Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

The hardest thing

I’ve never been accused of spontaneity.  So I startled myself by turning right instead of left on the way home yesterday.

My two days at the coast had invigorated me.  I draw strength from the sea.  I had sat in the reach of her voice.  The coast line changes a little at a time but I recognize its contours.  The trees might be further bent under the force of the wind.  The sands might fall more and more beneath the waves.  But the rocks do not yield.  The gulls still gather.  The lighthouse rises just as majestically.  The long expanse of ice plants still covers the yard outside of Dolphin House, and the song of the Pacifc still lulls me to sleep.

On a whim, I left HIghway 4 long before the Rio Vista exit yesterday.   I followed the signs for Mt. Diablo State Park.  I have wanted to see the mountain since I first came to the Delta in September of 2017.  Her constant presence watches over us.  I look westward on my way to work, comforted by the sight of her through the mist, or beneath the dazzling sun.  I drive like crazy to watch the last rays of light dance across her noble surface as dusk falls on the Delta.

Let me say this, at the outset.  I am deathly afraid of heights.  Yes, I understood that Mt. Diablo rose high above sea level.  But somehow, I failed to imagine the treacherous road to the south entrance of the park.  

I gripped the steering wheel in panic.  Every fear, every failure, every sorrow rose in my breast.  Choice after choice on the game board of life haunted me.  The paths not taken; loves lost and forfeit.  How could I have been so incredibly stupid as to bring myself to this moment, alone on a mountainside, alone, the world’s worst St. Louis driver inching her way skyward with a sheer drop to her right and her face covered with a salty swathe of sweat mingling with tears? Why did I so blithely, so willingly, so carelessly embark on the hardest thing for me, driving to somewhere so high?  I’m the person whose five-year-old son had to hold her hand as we climbed to the cheap seats at the ballpark!

A line of cars gathered behind me.  I could feel their impatience.  I knew they wanted me to increase my speed but I did not dare.  My hands shook.  The voice with which I cried out to the angels quavered.  Over and over, I moaned into the stale air of the closed car, I want to go home!

Eventually, I arrived at the entrance.  I paid the admission fee and pulled into a fifteen-minute parking space.  I nearly fell from the car.  I stood at the back of the vehicle, tearing chunks of bread from my morning’s loaf and feeding myself the lunch which I should have had before I left the coast.  My trembling stopped, finally, mercifully.

I did not go to the summit.  I placed the heart for my friend Beth Lewandowski’s son Xander on a trail post at 2000 feet elevation.  I took a few photos of the view which Xander would have so loved, had he lived to make this climb.  I knew he would have biked that road without trepidation.  I tried to channel a little of Xander’s spirit.

Then I crept back to the driver’s seat, clinging to my vehicle.  I started forward and followed the road until its fork.  This time, I turned left.   Gratefully, gradually, I descended to the North Gate and the road home.

It’s the eighteenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

This gallery includes pictures from my drive to Mt. Diablo State Park, from the beach at Pescadero, and from the hostel at  Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Home to the mother sea

Of course I did:  I jumped at the chance to spend a night at Pigeon Point.  With fresh sourdough bread and eggs that have never been refrigerated, I pulled into the handicapped parking space at 4:30.  I swung my bag with a delicious ease as I walked the sidewalk to the office.  Though Michael’s smiling face no longer greets visitors, the clerk remembered me.  

An hour later, I started taking supplies from my backpack.  I shared portabella and oil with a German couple making pasta with a few meager items on their last night in the States.  For myself, I cooked potato and mushroom with green onion to garnish and creamy butter for the crusty bread from the Pie Ranch.  

As the evening grew gentle around us, more visitors grouped around the dining room table — Sarah from Southern California; a pair from Singapore by way of SF; one or two others whose cities and names I did not catch.  Outside, in the glow of a sunset hidden behind low clouds, I met Mark from Oakland who talked of the month which he and his wife had just spent in Portugal.  Latecia from Sacramento showed me pictures of the bounty from her husband’s garden, speaking in a slightly wistful voice of the cattle which kept him from coming with her.

I spied a crop of surprise lilies straining westward..  I understood the urge.   Pelicans and sea gulls made their eternal way past the rocks in the cove.  I stood in the fading light of another perfect day in paradise, and forgot whatever it was that awakened me in the middle of the previous night, leaving me anxious for most of the day.  The mother sea offered her enduring comfort.  I yielded to her embrace.

