Aloneness

Each time I leave my mother’s home, I feel keenly that it could easily be the last time I ever see her. She is turning 92 and in relatively good health but she is turning 92 and is frail as one is at that age. It is a subdued kind of sadness as the inevitable approaches.

Each time I leave my mother's home, I feel keenly that it could easily be the last time I ever see her. She is turning 92 and in relatively good health but she is turning 92 and is frail as one is at that age. It is a subdued kind of… Click To Tweet

My father has been gone quite a few years and I miss him still although he wasn’t much of a dad; he was interesting though, and taught me to appreciate tools and their use. But as usual I digress.

When they are both gone it will seem odd, and we are a very small family. So I have been reflecting on this special kind of aloneness. If the world turns the right way, it will happen to us all; children are meant to bury their parents. While we will always miss them, it is the natural order of things and doesn’t feel wrong; life fills the spaces. And we, the children, are meant to become those that we have buried. Parents fervently pray never to have to bury a child, it is unnatural and a kind of aloneness that cannot ever be remediated.

And as I was leaving my mother’s home most recently, for the maybe last time, I learned that my son and his fiancee, who have lived with me for quite some time, will be gone in a matter of days. I was married for roughly twenty seven years, I have been single for roughly three and one half years, during all of that time my son has lived with me. My son’s dog has lived with us. And of late, my son’s fiancee. I have not lived in an empty house for approximately 30 years and it is odd; not necessarily bad – just odd.

Having retired about eight months ago, and just now settled into not travelling, I am at home during the day for the first time in fifty years. My life seems slightly alien, as if it is really someone else’s life and I am just playing at living it. The house is silent now if I don’t play music or turn on the TV. I have become extremely aware of small sounds like the icemaker, the dishwasher and the cat wheezing softly in his sleep.

This all sounds rather pathetic and sad but really, my life is full of people and things to do. I teach, I sing, I write, I deal with my mother’s business, I listen to people talk on the phone, I go to lunch, I take care of my home. Etcetera. I have a full and beautiful life, I am just not used to what it feels like now. But I am moving into my own life, a day at a time. This is aloneness that has remedies. And my son calls.

Why

As we walked the rough cobblestones of the death camps some of the elderly among us struggled with the uneven terrain even as they struggled with memories of lost family and broken connections and betrayed heritage. I watched her walk beyond the limits of her ability because this is was why she came .

At Auschwitz I, the docent took us through buildings that were still standing, explaining the function of each. The eugenics, where terrible experiments took place. The original rooms that served as “barracks”, people packed on the floor with no space to walk. The “punishment” cells where the SS experimented with ways to kill. And many more.

Although the buildings were relatively close together, it was hard going. Those that had been utilizing wheelchairs were unable to do so on these unforgiving paths. And the docent, sensitive to the limitations of some in our group, suggested places that folks could rest and wait for us to meet up with them. Many did just that – they rested, they waited, unable to go on.

One of the most moving things I witnessed on this trip was one elderly woman. Overweight, swollen legs, short of breath. She was offered many opportunities to rest, to stop, to end the tour at each camp. I watched her struggle on, slowly, well behind the pace of the rest of the group. But she would not give up. Being on this sacred ground, where her family died, was the most important thing. Walking these paths, looking for their names on the recording pages, this was everything. She would not give up, she would keep going the whole way, no matter how painful or how difficult, because this was why she came.

Hiraeth

I lie in this old bed, with it’s lacy sheets and long history, in this rambling old box of a house. I think of all the loves, and not so, that have shared this place with me; some better unremembered. Just one whose absence is painful; not a husband in case you wondered.

This old box holds my memories, fifty years gone though it never was really home. In a life where I never really settled anywhere for long, it became a kind of symbolic home, a place to come back to. It has a familiarity that only long time places have. The dangerous winding road that brings me here is not dangerous to me, even in the ice and dark, as I know it so well. The seasons of flowers and fruit trees, some now gone and some just feeding the bears, are like my own seasons; as familiar as breathing.

The seasons of my life are, in some ways measured here although I will always think of myself as a New Yorker. This is the lodestar place, the peaceful place and the occasional refuge despite the vagaries of familial relationships. Every part of this place is a marker of memory; puppies now gone and buried in the lawn, my son racing naked in the grass, the smell of our first horse, the view from a bedroom window. This is where I came from college, from the wreck of my time in D.C., this where I found recovery, this is where I came on holidays from law school, this is where I began my career, this is where my son was born.

I realized recently that where I live, both town and house, has been my home for the longest in my entire lifetime. What an odd thing, from birth to this moment I have never stopped anywhere for this long. And I never imagined it would be where I would finally light for good. Perhaps there is one more place, who can tell?

