“step confidently,” the stio catalog reads. there is an ad for boots – winter boots – and gorgeous pictures of snowfall and mountains and terrain where confidence could be challenged. we were just talking with 20 about those yaktrax you strap on your shoes to instill a bit of chutzpah as you walk on icy trails. anything to keep us outside. cause stuff happens.
yes. stuff happens.
and it happens fast. without warning.
a couple days ago i was walking from the kitchen to the sunroom – sans yaktrax – to let the dog inside. holiday music was playing and i was busy thinking about my next task as i approached the step down to the tile floor by the back door. i did a little math. i’ve successfully navigated this step – only one – at the very least – one-hundred-twenty-two-thousand times. but, somehow, and i have no idea how, i missed the step and fell flat – kerplunk-kind-of-flat-like-in-cartoons – on my knee. the one time i didn’t reach out my hands to stop myself – i guess those two other falls taught me something – but my knee took the entire brunt of the trip-fall.
i’m not sure the first thing out of my mouth was pretty or anything i’d be proud to mention here. my reaction – as i laid on the cold floor – was incredulous, thinking i was running out of appendages, wondering what vortex in the universe we had fallen into or if mercury was in retrograde or just what was happening here.
the xray technician told me that’s why it’s called an accident – because there is no real reason, but i was about as amused by that as other people to whom i have said those words. no real reason. she said, “stuff just happens!” uh-huh.
the nurse practitioner at the urgent care told me she concurred with the radiologist and – thank goodness – there was no fracture. geesh. she said a few days and we’ll see how it goes.
patience is now in order. time to spend with my knee horizontal doesn’t fall under “my favorite things” column. i’ll be hobbling around and sitting and trying to get things done, in a slew of time i can only label as “fraught”.
spring has peeked in, shook its head, and retreated.
it snowed saturday. all day. it was a really wet snow, and, though it did stick a bit on yards and roofs, it was not shovel-worthy. but it did bring out the restless.
we took a walk in it. in the olden days (not too long ago) we always took a walk while it was snowing. here it was – april 2nd – and it was snowing. so surely, we should not be freezing and i would not need my miracle mittens to enjoy the soft flakes landing on our faces.
the snow pelted us as we walked along the lakefront. literally pelted us. it stung our faces; we had to keep looking down to the sidewalk. and, not wearing my miracle mittens was really dumb. this is wisconsin, after all. what was i thinking?!?
i tried to take photographs of the snow as it fell. i think i was really trying to take a picture of our restlessness, of the yearning for sun and warmth, of willing spring to stop taking its sweet time, to actually arrive and not linger in the green room off the stage of winter.
in a desperately intentional cup-half-full approach, we noticed grass that had greened, with snow on top. we noticed buds on trees, with snow on top. we noticed tiny sprouts of plants, with snow on top. we noticed that the streets were not really holding the snow, that the sidewalks were not snowy, that water was running next to the gutters to the drains. these were good signs.
the year my daughter was born – 1990 – it snowed the day before the first whisperings of her grand entrance into the world. it was may 13, mother’s day that year, and in one day i would go into labor and in two days i would be a mom.
but – may. snow. yikes.
after everything, simply every thing, i’m not sure hardy wisconsin souls would be able to take that this year. i think that, perhaps, mother nature might cut us some slack. perhaps a little more green and a little less white. perhaps a little more 50s and a little less 30s. perhaps a little more sun and a little less cloudy.
perhaps i need to get a grip and just ride the roller coaster that is spring in a great lakes state.
i’m guessing the tickets are free for residents.
i remind myself that patience is a virtue and other blah-blah positive, lofty adages. sigh.
i’m going to go hide in the green room with spring and discuss that.
on island he gazed south. here, at home, he gazes north.
it doesn’t matter that there are inches of snow piles on the deck. ever the snowdog, he lays in it, relishing the cold, and gazes north. i wonder what he is thinking.
dogga is rarely still. he seeks the bark-back of other dogs in the ‘hood, standing in the middle of the backyard. he runs around the opposite-traffic-circle sign, around the pond, to the fence, then the other. scoping out, trying to get the attention of simply any other canine.
but there are those moments, in the middle of his self-initiated fray, that he is quiet and still and he poses, like the lions “patience” and “fortitude” flanking the front of the new york public library. “patience” and “fortitude” have been trademarked and are featured in the logo and all of the library’s marketing shenanigans. perhaps dogdog is the branding of our backyard, of our home. gazing north. or – simply – gazing.
for we, too, are gazers. we sit and ponder. we gaze and wonder. we watch the backyard change seasons as we change seasons.
the other day dogga was laying on the bed when i walked into the bedroom. i sat down next to him, his wagawag-tail thumping. i told him all the stuff i was thinking about, because isn’t that one of the reasons we HAVE dogs?
he listened. thump. listened. thump thump thump.
he did not solve anything. he did not answer any of my questions nor did he ask any questions. he did not agree or disagree. he did not argue for reason. he just listened. with patience and fortitude.
were i to lay in the snow with dogdog on the back deck gazing north perhaps i would also have more patience and fortitude in this season of time. at the very least, i would be in the best of company.
