Saturday, October 22, 2016
eight plagues not counting the election
A few days ago, walking home with a fresh loaf of bread under my arm, I came to a halt. Ahead of me on the sidewalk was an eight-foot, black-hooded figure stood with a scythe. It was leaning over the sidewalk, blade spanning the walkway like a banner. Okay, it's October. Halloween is quickly approaching. But I stopped. I let a woman walking her dog pass me. I helpfully pointed out the danger ahead, but she merely grunted, her nose buried in her phone. She didn't so much as look up from her screen as she walked past under Death's scythe. I reluctantly followed her. What I wanted to do was cross the street and avoid the ominous figure entirely. But that was silly, I reasoned, so I walked up and took a long look: I noticed the roughly cut black burlap gown, the wires holding the scythe in place, the string that lashed the figure to the fence. It's not that I suspected it might truly be the grim reaper, it's just that it doesn't seem like a good time in my life to take death lightly.
A few months before my father's death, life put on a Serious Face. I'm naturally prone to seriousness, so it doesn't take much. However, 2016 has given us: job restructuring, my son's testing for a learning disability, my dad's death, the sale of the businesses, my brother's state of mind after the sale of the business, Charles' new (and stressful) job, unexpected & chronic health problems, and of course the horrible horrible election. And, not to be forgotten, my mother-in-law moved near us in the spring. Charles vigorously dubs it "The Year of Challenges."
I feel less vigorous. I've started reading Rilke and Mary Oliver religiously, and am rereading the Diaries of Etty Hillesum. I started journaling again and begun listening to interviews with poets and philosophers via the On Being podcast. And I walk and walk and walk. I follow a daily loop along Crystal Springs, spying herons and kingfishers, flickers and barn swallows, red winged blackbirds and bushtits. I lean longingly over the creek hoping to spot the silver splash of salmon heading upstream to spawn. I talk to my friends while walking. Jenny called as I walked in a torrential downpour earlier this week, and listened (again) my litany of woe. "What number plague is this?" she asked laughingly, "There are usually seven." Well, I think we are at eight—and that's not counting the election. I think by the eighth plague you can start to expect that things to change for the better. Already I feel a resilience in my bones that wasn't there six months ago.
As I'm walking, this line from Rilke comes to me: Now you must go out into your heart / as onto a vast plain. Rilke is a heady draught from which you can only take a few sips at a time. Because, to use his own words, "Everything must be lived" (and living more than a few lines of Rilke at a time can be overwhelming!).
But out onto the plain I go: quiet and full, empty and expectant.
Next week Jenny flies in from Kona, and while she's here there is my Father's memorial service, followed immediately by Halloween. A joyful macabre mess awaiting me. Downstairs, in their beds, my children are singing one of my Father's favorite hymns, "Come Thou Fount." I am teaching it to them so they can sing it at my Dad's memorial. First my daughter's voice drops off in sleep, then my son's. The house is locked, and I have a cup of tea next to me. Whatever may come next, I still inhabit this snug little world of clean laundry and messy desks, steaming coffee and wet elm leaves, piles of library books and muddy boots, half-sewn dresses and half-knit mittens, bikes, tears, bird books, old computers, laughter, silence, kisses.