Congress: a breathtakingly cynical attempt to do away with ethical oversight. And then the Sociopath tweets "no, no, no" and the media says, "ain't he great." I feel played.
How can we be proactive instead of reactive? How can we stop playing the Sociopath's game? A friend says, it's just the pendulum swinging. It's what we do, why do you get so upset about it? But I find it impossible to be philosophical about it, and I cannot be comforted by the thought of the pendulum swinging back. So much evil will be done on this side of the swing.
3. Snippet 3: Friendship
|In the laser music room at Meow Wolf|
She spent her 70th birthday with me in Santa Fe. We walked the Rio Grande Nature Center, we went to Meow Wolf, we checked out the Indian Fair, we froze in the Glow at the Santa Fe Botannic Garden. We had a lovely meal at the Compound, and the busser who shared the birthday brought us free desserts.
She is the only friend from Portland to visit me here, and has done so faithfully every year. We have explored Chimayo, Taos, the Agnes Martin room at the Harwood, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, Jemez Springs, Bosque del Apache, the VLA, and Albuquerque Luminaria tours. We have talked, she has analyzed. In the 30+ years we have been friends, we have traveled together, eaten memorable meals, drunk memorable wines, listened to wonderful music, and....talked. She is argumentative in the best sense of the word: she observes, questions, and thinks. No offhand comments allowed: you have to defend your position.
She claims to be organic in her approach to travel, to life. "You'll retire when you want to stop working, when it's time" she says, dismissing my agonizing over budgets, health care, and What Will I Do? She says live in the moment, be content with what you have. Or words to that effect.
G says similar things. "You're a dreamer," he said today. I'm not so sure about that. I know I'm tired, tired of being sick, of having no energy, of having no focus, no reason for existing. Today, as I stood in his shower, enjoying the feeling of the hot water on my back, I thought about living in the moment. Yes, this moment is good, but is it enough? Am I enough?
When I was visiting with E, I overheard her talking about me with her niece. "She's so kind, so genuine," they agreed. I smiled at the time, almost saying "You know I can hear you, right?" but instead letting the eulogy run its course. Now I wonder....is a life of friendships enough? Lord knows I am a careless friend. "You never call, you never write...."
And it's true enough. I think about C, my freshman year Resident Advisor who passed 3 days before Christmas, leaving behind a teenaged son and a coterie of heartbroken friends and family. I learned about it through a text, the texter having learned about it through Facebook. What a world we live in, where friendships are created or maintained through social media, where you learn the most heart-rending news browsing through your iPhone. And where your grief is shared and assuaged through the pixellated pictures and memories and anguish posted through the special Friends Of group on Facebook.
Through the shock, I process. Why am I so upset? She was important to my life 40 years ago, but I haven't talked to her since. Some of my fellow advisees have seen her, talked to her, written to her, but not I. I friended her on Facebook after the 2nd Spider reunion, and I've followed her posts, and she has responded to mine, but that does not a friendship make. Or does it? What comes through, shiningly, as I read the posts of fellow mourners, is what a friend she was. She was kind, she was genuine, she was thoughtful, she was present, she was incisive, she was supportive, she was creative. She was beloved. And she is gone, leaving behind her beautiful poems, her unfinished book, her teenaged son, her husband, her friends, her family, the pictures and gifts and memories and love. Is it enough?
Will it be enough for me? I do not have her gift of friendship or creativity, I have not changed the world one iota for the better. Is it enough that I have, outside of my carbon footprint, not changed it for the worse? Is it enough that, occasionally, I give back to those who so unstintingly give to me?
4. Snippet #4: Rituals
My friend sent me a picture of my Portland house, as it now appears. My aching heart is soothed: the outside shell looks good, and I have hopes that the garden will have roses in the future. They didn't cut down the walnut or destroy the shed.
I think about the years I spent there, and the rituals that I no longer follow. I no longer throw parties to mark the annual holidays: Halloween pumpkin carving, Thanksgiving turkey from Otto's, Christmas cookie baking, New Years Day jigsaws and mulled wine, Bastille Day wines on the deck. I used to make lefse and julecaga every Christmas and decorate the house. I'd harvest pussy willows every spring. I'd make winter wreaths from the red dogwood clippings and the Oregon grape, summer wreaths from the my friend's lavender and my old-fashioned hydrangea. I'd make paper from the junk mail and send out holiday greeting cards made from the homemade paper and origami. Every month I would respond to the changing environment: certain hikes fit certain seasons, and every August I'd take the basil harvest and make ice-cube trays filled with pesto. Every birthday was celebrated by a trip or a hike or a special dinner: the common denominator being the celebration with a beloved friend.
Now my rituals are sharply curtailed. I go out at sunset and take a picture of the sky, of the light on the mountain. It gets posted to facebook, along with a haiku. I make popcorn with garlic and brewers' yeast instead of cooking a dinner. There is no pesto in the freezer, no yeast for baking bread, no oven in which to bake the bread. I made no lefse, and the julecaga I made in Petaluma was dry. My friends don't drink, and the wine deliveries from my wine club get turned back by UPS because there's no one to sign for them. While I do harvest sage from my landlord's garden for sauteed buttered sage, the garden yields no other food or craft material. I spent my 57th birthday alone. Now I sit in the evening, knitting and listening to audio books. And time passes, unmarked. I am not comforted by the quiet assurance of ritual. The future does not beckon, it leers.
Snippet #5. What now?
I've spent the last year working a reduced work schedule: 30 hours a week, 10 hours unpaid FMLA. The idea was that, instead of quitting my job, I'd keep the health insurance and figure out what's wrong with my health. I've been tested and drugged and overhauled, and the net result is....nothing is wrong? But, I still get migraines and nausea, and now I've started my annual winter cold with attendant cough. Is it just the way my body ages? The areas of weakness just get weaker? What do I do?
I have so much I'd like to do, so much I'd like to write about: Meow Wolf, the changing seasons, the sculpture at UNM Taos, the future. But all I seem to be able to manage are these snippets, and now it's time to make a salad for a late lunch. I guess that's a reasonable outlet for my creativity. It's at least a moment worth living in, if not enough for a life.