The most beautiful things

Standard

It is still quite chilly outside, but the ice-wrapped tree limbs keep catching my attention and I almost want to go find a hill to sled down. Almost…

Instead, let me share a collaborative poem with you. The lines were written by a group of seniors I meet with every other week, who live in Hebron, CT at an independent/assisted/memory senior care facility. I prompted, they wrote and then I collected their work and put it together in a what would be considered a ‘found’ poem, meaning none of the lines are mine. All theirs.

We talked for awhile about what we consider beautiful – to see, to smell, to taste, etc. Then I asked them to free write. This is their poem.

Beauty

I find beauty
in an Arcadia sunrise
and time with my family
kayaking, laughing
smelling beach roses in Maine.
The hills and lakes of Alaska
purple mountains in the distance
water birds by the water’s edge
small country towns
and the sound of church bells.
The soft of a beaver pelt in Jackson Hole
my husband in a cowboy hat
the birth of my first child
and the first snowfall of the season.
Sunday dinners with family
and the smell of turkey, wood-stove smoke
and chocolate chip cookies
just out of the oven.
Handwritten notes sent in the mail.

The sky is a painting –
red reflects the thin grey
of wispy clouds
the horizon is gold
transitory in time
soon to be gone
but remains in the mind.

The colors will fade from view
but the knowledge that morning may be a repeat
welcomes us to a new day.

Collaborative poem by Colebrook Writers
1/2019

 

Advertisements

Oh, Christmas Tree

Standard

It was maybe December 1971, my two oldest brothers both away in the war. Our house was often quiet back then, except during the nightly newscast with Walter Cronkite. We’d all gather by the TV to listen and watch and worry. My parents’ hearts and thoughts were far, far away.

This particular year, with both sons fighting and neither allowed to come home on leave, they were too depleted to even think about setting up the Christmas tree. So, Joey and I (16 and 12 years old) convinced ourselves that it would bring ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ to the house if we surprised everyone (especially our 4-year-old brother, Chris, who still believed in Santa) and set the tree up ourselves.

We quietly brought boxes of used tinsel and ornaments, along with last year’s angel hair, upstairs to the living room. And since we had no money of our own to buy a real tree, we hauled up the old silver tree and turning color wheel.

I have no idea what our parents were doing, but we weren’t interrupted until the tree stood crooked in its stand and the color wheel created abstract patterns on the wall behind it – red, green, yellow, blue. And though we felt the itch of angel’s hair on our arms and legs, we were proud of ourselves.

Joey said, “It’s not a real Christmas tree until it has presents underneath.” So, we wrapped an empty shoe box and placed it under the tree, ‘To Chris, Love Rudolph’.

We told our parents to close their eyes and “Surprise!” Dad was speechless (quite a feat) and Mom burst into tears. I only saw my mother cry one other time, many years later, when we told her Joey had died.

And this time, I’m not sure if she cried because she was touched by what we’d done or for some other reason, having to do with a place far from that living room lit only by our faces and the color wheel…turning.

Daughters of Diminished Capacity Weekend

Standard

I’m recently back from a getaway Cape weekend with the Daughters of Diminished Capacity, long-time friends who (hopefully) will grow old together. Think ‘elder commune’. We have known each other for much of our lives – as far back as 3rd grade, as recently as yesterday and yesterday.

This was not our first weekend away together, not our first time standing arm in arm on a sandy beach – feeling blessed, feeling grateful. And like the timeless tides that draw us, there is an ebb and flow to our relationship – a knowing we will be there.

In the past, a Daughter’s weekend might include bonfires on the beach, sun burns and skinny dipping, scarf dancing and piggy backs up the dunes because … well, because. We’ve fit 6 in a bubbly hot tub meant for 2 and watched Mars lay a red path upon the ocean, seemingly leading us beyond the stars.

This past weekend was a bit different. We came together to mark the final cancer treatment for one, the upcoming surgery for another, the healing of significant others, as well as the passing of one of our own.  We marked the ending of a long-term marriage and commiserated about the intricacies of eldercare, then reveled in the love and renewal of grandchildren. As one said, “I’m so glad I came this weekend. I feel part of something larger again.”

