Friday, January 6, 2017

Ready or Not, Here We Go



Today, as I write, December 29, 2016, at 2:20 pm PST, my husband Rick will be gone exactly three years.
Each anniversary is different. The first year I was steeped in my grief. The second year surprised me by unexpectedly not being so sad. This year I am called to solemn contemplation of Rick’s death and the life I am building without him.
He is physically gone, but lives on in my heart and memory, and in the hearts and memories of the many people who knew and loved him. He was a musician, a cartoonist, a true friend. He was funny, and ribald, and angry, and wise, and loving.
He worked on island water systems for almost forty years. By the end of his life he was digging up pipes he’d put in during the seventies when he worked for Mr. Mukai. He was completely dedicated to bringing people safe drinking water.
When you marry someone, you vow to stay with them until “death do you part.” How lightly we say those vows on happy wedding days. We were married a little over thirty-four years and I ended up thinking that happily ever after sure didn’t last as long as I thought it would. So many of us spent our youthful energy and purpose looking for true love, as if that was life’s main goal. Turns out it isn’t.
True love is a great thing, a wonderful thing, an extremely challenging thing. It is a great blessing to live with your one true friend.
Living with another human being will stretch you in ways you could never imagine in your youthful flailing toward your destiny. No one else (except your children) could make you feel so happy, or so angry. Sometimes you feel the intense gratitude of having met your match. Sometimes (rarely, thank the Lord) you wish you’d never met them, or their family, or their family’s dog. That’s all part of marriage, or lifetime partnership or friendship, or whatever label you use. Living with humans is hard.
So I spent my twenties looking for my partner, and now he’s gone. So now what? For the first year or more I was so lost in grief I couldn’t even ask that question.
But now, three years down the road, the answer for me seems to be playing and singing music, and writing. These are the things to which I have always returned, the steady threads and colors of the fabric of my life.
I’m not looking for a new partner. After spending so much of my adult life looking for love and then living out the results of finding it, I am on my own. I have no wish to be a caregiver again, or to saddle some nice person with being my caregiver. My children are grown up and living their busy adult lives. My grandson is on his way to adulthood. I have time to reflect on who I am alone. I am not an extension of or corollary to someone else.
The kids came home for Christmas, and that was lovely. We had a quiet weekend hanging out together. Before they came I meant to clean the house a bit, but I got that cold that was going around, and that flattened me.
An old friend from college days once said to me, “House cleaning has never been your long suit.” Hah. That’s an understatement.
So I looked at the mess and thought, at my age, am I going to change and suddenly become tidy? I don’t think so. I think this is it. I’ve felt such shame about my messy house, but you know what? It’s my mess, and I’m at home in it. It will be hard acquiring the habit of accepting who I am, who I have always been, and how I have always behaved, but I don’t know how much time I have left, and I don’t want to spend that time busting myself for something I am not even interested in taking the time or energy to change.
And if you want to live with me, and you don’t like the mess, you’d better bring the money to pay for a cleaning service when you come. If you are a tidy soul, God bless you. I envy you and wish I was more like you, but I’m not.
My calling in life now is to love the people I love, and sing songs, and write songs and essays. That seems to be who I am without Rick. I’m okay at those things, and I’m okay with spending the rest of my life trying to get better at those things.
So happy new year, friends, and courage as we go into the uncertain future. We’re going together, ready or not.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought






Dear hearts and gentle people, it is coming on Christmas (if you are like me, you will now have a Joni Mitchell song running through your head), and I have been clobbered by a virus. I’m spending lots of time asleep, which seems to be the best thing.
So I was trying to think of what to write this week, and realized that writing is not easy when you’re not awake most of the time and feeling lousy when you are awake.
I was thinking it would be nice to publish one of my husband Rick’s cartoons, so I include here a Christmas cartoon he did in 1978 as an ad for Al & Tony’s Pizza. Merry Pizza to you.
Then this evening I remembered a Christmas greeting I received many years ago. It was a post card that was sent from Jack Hamilton’s wife. Jack Hamilton was my high school English teacher, and a family friend despite his liberal politics, which my parents abhorred.
Jack had died just before Christmas that year, and the postcard had been meant to be his Christmas card to his friends and family. His wife decided to send it to everyone who sent her a sympathy card. It had Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 printed on one side.
I confess that the first time I read it I was flummoxed. The English of Shakespeare’s time was not transparent to me. I had to read the sonnet over and over, and as I did the profound meaning and love and human vulnerability in it came clear and sharp to me. The sonnet, and all it touched within me, has stayed with me all these years. As I grow older, its meaning deepens.
So before I head back to bed, I send you greetings, and wish for you the peace of love described in the last two lines of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

