Lightly Child, Lightly

And one of the first questions she asked him was – What do you believe?

And Harry hardly had to think about it; he looked straight at her and said,

quite resolutely – I believe in the kindness of strangers.

It had been such a clean answer.
As sharp and true as his own
particular cleverness, and Lia had felt
somewhere deep within her a bud of affection
drinking and breaking.
An exhale of pure oxygen in an otherwise polluted place.

— Maddie Mortimer, Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies (Picador; March 31, 2022)


Notes:

  • Photo: Said Photographer via Pexels
  • Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Walking. Being A Little More Human.

Monday. 4:48 a.m. Why so early? There is some logic, disturbing as it may seem to some, to catch twilight, or daybreak, or first light or whatever you may want to call it — I have to leave the house precisely 60 minutes from Sunrise. And since Sunrise changes every day, and I have no clue why, my rise-and-go changes daily. For this machine is wound as tight as a Swiss Clock. Precisely (Mostly.) Daily. (Generally.)

So back to the walk. 747 consecutive days on this daybreak walk at Cove Island Park. Like in a row. (Almost.)

64° F, feels like 62° F. This is from the Dark Sky App. No bloody chance in hell it’s even close. Wind gusting up to 20 mph. It feels like a brisk 49°. And thank the lightening bolt premonition before I left the house — I put on a windbreaker or this would have been a damn short walk this morning. And be damed, if I’m still not cold.

So, back to the walk. It’s 4:50 a.m. and I’m getting out of the car. There’s only one other car in the parking lot. What sort of other lunatic is up at this hour? In case of a future need, this may be a match for bone marrow transplant, or white cell transplant, there’s gotta be some bone-to-bone connection here.

I sling the straps of my backpack over my shoulders, synch down the straps, lock the car, and walk.

And walk.

And there he is. The owner of the other car. He’s approaching. He’s carrying a white cleaning caddy in his right hand. Two toilet brushes, cleaning supplies, rags. The white of the caddy, is as white as my egrets. It illuminates the darkness.

[Read more…]

Grace eludes you

I leave the restaurant after the sun has set. Rome is dark. I’m tired and need the shortest route to my hotel so I cut down a dim alley. The road turns rough. I trip along the way. I keep my head down, eyes squinting at my path, and so I don’t see the men first but hear them. They’re laughing. I move to one side of the alley and they move to the same side. I step the other way and so do they. There are four of them. I hear one speaking to me, but I don’t know what he is saying.

Their interest in me, their sound, turns me stony. I open my mouth and out comes not words, but strained guttural notes.

One man jogs past to stand behind me. Another puts his hand on my shoulder and backs me up, toward the wall, toward his friend. His friend is tall. They want to take my picture standing next to him. I’m short, a dwarf, which is funny, hysterical. I’m not real. Just a strange thing in the alley. The flash of their camera. I freeze. Then I’m back in the dark.

When I was a teenager, a man once watched me going up some stairs and he said, “Grace eludes you.” I seemed to be struggling, which struck him, I suppose, as ugly.

Does this man remember what he said to me? Does he return to the memory each time he sees stairs?

I still — two decades after this man watched me walk up the stairs — step aside to tie my shoe to allow people to go ahead of me. I fake phone calls so that others will walk up without me. I pretend to wait for someone who isn’t coming. I bide my time, clinging to my weak ruse of self protection, until no one is looking. I do not climb stairs until I can do so unobserved. I’ve never stopped preparing for the next person who will see me walk and deny me grace.

The way words stay, the way sentences stay, the way memories invade my present, the way a stranger looks at me and speaks: shards that become a mirror.

In Rome, men block my path. They are drunk. The tall one wants to leave, done with this picture project. Another man drops his phone. His friends laugh at his clumsiness. One taps the other’s chest and just like that they’re distracted by a new plan, a diverting interest, and they leave me without further incident and carry on with their night, never to think of this moment again.

Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, April 5, 2022)

“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”

So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.

Walking. With One (Good) Wing Creatures.

5:15 a.m. I’m out the door.  Dark Sky is calling for rain. Let’s see.

It’s been ~675 mornings, almost consecutive. Like in a row. I’m on my daybreak walk @ Cove Island Park.

It’s not all glorious Swans and pirouettes.