“when she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. they wanted her to change back into what she always had been. but she had wings.” (dean jackson)
“trust the wait. embrace the uncertainty. enjoy the beauty of becoming. when nothing is certain, anything is possible.” (mandy hale)
i had an IME on tuesday. an IME is an independent medical exam. it is a brief exam ordered by an insurance company and the physician is both chosen and paid for by that insurance company. it is defined as an independent assessment of an injury or illness, in my case, my wrist, and the determination by the doctor-chosen-and-paid-for-by-the-insurance-company-paying-for-treatment will be placed next to the reports of the medical hand specialist and the occupational therapist who have been treating me consistently for the last five months. a basic review of articles about IME reveals that the insurance-company-paying-for-treatment will pick the report they wish to concur with and that will decide if there is to be future, in this case, my future, treatment. so be it.
there is nothing to do now but wait.
my OT is wonderful. she has encouraged me, pushed me, held me accountable and she has brought me from twenty degrees of forward right wrist movement to fifty-five. this is big news, since, at first, six degrees was all i could muster. brutus and my OT have caused me much pain, but what’s that saying? no pain, no gain. we have worked hard. and, in the way of hard work and healing, there are things i can do now that i wasn’t able to do a few months ago. and there are things i fear i will never be able to do again. uncertainty.
there is nothing to do but wait.
sometimes i wonder what life will look like in a year or two years. i wonder what i will be doing. if i looked back a year i would never have guessed back then what this year would have looked like. no, last july looked very different than right now. it just suggests that truly everything is uncertain, that everything is in the act of becoming, in the middle of the fire, maybe everything is ashes transitioning to riches over and over again. possibility, evidenced in tomato plants bearing fruit on an old barnwood potting stand, evidenced in a nest-home created in a birdhouse hanging empty for years, evidenced in the smell of the rain bringing cool on a summer morning.
there are times, when you are simply going about your business, going about life, that you don’t expect change. you don’t expect to be thrust into ‘different’. times when you find out the caterpillars were talking about you all along. after reeling from the surprise, after trying to grab the wheel to stabilize, after railing about the unfairness of it all – for life does not seem to be fair, you find yourself out of the deep, dark water – in the shallows.
and in the shallows there is abundant life, abundant food, abundant shelter. in the shallows we can rest and nourish and breathe. we can sit in uncertainty and the unknown. we can imagine new. because anything IS possible.
there is nothing to wait for and everything to wait for. it’s now.
just past the eyelash phase, in a tightly woven and protected calyx of green sepals (leaves), the gardenia bonsai flower waits. a little research reveals that it will take about two months of growing to reach the point of a cracked bud, hopefully flowering after. KC is reportedly “one of the most loved and challenging plants in the bonsai world” and i hope that i am up to the task. these beautiful and somewhat-difficult-to-grow plants offer “a unique opportunity for anyone who wishes to take the time to attend to their needs.” they are particular about sunlight, particular about direction of window exposure, particular about temperature, particular about humidity, particular about watering, particular about feeding with fertilizer, particular about shape and pruning, particular about training, particular about insects and mold, particular about repotting, particular about touch. they do well without any negative stressful environmental factors. it occurs to me that perhaps i am in the bonsai gardenia family.
KC sits together with some other lower-maintenance plants (read: succulents you can’t really mess up) and is clearly different than them. its leaves are rich in color, two whorls protecting promising buds, and its presence demands to be noticed. i talk to it every day, encouraging it, paying attention, hoping i am tending to it properly. i truly cherish this little bonsai; my beloved daughter and her boyfriend sent it to me for my birthday and it was a joyous and glittering moment to receive such a beautiful gift. i want to do my best helping this little gardenia along. and, in light of the last year, the last couple years, i can understand and relate to its eccentricities. mmm, can’t we all?
in the evening KC is bathed in the sparkle of the sunroom’s happy lights. proudly in the spot it has claimed on the table, it sits, basking. it is one of the sparkles of the year. there have been many, despite the difficulties, within the difficulties, despite the challenges, within the challenges, despite these times, within these times. if it were possible, i would set each around us in the sunroom, also bathed in happy lights, like laundry clothespinned to a clothesline, reminding us of the best times, the memorable times, the happiest snapshots, the most poignant moments, the yin-yang of relationships, reassuring love in trying-to-stay-centered, the times we balanced stress and the times we succumbed to it, successful and unsuccessful zen, and exhausted times of rest.
