Vape-ing

Cloud_sky_over_Brest

Whose face it was I saw today, white vapors collected amid clearest blue,  skyward atop crashing sea?  Was it delirium of sunlight allowed the fleeting visage in that overhead expanse? Tender face filled with pain but calling, no, not crying, and was it to me alone, or others, likewise pleasuring in the autumnal generosity like a summer day? I could see you, but could not hear your call above thundering waves, so high and white, magnificent, delivering surfers and their boards  to all the seagulls and plovers to whom the  sands have been returned for these many days and weeks and months to come – nor do I know your face.  Can there be, already and so soon,  so many friends, I need to look to faces in the skies for they are vanished from the places we so loved and only I still walk upon?

Years, decades, last century, a small child by her bicycle in a deserted alleyway, bleeding from a tarnished fender and discarded glass among the stones and brambles and the broken asphalt, the urban garden, watched vapors gather into a beatific vision, so filled was her little mind and heart and sense of candlelight and choirs and the scent of sacred incense.  She stood shaking in the wintry wind defying expectations until darkness, encroaching, goaded her to, disappointed, cycle home  breathing earthly air and living still.

More near, upon the blackness of a distant shore at the edge of western history, she spied another face within the mottled skies and heard the songs of that peacock sea brimming then with promise that if she closed her eyes and studied not the skies or surf or volcanic stones spinning urgently beneath her, but the swell of her own heart and mind, the sounds of her children playing, she could find justice, a companion and a guide, like the shifting vapors, fleeting to discern, and yet essential.

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Remembering Earl

 

There are nights when only the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.

George Carlin

My friend Earl died last night.  I feel the loss as the cold and darkness which comes when a bright light is extinguished.

I met Earl  in 1980.  Some of those who influenced him also became part of my life, others remained unknown.  In the main, the forces which shaped his life and made him the uncommon man he was would never be part of my life.

 He smoldered with a kind of rage he commanded to compel justice for  the underdog.  Appearing humorless to the passerby,Earl had a boundless sense of fun. Capable of enormous personal austerity, Earl was tremendously generous  to those in need, to those with want, in his family, to his friends, to those in his community, to those in his charge, to strangers, even at times, towards his adversaries.  His was not merely a generosity of dollars,but of spirit and heart, of time and thought, of physical labor and anonymous offering.

Through the years, I came to understand that Earl was not an acquired taste. He could be polarizing.  He was one of those rare individuals who remained fully and visibly himself.  One did not need to venture a guess as to Earl’s opinion,he would state his beliefs honestly and openly.  He despised hypocrisy. As such,he had his detractors; there were many who expected a more “diplomatic” man. But,  Earl was a flagrant progressive democrat in those long gone days when it was fashionable until the last moments of his consciousness, and proudly so.He simply could not be anything else.  Earl was authentic.  He lived in accord with his principles while living well.

In my life, Earl was like an older brother or watchful cousin, certainly more than a friend.  When we met, his life was settled and established, he with a daughter not much younger than myself.  Where his domain was neat, organized, structured, well regulated, predictable, mine must have appeared the opposite.  Yet, he took a chance  and  engaged me professionally, and then, more valuable, allowed me entry to his life.  Tonight, my heart is full of memories of dinners, and picnics,of Christmas celebrations.  I see Earl holding my babies with especial tenderness. I recall beaches, boats, fishing tackle and lengthy talks over cool drinks on hot summer nights.I remember weddings and parties and Earl cracking jokes on the dance floor, “Arthur Murray” he would tell me as he seemed to float past me on a cloud of air. I see his confused  concern that my “vegetarian ” dinner is tasty enough as everyone else dives into their prime rib.  I hear him telling me, “Good job Ma-tricia.” I miss him again and already and always.

Earl stands apart in my life with those few, exceptional and principled men  who distinguished themselves in all they did not least because they assiduously dedicated themselves to the welfare of their families: the love of wife and children was the polestar for every act.

I feel tremendously sad that Earl is lost to me. I sorrow for my remaining friends, his wife and children to whom his life was well and truly devoted.

It is not consolation for the loss but it is celebration of the life to observe that Earl’s great gift was living well. His was a life well lived in service to others,stranger and beloved, with humor, intelligence, emotion and grace through each phase of life.

Honoring his gift, Earl has left us a blueprint for living to which I hope we return.

