it’s some time after sundown – the time we have declared happy hour. we aren’t at a bar or a lounge or a restaurant or a pub. if we are lucky, we are outside somewhere – in the woods, on a trail, even in our backyard sitting by the pond in the last wee bit of waning sunlight.
these days – when cold gets through our fleece quarter-zips and vests – we are likely to be found at the happy-lit table in front of the window in our sunroom, dogga by our feet. we will put a christmas tree out there on the deck and it will add festivity to the string of lights out back.
in these last days we have encountered major stress. i mean, what couple hasn’t? we have returned to a place of unemployment. there is a big sense of loss, there is anger, there is tremendous angst. though no fault of ours – the company closed its doors entirely – there is also some embarrassment…to be back here. all of this – loss, anger, angst, embarrassment – adds up to shorter tempers than usual and some listing on the side of hopeless, incredulous. all of that – i wouldn’t be honest if i didn’t say it – adds up to some ugly moments. we are struggling to stay balanced, to stay even. this is our story. we know everyone has one.
so we instituted a new rule. a survival rule. during happy hour – regardless of beverage – spirits or not – we will list the gratitudes of the day. from the tiniest morsel to bigger wins, we are taking turns remembering the day and all it brought and we are choosing to speak to the kindnesses, the beauty, the accomplishments, the striving, even the bite of flax-4-life brownie. anything. nothing is measured. nothing is off the table. it all counts.
so as the sun goes down on the trail and we haul to the finish as quickly as possible, we express gratitude for the palette in the sky, for the leaves crunching under our feet, for being able to get outside, for each other. we choose to let go the hard-hard moments, knowing that being human is a pendulum. there will be surprises of good and surprises of not-good. and, like newton’s cradle pendulum with its perpetual-motion swinging kinetic balls, it will just keep going. back and forth. back and forth.
i worry about the ferns. fragile, willowy, tender shoots determinedly growing up from under the pile of leaves waiting, decaying, protecting the garden through fall’s end and winter’s scourge until, finally, spring. and then, there they are. despite it all. back in the northwest corner of the yard, tucked in along the fence line and next to the old garage.
they start slowly, peeking out, and then – voila – they are taller, taller, and unraveling their curly tops, like a modern dancer, curling up one vertebrae at a time, opening and embracing dappled sunlight. without concern for any part of history or future, they just grow. they are perennials, so keeping them healthy – a bit of simple nurture – ensures this fern garden in the back of our yard.
i’ve grown other plants in this yard through the years. ornamental grasses, day lilies, ferns, hosta, a couple peonies, these are the thrivers. purple iris, black-eyed susans, a planted lavender garden all fell to the wayside.
the neighbor’s snow-on-the-mountain, creeping under the fence, devoured the iris. wild mustard gave the black-eyed susans a run. the lavender was taken over by boxwood elder on a rampage.
but the delicate ferns…through dogdog’s puppyhood and now his adulthood…through the drought and maybe too much sun and maybe too much rain…through the late-late springs and the early winters…have survived.
in each of them i see the fortitude of the dancer, practicing unfurling vertebrae by vertebrae, forgetting all else – all negativity, all lack, all the torrential storms – in the tender, rich, vibrant forward-movement of now. full of beautiful.
“there is an entire forest full of the most incredible flowers, plants and trees inside you, and you are ignoring all of it to nurture a single tree that they planted inside your heart and abandoned.
the people who left you this way don’t deserve to become your favourite stories to tell. you are a massive forest full of beautiful and vibrant stories and every single one of them deserves you more than those that abandoned you to hell.”
in the in-between times. we are there. not at the beginning, not at the end. we hardly know what to call this interlude of time – so many differing points of view, so many differing approaches to life and the living of it. untitled.
this pandemic entered our lives a few months ago. we know little about when it will end. in this nebulous state, we try to cope. not-knowing, we wake each morning to a new day, unsure of which day it is, the fog of repeated sameness fading as the sun’s light opens our eyes.
surely in the middle of all of this there are the day lilies of the garden – the hardy survivors of too much rain, too little rain, too much attention, too little attention, too many weeds, too few nutrients, invasive plants trying to subvert this robust champion. the tall perseverants of the green, they rise up, ever joyful.
surely in the middle of all of this there are the moments that are the day lilies.
for me, there was a video-chat with my grown children, separated by distance and by a healthy respect for safety. these moments were the breath i so needed, a chance to see their faces, hear their voices. for me, there was the hike along the river trail, a cooler-than-normal breeze on my face, the sounds of birds and swaying cattails. for me, there was the social-distanced outdoor visit with treasured ones, laughter and stories punctuating our time together. for me, there was a quick phone call with a forever pal, a series of blurry oh-my-look-at-this-bear-off-my-mountain-top-porch-ten-feet-from-me-right-now texts with a dear friend. for me, there was talk of which thru-hike to take, which rv we would purchase, for, in any circumstance we find ourselves, dreaming is good.
in the middle of all of this, the interlude between before and after, it is incumbent upon us – for our peace of mind, in the fuzzy liminal space of enduring and persisting – to find the positive orange day lilies.
“i want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.” (oriah mountain dreamer)
in the middle. of the storm. of the fire. the stallion of human nature rears up; we push back; we flail hooves with words, with rebuttals, with defenses. and the circumstances that have created the storm or the arsonists who have built the fire prevail, deaf, obstinate, bullheadedly dogged.
after a bout, we raise our beaten heads up, panting. and we silently stand. we slow our breathing down, and begin to calmly wait, deliberately, intentionally trust that the storm will pass, the fire will go to ash.
for “every storm runs out of rain.” (maya angelou)
and we will come out on the other side. joan once told me that the only way to the other side is through. those wise words have echoed in my heart time and again. there is no circumventing, no avoidance. the fires, the storms will come. no matter. and although we will live in them longer than we wish, longer than we ought, they will not last forever.
