Pandemonium #6: For Randy

Today would have been my brother Randy’s 62nd birthday. He’s come into my mind a lot over the last few weeks, but particularly these last few days.  It truly sucks that he’s gone. The manner of his death (suicide, after a two-year battle with a degenerative auto-immune disorder causing incessant pain and loss of function, and a whomping case of anxiety and depression) continues to be a heavy truth to carry. There are days when I call out to the whispering trees “goddamn you, Randy” and others when I feel the absence of his humor and shaman-like flashes of insight like a deep, internal bruise. He would have suffered unspeakably in this time.  The pandemic would have scared the crap out of him. Even if he didn’t get infected, he probably would either have a.) been convinced he was or b.) lived in terror of it or c.) wanted to. 

But the insanity of these last few weeks of stupefying police brutality would have cut him to the core. Randy hated the Man.  He’d had a few runs-ins with cops in his day, nice, white-kid dust-ups, the kinds my son had, issues having to do with cars or booze or drugs, coming-of-age “crimes”:  The sort of encounters where, in the suburban white America where I live, you get a stern look and a wrist slap, or maybe a written warning. Elsewhere, Black young men are killed for less. At worst, in my world, your affluent parents hire a fancy lawyer to make whatever you did—sold a few joints or passed out drunk on someone’s private property—go away.  In an extreme case, you’d maybe get handcuffed to a Kansas state trooper’s kitchen stove for “a night on the county’s hospitality,” as Randy did in his late teens when clocking 100 mph on I-70 returning from a summer job as a roustabout in Oklahoma, one of many gigs our resourceful dad produced in the hopes of protecting his wild son from himself, of containing him in a more compliant, predictable life than the boy was ever going to tolerate.  

Devoted to 60’s and 70’s rock music, Randy was ten years too young for Woodstock, but at 14, he defied our parents and hitchhiked upstate to its successor, the Summer Jam of ‘73 at Wadkins Glen, where The Allman Brothers, The Band, and The Grateful Dead headlined the bill.  God, Randy worshipped the Allman Brothers.  A drummer himself, he studied Butch Trucks like a treasure map, listening over and over to “Eat a Peach,” brushing the easy rhythms of “Blue Sky” and “Jessica” on his drum kit for hours.  I remember when I first encountered T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” in high school English class my senior year:  Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me.  Dang.  Duane Allman, citing T.S. Eliot.  Randy was at BU at that time, shoplifting steaks under his parka from the Star Market in Kenmore Square with his roommate.  Those words, “Eat a Peach” wafted into my gothic prep-school classroom like bong smoke from his bedroom at the far side of our rambling childhood home.  We were different: I was compliant where Randy rebelled—the expected gendered response for a girl, but also a survival move on my part.  Yet I loved him without reserve, if with a little fear (well, a lot of fear, sometimes).  Although he missed the hippie generation by a few years, Randy was an iconoclast, an idealist, a truthteller of sorts, and the shadows of Woodstock, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and Watergate were formative for him. His deep mistrust of authority was both innate to his temperament and earned by dint of that time. To him, police were unimaginative bullies legitimized only by badges, entrusted with enforcing a system that was, in a word, stupid. 

