“1. i don’t spend my days retired. 2. i don’t let myself get out of shape. 3. i don’t smoke. 4. i don’t restrict myself. 5. i don’t let my knowledge go to waste.”(dr. howard tucker – “at 100 years old”)
he’s a centenarian, so it would seem like his words would have some clout. his rules – so simple. and #5!! still a practicing physician, he is pragmatic and dedicated, believes in moderation, enjoys broccoli and brussels sprouts and sharing wisdom gleaned in the decades of his work. the passing of knowledge back and forth – to the younger workers in his field and back to him – he emphasizes acknowledging the importance of the gathering together of experience, education, hard work. he sounds like a delightful person.
we sat next to mary on a thursday afternoon at the milwaukee public market. on a stool at the bar of the st. paul fish market booth, we sipped wine and ate shrimp gumbo. mary pulled up a stool, ordered a beer and some oysters. i was transported back home – to long island – where fresh seafood abounds and i’ve sat on plenty a bar stool eating clams-on-the-halfshell or baked clams or lobster bisque.
mary whispered that she was celebrating her birthday that day – 74. we started to sing to her and she hushed us. we finished in low tones for it seemed that we might be her only sung song that day.
in the brief period of time – maybe an hour or so – that we sat next to mary, we learned plenty. she was engaged.in.life. she was a little bit raucous, a little bit edgy, a-lot-a-bit delightful. we talked about oysters and beer and irish men, ireland and nova scotia and downtown milwaukee, volunteering and learning and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. she talked about work; she talked about how important previous and long experience is for employers. ahhh, if they could all hear mary’s sage words. and she shared a sea bass recipe we forgot to write down. i suspect she and howard would be friends, had they a chance to meet.
in the meanwhile, i keep wanting to go back to the market on a thursday, pull up the stools we had at the end of the bar and wait for mary.
“stay young by continuing to grow. you do not grow old, you become old by not growing.” (wilferd a. peterson – the art of living)
we would like to be like frank. he will be 90 this month and his busy life could make many people feel like couch potatoes. he is interested and curious and makes himself available to volunteer for a wide variety of organizations. he is our go-to excuse for sipping apothic – “it’s such a drinkable wine,” he says. he’s not afraid to try new things. the art of staying young – he has this down pat.
today is eileen’s birthday. she is 100. one hundred. it’s quite the life you’ve lived when you were born in 1923 and it is now 2023. always interested, she loves the chicago tribune. her desk has stacks of issues, piles of stories she has read or, at this stage of health, it counts to even just simply touch the newsprint. 20 talks to her about current events, encourages her to think, to discern, to learn – even at 100.
we celebrated her birthday with butter-creme-heavily-frosted layered chocolate birthday cake, hyacinth and tulips, catered sliders and quesadillas and apothic. frank would have approved. we studied boards with photographs of a little girl named eileen, eileen and duke as young marrieds, the sassy and spirited and fashionista eileen, a mother named eileen, a grandmother. i’m certain it seems to her now that the 100 years have flown by, for indeed that’s how time is. as she was wheeled into the party room her words were boisterous, “i made it!”
my own sweet momma would be 102 this year and my dad 103. my dad always said he was going to be 100. he did not make it. he died when he was 91. my mom never stated those aspirations but she, as well, was not a centenarian, crossing planes at almost-94. my dad, never one to turn down any dessert would have devoured a big slice of eileen’s cake. and my mom would have sat at the table with eileen asking questions and telling stories. i wish we were also having their cakes, most definitely chocolate ganache, but soon now those crossing-over anniversaries will come again and i will burn candles and blow kisses into the universe.
it’s all a mystery, this life. how long we get to live it, how many desserts, how many sips of toasting wine. seems like – once again – there’s no time to waste.
maybe today is a good day for some cake.
“tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”(mary oliver)
“eh” was not part of this night. this extraordinary display in the garden – this amazing constellation above our heads as we stood in the dome with the jumping-bean-little-girl – was not “eh”.
and, in rare moments when you can feel the threads connecting you to the earth and all that is in it – the big, the little, the massive, the tiny – those moments you can touch the gossamer, the incandescent, the enduring, the evanescent – you – really – realize that none of it is “eh”, none of it is “same-old-same-old”, none of it should actually require any less enthusiasm than a toddler at full tilt.
we are surrounded by people with grandchildren. there are tiny babies, toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers. we are ‘of the age’. it would seem that each and every day there is yet another announcement on social media of a new grandbaby-to-be, a gender reveal party, a baby shower, a birth of a tiny being into this great big world. my biological grandma clock is pokin’ at me, but, alas, this is not within my control. at all. these are important and very personal decisions; each of us has to decide what is individually right for us. and so, we’ll see. no matter our age, we celebrate our children living their lives.
and so, we watch others as they enter the glee-filled world of grandparenthood. they amass toys and sleeping provisions and high chair options and read books about the newfangled ways small babies learn to eat food and they post adorable videos of all the extraordinarily ordinary moments we – as parents – didn’t have time to notice. they go to the closet in the hallway or in the family room and gaze up at the tinkertoys and legos and trouble game and candyland and the saved baby dolls and barbie dolls and matchbox cars and crayons and stickers and markers and coloring books and they get dreamy looks on their faces as they ponder all these – once again – in their lives. ahh. what perfection.
we have all that stuff too. it’s mostly in the hall closet, where we’ve always kept it. games and puzzles and crafty things and bebop and a jumprope and jacks and egg coloring kits and pumpkin carving tools and those squishy balls you get all soaky wet to throw and frisbees. all the crayons and colored pencils and markers and glue are upstairs in the cabinet in the office. and stickers. lots of stickers.
there is really no reason we can’t just revisit all that stuff now anyway. i mean, if we are going to practice snack-time, we can spirograph first.
he is such a boy. SUCH a boy. any – and i mean ANY – time i ask him if he’s hungry, he always replies with an emphatic “yes!” like he’s been starving for days and days. snack-time is a driving force, a dominant priority, something he has already perfected. but, hmmm….yes, a carrot easily dangle-able.
we are incessant trail-watchers. even after a fascinating show seeking life-in-some-form in some other part of the universe, we took to the trail. with our mind’s eyes full of scientific wonder, we hiked along the pct with the wanderwomen and headingsomewhere and followed redbeard and checked to see if joey coconato posted anything new. on our hike yesterday, somewhere in the middle of our six miles, we talked – again – about hiking the pct. we figure in a few years it might be something we would truly consider.
the pct has plenty of obstacles; many people start this hike but fail to finish it. we read a blogpost (by mac) about some of the challenges. but, the bottom line, as he pointed out, was that “the unknown should instill you with excitement, not fear.”
this week is a time to acknowledge gratitude. with thanksgiving merely a few days away, preparations are a gathering storm. and, though there is a specific day that has been deemed ‘the day’, yesterday as we walked together we talked about our gratitude. we are reminded that there is nary a day that goes by that one shouldn’t be grateful.
yesterday i suddenly realized that i was also actually grateful for the unknown.
the blank slate that is in front of me stares at me. it makes me ponder. it makes me squirm a bit. blank is uncomfortable.
the blank slate that is in front of me beckons me. it makes me step. it makes me put a toe in the water. blank is tentative.
the blank slate that is in front of me challenges me. it makes me yearn. it makes me stretch. blank is exercise.
the blank slate that is in front of me encourages me. it makes me think outside the box. it makes me dream. blank is generous.
the blank slate that is in front of me urges me. it makes me yield to the new. it makes me let go. blank is learning.
the one thing – now – at last – that the blank slate that is in front of me doesn’t do…is scare me.
my yashica fx-2 35mm camera went everywhere with me. a prized possession i had gotten for my high school graduation, it opened my vision of the world, the things i looked at. in the days of film and negatives and developing, i was an enthusiastic participant, eating boxes of cornflakes so that i could develop the next roll and the next.
