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.

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.

Nature and Love

February 8, 2019

There is something starkly beautiful about a New England winter. For some reason I find myself here almost every year at this time or at least in some wintery place. But the gray landscape lends itself to introspection. At least here on this mountaintop, I am isolated with just two of my immediate family, my mother and brother. And so, often, I am alone with my thoughts. Since I don’t ski, or snowshoe, it is just me and the fire and watching the snow melt on this strange day.

I will hardly be the first person to say that your family is who they are and sometimes you love them in spite of yourself and in spite of themselves. I was told recently to remember that there is family you choose and family you don’t choose. And you love them differently. And sometimes, there is the family that chooses you.

Over time, people have come into my life that I love very much. I did not know that I could love as much as I do. I did not know how much I would value the love and friendship of the women in my life. And I did not know how much I would value and be touched by the people I have known the longest and who I see the least .

When I was young, all I understood of love was sex and marriage. As an aside, marriage has not worked out well for me. But marriage gave me my son, from whom I have learned a very different kind of love; The kind for which you would throw yourself in front of a moving train.

It is always interesting to me the extent to which nature, the weather, the scenery affects my mood and feelings. Sometimes it affects my optimism. Sometimes it is all about memory. When I come to this place it is full of memories of people, events and love past. And it is full of the present – thoughtful, joyful, difficult.

It has taken these years of living to begin to understand the nature of love for me. And it is all of the above, thoughtful, joyful, difficult, memorable. How happy I am that I have begun to understand the difference between need, want and love.

Yet Another Movie

Because I so rarely had gone to the movies in my former working life (subject for another post) I find myself really loving going now. I am choosy, a little. I don’t care for most comedies, fantasies or armageddon movies. I tend to like thrillers and dark emo sorts of movies. I don’t mind shoot-em-up movies if they are fundamentally entertaining. And at this time of my life I definitely do not like romance/chick flicks for the most part. So now you know what I mostly don’t like.

I recently went to see The Mule with Clint Eastwood and Diane Wiest, among others. The people I went with found it slow, lacking movement and didn’t like it much. I don’t mind slow if it is about developing the story or the character which I thought in this case it was. I thought the movie was brilliant but extremely sad and depressing. You knew from the moment it started that it would not end well and it did not, although there was a kind of heroic undertone to the tragic ending.

The movie is, I presume loosely, based on the story of an actual World War II veteran to whom this happened which makes the narrative in some ways sadder but more convincing. Clint Eastwood as an old man was utterly convincing, he is an old man. He retained just enough of his tough guy loner persona to be interesting and not just old. It was sad nevertheless.

He reminded me of my father, a creative smart guy who couldn’t sustain family relationships with wife or children and as a result ended up alone and a bit desperate. His need for social accolades parallels my father’s needs very much. It made me think about several generations of veterans who came home and were unable to talk about what they had seen. Perhaps the need to keep that silence contributed to their intimate isolation. In the movie, very desperate, falling into what he falls into almost by accident but very much as a result of his isolation from family.

I thought it was very much worth seeing but I also left with a sense of real sadness for both the state of the elderly in this country and for the failure of relationship. In the very end it is poignant, sad, illuminating and truthful while being a good and resonant story of our time. See it but don’t expect to leave “entertained” in the usual sense of the word. It did capture my full attention, and you will be thinking about it as you walk out.

Love and Family

This week’s Torah portion is, as always, chock full of things and covers quite the span of time. Significantly, Moses is born and his life is defined early on by acts of compassion and love, first by his mother who fears for his life and next by Pharoah’s daughter in defiance of his order that all Hebrew boy children be killed. Pharoah’s distrust of the Israelites is formed essentially by the fact that they are multiplying, that their families are growing and so he attempts to limit them by killing them off.

A great deal else happens in this very first book of Exodus but I think, at this season, we should talk about compassion, love and family. I listen to the news and read a Facebook feed and I hear people talk and I see bumper stickers and I am overwhelmed by the division, contempt, ignorance, rudeness and downright hatred. This to the point that I can barely stand to be part of the world.

And then, a package from one of my brothers arrives and in it is a canvas shopping bag inscribed large and in bright red “Be Optimistic”. Now that is a reminder. So I stop and think about my aging mother who loves me. About my brothers and their children who love me. I think about my friends who love me and who show me compassion when I am unlovable. I think about my students who I love. I think about my amazing son and his equally amazing fiance who love me and who I love more than anything. I stop and think about my life and how blessed I am.

The Torah portion reminds me of the sacrifice it takes to be a true leader of integrity, intelligence and courage. It reminds me of how dear our families and friends are. It reminds me that it takes great faith to do great things and that sometimes compassion is all that is needed to send someone on their way. It also reminds me that great faith and adherence to principle sometimes also demands great sacrifice and great courage.

I think in this season of many holidays that what is needed is not an argument about how we greet one another but that we act towards one another with compassion and love. We are, in the end all the same, united in the common bond of humanity. Be gracious, be grateful, love your family and those who matter, tell them often, look up at the moon and know we are all looking at the same beautiful sky. Whatever your faith, compassion, love and courage will carry us through.