“this too shall pass.” (my sweet momma)
the pain will subside, even a tiny bit. the angry words will run out. the crisis will start its labored, interminable return to zero axis. good will begin to tilt the seesaw. the sun will rise. next will come. and we will have survived a worst day, worst fire, worst storm. we will still be breathing, having passed through hyperventilating, catching our breath, slowing our pulse. we will be standing.
” i don’t care what’s in front of me or what’s behind me; i just wanna stop the wheel and stand still…” (phil vassar, ‘stand still’)
and we will be in this moment, this one we won’t ever get back. the fire, the storm attempt to rob us of these very seconds, to draw the breath from our ashy-rain-filled hearts. but we stand still. we know it will pass. we know that every storm runs out of rain.
i shudder when i hear the words “…and never the twain shall meet…”(rudyard kipling) in my head when i read this. but sue aikens’ words (on life below zero, she is a strong alaska-proof woman living in the arctic) were not a viewpoint on the polarization of our country. they were merely the way she was describing the ropes she sets outside her buildings so that in the middle of fierce snowstorms she will be able to find her way, despite not being able to see in the swirling snow.
in life – intellectual, emotional, political life – however, there is a middle ground. but it has become difficult in our current climate to sort to the middle, to not stand firmly on one side or the other of the great divide, a place that grows larger by the day, with an ever-brewing moat of hatred and vitriol, terrifyingly divisive to families, relationships, communities. there is danger on the far sides, danger in stubbornly and feverishly clinging to the left or the right, without considering ramifications, without any compassion, with an unbending dedication to absolutism, with no room or moment for thoughtful consideration, with breakneck righteous reactivity.
in sue aikens’ world, it will save her life to unconditionally sort left or sort right. in ours, it may destroy us.
i believe in inherent goodness. the inherent goodness of each and every person. born in beauty, walking in beauty. i blame my sweet momma. she looked this way at every single person who crossed her path.
but then, there’s the rest. predisposed psychological genetics. environment. social prejudices. bigotry. elitism. lack of empathy. the inability to walk in another’s shoes. the lack of wanting to try to walk in another’s shoes. some kind of warped misinformed yet embraced caste system. jealousy. bitterness. the web of ‘ugly’ has many faces. and people twist. and that inherent goodness seems to go underground. we wonder if there is, indeed, any goodness left. we are confronted with this question over and over again it seems, especially these days.
we had a discussion about goodness recently. it became heated. the dog left the room and retreated to the bathroom. we were intense. too intense. arguing for the same point, we came from two different directions, two different backgrounds. but we were heading, actually, in the same direction.
each of us carries our gift of inherent goodness. we choose each and every day whether we access it or not. my momma’s adherence to the adage, “i shall pass through this world but once. any good, therefore, that i can do or any kindness that i can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. let me not defer or neglect it for i shall not pass this way again.” often rings in my ears. we all make decisions each day; some steeped in good, some not so much.
as we approached the holidays and the end of the year, we were deeply diving into cleaning out. seems right at the end of the year. old boxes of random items that had accumulated in the years lived in this home, vestiges of life before, of life growing up, of goodnesses shown and received. we had so much fun as we cleaned; i’d show d pictures or mementos from places or people or the children, every one of them an opportunity for a story. some carried aha moments, some elicited sighs of where-does-the-time-go, some made me laugh or teary, some stopped me in my tracks.
i came across things from way-earlier-life, the time i had spent growing up on long island. my seagull collection, plastic seagulls suspended on wires attached to rocks or shells or pieces of cork, a 70s thing for sure. my horse collection, which was, in my mind, massive, but when i unpacked it was more like 15 horse statues and ribbons from showing in horse shows, drawings i had painstakingly drawn, books i pored over and over and studied at a much younger age. a doll collection with hand sewn or hand crocheted outfits made lovingly by my grandmother ‘mama dear’s’ hands. books and notebooks and old calendars. trinkets and rocks and feathers. cards and letters i saved for decades. artwork by the girl and the boy. little notes they wrote to me. an old electric typewriter and a case of 45rpm records we played the night we found them.
and then there are the reminders from a time i don’t talk about so much. a time when i became a #MeToo. it takes my breath away to think of that 19 year old girl. me – an idealistic, innocent, youngest-by-far child who looked at the world through poetic eyes and trusting-colored glasses. my heart breaks now for this young woman who found her way through a terrifying -and life-changing- time pretty much alone, seeking little help for an act that drove to her core and was more than difficult to voice in a late 1970s judicial system. because, you know, not everyone is good. not everyone holds their inherent goodness ahead of their selfish, controlling, violent behaviors. back then, counseling, and even prosecuting, was rare. i didn’t experience either one. the help of counseling nor the satisfaction of prosecuting this person who took away my belief and trust in goodness. for a time, fear coursed through me. my view of others became jaded and distrusting. i sought refuge in varying ways, but never really explained why to myself or others. i didn’t understand what caused this man to behave as he had, nor did i understand that it wasn’t mine to understand. what i do know, is that i grew.
and now, as our world opens their listening hearts to women and girls everywhere, i am grateful. grateful for their collective voices and the deserved help extended to them. grateful that even in giving individual voice, they are moving through the processing of it, the reason for being a #MeToo becoming smaller than #MeToo survival.
i was once told wise words from a friend when i was grieving my momma’s death. joan said, “the only way to get to the other side is through it.”
as i sort through all the pieces of life i have carried in boxes, in bins, in photographs, in my heart and soul, through all these years, i realize again that these words are so true. in so many situations, so many life arenas. the only way to get to the other side is through it. and then, you can find inherent goodness again.