in the middle of the night – as i lie awake – i can hear the trains. not just the haunting whistles of freight chugging by or a late passenger railcar, but a train or two in the yard, idling. the sound hits me at just the wrong frequency – i am hyper aware of its rise and fall, the pulsing of it. once i hear it, i cannot un-hear it. it stays present and i stay awake.
nevertheless, the tracks hold sweet mystery and, each time i see a train, i wonder its destination, i wonder its journey, i wonder its freight or its passengers. i had not ever stood in the middle of a rural track, bent down – almost kneeling, photographing, until recent years. the track – a classic portrayal of perspective, narrowing further away.
i stood in the middle and looked both ways. south and then north. the south curved into the woods, the north was a straightaway. i turned back south.
in the right-now there seems no straight path, no tight focus, no horizon point that is clear. the tracks curve into the woods, beyond my sight, beyond my imagining. i meander. it makes me wonder.
we seek next and idle in our thoughts in the night, not-knowing. it’s liminal space, a diesel engine that needs to be kept warm for the next day, a time to be present on the tracks, bent down, looking for classic perspective. we are attendants.
i hear the haunting whistle in the wee hours and consider this journey.
“it was so romantic. i will never forget,” she texted.
reminders are good. we all get lost in the shuffle of life and all its challenges that we sometimes forget the tiny details that add up to the big stuff.
each day – this advent – we open one tiny door of twenty-four on the big box that was delivered to us from dear friends. we take out a small glass bottle and pour two glasses of wine. we clink and, one by one – back and forth – we speak aloud gratitudes for the day. but sometimes…sometimes it is still hard to remember.
this little snowman was wrapped and hanging on our front door, “you had me at merlot,” its message.
in this time of uncertainty, it was perfect timing.
our roadtrip together started with almost six months of daily emails…back and forth…stories and questions and yearnings and news of our every day taking place across the country from each other. it progressed to photographs of coffee mugs texted back and forth and talk of merlot and a raising of the glass to the other. all before we met in person. a foundation, solid, like the snowball base of a snowman. we read parts of this story – our roadtrip – at our wedding years ago, wanting to share our story with all the beloveds gathered there with us.
and she remembered.
so the snowman will sit on the windowsill by the kitchen sink between the small silver tree and a cairn of long island and colorado rocks. the snowman…a nudge for us also to not-forget, to not get lost in the worry, but, instead, to immerse in the magic of our own story and the angels who remind us.
“about love…in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass…” (desiderata)
there is always time. nothing we do is more important than the time we spend together. all of us.
my sweet poppo always said, “you can’t take it with you!” and was referring to money. but it generalizes to pretty much everything. in the end, you can’t take your possessions, your achievements, your investments, even your failures, with you. they will stay behind and it’s love that will carry you on, love that you will carry with you.
so even in the middle of important checklists of chores, work tasks, more achievements and more failures, more, more, more anything – cars, clothes, houses, boats, snowblowers and appliances, shoes, hairdos, all the fancypants trappings of “made-it” – there is time. to walk and talk and be silent and swish your feet through crunchy fallen autumn leaves.
cause you can’t take the other stuff with you.
my dad’s last words to me were, “i love you, kook.” my last words to him were, “i love you, my poppo.”
he’s watching us swish our feet through the leaves now. and smiling.
we almost did it. almost. almost ordered thai food for pick-up.
but we didn’t.
we’d been hiking and were cold and tired. and we didn’t reeeeally want to make dinner.
but we did.
we got around to it.
we pulled our adirondack chairs into the last vestiges of sun in the yard, sipped wine, had a happy snack. when the sun disappeared, we brought our glasses inside and painted rocks – from the sand near the beachhouse – at the kitchen table, for we had hidden all the ones we previously painted. time stretched out in front of us, slow, a glorious saturday night.
instead of pad thai, we made tacos with homemade seasoning, had one of the last two avocados from my sister, watched a hallmark – yes, hallmark – movie under a big sherpa blanket, had two squares of chocolate.
hiking – tough elevation climbs – on this last trip to north carolina reminded me to go slow. it was the lesson i brought home from vacation. set a slower pace, don’t set too high a bar, mosey a bit, let living happen.
so i planted the painted rock on our sunroom table on top of sandstone from those smoky mountain trails. the other side of the rock reads, “no. slower.” you know…take a backroad, linger in the setting sun, sink under a blanket, climb a little slower.
my snapchat alerted me to a flashback. two years ago. on a balcony in aspen. the caption: “i don’t want to leave.” i remember slowly packing up, slowly loading the truck, slowly driving away. it was hard to go – as always – but slower made it a little easier.
