A different third grader

She’s walking home from school, taking the short cut behind the firehouse through the field of tall grass that is consumed with purple thistle flowers and Queen Anne’s lace.  Her grandmother had told her the legend of Queen Anne’s lace and she is forever checking for signs of Anne’s blood in their centers.  She wonders why the blood has turned from red to black.  She figures Anne lived a long time ago and that things darken with age.  Then she stops to carefully squeeze the sides of the snap dragons until their soft lower jaws gently hinge open.  It gives her delight to know the happy yellow flower’s secret.  That sometimes things are not what they seem.  How a golden flower can transform into a ferocious dragon in a snap when pinched ever so slightly.

She recalls how her mother had pointed out the faces hidden in pansies, the way the tiniest drop of sweet nectar can be extracted from the honeysuckle with a nip, and how if you look carefully, you’ll see wild raspberries among the overgrown sticker bushes by the side of the road.  She plucks a thick blade of tall grass and wedges it between the sides of her thumb like a reed and blows swiftly to sound a call.  If she were a different third grader, she might not have known.

A different third grader would have walked home with a friend along well-planned sidewalks to play games in flat back yards like kick the can and ring-o-leavio.  Or maybe she would learn the words to that song the girls all sang on the playground – what was it – Harrington?  H-A-double-R….spells Harrington.  She didn’t know these games.  Instead, she was invited to Helen Kroetz’s house, the girl with the perpetual booger coming out her right nostril.  A different third grader might be knocking on the door of the girl next door’s house to see if she wants to play dolls or ride bikes.  She would stick with girl scouts or ice skating or rollerskating or dance or gymnastics or swimming or horseback riding so that when she grew up she would have knowledge of one thing and not regret quitting everything.

She continues walking, with a quickened pace as her heart races when she thinks of the bees following her scent and the snakes that might lurk in the grass.  Tomorrow, she won’t walk this path. Instead, her mother will pick her up from school, give her a big squeeze and say, “tell me about your day” with a smile.   Her mom won’t be preoccupied with thoughts of a life that requires so much strength.   It will just be mom and her different third grader.   A different third grader who doesn’t have to worry if her brother will be okay.  Or wonder if her dad will be coming home for dinner tonight, so her mother doesn’t have to sit staring at the empty space while the minutes tick away in silence.  A different third grader might help her mother paint every dark corner of the gypsy house white.  Or help her sew curtains to hang on every window to keep the spirits away.  Or help plant scarlet begonias to brighten the path to the front door.  Maybe then she would know how to paint or sew or garden or dispel silence.

Instead, she swings on the swing that her dad hung for her from the large tree atop the hill that drops prickly balls all over the front lawn.  She swings so high she thinks she might swing right over the edge of the dirt cliffs below her and the world will fall away as she soars like a bird over the field of Queen Anne’s lace beyond.

My moccasins

They’re gone.  My beloved moccasins that took me to many a Dead show.  Gone.  I’ve held onto them for years and finally decided the space they were holding was greater than they themselves at this point in my life.  So I tossed them.  I didn’t think to take a picture of them first, now I wish I had so I could share them here.  All I have are my words to share of them.  How many hours they waited on line with me to get the tickets, how many hours they faithfully held the pedal to the metal to make it to the show on time, how many steps they took to get me to my seat, how many thousands of beats they came down on when they made contact with the floor in step with the dance.  The dance of my soul.

I loved those moccasins.  Fur lined fringed ankle boots that are actually in style now.  They weren’t in style then, in 1983.  Far from it.  That’s precisely why I loved them.  Unique.  Different.  Fun.  The only other person I knew who owned them too was my BFF.  That was before everyone had BFF’s too.  Before moccasins and BFF’s became trendy.  We were moccasin wearing BFF’s long before anyone.  She loved hers also.  Those moccasins took us to Terrapin and back one-thousand times, through a thousand notes of a thousand songs.

Now “it’s all a dream we dreamed one afternoon, long ago.”  The moccasins can’t take me back.  Only my words can.  To the days when we would “walk into splintered sunlight, inch our way through dead dreams to another land.”

