How can anyone be grumpy with the ocean outside of the window and a gathering of interesting people at the table drinking coffee? I find that travel brings out the best in some people. I made a pot of coffee at 6:30, and we are on the fourth pot at 9:30. A few people have drifted away but the basic six or seven still gather. I brought strawberries out. Another woman contributed blackberries. We found sugar in the cupboard marked “free stuff”. Sharing stories, pouring coffee, while the wind drifts into the room from the sea. Life is good. No complaints here, everyone. Mama Corinna loves you all today.
The sun hastens above the horizon, calling to me, Rise! Come see this splendor! And so I have done, and my gratitude consumes me. Again I ask myself: How can you live in the Midwest? How can you leave this place?
Another resident of Dolphin (second building from the entrance) asked me to make his second in the hot tub yesterday. I surprised both of us by accepting. When we presented ourselves at the hostel office to pay our fee and get the key, the young woman on duty, Mackenzie, told us in a gentle voice that she had decided to waive the customary eight dollars per person for our session. It takes courage to ask a stranger to share the hot tub, she told us. The rules require a buddy system, and the gentleman had indeed been emboldened by the sea air to approach me. We thanked her and made our way down the boardwalk to the hot tub at the end of the point.
I shall never again appreciate a hot tub in the Y or at someone’s home in quite the same way. At nearly nine p.m., with the constellations just showing themselves and a fishing boat far on the low edge of the sea, our view lured us to feel the glory of isolation. No sound broke the air around us, save my companion’s occasional calling of a star’s name. I closed my eyes and felt a peacefulness descending on me.
I cannot say that I slept any better than I sleep at home. In a bunk room with five other women, the rustling and murmurs occasionally penetrated my calm. My tooth still ached; my legs still twitched. I suffered a third fall in four days, at the parking lot of the motor inn where I stayed in San Jose, and landed on the exact part of my skinny posterior which the two prior falls had bruised. The knot on the back of my head has not yet settled. With nothing stronger than Tylenol, I’m feeling the brunt of my difficult days. And from the top middle bunk, a woman’s sorrow emanated in palpable waves despite her stillness. I tried to speak to her but she turned away. As I quieted myself for sleep, I wondered what plagued her. I felt a bit unsettled by the emotions which she could not help but cast into the room.
And yet — and yet: The beauty surrounds me. I stand on the back deck and watch a little blackbird skittering at my feet, foraging the crumbs from so many individual dinners. Until another resident appears to make her breakfast, I luxuriate in the silence. This place cradles me. The very air around me seems medicinal. Soft sounds drift from the rocks; sweet scents float on the breeze. How can I complain, when I have this — if only for a little while? How can I even think of voicing lament, when I know that it will remain here, when I leave, waiting for my return.
I have come to Pigeon Point LIghthouse for purposes of healing. A fellow refuge plays the piano in the common room. A nervous man paces on the boardwalk outside the window. He’s told me that he had a car accident three days ago; he identified himself as being a traveler. I suggested that he take a seat and gaze at the ocean and watched from the kitchen window as he did for about ten minutes before leaping back to his feet. He needs this place, but I doubt that he will receive the benefit of it.
Grey clouds hang low in the sky, out over the ocean. This afternoon I stood watching people watch whales. I counted five languages among those gathered. As magnificent as I found the sight of the grey whale, more so did I find the happiness of the humans watching their play.
I will be here for only forty-eight hours, all told. I am hoping that it will be enough. I have responsibilities back in the midwest, but for now I shall tarry at the edge of the world, and let it work its magic on my soul.
Through this entire journey to learn to live more joyfully, I have received commentary, private and public, about myself. The public commentary largely takes the form of messages from my personal fan club and cheering section. These folks have seen me at my worst and my best and love me anyway. Their fierce loyalty sustains me in my worst times and invigorates me when I need a jolt of energy.
Privately people feel more free to suggest ways that I have failed in my personal quest for improvement or in my conduct before I began this increasingly longer year without complaining. Those people also give me valuable feedback, pointing out shortcomings which still require attention, moments of weakness when I conduct myself in less than loving ways, behavior which creates a wall between myself and others.
I need both groups, though truth be told, those who know my faults and abide with me despite them give me greater comfort. I remain a work in progress, and I expect the gathering at my unveiling to be crowded. Both factions will have a place at the table, though I admit that the seats nearest me will be occupied by the former group. I’ll mingle with everyone — touching the shoulders of my harshest critics, thanking them for mincing no words and enabling me to see with unrelenting clarity the failings which require my closest attention.
