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Monday Morning Refreshments

This past week has been one that I knew would need more than my standard relaxation rituals to lay to rest. A morning of books and hot tea on the front porch just wasn’t going to cut it, this time. And my trusty side-kick had spent far too many days in a row left cooped up in the house. We needed to get away, if only for a morning.

Being reluctant travelers, I decided on one of my spots close to home where two socially unacceptable females can wander untethered and leave their nervous energy lying somewhere in the mud; a place of my own that I haven’t shared with another human soul. It is a trail of the sort that leaves you covered in delicate webs, and you don’t mind because this means no one bigger than a spider has occupied this space in quite some time. It is a trail that ends at a small body of water, that leads to a bigger body of water, along whose banks I have discovered many tracks, but only once another shoe print besides my own. It is a trail unexpectedly beautiful, at times passing close enough to civilization that we can see the gleam of commuters on their way to another Monday morning. Do any of them have an idea that beyond that blur of trees there are entire fields of sassafras? Do they wonder if a kingfisher, bold and beautiful, will swoop unexpectedly from the trees, passing breathlessly close to the surface of the water, and cause their heads to turn because they can’t possibly look away? Do they suspect that here lies a path, a human-made path (which human, I will likely never know), and yet the beech trees that grow on top of those hidden ridges are not riddled with the initials of passers-by? That whimsical things can still be found here?

Selfishly, I hope these thoughts never enter their crowded minds, because I want this space for myself. And on days like today, I need it.

Bryn and I spent the morning meandering through the woods, stopping to meditate our senses on anything. We crunched through thickets. We got just a little bit lost. We examined shells and pebbles and everything that caught the light just so. We found things we weren’t expecting. We ran back and forth on our own personal beach. We got the shock of our lives when Bryn suddenly discovered that she could swim. We tramped home hours later, cold and dirty and sandy and smelling like a river.

We both had huge smiles on our faces.

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If I Live to be 100

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What if you knew that you would live to be 100? Would that change your Here and Now?

Not long ago, I decided that I had reached the half-way point of my life. My parents had both passed away, having barely reached their seventies, and I thought, why should I desire to last any longer? Life at the time seemed much too long already. I had struggled for over thirty years, and in my mind the struggle stretched on beyond me for far longer than I could care to comprehend. In fact, planning to live to 70 was a huge concession: an admission that optimism might actually have a place in my life — I might actually continue to survive the drudgery of life for as long as I had made it thus far. Not that it seemed like such an exciting thing to aspire to, but at least I had a plan that involved having a future to speak of.

Since then, by some mysterious circumstance, my outlook seems to have changed. I find myself happy, most days, and at least capable of avoiding despair on those days that are not so enjoyable. Life begins to have a meaning that I never understood before: simply to live it, perhaps even enjoy it. By whatever miracle my brain has settled into a state of positive vibration, wanting to see and experience and enjoy as much as possible. So this is what chemical balance looks like! So this is what a well-functioning mind can bring to the table. I find myself wanting to create more and more. I want to learn. I want to work more cleverly and come home satisfied in a job well done. I want to spend my leisure time soaking in every sound and every peaceful moment, knowing that they are made of gold and that I can have billions more to glean, if I so choose.

And so I find myself very recently thinking: what if I weren’t at the half-way point? What if I were still somewhere just near the beginning? What if, instead of feeling calloused and jaded, I realized that I have seen so little of what life has to offer? Yes, I would be inviting a greater risk of sorrow and trouble into such a lengthier lifespan, but what if that weren’t a bad thing after all? What if those misfortunes were seen as giving birth to the happy times? I find it difficult to find the words to express what I am coming to realize. And yet: I now feel no urgency to find those explanations, because I could have several more decades to explore this very idea! I could spend a lifetime — a long lifetime — just searching for a way to explain to my young self that a hundred years is not such a bad thing after all.

I could think that I have seen all the good and all the bad that life has to offer, but I would be dreadfully wrong in so many ways. To think of it: I could be just beginning. I could finally decide, at 85 years old, that I am ready to settle down and get married. Or perhaps I will move to France in the year 2045. And perhaps, in just fifteen years, I will decide to return to school and gather more degrees to my name. Maybe I will end up with a career that I had never before dreamed of. Maybe I could read 5,000 books in the course of my lifetime. If I live to 100, I can do just about anything yet. And if I can do anything yet, then I am freed from the burden of trying to control where my life must go in this year, or in this decade. Where do you see yourself in five years? Who is to say? I can try to control that, but it discourages me to worry over it. Now, where do I see myself in 70 years? That is the much more exciting question to ponder! I could be anywhere, and I could be anyone. I could be a different person, one that wouldn’t recognize the self that was so very young but also so very ill in the beginnings of her life. I feel as though I am just being born. I feel young, but without the impatience of the young. I feel fresh, but no longer easily bruised. I feel a hope and a wonder for life that I have never, ever felt before, even in my actual physical childhood. I feel a child again, and yet one just barely precocious enough to know that she has nothing but potential before her. Anything is still possible for me. Happiness, as I have come to find out, is actually possible for me. And who knows: I may find that I have another 100 years of it to enjoy. Because now I know that anything is possible, and now I look forward to it. And now I know that life — even a difficult life — can be an enjoyment. Let’s see where this one takes us.

excerpt from my journal:

