Monthly Archives: February 2018

Morning in Leawood

The weather gods continue to smile on my visit to Kansas City.  Outside the wide window in Jeanne Foster’s kitchen, I see a bit of grey but no ice, no snow, no rain.  A low electric light in a wrought-iron lantern glows from the stone wall.  Spring hovers near this place; birds twitter in the oaks rising above the house.  One of the trees bears a tattered yellow ribbon.  I briefly wonder what death or absence my friend honored with its placement.

In another hour, I will visit children whose custody will be resolved at trial on Tuesday.  My status as their guardian ad litem brings me here this week.  I could have withdrawn, but another appointment would have meant delay in an already dreary case.  I can’t charge for the trip; the cost of it will march on my Schedule C and offset whatever earnings I might have this year to whatever extend Caesar  allows.  I’m technically unemployed and can ill afford these expenses, but I have faith that the universe will reward me, if only in the calm of some inner feeling.

Later today, I will rummage in the storage unit where the remaining bits of my life here await disposal.  I do not look forward to that endeavor.  But for the dropped ball of an inexperienced real estate agent (giving her the wide benefit of doubt which time has allowed), I would have spent the last week packing instead of holding together the house sale.  A frantic forty-eight hours saw every one of my blessed friends madly packing.  I have no idea what awaits me.  Everything had been stored at someone’s house who decided it no longer suited him to keep my possessions, and so Paula and Sheldon once more stepped into the breach and moved them for me.  Today I will scrounge through the boxes to see what I can give away.

I don’t greatly mind this somewhat unpleasant task.  Whether I did or not, it must be done.  Cheerfully suffices as well, or better, than any other approach.

But in the meantime, Jeanne set the coffee and I’ve made eggs.  Outside the light rises.  I sit in a space which all told, surpasses my tiny house by many times over, and I’m marveling at the experience as though I have never lived any way but small.  It’s morning in Leawood, with small songbirds as soundtrack rather than the geese and cranes of the Delta.  I find myself without a care in the world, or, in the least, none to which I have any thought of giving voice.

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

Flying

I don’t mind flying.  Airports pose lots of problems but flying itself affords me the opportunity to imagine that new and refreshing events await.  I talk to my seatmates, read Ngaio Marsh novels, and drink bad coffee served by smiling flight attendants with varying degrees of fatigue lingering on their faces.

Yesterday proved challenging in many ways but I got to Oakland from the Delta without difficulty and the Kansas City weather cooperated.  A merry seventy-year-old retired nurse entertained me with tales of life in Southern California all the way into MCI.  Hertz talked me into an upgrade so in the event of the ice storm, I  have all-wheel drive and heated seats.  I made my way to my friend Jeanne’s house in Leawood down 1-29 with no right side-view mirror, a malady that I did not notice before leaving the rental car building.

I kept to the far lane all the way to the 47th street exit.  Rain slicked from the windshield as I pulled into a parking lot off Brush creek.  I couldn’t see what the building was but my heart fluttered at the sight of a lanky security guard loping towards me.  Grinning, he leaned around the windshield and pulled the mirror from where it had been folded.  You should be fine now, Ma’am, he assured me.  I slipped a pewter medallion from my pocket and handed it to him.  An angel for an angel, I told him.  Maybe he’d rather I had tipped him, but his smile widened.

As I maneuvered my car back to the roadway, I heard his voice:  Have a blessed day, he admonished me.  I waved out the window and felt my heart ease.

Now I am in a courtroom waiting for lawyers to gather for a pre-trial in which I am the guardian ad litem.  The case should settle but it won’t, whether because of the obstinance of the parents or the lack of communication between the lawyers, I can’t say.  It will be tried on Tuesday, one way or the other; and I will put one more file to rest.  My list of duties here dwindles, and soon, my only tie to Missouri will be the love of my friends and the lifetime of memories.

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

Falling

When I was eight or nine, I told my mother that i wanted to be a ballerina.  The look with which she reacted remains a potent memory.  We stood in the kitchen at the house in which we lived for my entire life.  Her hands rested on a bowl of bread dough.  She looked away after holding my gaze for several minutes.

