I have nothing to complain of, really. I have everything I value most.
I have Jeni in my life, the only person I ever met who I could not go on without. Our first day together is still real, still vivid, still sharp, remains to us both as though it happened last weekend. We view it now from the distance of more than thirty years. And we look at each other, the same as we did that weekend, with all the wonder of the simply being together, that day and this. And the surprise is not that we’re here, still, as much in love now as then; the surprise is the space between that day and this. Not just the time itself, but rather what the time contains, what has taken place, the living, the events, moments that seemed difficult at the time, moments that have become part of the warp and weft that holds our two conjoined lives, like good cloth we have woven together, beautiful but not fragile, not gossamer silk, this, but strong, with colors bright and bold, clear definitions of pattern, refined, pleasing, more so with every passing year, a piece of goods beyond value, immeasurable in worth, so much so that any alternative is inconceivable to us. I can no more imagine having made different choices than I can conceive of not being here with Jeni now. It’s unthinkable.
I have this small home, surround by its equally small city lot, which contains our small gardens, in this familiar neighborhood where I have lived for most of the years of my life. Everywhere Jeni and I have lived, returned to at the end of each day, made food, and slept has been felt like home. This is simply the most recent. As I check the calendar of life, it’s quite likely this is where we will now stay, a most acceptable proposition. There was once intent of finding some waterfront where we could tie up the sailboat, affording the ability to rise with the sun on a weekend morning, walk outside our door and bend on the main and jib for a day on the water. It didn’t happen. There was the more remote dream of living in France. It didn’t happen either. There were others. Most never made it out of the gate. So be it. This small home, intended as a short term way-station to gather ourselves, a place to reset our course, put some things right, and consolidate our thoughts about what might be next, has been changed with Jeni’s hand, as they all have, to become yet another reflection of her, of the things she sees before they exist, of, as always with her, the possibilities. This foresight of hers is something I can’t do, so I rely utter upon her. Years have now passed, as she has turned the vision of her imagination into colors, textures and shapes, both inside the house and out. I don’t know exactly when it stopped being a landing place from which to go forward, but it did. There is a now a sort of natural comfort of place, a feeling of belonging. I now feel grounded here, in the same kind of way I felt about the house where I grew up. As a child, and in a child’s way, I never expected to leave that house, never imagined a time that I would. But I grew up, and leave I did. Staying here for the rest of the distance is very real and pleasant probability. Very pleasant indeed.
I have my mother. Beyond the expectations of her healthcare providers, she is with us still. And with each additional year, my relationship with her, and hers with me, continues to change and adapt, but always to enrich. We are far closer now than when I was an adolescent. She washed dishes and I dried, every night after dinner. Those moments with her at the sink and me with the dishcloth were ours alone. But now our discussions far exceed those earlier ones. She is dependant upon me now, not for everything, but for many things she has always done for herself. But she is every bit as aware and cogent as she was during those evenings at the kitchen sink. We discuss many things, as we go further into this mystery together. We visit the past, discuss the present and openly acknowledge the future, which narrows for her with each day. There’s very little denial of it in our talks. She tells me how it all seems to her; I reflect and share with her how it seems to me. We take comfort in melding our two lives and perspectives and we go on for another day. She gains strength from me, from the comfort of having someone she can talk to in the way she might have talked with my Dad. I continue to learn how to follow her lead, never presuming that I know better than she, never taking over her life, but listening and taking action on what she tells me about herself, trying to make possible her wishes. And every once in awhile, there is a day that holds more than just me seeing to her transportation, her shopping, her cleaning. Every once in awhile, there is a day which is unique, made possible only by the continuing presence and gift of my mother in my life.
I have my sisters, the one I spend time with, as we share the care our mother, and another I see less often. But close or not, this triad of my siblings and myself constitutes my family. We never had uncles or aunts or cousins or grandparents close at hand, so the four of us are our core, all the family we have.
I have all this. And yet there is the presence of something else, something which has crept in, surreptitious, felt but not understood. At times it has the quality of something misplaced, not only the place but the thing itself. At others it feels more like a direction missed, or a place where the course changed. Like Bugs Bunny, I feel like I should have taken that turn at Albuquerque. Like something I need to find my way back to, in order to make a correction. But it also feels not of my making; circumstantial, the effects of something outside me.