We went truckin in style along Sea Cliff Avenue with our moccasins looking for an estimated prophet and found a friend of the devil instead. He showed us a fire on the mountain so we went dancin in the streets towards the promised land, planting scarlet begonias and sugar magnolias among the ramblin rose bushes.  When the china cat sunflowers whispered “here comes sunshine,” we had a box of rain and we let it grow.  We had ourselves a high time in the morning dew and the music never stopped.  Often, she would take the wheel and I’d be the passenger.  Sometimes we were going down the road feeling bad, but we were sure we would always beat it on down the line, following the dark star till the morning comes, waiting for the bird song.

We were wharf rats sitting on top of the world, throwin stones in our cream puff war.  If I had the world to give, I’d lay me down in Franklin’s tower for one more saturday night that would not fade away at sunrise.

We walked along in the mission in the rain, needing a miracle, doing the mississippi half step on shakedown street.  We met Tennessee Jed, Black Peter, Jack Straw, Casey Jones, Stagger Lee, Mr. Charlie, Peggy-O, and finally St. Stephen on the golden road to devotion.

We got the cumberland blues, the mexicali blues, the viola lee blues, the new minglewood blues, dupree’s diamond blues, and the U.S. blues that were so hard to handle but we always knew there was help on the way.

We had sage and spirit when we encountered the saint of circumstance on the new speedway boogie.  Cosmic Charlie and the candyman were hanging around with their money, money waiting for that deal to go down.  We would always allow space for Stella blue, Loose Lucy, and Bertha to come around with the brown-eyed women.  They told me and my uncle stories about the big river alligator on an alabama getaway who found himself with a dire wolf and that C.C. Rider.  I know that rider; he’s a loser in uncle john’s band.  We learned of the other one playin in the band but quickly found out he’s gone on a west L.A. fadeaway, just like dear Mr. Fantasy.  Now they’re all making slipknots with the lost sailors on that ship of fools, singing aiko aiko all day.

Samson and Delilah told us about the eleven who came from the mountains of the moon and crossed the serengetti to bring King Solomon’s marbles to a lady with a fan in the south of france.  The drums played blues for allah in the weather report suite while the little red rooster said, “don’t ease me in some dark hollow on a good morning, little school girl.”

Mama tried to raise me better.  She said, “caution: do not stop on tracks in the cold rain and snow, for always there will be a touch of grey when it looks like rain.”  I found that whenever there’s a ripple in still water, you’ll find an easy wind if you reach for the gold ring down inside with your crazy fingers.

I told Althea there comes a time when you feel like a stranger in a brokedown palace.  Althea told me, “let me sing your blues away with some good lovin, and then get down and row, row, row, row, row.”

It must have been the roses in the attics of my life that caused that nine mile skid on a ten mile ride.  But it’s all over now baby blue and you know it hurts me too.   It was the greatest story ever told and you might as well turn on your lovelight and leave it on so you can wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world, china doll.

Shake it up now Sugaree, I’ll meet you at the jubilee.   Light the song in sense of color, hold away despair.  If you get confused, listen to the music play…..

Weather Report Suite

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This window serves me up the weather report every morning. I blink my eyes open and contemplate the day. It’s winter. The sky is blue. The sun is shining. It looks bright, cold, but warming. Some days I don’t notice, because it’s before the dawn and my alarm bolts me out of bed and I stumble through the darkness. The light tells a different story. As the light changes from season to season, I watch the trees from this window, year after year. I am told what I need to face the day. Day after day. I am told what to be grateful for when I retire for the night. Night after night.

It’s the winter trees I love the best. Raw, black and white silhouettes; vulnerable yet strong against the dark of night and the light of day. Maybe that’s because it’s winter now. At present, I love their vulnerability and their strength that represents all that we are at this time of year. We are vulnerable to the cold and yet day after day, we face our days with strength. We stand stall, we carry on.

These are the giant oaks of the The Great North Woods. They are disappearing. We take them down to make way for more open space, more light on the yard, in the home, less work, less maintenance, an easier life. Time, too, takes them down, worn with age and disease, they give up, holding tight to their decaying leaves, scattering their acorns in one last fitful state of desperate reproduction. To save their souls; to bridge this mortal life into eternity. And at times, a singular disparate act of nature comes to take them before their time.