“Long, traumatic story short, Dad spent about 20 hours in the Cardiac ICU, having oxygen pumped into his brain-dead body, forcing blood through his dead heart. There was much discussion, and we finally came to the agreement that, once certain people had arrived to say goodbye, we would turn off the life support and let him be at rest. However, Dad’s body started shutting down before that moment could be reached, and just as everyone came flooding into his room for the final moments, he began to flat line. His blood pressure dropped, his heart would no longer tolerate the assistance of the machines, and they mercifully turned off the oxygen and extubated him. He immediately stopped breathing and went still. I stared at him for the longest time, trying to recognize what was happening; what had just happened. My dad had died. I quietly broke away from the group and sat by myself in the back of the room by the window, sobbing for at least 10-20 minutes. Thankfully, no one came over to me to try to comfort me. I felt so sad for a life lived in suffering. I felt relieved that the decisions were over and that his body could rest finally. I felt thankful that I had called him back just the Monday before, and had been selfless enough to meet up with him that day for lunch, even though it was always something that I half dreaded. I thought back through that lunch with him, thankful that I had made an effort, as usual, to be attentive and respectful, and never to make him feel as though I disagreed with him. I will never regret treating my dad as though I didn’t hate most of the words that came out of his mouth. I never let on, and I am glad for that. I spent so many years biting my tongue and waiting for the barrage of harsh words and strange ideas to cease. Now, finally, they have ceased forever. We are torn apart with grief of the circumstances, but we can all breathe a little more easily for the fact that he has finally passed on, peacefully, from this world that he hated so much. I hope that he spent at least some time appreciating what he had in his children, because we are all that is left of him. I wish he had had the courage to be better for us, but I know that he loved us, fiercely, in his own unconventional ways.”

The Ripening

I’ve been wanting to write about how spoiled I feel lately;

and yet, “spoiled” is not at all an appropriate description of how I feel.

I feel cared for.

Protected.

Encouraged.

Validated.

Engaged.

And more than a little luxuriated.

But I’d like to think that these gifts haven’t ripened me past my prime.

I’d like to think, instead, that I am inspired to be a more gracious receiver,

and energized to give more:

To be a better friend/sister/aunt/partner/citizen/human/caretaker.

I’d like to think that my potential is limitless, as is my potential to help, and that in this manner none of us will ever come to think of ourselves as “spoiled,”

rather that we are perpetually budding fruit,

offering ever better things to this world.

In honor of what has recently become my second most prolific year of reading, I present to you: my 1998 book log!

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Monet’s Windows

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It is said that  a man’s eyes are the windows into his soul. Might it not also be said that a person’s windows are the eyes of his or her soul?

I have always been fascinated by windows: what can be seen through them from the outside, the view from indoors — but also the windows themselves: the dressings, the objects placed thereon, the construction, the utility, the apparent warmth and security afforded by a nearly invisible plane of glass. The idea of the window could (and does) afford many a subject for artistic and philosophical expression. I am only the latest to consider it.

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I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit Claude Monet’s home In Giverny, France. Having studied a great deal of art history during high school and college, I was well acquainted with Monet’s works, and had passed through the inevitable “Impressionist” phase that any art student must experience at some point in their educational development. Several weeks ago, at the mention of Monet, I might have shrugged my shoulders and acknowledged that he was an accomplished and prolific painter, and insisted that my mind had moved on to more complex contemporary movements.

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To visit a person’s home, however, is to come to a radically new understanding of that person. A home is often an extension of the soul that lives therein, and as I toured the rooms and grounds of Claude’s abode, I found myself coming to a much greater appreciation of his life’s work. To see the waterlilies nestled among the reflections of blue sky, framed by the branches of weeping willow on all sides— it was stepping into the pages of Gardner’s Art through the Ages and letting it come alive.

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Monet’s house in itself is a work of art. Each room painted in bright colors, and each of the many windows affording a breathtaking view onto the surroundings that inspired this man’s joyful paintings. After glimpsing through so many panes of glass framed by delicate lace curtains, peering out onto a sunlit landscape, from an almost equally sunny interior space, I can understand the inner space of an artist who wanted to bring the peace and happiness of Giverny—and of his own soul—into the world for all to see.

But enough of my ineffectual words. Let’s let the windows speak for themselves.

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The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery, makes for a wonderful introduction into the world of cephalopods. From the very beginning, we learn that Montgomery herself “knew little about octopuses,” and we get to accompany her on a very personal, albeit not very scientific, discovery into the world of the New England Aquarium. Montgomery does a fantastic job of accurately portraying a behind the scenes look at what goes on at such a large-scale aquarium as this one, located in Boston. She does such a fine job, in fact, that I found myself boiling over at times, indignant at the thought of a place that keeps wild animals in captivity: breeding them, swapping them with other zoos and aquariums, transporting them, bumbling about until they manage to keep them alive for an extended period of time—only to shake up the whole system by performing a major and disruptive remodel that stresses out all the animals. Such is the lucrative world of animals as entertainment.

But I digress.

I very much enjoyed reading about the author’s interactions with the many successive octopuses that find themselves being held at the Aquarium. It was thoroughly entertaining, and gave wonderful examples of how these incredible creatures can vary in personality and temperament. She brings out the highlights of many of the other animals in the aquarium, giving vivid examples of how fish and lobsters and even starfish can become personable, if you get to know them well enough. And she does proper justice to the amount of love and care given to these individuals by their caretakers and their admirers.

I didn’t learn much in the way of cold hard facts from the hours I spent reading this book. The author makes no “surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness,” as is promised within the subtitle. But she did manage to make me care, even more than I already did, about these animals, and all sea creatures, as individuals (my outrage at their exploitation notwithstanding). And that is a feat in and of itself.

Sy Montgomery’s memoir about her adventures with octopuses is an easy, fresh, somewhat naive look into the world of captive sea creatures. If you think you might want to learn the basics about cephalopods, this would be a great place to start.