There’s a new movie out, John Wells’ “The Company Men”, a “…serious, thoughtful and often devastating drama about something rarely explored in the movies: the world of work as a place where we go to find out who we are, and what happens when somebody defined by his job loses it”, as Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times movie critic has written.
There’s some of that in this vague feeling. Another review contained phrases which stood out from the rest when I read them:
“Phil is advised to tweak his résumé to omit any work reference before 1990.”
“He attends humiliating outplacement seminars…”
“He eventually takes work in a small, struggling business…”
“…he muses eloquently about the days when people made things they took satisfaction in creating”
“…he realizes that, in his words, ‘my life ended, and nobody noticed.’ ”
When I mentioned these phrases to Jeni, told her of the place in me where these words find meaning, she insisted that’s not me, not who I am… which, I replied to her, only tells me how well I’ve kept that part of me away from her.
I have a sense of having slipped off the edge of a small trench, not deep and not dangerous. It feels like that long ago road trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during a winter snow storm, covering several Rocky Mountain States. The two-lane road was level, covered with compact snow and ice. There was the appearance of a shoulder, from the pavement all the way to the fence containing the rancher’s cattle. But when I steered too far toward it, to give myself extra space for an oncoming truck, the steering went numb and the car augured in. And down. When it came to a stop, the car was tilted, the right front a couple feet lower than the left rear. I opened the door, stepped out on the firmness of the road, walked round the car to see what damage had cause the front suspension of the car to apparently collapse, and went in myself. The level shoulder turned out to be a drainage ditch, about waist-deep, filled with loose snow. It would not support the weight of the car, and would not support me. In the ditch, up to here in soft snow, I struggled to find footing to lift myself out.
Had it been July, two well placed footings would have delivered me out of the ditch and back atop the road, with no more effort than climbing two stairs. But filled with soft snow, I was restrained. Getting out demanded effort, using parts of the car to hang onto as I pulled my way back up. Any other time, it would have been easy.
I feel like I’m trying and failing to lift myself out of something, still looking for the right effort or technique, to accomplish something that, in other times, was easy. I can’t pinpoint when this crept in, nor can I precisely see the end. I think I know what the eventual end looks like, but the space between where I am and where I will be is vague, lacking in definition, the path unclear.
A friend of mine quips an oft-repeated phrase in his family; “just like his father”. That’s true of me as well, but I am also like my mother. Throughout her life, I have heard her oft-repeated questions that begin with “why”. I’ve come to believe that these “why” questions are her attempt to deal with the parts of life that don’t square with who she is and how she views her place in the world, a world with bold definitions between right and wrong, good and bad. Her “why” questions seem not to be attempts to understand, but instead to seperate herself from people who don’t fit in her well worn template which has served her for many years, as well as things that don’t match her model for behavior or decorum. These questions frequently are directed at the indeterminate “they”, who seem to be responsible, at the root of much which lies beyond her understanding. It is, I think, a reaction to those parts of her awareness that lie beyond her ability to account for them, people, events, appearances, beyond her ability to bring them in line with what she knows to be good, true, correct and normal.
This unease, at this time in my experience, is really no different. I can’t pin it down, any more than I can bring it under my control.
The effort to do what needs to be done seems ineffective. The things I must do seem to do no more than hold me in place, not free me from my perception of being stuck. I know I must continue the effort, must do what clearly must be done, and I must keep doing it until I can climb out of this small ditch. I’ve undertaken other tasks, with objectives no clearer than this, with rewards not understood, with gratification not guaranteed. So I’ll do this one now.
And, like extricating myself from the soft snow, this time too I have something to hold onto. I have my partner in life, with whom all things become possible.
In time, when this is over, I feel certain this too will recede in significance, become just another length of the cloth of life that we weave together, new yardage with each day.
But right now, I find myself weary of the feeling of being off course, of being stuck, and of being impatient with the apparent lack of progress. I haven’t allowed myself to loose sight of the beacon, but I have allowed myself to loose my contentment with the place I am in.
* * *
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
“I don’t have to like the situation, but I must like myself while I’m in the situation.”