There she is. Up top. The Gull. She? He? Sorry, with no disrespect intended to whatever it is, I’m old school. Or just old. I don’t know its pronoun, and we’re going with She.

I wasn’t paying attention. Not downward anyway.  And typically, the wildlife clears out-of-the-way when Darth Vader approaches. A 6’1″ human, black hoodie, black jacket, black sweat pants, black gloves, black toque (pronounced tuuuk), and a matching black backpack.  Darth, who recently had foot surgery, happens to be dragging his right leg, with his Sorel boot scraping the asphalt behind him.  So all winged creatures give Darth wide berth.
[Read more…]

Sunday Morning (Wake-Up Call)

When the breakfast is finished, people gather in a large, loose circle around Charlie, wanting a moment of his attention before they go, wanting to make sure he knows they came. After all, he serves these people as well. He hugs them in the same way he hugged Ron and Sid, with gladness and acceptance. You are four days sober and I love you. You’re about to get in your BMW and I love you. You are not my problem to solve but my brother to love, all of you. We want to get close so we can convince ourselves that he is made of some rare and superior material that hasn’t been given to us, but it isn’t true. Calling him a saint is just a way of letting ourselves off the hook. After riding around with Charlie, I find it shocking to realize how simple it would be to see myself as a worthless servant, to find joy in the service of others, to open my heart and let it remain open to everyone, everyone, all the time. The trick is in the decision to wake up every morning and meet the world again with love.

Ann Patchett, from “My Year of No Shopping” in “These Precious Days: Essays” (Harper, November 23, 2021)


Photo: Ann Patchett, author of “These Precious Days,” with her dog Sparky, who’s one of the shop dogs at her bookstore, Parnassus. (Heidi Ross)

Walking. With Jack Kerouac.

5:50 am. 35° F.  299 consecutive days. In a row. Cove Island Park. Daybreak morning walk.

Three cars in the parking lot. Mine. A pick-up, with its occupant with a baseball cap over his eyes, car running.  And her subcompact Subaru, hatchback up.  It’s dusk, but I can see into the boot. Overflowing. Blankets. Boots. Boxes. Some spilled to the ground. Homeless? Living out of her car?

Late 60’s. She’s struggling to put on snow pants, one hand leaning against the car to keep balance.  She catches me staring.  “Good Morning,” I offer. She replies in kind. I turn away.  Give her her space. 

I walk.

I can’t shake the image. Alone? Lonely? Cold? Hungry? 

Warm morning, quiet, windless. Now, Heavy. It would have been easier to stomach if she was male and younger.

Mary Oliver: When one is alone and lonely, the body gladly lingers in the wind or the rain, or splashes into the cold river, or pushes through the ice-crusted snow.  Anything that touches.

I walk.

299 days. In a row. And I’ve not encountered this. I’m on the backside of my loop, and there She is. Left hand swinging a metal detector in a wide arc. Her headphones, over her blue wool hat, listening for the cackle of buried metal.  She stops, pokes at the dirt with her pole and keeps moving between the rocks on the shoreline.

I swing my camera from my right shoulder into position. Adjust the focus, once, and then again, and again. I slide my index finger to the shutter button, where it lingers for a split second; in that same split second, the metal detector rests, and she’s now staring at me through my camera viewfinder, through the long zoom lens, her face, her eyes, all bearing down on me. Damn!

She lifts the metal detector and continues — swinging the metal detector in a smooth, quarter moon arc, now with her back to me.  Myopic? Nearsighted? Has to be. No, she must have seen me.  [Read more…]

Sunday Morning

I could not predict the fullness
of the day. How it was enough
to stand alone without help
in the green yard at dawn.

How two geese would spin out
of the ochre sun opening my spine,
curling my head up to the sky
in an arc I took for granted.

And the lilac bush by the red
brick wall flooding the air
with its purple weight of beauty?
How it made my body swoon,

brought my arms to reach for it
without even thinking.

*

In class today a Dutch woman split
in two by a stroke—one branch
of her body a petrified silence—
walked leaning on her husband

to the treatment table while we
the unimpaired looked on with envy.
How he dignified her wobble,
beheld her deformation, untied her

shoe, removed the brace that stakes
her weaknesses. How he cradled
her down in his arms to the table
smoothing her hair as if they were

alone in their bed. I tell you—
his smile would have made you weep.

*

At twilight I visit my garden
where the peonies are about to burst.

