Sell my soul for a bit of sea glass. Make it clear and soft at the edges. Not a large piece, just small enough to shelter me from the breeze. A bit of sea glass… More
A little light isn’t a bad thing
I had a significant encounter with a chair the other night.
In life, I put a great deal of value on independence – being able to do things by myself, figuring out how to solve the problem without help, adapting. This seems to include doing things in the dark when it is the time for darkness. I slip down the stairs to get coffee at 6 a.m. in the winter morning, darkness still over our part of the earth. I refuse to turn on a light. Turning on a light would be harsh and unnatural. I pretend that I don’t have to give in to the darkness. And so far I have not fallen to my demise on the stairs. I know, however, that this is not something I should feel proud of, only extremely lucky.
Back to my fight with the chair and the small but significant bright red scab on the bridge of my nose. In one last bit of clean up after a dinner party, reaching down to pick up something on the floor, at the edge of the pitch black dining room, I encountered the back of a very stationary chair at a fairly high rate of speed. It hurt a lot.
And it made me think that perhaps a little light isn’t a bad thing. Darkness will not be conquered by stealth or by strength of character. It can only be banished by light, and often just a small bit of light. Light helps us see the obstacles in our way and navigate around them. Shedding a little light on a conversation, through honesty or patience or just outright real facts or feelings, usually brings better understanding between people. Bringing a smile with you to the seniors home or the meeting at the school or along your way in the mall is like shining a little bit of light. It’s a good beginning. Light brings people together. And perhaps turning on a light as I start down the stairs in the dark morning, or reach for something in the dark room, is not giving in to the dark but rather saving myself from a lonely, scratched up existence.
A little light is a good thing.
There isn’t much I know of that isn’t made better by wine or coffee. Mostly coffee. Just the thought makes me forget my troubles and go to a happy place. I think it comes from my grandmother. She drank copious amounts of it, strong and black, black as tar but not thick. Black as night, but hot. Black as liquorice, but not sweet, never with sugar. Just coffee, right out of the pot, all day long. And she seemed to grin, knowingly most of the time. She always expected someone to come over. Like my mother, she always had home baking on the counter. Not having homemade goods was not an option. In life you never went out without clothes on, you relieved yourself in a toilet and washed your hands afterwards, and you had home baked goods on the counter. Or, at the very least, in the freezer. She was not a busy body. She was not desperate or lost. She was calm, solid, welcoming, expectant and in charge. When I stayed overnight, I would crawl out of a hospital-cornered bed, hear the kitchen radio and smell coffee in the pot. Both would be on all morning long. Latte was a foreign word. It wasn’t even a thing. Milk? What for? When my brother Paul and his wife Val come to visit they rise earlier than I. Much earlier. When I come downstairs they have already downed a 10 cup coffee pot (which is really more like 5 mugs of coffee) and read a book or two. And discussed some intimate and important details of their lives or the lives of some long dead theologians. This is part of grandma’s legacy. Even my bastardized cup that is half 2% milk and half strong coffee is, perhaps, a habit I could not have avoided no matter how late in life it came to me. It was inevitable that I love coffee. I am Scandinavian. I am Sartison. Also Stolson, Moe and Olsen. I bet they all drink it still. It is as natural as thinking.
Walking in the dark morning, along the Elbow River, has become one of the greatest pleasures of my day. The highway drivers pass by in the distance, a breeze sometimes accompanies us, the dogs and I, the sky lightening as we move. I picture the wildlife watching us from the woods on the river side. A skunk shlepping through the grass, about to enter the berm, is stopped short by our passing presence. Deer raise their heads from slumber or munching, watching us pass in their silence. A big mountain cat observes our presence from a tree or a knoll. This vision in my head brings some fear. But rarely do we encounter or even see these neighbors in the woods.
I do not fear them. I am glad to share my morning with them. The big cat, the cougar, worries me sometimes, or the bear when the season is right. But we seem to live together well, the animals and I. I know, also, that it is my very own delusional self that believes this. This could change in an instant, an instant of claw or fang or pounce, a low, rumbling, unmistakable growl nearby would replace my sunny self with pure adrenaline terror. Even a lift of a white striped tail toward my sniffing pup would make me doubt these morning strolls. I could know fear as easily as I know confidence.
Lucky me, I still have the choice. I choose confidence over fear. Perhaps it is ignorance, but I choose. I choose to love the morning, the dark morning. I choose the fresh air and the seeping light of the sun. I choose to go forward, to walk, to share the woods and the berm. There is nothing better, at that very moment, than the sound of the gravel under my runners, the knowledge that I and my dogs are equally happy on this long stretch of pathway, cool air on our faces.
It is the day after the election south of our border. Although I can barely think about the result without anger, I know that it is fear that breeds anger and I will not obey. I will not be delusional, but I will not give in to fear, to anger, to hate. My son, Zack, posted a quote from dear fictional Yoda in response to this event and I thought about it every step of my Elbow River walk today. I do not choose fear. Lucky me, I still have the choice.
To be in my daughter’s head as she stepped off the bus at the station
in Guayaquil, in Ecuador,
where all whom she’d met had cautioned her never to be alone,
not sure of how to proceed,
and how to respond to the men coaxing her backpack,
in Spanish, from her,
assuring her that they could take her where she wanted to go,
that she should give them her money,
much more of it than she knew she needed to pay for another bus,
that theirs was the bus, that theirs was the taxi she needed;
near panic, in the dark, stinking, crowded bus station
just about unable to make a thoughtful decision,
just about to lose her pack, her money, her reason
when a small, strong hand took her elbow and she saw Jesus
in an older woman,
a little younger than a grandmother,
leading her away,
in broken English
to take her to her home to be safe for the night.
