I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day 2011

This is what the passenger side window on my car looks like today. I took this picture with my old (and now only) camera of the theft of my purse at Lake Padden. I don't want to rehash what I wrote on my other blog, which I've linked if you are interested in the details. Right now I want to clear myself of the feelings I'm experiencing, so that I can enjoy the quiet beauty of the day.

Last year I was traveling home from Boulder, my first trip back since I left in April 2008. It was loss of another, more devastating kind that took me there. I wrote about it here on the Sunday following last Christmas. My habit of writing in this blog on Sundays gives me a sense of continuity of emotions. Last year I had to deal with the loss of my beautiful Emily, a far worse kind of loss than this one today. I'm growing accustomed to finding ways to deal with the constant need to let go of possessions, even the hardest of them, of friendships and family who mean everything to me.

Although now I am still feeling a sense of violation, knowing that the thieves know where I live, have a key to my car, are looking through my un-password protected iPad2, probably smiling at the pictures still in my camera, they are the losers here. They are the losers because they will one day be caught, probably not because of me, but because they will continue until something goes wrong with their scheme. As some pointed out on my other blog, the first thing they did was fill their car with gas and go grocery shopping. Perhaps they are out of work and stealing to make ends meet. It's a lucrative thing to do: I was surprised to find that the charges on my cards will be covered by the bank, but they will keep the goods they purchased before the cards stopped working.

I am thinking of someone here in my home town having a nice Christmas dinner with those groceries. The Starbucks cards will give them coffee and treats for quite a while. Whatever they bought at Rite Aid (which is not only a pharmacy but has just about everything else) will most likely be useful things. I couldn't see what they charged on my credit card, just the amounts, but I am picturing them as being something they really needed. I wanted to gift the needy in some way, and inadvertently, that's just what I did. But it will be the last time. Password protection and never again leaving anything of value in my car will make sure of that, since my car will never feel secure again, as long as I know they have a key to it and know where I live. But I will not hate them.

In this crowded world where there are so many who cannot survive without taking from others, it's only going to get worse. I saw the movie "Contagion" this year that showed Matt Damon playing a father trying to protect his family as people began to die and civilization began to break down. A scene of him seeing the family in the house across from his being systematically gunned down to steal the food in their kitchen, because there was no other way to get food, chilled me then, and chills me even more now. I know in my heart that once it becomes that bad, those with guns will not hesitate to kill me for what I have. As the police pointed out to me yesterday when I was so distraught, at least I am not dead and will recover from this.

What choices I still have about how to deal with this, now that I think I have stopped the hemorrhaging of loss, lie entirely within my heart. Yesterday was too soon for me to do anything but cry and moan, but today is a day of renewal and joy. The light is beginning to return to the skies, although the days are merely seconds longer than the days before, but they will continue to grow longer and spring cannot be far behind. Seasons only last a few months, and while we are busy living our lives, loving those who matter to us, imperceptible change begins to take place. One day, not too long from now, I'll realize that I'm healed and stronger than before.

So I can say with the tiniest bit of Christmas cheer, be joyful today. Hug your loved ones to you and realize that they, too, could be gone in an instant, but be glad you have them today. The present moment is really all we have. But love never, ever goes away.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ghosts of Christmases past

Christmas with Mama and Daddy
This picture was taken in 1943, and it's not really my very first Christmas but the first one where I wasn't just a few weeks old. One thing I love about this picture are my parents in the upper left. Mama is wearing a lacy apron and must be opening something from Daddy, who is leaning forward in anticipation. I sit in the middle of the picture, oblivious to everything but the shiny object in my hands.

I don't know who took the picture, but I suspect it was my aunt or grandmother, since I think we are in their home. It was such a long time ago, but it began my childhood appreciation of Christmastime. And here we are again, as the planet moves around the sun and completes the journey to the winter solstice once more. Four years since I retired and we moved to the Pacific Northwest; how time flies.

Last year at this time I got the news about my dear friend Emily, that she was severely injured from a parachuting accident gone bad. Then I learned that she died. A year ago today I was on the phone getting reservations to fly back to Colorado for the first time since I left. I spent less than a week there and came back home on Christmas Day. It was a terribly hard time, but I saw so many of my friends again and realized with amazement how much I had changed in just a few short years. I had transferred my affections for my previous home town, Boulder, to my new home seamlessly. There is nothing more for me in Colorado, except for the friends of my heart who will always be part of me.