It’s the seventeenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Back to Nature

In 1987, my first husband persuaded me to quit my job as an assistant Jackson County prosecutor and move to Arkansas.  We started in Little Rock but quickly transplanted ourselves to Newton County, specifically to Jasper.  I lived in the shadow of Reynolds Mountain on the banks of the Buffalo for two years before fleeing to Fayetteville and, eventually, back to Kansas City.

I swore that I had inhaled enough clean air to last the rest of my days, possibly into eternity.  Yet, here I am, back to nature. Once more, I dally near a quiet river, amid majestic willows, on the edge of a meadow in a 12-acre park.  The nearest town has one grocer, one pharmacy, one McDonald’s, a pizza place, and two Mexican restaurants.  The air remains clear unless a fire rages north of us in which case, we strain to see blue through the murk but count our lucky stars.

The  nearest Lowe’s sits over two bridges and in the next county.  The journey can grow long if the drawbridge over the Mokelumne gets stuck or you hit Bay-bound traffic just wrong.  The only restaurants within hailing distance serve bar food, unless you want to drive to Isleton but you can get a decent brew once you make  it there.  It only rains in February and March, when the Delta winds blow and the steady downpour can turn your yard to quick sand.

But the birds —  oh the birds!  Cranes and egrets and hummingbirds; hawks and mourning doves and owls.  The  moon shimmers as she rises.  The sweetness of a cool autumn night wraps itself around your tired bones.  You close your eyes as the western sky glows with a wide crimson swathe  across the wispy clouds and a flickering gold on the surface of the San Joaquin.  And yes, it seems, I can actually stand a little more fresh air.

It’s the fourteenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

And the beat goes on

The sun rises over the RV park and the tiny house row and the levee road.  I turn my car onto the loop as the news of a strike in Hong Kong and a tariff against China rumbles from the radio.  Out on Highway 12, the long mournful bleat of a semi startles the vehicle turning in front of me.  I see the driver shudder.  It’s a close call.

And the beat goes on.

I sail clear to the bridge and over it, above the river winding its slow eternal path to the sea.  The man with the three-legged dog picks his careful way down Front Street.  I slow and angle around him.  He raises his hand without glancing away from the pattern of his feet on the cracked cement.

And the beat goes on.

I sit at a computer for eight hours, maneuvering words on the virtual page.  Click after click sends my thoughts out into the vastness which I don’t understand.  A server on the far side of the planet holds the messages for an instant, then flings them towards the cold embrace of the invisible net.

And the beat goes on.

Five o’clock comes too fast.  My car seems to drive itself, back over the same bridge, along two rivers, in plain sight of a single egret standing motionless in a wide swathe of hyacinth.  I pause to watch a small skiff make its way down the San Joaquin, then slip downward, back into the park.

And the beat goes on.

Ten neighbors gather around a table.  Dishes get passed.  Wine gets poured.  Lemonade, too.  Salads, cornbread, tender roast chicken from the grocery deli counter.  Smiles flash. A little puppy settles onto the floor beneath his owners.  I close my eyes. 

And the beat goes on.

Later I sit in my worn rocker, with its smooth wood aged by the caprice of time and the vagaries of the Delta winds.  But it still bears my weight, still moves me gently, to and fro.  In the twilight’s stillness, a flutter signals the arrival of my evening visitor.  I hold myself as still as possible while she sips sweet nectar overhead.  Then I raise my phone with its back-facing camera, and the hummingbird and I pose for a selfie.

And the beat goes on.

It’s the thirteenth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Happy birthday to my brother Kevin Richard Corley.

Still Life, With Effort

As a young girl, I wandered through the St. Louis Art Museum.  The still-life paintings fascinated me.  “Still Life, With Wine” by one painter.  “Still Life, With Prayer Book” by another.  Whose weathered hands had just set the goblet on the table beside the plate with its hunk of cheese and slice of crusty, warm bread?

Who will paint a picture of the random objects on my cedar chest?  Who will stand in the museum,  centuries from now, wondering about me?

My body ages.  I’ve been going to a new physical therapist.  She challenges my resolve and pushes my heart rate higher than I can urge it to climb on my own.  My gaze has begun to stabilize.  Instead of shrugging with mild consternation because she doesn’t know why I get dizzy, she has tackled the most likely culprit, vestibular dysfunction.  Doctors had performed a myriad of tests without conclusion and dismissed me to struggle on my own for the last six years.  Now I see the potential of improvement.

Inspired by Ms. Emily Watts, DPT, I’ve heightened my daily routine.  I haven’t yet gotten back to my old thirty-minutes/day, but I can do two sessions of ten minutes each, first thing in the morning and at evening’s end.  I don’t need a gym or a work-out club.  Nobody joins me.  I pull the blue storage box from its little cubby and wrap a band around the pillar.  I grab three-pound weights and grip them as I stretch.  At the far back, a wheel waits for the day when my balance allows me to do floor work.  I’m getting there.  I have far to go, but since I promised my son that I would live to be 103, I have plenty of time.  