i passed through the minolta auto-exposure-auto-focus phase when my children were young. it was easier to grab the camera and snap a picture of them doing something amazing or indescribably adorable with the auto-camera.
then came the sony tiny-cameras you could slide into your pocket, also easy and accessible. that camera and the minolta and my treasured yashica are still around here somewhere, lenses for the 35mm in a hard-shell briefcase my dad designed with foam fitting around the wide-angle and telephoto choices.
in these days i carry my phone. it is the height of easy and always right there, ready to record a moment. in recent years, i have rediscovered the utter joy of taking photographs, of recording the sun glimmering on dogdog’s fur, of capturing the blossom as it wanes and the curl of the wave and the way the mountains look in a dark sky. a camera pointed at wonder.
“come forth into the light of things. let nature be your teacher.” (william wordsworth – from today’s daily wonder app)
i haven’t opened the “daily wonder” app in a while. i discovered it when we chose and featured the movie “wonder” on island. a single snippet of thought for your day, it is a tiny gift i had forgotten about, often reminding you of the wonder of simply being here.
we carry the not-so-wondrous around in heavy baggage, somewhat unwilling to part with it, feeling as if it somehow defines us. how buoyant we might be without it, how resilient. letting go might yield a smidge of wonder.
one evening, watching “life below zero” one of the intrepid alaskans said, “bring the wonder back in life” and i grabbed my phone to jot it down. as we travel to his memorial service to honor columbus’ life and his earnest grasp on happy-living, intentionally marveling, i know he would immediately agree with the person who said that.
undoubtedly, he would laugh a little and add that the wonder was always there.
the clock read 2:39am when i finally looked at it. i had been awake for some time already. because sleep remained elusive, i listened to the birds as they woke up to be with me, to be sure that i would know that the sun was soon rising, that the day was starting. 4:45 came and went. sleep stayed at bay and every thought that was ever present stayed wide awake. the white miniblinds glowed to the east. the sounds of the world waking: mourning dove coos, chattering squirrels, cawing crows, tiny finches, maybe a cardinal, maybe a blue jay, a lumbering train, robins, always songbird robins.
though deep slumber is a personal favorite of mine, i did not mind the night last night. the pondering of life, the listening, the sighs of dogdog and his paws running in his dream – all were a pre-coffee tapestry and i knew, as the sun rose and i finally drifted for a bit, that this day will blanket me with goodness. particularly if i sing. the dogdog song, all the incorrect lyrics of songs from the 70s i would sing back then at the top of my lungs, any random song that occurs to me, any song i invent in the moment.
for there is something about spontaneous singing, something about the making-up of lyrics or the repetition of well-worn lyrics spun into space that changes things. poetry in air. the frequency of happiness, of joy, of breaking into song changes what is happening in you, around you, sending its waves out, out, out.
i do believe in kindness. i do believe in mischief. and i do believe in singing. any old time. mary oliver and i might have sat together and chatted over tea, for we would have agreed about all matters of joy. and, even though mary and i never tipped cups or glasses, i consider all with whom i have, especially as dark turns to light and i am wide-awake and snug under blankets in a window-open-chilled room. i was lucky to sit with andrea, a love-filled free-spirit poet, songstress of peace. i have been lucky to sit with joan, thoughtful writer and ardent reader, her wisdom resonates and lingers in my pondering. i have been lucky to sit with susan, in her kitchen, writing songs with words and good food and cakes and so much music. i have been lucky to sit with jim, music at the ready, joined with him in improvisational weaving. i am lucky to sit each day with david, a word devotee, think-provoker, slow-dancer, and now, spontaneous singer.
the sky is brilliant and cloudless as i write this on sunday morning for monday. the sun is golden. the sound of the keys of two laptops punctuates my thoughts. a mug of coffee gets cold next to me as i type, as i am lost in musing. i think to the day ahead.