Some days there will be more
flowers than the vase can hold.

—  Susan F. Glassmeyer, “I Tell You” from Body Matters. (Pudding House Publications, 2009)


Notes:

  • Poem: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels
  • Photo: DK. Daybreak. October 4, 2020. 6:30 am, Cove Island Park, Stamford CT.

If I have me, what else do I need?

One thing people would be surprised to know about you?

That often times I just sit in silence. Sometimes I don’t like to talk. Sometimes I have nothing to say.

What’s the one thing you hope to see change in the world?

For people to stop seeing society as a zero-sum game. We’ve convinced ourselves that in order for one person to win, another has to lose.

What’s the one thing you would grab from your house (after family members and pets) if it caught fire?

I don’t have children. So it would be weird for me to be grabbing children in a fire. Where did they come from? My photos are in the cloud. I wonder if I’d grab anything. To be honest, I don’t think I would. I mean, if I have me, what else do I need?

—  Trevor Noah, from The One Joke That Always Works, According to Trevor Noah (WSJ Magazine, September, 19, 2020.

Sunday Morning

I never cared much for swans until the day a swan told me I was wrong. It was a cloudy winter morning and I was suffering from a recently broken heart. I sat myself down on a concrete step by Jesus Lock and was staring at the river, feeling the world was just as cold and grey, when a female mute swan hoist herself out from the water and stumped towards me on leathery, in-turned webbed feet and sturdy black legs. I assumed she wanted food. Swans can break an arm with one blow of their wing, I remembered, one of those warnings from childhood that get annealed into adult fight-or-flight responses. Part of me wanted to get up and move further away, but most of me was just too tired. I watched her, her snaky neck, black eye, her blank hauteur. I expected her to stop, but she did not. She walked right up to where I sat on the step, her head towering over mine. Then she turned around to face the river, shifted left, and plonked herself down, her body parallel with my own, so close her wing-feathers were pressed against my thighs. Let no one ever speak of swans as being airy, insubstantial things. I was sitting with something the size of a large dog. And now I was too astonished to be nervous. I didn’t know what to do: I grasped, bewildered, for the correct interspecies social etiquette. She looked at me incuriously, then tucked her head sideways and backwards into her raised coverts, neck curved, and fell fast asleep. We sat there together for ten minutes, until a family came past and a toddler made a beeline for her. She slipped back into the water and ploughed upstream. As I watched her leave something shifted inside me and I began to weep with an emotion I recognised as gratitude. That day was when swans turned into real creatures for me, and it has spurred me since to seek out others.

—  Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020)


Photo: DK’s Swan. Sept 11, 2020. 6:15 am. The Cove, Stamford, CT. Related Swan posts: Swan1

Walking. With the Silent Generation.

I counted him out yesterday morning. There was light drizzle from 5:00 am to 6:20 am, and it continued for my entire 5 mile loop around Cove Island Park. But he didn’t disappoint. There he was.

We intersect most mornings.

Never met him. Don’t know him. Never spoken a word to him.

But I imagine his life.

He’s a member of the Silent Generation, following his Parents, who were members of the Greatest Generation who survived the Great Depression. Waste not. Want not. Sacrifice. Freedom. God. Country. (I’m consciously leaving out ‘Guns’.)

He didn’t come from the Privileged. He was drafted, he didn’t seek medical deferment, he fought in the Vietnam War. Memories haunt, Demons always in pursuit. Jennifer Pastiloff’s: “Get out of your head. It’s a bad neighborhood.”  So he walks.

There’s no Apple Watch tracking his steps. No iPhone pumping in music or books on tape.  Nothing to shake that gnawing, that scraping…

There are two flags that hang on his house; they are worn, the whites have long lost their sheen.  They don’t just make their appearance on July 4th, they hang 365 days a year.

The homes around him, one by one, are torn down, rebuilt, taller, larger, and fill with young families fleeing Manhattan. Property values have soared, his taxes have followed upward, and now pinch. He could flee to Florida, land of no State income tax, but that has never crossed his mind. He was born here, and will die here, his home town.  He completes his own tax returns, reports his modest pensioner’s income and pays all of his taxes, because that is what has to be done.

The curtains are always drawn. He’s a Widower, married for 40 years, and then lost Her to Cancer.  No one to open the drapes.  No dog to keep him company. No cat to nestle next to his feet, purring, as he watches The Evening News. Income is tight, he can’t afford the expense. He misses his Wife.