It’s the ninth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Still Life, With Effort”

I Wrote This For You

I didn’t, actually.   But someone did.

I drifted through yet another secondhand store looking for books.  I find my comfort in words.  But my fingers fail me at times.  I write poems and essays and letters in my head;  fast, born wholly formed and pushing to emerge.  I can’t get them onto the screen or the page fast enough to calm my jitters.  So I seek solace in the words of others; in the rhythmic waterfall of other people’s poems and essays and letters.

At Lodi Thrift store, a slim black volume eased itself from the shelf onto my open palm.  I wrote this for you, its satin cover announced.  PLEASEFINDTHIS.  I paid the dollar and I took my chance.

This evening I waited for my friend whom I had not seen since she lost her son..  I sat on my porch, searching for something to say when she crossed the yard between our houses.  This would be my first glimpse of the grief in her eyes, my first encounter with the overflow of the darkness gripping her soul.  I did not want to fail her.  

I darted inside to use the ten minutes as well as I could, willing my spirit to be open for whatever she needed.  On the step, just above my heart-shaped mirror, I saw the volume of poetry and re-read its title — I wrote this for you.   As I lifted the book, it fell open to the introduction:

Dear You,

You are holding in your hands
what was promised to you
years ago. I’m sorry it took so
long. But life, as is so often the
case, is life and we forget about
the promises we’ve made.

You, however, are harder to
forget.

I know the world is crazy. I know
love is not always the
way it’s meant to be. I know
sometimes, things hurt. But
I also know that we’ll get
through this. That our hearts
will arrive on the other side,
in one piece. That everything
is beautiful, if we give it the
chance to be.

I’ve tried to write down what
I saw and what you told me
and I sincerely don’t think I
missed anything. Let me know
if I have.

I love you. I miss you.

Me

When Laurie arrived, somehow we knew just what to say to each other.  And as the evening waned, I listened to her stories.  I beheld the timeless cadence of her sorrow.  I marveled at the silent sound of her sweet, sweet tears as they flowed past the brave, tender curve of her smile.

It’s the seventh day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Tragedy Too Terrible to Ignore

My friends,

When I started this #journeytojoy, I wanted to emulate my recently-deceased mother-in-law, Joanna MacLaughlin.  At her service, the minister remarked on how she had endured her final illness without complaint.  That inspired me to want to navigate an entire year without voicing complaint.

I stumbled during that first 365 days, so I decided to blog about the experience until I eliminated complaint from my way of life.  I’m still trying.  Along the way, though, I have learned to identify the various ways in which I express “complaint”, distinguished from advocating for justice.  Additionally, others have shared their stories and remarked upon the common human enterprise of learning to live a joyful life.

Though I try to focus on positive occurrences, some tragedies strike me as too terrible to ignore.  From time to time, I have mentioned the suffering which I experience in order to also share the lessons which I take from my pain.  When people for whom I care endure trauma, I comment to the extent that I want to provide comfort or commend their strength.  The woes of society or political angst usually gets relegated to my occasional social and political blog, which you can find HERE.  I don’t record many entries at the site because, quite frankly, it’s all just so unbearably depressing that I prefer to focus on #myjourneytojoy.

The tragedies of the last week compel me to remark that some occurrences demand protest.  Call that complaint if you will, but my moral duty motivates me.  I won’t debate gun control (I’m in favor of it) or whether any particular elected official properly responded to what happened in El Paso, Dayton, or even — with very little press — Chicago this weekend.  I have not processed my emotions in response to what I’m reading, except for two thoughts:  First, I feel incredibly lucky to be alive; and, second, I worry about my son who lives in the heart of Chicago and travels its streets and public transit every day.

I offer for your contemplation, two photographs and one absent picture.  For the photographs:  Pictures of the known El Paso Victims and the known Dayton victims.  For the absent photograph:  I could find not one composite photo of the people killed in Chicago this weekend.  I found article after article talking about the many shootings there.  One article even noted that so many people were injured this weekend by violence that some hospitals had to close their doors.

We must stop this violence.  It is no longer sufficient to simply complain about it, assuming that  complaint ever sufficed as a response to this travesty.  Complaint does nothing more than “thoughts and prayers”. 

We must join our voices in relenting condemnation of anyone who incites, inspires, or engages in this senseless violence.  Any killing is too much.  And the rivers of our nation have been stained with the blood of too many innocent victims.