i leave summer slowly and i step into autumn – my favorite – slowly. i wasn’t really ready for flannel. i pulled off the summer sheets for the last time in the season, thinking about how it feels on a hot night to place your face on a cool spot of the pillow. flannel isn’t like that.
but at the end of the night, after hiking and tacos and wine, chocolate and blanketed-movie-watching, in a house chilled by blustery northwest winds, the flannel was warm and i found myself snugged in soft stripes, slowly drifting off.
there is before and there is after. it is with anticipation, maybe thrilled butterflies, maybe jitters, maybe weak knees, maybe even dread we live in before. it is sometimes with relief, sometimes with regret, sometimes with suffering, sometimes with satisfaction, sometimes with contentment we live in after. there is a journey between them – before and after.
there was nothing i could really say to prepare david for the loss of his father. and having lost both my sweet momma and poppo, i had a lot of words to describe it. but there is really nothing you can do when someone is living in before, except be there.
and now that it is after, there is still nothing i can really say to prepare david for the unexpected moments of sadness, grief raining down in a misty fog or pummeling hailstorm, or the unexpected moments of recognition, a glimpse of someone from the other side. even after these years of being-without and all the words in my heart, i can only just simply be there.
the neon sign was hanging in the airbnb we took back along the way. we needed the space, not a hotel, to cook our own meals and simply be quiet. and i cannot think of a more timely message.
we are living in après. we are living in avant. both are true. both are real.
they are there too.
we are reminded, once again, for the millionth time – but not the last, to be present in right-now.
“easy living” it advertises on the cover of the wayfair summer catalog. inside, you can purchase everything you need for easy living. for a price, you can create easy living spaces on your deck, your front porch, in your kitchen, in your bath, by your pool, in your backyard. most items are really beautiful, beckoning you to believe in the power they have to help you live easy. this summer, we actually added a few small things to our own deck, though our deck is a mostly-target-added-to-repurposed-stuff deck. i have to say, a few cushions and outdoor pillows make an inviting difference.
we have changed our schedule a bit these days. we used to stay up really late and watch late night news and comedy talk shows, but through the pandemic and the political-rah-rah times it has tended to get us riled up. so instead, after the sun has fallen from the sky and mosquitoes having joined us on the deck, we watch minimal tv and go to bed early to read aloud or watch trails on a laptop. we wake up early, with rising sun and birdcalls streaming in through the wide-open windows in our bedroom.
this morning, just as the sun rose, i plugged in the coffee, fed dogdog, opened the windows in the sunroom and went outside. i greeted the tiniest farm on our potting stand, tested the soil for dampness, looked for ripe cherry tomatoes, pinched back the sweet basil. i checked on the lavender. i added bird seed to the feeder. i looked for magic in the pond and pulled a couple weeds. i watched dogga sniff around his yard and drank in the salmon sky lightening in the east. i came back inside and wandered from plant to plant, saying good morning to succulents and KC and snakeinthegrass. the coffee pot beeping drew me out of where i was standing by the window, looking out, and i pulled out cabin coffee company mugs. every day is different and every mug brings with it a different set of visceral memories. it was a breckenridge mug kind of day.
it was quiet; all was still. i thought: this. this is easy living. a little bit of ritual, a little peace at the beginning of the day, a little peace at the end of the day – these are ingredients you cannot purchase from a catalog. these simple gestures we make to being present-here-now are contagious. they spread the intention of simplicity to the rest of our day. and though we don’t always stay there, in peace, we know we can find our way back there.
because at the beginning of the next day we can try again. we can find the wonderful in this wonderful world.
“…you’re an angel in my life, and i’m still ridin’ on the back of your bike.”
“…you’re my big brother till the end of all time. angel you are.”
when i was little, my brother wayne used to ride me around on his bike…pretty much anywhere and everywhere. and so my adoration of him started early. he was nine years older than me; he had wisdom and know-how i didn’t…i was years behind him. even when i was small, i cherished all the moments he spent with me. and i didn’t know.
i didn’t know that time would be cut short and that this person who i relied on for advice and wisdom and fixing-stuff-know-how and just general big-brother stuff wouldn’t be around forever.
i remember being in the hospital with him during one of his chemo sessions. i asked him if i had been an annoyance when i was young, always wanting to go with him, always wanting his attention. there was this moment i will always remember – forever. he said, “no! you were my little sister and i was proud of you. i always wanted you with me.”
time stood still when he said that. i knew it was important to memorize that moment. i am still holding on to it.