though my routine has been upheaved in recent months, though good sleep has been in hiding, though there are many things to worry about, to wonder about, this day begs my attention. it begs good mischief. it most certainly begs kindness, as the universe is full of goodness and has been gloriously kind. this day begs to be sung to.
even if i don’t sing aloud. because the songs are there with me just waiting to be chosen, to float.
the glint in his eyes was there. columbus told us about the business he was running from his memory care apartment, as steadfast as i suspect he has always been about hard work and dedication. though he was imagining that the bathroom was a library and that the lack of customers was due to the inclement weather, he remained dutifully on duty, waiting for the end of his work day with good humor. talking about his “shop” and his customers and challenges he, always humble, admitted, “i can make as good a mistake as anybody.” i took photographs of his sweet face as he talked and gestured, hands lined with age and the evidence of toil. i caught my breath more than once as he spoke and as i looked around, taking in this phase of columbus’ life. though he seemed content, dementia is a cruel robber.
my sweet poppo’s favorite saying was the quote, “be not concerned, be not surprised, if what you do is criticized. mistakes are made, we don’t deny, but they’re only made by those who try.” (unknown) with a glimmer in his eye, he was also famous for repeating (and repeating) “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” a believer in the re-do, the fix, the oh-well, the humanness, my dad never lingered in the mistake. he was also aware that he could make as good a mistake as anybody and i would bet that, given the chance, he and columbus would have been pals. these two gentlemen were raised in a certain era and times of challenge; even fifteen years or so difference would not have mattered. their humility and simple straightforward approaches run parallel, both smart and extraordinarily capable in unique ways. their commitment to family and a strong work ethic would have united them.
up in the mountains we sat at dinner and listened to my amazing daughter talk about physical therapy for a concussion she got while coaching snowboarding. she spoke of climbing and ropes and uncomfortable shoes you stuff your feet into to elicit a better grip. she and her sweet boyfriend talked about the challenges of living spaces in high elevation and adventure and camping. the one thing missing from the conversation was anything about fear. there is no fear of making a mistake, of a choice-gone-wrong. there is only fluid adjusting, correction, a different direction, a new tack. it is acknowledging, without words, that we all can make as good mistakes as the next. it is living without concern of criticism for those mistakes. it is being those who try.
were they to have been at the table with us all, in our first restaurant experience in well over a year, i imagine that columbus and my poppo would nod their heads in proud appreciation. “yes,” they would say in chorus, “that’s the way to live.”
it doesn’t matter. anything could be happening. any fire. any storm. and then, like glitter, the tiny miracles show up. the mica. and for a moment or two we are standing still, our focus re-directed.
this quote – “life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles…” (mike greenberg) – appeared in my facebook feed, re-posting from a decade ago. a gentle tap, a hey-remember-this.
the post below (#TheMicaList) is from not-quite-a-year ago, published on my 60th birthday. as i rapidly approach 61, i find that re-reading it reminds me. to everything there is a season. and a time to see mica.
my sweet momma would often call me just as the time i was born would pass on my birthday. at the end of her life she didn’t do this anymore but i always remembered anyway. mid-morning i would know that this was the moment i arrived at this place, this was the beginning of my passing through, the time of my visiting.
today, this very morning, it was 60 years ago that i joined the rest of this good earth on its journey around the sun. spinning, spinning. every day.
it wasn’t long till i realized – as an adult – that we spin our wheels constantly to get to some unknown place we can’t necessarily define or find. we search and spin faster, out of mission, out of passion, out of frustration, loss, a feeling of no value or a sense of lostness. we spin. we seek. we try to accomplish. we try to make our mark. we try to finish. we try to start. we leave scarred rubber skids of emotions on the road behind us; we burn out with abrupt, unexpected turns, we break, wearing out. spinning. spinning. from one thing to another, our schedules full of busy things to do. often, days a repetition of the previous day. every day full. full of spinning. but we are still seeking. life is sometimes what we expected. life is sometimes not what we expected. and that makes us spin faster, our core dizzying with exhaustion.
