My Favorite Time of Year

I have fallen in love four times in my life and three out of those four times it was at this time of year.

There’s just something about the way things feel  now, as if all of Life lies before us.

I just wish I could stay here every year, with the days still lengthening and nothing dying or going away.

Robert Frost says it for me in his poem “A Prayer in Spring”:

It appeared in 1915 in his collection A Boy’s Will.

It goes like this:

 Oh give us pleasure in the flowers today;

And give us not to think so far away

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here

All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh give us pleasure in the orchard white,

Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;

And make us happy in the happy bees,

The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird

That suddenly above the bees is heard,

The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,

And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,

To which it is reserved for God above

To sanctify to what far ends He will,

But which it only needs that we fulfill.

That line about the bird, it has to be a hummingbird don’t you think? Some miraculous creature like this one?

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Bedbound

This is what I’ve been looking at for two days: the view out my bedroom window.

I hurt myself with that road trip Tuesday and Wednesday and the corkscrew that is now my back was twisting hard, trying to screw me straight into the floor.

I have a crookedness that has come upon me in the last five years. I looked like a straight little birch tree as a girl but now I;m changing and when it hurts it really hurts. It hurts especially when I don’t go to the Y and stretch the muscles symmetrically.

I looked out at this window at the clouds barging around the sky,

and the odd goose zipping past.

and the robins with their small clutching toes perching on Verizon’s big daddy of a cable and don’t the squirrels love that cable too!

They wobble on it with their bunched up bottoms and look like the Flying Wallendas, startling everyone below with their acrobatics.

And me, I lay on my back.

Then I hung off the edge of the bed to give a break to that that reverse cervical curve we all have as people forever holding the old bowling ball of a head forward to drive or squint at a screen.

I lay on my tummy and remembered my babyhood.

I lay on my right side and tried to reassemble in exact the detail face of the man who has been sleeping beside me all these years.

But when I lay on my left side and looked out this window, well: THAT’s when I began feeling better.

I sometimes think all we ever really need is a view of the sky.

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Rollin’ with The Punches: My Hero

If you had to write a composition about what you had learned when you spent a week with 20 teens in a tropical work camp I bet you’d have plenty to say: About what it’s like to share quarters with a million lizards say, not to mention a thousand palmetto bugs, who clung to every vertical surface in such numbers you came to think of them as wall art.  

You’d maybe mention the speed with which blisters can bubble up on hands that wield rakes, or the moist beauty of the rain forest breathing quietly beside you.

But the biggest thing I learned on my church’s Mission Trip to Puerto Rico I learned from the presence of Judy, the tall cool blue-eyed Minister of Youth and Parish Life, who led us all week and worked like a dog herself. The 20 kids and the three other adults worked like dogs too.

 I worked more like a Persian cat, or possibly a goldfish.

 I SHOULD have been hacking and chopping like everyone else and I knew that, but Judy had said it was enough that I was helping lead parts of our meditative 90-minute sessions every night. And I think it was this exemption from much of this hard labor that let me notice something I might have otherwise missed.

Spared so much of the grunt work I saw what the kids were really doing all week long: They were watching Judy, who just kept on smiling –

  • When the plane was stalled on the tarmac for an hour.
  • When the luggage didn’t make it onto our connecting flight at JFK.
  • When we finally threaded through jungle darkness at 3am to settle into a temporary housing in a tiny bungalow, all 25 of us squeezed in to two tiny rooms.

I took one look at the ‘wall art’ that first night and slept fully clothed.  Not Judy. Judy showered, which meant she stood under a limp rope of cold water falling from a raw pipe, then donned her high-necked nightie and gathered us to read a Psalm together.

The kids saw how she reacted to things. All week long they saw her roll with every punch. She did this even on our big ‘night off’ when we drove 40 minutes to get to a dank and smelly harbor where we waded through a slimy tide to heave ourselves into kayaks fashioned out of what looked like leftover model airplane parts, so that we might paddle through a dark tunnel of vegetation and arrive in a glowing lagoon.

Straight into this tunnel we propelled ourselves. “Don’t let me tip over! Don’t let me tip over!”  I silently prayed as the bony roots of mangrove trees knuckled our heads like playground bullies.

But who actually fell in to the blood-warm swamp because the guide with his limited English said, “Quick, paddle right!” when he meant “Quick! Paddle left”? Judy did – and surfaced laughing, even while what she called her worst nightmare was being played out, as her six-foot self was being unceremoniously boosted back into her craft. 

From underneath.

By the hands of four well-meaning males.

