Bow tie

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, September 18, 2016

 

A near perfect September day, you know the kind. We are about to witness a young bride walk down a path lined in pinecones and dusted with rose petals, a pathway of lightly mowed weeds and grasses, nothing too civilized or slick — in fact, all of it a little bit rough. The light breeze, the intense heat of the sun’s kiss on the backs of necks, the first yellow leaves on the aspens, these wrap us in late-summer sweetness.

It’s wedding season, you know: something you mostly hear about until you are actually there, looking on, squinting through the prisms of welling tears. Two people are about to make promises. This is something that feels big — as if silent forces are willing the entire cosmos into alignment, from stars and compasses to leaves on family trees to the micro-flutter of butterfly wings. All of it converges to a tiny crucible, a moment in time that brings human speck soldering to human speck.

Her dress is elegant and simple, off-white with a short train. Her flowers are native, carefully unceremonious. The sound of the breeze through the aspens ushers us into a deliberate moment of silence; and there is nothing to think about — and everything to enjoy. At attention, every fiber of our leaning in towards love makes us feel more vibrant

Hypnotized by this sound of the wind in the aspens, we allow ourselves to be drawn into a story about to begin. The words are good. The importance of friendship and of respect in a marriage. The value of constancy, and patience, and being present, and of never forgetting what it is that has sparked this fire to begin with. The two of them stand there, riveted, nodding, eager to quench a basic thirst for ritual, for the tying of bonds, for the making of meaning, for union. Their vows are fresh and easy versions of I-don’t-know-how-I-got-so-lucky meets I-promise-to-honor-and-respect.

But, I mean, they had us at saying each others’ names — saying names the way we all like to hear our names spoken. As if there is no other name in the world, weapons down, bare to the bone, a word that signifies one being and one being alone.

I notice that the four groomsmen’s ties perfectly match the flower arrangements. Gold, apricot, sage, eggplant. Later, when I ask if it this is a deliberate act, they look at me as if I’m insane. We were told fall colors, one says. That was all, says another. Well, I answer, you look great. Pretty ties — men forging order through the hand-over-hand of fabric-y knots — make me want to fall to my knees. Is it the tenderness of taking care?  Marking moments by dressing up for them? Is it the oddness of the tie itself combined with the time we take to tie it?

More and more we seem to be leaving it casual, moving through the world comfortably, sometimes even a little sloppily. Our shoes don’t have thirty buttons, our shirts don’t require ironing. We don’t wear overcoats and gloves the way we used to. Ties take it up a notch, especially in the mountains.

Last summer about this time, in a quirky workday moment selling cashmere sweaters, three men from a wedding party come in search of someone who can tie a bow tie. They are carrying tumblers of cocktails, wearing untucked tux shirts.  Charmed, I step up and use one of my motley skills. They have more friends, they venture, could they bring them by? A couple of hours later, I have fourteen dressed-up men in bow ties standing before me, and, eyeing the tie-scape in the small shop, I feel a great sense of absurdist accomplishment and joy. Something will be witnessed today.

At this very moment, the groom, in relaxed, country-life shades of tweed (but buttoned up nicely at the top), has just told his bride how much he loves her. How much he wants her to rely on him. How he hopes he will live up to everything she deserves. She has already said to him how all she has ever hoped for in a man, she has found in him. And more.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the two fledgling spouses are told that, as a matter of fact, because of this union the world will be just a little better of a place. That in union is much more strength and potential for love — that really anything on earth can be done from this starting point.

And as we wait in the noonday sun, wait for the groom to kiss his bride and for her to kiss him back, we cannot help but feel smitten, tenderized and completely renewed.

Mutiny of the bounty

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 21, 2016

 

Just a couple of hours down the road, there is a sweet little shady honor-system fruit stand, where before me, on a spectacular August-ripe summer day, stands an all-white Australian shepherd, a dog standing so still there is nothing to do but reach down and pat it.

Its owner, picking vegetables and a flower bouquet while keeping her eye on her charge (a baby boy playing with a carrot), tells us the dog is deaf and blind and that, in general, it is a good idea to let any dog sniff your hand before reaching toward it. Retroactively doing as I am told, I ask if it is a puppy. No, she says, the dog is actually 6 years old.

I find myself hypnotized by the quiet presence of the dog — just sort of struck by this animal’s life, eyes scarred and ears never having heard a sound, let alone a dog’s broader-than-human spectrum of them. I stay close, bending down. The owner fills us in on the nature of the rescue — another Aussie shepherd whose health was risked by breeders attempting, against great odds, to get the exceptional white one with blue eyes. Puppies with two merles as parents, usually dogs with an abundance of white in their coats, have a very small chance of being born normal; most are born either deaf or blind or both, and are then put down.

This dog has been adopted instead. She has been living on 40 acres, getting to know every square foot of the property by sense of smell and through the slow process of trusting those who love her.

