Making It Home

So much happened in the world while I was away from my family last week.  I tried not to see or read about all the death piling up on various continents because I felt naked and small without the comfort of my children’s faces in my Paraguayan hotel room.

But I knew.

I’m home now and I’m sad and grateful.  Sad that so many will never hold their children again in this life and grateful that today I am holding mine.

Life is short and I’m choosing to be thankful for what is in front of me for as long as I have today.

It’s possible (normal?) to be both sad and thankful, I’m finding out.  Maybe the sadness makes the thanksgiving realer, somehow.  All I know is, I still have Hope.  And that He is good even when life is devastating.

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Advice from Creatives on How to Live Life

I love reading new thoughts, especially if they pertain to the creative arts.  My favorite websites are those that cause me to think about books–and ideas in books–in deeper ways, and, by extension, to think about life.

That’s probably why I rarely finish reading Maria Popova’s famed Brain Pickings without having received some serious inspiration.  Popova’s a literary ideas curator, you might say, and while that sounds highfalutin, it really isn’t.  It just means she combs the Internet for important things so I don’t have to.  Mmmm, yes, please.

In celebration of nine years of Brain Pickings (a very long time, indeed, in Internet Land), she offers 9 Learnings from 9 Years of Brain Pickings.  Several pieces of advice in this short read are spot on.  A couple of them I need to take to heart right this minute.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

With Eyes That Can’t Shut

My weekend with my family was exhausting and I woke up this morning feeling as though I’d been running in my sleep.

On Saturday, we attended a protest in a major city about two hours away from ours and we brought our kids with us.  It’s not something I ever thought I’d do–bring my kids along to a gathering that might get a certain kind of “colorful”, that is–but when my husband and I thought it through, it made sense to us to introduce them to our values in this way.  It wasn’t without trepidation that we loaded the car before the sun came up and headed on the highway.

When we arrived at our destination, we noticed that the crowd was huge already, though we’d gotten there early, and it continued to swell before our eyes as the morning went on.  There were hecklers, people who screamed obscenities at us with wide, angry eyes, and the kids looked at us as if to ask, “Is this how it is?”

photo

And it is, sometimes.

In the end, we heard and saw things we can never unknow, though a part of me wishes we could for the sake of our happiness.  I don’t know how to process heavy things except through words (and sometimes inconvenient tears) so I commend to you these lines.

Sisters

DSC_0219I wake up to a fast heart because there are minutes over coffee that I’ve already wasted,

and I can’t remember what day it is.

So I hurry on a wrinkled cardigan I grabbed off the floor (I’ve stopped picking up around here),

and I find you in the middle of the kitchen, with crazy hair and childhood eyes, and

you’re sipping my memories with careful lips.

You see that my face is blotchy, that I look like something from the future, but I don’t mind,

for once.

Because my future will have you in it, and we’ll sink together as we listen to

Dvorak and watch Wheel of Fortune, in three of those gliding chairs.

The Job

Occasionally, when you sit down to write, you realize that you need to trim your jagged, ugly fingernails (why do you let them grow out sideways like that?).

And you haven’t ordered the things off the Internet (you should do it before you forget).

Plus, you remember that your kids left pans in the sink with bits of egg on them (those bits are crusting, will grow mold soon, probably not, but maybe).

Then, of course, the afternoon marches toward you with one raised eyebrow (and there are words somewhere, but they’re knotted up in vague little hairballs).

And you could scream (but it never helps).

Prom (A True Story)

He squeezed his forehead, thumb and index finger working his eyes in a vain attempt to chase away the memory of the last few hours. He blinked and his eyes swam with those floating amoebas. He had to race home, change into a jacket and tie, and head to the retirement home. Lillian needed a date. They were having some sort of prom for old people and she was alone.

Please, his mother-in-law had begged him, just do this for me and I will owe you. He had grimaced at his wife as he held the phone away from his ear. She’d shrugged and smiled.

Of course he would be her date. He started the engine of his ten-year-old truck and smelled an acrid waft of burning oil.

Deathbed, he muttered.

Thirty minutes later he pulled into the parking lot of Bright Futures Retirement Village. It looked like a third grader’s mouth, empty spaces gaping between the odd used Honda. He eased into a spot near the front door and got out, straightening his tie. A woman with frosted hair buzzed him in. He smiled at her as it seemed that this was least he could do for someone who’d sat there all day. He turned down a wallpapered hallway until he found the room with the memory box beside the front door. He paused before sticking his head inside the doorway.

The old woman sat in her room, alone, watching the biggest big screen television he’d seen in a long time. He could see a talk show through her hair featuring two tiny Asian girls dancing across a stage. The T.V. audience roared its approval.

Her wheelchair mostly obscured her but he could see that she wore a red formal dress with short sleeves. Underneath it was a white turtleneck. She shifted in her chair.

“Lillian?” he began. “It’s Jim. I’m, uh, eight minutes early for…prom. But we could talk in the meantime or something.”