“mom’s getting all existential on us,” The Girl declared as we drove through moab, utah to arches national park, my first time. i could hardly help myself. she had told me ahead of time that, “it looks like mars” and she was right. it is vast. and full of shape and shapeless. it was hard to wrap my head around the BIGness of it all. i felt utterly tiny, small as an atom, infinitely lucky to even BE on this earth, somehow present in the midst of all of THIS.
i couldn’t help reflect on how this had all happened, both scientifically and from, yes, an existential place. i couldn’t help what was probably a mouth-wide-open expression on my face the entire time. it is so immense you can feel it in your heartbeat. i couldn’t help the tears that flowed easily, which The Girl had predicted. i couldn’t help the wonder.
in those moments that day of gazing at what had been created on this glorious earth, i realized, once again, that nothing really mattered except that i was there, that intense beauty surrounded us, that love prevailed. i had seen yet another spectacular vista, had breathed it in, had climbed with my daughter and watched my husband take in this place, for each of us both magical and spiritual. and all would be well.
i used to spend a lot of time driving across the country to wholesale shows where i would represent my cds and sell to stores everywhere that stocked music. the world has changed since then and not only are there less boutique-type shops with original work (inexpensive copies have taken over), but there are few shops that actually sell physical cds. in this world of downloading (read: streaming, but don’t get me started on THAT subject) it is hard for a proprietor to invest in anything they aren’t sure will fly out the door.
when i drove east with a vanload of boxes and merchandise, i would pass a lake called meander lake. i looked forward to these signs and the view of this lovely lake through the trees. the word “meander” conjured up images of every time i had taken the time to do just that: meander. on a back road, on a trail in the mountains, in the woods in a state park, along the lake, through a magazine or book, or in my mind’s eye. i am a meanderer. i believe i come by it naturally; my sweet momma loved meandering…any day she would suggest a car drive or a bike hike to some distant spot, meandering on the way. she wasn’t afraid of getting lost; for her, meandering WAS the meaning in the time spent.
sitting at yamaha artist services in nyc i had a list of titles i had collected, words that had spoken to me or touched my heart. “meander” was on that list. with “record” on, i simply ‘played’ the word “meander.” the amazing “fine” ken orchestrated this piece back in chicago, bringing in musicians to add tracks.
sitting next to me right now, david just listened to it. the richness of that orchestration wrapped around me and i was back on I-76, jotting down on a scrap of paper the word “meander.”
i walked into the bathroom this morning and it greeted me. the scent of my sweet momma’s favorite perfume – estee lauder’s pleasures. it took me by surprise, making me stop suddenly. i stood still. i looked around, thinking maybe there was some other reason for this beautiful wafting ghost of perfume lingering in the air. i could see no other reason, no cause of any scent into which i might have meandered. so i stood there.
a few long seconds went by until i could speak and i stepped out of the bathroom to tell him that my momma’s perfume was in the air. he smiled and i could see he was moved. i went back into the bathroom slowly, wondering if i had imagined it. but as i entered the space again, it was there. most definitely – pleasures. the tears in my eyes weren’t tears of sadness. i spoke to her, telling her how much i missed her, how glad i was she had ‘stopped by’. i have been hoping that somehow she would show up, somehow she would make herself known to me, somehow she would let me know she was around.
so now i wonder – if this was her first wave from heaven. i imagine she’s been busy, her energy running high as she catches up with everyone she loves who got there before her. i imagine that she’s been talking up a storm, so to speak, and embracing all the opportunities she has to be with those she loves. so i am grateful for this moment today. this moment that – in an instant – made me feel like my momma is right here, just on the other side.
i talked to my sister during her lunch. i was sitting on the edge of the deck in unseasonable 65 degree sun and she was in her jeep at a favorite lunch spot. i told her about momma’s perfume. she said she had goosebumps. i told her, too, that the other day i found myself saying the words “betwixt and between”. now, who says that these days? we laughed when i said i was channeling mom. my sister said she had said something mom-esque a few days ago and i asked her if it was the word “irked”. again, we both laughed and we could both hear our sweet momma….
last night i woke in the middle of the night. i have no idea why or what woke me, but there was this one thought i was aware of as i made my way into awake-ness. the words – something like this – the more you have gratitude for every little thing, the more the universe gives you to have gratitude for. i woke him up. to talk about it. i’m not sure where the words came from but they were present in the air around me and my pillow. gratitude for every little thing – not just the good things. but also the challenging things. the things that make us weep. the feeling of being tired. the feeling of being exhilarated. with gratitude, the glass never has to be half-empty. it’s always half-full, waiting for the moment it spills over. our universe isn’t full of bubbles and rainbows, but they are there if you look.
my sweet momma’s perfume brought me a moment with my sweet momma. i look for the next time with great anticipation, wondering what this amazing woman will do to let me know she’s there. in the meanwhile, i am grateful for estee lauder’s pleasures in the air. a little thing? i don’t think so.
after working on projects, we played frisbee in the street. we never took a shower but wore sweats and sneakers. (we did brush our teeth.) we ate fresh strawberries and drank strong coffee.