these chairs – privy to a lot of life – over just a few days – in warm iowa sun.
we gathered to celebrate columbus’ life, to inurn his ashes, to solemnly and with great gaiety – for that is how columbus lived – say the final-of-the-final goodbyes.
it was the game of bags (cornhole for the rest of you), the bubble wands, the hula-hoops and columbus’ old 33rpm records we brought with us i think he really loved. we made his brats with beer and onions. we made the pasta sauce he liked. there was more; a lotta-lotta food – just the way he liked it. mason jars with wine and a cooler full of water and sparkling hard seltzers and beers-just-up-a-notch-from-columbus’-favorites. and he – from the next plane over – held his beloved wife’s hand as she navigated this time in his growing-up land.
the three adirondack chairs from the east-facing porch were moved, following the activity. down the big grassy hill for bags and around the south side of the house closer to gracie-cat’s-plugged-in-water-bowl to escape the howling wind. back to the porch for happy hour and in a big circle in the lawn to toast his momma’s first hostess cupcake, bag chairs a little teetery on the uneven ground.
you had to watch for the thistles in the grass – you couldn’t just run around willy-nilly without being – yowsa! – aware. but somehow that reminds me of life itself.
it was a time of red. bright bright red. a time of brilliant stand-out moments we will clutch onto, like the hugs we shared at the cemetery and at the old screen door past nightfall the last evening.
though life is like a box of chocolates – yes, forrest gump – it is also like an adirondack chair you drag from place to place. it’s about comfort, simplicity and peacefulness. an intention.
you can sit and watch life, take it all in.
you can do life and then, rest.
we took turns with the red adirondacks. that’s what family does.
smooth silvery-grey under our fingertips, we each took time to touch, to marvel at the beauty. and gordon lightfoot sang on in my mind.
as a writer, composer, lyricist, there are decisions one must make along the way. we place ourselves in a vulnerable spot, not for our own purpose or indulgence, but, instead, in the hope of resonating with someone who needs the words or music or lyrics we write, in the hope of reaching someone else walking in similar shoes, in the hope of assuring someone out there who needs to know they are not alone. and so, at the risk of thus vulnerably over-sharing, i offer this:
but some things are triggers. and, as the verses and guitar continued, this particular gordon lightfoot song is one of them. my #metoo was at the hands of a musician, a serial pedophile who walks freely even today. he played guitar and charmed his way into the never-to-forget-lives of many susceptible young women. a man who softly sang gordon lightfoot and james taylor, who wrote love songs, new lyrics for gorgeous SATB hymns, and taught guitar surely was to be trusted, right? wrong.
i can appreciate these beautiful pussywillows, another harbinger of spring and new life. but i stop a moment and give nod to my much earlier self. in a watershed, i recognize the parallel of this earliest time working in the church and my latest work. bookends.
“riding on the roadside the dust gets in your eyes”
it’s not the dust that brings tears to my eyes, it’s not the spring air laden with newness of pollen, the turning of season. it’s the raw bookended time in places i trusted as safe. i cannot help now but examine it all up close, process it, grieve the loss of innocence, the devaluing of women, abhor the loss of respectful truth and the reign of agenda. the bookends hold upright the time in-between, all the books of life, times and experiences and mistakes and successes, the laying down of any attempt to process, to make right, of any ramifications for the wrongdoer. the bookend of late was a stunning surprise. i am astonished at its destruction, now, no longer a teenager. i find it all shockingly galling.
“slanted rays and colored days, stark blue horizons”
the horizon is much like the horizon all those decades ago. it’s surprising to return to that feeling. i want to leave, to run, just like that other time, that other bookend. my physical life, however, is not at stake this time. it is me, my loss of community, my loss of position, stolen integrity. i cannot wrap my head around the slanted rays, the starkness.
“treasuring, remembering, the promise of spring pussywillows, cat-tails, soft winds and roses”
treasuring, remembering. promises. but roses…the flower of love…it is hard to hear lyric of roses…my hope is to only hear gordon lightfoot in my mind’s eye and to forget the echoing bookends.
