Unwritten and Unfolding

 

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I am not living the life I expected to live.

Not nearly.

From the time I was in kindergarten I expected to be a mother.

From the age of about twelve I expected to be a trial lawyer.  I had been an insatiable fan of detective novels and the Perry Mason show.  (It was only much later that I would learn which side actually wins nearly all the criminal trials.)

I expected to go to college and law school, to marry, to enjoy my career.  I trusted that someday my children would go off to school themselves, become independent, start families of their own, and assumed that when that happened I would happily resume life as a couple with my husband Jim.

He–needless to say to anyone who knew us as a couple–was the one doing all the concrete future planning, saving for tuition and for his expected retirement decades from now.

Then his own cells betrayed him and stripped away his future.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s narrator in The Lowland observed, “Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold.  Blindly planning for it, envisioning things that weren’t the case.  This was the working of the will.  This was what gave the world purpose and direction.  Not what was there but what was not.”

In those detective novel terms, I suppose we focus on the dog who’s not barking.

A fellow storyteller helped me re-focus those double negatives: it’s not what’s not here; it’s what is.

I had that marriage until death parted us. . . to a degree.

I have those children, who have now all gone off to school and launched themselves into amazing young adults.

I have that career.

The rest is unfolding.

 

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On Top of the World


Ireland 402

 

It has been some time since I’ve felt the spring in the step that accompanies feeling On Top of the World, but not so very long since my children and I climbed in blasting winds to what seemed like the Earth’s pinnacle, atop Arthur’s Seat.

Today is my brilliant blue-eyed boy‘s Birthday Eve.

I promise someday we’ll feel on top of the world again.

 

 

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Improbable Morning


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It seems more common to measure in mornings than nights.

I realize conspicuous exceptions exist, from Twelfth Night to the highly particularized “Night Before Christmas.”

But nights seem to be viewed more diffusely, and collectively–”One of These Nights,” Arabian Nights, REM’s “Night Swimming,”  Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen.” 

Mornings and days, on the other hand, are ticked off in increments.  Sometimes we even “count the time in quarter-tones to ten.”

Mary Oliver parcelled out A Thousand Mornings, as did Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in chronicling John F. Kennedy’s Presidential tenure.

You can read about one hundred days of countless subjects, from novel weight loss programs to meditations to military engagement in the Falklands and the final fraction of President Kennedy’s term and life.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez catalogued a full century of solitude.

Elie Weisel likely had something more profound in mind when he wrote the astonishing Night, given that in Genesis darkness preceded light: “the Earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep,” and only after bottomless darkness did “God separat[e] between the light and” night’s darkness. 

Perhaps it is just because it seems less surprising to reach nightfall once one has, for better or worse, begun to face another day.

To the grieving, each morning seems at least mildly improbable, even unsettling, after night’s non-linear tangle of time.  I awaken, therefore I am still here–even on the frequent mornings when my dreams have been occupied by someone who no longer opens his eyes to dawn.

 

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Each morning is, to me, something like the way W.S. Merwin depicted the beginning of a new year:

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

 

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Still here to see the sunrise.  Still here to make my way through the day and toward inherently unsharable night.   And another day.

 

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so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

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Improbable Night

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It’s been a series of improbable nights.

Some have been spent in frigid high winds, completely alone in the cold as I snapped photographs of suddenly late sunsets on the nights Campbell McGrath contemplated: nights when the mind occupies a place “always elusive, always a city, and wonderful, and lost. All night I wander alone, searching in vain for the irretrievable.”

For a very long time,  solitude has been the hallmark of my nights.

Gravel paths on hillsides amid moon-drawn vineyards,
click of pearls upon a polished nightstand
soft as rainwater, self-minded stars, oboe music
distant as the grinding of icebergs against the hull
of the self and the soul in the darkness. . . .

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Deep is the water and long is the moonlight
inscribing addresses in quicksilver ink,
building the staircase a lover forever pauses upon.
Deep is the darkness and long is the night,
solid the water and liquid the light. 

 

But last night, and the night before that, I wasn’t alone.  I wandered among crowds on city streets and ventured into places I’ve never set foot before.  I met people with wondrous hearts and stories: writers and stand-up comics, actors, radio gods and goddesses, mothers and fathers, people willing to tell their stories and people willing to listen.

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