If I were in Texas visiting my siblings and their incredibly huge families, I'd be enveloped in the flurry of visits, parties, Christmas trees, presents, shopping. But since I'm here in Bellingham with my partner who feels as I do, a quiet enjoyment of the season is enough. We don't have to be part of the craziness unless we want to, and we are happy to have a nice Christmas dinner together and buy ourselves anything we might desire. I ordered a new fluffy bathrobe for myself and am wearing it now, my Christmas present to myself. I will give gifts of food to my neighbors, and we have already attended the one party we wouldn't miss. It's enough.

But oh, how I remember the Christmas wishing of my childhood! I would sit and ponder what I wanted to receive from Santa, what desires might be fulfilled. I know I wanted a bride doll one year, and when I would look at her in the window of the store, I was filled with longing. Norma Jean and I actually crept into our parents' closet one year and found our Christmas presents. We stealthily opened them to see what we were getting before wrapping them back up. I think I was the instigator, being the older sister. Since I did that, I well remember the pretty dress I would receive. It's one of the few I recall.

I don't remember at all what I might have bought for other people. When I was young, it was all about the getting, not the giving of Christmas. Now that I am older, that has turned around completely. The enjoyment I receive these days is all from giving things to others, little things that show appreciation and love. Yesterday I finally sent off a pair of my earrings that Norma Jean admired one day on iChat. They just weren't "me" so I was happy to pass them on to her. She loves earrings.

My closet is filled with clothes that I don't wear any more, and I'd like to get those passed along to the right people. I had hoped to do it before Christmas, but it's only a week away now, and I'm not sure I'll get it done before then. I recently gave away some silk scarves I don't wear any more, and that was really fun, making me happy and bringing cheer to other people too.

At the party the other day, one of my friends told me she's got a tree in a pot that she brings in every year to decorate, but a chickadee has built a bird's nest in it that she doesn't want to disturb, so that it can be used again in the springtime. She always has live trees, she told me, because one of the things that bothers her about Christmas is the murder of so many trees. When I was a kid, though, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time was to lie on my back with my head under the tree, looking up at the sparkling lights, the ornaments glinting, and let the incredible smell of the tree fill me with delight. That smell, along with the smell of gingerbread, takes me back to Christmases past.

Now that I am older, it seems that acquiring things has become more of a burden than a pleasure. Since I don't lack for much, and I seem to have plenty of food and warm clothes to wear, there's not much to wish for any more. My last big purchase was a raincoat that will hopefully keep me dry when hiking in the hills and mountains around town. Next Sunday will be Christmas Day, and until then, I'll reminisce about Christmases gone by while enjoying the present moment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The passage of time

Last night I picked up one of my old journals that I kept during the 1980s, wondering what I would talk about this Sunday morning. Those numbered journals began in February 1982 and petered out by the time 1990 rolled around. They all started with me deciding I needed to keep a food journal and see what I felt about the food I ate. Of course, it didn't stay just about food for long, because I found the experience of journaling, writing what would not be read by anybody but me, very valuable and cathartic. The one I picked up was #13, covering the period September 1985 to March 1986. I looked up my birthday to see who I was back then.

It was easy to remember who wrote all these words, but it's not the me of today. Twenty-six years later, the person sitting in Bellingham, composing on her laptop, bears very little resemblance to the 43-year-old young person who wrote this:
Mama and I finally had a fight. It cleared the air but was very traumatic to me. More than to her, I think. She finally let me take her blood sugar, and it was amazingly good. It confused me, because I was so sure it would be terrible. We started to argue, I don't know now just what the trigger was, but I let her know my visit was awful and I wouldn't be coming back at Christmas. 
I went into the bathroom to cry and when I came out she insisted that we "have a talk." The talk went on for at least an hour, maybe two, with me telling her all that I had been holding in since my arrival, all the resentments about her drinking, her friends, her lifestyle. Soon it became clear to me that nothing would make me happy but to have her (1) stop drinking completely, (2) eat only the best foods for her, (3) walk at least a mile a day, and (4) renounce her affection for her other children and see me as the best, most accomplished and devoted.
In 1985, I had not discovered skydiving. That wouldn't happen for another six years. My mother was still alive and had not yet gone through all the pain and suffering that awaited her. She died in 1993. My son Chris was still alive and healthy, and I had not yet met my life partner. I spent almost thirty years working for the same organization, and when I had my birthday in 1985, I had only been working there for six years. So many days, weeks, months, and years have flown by.