So what did I learn afresh at this work camp in the tropics? That much as you might HOPE the young people in your company are listening to what you are trying to tell them, really they are doing something much more important:

Really they’re just watching you with their clear eyes, taking note and remembering how grownups react to things.

This isn’t actually us but it gives you the idea:

This was us – er. this was they. (I was just the one taking the pictures.)

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Accepted Students Month

I just drove 450 miles to bring Cameron here to one of the colleges where he was accepted so he could see if his future lay there.

It was Tuesday morning when I pointed the nose of my old red car west and fetched him off the train from the other school he was also looking at.

It was just a quick three-and-a half hours and there he was, right on the platform.

We loaded up on bottled water and sandwiches at the station and coasted south to this second college – where he was immediately welcomed by current students and absorbed into campus life.

I, meanwhile, spent a fantastic evening with these two and their baby, all three of whom have come to feel to me as much like my own kids as those with whom I share genetic material.

That little family and I ate in a made-over church, now a restaurant called Terrapin.  Talk about wonderful food!  Even their baby got into the spirit of fun, though you can’t tell by this shot:

(But what is that where the wackier the parent acts the more the child looks out at the world with that Jack Benny deadpan? ((No I don’t mean that. This little girl was just playing the straight man here; as far as I can tell she normally smiles unstoppably. She could be the Hair Club President with all the happy smiling she does in a day. (Remember that Hair Club For Men ad where smiling Sy Sperling with the gorgeous waves reveals at the end that really he’s bald as an egg? I loved that ad.))

Anyway then yesterday Cameron did various other things finding-out-about-the-place things while I took turns observing the creative ferment in the Campus Center and sitting in the car – which I well know how to do as a diehard Vacationer in Her Driveway. These are my feet sticking out the window.

Finally Cam got to where he felt he had seen all he needed to see he said and sensed all he needed to sense; and so, at 4:00 pm, with a fresh wind out of the west tossing the new leaves, we made one last stop in the College Book Store and bought a T-shirt with the name of the school emblazoned on the front.

“This is the place!” Joseph Smith said when he first saw that old Salt Lake in Utah. If I helped Cam get any closer to feeling that about the school he will go to in the fall then I’m more than happy.

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot

Adventures in Travel

I say take public transportation whenever you can. Whether you’re at the bus stop, the train station or the airport, you’ll see the great spectacle of life passing before you.

On the bus or subway, the dramas are especially vivid, each one as fleeting as a 30-second ‘improv’ sketch as people get on and off at the various stops.

I think of the man the subway, peering into his daily planner, a panicked look on his face. Because I was squished up against him, I thought I knew why he was frowning: the words “Send flowers, Mom’s birthday!” appeared scrawled across the page devoted to today’s tasks.

“Did you forget?” I just had to ask. “Oh GOD!” he answered. “But I can still call, right?”

I think of the young woman swaying with the turns as she rode the bus in Cambridge Massachusetts.  Over one shoulder she sported an M.I.T.  backpack and just under its nylon strap, high on the round of her right deltoid, a vivid tattoo of  the Infinity symbol, and how nice THAT was, to ride along with someone on such intimate terms with the boundless.

On the train things are different, since you have time to really notice things.

One thing I notice, after that initial rocking interlude when the train is pulling out of the station, is how fond people are of carving private space out of public space. Young people especially think nothing of travelling with bedroom accoutrements, meaning pillows and even stuffed animals. When they can, people of every age will stretch out across all three seats for a snooze.

And then we come to air travel, which feels different from the other two modes of moving.

With air travel folks get much more sociable: Last week I saw a little boy on the Jetway talking to his toy plane as we all waited to board.

“He turned four yesterday. This is his first time flying,” the child’s mother said to the stranger standing behind them.

“Really? Only four and you’re a pilot already?” the stranger said with a look of pretend astonishment.

The child looked up at him, looked away, then looked up again as if deciding he just had to say it:

“I’m not FLYING the plane. Look at me; I’m little!”

Meanwhile, an older guy with a big front porch told everyone he had just bought his ticket last night.

“Get out! What did you pay?” the woman beside him demanded.

“$200,” said the man.

She gasped. “I paid twice that!”

“I’m sorry darlin’!” he replied, all but taking her hand to express his regret over life’s unfairness.

Of course once you’re on a plane other dynamics manifest themselves.

Sometimes people not on the aisle try to get on the aisle by asking you to switch seats, if you have that lucky spot. My advice, if you wish to remain there? Pull out some paperwork and scowl importantly into it.

Sometimes you get next to a person who just can’t stop talking. That’s how I learned you’re not dying unless you have seen a vision of ’the pastoral scene with an angel.’ Who knew?