Do you see the tree with the broken limb in the bottom right corner of my window? Do you see the open space that limb used to occupy? What do you see first? The open space or the broken limb? While it’s raw splintered edge seems a garish reminder of the ravage done by Superstorm Sandy, it also speaks to me to never forget. Never forget that it could all be gone by morning. Between the time you retire in the evening until you blink your eyes open at dawn, all you see before you can be torn down by a simple gust of wind. Places and people and things you love can become broken, splintered and torn overnight. The open space reminds me that from destruction, we grow. We have new spaces that were not here before. How shall I treat that broken limb? What shall I do with the open space? The tree needs trimming in order to save the life of the tree is what I’m told. Shall I take it down all together, creating even more open space? Without the brokenness will I remember? Will the openness be enough? What do I need to remember? How it hurts to be broken? Or how good it feels to be open?

Just as I’m beginning to accept the open space, another destructive force of nature comes to break us open again. This time, it’s human nature. This time it’s the children who are broken, splintered and torn. By human nature. Torn from this world in an instant with not a burst of wind but a burst from a gun. Human nature creates the need for human rights. So now, we have the right to own a gun so our human nature can protect our human rights. The nature we have of glorifying war and destruction and protecting our human rights. We forget that our human nature can also be like that of the trees. We can grow into the great wide open, sharing the space with others in the area, creating natural borders while harboring safe respite, providing food, water and shelter for those who need us. How do we protect that right? We have the right to grow up healthy and strong, vulnerable against the sky. Trees are like children. They don’t have guns. They grow into the openness. We can too. An openness that serves the right to protect, an openness that protects the right to not be destroyed.

Airstream

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I have these moments that I call Airstream moments.  It’s when I visualize myself selling everything, buying an Airstream trailer and heading west into the sunset, streaming some air, homeschooling the children out of the trailer.  I don’t have to play house anymore, the husband doesn’t have to play the banker anymore.  He can just play husband.  The one who is devoted to me more than he is to his emails and conference calls.

I expect the real husband lives there.  In the Airstream.  With the real me.  The one who doesn’t have to go to PTA events and cocktail parties.  The one who doesn’t have to pick up the dry cleaning and make sure there are clean undershirts in the drawers. The one who doesn’t have to make sure the kids are on time and well practiced in the art of everything.  The me who lives in the Airstream is someone I long to be for what she is not and yet I have no idea who she is.

I imagine her to be wearing the same comfortable shoes, jeans, and beloved fleece day in and day out.  She eats her yogurt and grape nuts every morning.  A simple sandwich at lunch.  Tea somewhere along the way with fruit and nuts.  Bread and cheese. Salad with a glass of red wine.  She reads books, she writes, she takes photographs, she walks the dog and listens to the news on the radio.  She gets plenty of sleep and drinks lots of water.  She reads stories and plays chess with anyone who will oblige her.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, she washes her hair and does laundry.

The husband that lives in the Airstream is a man who gets plenty of rest.  He breathes deep and long while contemplating the light.  He doesn’t need as much exercise as banker husband does because he doesn’t overeat like stressed out banker husband does.  He cooks on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays and we eat what’s left in between.  He has time for kisses on the back of my neck and hugs that convey what words cannot.  We share passages from the words we read, listen to radio segments together and have time to question and ponder.  We hold each other close and we dance.   We go to bed early and we wake up late.

I’ve envisioned all kinds of scenarios that correspond with the potential number of riders in the airstream.  One.  Me, alone, solo.  Mom’s taking a sabbatical of sorts, to sort stuff out.  You guys are old enough to fend for yourselves now aren’t you?  Two.  Just us, me and him like it used to be before kids, like it will be after they are gone, which won’t be for another 6 years.  That scenario has to wait.  Three.  Me and the two youngest, after the oldest leaves for college this fall.  Husband can continue to work crazy hours while I go on with my crazy dream.  Four.  Husband quits crazy hours and joins me and the two kids in my crazy dream.  Five.  Oldest takes a year off before going to college and the five of us go on down the road, exploring how we belong together.  As one.  As two.  As three, four, and five.

None of these scenarios are possible right now.  Now I must pick up the dry cleaning.  Now I must practice belonging here.  The Airstream will wait for another day, week, month, year.  Another time.  An other time?  An other me?