It is interesting to realize that time passes and changes are invisible from day to day. Each day I am a little older, a little different than the day before, but until I look back, until something like these journals gives me a glimpse into the past, I don't have any way to measure the imperceptible change. I remember illnesses and injuries, births and deaths, but the day-to-day life I live is also flowing by, the passage of time like a deep gentle river. The little soul perched on a leaf that makes its way along the river doesn't notice the changes on the river's bank. All it sees is the river and its vessel, the leaf.

When I wrote those words in 1985, I wanted my mother never to leave me. I knew that she would and was hoping that if she did what I wanted, she wouldn't die. She wasn't even as old as I am today. But you only have one mother, and I guess it's normal to try to keep that person from changing. We all know this is impossible, but it doesn't keep us from trying. It's the same reason that we dye our hair, get facelifts, exercise obsessively and diet: to stave off the inevitable passage of time.

Once in awhile, I will wonder about these things. I might catch an image of myself in a passing window and wonder when I got old. My hair is completely white now, the wrinkles on my face a permanent part of me, not a visitor that has any intention of leaving. I don't really mind, I feel fortunate to still have a vessel that works well. I know that will change, too, but for now I am happy to see that the old Leaf has most of its parts and is still on top of the water.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


This past week, birthdays have been on my mind, since I just had the last one of my sixties and now look forward to beginning my seventieth year. That's a lot of birthdays. Funny how few of them I remember, but I guess that's true for all of us: unless something causes it to stand out, all the days of our lives blend together in memory. The only birthday I remember as a kid was my tenth.

In 1952, Mama was only 29 and had borne three children, all girls. Daddy was 35 and an officer in the Air Force, stationed at Fairfield Air Force Base in California. I have very little recollection of their relationship. It was invisible to me as I grew up, which must be a good sign. No childhood memories of fights or discord. But it must have been there, since Daddy liked to drink and as an adult, I know it marred much of their happiness. Mama drank, too, but I think it was because she wanted to join Daddy in his activities and grew to like it.

The Officers' Club had Monte Carlo Night every once in awhile, and on December 1st of that year, Daddy didn't come home. He was supposed to bring a present for me and just simply never came home. Instead, he went to gamble at the Officers' Club and probably drank way too much. The only reason I know this is that Mama was distraught and told me where Daddy was, that he had forgotten it was my birthday. We waited and waited for him to arrive, but he never did. No present for me, and I cried when I went to bed because I had been forgotten by Daddy. Mama was furious at him, that much I remember, which didn't make me feel any better. I was filled with grief, which is one reason it sticks in my mind.

And then he came home. I could hear them talking in the living room, Mama's angry accusations and Daddy's voice, low and remorseful, I suspect. It couldn't have been terribly late, because I was still awake, and then Daddy came into my bedroom. He sat down beside me on my bed and told me how sorry he was that he had forgotten my birthday. I'm sure he told me many things, but the only thing that stands out in my memory was that now I was older, ten to be exact, and life was going to hand me some sad times as well as good ones. I was grown up enough to be able to handle that, to get used to facing trials and tribulations. I can still hear the sound of his soothing voice when I think of the memory. He didn't hurry, he took his time.

Then he put ten silver dollars on my bedstand, piled one on top of the other. In those days, silver dollars were BIG, and I remember my eyes got big, too, as I stared at what seemed to me to be a fortune! He told me that this is my birthday present: a silver dollar for each year of my life. When he left the room, I picked them up and felt them, then went to sleep with the silver dollars right on the edge of the bedstand so I could see them first thing when I awoke.

I have no memory of what I did with that money, although I'm pretty sure I spent it on trinkets. In those days, silver coins were 90% silver, and they would have been worth a great deal by now. I have never been a saver. But looking back on all my birthdays, that is the one I remember the most. Probably because of the emotional roller coaster of the day, and the happy ending. It was indeed a happy birthday after all.

And now, today, I think fondly of my parents back then, their relationship, especially their love for one another. They were married for almost forty years by the time Daddy died of a heart attack at 62. Now I'm older than he ever was, and Mama died a few months before she would have turned 70. She never stopped missing him all those years she was without him, and it gives me comfort to think of them being together again, if such a thing is what happens when we die. I won't know until it's my turn, will I? Until then, I am entitled to their imagined reunion.

As is my habit, it's still dark and my partner is sleeping lightly next to me as I write on my laptop. We didn't meet until we were both 50, but now that has been almost twenty years ago. The two of us are unlikely life partners, and I believe it is nothing short of a miracle that we met and married. As he has said before, we didn't so much meet as collide. That collision changed the way I think about life. It's so much better than I could ever have imagined.