I lowered my eyes to the notice in my hands.  I had been invited to join a dance class.  I needed parental permission.  I knew we had no money; but a sentence at the bottom gave me hope:  “Scholarships available.”  I guessed what that meant; it meant that poor kids might go.  It didn’t occur to me that I might not qualify for other reasons.

My mother’s voice dropped to a low tone, lower even than her normal pitch.  I don’t think you should get your hopes up, Mary, she said.

I’ve never been light on my feet, not then, not at my lowest adult weight, around 85 pounds at age 55.  As a little girl, I hit the ground so often that my classmates called me “the little crippled girl”.  My mother said, here, knead this, and turned the dough out onto the counter in a sheen of flour.  I stepped forward and put the flyer aside.  She touched my shoulder.

I heard her on the telephone later, telling whoever had invited me that I would not be attending the dance class.  I hovered in the other room, straining to her the logic that she used.  I did not really understand but I felt a hot stain of shame in my chest.

The other day, I stepped over the pets’ gravestones which I brought to California from our home in Missouri.  Tiger Tazmania has a flat stone on which his name is engraved.  He’s proclaimed to be “The Scum Cat”.  Sprinkle just had the large yellow stone which my son and his best friend brought home from our western adventures.  They sit beside the new little pathway to my house here.  I don’t know why I didn’t walk around them.  I sprawled across the ground in an inglorious heap.  It took me ten minutes to pull myself from the steps on which I landed.

Tonight, as I watch Olympic skater after Olympic skater reach for the gold, my heart clenches when one stumbles.  I feel their pain, though it isn’t the same; it only seemed to me that the whole world watched every time I fell.

It’s the twentieth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Chasing windmills

I found myself drawn to the countryside today.  Windmills fascinate me.  I yearned to find a long wide shot, perhaps a little video.  I drove east on Highway 12, over the Rio Vista bridge and continuing outside of town.  I had an hour to squander before I needed to be anywhere.

A wholesale lack of daily time commitments sends my disposition spinning.  I don’t like free time.  Dreams, ghosts, and wicked little doubts besiege me if I do not have enough to fill my waking moments.  I push them away.  Stretching for joy appeals to me but not on the roller coaster of chaos.  So I washed my hair, threw clothes on my aching bones and jumped into the RAV.

A sign for Bird’s Landing drew me off the straightway, a wide left turn and into the cleft between slopes.  Eyes darting back and forth, watching for a chance to stop, I moved beyond barns, power lines, and empty steel buildings crouched on the hillside.  I never found the perfect spot; and the road ended at the Montezuma Fire Station, with a sign for Fairfield to the right and Collinsville to the left.  Beyond the sign for Collinsville another one cautioned, No outlet.

I turned left.  I’ve been to Fairfield.

Indeed, the highway ended at a scraggly field beyond which I could see the river.  I considered my options.  A small road led into the field of windmills but the map showed that it, too, had no outlet.  I turned around and headed the way I had come.  The windmills rose above me, some still, some moving just barely in the crisp quiet of the afternoon.

As I made my way back to Highway 12, I came upon a flock of sheep, ewes and lambs, pushing against each other on the roadway.  Two black dogs nipped at their heels.  A man in an ATV led them; one hovered at the rear.  I pulled over and watched them pass, holding my cell phone, holding my breath, nodding to their minders as the mass of bleating babies moved beyond my car.

A few nagging annoyances pushed at my good mood today.  The ghosts; the dreams; the images of windmills which might be giants.  But I have no complaints.

 

 

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.

It will not lead you astray.”

—  Rumi

 

The Sheep

Sunday Morning, Feeling Fine

Let me tell you what I see:

Directly in front of me — a 48-inch window shows a tree, my neighbor’s trailer, and a wide expanse of green lawn.  The willow towering over that stretch of spring grass has begun to bud; its soft branches wave in the morning wind.