the simplest gifts – the air, clear cool water to drink, the mountaintop exhilaration of parenthood, hand-holding love, the ephemeral seconds of self-actualizing accomplishment, the sun on our faces…we have images stored in our mind’s eye like photographs in an old-fashioned slide show, at any time ready for us to ponder. but often-times we fail to linger in these exquisite simplicities. the next thing calls.
this morning, as i stare at 60 – which, as i have mentioned, is kind of a significant number for me – i realize that everything i write about or compose about or talk about or hold close in my heart is about these simplest things, the pared-down stuff, the old boots on the trail – not fancy but steadfast, not brand new but muddied up with real. in our day-to-day-ness i/we don’t always see IT. the one thing. there is something -truly- that stands out each day in those sedimentary layers of our lives. it is the thing that makes the rest of the day pale in comparison. in all its simple glory, the one true moment that makes us realize that we are living, breathing, ever-full in our spinning world. the thing that connects us to the world. the shiny thing. the mica. that tiny irregular piece of glittering mica in the layers and veneers of life. the thing to hold onto with all our might.
that tiny glitter of mica. mica nestles itself within a bigger rock, a somewhat plain rock – igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary ordinariness. not pinnacle, it is found within the bigger context. sometimes harder to find, harder to notice, but there. and it makes the day our day, different than any other. it is the reason we have learned or grown that day. it is the reason we have laughed that day. it is the reason we have picked ourselves up off the floor that day. it is the reason we have breathed that day.
and now, at 60, i resolve to see, to collect those pieces of glitter. not in an old wooden box or a beat-up vintage suitcase, but, simply, since they are moments in time, in a tiny notebook or on my calendar. join me in #TheMicaList if you wish. as we wander and wonder through it is our job, in our very best interest, to notice the finest shimmering dust, the mica in the rock, the glitter in our world.
with all the reminders around us to remember-remember-remember that every day counts, we get lost in our own spinning stories, narratives of many strata. i know that in the midnight of the days i look back on the hours of light and darkness in which i moved about and remember one moment – one moment – be it a fleetingly brief, elusive, often evanescent moment of purity, the tiniest snippet of conversation, belly-laugh humor, raw learning, naked truth, intense love – those are the days i know – i remember – i am alive.
my visit to this physical place is not limitless. but each glitter of mica is a star in a limitless sky of glitter, a milky way of the times that make me uniquely me and you uniquely you, a stockpile of priceless relics. my time stretches back and stretches ahead, a floating silken thread of shiny. it’s all a mysterious journey.
too old. too young. too busy. too tired. too apolitical. too rabid. too conservative. too liberal. too artistic. too left-brained. too analytical. too kinesthetic. too emotional. too opinionated. too apathetic. too uneducated. too educated. too poor. too rich. too believing. too agnostic. too manipulated. too manipulative. too confident. too tentative. too work-engrossed. too free. too lofty. too basic. too orthodox. too unconventional. too open. too closed. too rigid. too fluid. too not-from-here. too down-home. too much. too little. too far-reaching. too little impact. too intentional. too haphazard. too unknown. too anticipated. too cavalier. too afraid.
d’s master’s degree embraces the organization of whole systems; when i recently read this it felt like everything he has said in a nutshell (and i, not being a nutshell person, embraced this nutshell with the glee of change). here is what i read about systems theory:
‘our family systems. our work systems. our neighborhood and community systems.’ our country. our world. the system reeling inside ourselves.
too trouble-making. too resistant. too dysfunctional. all good reasons for a system not to be too chicken to change.
life. too short. too fleeting. too few golden opportunities to learn. too few possibilities to stand tall and face down adversity. too few windows to be kind. too few chances to say ‘i love you’. too many people to laugh with. too many places to see. too many moments to miss.
all good reasons for us to be “not too chicken to change”.