She moves in miniscule increments in the fruit stand, micro-shifting this way and that like a compass needle, mostly staying put. I am feeling the silence of her world. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is, how little of the normal wear and tear is visible on her body. How thick, white, and wavy her fur is.

What gets me, though, right here and right now, is that she does not see the beauty and mutinous bounty — which can indeed overtake one — of the color-wheeled, sun-drenched, summer-thick world around her.

I buy slicer tomatoes so perfect, I am thinking of a sandwich (made on local brick oven bread I am not supposed to eat) of nothing but tomatoes and mayonnaise, just like the ones I ate as a kid. In the stall, a rainbow of produce is laid out neatly in brown bags, surprising flower bundles line a wall, and through the filtered mid-afternoon light, dust motes seem to be lolling in the air.  And outside? Where the dog cannot see, even more?

Outside, it is a banner year in these parts — nothing like it in 20 years according to people who live here. Trees are so laden, it is a wonder they can even support all the heavy flesh of fruit irresistibly dragging branches down weeping-willow style. Staring up from under the peach trees at a u-pick place to the brilliant blue of sky, I feel the thrill of warm fruit ripening so close to me, I can almost hear it. Everything is so lush, so about to burst.  In amongst the plums, we gorge a little before virtually holding our baskets up and tapping the beauties in.

In town, wild apricots line the sides of roads in blushing masses, then fall silently into ditches. And at a friend’s neighbor’s tree we find ourselves standing in the equivalent of fruit drifts, apricots so thick on the ground, our flip-flopped feet are sticky, sliding around, squishing the ripe fruit.

I am thinking of the pure white dog surrounded by the glory of the world and unaware of it. What do I know of her experience, though, really? Of her nose’s take on the world, or her heart’s? I know that in some ways what she really reminds me of most of all is me, of the sense of being a privileged human, someone surrounded by all kinds of great bounty and often not even aware of it.

In our readings of beautiful things, this is what we come across today by Pema Chodron, an 80-year-old American woman, Buddhist monk and gem. “What is meant by neurosis is that in limitless, timeless space — with which we could connect at any time — we continually have tunnel vision and lock ourselves into a room and put bolts on the door. When there’s so much space, why do we keep putting on dark glasses, putting in earplugs, and covering ourselves with armor?”

The white dog stays quietly in the stall. Me, I am outside, where — at least at the height of every kind of summer sensory overload — my dark glasses and earplugs are yanked out for a few moments in time.

RDHTMOM meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 15, 2016

Recent sighting: a little red Chevy with the license plate RDHTMOM. Behind the wheel is a 40-something brunette with a medium bob and bangs.

Take a deep breath as you grip the steering wheel, and squeeze hard, hard as you can. Harder. Harder still. Aaaaand release. Feel the blood flow into your fingers, and then send your fingertips up, glancing at the color of your nails. Revlon, Wintermint — an icy shade of blue-green that smells delicious. Scented nails, and not a chip or flaw to be seen! Breathe in Wintermint. Relax.

Drop your shoulders and glance in the rearview mirror. Is someone driving too close behind you again? Gently signal and glide peacefully into the next lane, breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. From the lower belly, to the ribcage, then to the upper chest and throat. Just like they taught you in that yoga class.

Now, turn the AC off and open up your front windows four inches. With another deep breath, enjoy the feel of the warm wind messing up your hair. Yes, both a red hot mom and a regular mom might do this. Relax your whole regular-mom face. Take off your sunglasses. Shake your head. Remember yourself at around 8 years of age when the world was your oyster. Pretend you see your best friend coming toward you on her blue bike and smile that winning smile, ear to ear.

Turn off the radio — since you never know which station to play, anyway. There’s too much pop in country, and not nearly enough country in pop.  You have no clue what red hot music would be — and maybe never did. If your phone is on the dash, which it probably is, pick it up and toss it onto the back seat; because even if your phone does contain your life, do you need every square inch of it at your fingertips every second of every day? For that matter, wouldn’t it feel good not to have so many contacts? Or so many apps that your 10-year-old has to show you how to use? You hate Candy Crush. Your favorite app is Goldfish Pond because it sits there and shimmers, and when you touch it, it ripples. The fish glide. You can change the Japanese background pattern but that’s about all. Genius.

If you were going to design an app that was meant to make people happy, what would it be? Something like Pond. A blue sky with a random crow flying by?

Whichever way you were going to turn next, get ready to turn the other direction. Yes, you are going to go the other way. Not to the bank. Not to Safeway. Not to the school to pick up the kids. Instead, you are going to make that wrong — but very right — turn. Sink deeply into your bucket seat and adjust it back a click, letting your head tilt back with it. Say the words, “Oh yeahhhh,” just like in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” your favorite movie of all time.

Look around, noting beautiful things in this unfamiliar neighborhood. A budding rose bush. A dog sitting on a porch, wagging its tail. There is goodness here. Breathe in and out, and undo that top button of your jeans. He’d love you even it they weren’t so tight.