Down the yellow brick road after almost forty years

cropped-6-13-14.jpgIt does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but

the little it takes is long in coming.

Flannery O’Connor

Some  days, green times of the early seventies filter through my memory and energize me with a subtle hopefulness.  It was after all, and as they say, a time of innocence.

For over a hundred years our voices had been unwelcome, our presence banned.   None of our ideas were thought to ennoble this  pleasant urban space. Now, the breath of change, crisp and fresh,  gave life to new friendship all around the campus.  

Willowy, long-haired women in denim skirts which reached the ground or those  in peasant garb or  the ones with shaggy hair dressed in traditional worker blues picnicked in the sun.  Books buttressing shoulders or balancing long sheets of ink filled paper, they sidelined sandwiches half-eaten, collected  yogurt cups on the felt-like lawn.  Miniskirts and mustaches  passed, silent or sneering, either way unnoticed as the gathered women vowed to meet again for dinner on Wednesday night to share, then, a more personal conversation.

Elsewhere, alcohol and drugs were expanding minds.  We adventured  landscapes new and old,  together and separately.  And though it was not always sunshine, it remained mostly green, as we became the star-gazer, the professor, the business woman, the writer, the teacher, and the one who disappeared. Nor can we forget, the lawyer, the one who was made duty bound to make the change for our daughters and their daughters. We thought, then,”if women had the power…” We believed better worlds lay down the yellow brick road. 

Young women dreaming, working hard, studying, achieving, so serious. Perched precariously, preparing for the revolutionary times that were ours to make and to finesse with fine ideas and our own fire.

But it became a summer of sweet content, mainly.

We became a writer and a star-gazer turned corporate traveler, a professor and two lawyers. Life gave  husbands, wives, houses, children, joys, sorrows and to one an early death. With our sisters in the same professions or in book clubs, we met at power lunches, for power walks, power runs for sister candidates.  We got older, looking younger than previous generations, with  expensive lotions, female surgeons and women’s fitness routines. We styled our long hair, recycled peasant dresses, shrunk the denim.

As do our sisters of the same color, class and education, we  live in such comfort our mothers dreamt of for the important and the wealthy. Many  mothers, who showed us more than we will ever comprehend about life, age in “assisted living” placements.  Our generation prides itself on our deep, rich, barrier breaking sensibilities.

 Our urban campus today, a testament: “if you let them in they shall seize it all. ”  Women outnumber men by three to one.  The institute  of learning which channeled  leaders to high places in the city, now feeds nurses to the clinics. No less achieved. More?

But, do the women still picnic on the green, grasping a new world order?  What of women vanished into that summer of content?

Deep hued times and even a new century,  women rise with matured aspirations.  Institutions defiantly departed now greet the daughters nonchalantly. Doctors and lawyers and professors, women are not uncommon.  Justice, equality and power remain absent, but inky notes on picnic papers  are quaint  relics of past hopes and philosophies.

The real revolution was women talking.  Women reaching out to women and listening to what was said.  Wanting to know what the other thought, felt, experienced, understood, expressed.  Certainly, this was a way of understanding self, narcissistic.  But it was also, a way of reaching out into the world.  Power, connection, caring.  

As are  blithe gatherings on the green, the conviviality for a cause vanished quickly in the summer. “Sisterhood” soon  shrouded with a bruising cloth.

We used to say the political is personal, the personal, political.

Some us always listened to each other, perhaps because these were the only sisters whose care we had ever known.  In that circle of understanding, learning, justice, connection, but validation above all.  Naively seeing worldly circles equal, these women headed straight to painful falls.

Some of us, unaware we were so vulnerable.  That attachment to a person and a cause would fray so quickly.  “That isn’t the way I see it, I see it differently.  There are extremists on every issue, in every time.”

Some of us,so easily intoxicated, refusing treatment, in denial our whole life long.  For  some, the drug, meanness,  the silent, silken   sway, enchanting, to see the others fall down in the path.  The bitter taste, but men have drunk this brew through ages, so many blends. We drink with gusto.Our right.  Our turn.

We , the bully, the bureaucrat, the shooter,the soldier,now as well.

” and so it goes,” Secretary Hillary Clinton  may refuse to trash Sarah Palin  just because she is asked to do so. But, Terry Gross will  try to trash  Secretary  Clinton  merely to show she can.