i would place the clothesline in the middle of the room so that you could not help but see each item, each old wooden clothespin, memory-laundry crowded onto a timeline, reminding us that the minute does not stay. that whether the minute is feverish or beauty-laden, it moves on.
we are all particular; we are all particularly needy. our lists and our baggage surpass that of the little bonsai gardenia. we are all up to the task. we do our best in each moment, whether it is dark or sparkling. and we remember we can try again. we can help each other; we are “most loved and challenging”. KC already knows that.
i am excited to see KC bloom. i wait patiently for this amazing flower to arrive. in the meantime, i light the white gardenia candle, talk to my plant and drink in the glow of the happy lights, trying. each day. living just past the eyelash phase.
“…adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.” (ralph waldo emerson)
no matter how hard we try, there is not one thing we can do to make the sun appear or the day warmer or the moon to rise or the snow to fall. we accept that time will come, time will pass, time will form and time will destroy. we give over to nature, anticipating that which we know, expecting the unexpected. we baby-step through this very time in the universe, our footprints barely visible on the timeline that is forever. we learn that no matter our stride, we are simply tiny beings. eventually, we learn, after giving over to patience, that that is enough.
the john denver sanctuary in aspen is a treasure trove. we have been there three times now. a garden of trails and large river boulders etched with lyrics and quotes, perennial daisies and aspen trees, it is a gentle sinking into peaceful. the city sounds of aspen fall away and the river and streams are lulling.
we wandered for hours, reading, sitting, pondering, the sun on our faces, the sound of quaking leaves slowing us down. i stood on a giant rock, like a stage under my feet, and bowed deeply to no one and to the brilliance of a man who knew how to tenderly shape melody and weave lyric into a fabric like a soft blanket.
we were immersed in poetry, in words, delicious to read aloud. we were quietly taking it all in, i in all my john-denver-glory, reliving the cassettes i wore out, rewinding, rewinding, listening again and again. this exquisite place, tempting all-day-hooky-playing, wielding a magic defined by thought, encouraging reflection, softly begging you to tumble in your own thoughts. this place slowing you down, reminding you that it is not stuff that defines you, it is not the stuff-of-you that will remain with others.
we wrestle with timing, with suspense, with expectation and disappointment. we measure against ladders of success and hold ourselves to higher higher higher standards of accomplishment.
nature quietly treks on, luminescent and glorious, patiently acknowledging every babystep moment of its impact, surrendering judgement and secretly, from the heart of the universe, signing its autograph on all of us, whispering to us to slow our pace.
this butterfly must have known. my heart was aching and the steps i was taking down the trail were heavy. and then it appeared.
the glimmer of its wings caught my eye, this iridescent blackish-blue, a red-spotted purple butterfly, inviting me to stop, watch. it flew around me and i twirled in place watching as it circled. it landed on the trail time and again, close enough for me to video it opening and closing its wings, a greeting of sorts. my breathing slowed down. beauty exists.
even in the midst of everything negative, even in the midst of worry, angst, missing, deconstruction, transformation, reinvention, heartwrenching choices, beauty exists. even in the midst of a pandemic and unrest and a country in chaos, beauty exists.
a little research: apparently, my little friend, the red-spotted purple butterfly, looks much like a pipevine swallowtail. the swallowtail butterfly deters predators by being mightily distasteful. the red-spotted purple butterfly has piggybacked onto the swallowtail’s predatory resistance by its similar markings, albeit without a tail. predators sometimes shy away from this butterfly based on the vulgar taste of its close-but-not-related twin. a good scheme. and yet this butterfly – beautifully exquisite, and, although somewhat protected, is still vulnerable.
this red-spotted purple butterfly visit was serendipitous. i needed to slow down. i needed to watch this creature as it invited the sunlight to warm its wings and aid in its nectar-picnic. i needed to be reminded of the butterfly in all its transitions – its metamorphosis through life, its graceful acceptance of its own life-arc, its changes, its patience, its endurance.
the next times i walk on this trail i will likely think of these two butterflies: both beautiful and both trying to sustain, to gather nectar, to complete their own circles of life. but one with such a vulgarity to it, such an acidity that predators stay away. very few are lost in the lesson that predators are quickly taught about its toxicity; animals learn to avoid them. i wonder about these swallowtails in community with other butterflies. and i think about the red-spotted purple, sans toxicity, trying courageously to protect itself in its habitat. it looks a little like a swallowtail, but it’s not. it doesn’t poison the animal who consumes it.