The lawn is cut, never shaggy. A fence, freshly painted brown, provides token separation from the neighbors, with toys strewn all over their front yard.

His Story may be entirely different. But it’s what I see. What I need to see.

Yet, what doesn’t require imagining, is this.

I’ve come to look for him each morning. I round the turn to walk up Anthony Lane and there he is.

No matter how far up the street I am, he looks for me, and always throws up his hand to wave Hello.

Because that’s what he was taught.  And that’s what he Believes. Character. Honesty. Decency. Be a good neighbor.

Some day, I’ll either tire of this same morning walk, or he won’t be there. One, or the other.

And, I’ll miss him.


Notes:

  • Photo: DK, Saturday, Aug 30, 2020
  • Inspired by: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.” — David Foster Wallace, from “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky (Broadway, April 13, 2010)
  • Inspired by: “We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars. —  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

Sunday Morning

I asked him what he thought it meant for our lives, for how we spend them, for what they mean. He said our lives mean nothing except as a cycle of regeneration, that we are incomprehensibly brief sparks, just as the animals are, that we are no more important than they are, no more worthy of life than any living creature. That in our self-importance, in our search for meaning, we have forgotten how to share the planet that gave us life. Tonight I write him a letter telling him I think he was right. But that also I think there is meaning, and it lives in nurturing, in making life sweeter for ourselves, and for those around us.

— Charlotte McConaghyMigrations: A Novel (Flatiron Books, August 4, 2020)


Photo: Sparks by Christine Lynch

Happy July 4th

Thank you to a great country with wonderful Americans who took me in.

A country in which people I think highly of share these common traits, as Thomas L. Friedman explained in his recent opinion essay:

“Respect science, respect nature, respect each other.”


Notes:

  • Inspired by Beth (again) in Alive on all Channels: “If they come for the innocent without stepping over your dead body, cursed be your religion and your life.” — Ciaron O’Reilly, Catholic Worker
  • Photo via Great Falls Tribune

Walking. In White.

3:35 a.m. Restless. Lousy night’s sleep. (Again.) Co-pilot is fast asleep next to me. She dreams of bunny rabbits and puppies. I’m being chased by failure and mortality. Any wonder why you don’t sleep?

Yesterday morning: “Are you getting tired of the same walk?” Translated, she’s getting tired of flipping through the same shots, the same landscapes, morning after morning. “No,” was my monosyllabic response, short, curt, clipped, after 3x years of marriage (I didn’t want to do the math), there was no need for more words.

4:28 a.m. Gear check. Backpack. Camera. Battery. Memory Card. iPhone. Earbuds. Audible Book re: Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking.  I adhere the strap to my right wrist, synch it up, and clip it to camera, listening for the satisfying snap. Secure.

4:33 a.m. I’m out the door.

Day 5x something, just shy of two months. Not a single day missed.  Same route. Near the same time. A five mile walk.  Walmsley to Linden to Hollow Tree Ridge Road to Hillside to Anthony to Brookside to Post to Weed Avenue to Cove Island Park. And back again.

Scene 1.  I’m 1/4 mile out on Hollow Tree Ridge Road and a patrol car stops one street up. Rare to see any traffic this time of the morning. He pauses under the street lamp, looking in my direction. He sees: Man, 6′ 1″, black long sleeved shirt. Black pants. Carrying something black in his right hand. Backpack on his back. Walking briskly. [Read more…]

Running. With Mother Goose.

6:10 a.m. 42° F. Nippy for May.

It’s been 6 days in a row, running that is.  Why? More on this another day, this surge of something.

There she is. Mother Goose. Same spot. Each morning, every morning. Sitting between the highway, the guard rail, and the retaining wall. Sick. She has to be sick. Does she sit here all day? 

She triggered a mini waterfall of the yesterday’s events.

3 p.m. conference call. Delicate personnel situation. I’m quiet, he explains. “Listen, I’m not vindictive, that’s not who I am. There was nothing malicious in….”  He’s a midwesterner, solemn, humble, truthful.  We wrap up the conversation. I thank the small group for providing me the background.  I close: “I know vindictive, and you ain’t vindictive. I see vindictive each morning in the mirror.” They laugh. I know, they know.

