The gardeners were working in the flower beds next door at the Lobster Shack. I asked for help for a few minutes in my attempt to improve a small garden patch in front of the house. While we were talking one of the gardeners reached down and extracted a large, quite perfect dandelion plant with its very long taproot intact. It resembled the shape and fullness of a bridal bouquet, quite a feat for a perfectly ordinary dandelion. What struck my memory camera was that root.
I’ve mentioned I’ve been going through old family photos trying to identify, label, and organize them as I’m about the only one left with family memories intact sufficiently enough to do this. I’m told by two friends who are steeped in genealogy that I should definitely not toss out photographs with subjects any I don't know. When I began this project I saw it as quick work and now, weeks later, I have walked down memory paths I did not know were still within me. It has not been easy work.
As names and events floated up into awareness I think of how unlike that magnificent dandelion with its long taproot my life turned out to be. I would describe my life as mostly surface with very little root. (“Rutts” as it would have been pronounced in many places I’ve lived.) I seemed to have been a wandering plant, one that didn’t “take” to one particular place or another.
Seeing faces and places that once were but are no longer is a peculiar thing. Sometimes I recognize if this or that person were still in this world we’d still have issues with one another. Sometimes with others there is an almost pure longing for what was not appreciated, a sense of comfort and belonging I’ve not felt since they were still in my life. Yes, regrets seep out from such work. How little I understood about the fleeting moments of relationship. My epitaph would rightly read “She took too much for granted.”
Now I live a long way from where any of them lived and there are very thin, occasional threads of connectivity with the tiny family few who remain. Now I understand about conversations that did not happen. Oh for a few more moments at tables with bowls of potato salad, baked beans, and laughter. I am grateful we did not have to share pandemic stories and that I was spared the worry of loved ones I could not have helped but as I see these faces in fading photographs, what happened to those moments where I thought there would always be enough time? It turned out there wasn’t.
A number of weeks ago I was driving home from doing errands with the radio tuned to the classical radio station. As the announcer described upcoming pieces that she was going to play I misunderstood the order so when the opening notes of the next play began they startled me because, expecting something new, I instead heard something familiar. It was one of those soaring, transformative moments like we’ve all had where music propels us far beyond our current time and place.
Later, believing the piece was Vivaldi’s “Spring” I went looking for the music wanting to hear it again. After a bit of poking I realized it was not Vivaldi’s “Spring” but instead another part of his Four Seasons, “Winter”. As the quickest and cheapest route to hearing a piece of music is to find it on YouTube, I began listening to the versions that came up which were all played on violins. What I was hearing did not exactly match the piece on the radio that had stirred me, so my next step was to search the radio station’s playlist for the specific piece I had heard. To my surprise, the piece that had been played on the radio was performed on a cello not the standard instrument for the piece, the violin. Why did the instrument make such a difference in my reaction to the piece?
Once, long ago, I had brief contact with a group of gifted folk in Vermont by attending an evening gathering that was exploring using tuning forks and sharing the concept that we humans each have a particular vibratory resonance. Without knowledge about the particular vocabulary of music or a scientific explanation of vibrational theory this was all totally new to me. What was not new was that I clearly felt some sounds quite differently than I did others. Violins are a good example in that the beauty of that soaring instrument’s diversity is profound but my physical reaction to violins has always been slightly “off”, as if it sets something in me to some state of agitation that is just a tad uncomfortable. Vivaldi’s “Winter”, played on the cello, changed the vibratory levels and seemed to resonate with something inside my being.
I had experienced this before; there is something about the sounds of a cello, something I find more compelling, a bit more raw, rough, guttural, or gritty than the other stringed instruments. What is it like to wrap one’s body around the size of it, feeling the vibrations throughout the body as well as hearing the sounds? Surely it must fill the player with joy. Of course, it is not only classical music that can make one’s physical being soar. All kinds of music have this potential. I cannot imagine that you have not experienced the shiver up the spine or an instant transformation from hearing a particular musical piece. Next time that happens see if you can physically feel it in a new or deeper way.
Could it be your own interior tuning fork doing its magic?
This territory has never been the least bit interesting to me. I once listened to a young woman, glowing, describing her honeymoon on a Disneyland cruise ship and I had all I could do to politely stay in the room. Good grief. Her honeymoon?
It strikes me, after experiencing the political upheavals of these past number of years, there are legions of Americans whose imaginations are drawn to a very “mild” version of life. No wonder they are wanting white picket fences bordering lawns that sit behind gates locked to all but those in their communities.
I do not mean offense if your taste runs to the tame but what would be the point of life without ethnic foods, hot chilies and curries, stream and spice for as long as your gut holds out? How would you find rhythms to move your body with no raging percussion or ragas or tangos? I can still remember the colors of the houses, outrageous blues and reds and the brightest of greens along the nature bleak Gaspé Peninsula and the way the people used their boldly painted houses to shout their existence—in balance, defiance, and joy?
Having obtained the status of “old” will not stop me from delighting in those blistering scenes in Outlander or the more recent Bridgerton. Yes, I am old but I am not yet not dead. Life has fluids: sweat, tears, and all the rest of it. Life can be full of dirt digging, sky leaping, water diving and interacting with one another in a huge varieties of ways. Give me life filled with passions, shouts of righteous angers and raging joys. Or so I thought. But this pandemic has brought out curious behaviors and I am now streaming my second round of wishy-washy, juvenile fodder, serial TV. I have binged watched one and am nearly finished another, one as bland and meaningless as the other. In this genre of media sexual attraction seems satisfied by dry cheek pecks or tight, dry lips touching for mere seconds. Hands do not wander. Watching in vain, hour after hour of such wuss, creates a longing for someone to cut loose and let ‘er rip but that is not going to happen. This is prescription entertainment aimed at some kind of world in which I don’t want to live. And yet I watch.
In the last couple of years of her life my Mom took to reading Harlequin Romances, those formulaic paperbacks that pop up at yard sales and thrift shops. Mom, who throughout her lifetime did not like either gossip or trash, piled those Harlequins on her chairs like stale half-bags of discarded potato chips. Now I’m watching Hallmark channel blah? Am I retreating from the challenges of the world that seems to have turned too rough, too real, too scary?
The world of politics seems to be attempting to mirror a parallel false version of the realities of life. While reports of darkness in the lives of political leaders pop up regularly so many turn their backs ignoring the obvious in favor of La La Land versions that seemed to fit with some fairy tale way of being. Why would any of us consciously choose to believe in a version of life that strips out all of the nitty gritty realities which make our lives meaningful? Isn’t this messy? Of course. But also real and honest and worthwhile. What lies behind this desire for a cotton candy diet that cannot sustain a body or a soul?
I wish someone could explain why abandoning principles for a drained and bland version of living is preferred when it seems what we most need is to stand fast and hold true to substance and meaning rather than wander off into idle distraction.