Friday, January 22, 2010

Seeing Seasons

I saw Summer yesterday.

It happens to me at least twice a year, every year. And, each time it's as unexpected and delightful as if it was happening to me for the very first time.

The phenomenon is familiar, but the setting never is. Yesterday I was riding on the bus. I was reading or looking at something near at hand when I suddenly looked up and out the window.

The bus was stopped at Sixth and Lamar. As I looked across the street I saw a man setting up something on the rooftop patio of the Whole Foods building. His movement caught my eye, but it was the light on the palm tree down in front of the building that made the moment.

Even though it is still January, and even though the weather is cold (well, for Austin, anyway), there was something about the light that said, simply, Summer.

What was it, really? Perhaps it was the angle, perhaps the color. But does the angle or color of the Sun change, just like that, from one minute to the next?

The bus lumbered on. I was looking at the world awash in a Winter Sun again, trying to imagine how change like that might be possible. I know that the character of the light changes from season to season, but how is that actually expressed? The world is turning, after all, and every second, the angle changes.

Even big things, like seasons, have their small moments.

Sure, in July, it's easy to see the summer sun, perhaps even hard to see anything else. But then, one day in August, while riding on that bus in the stifling heat, I'll look up and see Winter.

At that point, seeing the next season won't make me any cooler, but at least I'll enjoy the surprise.

Monday, January 18, 2010

April is Not the Cruelest Month

The mating dance of the herd of hallmark begins again as the winter unfolds.

For me it is not April that is the cruelest month, but February. Long before Pierre died; long before I experienced the Massacre at Hudson's, Valentine's Day was known to me as the day that Jack died.

I learned of this association at an age when I had no sentimentalism about Lynda's dead first husband because I knew that it was to Jack's death that I owed my very existence. I didn't mourn him but I was infinitely to curious to understand her feelings of grief.

I would try to imagine how she felt on that awful day. I wondered about the details, like who had told her and if she had broken down in tears, sobbing and wailing or if she'd stood silent and stoic in the doorway looking past the young soldiers who had been dispatched to inform her of Jack's death.

I know I asked her once about these details once. She told me, too, but curiously I don't recall all the answers. Did she cry? Yes. A lot? Yes. Did she miss him? That's the part I don't recall, perhaps because she probably never answered, leaving me to know in silence.

I do that a lot now, knowing in silence. I know that once one is past the bright line that marks knowing from not, grief is not optional. It is also not the only option. Immersed in the river of grief, tears may be shed but they do not define the experience. No single moment can.

This is a good thing, actually. To finish the analogy, without the cleansing flow of the river, the present would be too painful.

Now, from experience, I can tell you this: After enough time in that river, while they never vanish from the mind or body, even the deepest wounds cease to throb with such penetrating frequency. Eventually, the body seeks to emerge.

While those on the riverbank--those who have never lost--look on in wonder, we, the grief-stricken, stumble out, dry off and re-enter society.

The untouched wonder--quite rightly--that we are actually able to do this. They consider it amazing that we can even walk and talk again with meaning in our voice and purpose in our step.

How, they wonder, as did I, once: How can they simply move on?

I know it's not simple, and I guess not everyone does. I know I will. In fact, knowing that this day would come was perhaps the single hardest thing I had to deal with in the very first moments after Pierre's death.

Hopefully that day is here.

Part of the reason for this hope is the fact that I have a new job, starting February one. And, while it may look like 'just a new job' to some, to me it looks like the riverbank.

Who knows, perhaps it will change the way I feel about February.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Poet O: Stillness

"First came the watchers," he said, staring off into nothing.

I watched him, waiting for him to start writing, but he was lost in thought.

"They were different," he said.

"They had a stillness in their minds. They could sit and watch."

I had no idea what he was talking about. I looked out to see what he was looking at. At first it seemed odd, like a stillness had settled on the park. Nothing seemed to be moving.

"By watching, they learned. Then they became the teachers. 'Watch', they would say, 'and see what happens.'"

Pen still poised over the blank page in his notebook, the Poet O made no effort to make good on his promise to write me a poem. As he stared off into the distance, I stirred to leave the bench. But before I could rise, he turned back to face my and extended a dirty bony claw of a hand to hold me fast.

"They would make the wild tame, and the restless purposeful," he said.

"And the poem?" I asked. Perhaps if he wrote it I would be free.

He tilted his head and looked at me, studying me like a specimen. "Yes," he said, "You shall have your poem and I shall have my dollar. But first, you must see."

"I can see just fine."

"Ah, so think you, young lover have you but given up your come for this? Look at your feet. Tell me what you see."

Dutifully I looked at the pavement between my feet. I saw nothing. A few ants maybe. A cigarette butt. A leaf.



"Nothing of import. A cigarette butt? A leaf? I see those things"

"Look again."

I looked again, hopeful that this effort might soon release me from this tedious lesson.

I saw the cigarette butt again, the leaf and the pavement. The ants were still there too. Come to think of it, they were still in the same places they'd been when I looked at them a moment ago.

I blinked and looked again, closer. They were ants alright, and they weren't moving.

I looked up at the Poet O, not sure if this was a trick of my eyes or his odd influence. He smiled and gestured broadly at the park around us.

I looked up and out, my gaze following his sweeping gesture. The same things I had only barely perceived before were still there. A woman, pushing a carriage. A man walking his dog. A couple walking arm in arm.

They were all still there.

None had moved. Nothing was moving.

The breeze held it's breath and my eyes watered as I tried to perceive motion that was no longer there.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Twenty Five Years

When anyone asked him his age, my father used to reply with the number of years that he'd been married to my mother. While I used to find this embarrassingly corny--especially because my parents were never particularly affectionate--I think he got it just right.

I turned twenty-five this year.

Hard though it may be to believe (for us anyway), the first of January 2010 was more than simply the beginning of a New Year and a new Decade. For us--Valery and me--it was also the beginning of our second quarter-century together.

I have to say, if the next twenty-five years are anything like the last twenty-five, it's going to be one hell of a good ride.

Philosopher Robert Kane, who wrote Through the Moral Maze once said that our lives are centered around and conducted through what he called great individual 'social experiments'. These are the principal activities that we undertake in the course of our lives: long term projects, like building careers, making friends, creating art, etc.

They are considered to be 'experiments' because we undertake them as means of coping in the face of the unknown character of our lives.

We learn about ourselves in the same way a scientist might approach any unknown. We set up some rules of conduct and hold ourselves accountable for the results. Often the rules are forcibly changed to accommodate the feedback we receive in the course of our experiment, but if we are fair and capable, we strive for consistent results, like better jobs, more friends and a body of artistic work.

I took Dr. Kane's class at UT when I was an undergraduate and still a virtual newlywed, but I was encouraged by his assertion that of the many interwoven and self-defining 'social experiments' that make up our lives, marriage is potentially the most important and consequently rewarding of all. At the time, what did I know? Now, I know he was absolutely right.

I also know now, in a very real way, what I could only anticipate back then: Marriage is also one of the most challenging undertakings we can assume. It is this level of difficulty that accounts for both the phrase 'it takes work' and the fifty-percent failure rate.

Sadly, the difficulties of marriage are relentlessly examined, while the rewards for the half that take their 'work' seriously are seldom explored. Often good marriages are ridiculed, as if they just couldn't be possible. Certainly divorce makes a better story than a good marriage.

Alas, our story is not so exciting, but it is a lasting one. Our marriage--this grand experiment--has been an amazing and delightfully rewarding experience. Suffice it to say that I would write more but am being called to table.

It's rough work but someone's got to do it.