We had a beachside memorial for Randy the week after he died, on December 21, the winter solstice. His five kids and their respective spouses/fiancé(e)s, his wife and her younger brother, our brother Welles and his wife Liz, John and I, huddled together in a tight circle on Crane’s Beach, just a mile from the rambling hilltop house that had been his home until a year before.  We were all still in shock that after suffering for over two years, trying desperately to stay with us, to keep living for his kids, who he loved more than breathing, and his wife, who although they became estranged during his illness, he never stopped feeling was the love of his life, Randy decided one late afternoon (Friday the 13th it happens) that he just couldn’t do it anymore.  He felt too broken for repair; the promise of relief for his autoimmune condition too slim; his path forward too shambling, frantic and, he felt, burdensome to his family.  As we shivered and looked out at the tranquil, wintery ocean that he’d loved so profoundly, a beach ranger drove up and parked fifty yards away.  He climbed out of his SUV and headed towards us purposefully.  Welles started laughing, shaking his head incredulously; Randy’s older son Tristan joined in.  We were all thinking the same thing:  Of course, the “pigs” would show up to investigate this perfectly innocent gathering. If we couldn’t actually hear Randy’s signature cackling laugh, we could well imagine it. He would have spun an effortless comic riff on the absurdity of the moment, his eagle-talons for irony pouncing on the idiocy of a beach cop striding with Rambo-like swagger to break up our sweet, sad memorial service.  Randy’s brother-in-law—a brilliant, empathetic chap who’d come to support his sister through the surreal awkwardness of this death of the husband who she no longer wanted to live with, but nonetheless had loved passionately for decades, and certainly never wished dead—jogged off for a few words with the trooper.  He’s a Brit (the brother-in-law, not the ranger), a tenured professor at UC Berkeley, so after only a few seconds of no doubt impeccably gracious persuasion, Officer Krupke threw us an apologetic wave and headed back to his SUV, curling a donut in the sand and leaving us again to the late afternoon quiet.  The minister spoke a few words.  His brother, it turns out, had killed himself years ago, so he knew something of the particular grief that families face when you’ve lost your loved one to suicide; the guilt you needn’t feel, but inevitably do; the what-ifs that serve no one and could never have changed this outcome no matter how hard anyone had tried, yet still they wake you at night and you can’t help but wonder; the anger; the love struck down midsentence; the heart-cracking empathy at the suffering and ambivalent relief that it’s over. We went around the circle, sharing memories.  My brother and Randy’s two sons stripped to their boxers and ran into the sea with handfuls of ashes, whooping in the cold, hugging, crying.  Afterwards, we went up the hill to the house for Randy’s favorite: a seafood dinner cooked by the guys, too much wine, an after-dinner dance party.  Everyone had brought their dogs, two of whom got into a fight and locked on hard.  Blood spilled. The fiancé(e)s, both nurses, triaged. John and I left to drive the injured dog, along with his owners, my panicked niece and her soothing husband, to the local 24-hour veterinary hospital.  It was chaos, the kind that often followed in Randy’s wake. He appreciated the creative power of chaos, there was life in it and possibility, and this was another reason why he distrusted police:  any attempt at suppression was anathema to him.  He thrived on the unconventional disruptions that make people like me feel queasy. 

No question that he was with us that evening.

And I have felt my connection to him these last few days, as more and more instances of police brutality come to light in the US, and protests bloom like algae in August.  In his adult life, Randy was a voracious student of world politics, reading into esoteric, left-leaning corners of the internet that I didn’t fully understand.  We’d meet for lunch at the Wagamama in Lynnfield, halfway between us on Route 128.  Over steaming bowls of gluten free ramen, he’d describe articles he was reading about CIA plots in places I’d never heard of, and I would feel naïve and conventional to be countering with The Economist.  His distrust of established authority and his disdain for the cynicism of the powerful never left him.  He wasn’t particularly “woke” in the sense of having a lived relationship with people of color (not that I am); his life was lived in predominantly white communities.  Yet he was deeply empathetic, with radar keenly attuned to oppression and injustice.  I can hear his voice in my mind almost as if he is sitting in the easy chair near my desk off the kitchen as I write, the one he liked best while he was living with us last fall, his computer on his lap, walking cane fallen to the floor and a cup of tea at his elbow, holding court with an audience of three (me and the dogs) while I try to ignore him so I can work.  “Fuckin’ cops,” he’d say.  Then he’d launch into a free-wheeling impersonation of a power-crazy Minneapolis beat cop losing his shit over a black kid jay-walking, or taking the wrong Starbucks cup by accident.  It’d be wildly inappropriate and funny, brilliantly perceptive and painfully true.  He was a gifted mimic and his Minnesota accent would be spot-on; he went to hockey camp in Bemidji as a teen and was an avid NHL fan his whole life long.  But underneath the humor would be real sadness at the world’s cruelty, a woundedness that was the insistent background music in an otherwise pretty joyful adulthood.