It’s the fifth day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  For me and mine, life continues.  

Secondhand Sorrow

My father called me “Secondhand Rose”.  He got the name from a Barbra Streisand song. As the fourth daughter, I never got new clothes.  It is one of a few pleasant memories  of my father:  Sitting with him over the St. Louis Post-Dispatch learning to read; his voice intoning the story of Mary and Joseph seeking a room and finding only a stable, just before we lit the Mary Candle and put out cookies for Santa; and his affectionate linking of me with his favorite singer.

I still like used clothing, and dishes, and trinkets.  I can merge those belongings with whatever I already have, like a new pair of shoes pushed on the shelf with the worn sandals and the dusty boots.  They suit me.  I know what to do with them.

But I have wandered aimlessly through this week as secondhand sorrow washed over me.

On Monday, one of my friends lost her son to suicide.  I only met him once.  She and I had talked about our sons — our pride in them; our fears; our hopes and dreams.  Because I know and care for her, I mourn the pain which drove him to this terrible choice.  I grieve for her.  I don’t know what to do with my feelings, though.  The only people who might understand have too grim a closeness to bother with me.

I can’t think of anything to do for her.  She had gone abroad and has not yet returned.  When she does, she will need space and time to learn to live in a world without him.  Nothing I can say or do will change the ice in her veins or the shard of glass driven into her soul.  She has a daughter and two grandsons.  But I have a son. I cannot imagine losing him and now my friend must endure the unthinkable.

Suffering stands as the singular and solitary state of each human.  My friend dwells in that empty chamber now, listening to the echo of her beloved boy’s fading voice.   She will carry this burden for eternity, even after she resumes the threads of her daily existence.  This sinister reality stays any thought of complaint, as the sun sets and the darkness settles on my tiny house.  I’m calling all angels to watch over my friend tonight.  She has greater need of them than I have ever known.

It’s the second day of the sixty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Away
By James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916)

I CANNOT say and I will not say
That he is dead.—He is just away!

With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand,
He has wandered into an unknown land,

And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.

And you—O you, who the wildest yearn
For the old-time step and the glad return,—

Think of him faring on, as dear
In the love of There as the love of Here;

And loyal still as he gave the blows
Of his warrior strength to his country’s foes.

Mild and gentle, as he was brave,
When the sweetest love of his life he gave

To simple things: where the violets grew
Pure as the eyes they were likened to.

The touches of his hands have strayed
As reverently as his lips have prayed;

When the little brown thrush that harshly chirred
Was dear to him as the mocking-bird;

And he pitied as much as a man in pain
A writhing honey-bee wet with rain.—

Think of him still as the same, I say:
He is not dead—he is just away!

***************************************************

The passage which I read at my brother Stephen Patrick’s funeral when his own pain claimed him, is, finally, all that I can think to offer to my friend as she mourns the loss of her own Steven:

From The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery, Chapter 26: 

“And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens . . . they will all be your friends. And, besides, I am going to make you a present . . .”

He laughed again.

“Ah, little prince, dear little prince! I love to hear that laughter!”

“That is my present. Just that. It will be as it was when we drank the water . . .”

“What are you trying to say?”

“All men have the stars,” he answered, “but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems. For my businessman they were wealth. But all these stars are silent. You–you alone–will have the stars as no one else has them–“

“What are you trying to say?”

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You–only you–will have stars that can laugh!”

And he laughed again.

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you . . .”

And he laughed again.

“It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh . . .”

And he laughed again.

 

An Accidental Truth

About a year ago, I accidentally told someone the truth and paid a dear price for it.

I don’t mean to imply that I typically lie.  More’s the pity for it, too; I nearly always speak with the strictest of honesty, at least as far as I understand.  On this occasion, I had kept a difficult nugget from someone regarding a mutual friend who had maligned the person.  I didn’t tell the person because there was no point in doing so.  The only possible outcome would be pain.

I can be forgiven for blurting it out after six months of silence.  I had just knocked myself senseless on a sidewalk and then dragged a heavy suitcase upwards for three flights.  The other had arrived, ignored my disheveled appearance in favor of rummaging in the kitchen, and, apropos of nothing as far as I could see, casually asked about my lack of contact with the person whose malfeasance I had long kept to myself.  I spat out the truth, then watched in horror as a ripple of anguish flamed out to consume us both.

