Just bitchin'

The Nature of Expansion

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“Your problems are so big compared to mine.”

Not really.

The thing about problems is their intense individuality.

There is no large.

There is no small.

The thing about problems is their ability to expand, to reach into every corner of your life.

Your intellect tells you that losing a loved one is so much more devastating than losing a job. But the heart engages on a different level. Both misfortunes expand, consume, fill. The sufferer’s life is colored; time divided into a Before and an After.

Lost loved one.

Lost job.

Lost pet.

Lost reputation.

Lost limb.

Lost opportunity.

Lost love.

Illness.

Pain.

Misunderstanding.

Unfulfilled desire.

There is no large and there is no small.

There is full, and there is free.

Use this knowledge of volume for compassion.

And for hope.

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garden, Just bitchin'

Life Lessons from the Garden

IMG_1303There is a time in childhood when things seem magical. No matter what else is happening in your young life, you believe in things strange and enchanted. It doesn’t last very long.

As adults, we look back on it wistfully, unable to find our way back to that simple, easy faith that made the world such a miraculous place. I was lucky enough to spend much of that magical interval in Granny’s garden.

Shortly after I was born, my parents’ marriage began to flicker. It was only a matter of time before the light went out of it completely. I knew something was wrong.

But I had Granny’s garden that summer I was six years old.

While my parents sorted out their troubles, they sent me off to Granny’s.

I remember wooden floors baked honey-warm by sunlight streaming through windows with tiny stained glass borders of purple grapes and gold-green vines coloring the rays. I remember the quiet purring of Granny’s cat and the brown sugar scent of its fur. I remember an endless supply of home-baked cookies frosted in pretty pinks and yellows.

But mostly I remember the garden.

There is something to be said for living on the same piece of land for fifty years. You learn its rhythms, its pulse, its eccentricities. Bulbs naturalize in patterns only nature could paint. Perennials root more and more deeply, soaring to new heights of beauty each year. Annuals self-seed in new locations chosen by wind and chance, bringing colorful surprises each spring.

On fine, sunny days Granny and I would venture forth into the garden. I would spend hours exploring its wonders while she sowed and weeded and watered. Toward the end of each day, sunburned and berry-stained, I would watch her worn, brown hands as she performed each task with a peaceful kind of grace.

Sometimes she would tell me stories. Sometimes they were about my mother when she was a little girl. Sometimes they were fairy tales built around the denizens of her garden; the flower fairies. I was mesmerized by Jolly Holly Berry, Phyllis Foxglove, and Tiny Johnny Jump-Up, to name a few.

One day as summer was drawing to a close, I was sad, knowing school would start soon and summer in the garden would end. Granny was pruning back bits of my favorite rose. It was a vigorous climber, covered in tiny, pink blossoms. Granny said it was called “Fairies’ Blanket.” I took the name literally and was always peeking behind the arching sprays of pink to see if I could catch a fairy napping.

“The deer have been at it again!” she said, shaking her head. “See these bare tips where the flowers and leaves are missing? That’s deer-work all right.”

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I was uncharacteristically silent. The quiet snipping of the pruning shears continued for a while. Then…

“Child, you know your parents’ troubles have nothing to do with you, don’t you?” Somehow Granny knew what the root of my six-year-old worries were.

“I know…..but…”

“But what?”

“Nothing.”

Granny squinted into the sunlight, searching for more deer-work to trim.

“You know, I planted this rose the day your grandfather passed on.” With gentle fingers she loosened a spray of blossoms that had become tangled with its neighbor.

“Your Grandpa was the light of my life. And I was his. When he left, I thought there’d never be anything happy or beautiful again. So I planted this rose.”

“So?”

“So look at all the damage those deer have done. But once I trim it away, you can bet there’ll be more roses growing from the wound. It just takes time.”

She reached higher, using the shears to snag a tall stem and bring it closer.

“Some of the best parts of life have happened to me since your Grandpa died. You, for one. I didn’t know how happy grandchildren would make me. You’re a kind of rose. A different kind than Grandpa was, but still…a rose.”

She stepped back, squinting against the sun to survey her work.

“The point is, child, no matter what gets ripped away from you by things you can’t control, something else just as wonderful could be in store, waiting to grow from the wound. Just give it time.”

An awful lot of things have happened since that summer. My parents did divorce. I have my own home now. My garden isn’t near as nice as Granny’s was, but there’s a rose climbing up outside my kitchen door. It’s covered with tiny, pink, perfect blossoms from June to mid-November. I’ve seen a deer come and nibble on it from time to time. It doesn’t really matter. I prune out the damage to make room for new flowers.

It takes time, but beauty will grow from the wound. And it’s worth the wait.

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Another Farewell…

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A raging beast, the disease came back.

At the end her memories rose to the surface,

effervescing.

A champagne distillation of her life.

Words halting and slow.

‘City lights,’ she said. ‘I saw them

like a belt of stars against the night.

Do you know, I could find their echo in the streets…

Fairy lights twined through iron balconies

like a giant’s brush of glitter.’

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Her eyes closed.

‘Smiles. I never realized I’ve seen so many…

so many…

Do you know, thinking of them makes me feel warm…

in here…’

A decimated hand touched the hospital gown

over her heart.

Eyes opened, so earnest.

‘I think the most precious thing is trust.

I used to think it was love, but…

Do you remember the rabbits I found?