One more memory of Randy and the Law is this:  I had a graduate fellowship in Ireland after graduating from Princeton, and I left my beloved Honda Civic in our mom’s garage on Long Island.  Randy was newly wed and living in Washington D.C. at the time, working at a job he detested writing marketing copy for the RNC, if you can believe that.  I guess I must have said he could take my car to D.C. since I wasn’t using it.  Looking back, I can’t fathom what I was thinking, given his known history of moving violations, collisions, and generally treating cars like rolling garbage bins. The summer I returned, I got a job in Washington, where my college boyfriend was a summer associate at a law firm.  Randy and his new wife Binni were there, too, so it was a win-win to go down there.  I stopped by their apartment in Glover Park to pick up my car, but he told me it was parked down the hill in Georgetown, on a little side street off Wisconsin Avenue, about a 15-minute walk away.  I arrived to find the Civic booted, the windshield papered over in parking tickets.  When I’d paid off the tickets and asked Randy to reimburse me, he was flabbergasted:  “You shouldn’t pay them!  It’s bullshit. Parking regulations are just a made-up revenue stream for the city.  You shouldn’t condone that.”   Umm, yah, but like, the car is registered to me, and since you’re not gonna pay them…He was perpetually broke but also amazingly non-materialistic. Somehow he could get away with infuriating shit like that and still manage to be incredibly lovable, I think because his spirit was so kind.

I am not suggesting here that parking scofflaws are analogous to protesters resisting police brutality of African-American citizens.  He and I would agree the current protests are a primal yell that surely now may make the centuries of oppression experienced by Black people visible to those of us who were looking away, who didn’t understand how broken our justice system has become. My brother, if he were alive today to celebrate his birthday, would have understood the crescendo that arises from a deceptively soft brush on the cymbals, that natural temptation police would feel to abuse their power, how quickly a situation gets out of hand when the system is stacked so heavily towards institutional authority.  Randy sometimes struggled with impulse control himself, and he’d have known what a razor’s edge that can be for a person in a stressful situation. He would have easily found the words to express these bizarre times, the tragic unfairness of disease and rising unemployment hitting disenfranchised people with the blunt force of a one-two punch to the face.  And much as he hated the Man, he’d also probably have been quicker than many to acknowledge the individual humanity of a cop trying to do the right thing in a system that allows corruption and brutality to fester.  All this, he would have conveyed with such quirky humor and heart that I’d laugh until I cried.   

Pandemonium #5: Golden Girl

One of Lucy’s digital character illustrations

Today is my daughter Lucy’s “golden” birthday.  She explained at dinner the other night that this is the once-in-a-lifetime occasion when the date of your birthday and your age coincide; she turns 26 on the twenty-sixth.  I’ve had in mind to write something to honor her for a few weeks now, but I haven’t found the chutzpah to face the keyboard.  I am feeling boggy and flaccid in lockdown.  But since it’s a golden birthday, I’m digging deep. I’m going to attempt to write something true.

 “True” in my book is rarely about “facts,” and certainly never about politics. What it always concerns itself with is: love, vulnerability, connection, Nature (and her handmaiden, Science), service, humility.  “True” wants our own particular oddity to sing out over the hiss of purse-lipped norms and deep-pocketed narratives telling us we should shut up and conform. I believe young people like Lucy in this moment are aghast:  they look out at a world of “adults” steeped in falsehood, wondering WTF is wrong here and why no one seems to name the insanity.  Like Jo-jo in “Horton Hears a Who,” we each have our own insistent, potentially world-changing ‘Yopp!’  But can we hope to be heard?

My answer is emphatically: yes. 

So here’s a post in honor of my gorgeous, amazing, funny, talented, fierce and bewitchingly weird daughter on her golden birthday. I intend a celebration of dignity, vulnerability, intelligence, humor, perseverance and LOVE,  panning for gold in these corrosive times. I may not get the words exactly right, and Lucy may be less than appreciative at being singled out for a birthday post. But this act of trying, this attempt at creation, not its product, is my present.  “Yopp!”

