to situations new

“Alice” by Amedeo Modigliani

On that specific Pillow
Our projects flit away —
The Night’s tremendous Morrow
And whether sleep will stay
Or usher us — a stranger —
To situations new
The effort to comprise it
Is all the soul can do —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1554)

This poem brings to mind the restless sleep or sleeplessness we might have the night before a new experience, like the first day of school or a new job. Or traveling to a place we’ve never been to before.

But I suspect Emily is talking about death. The specific pillow, the kind we find in a coffin, when death interrupts all our projects. Will we stay asleep in death or will we find ourselves in a new situation, an unfamiliar life after death? There are many “answers” to choose from but there is no way to “know” for sure. The universe is full of wonder and mystery. After years of spiritual struggle I’ve finally made peace with uncertainty, sometime in my 40s I think. Just this. Here/now.

a secret garden

“A secret garden. Made by Barbara Lyn (sic) Chomiak. Seven year old.”

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett
(The Secret Garden)

I’m still poking around through my childhood papers and drawings. My mother was the true bookworm in our family. So many images coming back to me now, like my parents in the evening, my mother with her nose in the newspaper and my father watching television.

At bedtime, my mother read to us, even after we were old enough to read for ourselves. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Apparently I loved it so much I illustrated my own version of a secret garden.) And often my father would start playing the piano, gentle Bach lullabies sending us off to sleep.

Spring is in the air! Time to pick up the pace and plow through some more boxes. Onward!

an ancient, magnetic language

1.31.19 ~ starling tracks and winter shadows on the balcony

Tracks are an ancient, magnetic language — pulling us in with possibility. The elusive poetry of a print, unlike the muscular certainty of a border line inked in an atlas, reveals details of a life being lived. A tracery of passing impressions, tracks can be as delicate as the brushstroke of a bird’s wings, as bold as a hunting fox. They speak a mutable tongue, transforming from the moment they appear before finally vanishing, to be eventually overlaid by another script. But if you happen upon a set of tracks in their brief and fragile time, they can tell you things you never knew. They can take you places you’ve never been, and lend form to a fleeting world.
~ Julian Hoffman
(The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World)

1.31.19 ~ 3°F (-16°C)

I’ve been waiting a long time to take a photograph to pair with this lovely quote. At first I imagined gull tracks in the sand at the beach. One day in North Carolina I found deer tracks in the mud on my way to the community compost pile, and then saw a deer enjoying some newly deposited vegetable scraps. No camera on me, though. But this morning we discovered these tracks on the balcony.

Starling tracks, no doubt. Not my favorite bird, but they spend a lot of time on the balcony, walking around, trying to figure out how to get to the woodpecker feeder. After a few hours of sunshine, the tracks and the thin layer of snow have now vanished.

This may be our winter of no snow. It snowed here in November when we were in North Carolina. It snowed in North Carolina in December when we were here in Connecticut. While we’ve had flurries now and then there has been nothing to shovel!

After nursing our terrible colds for more than a week we’re starting to get back to normal. I finally got a good start on the boxes of family history stuff and hope to keep going all winter and spring. Maybe things have settled down enough and I can actually get through this!!!


1.31.19 ~ wondering why for some step paths the feet are closer together

old enough to die

“Old Woman with Child & Goose” by Willard Metcalf

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)

A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.

I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”

She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.

Nothing ever came of those countless tests.

In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.

The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.

Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.

Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.

doubt

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5.15.15 ~ gull at Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

What we overlook is that underneath the ground of our beliefs, opinions, and concepts is a boundless sea of uncertainty. The concepts we cling to are like tiny boats tossed about in the middle of a vast ocean. We stand on our beliefs and ideas thinking they’re solid, but in fact, they (and we) are on shifting seas. Any ideas or beliefs we hold in our minds are necessarily set against other ideas and beliefs. Thus we cannot help but experience doubt.
~ Steve Hagen
(Buddhism: Plain & Simple)

Herring Cove Beach

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

One morning in Provincetown we drove out to Herring Cove Beach, where we used to spend days at the beach when the kids were small. The waves here on the bay side are more gentle than they are on the beaches facing the open Atlantic. When they got older they preferred the excitement of Race Point Beach. This beach is pretty rocky, lots of small stones, making trips in and out of the water rough on tiny feet.

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
~ E. E. Cummings
(The Lyric Self in Zen & E. E. Cummings)

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

It was fun photographing the gulls sunning themselves in a different background than the large rocks they usually perch on at our local beach. The future is always uncertain, but lately possible scenarios seem to be monopolizing my thoughts, creating anxiety even as I try to stay living in the present. Spending so much time on the Cape has helped me restore a sense of peace with things as they are or will prove to be. It’s not so much a feeling of resignation, but more of an accepting of the inevitable flux and flow of life.

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
(Letter to Clara Rilke, March 27, 1903)

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

this old age

"Self-Portrait, 1669" by Rembrandt (1606-1669) Dutch Painter & Etcher
“Self-Portrait, 1669” by Rembrandt

Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man.
~ Leo Tolstoy
(Promises to Keep: Thoughts in Old Age)

Old age. All the facial detail is visible; all the traces life has left there are to be seen. The face is furrowed, wrinkled, sagging, ravaged by time. But the eyes are bright and, if not young, then somehow transcend the time that otherwise marks the face. It is as though someone else is looking at us, from somewhere inside the face, where everything is different. One can hardly be closer to another human soul.
~ Karl Ove Knausgård
(My Struggle, Book One)

This old age ought not to creep on a human mind. In nature every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Circles)