I’ve been told that my best writing occurs when I write about other people, and I’ve tried to do that in these posts — when I observe joy, and human kindness, and precious moments that fit within my theme of living without complaint. But I intend this blog as a chronicle of my path to joyfulness, and so, from time to time, I have to talk about the roadblocks which I encounter along with the efforts I make to overcome them.
I’ve never considered myself much of a poet, but occasionally I recall verses that I’ve written and think: Ah, maybe that fits just — here. This morning as I contemplated some of the more painful confrontations that this process has occasioned, I remembered a poem that I wrote while I was in grad school. And so, please, indulge me. I can’t recall its title, but I do know that I wrote this poem in 1978, on the wall of an apartment where I lived in St. Louis. Its words suggest to me that I’ve been treading water for forty years. I hope I’m making progress now.
If I’m not real
behind this mask
which binds my mind
and sets my task
then those who work
on my behalf
should give in with
a weary laugh.
But if I’m real
it’s also true
that loyal friends
have much to rue.
It is not true that you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
You can’t get a table for one, gluten-free bread, or refills on the lemonade. You also are probably not going to get directions from the attendant at the store, who does not speak English, unless you know what language he does speak and can converse in it well enough to ask if there is another way down the mountain. In addition, you can’t enter through the wheelchair ramp (or at least, not unless I’ve been there and explained the ADA to the lady who monitors it) or substitute anything for the inevitable bag of chips.
You can, however, get a reasonably tasty portabella mushroom sandwich (don’t eat the bread and it’s gluten-friendly) with sauteed red peppers and avocado. For a hefty additional charge, you can get the appetizer sweet potato fries. Judging by the gentleman on the stool next to mine (“One? Did you try the counter?”), you can get an extraordinarily juicy beefburger the size of a newborn’s head. You can get any flavor of ice cream as long as the flavor you want is vanilla, and any float as long as it’s rootbeer. You can indulge in a fabulous forty-five minutes of people-watching, complete with every motorcyclist not in Sturgis.
If you head north outside of the Alice’s Restaurant parking lot, you find the gentle, meandering road which rides the ridge to the eastern route back to 280. Along the way, you can stop for pictures, though unfortunately, by this time, your phone will have died and you’ll have to rely on memories. As you float downhill to the interstate, you find that you have, in fact, gotten what you wanted after all.
And in that state of grace, you drift to Philz Coffee, where you can get any coffee drink you want, as long as it’s pour-over.
I stood on my deck today, under a lovely blue sky. True enough, heat hung heavy in the air and my dress stuck a little to the skin around the back of my neck. But my begonias still bloom their fierce red and pink, and the jade plant has revived since Jenny Rosen and my shared daughter Tshandra White diagnosed its ailment via FB photo.
An hour later, Brenda and I sat at Oak 63, ordering dinner from their limited menu. Truth be told, I found mine not particularly memorable. I splurged on calories and gluten to have shrimp pasta with a tomato cream sauce. The dish had no salt or herbs; the shrimp was rubbery; and it came with nothing — not a lump of broccoli or a solitary spear of aspargus.
But I’m not complaining. Brenda’s company always makes the evening rich and pleasant. Being a funny, smart, nonjudgmental librarian from Indianapolis seems to be an excellent combination for a good woman pal. And I can’t ask for a better friend, as any Seinfeld afficionado would attest. She’s taking me to the airport on Sunday for my trip to San Jose. The Airport. On a Sunday morning. At five a.m. no less. Somewhere in my wicked, terrible youth / I must have done something good.
Now the sun has slipped down below the far side of my neighborhood and the crickets have taken up their nighttime chattering. I’ve talked to my son in LA and done a load of laundry. The dog sleeps beneath the dining room window. I stand on my porch and wonder where this year has gone — this year during which I had vowed that I would, finally, learn to live a joyful life.
In the sweet still summer night, no grievance plagues me. I draw in a long pull of cool air before going back inside my little bungalow. Tonight I will sleep without regard for any care that might seem more daunting in the dawn.
These days when asked how I am, my standard reply includes a list of things which do not plague me. It’s an extension of the response that I borrowed from the late Judge Leonard Hughes Jr., who would intone from the bench, I woke up this morning, which is more than a lot of people can say; so let’s get this show started.
I add: “There are a few things wrong with me, but so many diseases and problems that I don’t have. ALS, cancer, MS, poverty. ” As Karen Carmack says, I’ve become a bright-sider — or perhaps, in my case, a bright-sider-wannabe.
It’s easier in the morning. At night, I am tired, my legs ache, and I often lapse into self-pitying whines, mostly internal but occasionally in e-mails sent to one or two kind folks who forgive me, knowing that my gumption flags when fatigue settles over me.
