Frayed Days

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            Peach and mottled green/Spectacularly set off/Frayed leaves of deep rose

Steggy.

My favorite frayed thing . . . and a variation on one of my favorite words.

I made a quilt for my baby daughter, and it became her favorite inanimate companion.  She rubbed its binding away as she clutched it, until the once crisply pressed bias-cut fabric along its edges separated into feathered ridges.

The quilt became so well-loved that an appliqued heart occasionally would drop from its surface.  A piece of fabric from its top might gradually loosen and then suddenly float away, leaving a tiny triangular nest of cotton batting exposed.

My husband Jim and I took our two sons and first daughter for a summer week in Bar Harbor, Maine.  We wandered and popped into a store where children’s books were displayed.

Our three and four year-old sons, who were quite learned when it came to dinosaurs, pointed out books with pictures of them to their little sister, who had one thumb plugged into her mouth.  Her arm enfolded her bundled crib quilt, which she clutched in all seasons and temperatures.

After her toddler tutorial, she pointed delightedly at a small stuffed pink and yellow stegosaurus at her level of a book display in a clear lucite column.

“Dido!” she cried.

We returned home and were putting our daughter into her crib when she began demanding “Steggy,” beaming when her father handed her the quilt.

“Steggy?” Jim and I turned to each other.

Then we saw her happily running her finger over the quilt’s frayed edges, smoothing the frayed binding into a line of wee, softly serrated triangular points.

“Stegs.”  She announced.

Of course.

She had added another sensible word to the family lexicon.

Look carefully at the deep rose leaves on the plant pictured above and you’ll see the “stegs.”  What better descriptive word could there be?

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When we moved, after Jim died, I found Steggy carefully folded and packed away inside a penguin-shaped backpack.

Steggy’s owner has just returned from Bangladesh, where she spent the summer studying infectious diseases.  This weekend her nerves are slightly frayed, and the vocabulary she’s studying is nothing I’ve ever heard of.  Vast bodies of technical scientific material must be memorized.  It’s now subject matter that doesn’t lend itself to metaphor–applying colorful common sense shorthand derived from the magical worlds in which toddlers dwell.

Her dad would be so very tickled.

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Silhouette Sampler

 

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A silhouette is the blurred edge’s opposite: it is defined by its solidity, its opacity–by the razor’s edge of its contrast with whatever lies beyond.

Silhouettes define and anchor spaces and places.

My favorite silhouette doesn’t exist in a photograph, but I will be able to see it forever: the last time he was able to walk out of our house, my husband Jim stood and leaned on our children and friends, outlined fully within an enormous orange perigee moon that enveloped our portion of the world.

I can–and often do–aim my camera at enormous swaths of sky, but I end up with glorified color swatches: squares of swirled and striated colors without clues to attach them to the experience of being in a given place.

If, however, there’s a silhouette out front, I know exactly where I was when I took that picture.  I can call back to my senses the feeling of sub-zero fingers on my conductive camera, the frustration of buzzing mosquitos as I aimed at sunset along the shore, the smell and crackle of late autumn leaves as I traversed a path facing West. Continue reading

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Love Lessons: A Marriage Manifesto

Overhead at the spot where we married, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Overhead at the spot where we married, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

” . . . [T]here are three people in a marriage, there’s the woman, there’s the man, and there’s what I call the third person, the most important, the person who is composed of the man and woman together.”

–Jose Saramago, “All the Names”

” Because, you know, you and your spouse are, like, one.”

–Melissa Gorga, “Real Housewives of New Jersey”

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December, 2010

I’d like to weigh in as a mom.  One with young daughters and sons.  The remaining member of a couple who lived out our wedding vows until–and in a way after–death us did part.

I believe in osmosis–the continuing two-way exchanges within a good marriage.  It’s not so much that one consciously molds or shapes a partner, but I think sustaining loving relationships let us incorporate the best parts of one another.

The person the two of you become can be a better human being than the people you once were.

(I refuse to link to an original mom “manifesto,” issued by, I am somewhat pained to say, a fellow alum who produced two sons.  She wrote an open letter–published in the school newspaper of the university her son then attended–exhorting the nubile female undergraduate population promptly to set about seizing husband material from the upper classes.  In a subsequent self promotional tour, she paused theatrically and announced, without benefit of a preceding question, “Yes, I went there.”  To which John Stewart responded, “Where?  The 1950s?”).

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Wedding Flowers

I’ll spare you reading that screed and report that–while celebrating the supposed uber-marriagability of her sons and their male classmates–her clarion call to to other mothers’ daughters did not contain a single discussion of love, kindness, faith, grace, friendship, or anything like a commitment of souls for better and worse.

Your College Romantic Relationships, or Lack Thereof, Will Not Doom You.

Three Cheers . . .

First a disclaimer: I happen to have married a man I met when I was a teenage college student.  It was a statistical improbability that this relationship would last.

He broke up with me after nearly a year.

I didn’t take it all that well.

What he said, with some puzzlement at my surprise: “Did you think it would last forever?”

What he didn’t say, but what I read in his decision and discomfort: “You’re my first girlfriend.  We’re still teenagers.  Neither of us has any experience with a serious relationship.  How could this possibly survive?”

As it happened, he reconsidered.  And it did last forever.

3630-04aJim’s Closing Ceremonies took place in a church on a school campus, attended by multitudinous children and teenagers.  The Reverend commented on the beginning of our marriage.

“And don’t rush it, guys,” he told them. “But if you chance to meet someone at seventeen and think, ‘This is my life partner,’ know that sometimes it works.”

The key word here is chance.  Happenstance.  Serendipity caused us to meet.  A confluence of love and hope and compatibility, as well as innumerable concrete events we did not control, led us to marry.

Absent any of these whispers from the wings, Jim could have been to me and I could have been to him, as Greg Brown put it, “just another face in the crowd.”

Had any number of other choices been made in either of our lives, no doubt we would have had other relationships and become very different people.  But I guarantee that the quality of the marriage wasn’t influenced by us attending the same college.

If my own children one day emerge in their adult lives with partners they had in college, then great.  And if not, great.  I will never subscribe to, let alone ply, the misguided notion that a “name” school is necessarily the ideal breeding ground for . . . well, finding someone with whom to breed.

I do believe that everywhere my children have gone and will go–from the playgrounds where they ephemerally encountered fellow littles (hat tip to E.  Lockhart)  to the coffee shops they may frequent; from the bands, dance troupes, trivia nights and game boards where they gather to the far-flung countries where they are immersed in different languages and cultures–is a way to learn how to love and value other people.

If romantic love comes to town along with that, fine.  And if not–as any widow or widower can tell you–that’s not all there is. 

The capacity to love, wherever you found it, endures. Continue reading

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