Closer at hand, a lamp glows.  I bought it for ten bucks from an acquaintance who, with her husband, is liquidating her life and setting out for two years of travel in their RV.  She said it sat on her mother’s desk for many years.  Now its milky white base matches the glass box beside it, which holds part of my extensive inherited button collection.  The women in my family do not discard anything.  Those buttons fell from blouses, shirts, and jackets for three or four generations back.

In a plastic box with vaguely oriental decorations on its lid, I keep my mother’s PTA, den mother, and war-time medals.  That box rests on the desk just inches from a hilarious picture of my adult son sitting on my lap.  We took that at a serious photo-shoot in the home of my in-laws.  We kept more serious faces when standing by the other folks.  For just the two of us, our true nature shone.

Behind that photograph, an angel music box stands with folded hands.  To her right — stage left — my printer squats on a wicker cabinet which I brought from Kansas City.  In the window sill behind the printer, I’ve placed a lovely ceramic vase that a friend gave me, into which I’ve slipped a silk rose which my son bought for me at Disney World in 1996.

To the left of the window, my favorite Genevieve Casey photograph reminds me of my former life.  Above the window, two digital depictions by my son flank a photograph of his younger self.  To the right of the window hangs my angel shelf, on which the china angels which I kept when I did my house purge rest.  Some hold their hands in perpetual prayer.  Some smile.  One  lifts a tiny candle to light my path.

These sights inspire and calm me.  They remind me of the bounty which my life holds.  They encourage me to cast aside any whisper of discontent.  They suggest to me that I have so much for which to be grateful, and very little about which to complain.  The light streaming through the open window reaches my eyes and I am reminded that I can still see.  The life which lifts my eyelids has not been extinguished.

It’s Sunday morning.  I’m feeling fine.

It’s the eighteenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

In which the sun also rises

Looking for a job at 62 seems more daunting than I had imagined it would be given last year’s premature flurry of success.  Maybe 61 appealed; but that round, even number, a click to the south, repels.

But I persist.  I drive to Lodi for sand to level the pavers in front of my house; then spend an hour online looking at not-for-profit hiring websites.  I stand on Pattie’s lawn chatting about the tree-trimming, life at Delta Bay, and the vagaries of daily existence as middle-aged women.  Then I spend another hour online.  The car takes its swoop around Brannan Island errand after errand as I build my existence and spend my budget thin.  But the river keeps shimmering along the winding road, and my heart rises with the evening breeze.

I see a smattering of budding leaves on the weeping willow.  Apparently spring nears.  I strain to hear the drone of a small plane overhead.  Messages continue to pour into my inbox — people who exclaim, I saw you and your tiny house on the news!  Their enthusiasm draws a smile to my face.  I scroll through their words, then click on WorkForGood and begin the search again.  Somebody wants me.  They await my query, sitting in their office, a cooling cup of coffee at hand, a frown on their brow and an empty desk nearby.

Amazingly, I have no trouble sleeping in California.  The sun sets.  The air cools.  I read for an hour or two and when my eyelids cannot remain open, I snuggle under the velour blankets and surrender to dreams.  I awaken at six as I have always done, but now, closer to the western edge, I see the sunrise with a lighter spirit.

My friends tell me, you’ve done the right thing, you’re where you should be.  In the glitter of morning, I find no grounds on which to challenge their assessment.

It’s the seventeenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

No Complaints Today. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

While I stared at a giggling Stanford cardiologist twirling a wheeled office chair as he opined that I could take my heart medicine or not, as I determined, a nineteen-year-old with a legally purchased semi-automatic AR-15 massacred seventeen people in a Florida school.

I learned of the latest shootings while I rested at a Denny’s in Antioch, California.  I had gotten within 35 miles of home and been unable to go another moment without a restroom and a hot cup of coffee.  My son the writer told me about it.  I asked how his day had been, knowing he’d been facing a deadline.  Fine, except for yet another shooting.  I asked what he meant, and he told me, while my coffee cooled and the eggs sat unnoticed in front of me.