The other side of 2012

This is the Year. Dream. Don’t Ignore The Signs. Create Workspace.  Focus. Natural. Light.  Home Organization.  Experience Change.  Be Love.  Quietly Practice Hoop Peace.  Create some space.  Get organized.  Hoop.  Plan.  Think organized.  Hoop.  Jazz. Save Time.  Rhythm.  Stay organized.  Complete the cycle.  Hoop.  Shine On.  You can do it.

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And I did it.  Well, kinda.  2012 was the year I dreamed.  I didn’t ignore the signs.  I created workspace by getting a job. I focused on the natural light within me.  I experienced change, while quietly practicing hoop peace.  I created some space to hoop in.  I tried to get organized (again).   I tried to think organized (again).  I didn’t stay organized (again.)  I hooped.  I listened to jazz, rhythm (and blues) and tried to save time to be on time but instead found time to be myself.  I hooped some more and I really did shine on.

Then the storm hit.

Twenty twelve was the year the world was supposed to end.  When Sandy blew into town three days before Halloween, many were spooked enough to think it could be true.  I tried to focus on gratefulness and Thanksgiving, which by the time we got our lights on in our area, was quickly approaching.  This year, our stories of gratitude would focus on how we made it through the storm.  No one we knew lost anything but power.  For us, that was enough.  Enough to make us step back, take stock.  We lost power, so what?  Far too many lost everything they had.  For everything that was lost, many will step back and say, “we lost our home, so what?”  They will give thanks that they have their health, their life, each other.  The world did not end.  We are grateful to be here.  Now we can tell our children, “see? the world did not end, it all works out, don’t worry, you’re safe with me.”

Everything changed.  The trees were broken.  When we got power back after twelve trying days, so much had shifted.  I found myself looking harder and longer out my bedroom window at the trees, wondering what they were saying.   After moving through Thanksgiving with a deep gratitude in my heart, I looked back at my vision board.  Did the words and images change me?  I don’t know.  Words and images are the very things that change us, everyday.  The images we see, the images we look away from, the words we read, the words we hear, the words we say.  We look, we listen and we change.

So much happened in 2012 that catapulted me to the point where the Mayan calendar runs out; the point at which some feared meant we would run out.  Of time.  Of stability. Of earth’s resources. Of money. Of compassion or understanding.  Of love for one another.

Then, the Newtown shootings took place and it began to feel that it WAS all running out.  I was running out.  My clarity was running out.  All that I was trying to hold together just started leaking out, hemorrhaging.  I had nothing to say.  I could only cry.  We had lived in Newtown for 14 years. We moved closer to family 5 years ago.  I thought of all the times that I too, sent my child off to school, knowing they were safe, wishing them the very best of days, waiting for their return home.   This time, I was unsure if we could hold our children close and say, “see? it all works out, we got through the storm, the world did not end, you’re safe here with me.”

Will they remember what it looked like after the storm?  How it felt?  Will I remember?  It seems I will never forget what the winds of 2012 blew in.  Then again, many times we forget.  We forget the lives lost, the things that floated away, exploded into the ether, were gone with the wind, the voices that echoed down the halls, and the bullets that richocheted off the walls.  Will we remember how cold it felt without power?  That there are some that live everyday like that?  Will we remember the eerie dark streets night after night?  The vacant buildings, the empty supermarket shelves, the abandoned houses?  How the trees were broken, splintered and torn?  The ten feet high walls of debris on either side of the street that threatened to stay long into 2013, if it ever came?

Will we remember the type of town that Newtown was like?  How it felt?  Will we preserve our childhood memories in all the quiet serene towns like Newtown? Or will we remember how cold it felt to be without power again?  Powerless to keep our children safe.  What happened in Newtown can happen anywhere.  Will this be something that stays with us long beyond 2013?  By the end of 2012, I was beginning to think that maybe the world was going to end.  How could we go on?  How can this world go on?  To those who lost someone, it must feel like the world has come to an end.  I didn’t lose a child but I felt so deeply that I did.  We all lost children that day.  We all lost brave heroes that day.  If 2013 comes, which we all know now that it did, can we prove that we remember, that we take away the lesson, expanding compassion, putting down the guns in favor of time, precious time spent together?  We are all here now.  We got through the storm.  The world did not end.  Look.  Listen.  Go.  We are naked in the wings.