Joyful Resistance





This morning the cat gingerly, tenderly, on little cat feet, balanced on top of my radio and inserted his head into the dog biscuit bag, and came out with a dog biscuit in his mouth. He carefully backed off the radio and over to the hutch where I feed him, broke the biscuit up with his teeth, and ate it.
The dog watched this action intently. You could almost hear her say, “Noooooooo!” when the cat’s head came out of the bag and there was a biscuit in his mouth. I had given the dog three of those little biscuits moments before in our morning ritual: “Sit.” (biscuit) “Spin around.” (biscuit) “Lie down.” (biscuit). Dogs are not capable of saying, “I just had three biscuits. It’s okay if the cat has one.”
Dogs do not think like that.
Nor do dogs and cats worry about who won the election. I envy them.
Our president-elect is appointing people in his administration who will work together to make the rich richer, and the rest of us poorer. This crew will also attempt to step on the necks of the poor, women, the LGBTQ population, immigrants, people of any skin color other than white, and people of faith who are other than the right kind of Christian. I apologize if I missed your group.
This oppression has gone on for years. Now there will be no stopping it. The bullies have the power.
I am sad that the idea of public service has been so far forgotten that our government has public bullies instead of public servants. Being a public servant seems like such a quaint, antiquated notion now, straight out of that 1939 Jimmy Stewart movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” which, by the way, protested against political corruption and cronyism in its day. I am trying to decide if it is any consolation that corruption and cronyism were part of the US government eighty years ago. Whether it is consoling or not, it tells me that each new generation must be vigilant and fight for freedom.
The initial stun of the election’s outcome is wearing off. I have stopped flinching every time I hear the term “president-elect.”
I heard today that the Army Corps of Engineers is backing off from at least a piece of their pipeline through sacred land in North Dakota, perhaps in response to the veterans who have shown up to stand with the First Nations people in the freezing cold.
I shall wait to see what happens at Standing Rock, and on other native lands. Pardon my cynicism. The behavior of the Army Corps of Engineers, etc., up until today, not to mention the various levels of government all the way to the top, has looked like Indian Wars, circa 1875, to me. The behavior of this country’s rulers toward indigenous peoples has been consistent for centuries. Forgive me if I have a hard time thinking that everything changed this afternoon.
Not taking much for granted these days. I am watching, and waiting.
Meanwhile, the sun continues to come up, the world is still beautiful, our loved ones still bring us joy and pain, the cat still steals dog biscuits. Life goes on, and we find beauty and joy and humor in it, and each other.
Therefore, cynical as I am feeling right now, I exhort you to love your life and your people and your animals and your plants and your world. To be deeply joyful in your good work every day, and to resist the encroachments of the evil and stupidity which are running amok in the land. Recognize one another as the embodiment of a human spirit that does not give up, and does not accept less than the human dignity that exists within each of us.
Oh, yeah: and don’t forget to breathe.
In my faith, I am taught that my goal is not to succeed, but to be faithful. I’m an old human. I’m a mess. My knees hurt and I get tired fast. Within the confines of my limitations I am called to be faithful. I am called to do what I can. These days I feel called to a joyful resistance, because what’s a life for, anyway?
If our government does not serve us, we must serve each other. We must start where we are. I don’t know if signing petitions, making phone calls, sending emails to politicians, singing songs, writing essays, and protesting will make a difference.
I will do those things anyway, because a rock could not stay silent now, and neither can I.