I know suffering is not a competitition, but the doctor’s lack of clarity on the issue of whether or not I need the two medications prescribed by my Missouri cardiologist suddenly seemed inconsequential.  (Do I need these drugs or not, I had asked.  He shrugged.  Maybe, maybe not.  Today’s EKG is normal.  I pried further, Because of the medicine or because nothing is wrong?  Another shrug.   I studied his face.  One or the other, was the unsurprising response. )

But my heart still beats.  My blood, thinned by Warfarin, rushes through my veins, flooding my limbs, feeding a brain which still crackles with electricity however imperfectly.  The fluttering in my chest, unexplained and mysterious, still wakes me in the night.

And this:  Unlike the sons and daughters lying in a morgue in Florida, my son still breathes at the other end of the telephone, in a one-bedroom walk-up in Evanston, Illinois.

So:  Here’s the weather report in Isleton, California, at Park Delta Bay:  Nothing about which to complain.  Nada, zip, zilch.  

It’s the fifteenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Wonders to behold

I have huddled on the edges of mountain cliffs and stood high above the ocean while a frigid wind beat against my body. I have cast weary eyes on the face of my newborn son.  Many wonders exist in the world, a fraction of which I have beheld.

But yesterday, I came around a bend in the road and braked, stunned by what I saw.  In a long wide pasture, cows grazed, their heads to the ground.  Their charcoal hides dappled the pale surface of new vegetation growing under their feet.  A large flock of geese had landed in the field, white dots interspersed among the brown bovine bodies.  As I watched, the geese bobbed their heads downward, picking for grubs and tender shoots, I suppose.  They had no objection to the massive beings wandering near them, nor did the cattle bother the fowl.

I can’t say why this struck me as beautiful but it did.  I sat in my car on the empty country road.  I wished again for a real camera.  My cell phone could not do justice to what I saw.  I reached for it anyway, stopped only by the sound of a motor, a vehicle approaching from behind me.  Reluctantly, I put my car in gear and continued onward.

I heard the owl outside my house as I settled for the night, a polite sentry or a shrewd hunter, depending on your view.  His night-time call tells me that he has no concern about the tin boxes scattered across the park holding humans who think themselves in charge of their land.  I put out my light but he kept calling, in a language too old for me to comprehend.  I took comfort from his song, whether or not I should.

It’s the fourteenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

Taking the ups with the downs

I admit it: I get blue.  A few of my friends who’ve gotten emails from me this week can testify.

But then, this happens:  Yet another problem with the build of Angel’s Haven asserts itself into my day, and several Park Delta Bay residents rally to diagnose the problem and offer solutions.  As the last of them exits into the dark of a cool California night, a smile dawns on my face.

Yes, I understand: those emails constitute rank complaint and back-sliding.  They dripped with castigation of people who treated me poorly.  (I utter these words and Marshall Rosenberg spins in his grave.)  Let me try again:  Those e-mails represent a tragic expression of an unmet need.

What need?  Mine: To be cherished.  In the face of yet another round of people who chose instead to decline a chance to cherish me, I railed on people whom I believe actually do.  Once more, she utters that timeless lament:  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I could avoid this, by disdaining any quest for happiness.  If I lived life on a flat-line, there would be no chance for pleasure but also, no possibility of pain.

I’ll chance meeting people who will reject me, against the certain knowledge that my friends love me, that there are brilliant sunsets and fabulous vistas, of the heart as well as on land.  I embrace joy, even knowing that if I crash, as I did earlier this week,  I’ll suffer overwhelming heartache.  If knowing joy means keenly feeling its absence, the risk seems worthwhile to me.

Perhaps those who received the letters which I penned in self-pity would prefer that I keep my anguish to myself.  And yet, somehow, when those emotions threaten to destroy me, I need to talk about it.  I’d listen for them and have, for them and others.  It’s what we do.   However, this journey forces me to re-evaluate my tendency to wallow in lament.  I’m getting better at recovering from relapse.  I hope my friends forgive the occasional misstep.  

I don’t really think we pay a price for joy.  Sadness has its own origins.  But even if I’m wrong, I’ll endure whatever trials come my way, if doing so helps insure the triumphs. I’ll take the downs with the ups.

It’s the thirteenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  My clumsy life continues.