Here are some snapshots of Lucy over the past 26 years.  As a baby, we nicknamed her “the barnacle.”  Girl wanted to be held.  She’d come to us for an “uppy”, and when we went to put her down because it was time to cook dinner or mow the lawn or do something that required free hands, we had to pry her little fingers off our arms, while she cinched her legs ever more tightly around our waists. She was like one of those clamp-on koala toys you used to see hugging schoolchildren’s pencils–adorable and ferociously attached. When she was about three years old, we decided we should take away her pacifier because it interfered with her speech, the family dentist muttering ominously about the cost of future orthodontia and speech therapy.  I will never forget the dark look Lucy gave us as we packed away the “boppies,” telling her some bullshit we’d read in a parenting book about how they were just going away on a little boppy trip, and she was brave and strong and didn’t need them anymore, so didn’t she want them to go off and have fun? She regarded us furiously, her bittersweet-chocolate eyes seeing right through us to the quivering, insecure core of our parent-selves.  We were doing this to her because we could, because we believed some book we’d read, or pediatric waiting room nurse, more than we could acknowledge the extraordinary depth of her attachment. We had the power, and we were exercising it.  Her look said:  “Make no mistake. You will pay for this.”  I was 37 and she was just three, but I knew I had come up against a force. This regal presence of the pure self in a child is precious.  I believe Lucy might say she has lost touch with that presence, its essence siphoned off by the effort of growing up female in a profoundly sexist culture, or the traumas of incarnation, or maybe by being so damned imaginative and intelligent that you anticipate disaster at every turn.  Perhaps, it’s just simple forgetting.  But I saw it in her.  I know who she really is:  A goddess, filled with love and power and righteous wrath.

When she was a little girl, Lucy had this great gravelly voice, throaty and deep.  I could listen to it all day, and often did, the little crumbles tumbling forth unexpectedly, her hoots of enthusiasm crackling into sudden silence, as if the thing, whatever it was, joy or outrage, just couldn’t be communicated. It wasn’t only her speaking voice:  She sang and sang and SANG, raspy, but unerringly on-pitch.  Songs bubbled out of her like a natural spring, songs she knew, ones she made up, sometimes just tones erupting into the air for the sheer, physical delight of making sound.  So much of her core self has to do with expression.

She was also fearful, her brow knitting anxiously at the sound of a mourning dove, or the tall, “scary trees” on the trails we walked daily.  As a new reader, she read the warning on the toothpaste tube about ingestion being potentially toxic, and thereafter had to be coaxed nightly to brush her teeth. Lucy clung to me anxiously at first grade pickup, tearfully complaining that it scared her when I was late.  By late, she meant, “not first.”  I’m neurotically reliable, so I always arrived ahead of time. But other parents were earlier than me.  I explained to her the difference between “late” and “not first.”  She thought about it, then said emphatically, “so be first.”  I loved that directness in speaking her needs.  I’m sorry that life, and social mores for women, plus probably a few choice parenting deficits, tempered that candor in her.  But make no mistake, she has a voice, a fierce one.  I don’t simply mean the one in her larynx, although nothing caused her to rear up in defiance like the surgical specialist who told her in high school that nerve damage had caused a node on her vocal cords which might prevent from her ever singing again.  In fact, he said, she should probably rule out a career that required a lot of speaking, like teaching or politics. This was like suggesting a dolphin avoid any bodies of water that entail swimming.  She took a year off between high school and college for the express purpose of healing her vocal injury.  Although the specialist recommended surgery, she worked instead with a voice coach to intensively retrain her speaking voice and singing technique. I was wowed.  She earned that recovery, and she deserved every lead role and new note in her vocal range that came to her throughout college, which was a lot, because she sang her face off from freshman week straight through commencement.  She is currently in graduate school getting her teaching degree in theater education.  Take that, world-renowned Dr. Know-it-all at Mass Eye & Ear.  You don’t tell Lucy what she can or cannot do. 