We cooked for each other, made jigsaw puzzles, cooked some more, took naps, colored the pages in a book called “Fuck you, you fuckety fuck fuck” (my favorite pages being AssHat and TwinkleTits), whispered well into the night hours, researched properties for our future commune, then went on a road trip to find dark chocolate, consignment shops and silver bangles. And yes, drank lots of wine.

And on our last night, we drove to the beach to launch wish lanterns into the setting sun – Good-bye cancer, Good-bye tumor, Good-bye pain and tears and bullshit…

We may not be quite the wrinkle-free crazies we used to be, but in each other’s hearts, those girls will always exist. How many Daughters does it take to light a wish lantern? All of them! As it should be…xo

Today, I choose joy…

Standard

A couple weeks ago, I taught a week-long mosaic art class on a lovely beach in southern Maine. Each day, I walked a couple miles along the ocean’s edge which was fairly quiet and free of vacationing crowds.

One particular morning, tailor-made for summer sunrises and giving thanks, I saw a young couple and their dog up ahead. Even from a distance, it was obvious the dog wanted to be rid of its leash, pulling it to its length, over and over – running first into the water, then becoming a rolling riot of sand and sea shell, then back into the water – twisting the leash around its human, who (from a distance) appeared to be dancing a jig, attempting not to trip over the rope and wind up head-long into the sand beside the dog. I’ve done this so many times with my own dog, I know the steps.

Then, as we drew a bit closer, the dog slipped out of its collar and I’ve never seen such utter joy! The dog’s body seemed to stretch beyond possibility as it bounded immediately into the water, front paws scampering toward that brilliant orange horizon. The owners continued walking, not too concerned as the dog then body surfed back to shore and yes, rolled wildly in the sand.

What a gift! To know this unreserved delight, this abandon of anything besides water and earth and water again – no restraint – no taut leash tugging back to reality.

Then the dog bounded toward me. When I was young, like most kids, I loved the over-the-top-ness of cartoon mayhem. The excessively dramatic show of emotion. No look of joy on Magilla Gorilla or Bugs Bunny would come close to the look on that dog’s face as he raced my way, around me and back again. It appeared as if the dog’s mouth was stretched beyond the limits of its face! If I’d had my camera and the skill to take that particular picture, I would look at it each time I needed a kick in the ass!

As the dog charged back to its humans, a woman came huffing up quickly from behind, a water bottle clipped to her hip, ear buds snug, arms swinging widely and said, “Dogs should be on a leash!” Her teeth biting through each word.

As I watched her rack up her required steps for the day, I smiled to see the dog back out in the water. This time though, he was floating on his back – a mimosa in one hand, twirling a tiny umbrella in the other.

smoke in water

Play Ball

Standard

Play Ball

We should have been tagging second base, but instead Andy was crying so hard I had to wheel him out of the ball game and take a break behind first.  This was not the Andy I had come to know as the team’s star batter and my friend.

In between sniffles and hiccups, he told me he’d been to the doctor’s that day and might have to have surgery on one of his legs.  He was sad and frightened and needed a hug.

A twelve-year-old with Cerebral Palsy, Andy possessed an amazing capacity to see the best in everyone he knew and help others recognize how much we all have to offer.  The other young players, each with their own disabilities, had come to rely on him to boost their spirits when down.  This was not a typical day at Buddy Baseball*!

And when we finally looked up from our hug, there sat Dougie.  He was a beautiful child with a radiant smile and remarkable sensitivity to the pain of others.  He was born without arms or legs and through determination and some magic of technology, he was able to maneuver a wheelchair using a lever in the middle of his seat.  He could also hit a home-run and caught high pops in a baseball cap held by his teeth!

Today he looked at Andy and asked what was wrong.  Andy hiccuped again and finally stuttered, “The doctor says he may have to operate on my leg.”  And with his composure completely gone, he went back to sobbing.

Dougie paused, then simply said, “I wish I had a leg.”

Andy and I looked at each other.  Then, still sniffling, Andy tilted his head to one side, took a deep breath and turned to Dougie.  “You’re right,” he said.  He sniffed one final time and smiled, “Come on, let’s go get a piece of pizza while it’s hot.”

I took a deep breath myself, as each young boy thinking only of food, headed toward the pizza truck.

About a year later, when I finished telling my elderly mother this story, she looked at me and shook her head.  I said, “What, Mom?  You don’t like the ending?”

