#80 The Range of Beauty

The Range of Beauty.

Many of us in cold climates grumble about January: it’s long, it’s cold, it’s dark, and worst of all, it is a very long way from spring.

First there was an odd warm spell followed by a falling-in-clumps day of unserious snow, one of those pretty snows like the lazy flakes depicted on holiday cards. By afternoon the glop was present most everywhere with cleaned up roadways and good going. Then the wind picked up in late afternoon and by nightfall the temperatures plummeted and the glop froze solidly into ice ruts. By morning it was 11 degrees with 40 mph wind gusts. It became one of those winter trials where something–the car, the house–something, will break down because that is just the way it works when weather goes to extremes. There were repair trucks in driveways fixing the (most likely) expensive problems.

In a very typical New England winter weather pattern the cold was broken a day or so later when a snowstorm moved through, warming the air and dumping ten or so inches of pristine white over everything. The sun rose brilliantly in the early morning, the storm having moved north. The colors of the ocean and the sky and the light were exquisite and constantly shifting  the whole day.

Silvers, blues, traces of pink here and there, with tinges of green as the waves gently broke on shore, and a shining band of light on the horizon, like a magic highlighter pulling your eyes to the dancing light of that line of shimmer.

My thoughts turned to the beautiful summer houses on the shores of the Atlantic, empty, their owners far away in warmer climes. The measurement of abode when one has choices are often based on “climate” usually meaning temperature. We humans don’t care for being cold (many of us but not all.) But today’s winter beauty was every bit as glorious as a peak summer’s day. It might have even exceeded it, in the stark light and sparkling white. A gull lifted off the rocks, just as it would do in the summer, only the backdrop to the flight was gray and black and white, the colors of the bird itself.  The symmetry was precise and cause for a gasp of recognition and elation. This exquisite day was missed by those who were elsewhere.

I sat on the porch warmed to 70 degrees by the sun, my heavy wool sweater discarded temporarily on the floor. When the sun slides down under the horizon at day’s end the sweater will be needed again, but for this afternoon of light and beauty there is only “Thanks”.

#78 The Anger Refugee

The Anger Refugee.

An image formed in my mind as I was thinking of the angry men I’ve encountered in my life, an image of a Chinese foot binding shoe and how it physically deformed and crippled female children.  My mind swooshed, linking the image of the physical damage done to female children via foot binding to the (modern) psychological damage done to the psyche of a growing young male, his feelings twisted and malformed by psychological restraints. In my psychobabble shortcut, these impossible restraints happen to young boys and men via demands of family or society in the suppression of expressions of love, fear, or emotional vulnerability when outlets for these hurts through healing talk and sharing is also suppressed. Again with the psychobabble, I think of how women are thought to be better at sharing and talking out feelings than men, either young or old.  I am drawing John Wayne stereotypes here and I ask your indulgence.

Modern Moms are working very hard to not use templates of the past, trying to deeply alter what has come before their shot at making a difference in the sons they raise with so much love and hope. I do not know how possible it is to rectify the past that lingers still, given our history and our prevailing culture’s grip on the idea of what it is to be a man.  My hope is that progress is being made but my thoughts turn back to the damage already done in the generations flanking my own.

Like so many women I’ve had up close and personal encounters with angry men. “What do you mean ‘I’m angry’?” “I’m not angry!” flying out of mouths as eyes bulge and red hues spread across brows, the intensity of sound beginning to bounce off the walls, gasoline tossed on a fire if you attempt to state the obvious. Holding silence as a buffer, you ride out this storm covering your own gut fear which is only a paper shield attempt at protection.

Not intended as criticism nor intended as excuse, from my safe distance of survival many miles and years  away from the fuse of past experience, I return to examine my conscience and my memories. Every day there are screen repeats I can watch to remind me of what I once intimately lived, and worked alongside, and saw repeated in the lives of women friends. We knew we were up against danger even if we had not been hit, always carrying the silent “yet” at the end of that thought. I carry sorrow and shame for myself and all the others, those who did not get to that “yet”, who suffered or fled, who did whatever could be done to shield themselves and their children. And I carry sorrow, shame, and grief for those who still suffer, for those who sometimes die.