“Tonight, mom, I met Miriam’s angel.” Her facebook message that third day away was welcome and short. Reassuring, for what could it be but good if it was a second Miriam.
I remember Miriam clear as day. Our own angel. She cared for my daughter every day in her warm house full of toys and love and children, brought her up from her sixth month until she was six. Miriam, our friend, found by serendipitous connections and by God. Miriam, small, soft, olive skinned, wide smiling, Spanish second mother. My daughters first words included agua and besito – water and a kiss. A refugee in our country with her family, she provided a refuge for our three children all their young lives as we learned to parent and provide. Being in Miriam’s home was like being in her country… always a degree warmer than necessary, always food, always lush and comfortable, music and laughter, and the language of her Salvadoran people, beautiful and lilting, everywhere.
Now, in Equador, this small, strong hand that guided my daughter away from the crowd in the bus station, away from the noise, told her that this place was not safe for her. Did she want help finding the proper bus or would she like to come to home with her and find a better bus, a more direct bus in the morning? Aviva, relieved, accepted the offer of this stranger that looked so like her own Miriam.
She awoke the next morning, light streaming into a tiny window, the breaking waves just within earshot over the houses between beach and street. Her angel had arranged food on their breakfast table, her husband in his chair to one side. It became clear he spoke no English and chose to speak very little at all, even of his native language. He and Aviva established an immediate bond of nods and grins over yogurt and fruit. She followed them on their morning ritual, watched them stand on the beach in swimsuits, complete a series of stretches and then a dip into the water.
The town was called Salinas. They first went to a large cliff, the most salient point on the Peninsula of Santa Elena where the north and south moving currents collide. It is known as La Chocolatera, choco meaning to collide and la tera meaning ground. The water near the broiling shore is brown, like cocoa, as it collides and curls the sand around itself. A deadly place from which to jump, visitors now need to sign in and out in order to wander the rocks on this point. What happens when the count does not match at the end of the day.
They visited the fish market, gruesome and loud and smelly, full of life and real work. They had lunch of liver and fish soup. At the bus station, Aviva was given warm hugs, double cheek kisses, and reassurances that she could stay or return whenever she wanted to. And perhaps one day, they said, she would like to come back with her mother.
When Aviva was a baby, she would not tolerate the cradle of arms that wanted to hold her close. She squirmed until she faced out toward the world, until the arms that held her became only a chair and a bar to keep her from falling to the ground and she could view the world around her. Only then would she settle and watch. She wanted to see.
And yet if she was let go in the world, toward the kindergarten door, for example, she was terrified. With quivering bottom lip and tears on her cheeks, she took the hand of the teacher she didn’t know and stepped forward in fear. At swimming lessons she sat on the side of the pool, shivering and frowning, wet and cold. She flailed in the water dipping in and gasping out, convinced that she was drowning until a young swimming teacher took her hand, in a private lesson, and guided her through to comfort and ease in water. She kept looking forward, watching, observing, terrified, reluctantly taking the safe hand provided.
Years later, we drove together across two provinces toward her chosen university on the ocean at the edge of the country. She never doubted that this was what she wanted. She had, despite her early water fears and despite growing up on the prairies, become an ocean girl. She was connected with the sun and the water. She was equally terrified and relieved to be leaving home, forging her own way at her chosen university on the ocean. Many times, as the kilometers counted down, she suggested we turn back. As we drove, she arranged a new phone number, with a new area code that reflected her soon to be new city. We listened to music, we talked and laughed. As we waited for our turn on the ferry, she looked at all the other student types around us with suspicion and apprehension. She was sure of what she was doing and yet she did not quite trust her ability to move forward into this unknown territory. Still she put one foot in front of the other, as she had learned to do, and moved toward the campus, saying goodbye, both of us having given in to tears long ago.
And now, this very week, she has taken a step down under, in maybe the biggest adventure yet. She has left winter in Canada to meet summer in Melbourne. She has moved toward another love. She has learned to trust herself and she is courageous and confident. She cancelled phone and insurance, she made final appointments, she calculated every detail, she stepped bravely forward, hugging us with strength and gratefulness. She has wings. My daughter has wings. Still wishing to face outward, with much less trepidation, she has flown again. She will come back, for some reason, at some time. We are family, forged forever. And I no longer wish to be in her head, knowing that I will be ever in her heart in the place that is there for mom.
Winter comes. Darkness drifts in. It is this that signals winter to me, this that I dread. Waking with nothing to signal day but the voice from the radio that is our alarm, eyes opening to the same heavy dark that was there when I woke in the middle of the night, middle age’s welcome. Morning and night the same dim hue. The dread of the darkening circle of time is more difficult to bear that the actual days to come. Living in winter is less oppressive than living in the dread of it, the darkening. And now, it seems, it is here. There has not yet been a snowflake. The leaves are still golden on the trees and crunching under my feet, Thanksgiving weekend in the distance. And of course, pumpkins and stringy white fluff between branches, meant to be spooky spider web, are beginning to appear in the yards of those who anticipate that ridiculous end day of October, still weeks away. Witches are bashing headfirst into trees already, skeletal hands are reaching for the sky from their graves. Perhaps they died watching for light, waiting for warmth, worried for the waning day. This is where I am: worried for the waning day. The dark closes in, making daylight an ever smaller circle and we settle into it for months. Winter is the late dark morning and the early dimming of afternoon. Winter has come. I suck in my breath, furrow my brow, squint into the shadows and march on through the crunching leaves and the chill, watching for the light.