She turned halfway around to look at him. He thought he saw the beginnings of a smile. Or maybe it was disgust. It was hard to tell. She fluttered one arm in the direction of the television.

“OK,” he ventured. “We can watch Ellen. There’s a corsage for you in the mini-fridge. I’ll get it.”

He turned and opened the fridge. It stood empty except for the gaudy wrist corsage his mother-in-law had placed there hours before. One scratch from it and Lillian would bleed. He bent and fastened the corsage to her paper-skinned wrist.

The requisite eight minutes passed and it was time for pictures. The two of them would pose and smile as if all of this were real. It would be like high school, except for the thousand years represented in this place. He cleared his throat.

“Lillian, I think it’s time for us to go find the others. Could you show me where to go? I don’t know my way around here.”

She nodded. He stood up and pushed her out into the hall with one hand, pulling the door closed with the other. He said something, he didn’t know what. She answered his questions, stammering over syllables. He did not help her with words. Something warned him not to.

At the end of the hall they reached a clog of elderly people decked out in their finest suits and floral dresses. They waited in a worn-out snake of a queue for the photographer to call out their number. He parked Lillian’s chair at the end of the line. A plump, middle-aged lady approached them, a piece of hard candy in her mouth.

“Honey, you need to take a number. Here,” she said, handing him a plastic card. “You’re number 27.”

“What number are they on now?” he asked.

“Thirteen.”

His eyes fell on the line of wrinkled women, their skin triple creased and soft. He could see gravity calling them back to the earth, one inch of flesh at a time. They stood swaying slightly, some with sticks. They were desiccated, water and seeds long since gone. They needed those sticks to die standing up.

“Number twenty-seven, please!” a shrill voice finally announced from the front of the line.

“That’s us, Lillian,” he said.

He wheeled her chair over the short pile carpet to where a rickety, white arch stood. One tap of the wheelchair and it might collapse on them. He arranged her chair under the bower and positioned himself behind her, squatting so that his head rested on her shoulder. He wondered for a second if she’d allow this. She was not a woman to be touched. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her smile. The photograph would be ridiculous, the kind that gets sent around the Internet. He didn’t care. The smile had made him feel sad all of a sudden. Sad and foolish.

Dinner began with salad, an iceberg lettuce wedge underneath three pastel tomatoes, all of it drowned in sweet vinaigrette. He looked over at his elderly date. She stabbed at a tomato with her good arm. The kitchen staff whisked the salads away in record time, replacing them with the main course, a piece of beef in colorless gravy. It was chewy but harmless enough. He watched Lillian nibble at her baked potato. From time to time she looked up at him with faded eyes. He tried to remember to smile at her without nodding, but he realized too late that he’d done it again. Nodded as if she’d asked him a question. In a way, she had.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to finish up dinner. It’s 5:30 and our live entertainment will be arriving soon in the foyer. We hope you’ve enjoyed your special meal with your loved ones,” the director intoned.

At a nearby table a lady with an imaginary lover smiled, her face radiant. Jim and Lillian moved to the main room where people were already gathering. A young man staggered into the foyer dragging two turntables, a silver laptop, and an oversized speaker. He wore baggy jeans and a backward baseball cap. As he passed by the growing audience he flashed a toothy smile. Jim felt disaster looming but, to his relief, when the deejay played the first song Frank Sinatra’s lovesick voice filled the room. The old people began to relax and drum their fingers on their armrests. Lillian mouthed the words to songs from a different life.

A few people swayed, eyes closed, transported to a time when legs were able and arms were willing. Lillian couldn’t get up, so he tried to sing along with her to let her know that he understood. A woman in the center of the room had positioned herself under an imaginary spotlight and moved back and forth, hands inches from her walker. She jerked from one pose to the next.  Without warning she moved away from her walker, her arms floating on their own. For a brief moment she was young. Then everyone’s fear; knees buckling, she sank to the floor, legs in cheerleading formation. Ladies in uniforms rushed to her, creating a human wall.

After a moment of confusion, they parted and Jim could see the fallen woman standing again, smiling feebly. No broken hip, but it was too late. The lighthearted mood in the room had passed. The crowd murmured and began to thin and Jim asked Lillian if she’d like to go back to her room. She nodded and he wondered what he’d say when they arrived at her door.

He didn’t have much time to think. The chair’s wheels protested as he scooted them over the carpet in her living room. He positioned her in the same spot he’d found her hours before and adjusted the volume on the television. He could see her face growing older, harder. Prom was over.  He bent and kissed her cheek. Her skin felt soft on his lips.

“I had a great time,” he said. He surprised himself by meaning it. “Is there anything I can get you before I go?”

Her eyes flicked to his for a moment and held them. He thought he could see her face as it had been.

“No. Nothing. I had a great time, too.”

It was ten minutes until 7:00 and he had to get home. He touched her shoulder lightly.

“Ok, then. Bye, Lillian.”

He walked out the room and closed the door behind him.

(names have been changed)