How the mother let me help her babies?

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That wasn’t love. It was trust for love’s sake.’

Her words grew fainter.

‘Maybe it was born of love,

but trust comes first.

I’m going to miss all of you.’

For the last time, lids lowered.

‘I’m going to miss weather.

I hope there are storms…’

 

She left us

with the image of a woman

raising her face to taste rain and thunder.

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Diane’s Light

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She showed up on my doorstep with a shoebox.

Shielding it from the harsh beams of the summer sun, I could tell by her mischievous smile that she was bringing me treasure. Once inside, in the cool interior of my house, she set the box before me, revealing…

…six, tiny, perfect, baby bunnies.

Their mother had abandoned them.

For the next few months, she learned the art of caring for baby bunnies. But she already had the skills that mattered.

A heart filled with love.

A willingness to fight whatever unfair odds would condemn the small and helpless.

And more courage than anyone I’ve ever known.

When I wrote a story for inclusion in an anthology to benefit the American Cancer Society, I thought of her. I spoke of her when interviewed about my small contribution…of her courageous heart.

Today, she lost her battle.

But cancer didn’t win. It did not erase her memory. It did not destroy her spirit. It did not dim her light.

So I say again, there is light after death.

And hers shines on.

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Last Impression

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This tale will undoubtedly offend some. I don’t care. My circus. My monkeys.

 

End of life impressions.

It’s something I never gave much thought until my best friend had a serious scare.

A few months ago he went to his doctor wondering why he had heartburn (you can all see it coming, right?). He was put through some tests and ended up being admitted to the hospital for an exploratory procedure.

Heart disease runs in his family. It claimed his father at 38.

His big brother fell short of a heart attack, but had stents installed to remedy blocked arteries. He called bro and felt reassured. “Yeah,” his brother said. “That’s how I felt, too. But you get the stents done and you’re home the next day and you feel great! So much more energy.”

My friend figured that wasn’t so bad. He checked in, and closed his eyes…

…and woke up to find he’d had a triple bypass and would be in the hospital for a week. He was totally unprepared. Shocked.

He is the buff guy. The one who works out and has salad when others order steak. A glass of red wine while others down multiple Martinis.

Then there were complications. A blood clot. More hospital time.

When it was all over and he’d made a remarkable recovery in record time (so it does pay to stay in shape), we talked from the perspective of a few weeks.

I should mention here that he used to be an actor, a comedian. He got tired of the struggle it takes to make a living at it, so he moved on. But he still has the gift. He can make me laugh like no one else. His are the tales I’ll think of while standing in line, or on a subway or bus…alone…and burst into loud, unstoppable laughter. The kind that makes people cross to the other side of the street and pull their children closer. The guy is that funny.

Maybe not to everyone. But to me…oh, yes.

We spoke of many things, but my friend said that the first ‘project’ he tackled upon finally returning home and being once again on his own, was to ‘clean things out.’

“What do you mean? Your place is spotless.”

“No, Cat. I mean…you know…get rid of things.”

I was still mystified. “What? Like donate stuff to Good Will? Have a garage sale? What?”

A moment of silence rife with reluctance, and then… “I got rid of stuff I don’t want left behind if I die…you know…suddenly. Stuff I don’t want people to find when they go through my place. Things I don’t want to be remembered for.”

“Eh?”

“Porn, Cat! Porn! I got rid of all my porn.”

“Are you kidding? I mean, I didn’t see anything. How much could you have?”

“Enough to fill a couple of those giant garbage bags. I tell ya, I was hefting it like some kind of perverted Santa Claus. Scared I’d kick it in the elevator on the way down…the stuff would spill out, and the doors would open on Girl Scouts selling cookies…Mothers with children…Nuns…” He sighed. “Hell of a last impression…”

And that’s the image that’s to blame for my uncontrolled hilarity while standing in the grocery line today.

This guy is the best monkey in my circus…and I’m glad he’s still here.

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Just bitchin', poem

A Page Turns…

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A tiny thing has vanished.

Like the barest tip of an iceberg, its disappearance signifies something much bigger. Something as vast as sorrow and as limitless as history.

Every year, no matter where I’ve lived, the weekend of Veteran’s Day will find an elderly gentleman sporting a military hat, or sometimes a chest of medals, sitting at a small table, handing out red, paper poppies in exchange for a small donation. Often these simple tokens are handed out for free when  their bright color catches a child’s wide, untutored eye. It’s just a pretty thing to them. They don’t yet know what it means.

But this year there is no table at the usual place. No poppies. No veteran.

When I asked about it, I was told that there were no more of the old school soldiers left to take on the task of dispensing poppies at this locale. They have all passed on.

So for those children who won’t see the poppies this year, know that they were the first flowers to grow among the graves of soldiers in a faraway place called Flanders.

Remember…

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields.

                     —– John McCrae, 1915

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Sparrows Fall

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No one saw the sparrows fall
or noticed when they ceased to call.
For weeks their flinty beaks were still,
unable to announce the kill.

At night a wanderer fleeting past
saw the feathers in the grass,
felt the first foreboding chill
at tiny corpses on a hill.

Stumbled back when at his feet
bony wings began to beat.
Launched into the moonless sky
a flock of things that would not die.

So have a care when sparrows fall;
they may not be true birds at all,
only husks of restive dead
who fly a darker path instead.

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