The writer will trash the business executive,traveling around the world.  Not in the open, with the concrete thing, which can be seen and defended. But behind the curtains, to some of the others, some words spoken.  The meaning clear, or not so clear, for the executive must believe she herself  at fault.

The director of the community group will trash the  popular professor.  The professor, too kind, too supportive, or, perhaps, presents another defect.  Is she a stand out member, too assertive, too many ideas?  The emails and memos circulate. There are missed meetings, about which the professor was not called. She will later scramble to trace events, as if she is researching her dissertation: who has been told; what has been said; when did this start; what is happening? Falling into a well of darkness, unsure of the beginning or the end.

Trashing is crazymaking.  Conflict announced as conflict avoidance.  Sudden, the unanticipated cold steel apprehended in the midst of warm conversation.

Is this the old, old pattern from years ago, or a dynamic by a newer catchy name: the bully, the frenemy.

Is this just what we did in school when they said that boys were tough but girls were catty?

Oh, has the world changed at all in forty years?

On the TV after another school shooting, another protest.  This time the grandmothers are all marching with colored signs outside the school.  They blame the bullies, they blame the videos and they blame the gun laws.  As I watch them, I cannot hep wonder how they communicate.

The statehouse steps erupt in shouts and angry protest as the car speeds away.  The governor again declares not all citizens have equal rights. At the front, clenched fists are pounding the humid air, relentless.  To the right, a couple embraces, and the woman cries on her partner’s breast.

The small courtroom empties to the lot in the shopping center.  The  man-child marches to his car, the woman-child to hers.  Because he is a soldier, his drunken fists have been forgiven. What will those fists do in three months time in the desert sands of Afghanistan?

…it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

Lewis Carroll

       

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Remembrance

20140531_074719Cornflowers sketched on porcelain  reminded me of you that humid afternoon. Anticipating our conversations, the stuffy Philadelphia store, smelling of mustard, onions and incense, too crowded with overpriced goods  from “exotic” lands where poor artists  turned their craft into a trade to feed the village from dollars spent by the good-hearted and  comfortable consumer who likely will never see the suffering, oppressed me .

And more so as I envisioned the early morning clouds rising, your sparkling lake, calls of water fowl, whispered conversation,  strong, strong coffee in that porcelain cup, and you, your reassuring friendship stronger still  than coffee and with no bitterness in all the many decades. Cornflowers,growing freely in your field, is so like your heart, brave, persistent, secluded; any reference to your body then blissfully unknown.

And after. I have never known a love to grow so strong in the face of certain ending.  I have never known a love to grow stronger still each day as I discover new places in my heart I kept you with me.  It is true, each day I find a piece of me which you alone allowed  power to discover; and finding that, each day I feel again how much it is that I have lost since the morning I was told that you had gone.

The cornflower sketched on porcelain greeted me the first time there, the late spring light and all the glories of that place now seeming somehow truly an afterthought, a place for children’s play apart from intent, adult attention, a place for animals to run, but not, any longer, no more, the unifier, the center stage.  Could it be that, without your love, the magnificence and splendour, the healing power we, each, could find in nature diminished itself in size and power.  No god were you.  One bears the stain of your stubbornness and another still grieves the consequences of your full autonomy.  Love that is rich  and generous is god-like enough for me. Life changing.

It was one of the few you loathed, but I suppose, it could have been another.  Carelessly, he cast the cornflowers and porcelain upon the stone. My eyelids burned.  My throat felt there was a fire.  My brain searched and searched for meaning that this late gift had been destroyed.

I sought solace again in nature.  Your empty chair in the shadow of the sun reproves me, and I walk on.  The waters greet me so much sooner than they would have done before, the wide grand yard seems eaten up by lake.  I close my eyes, steady breathing to the sound of small waves that are arriving. I again regard  clear, clear cold northern waters, and turn away. The house appears unchanged.

Inside, he sits venturing a life without you.  His face, bereft, conveys such sorrow, a fragment of what he feels. I love him more than ever. There was that time and now there is another.  We will hold this sorrow the remainder of our days.

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have been long extinct.  There are people whose brilliance continues to light this world even though they are no longer among the living.  These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.  They light the way for humankind.

Hannah Senesh

 http://www.blogsbywomen.org/