“shivering, quivering, the warm breath of spring”
to remember – spring is beginning to spring. the catkins of the willows are soft, cattails seed in the wind, warm circles us on the trail.
that babycat would be 14 today. it’s an unofficial birthday because he just showed up and no one was there to tell us all about his birth, about the litter of kittens he was from, about his momma or his papa. february 28 was the day chosen for him and we celebrated it – and him – each year.
it’s been almost two years since he became an angel-cat. and, in the way that our sweet pets profoundly impact us, we miss him every day. our babycat had a big presence in our home and lives. he still does.
i just read an article about love written by neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo in which she reminded the reader that it indeed is “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”. all love. including our amazing animals, i’d insist.
though his own life was not nearly as long as i wished it to be, babycat saved mine. his tiny heart in the universe changed me.
a large-moving-truck-sized asteroid missed the earth. apparently, not by much. npr called it a “very close encounter” and nasa said it was a “near miss”. it kind of puts things in perspective. i mean, what does anything angsty mean when all could be destroyed in a moment by a united-van-lines-projectile?
i suppose the wise among us would nod slowly at that question. they’d take a deep breath and exhale audibly before speaking. and then they’d point out that there are no guarantees – for any of it – and perhaps lighter hearts would be a better way to fly through this universe, skimming along, soaring, aerial acrobatics from moment to moment.
it’s been seven years. my sweet momma glimmered her way to heaven seven years ago and now, seven years later, we are interring her ashes. the wooden box that my brother-in-law holds gently in his hands is added to my dad’s niche in the columbarium. his ashes are in a hard cardboard heart-shaped box and my dad grins as her wooden box is added next to his, relieved that it wasn’t the other way around or my momma would have had something to say about his box being wood and hers being cardboard. nevertheless, our son said it best, “happy they are resting together.”
i brought my ukulele and a songsheet and we all gathered around and sang “always” before the niche was closed. it was simple. and short. and the service a row behind us had a twenty-one gun salute followed by taps – just in time as the caretaker replaced the granite door.
it’s sobering to be in the veteran’s cemetery. pristine and beautiful, but sobering. so many headstones. so many little granite doors.
i looked up – i wanted to remember the sky – perhaps the heavens – the moments we stood there, after. the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze.
my sweet parents whispered “thank you” to us and my momma got that stink-eye look she gets. “now go live life,” she added. and my dad reached out his hand and diverted the asteroid’s path, just a little. but enough to make a difference.
because babycat, well, he rescued me. this black and white hulking tuxedo cat was not merely a cat. he was always an angel in disguise, just like all our pets are intended.
we – truly – miss him every day. and so does dogga. the alpha-in-the-house, babycat’s presence was part of the most basic of maslow’s hierarchy. he was as necessary to a sense of rightness-in-the-world as any of the physiological and safety needs.
i suppose as time continues to go on, the lump in our throats will ease a bit.
but as the hierarchy presses, rears its pointy head and pokes at us in these times, we gather dogdog and that babycat-angel around us and tuck in.
there is a fine line between security and insecurity, a line that runs invisible through days of buoyancy and through days of challenge. we have seen it – that line – when we least expect it, just at the moments you are beginning to breathe, at the instant you are sinking a little into ease.
i suppose that having crossed the line – back and forth, back and forth – gives us the ability to tread water, to sort, to distinguish that which is important and that which is not. but that tiny vibration that sometimes trembles in my chest returns, despite any pollyanna-ing i attempt.
we sat in a starbucks the other day. i mean, literally – physically – went inside, stood at the counter, and used some gift money that had been sitting on our app foreverrr. and then we sat there and sipped coffee and shared one of those lemon cake slices with the schmear of sweet frosting. it felt out-of-body…it had been sooo long since we sat in a starbucks.
over d’s head on the opposite wall the words “you’ll make it” got my attention. i was hoping it wasn’t the universe simply placating me. i was thinking more of digging out the colorful magnetic plastic letters circa 1995 and pulling out d-a-m-m-i-t for the fridge. but i guess i will have to choose to believe otherwise, leaning on both polly and anna.