Of course, he thought you’d love the license plate. And the car. Because when a woman turns 40, and her two kids are already looking at her, like, “she’s old, she’s my mom,” she needs a pick-me-up. He was trying to make you feel good, tell you no need to worry. So you put on a show and acted pleased, despite the fact that you adored that 2001 white Suburban because it was smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone.

Now, your license plate makes every single person behind you speed up to check you out. And that forces you to look straight ahead, sunglasses on, as if you’re too cool for school, but really what you are is mortified. Belly breaths all the way around the block — a complete circumnavigation until you are calm.

There. Now, pull your shoulders up to your ears and let them drop. Then, do it again, only this time shrug lightly, holding the shoulders up in a lilting way, and smile that winning smile. That’s your move, Redhotmom. Shrug-and-smile.

Because then, when someone is giving you that sideways glance from the next lane, instead of being an imposter with a vanity plate that screams, “Look at me,” you’re the bright- eyed woman with the windy hair who shrugs and smiles every time, as if to say, “He thinks I’m red hot, and I just don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.”

Tiny buds

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 1, 2016

Five years ago today, my husband died.

My daughter was about to graduate high school, turn 18, go off to college and start her life. She had weathered his diagnosis of melanoma and seen him through 17 months of struggle and regimen, pain and hope. She had weathered my moving out of the house for six months, as I worked to figure out what was wrong with our marriage, even as he was trying to cope with his health. And she weathered my moving back in after our reconciliation, which coincided with the discovery of a tumor on his spine and subsequent neurosurgery and hospitalization. She was there with me at the end when he died at home, his brain overcome with lesions.  She saw him struggle for his last breaths — a 53-year-old heart that was not ready to stop.

We sleep in the same bed for a month afterward to heal the trauma of his death, and then we begin the complex and unpredictable process of grieving.  We compartmentalize, keep busy. I pack up some things and leave others alone. She works; I work; we exercise. The permanence of the situation becoming clearer, we began to truly feel the gaping hole a daily familiar physical body leaves after its disappearance from Earth. I wonder how so many people on the planet can be going through the same grief. So much loss, so many holes — more holes than people, it seems.

When she leaves for college, I am alone in my house. I put in a new bathtub and get in it every night to play Words with Friends, 10 games at a time, for the company and to keep things very, very simple. I go to work. I feel the love of my community.  I listen to my daughter tell me about her new girlfriends at college, strong, smart, beautiful young women with whom, by the grace of God, she bonds. One of them has lost her father recently, as well, and there is additional support and understanding. I feel she is being watched over.

Exactly one year to the day after his passing, my throat swells up — I can’t swallow — and I go to the local doctor for a strep test, which comes back negative. Because it has a tendency to, my story spills out, and I ask the doc if he believes in metaphors. Gently, he says he does. “I guess I can’t swallow something,” I sum up. There’s something lodged in my throat; it’s a lump the size of a walnut, stuck there. In a moment of grace and epiphany, I realize what it is I cannot swallow: The idea that my widow’s year is up, that I will be asked to get over it now and move on. Once I grant myself a little more time, I get better.

That same month, I reconnect with a man I’ve known for 20 years.  My daughter watches, heartsick and angry that I’m seeing someone so soon after the death of her father. She watches us struggle through early days, two middle-aged people trying again. Meanwhile, she meets someone, and begins the first major relationship of her life with a sweetheart her father would have liked. She attends her own mother’s wedding and finds herself in a family larger by three adult stepbrothers and a 6-year old stepsister. She weathers the jealousy of her mother in another mother role, and then just barely weathers as she watches her mother sell the house she has called home her entire life.

Against all odds, she opens to a new stepfather and begins to develop a real relationship with him, despite the hole her own father has left. She asks me what if she isn’t grieving right. Why doesn’t she cry more, is there something wrong with her? Why does it seem, in some ways, to get more real and painful the farther out?

Meanwhile, I take the pulse of my own grieving, even as I begin the journey with a new partner once again. We buy land and start the process of building a house down the road, in a fresh place. Life moves us forward like a river, heaving underneath, bigger than us.

Amidst it all, the coexistence of things mystifies me most: the goodness of finding companionship again, for instance, even as I continue to dream of the man I spent 26 years with, trying to resolve in sleep what I cannot in my waking life. It is hardly parsed out into easy beginnings and ends; things overlap. How do I create a peaceful container for all the splashing, mixing and overflow?

Here on the cusp of my daughter’s 23rd birthday, I’m grateful for the beautiful gift of watching my child choose light over dark again and again. Her father would have admired this. What I hope I have given her is a sense that life is big, bigger than we can know; and every time we open our hearts to new growth — tiny buds sprouting from what appear to be the bare twigs of winter — we heal not only ourselves but also those lucky enough to be around us.