Ready for My Close-Up

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Just going about business.  Serene.  Opaque black matte eyes seeming oblivious to the steamy post-storm riot of summer color.

Out of the frame, underneath those magnificent wings, is the spectacle of yours truly getting the close-up, whispering (Please stay right there, just a few more seconds), wriggling backwards on the pollen-ridden ground with two cameras in hand. I’m wearing one of the daughter-hand-me-downs known among my friends as “Steph’s cute little dresses.”  Lady-like?  Not so much.

And I could swear this dazzling creature is looking askance at me.  The intricacy of detail I can get with the swoosh of a camera button gives me a false sense of connection.  Of course he is uninterested in me.  But I am wildly interested in everything in the shot: the stained-glass underside of his wings, his perfectly symmetrical grasp of the flowers, the softly swooping cilia trailing down the leaf’s stem.

Sometimes we are drawn to the close-up and sometimes we do everything we can to keep our distance.

Grief, close up, occupies its own ceaselessly swirling vortex, and can make people keep their distance.  But the intimate inside view yields its own insights and power, and even strange beauty at times.

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Half-Full

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(Painted) Line of Demarcation, Beacon Hill, Boston

We lawyers are fond of what is known in the business as the “bright line distinction.”  We like the assurance of knowing what falls on each side, though the adversarial battle in a given case tends to focus on pinpoint holes in the line–which after all ultimately may be as porous as the rainbow’s edge.

I aspire to be a half-full glass type of person, but founder on that line.  I still tend to focus on the downturn, the mask’s saddened side.  Flags at half staff.  Storm clouds arrayed in equal measure with gathering blue.  Half finished.  Done and undone. The half-life of love and of grief.  The missing pieces.

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Half-Transparent Half-View

Half-and-half is far easier to capture in pictorial form: half cloudy, semi-submerged, partially in focus.  Divided into land or sky or sea; demi-sentient; half-revealed, as with a wink, a mid-cycle moon, or a tree’s split fallen fruits; a vista of one side of the color spectrum at dawn, by halves bitter and sweet.  Somehow both part of and alone in this dazzling world.

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Beyond the Rainbow

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Post-flood, in Genesis 9:11, a rainbow was characterized as symbolizing “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature upon the earth.”

Frederick Buechner was far better situated than I to take liberties with Noah, the original “old sailor” who was “an expert in hoping against hope,” and wrote that “[i]n one way . . . it gave Noah a nice warm feeling to see the rainbow up there, but in another way it gave him an uneasy twinge.”  It occurred to him that God had a lot on his mind, and the very fact of him needing a symbolic such reminder might mean the promise could be forgotten.

Noah forged ahead once the floodwaters receded, but his thoughts of building and of seeding the vineyards were shaded by fear born of intrusive thoughts of the past: “He remembered the animals he’d had to leave behind–“the old sow with her flaxen lashes squealing on top of a hen house as the ripples lapped at her trotters, . . . a marmalade cat with one ragged ear . . . ”

So even when a particular dove had initially returned to the ark once the deluge stopped: Noah “had reached out over the rail. and it had landed on the calluses of his upturned palm.  With his eyes closed and tears on his cheeks, he had touched his lips to its feathers, and as he felt the panic of its bird’s heart, it had seemed to him that the whole world was just as fragile and as doomed.”

It took weeks of dove forays, the sight of a “great glittering rainbow arched above him,” and the echo of God’s promise in his ears to persuade Buechner’s Noah that the promise would be kept–that “a new, green world would blossom up out of the sodden wreckage of the old.” Continue reading

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Misty Memories

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“Memory — fragile, hazy-bright, miraculous, was to them the spark of life itself, and nearly every sentence of theirs began with some appeal to it . . . .”

— Donna Tartt, The Little Friend

One of my sons joined me on a recent summer night to seek a view of northern lights predicted to swirl so atypically southward that they would be within view if we drove just a few hours north.

On the way he indulged me as I pulled off the road and scampered with my camera towards relatively tame mountain vistas.  Like his father, he is very patient.

Meteorological predictions went unfulfilled.  But the fact that we saw no aurora of dazzling blue and green lights did not make it an unsuccessful jaunt.

The two of us wound our way in the dark around the White Mountains.  Mt. Washington’s serpentine blackened hulk loomed over us, reminding me of a dream I had when I was ten: my toddler-aged dream self was standing knee-deep in the ocean and I was surrounded and dwarfed by stacks of boulders.  No one else was in sight.

Ours was the only car on the highway, our headlights muted echoes of two stunningly bright lights in the night sky.

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The night’s dark watercolor whorl beckoned to both our former selves.

Still more coming . . . x, y, z . . . . ”  I murmured to my firstborn, who is now not far short of a doctorate in pure mathematics.

We were here before, and you and your brother wanted me to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom the whole way.”  I added.

He had been only three on the night I remembered last winding down this road.  In the deep dark of that recent June night, though, I still could see not only the long packed-away picture book’s saturated pinks and oranges, green coconut tree leaves and neon letters, but the carnation pink velour shirt my baby girl had worn, the holly-sprigged cobalt parka in which one son had been swaddled in his car seat.  My husband Jim would have been playing his music, though a Raffi tape would have been at the ready.

Unsaid: the “we” in “we were here before” was our family.  It was I who read to the children in the car because my husband, their father, who has since died far too young, had always taken the wheel when we traveled.

“I remember,” my son said.  He paused a beat.  “I think this was the first time I went skiing, and dad took me and he brought me up a rope lift.  And the aunts were there, too, in a different part of the place we were staying, and there was something about a refrigerator?  A broken refrigerator in one of their rooms?”

He jogged my memories.  He was right on all scores.

“How did you remember that?”

We drove on, trading off pieces of our family memories, sequences of bright clattering dominoes, pictures from our past.

“We came back over this bridge with the big stone circles and it was raining, and we stopped right over there and had pancakes.”

“And here–just about a block away, around the corner–do you remember we stayed overnight and we were in the room decorated with the baseball posters?” 

“Oh, and then we went a little way off the highway near the mountain the next day and dad found a trail with a waterfall, and we went through a little tunnel to get there….”

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A few years ago I heard on my car radio a story about an elderly professor who remarked that when his wife died, all their family memories died for him too–that there was no point in his holding onto a past she was no longer there to curate with him.

Mercifully, that is not so for me.

In under a week it will be the anniversary of my wedding.  (Perhaps there should be a word for a widow’s or widower’s wedding anniversary . . . a widoversary?)  I have very few photographs of our wedding, which took place in the days of film photography.  We have no moving pictures, no preserved sound.  But I can easily call back our friend Gary playing the guitar, our friend Patty singing, the exact timbre and measure of our best man Jon’s words to Jim, my long-gone grandmother’s bright blue-green eyes and her patting the chair next to her and telling me to sit with her for just a minute before we left on our new life.

Rather than any formal recording, I gladly rely on what my aunt has referred to as the “haze of memory” of vows which lasted and which yielded this new family and all these boundless memories.

*****

My son and I spent several hours driving that recent night.  We stopped away from ambient light and walked into woods, peeper frogs and crickets providing the soundtrack, but no northern lights appeared.

Near midnight I stood next to my son, who towers over me.  He is nearly as tall as his father.

We gazed on glittering gray starlit skies reflected in Chicorua lake, much too dark to capture with my camera . . .  but a photograph, after all, itself is never just a photograph.  So that night too will softly slide into memory’s soothing mist.

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