I paid the highest price:  The loss of friendship in the face of my unfortunate disclosure. I had been the hopeless unwitting instrument of malicious damage.  Denials could come later, from the source; I would be considered the evil-doer. I would bear the shame.  I saw it all in that instant; a clever and cruel plot; or just a nasty trick of fate.  I’m not complaining now; I understand.  Perhaps I should not have kept silent so long; perhaps the gravest offense was the sudden telling of an accidental truth.

Yesterday I walked along the row of tiny houses in the middle of which my own home sits.  The heat of our one brutal summer weekend shimmered around me.   My legs wobbled; I grasped my walking stick for support.  I stumbled, nearly pitching to the ground.  For that precarious instant, I traversed again the broken sidewalk of a Kansas City Street, clutching the air, crashing against the cement.  My mind froze.  The world went black.  My stomach heaved. 

I found myself standing motionless on the smooth surface of my California deck.   From the highest branches of the nearby oak, the low mournful cry of a dove echoed the clenching of my heart. I listened to her song, eyes closed, hand on my breast.   Then I went inside and started a kettle for tea.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the sixty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

Serendipity

I enjoy a good thrift trip but I don’t allow myself many given that I downsized from 1400 square feet to a house too small to swing a cat if you were so inclined.  But yesterday, I had an hour to spend as I pleased, so I shambled over to the Lodi Goodwill and browsed to my heart’s content.

As I wheeled my buggy toward the books, I paused in front of a stack of baskets.  I studied a few rectangles, reflecting on the disorganization of my open shelves and wondering if baskets might be the way to go.  Suddenly, a voice rose over the hum of the religious satellite station.

I’m cruising for a few last items before the flea market tomorrow, I heard.  I’ll set everything out on tables and put prices and people can buy ’em or not, whatever, at the end of the day, I’ll take whatever’s left and box it.  

The voice grew louder as the guy approached my spot clutching a black phone oddly evocative of the Blackberry which I carried in the 90s. The party on the other end cackled.   Yeah, yeah, found some good stuff here, these people got no idea what they’re selling for cheap.  The two shared a raucous laugh as the man muscled beyond my cart without excusing himself for having just bumped me.  

My eyes lifted and met those of the customer standing around the corner looking at movies.  He shook his head.  I smiled, no doubt a little ruefully.

Some people shouldn’t be allowed to use speaker phones, he opined, though mildly and without rancor.  I laughed in response and rounded the bend, gently easing myself behind his slender figure and positioning myself next to him.  I glanced at the DVD in his hands.  Looking for something to watch while you stay out of the heat, I asked.

His face crinkled into a gorgeous grin.  I studied the warm brown of his weathered skin, the lines of middle-age, the crisp white T-shirt and the faded, basic blue jeans over work boots.  Something in the way he stood seemed familiar, though not in the sense of personal knowledge.  He resonated with a familiar home-town vibe.  I took a chance.  

But these Californians, they’re kind of weather wimps, I said, flashing a brief smile to take the edge off my snobbery.  Where I come from, 102 would be an every day thing by May, not one weekend in late July.

If possible, he beamed brighter.  He gestured to his chest.  Chicago, he noted.  I chortled and exclaimed, St. Louis and Kansas City, but my son lives in Chicago!

We  established our mid-nation bonafides, compared movies with books, shared our relative lengths of time spent in NORCAL, and speculated about what drove each of us west.  At a certain point, the conversation felt right and I tendered my name.  

Arthur, he responded, and clasped my hand in both of his for a few precious moments.

After a few minutes, we said goodbye, wishing each other a good day.  I continued with my quest for something to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon while the laundry spins in the combo unit.  Too late, I wished that I had taken a picture of the two of us or given him my phone number.  Nothing provocative, mind you; just another friend of which, as I’ve always said, you can’t have enough if they’re quality stuff.

I bought a few things — a little cream-and-sugar set for $1.99 that turned out to be worth some real change when i later researched; five books; a bowl to replace one that I had thought might be china which turned out to be plastic and cracked.  I like the feel of certain shapes:  smooth stoneware, rounded and cool; a slender mug handle, easily grasped as I move out onto the porch in the early morning; and the sturdy grip of a fellow Midwesterner, in a chance encounter at the Goodwill, on a Friday afternoon while I’m stuck in Lodi again.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the sixty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Note: As far as I knew at the time, I was only stuck in Lodi because I was waiting to run a time-sensitive errand.  Only later did I learn that the bridge over the Mokelumne had been closed all morning and I really was, in fact, stuck in Lodi again.  I got out during a brief spell of allowing traffic through before they closed it for repairs.  Island life means something different here in the Delta.

The bridge spanning the Mokelumne River just east of the turn onto Highway 12 from Brannan Island Road.