Seasons change and so do I. Time flies and so have I flown to and fro and back again and it’s all very complicated to explain and I’m not very concerned at present with where I’ve been or what has happened – somehow the future comes at me like a steam engine and all I can do is try to catch my breath before it snatches me in its jaws and I am again swept along by the endless sea of travels which seems to compose my life of late.
Not that I’m complaining 🙂 – no, I have no complaints. I am capping off a week of beautiful visits with my mother and some of our nearest and dearest. Mom and I decorated gingerbread cookies with the fam and whiled away hours with my cousin Kate’s baby girl – a bundle of joy, whom we had the pleasure of babysitting while my cousins and aunt and uncle went to see Garrison Keillor at Town Hall. So very Americana.
It was idyllic and unusual to get to spend so much one-on-one time with my mama in the city I call home – and wonderful to reunite with my relatives: even though my cousins live close, my travels have kept me busy for the better part of the last six months and it feels like I’m Rip van Winkling back into my old New York rhythm. But everything feels strange, like I’m going through the motions I know so well. Where did these Christmas lights come from? Why is it that I feel so at ease here, but still something of a stranger in this city, though I call it home?
I’m fortunate to have my cousins so close to me – in more ways than one. When I was a high schooler, my cousin Kate rescued me from the deep unhappiness that manifests when a free-spirit grows up in a small town where folks don’t much care for independent thinkers. We worked on our parents to let me move to Knoxville, TN – hardly a metropolis, but it saved me to be in a bigger place where my weirdness wasn’t so strange. And my cousins, Kate and Laura, were there with me, driving to school every day and introducing me to their friends – making me laugh, helping me find my balance again.
It was like climbing out of a hole to emerge from my home town and also I suppose I was in the midst of transformation myself, and that adolescent transformation can be so much more painful than subsequent ones – everything seemed so much more serious than it was. Depression was rightly described by Sylvia Plath as a bell jar descending on one’s life, distorting things, and I’m fortunate that I never experienced the most extreme version of the affliction, and that I had my sweet cousins to help save me – and when I returned to Arkansas, I even found some friendships that made life there bearable.
But in everyone’s life there must come a time of confrontation with the dark side of things – through the experiences that meet us daily, through our own sometimes unpredictable brain chemistry, through our intersections with death and loss and change.
Today I drove my mother to the airport through the persistent rain that has unfortunately marred her visit to my usually more temperate city. But we accomplished much: a visit to the Metropolitan Museum and an exhibit I was interested in seeing about ancient Phoenician trade routes and cultural exchange between Assyria and the rest of the Mediterranean. We also went to an exhibit called Death Becomes Her – about mourning attire.
Museums have a lot in common with cemeteries, but I guess I have always had a penchant for morbid things.
I guess I think that looking at death is kind of more helpful than avoiding it. Tig Notaro did a now famous set of comedy just after being diagnosed with breast cancer and then losing her mother a week later. You can hear some of it here. Laughing at death is perhaps the bravest and sanest course of action. Also perhaps the hardest.
I remember how frightened I was as a teenager when my mom had a cancer scare – how I suddenly realized her mortality in a way I hadn’t before. How shocking that realization was. My sister’s mortality, however, I hadn’t really considered – though I have now had more than three years to consider it, since her death in 2011.
We used to love the movie “Pollyanna” growing up and always mimicked the stern preacher who thunders: “Death comes unexpectedly!” at the beginning of one sermon, his jowls jiggling his seriousness. But how right he was!
September always brings to mind a tragedy that transpired a couple of years after I came back from Knoxville when several close friends were injured and one young girl died in a car wreck. It isn’t uncommon for teens to die in wrecks in my neck of the woods: showboating, drinking, speeding. But that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens – strange to think it was 15 years ago now.
This October I got a call from my best friend – one of the survivors of that long ago wreck – telling me that another of the survivors – a childhood friend of mine – had suddenly passed away from meningitis that came on quickly and spirited him away as well.
This seems to be a season of dying. A time when life has become too heavy a burden for some to bear. Even mom’s little dog Skeeter seems to be on his last legs. I don’t mind death, personally, as long as I do a decent job of living till death do I stop.
Mom and I had a full day of running around in the city, shopping in Soho, stopping for Mexican hot chocolate, visiting one of my favorite bookstores. We even made it to see the Macy’s windows and the New York City Public Library at Bryant Park.
We finished up with a visit to the Beauty Bar, where we had prosecco and mom got a manicure. Then we had an Indian feast at my apartment.
I’ve got a few more New York hurdles to jump in the near future before I make way to the south and hopefully warmer climes will welcome me and I can begin to unchill my bones and spend some precious time with my grandmother and my friends at Elysian Fields and elsewhere in Sarasota.
I long for the calm oasis of my grandmother’s house to try to wrap my mind around some of the many experiences I’ve had this year – there’s been little time to reflect as my course has been run so swiftly it seems since June. Much less have I been able to process the death and injustice that has been plaguing our country lately – a madness that seems to have overtaken so much of the populace – this terrible racism and the lack of any real change from the bad old days where your worth was determined by the color of your skin.
These veins of hatred – this tendency to dehumanize – runs so deep and provokes such terrible acts of violence that I despair at how to weed out such embedded roots from our society. How to help people see that we are all partaking of the sorrow in Ferguson and Staten Island and Ohio and California and everywhere in this country where people are targeted for the color of their skin. I also can’t help but wish that firearms weren’t such a given in law enforcement. They just seem so barbaric and they make every interaction a potential fatality.
It brings to mind the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook nearly two years ago now.
Not sure what can be done to heal this rift in our world, in this country, but traveling usually gives me perspective, and I look forward to some more of that.
Next installment from sunny (I hope!) Florida!
Love and miss,
P.S. For fun, check out one of mom’s books on Jimmy Fallon recently here. Her name is Lin Wellford 🙂 Not bad publicity!