Now, as I watch my mother decline along with this old box, I know that all of our time here is drawing to a close. And while I know that I cannot and would not go back, there are those moments I wish I could revisit. The roads not taken, the seasons not fully appreciated. Regret is useless but human, not a place to linger. Gratitude is where I have to live, that this old box has sheltered me until I could stand alone. It is a new season in my life, I am not done.

Not for Sissies

So the last six months in particular, I have had a few odd breakouts of ailments including two bouts of bacterial infection in my sinuses. Don’t worry, this won’t be a list of what’s wrong with me; I am fundamentally pretty healthy.

I am not used to getting sick and I am not used to be knocked out and fatigued when I am sick. I am an energetic, active person and this is alien to me. Yes, I know, it has only been a week, but really.

Nobody really tells you or describes to you the specific and detailed changes that happen to you as your body ages. Maybe that is for the best. Maybe if we knew in advance, we would live in terror or perhaps take the easy way out. I don’t know.

It starts in such a subtle way, little things you don’t really notice at first. Then the changes start to cumulate. Some bother me more than others. It bothers me that my skin is no longer smooth and beautiful; my arms and legs look as my grandmother’s did. My neck which is long and was beautiful is now pouchy and inescapably old. All the sun damage from long ago is visible. Arthritis has snuck in a bit to various parts of my body. It doesn’t hold me back but it does mean I don’t spring out of bed in the morning, I stretch and give myself a minute.

On my bad days, I completely understand people’s compulsion to “correct” surgically the signs of aging; the things they don’t like about themselves. I sometimes think there are just a few small things…

The funny thing is, I loved my Grandmother more than almost anyone and her skin being crinkly didn’t bother me one little bit. And when I look at my face on a good day, at the lines on it, I think I have earned them -laughing and crying. When I am able to be kind to myself I think I have used this body hard and long and by some miracle it serves me still and mostly pretty well.

I'm glad I didn't know that growing old was not for sissies. I am also glad to know that I am not a sissy. I am working at aging as gracefully as I possibly can because I am keenly aware that it is so much more wonderful than the… Click To Tweet

I’m glad I didn’t know that growing old was not for sissies. I am also glad to know that I am not a I’m glad I didn’t know that growing old was not for sissies. I am also glad to know that I am not a sissy. I am working at aging as gracefully as I possibly can because I am keenly aware that it is so much more wonderful than the alternative. I am not done yet. sissy. I am working at aging as gracefully as I possibly can because I am keenly aware that it is so much more wonderful than the alternative. I am not done yet.

Listen to the River

“Mama, Mama many worlds I’ve known since I first left home.” I was, as I often do, listening to the Grateful Dead in my car. And hearing those words sent me reeling through my past. I have heard these words a thousand times but for some reason, they had particular resonance this day.

"Mama, Mama many worlds I've known since I first left home." I was, as I often do, listening to the Grateful Dead in my car. Click To Tweet

And I have had one amazing long strange trip, to quote another song; and many worlds. It is hard to write about memory and about past life without lingering at the regrets. They are easier to stop on than the joys but with an effort, I remind myself to stop on those too.

I left home for college at the age of sixteen, it was 1969 and peace, love and protest were in the air. Along with weed, pills and mushrooms. I lived on a barely finished campus on Long Island but mostly with an artist and his entourage. His portrait of me at that age still hangs in my bedroom, a lovely reminder of the good.

I left college before I turned eighteen and traveled the country working, singing, hitchhiking, going to Dead and Jefferson Airplane concerts. From the age of sixteen until who knows when I had the wonderful fortune to see so many of my icons and my heroes, in concert in mostly small venues. Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Pete Seeger, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, Etta James and so many more. The music has always been the thing for me. I feel most myself in music and closest to G-d in music.

I have lived and worked and sung in California, Arizona, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico. I may have forgotten a few. And I take many memories from them all, music, food, local idiom. I have sung jazz, gospel, country, country rock, folk and now Americana (that’s what they call old hippie folk/rock these days) and traditional and original Jewish liturgical music. What a road.

I have had multiple careers. I have never been a moneymaker but I have been able to support my family. And I have had the great joy of doing both good in the world and the things I love. Of course, there were a few jobs along the way that weren’t so interesting.

I have been harassed and abused. I have been loved and amused. I have loved and I have been disappointed. I am a mother, the greatest joy of my life; and that came from doing good. I am in an entirely new and alien phase of life so there will be more to talk about.

There is so much to tell but these are my thoughts for today. Many worlds I have indeed known, and there are more to travel through.