The image of horridly malformed feet stays with me as I picture a hurt boy struggling to suppress his tenderness or his fear, told to be a man and suck it up, told to not ‘be a girl’. ( And yes, girls sometimes get similar treatment.) The psyche twists, confines itself to the required space, permanent damage done, and the questions hang: how will this manifest, what pattern will it take, who else will suffer as a result? Most often we can never get to “Source” which becomes embedded in these lives. No matter how much  faith I have in talk therapy, such damage runs as deep as an underground river. To those men and to the well-intended professionals working hard to repair the damage: please, please try and keep trying.

Throughout my life I witnessed angry men rising in their jobs or professions , seeking solace in power over others, a balm or elixir for wounds from their own histories or experience over time. In our work places, in our government, in our homes, and as fathers to our children, they are still there and still rising, the damage of personal histories played out in so many ways. Without answers, I only have this image of the bound foot released, yet far too damaged to ever be completely repaired.

I live my life purposefully far distanced for a very long time, no longer willing to participate in the intimate,  up-close-and-personal, bravery of partnered life. I am an anger refugee. But of course my own anger spurts out on occasion evidenced by loud four letter words when there’s no one to hear. There are many of us who have chosen such self-imposed exile over the pain of daily confrontation. We watch from the sidelines. We know it when we see it and we grieve for what we have all had to bear.

# 77 Honoring the Women of OLLI

Honoring the Women of OLLI.

If we have spoken face-to-face or by phone  or via email in the last couple of years you have heard me gush about OLLI. There are a number of such lifelong learning programs throughout the country: Senior College, Elderhostel, and the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning are three such programs. I found my way to the program in Portland where the offerings are broad and the people are fabulous, where OLLI has its own LEED gold star building, and the program was founded and funded by a native Maine philanthropist. There are OLLI programs throughout the country and they get raves everywhere.

No doubt my course choices (Consciousness, Aging, and Women’s Issues mostly) have led me to coming to know more women students than men and Oh! what women! (both students and instructors). Having the privilege of returning to school over age 50 brings out some of our best qualities; egos left outside the door; our ticking clocks  keeping us mindful and focused; the collective intelligence and vital inquisitiveness of the participants are all baseline.

Where there is joy there is also sorrow. I attended the service for one of the women I met in a fabulous class entitled Women & Aging that was offered a year ago. It is logical that given our age range (classes are free for those over 90) loss should be expected. Only it wasn’t. The depth of wisdom and intelligence of this particular woman made it a privilege to have known her in that context even though the class contact was defined and brief. I could write that about dozens of women with whom I’ve shared these classes and this woman would still stand out.

“Lifelong learning” is bedrock. Why did we ever think anything other? What is brilliant is taking this truth and giving it space and place and opportunity. This can be done in a formal setting like Senior College and it can be done in libraries and living rooms, in church basements, most anywhere there are numbers of retired people of active minds and deep conscience, people who have life experiences to share and longings to continue exploring.

The women (and men) I’ve met in these classes in these last two years have altered the path of my later life. I’ve been in school in one form or another since I was five and none of what came earlier was as richly rewarding as the expansiveness possible at this age and through these classes. To these wonderful women-and men-of OLLI, I give thanks.

And to Sally: Godspeed.

# 76 The Obvious

The Obvious.

Another ”Duh” moment has arrived. I was trying to figure out why I have kept one particular library book so long overdue. “I like this author”, I rationalized only then realizing in the past I have purchased her books while “forgetting” to read them or, like this time,  I’ve pushed past a library renewal due date while leaving the book abandoned and untouched on my bookshelf. “But she’s so clear, so succinct in shedding light on important issues of the day…” continued the swirl in my head, until it dawned on me that it does not feel good reading about hard world realities no matter how gifted the writer.

I then thought of my current tendency to binge watch series TV. I rationalize, thinking this is a temporarily distraction which allows my thoughts to escape into ease. I avoid dire. I cannot abide violent themes or films with protagonists with no redeeming character. I crave ”uplifting” and ”heartwarming”. I relish “overcoming” and gleefully immerse myself in stories where difficulties lessen as progress is made.

Lightbulb moment:  I watch or read things that allow me to feel good. ”Why is that?” I ask myself and the immediate, and obvious, comeback is that my aging body already hurts enough. Reading or watching stories containing pain and suffering pile emotional discomforts on to physical discomforts already present in sufficient amounts. Diverting attention toward things that feel good helps. Enormously.

Maybe a dash or two of “reality” reading or watching is enough, in the same way adding chili pepper flakes or jalapeños to food is sometimes worth a bit of gastric distress. Just not too much and not too often.