6:10 a.m. Yesterday’s morning run. 0.6 miles in. A lady walker, on the other side of the road, 100 feet ahead. Face mask on. She’s pointing her finger at me, scolding.

I turn off the music. You talking to me? I can hear her now.

“You need to wear a mask. You’re putting my life, and other lives in danger. 17% chance of virus being spread by runners without masks. You. Go Home and Put on a Mask.”

“Excuse me?” [Read more…]

it’s hard to bow to the vastness of the sea when being pulled under

I was walking our dog during the pandemic, the neighborhood empty, the clouds heavy, and, through my headphones, the music of a man now gone, the love from his soul helping me keep my head above water. And though it’s hard to bow to the vastness of the sea when being pulled under, hard to believe in the merit of light when lost in the dark, hard to wait on love when painfully lonely—these larger truths never stop being true. Even as I voice this, someone is dying in the hall of an overcrowded hospital, while another is lifted from their own hell by the grace of a kindness no one saw coming. As if the spirit of the one dying arrives like pollen in the heart of the one stuck in hell, giving them just enough to begin again. If we could only give the extra warmth we receive to someone who is shivering. If we could shed the masks that keep us from ourselves, there would be enough to save the world.

~ Mark Nepo, “Sheltered-in-Place” (FB, April 5, 2020)


Notes: Photo – Axios. Quote: Thank you Make Believe Boutique. Inspired by Ray’s post: It’s all about Perspective

A rupture in our constructed realities

I know this pandemic is a big deal. But it is really only now sinking in how much of a bigger deal this will be for our social consciousness than 9/11. Maybe even more significant than WW2, since it is effecting everyone. Every society on earth is having to adjust and respond. And, more than any other event in my lifetime or my father’s lifetime, it is exposing the problems of our society and, perhaps, creating space in our collective capacity to imagine a better world…This pandemic is a sharper reminder of human fragility, the utter incapacity for us to solve these natural crises within our capitalist framework…But this is a rupture. A rupture in our constructed realities, exposing what lies underneath. May we discern, together, the movement of the Spirit of Life so that we might create a new, more compassionate world, with one another.“

— Mark Van Steenwyk


Notes:

  • Quote via Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo: David Ramos in NY Times
  • Inspired by a passage Keith shared with me: “There are certain things that happen to you as a human being that you cannot control or command, that will come to you at really inconvenient times and where you have to bow in the human humility to the fact that there’s something running through you that’s bigger than you …” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert (The TED Interview podcast, October 19, 2018)

Riding Metro North. Searching, for Important.

Jenny Offill : “To live in a city is to be forever flinching.”

Tuesday morning.

A brisk walk to train station.  32 F feels like 26 F.  No snow, no slush, no sleet.  Dry.  January.  I’ll take this all day, all winter long.

5:48 am train to Grand Central.

Plenty of empty seats.

I slide by her into a seat next to the window.

She offers me a smile, and tucks her legs in to let me pass.

I nod, offering my thanks.

She’s reading a soft cover book, verses of some sort. I can’t make it out. 98% of the rest of us are heads down into our gadgets.

She’s wearing a long (long), black puffer coat, that drapes down to the top of her black boots. A black knit cap. A knitted scarf wrapped around her neck.  She’s in her late 60’s to mid 70’s would be my guess. She turns the page. Why am I so distracted by her? Her elbows and knees are tucked in, and she’s sitting comfortably in her lane. Lady @ Peace comes to mind.

But for the industrial heaters blowing warm air through the ceiling vents, the train car is silent.

She gets up in anticipation of her stop.

The vestibule is crowded with passengers waiting to get off.

She waits quietly at the back of the line. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.

What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise: A Novel


Photo: Patty Maher, with The Red String. “Based on the Japanese legend that a red string ties us to all those with whom we will make history and all those whom we will help in one way or another.”  Laura McBride quote from A Sea of Quotes.

Go ahead — you first

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes…
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

Danusha Laméris, from “Small Kindnesses” (NY Times Magazine, September 19, 2019)


Photo: agent j loves nyc with Crowded Car

Sunday Morning

In the margin of my Bible, the heading of Ecclesiastes, I’ve added,

‘Reflections of an old man chasing after ‘good things.’

~ Lisa Anne Tindal, “Vanity and Strife” (Sept 27, 2019)


Notes:

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