To my list of things that I don’t have to suffer, I’d like to add this: Being a ten-year old girl who has dwindled to 51 pounds and a 31% chance of survival, with one less kidney.
Click the below-appearing link to read one local news account of ten-year-old Camille Clark’s personal battle with cancer and her love of “Fight Song”, a tune by recording artist Rachel Platten:
So Bright-Siders of the World: Unite, and throw that hashtag out there. Let’s count our lucky STARS and encourage Sony to bring Rachel Platten to Liberty to meet one of her biggest fans, Camille Clark. Come on people, get your hashtag on:
And while you’re at it, get your own show started, because like me, you woke up this morning, which is more than a lot of people can say.
On the way home from Rotary tonight, I passed three bicyclists and two dog walkers. I slowed as I neared each human encroaching on the roadway, certain that I had a moral if not a legal obligation to insure that I scooted the Prius beyond their vulnerable bodies without mishap.
As I turned onto Rockhill Road’s north by northeast leg from 71st street, the local public radio station announced that they would be launching a brief test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. Had I felt so inclined, I could have closed my eyes and been six again, down in the fruit cellar of our Jennings home, huddled on cots amid the canned food and the stashes of blankets. This is a test. . . This is only a test. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been given instructions. . .
Every child knew the drill in those days. Our parents and teachers had trained us. We heard the screech of the Zenith and the Motorola and headed for the basement stairs, where the oldest siblings took charge of the youngest and those in the middle gathered at their parents’ heels.
I doubt my son knows what that meant, the fear, the worry, the weeks on end of practice at lunch time on the school playgrounds.
I guided my car north on Holmes street, just blocks from where I live. The sun sank in the west. The brief test on 89.3 had given way to an interview with several impossibly young commentators about Jon Stewart’s impending last broadcast of the Daily Show. I pulled into my driveway thinking, I have no complaints. No matter what might confront me, I do not live in war; I do not live in terror; I do not live in poverty, famine, or widespread incurable disease.
This is only a test. Had this been an actual emergency, in 2015, given the state of the world, your only recourse would have been prayer.
I went into the house, put my laptop on the secretary, and let the dog into the kitchen. She was glad to see me.
As I drove down Brookside Blvd. on Friday, I saw again the couple whose quiet wait for a city bus has caught my attention. This time, the man stood leaning against a street sign, smiling, gazing down at the woman. She held no cell phone on that day, and looked at him with bright eyes and an open face. I slowed my car to study them until the driver behind me grew impatient, tapping on his horn. I accelerated into the curve of the road, leaving the two behind, waiting for their bus, changed and yet, the same.
In 1979, someone broke into my apartment. They took nothing. They came more than once — in fact, three or four times before I realized what was happening.
Call me crazy. But I would come home from work or class to find a record playing on the turntable. I would rise from sleep to discover all of the framed pictures had been placed face down. The back door would be standing open to the interior hallway of the four-family flat when I came into the kitchen in the morning.
My father changed the locks, just in case a prior tenant still had a key. I reported the issue to my landlord, who gave me a funny look and asked, Was anything stolen? Did you hear anything? See anything?
No, no, and no. He took no action. I did not blame him.
One night, deep in sleep, I saw a figure standing over me. The figure spoke: There is a man in the apartment. Awaken! Awaken! I struggled to consciousness; the figure faded. I saw a shadow in the dining room and screamed. I dialed the police and my upstairs neighbor, the latter of whom came thundering down the back stairs.
He discovered the kitchen door to my apartment and the back door to the building both wide open.
I never figured out what was happening, but neither did I have another visit from whomever it was.
Five years later, my mother told me that she had been visited by an angel who told her, gently, that she had one year to live. I’m okay with that, she said, in a quiet voice, as we walked in her garden. I asked her what the angel looked like. She described a figure exactly like the one who had come to warn me of the intruder, in my apartment, in 1979.
My life has been filled with strange occurrences, and I’ve often been considered slightly whackadoodle. But I’m not complaining, either about the weird things that have happened to me or the reaction that others have had to my reports of those odd encounters. I have no doubt that angels abound in my life, and I’m grateful for that more and more each day. Some of those angels doubtless have no corporal existence; others walk, talk, breathe, and smile at me everywhere I go.
I had a pity party earlier this weekend, but I’m over it now at least for the present. Once in a while, a relapse occurs but I gather myself and spend time in the company of one of my angels. This time, it was my friend Vivian Leahy.
All of my angels, human and spiritual, have guided me on the rocky path as I forge ahead on this journey of mine. I don’t know if I will attain my goal of learning to live without complaining but I certainly would have not one whit of a chance without the angels around me.