And sometimes two people who have never before met find themselves laughing their heads off and leaning in toward one another to say things you’re pretty sure have nothing to do with flight information.

In short, we all act very human on our public conveyances, and I love watching us do it. In fact I love it here on earth generally. Maybe I’ll get the recycling symbol inked on my arm so I can keep coming back forever like that four year-old pictures us all doing.

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Birth Control Rx: Cough Strongly After Sex?

This is a clip from National Geographic where two British historians talk about birth control methods that might have been used on the Titanic. Washed up on the shores so to speak and God bless the historians; they are so meticulous.
I’ll let you get right to the link which you have to click on – this is not on YouTube but rather on National Geographic’s own site.
Let’s hear it for these two young British women talking in such a calm and enlightened way about how ’this is a con-dom,’ as they pronounced it, “which was tied on with a pink sort of ribbon.”
They tell how another birth control method of the day was “coughing very strongly after sex . To expel the semen.” Then they both laugh ruefully.
I also know from stories in my own family that some women also douched with Lysol to prevent conception. (Lysol! One elderly family member told me she was sure that’s how her older sister wound up with the uterine cancer that necessitated her early-in-life hysterectomy.)
People have a thousand opinions about abortion but I think virtually everyone sees it as a very poor last resort.
And isn’t it strange that all these years into the modern age we still don’t have a truly safe and effective method of birth control?
Anyway here is some guy’s ‘con-dom’, made of sheep intestine and tied on with a sweet pink bow. (There’s an ad first but it lasts only about 20 seconds.)
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/national-geographic-channel/specials-1/titanic-100-years/ngc-historical-birth-control/

Happy Birthday To You

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday and also the birthday of my third and final child, who was christened with waters from the river Avon where old Will lived. (My pals Jacquie and Lew brought some over in a tiny vial when they were in England the months before we dunked him.)

Old Will is the guy who brings me to Cambridge MA once a month to participate in readings-aloud of his plays, in their entirety if you please, by a group so ancient and venerable Longfellow’s daughter belonged to. it: Grave Alice herself, or was it Laughing Allegra or ­­Edith with Golden Hair. They’re the youngsters from Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour,” a poem whose first eight or ten lines every schoolchild in America once knew by heart back in that golden age when we all walked to school, uphill, both ways ha ha.

I rarely feel grave when I’m with these people. In fact I’m sometimes smiling so much I miss my cue. Except when I have a part that you’re supposed to sing because of how obvious it is that this one set of verses were written as song. The Wind and the Rain from the play “Twelfth Night” that’s one. Also Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies, which I had to sing when I drew the part of Ariel in “The Tempest” (Also, hilariously, Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I.)

Terrified at the prospect of having to sing  alone, in public, I got right to work scouring the internet until I found a CD with the songs of Shakespeare, played that sucker in my car for two weeks solid until I had both tunes memorized. Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, I’ll never forget i,t and when my turn came, well, I got through it but only because one person sang along with me.

At our last meeting we read Henry V which I missed because of the recent death in our family. I was to play the part of Mistress Quickly, a bawdy sort of wench who gets off more double entendres than Charlie Sheen did in the original Two and a Half Men. Choice role!

They’re all choice roles; everyone thinks so: We did an in-group survey the summer before last where we were asked to reflect on what the group means to us. One person cited “the Bard’s poetry and jaw-dropping use of the King’s English.” Another spoke of how “totally engrossed” he becomes in whatever character he is assigned to play: “I try to figure out where I have seen this person before and what kind of a person he was/is and what I think is going on with him. That exercise is, in itself, diverting. Then the challenge of trying to pull it off in the actual reading occupies me fully. Added to that is the double enjoyment of the fellowship and of sharing in experiences which meant so much to my parents.” (His parents! And this man is in his 80’s! ) And a third person said he treasures “the warm, mutually-supportive, endlessly-interesting people who open their homes to each other and feed each other.” (I should have said that we also feast hugely once the reading is done.) “I love Cantabrigian Yankees,” he went on, “who are gracefully frank – or discreet as the case may be – and appreciate pleasure, including the pleasures of disputation. I love that we all are committed to a project of a ritual and aesthetic revelation of the noble and evil heart of mankind.”

Well said ! So here’s to that great old figure who it believed was born on April 23, 1564 and also died on that date in 1616. And here’s to the great-in-my-mind new figure who, even as a little boy, had a fine sense of theatre himself. (He’s the one in the pink.)

And now…  Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, just so you can appreciate the challenge. (I transformed myself into a youthful person for this performance. (We really good actors, we know how to do that. 🙂 ))