“you’ll make it” – good words when you can see the line.
i sipped my pike roast and listened to laverne and shirley’s silk-flowerish theme song in my head, “there is nothing we won’t try. never heard the word impossible. this time there’s no stopping us. we’re gonna make it…”.
when i was choosing seats for the elton john concert in north carolina, the – predictably – least expensive seats were the ones with an obscured view. a pillar, a speaker, a wall…something was in front of the seats, not allowing you to see. or maybe the seats were behind the horizon line of the stage, the apron, making elton basically invisible.
clearly these seats – still dang expensive – weren’t right. i mean, if you can’t see him perform and you can’t really see the jumbotron why not just sit and listen to ej cd’s instead? clearly, that’s not the point.
so i stayed away from the obscured-view-seats and chose seats from which we could see all the action. high up, yes. but we could see it all.
we passed a sign in the chicago botanic garden, posted by a tiny trail. “by screening out views and creating hidden areas, this garden entices you to explore just beyond what you can see.” we couldn’t see into the garden…so we took the little trail in. it was beautiful and a little magical. a little secret garden. not obvious. beyond sight.
the work of an artist – of any medium – is like that. find the places just beyond. find the line of melody that tugs, that urges, that compels. bring those places to others so that they might explore them as well. past the horizon. past the stage. you can still hear elton from the obscured-view seats and you can still feel the energy.
in a thirty-plus year career as a minister of music i always felt that it was my job to introduce the obscured secret garden to others. for faith – regardless of denomination – is that which we cannot see, that which we cannot touch. my mission was simply to open hearts through music to see beyond what you can see, to explore beyond sight. grounding in the most basic of tenets – love, kindness, generosity, peace, embrace of all others, support, truth, fairness, equality, grace – i felt it imperative to offer music that might viscerally touch a person who might not otherwise be touched, to hold it all out there gently so that a soul could easily grasp it, hold it, be wrapped in it, be comforted by it. faith in something bigger in this universe is found in a river of changing times and circumstances and staying steadfast is like the path a leaf takes on that river, both raging whitewater and lazy currents. we open our hearts to explore, even though we cannot see.
it might be time to play my piano again. maybe. it’s been a long time – a couple years now, save for a few moments a few times. i haven’t been able to play it – the magic has been obscured from view – since, well, since i felt blindsided. but now…maybe now…finally…i can see the trail into the studio. maybe now the black and white notes lifting into the air – will heal hurting even just a little, will allow exploration and sight beyond the obvious tangible horizon, will open a heart again.
it’s the west wall. and every morning as the sun streams in across the room, we comment. it’s one of those images that you anticipate, that stays with you, that you miss on cloudy days – a new day captured between miniblinds. and, because we were there and so was he, we know the shadow in the bottom left window pane is a shadow of dogdog’s furry ear and the nape of his neck. his ritual – laying on the bed with us in the morning as we sip coffee and the sun works on rising.
it will soon be a year since columbus – david’s sweet dad – died. it is now just days away. i knew him for merely eight years. but he was easy to adore. he still is. i talk to him every time i get into big red, feeling his presence as i crank up country music and roll down the windows. i don’t even know if he cranked up country music and rolled down the windows, but i sense his approval and it makes me smile. he had a gentle way about him and his shadow leaves soft edges in my heart. i told david that it will get a little bit harder each day now. there is no changing that. not feeling his absence is like trying to keep an open candle lit in the wind. impossible.