# 75 December

December.

For most of my adulthood December has been the most difficult month. I made good use of the cold for much of my life; both ice skating and skiing were passions at least until motherhood happened. With it came an awareness of responsibility that made flying down mountains with abandon not quite as much fun. That happens to some of us and not to others. My early years were spent in very cold places, mostly along the Canadian border of NY and VT where -20 and -30 were normal. After I left VT my blood started thinning and I started getting really cold even when it was way warmer than that.

December’s emphasis on Christmas was often fraught, manifesting through various layers and reasons. I’d separated from my Christian routes before college had ended. Losing my married family then later, my parents, sealed the difficulties that Christmas held. I always wanted Christmas to hold the magic it did in childhood. One year when I was around ten, a stuffed poodle  with a collar and chain leash was left between the front doors of our house. I was too old to believe in Santa by then but a bit of magic returned as I never learned who gave me that toy. I still want magic to happen. Don’t you?

I continue to be more than a little surprised that I now live in Maine, a place I link to cold far more intensely than I did in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. But this is southern Maine and that is the remote north of Vermont which implies a compensation that I don’t actually feel.

Now my belief is the cold is actually less of a problem than December’s darkness, that long going-into-the-tunnel feel which begins in November and doesn’t let up until the longer, deeper shadows of the trees become noticeable in February, proof the sun’s coming back.

I’ve heard grumbles about December’s “holidays” from many others, about the “It’s over” sigh of relief which comes on January 2nd. After that it’s a matter of hunkering down and making the best of it until spring is actually felt. Up here that can happen around the end of June, if we’re lucky, or July, if we aren’t. The cold ocean keeps warmth at bay in Spring (but whoopee for those October days joyously–unexpectedly–balmy).

If I could stay focused, which is damn hard while constantly shivering, I’d realize how much I appreciate winter’s quieter rhythms, its long stretches of silence and peace, the days of tea and books stereotypes which ARE real but fleeting when old bones sit hard in cold ache. But the blue-white days, the sparkles of fresh snow, watching the Eiders, and the shore rocks empty of walkers, with these come balance and reminders to stay present and grateful.

#74 Solstice Photo Essay: Snug Harbor Nursery, May 2019

Solstice Photo Essay: Snug Harbor Nursery, May 2019.

Nothing beats a road trip with friends. These photos, some of my favorites from this past year, came from a wonderful day when we headed south, the roads free and clear before the annual visitors-from-elsewhere stampede. The stop at Snug Harbor Nursery in Kennebunk was spontaneous. In addition to fabulous plants and garden statuary Snug Harbor has a variety of birds running around their grounds. I had forgotten how much I really like chickens.

Whether it was the low light of the overcast day, or a camera to computer transference glitch, or goofs related to it being my first time using the new (used) camera, whatever it was the original quality of the images has been lost and what remains can be viewed on a screen but lack the quality needed to print.

As winter wraps around us, it’s most important to remember the Solstice marks the turn to more sunlight and longer days. Spring is just around the corner and that means tulips and more chickens. WooHoo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

# 73 The Kindness of Strangers

The Kindness of Strangers.

It is simply amazing how much a day can be changed by a kind gesture, a smile, or someone helping out because they noticed. I now use a cane while out doing errands. It’s both worrisome and mortifying to be dependent on something that doubles as an “I’m old and need help” symbol. But it’s better than falling down. 

I had stopped at a local, large supermarket around 5:30 p.m., Grocery Store Rush Hour. The checkout lines were thick with pre-big-dinner holiday carts; the store’s ambience focused and purposeful. The groceries of a woman ahead of me in the checkout line were filling multiple bags. She turned to me and said “Could I put those (my few groceries) on the belt for you?” and then, much more easily able to reach my items than I, she did so.

A few minutes before I’d been looking up at a blank space where a particularly hard to find tea might have been on back of the very top shelf. At a loss as to  how to even check if it was up there so very far over my head, I looked up as a pro-basketball tall man was coming down the isle. “Could you”, I began pointing upward to the empty space as he handed over the box, his wife chuckling knowingly. 

As I plopped my groceries into the car, I was about to look for a return location for the empty cart when a passing shopper reached for it saying “Can I take that for you?”

In the space of fifteen minutes during the crush of a very busy time, three strangers gave assistance. I glowed on the drive home, a kindness recipient feeling very good about the world.