She is both the most competent and the most creative person imaginable.  I can relate. I don’t want to speak for her experience, but I have found it tricky, navigating the dialogue between loose-limbed, starry-eyed Creativity and her bow-tied, box-checking cousin, Effectiveness. That bitch Perfectionism tends to step in, undermining, nitpicking. But Lucy has always painted in the most intense colors, the boldest strokes, and this is her strength. It usually makes a glorious mess, and because society prizes accomplishment over expression, she second-guesses her instincts. Why roar, when you can so easily rack up another achievement?  Such self-editing happens to artists all the time.  And women.  And yet: We know what is true for us.  If we hesitate to speak, well, that’s because it’s hard. Words are imprecise and we have been taught to express ourselves tidily, politely, taking care of your feelings lest our ferocity rip your head off with grizzly-bear viciousness.  Because she is an artist, I hope my girl will shout, scream, BELLOW her truth.  Lucy, I hope you will dare to take up space with your wildest imaginings, to be damned odd, or adversarial, or (god forbid, in a world where female beauty is everything and the President refers to women as “dogs”) unkempt, unfeminine, unreasonable, if it serves your purpose.  Go ahead, get a few more tattoos.  Really, I’m over it.  Don’t compare yourself to others, and certainly not to me.  You are the artist of you.  No one else can dictate your story, so don’t even let them try.

Although it was Memorial Day yesterday, I taught my usual Monday morning Nia class.  Teaching on Zoom, like everything on Zoom, is a mixed bag, but the challenges are different:  getting the music and instructor’ mic at the right levels, making sure students are muted, dealing with inevitable chat messages:  “Why are you so small?,” “My screen is freezing,” “What is that beeping in the background?”  It’s draining, running my own technical production while also trying to craft a meaningful body-mind-spirit fitness experience for students whose undulating thumbnails on my desktop look like ultrasound embryos.  The usual rewards of teaching a live class—connection, shared energy, eye contact, sounding—these are at best, muted, at worst, absent.  The fact that I teach from our family room carries additional obstacles:  dogs bark, the phone rings, one time I kicked over a coffee cup on the rug that someone left there the day before.  With no commute, I don’t have the same transitional time between “life” and “teaching,” which at times makes me feel unprepared and disoriented. 

But yesterday morning was golden.  Our Memorial Day focus was “honor,” whether ourselves, someone we loved and lost, someone we admire, or those whose service we appreciate: military and veterans, doctors and nurses, prophets and truthtellers.  Just fifteen minutes before teaching, I impulsively added two songs to the playlist, one which I have never taught before (Sara Bareilles’ “Satellite Call”); the other a Memorial Day staple (Bliss’ “A Hundred Thousand Angels”—it’s haunting, check it out).  I can’t tell you what the students experienced, but here’s how I felt:  hopeful, heartbroken, bursting with gratitude and grief and joy. I can’t believe this is a thing I do: teach movement classes. I don’t know that at 26 I had enough imagination or respect for my inner wildness to believe such evolutions were possible in a life. I missed my brother, who died in December, sick, suffering, broken. I missed the America I thought I grew up in, where we valued honor, decency and service, where Martin Luther King could bring a dream into reality.  My heart cracked for the 100,000 new angels, souls passed away to COVID-19 in the last two months in our country, for the family and friends who mourn them. No matter what their political beliefs are or who they voted for, I grieve for their losses.  My heart breaks that while so many suffer, economically, spiritually, physically, the President plays golf and tweets mean-spirited drivel that demeans human dignity.

As the song “Satellite Call” played, the students and I spread our fingers wide and sent our signals out into the universe. This is so you know the sound/Of someone who loves you from the ground/Tonight you’re not alone at all/This is me sending out my satellite call. I felt overwhelming appreciation for that image, for Sara Bareilles’ lyrical musicality. She will forever be the voice of Lucy’s youth, the artist who defines my daughter’s coming of age. Her cheerfully defiant song “Not Gonna Write You a Love Song” was Lucy’s middle school ringtone; the bluesy “Many the Miles” opened Lucy’s senior speech in high school. Lucy performed Bareilles’ yearning ballad “Bluebird” at her high school baccalaureate, when she was still rehabilitating her vocal injury, and five years later belted out the power anthem “She Used to be Mine” at her senior voice recital at Tufts.  In her memoir, “Sounds Like Me,” Bareilles wrote about the insistent, gnawing anxiety that accompanies creativity; dancing to her music, I remembered this, and gratitude cut me with the gentle sweetness of a knife through softened butter.  How exquisitely generous and loving the Goddess is to cradle us through our doubts and allow her titanic beauty to be born through us. 