“No,” she said.  “It’s not that.  I’m just thinking what everyone else you tell this story must think.”

“What’s that?” I asked, completely baffled.

“How’s that boy going to eat a piece of pizza?”

* Challenger Baseball (or Buddy Baseball as we all called it) was a program sponsored by the town I lived in years ago, for children with physical disabilities.  Each player needed a ‘buddy’ to assist them.

Once the storms have passed

Standard

This morning, after what seemed to be an endless winter, I follow the dog out to the back deck. Coffee in hand, I bend to pick up twigs and leaves tossed there from yesterday’s stormy weather, gently lift the toppled tomato plant, given to me by my daughter for Mother’s Day, search for the trio of tiny green tomatoes, feel thankful they are still secure.

The dog sits sentry at the top of the stairs while I resist beginning the day. Instead, I’m invited to sit in a damp deck chair. Like I sometimes do in small cafes, I still my thoughts and allow myself to hear the various conversations happening around me. The birds are lively this morning!

Meditation has taught me to quiet my mind or at least let my thoughts ride the waves of consciousness in … and then out again. To not hold too close, to not grip with fear or question. This is a difficult concept and as hard as I try (maybe that’s the problem), nattering worry is a well-known companion.

Last night, I thought about my children (who all have children of their own) being out in the storm. My oldest granddaughter will have her license soon. Another worry in bad weather. I try to let it go, remember to breathe.

The birds respond to each other’s call and it makes me think how my mother ended almost every conversation with, “Be careful!” And I’d say, “Don’t worry.” And she’d say, “Don’t tell me not to worry.” This gene passed down from her mother to her and then, to me. And now at 60, my own children worry about how I am doing. And what do I say??

The three pots of lavender I have yet to plant look like they needed last night’s rain. They have grown inches since yesterday and the leaves on the trees around me, have turned a darker green. I haven’t looked out front yet, but imagine the columbine in bloom, all purples and pinks. Later, when the dog and I go look, yellows and grays and reds will descend on the feeder that hangs from the railing. The yellows will share the various perches, the reds will boast and preen, the woodpecker will toss them all aside and the squirrels (who cannot read the bold sticker that states – SQUIRREL-PROOF) will show off their acrobatic skills for a mouthful of black-oiled sunflower seeds to enjoy on their morning travels.

The sky is still gray, but blue cannot be far behind. The birds tell me this. And I say, “Thank you!” And they say, “You’re welcome.”

Week before Easter

Standard

For the past month, I’ve been visiting an elementary school to write poetry with 5th graders. Last week on my way there, I got stuck behind a long line of cars trailing a school bus. Every other house or so, the bus would pull up, flutter its flashing red wings, then settle in as if roosting on eggs while someone hugs their child goodbye.

Most days when this happens, I settle in myself, but I was running late and couldn’t help but think back to the old’n days when you had to live at least a mile away from school to get a bus ride. And rather than stopping every few minutes, buses picked up gaggles of kids at assigned street corners. I know, enough of that…

Nearing the school on this day, I see a young boy walking. Or should I say, I see a boy seemingly being pushed forward from the weight of his backpack, which is almost as big as he is. His back is curved like an old man, his eyes on the road in front of his feet.

He is dressed completely in black, including the backpack. No cartoon characters or superheroes, no welcoming rainbows. The only burst of color comes from his screaming red high-tops which are savagely kicking a rock down the middle of the road. I slow way down and steer around him. If not for the sneakers, he would blend into this dreary morning.

As I pass, he doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t look up, doesn’t move out of the way, just continues kicking. I try to catch his eye, to give him a smile, some acknowledgment that I see him. Instead of looking at me, he lifts his gaze and punches toward a cloudy sky, then stops … right there in the middle of the road, then punches again and again, mouth forming words I cannot hear. It is the week before Easter and though God is probably busy, I hope he’s listening.

Much later, while waiting for a class to come back from recess, I think I see him on the playground. Those red sneakers and I can’t get him out of my head. I wish to hug him, tell him not all days are as cloudy as this one. Let him know that at this moment, I’m conjuring him whole on the page. It isn’t much, but it’s heartfelt and as holy as I get.

easter 1963 deb-john-e

Easter, maybe 1962
Deb, John, Me