much like people. we look much the same. each of us, beautifully exquisite. and yet. some pipevine swallowtails, toxic and cunning. some red-spotted purples, pure and vulnerable.
anticipation. it’s the stuff of songs. the stuff of great love. the stuff of waiting for the worst to be over. the stuff of all moms everywhere.
we wait. we wait for them to be born. we wait for them to fall asleep. we wait for them outside the elementary school, gleefully skipping down the sidewalk toward us. and then we wait for them outside the middle school, hidden in the shadows down the road to avoid seventh grade embarrassment. we wait for them at the end of sport meets and music recitals, to congratulate or cajole. we wait for them after the day is done at school. we wait for them to return home in the family car. we lay awake, waiting for them a wee bit past curfew. we wait for them to return home from college. we wait for them to come home from afar. we wait for them to say, “yes, all is well,” and we wait for them to sound genuinely happy. we are not settled if they are not settled.
and now we wait – apart. all of us.
we all wonder what day it is and we wonder when this waiting will be over. we look to each other – on texts, on the phone, on social media, on videoconferencing – for words of wisdom, for encouragement, for reassurance, for a chance to say, “yes, i feel that way, too!” we need meet on common ground; we are alive and we are vested in staying well and staying safe. so we compare notes and share ideas and recipes and cartoons and articles and youtube songs and moments that make us weep.
and, like the day that your beloved child doesn’t tell you of their arrival ahead, surprises you and makes your heart swell with joy by walking in the front door, we wait for the hoped-for-but-unexpected. the flattened curve. the antibodies that prevail over the virus. the vaccine. the end of this profound worry, this herculean effort of medical workers, this exponentially terrifying pandemic. in our world, our country, our state, our community, our midst. in our circle.
we know one of these days this too shall pass. and in the meanwhile, we are honing our waiting skills. becoming adept at patience and being in the moment, not sure of what day it is exactly, but sure of the passing of days. time will bring us to a new day and one of these days, just like our grown child unexpectedly bursting through the front door, Next will burst in and exclaim, “surprise! i am here!” and our hearts will explode with gratitude.
on an unusual foray into facebook-scrolling, i came across a post by a friend that quoted tom petty. “the waiting is the hardest part,” it read. yes. the hardest part.
i remember d telling me that arnie’s mom had an addition to the adage that when one door closes, another one will surely open. she said, “it’s the waiting in the hall that’s hell.”
i feel like i am waiting. just like this sunrise, there is a division of light and dark – a line you can see. the hall. it’s not still dark. it’s not quite light. it’s the in-between zone of co-existence.
i suppose we can co-exist with waiting. we can co-exist with not-knowing. not-knowing about tomorrow. not-knowing where it goes. not-knowing what will happen. not-knowing if dark will linger or if light will overtake the dark. not-knowing how the story turns out.
questions on the keys. answers somewhere in-between the notes. quarter tones of ambiguity. i stand an arm’s length from creating. i wait. there is no sign, there is no clear indicator of any return-on-my-creative-investment. the hall doesn’t provide a reason to write. it is not a door. it is full of question. it is a gathering storm of hope. it is a waiting place.
the hall is just for me. jumbled and clear, both. a stew of hearing all the old notes floating – thousands of them – and seeking the new ones. lyric snatches appear on scraps of paper, waiting. melodic gestures fall from my hands as yearning to keep-on-keeping-on falls from my eyes.
i’m trying to be patient in it. to reconcile all the other mysteries and issues and complexities before i step closer. to do the ‘other work’ first. to be solvent and steady. for the time on the bench to be worthy.
why does a composer compose? why does a composer wait?
“You must wait patiently, knowing that you’re waiting, and knowing what you’re waiting for.“ (carlos castaneda)
way back when, almost three decades ago, saltines were my meal of choice. i was waiting for the birth of my first child and saltines were helping me wait – patiently. i woke each day, wondering, wondering. i knew that what i was waiting for would change my life forever, would give different meaning to being here on this good earth, would be a miracle of outstanding proportion. it did change my life. it did give different meaning to being here. it was, and still is, a miracle of outstanding proportion. my girl and my boy – both waited for, with all my heart.
most things in life require waiting. some things require more patience than we can muster. we balance impatience with the force of knowledge that we simply cannot change the time it will take. it takes what it takes. my sweet momma would say, “good things are worth waiting for.” sometimes you need to tie a weight to your toe…to ground you from floating away in a cloud of impatience, to keep you in balance, keep you in grace, to help you wait.