Happy birthday, all you golden girls.  Shine your light.

A HUNDRED THOUSAND ANGELS
by Bliss

Do you
Hear me calling you
The voice of a mother, a father and a child
Would you recognize the truth
Do you feel a love that’s falling from my eyes
Take just a minute
Come and rest you by my side
Let me tell you your own story
Let me walk you through your lives
Only a second
That’s all it takes to realize
There’s a hundred thousand angels by your side.

Do you
Hear me talk to you
I whisper through the doorways
And pathways of your mind
Clear like the morning dew
And fresh from my journey
Cross an ocean of blue
Take just a minute
Come and rest you by my side
Let me tell you your own story
Let me walk you through your lives
Only a second
That’s all it takes to realize
There’s a hundred thousand angels by your side
There’s a hundred thousand angels by your side

Pandemonium: Haiku #2

Card’nal perches red,

While red-bill’d woodpecker flits

In mapled boughs. It’s Christmas.

IMG_1922

I don’t know about your yard, or park, or patch of sky, but there is a bird convention going on in ours.  A mating pair of cardinals have nested across the lawn in the rhododendrens for a few years now, and our feeders have typically drawn their share of tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees dapper and fussy, or unpretentious sparrows. But the New England grays of mourning doves or nuthatches are giving way to party colors:  We newly enjoy yellow visitors—whether grosbeak, warbler or goldfinch, I’m not sure, but most likely goldfinch. I’m too delighted by the splash of warmth at the kitchen window to grab my phone and snap a picture of the fleeting yellow belly for later identification. I’d rather just look, and sip my morning coffee.  Bluejays may be backyard bullies, but I do appreciate their flashy cobalt markings.  Is it my imagination, or are the robin’s fat bellies a deeper, rustier hue of sunset rose this spring?  I feel I haven’t seen this many red-winged blackbirds out on the trails before, and I’m sure I have never before made eye contact with a red-billed woodpecker taking a break from excavating the decaying sugar maple outside our bedroom window on the third floor. He turns his black eye on me and blinks as if to say, “What?  I’m a woodpecker.  This is what we do.”  Redtail hawks are everywhere, although the family of owls that hoo-hoos noisily in the woods just beyond the lawn in the still pre-dawn is voiceless these past few weeks.

So here’s the question:  are there actually more birds hanging around my neck of the woods than there have been in past Mays, lured out by the bluer skies and quieter streets?  Or is it just the quality of my attention that’s changed?

Pandemonium #4: Children and Art

I’m blue this Mother’s Day.  I can barely muster the energy to write a haiku; every time I sit down at the keyboard, words tumble from me, disjointed and angsty.  They roll around the page like marbles on a grade, glassily untethered, gaining speed towards a sure, meaningless collision.  My tolerance for the uncertainty of the writing process is frayed; my weedlike intuition for finding joy in life’s crevices grown flaccid.  I stare at the monitor, switching screens from my Word document to Firefox, wearily loading up the Instacart order with, yet again, bananas, milk, cold cuts for five.  I miss my friends.  I am sad most of the time, even though I still sing and dance, exercise and cook up a storm for my marvelous children and husband (the latter of whom I too often upbraid for insignificant transgressions at provocations entirely of my own making. I appreciate his patience with this.) Writing, I use too many words, or have none. I am filled with shame at my wussy complaints, lobbed as they are from a leafy suburban home whilst the homeless in New York City sleep on Metro buses, or elderly citizens huddle in fear, isolated from their families, and bone-tired nurses rally for another shift.  I thought I was made of sterner stuff than this, that some prairie-bred stiff spine from a past life would take hold.  So I bake and garden, I’ve cleaned closets and tightened screws all over the house, I work out and clean up, fold and fetch. But I am just phoning it in. I know I’m not alone in my weariness, although it’s possible the particular stresses of the last few years unique to me are finally taking their toll.  Whatever the reason, my usual habits of self-care— dog walks and meditation sessions, strength training, hydration, flossing, aromatherapy, free-dancing, guided imagery or liberal pours of sauvignon blanc—just aren’t cutting it, in much the same way yours, whatever they are, fall short in the present moment. 