the anniversary of his leaving-this-earth forces one to recognize mortality. when my big brother died, it foisted upon me an absolute sense of a lack of infinity – time goes by and the world continues on, yet there will come a time that our relationship with the world will no longer feel the same and our shadow will be a little less pronounced, a little less definitive, a little fuzzier, though no less present. when my poppo and then, three years later, my sweet momma died, i was struck by the sheer ludicrousness of how wrapped up we all get in everylittledetailofeverything. it felt like we should spend more time shadow-dancing together in the sun and less time in the actual shadows. there is no time to waste. we learn it – and forget – again and again. and again.
in the way of shadows and energy and love, we know that our dogga can feel us, despite our temporary absence from him as we travel. just like the people we love – here and not here – he is right with us.
he’s the lock screen on my phone. that babycat. every morning i tell him “good morning”. every morning, still, i get a pang looking at his green eyes and the white stripe on his black-fur-face. he is sooo missed.
i made the bed the other day and found tiny white hairs scattered on the comforter. it made me wonder if he had stopped by. i know dogga misses him too, and babycat was dedicated to his dog, so maybe he did come by, just to reassure him.
these pets of ours. vital parts of our hearts, they enhance life, entertaining us, grounding us, loving us unconditionally.
as empty-nesters they are what receive our daily attention, our daily nurturing, our daily worrying. their absence is profound. though gigantic statement of love, it is a great loss felt each day when a furred member of our family is gone.
i would like to believe that babycat is somehow still around. i’d like to believe that he knows – that he’s still adored, that we pine for him, that dogdog sometimes still seems to be waiting for his return. that his life – absolutely – changed mine and, for that, i will evermore be grateful.
we wake up early anyway. there’s no alarm clock on saturday morning. yet, before the sun is barely above the horizon we are awake. we both lay and listen quietly to the quiet. birds, chipmunks, the pond out back, maybe the waves on the lakeshore if it’s windy. for just a little while, before the lawnmowers start or cars drive by or people empty their recyclables into the new big blue waste containers, if we close our eyes we can picture being wherever we want to be.
my big brother has now been on a different plane of existence for thirty years. 30. as of yesterday. it is shocking that so much time has passed by. for the longest time i had a hard time understanding how the world could go on, when he could no longer feel it. and yet, it did. those of us left behind had broken hearts and missed the sound of his laughter, the details of his stories, his giant bowls of coffee ice cream. we are left wondering how he is present with us, what he can see, what, if anything, he feels. it was a friday.
“this life is not a dress rehearsal.”
the magic of friday night seems ubiquitous. for those in a traditional workweek, the weekend stretches out in front of you, friday night’s yawns delicious and lingered in. there are two glorious days to follow, days of errands or adventures or catch-up or sleep or just simply nothing. two of them. days to declutter your brain a little and sink into a little less routine.
and then, suddenly, sunday.
and, too fast, monday.
and we find ourselves wishing for friday.
yet, there is something about mondays that we should probably lean into. another day. here.
i stand here, in the kitchen in the world in all its complexities and all its flaws, and the dog gives me a kiss before he starts his breakfast and i bring david freshly-brewed coffee in a favorite mug. he smiles as i approach his pillow and the dog pounces on the bed. the sounds of early-early monday morning are like the sounds of saturday, like the sounds of friday. the certainty of monday is no less or more certain than the certainty of saturday or friday.
i imagine my brother took with him the sounds of morning, the sounds of his beloveds, the sweet taste of first java and ice cream in a late-night bowl. i don’t imagine he reached out to grab things as he floated; there were certainly no trappings as dear as the party he had on thursday-the-day-before just being near those he loved. his hologram remains with each of us, his humor and brilliant mind within our grasp as we speak of him. he made – and makes – a difference in this world for us.
we can choose to shut down the party on sunday. last call before midnight, enough time to sleep for the new week. or i guess we can recognize it can keep going. to be standing here, now, in this spot – with all its chaos and all its bounty – is party enough.
the day starts in quiet. the sun is barely over the horizon. the birds are singing, chipmunks chirp. i can smell the coffee brewing. i am here. i don’t know how the world goes on once i can’t feel it anymore. but for now, i can.