 I feel terrible.  What can I say?

So my Mother’s Day weltschmerz coalesces around a sudden feeling that the world I prepared my children for is quite possibly a fiction. The one they may actually spend their adult lives inhabiting seems hostile to the beliefs I tried to model for them: Compassion, reflection, intelligence, respect for the rules, self-discipline, curiosity, playfulness and humor.  I taught them that there is inherent value in beauty and creativity (by which I intended: art, music, literature, the incandescent moment that takes your breath away with sudden knowing — yes, this is true); that taking care of others matters, that hard work pays off, that the Great One is real, so you’d better figure out how to stay in relationship with her/him/them.  I believed—still believe—in kindness and sacrifice. I wasn’t prepared for these virtues to be as thankless as they turn out to be in our culture.  I wasn’t prepared for our leadership and its apparent social ethic to be so breathtakingly self-centered, self-serving, small-minded.

And yet, here I sit, whining at my keyboard, poor me.  The irony is not lost on me.  It irks me not to rise to the occasion, to lack can-do spirit in the face of this lockdown. My fragility takes me by surprise. I’ve always ploughed ahead through crises, the one who keeps a cool head and makes sure everyone else gets to the lifeboats in orderly fashion. I am discomfited to find myself a babbling matron clinging to the captain, desperate for rescue. Perhaps I am growing.

As I meditated this Mother’s Day in our backyard, the late afternoon sun warming my shoulders, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the joy we have known in this yard, under these same trees, nourished by the same sun, nearly 30 years of security in this same home. That was my American dream, to provide stability and solid ground after my chaotic early life.  I recalled my kids as tykes, running around in the sunshine in their floppy, bold-print sunhats, nature all around us. I could almost feel the exquisite privilege of their sturdy little bodies climbing into my lap for a hug, a squeeze, asking me to fasten a loose shoelace or hair tie, before squirming away again, singing, or yelling, or narrating their own adventures.  What a charmed existence that was, and I am lucky to have had it.  I was blessed beyond measure to have spent so many years with the job title “love-giver-in-chief,” along with all the crappola, of course, that goes with motherhood.  I hope all that loving fortifies them for whatever the future holds, whether we are hurtling towards some mean-spirited, dystopian pand-America, or can miraculously hove to and take on the deep challenges of addressing our brokenness as a society. 

It came to me, as the wind swirled my hair, overdue for a cut, in arrhythmic gusts, bird song rising and falling in the woods beyond the fence, that if all I can manage is one snippet of gratitude a day, then that’s something. Hopefully, a pinch of uplift will be enough to inoculate me from the creeping despair and exhaustion I sense sniffing curiously around my edges, looking for a way in.  So if it’s all I can manage, I’m gonna show up, with one little scrap.  I still believe that if you can create a single thing of beauty in a day, well, that’s something.  So I will drag myself here tomorrow, clapping for Tinkerbell, and we’ll see.

If you are up late like me, here’s a quote from a lovely song to send you off to bed this Mother’s Day. It’s by composer Stephen Sondheim, from his revelatory musical “Sunday in the Park with George”:

You would have liked him
Mama, you would
Mama, he makes things
Mama, they’re good
Just as you said from the start:
Children and art
Children and art

 /////

Mama said, “Honey, mustn’t be blue
It’s not so much do what you like
As it is that you like what you do.”
Mama said, “Darling, don’t make such a drama
A little less thinking, a little more feeling”
I’m just quoting Mama!
The child is so sweet
And the girls are so rapturous
Isn’t it lovely how artists can capture us?