Best Possible

Auntie Ekoo.

Auntie Ekoo.

I was talking with my sister-in-law, Erika, or Auntie Ekoo, as we call her, yesterday evening, when my phone made that beeping noise that means someone else is calling. It was my brother, her husband. We all thought that was very funny, that she called from wherever she was, probably home in Los Altos, and then Steve called, not long after, from his office in San Francisco. 

That has never happened before, in the twenty or so years that the two of them have been together. That was a first.

This world has a very beautiful and quirky kind of energy, and it's great fun when you really start tuning in.

Talking with Erika reminded me of something her family used to do. They would have gatherings at their home in Briarcliff, New York, and afterwards choose the person they deemed "The Superlative Guest." I was never present for the choosing, but I loved to imagine the conversations that took place as they sorted through the events of the party or bbq or whatever had taken place, and chose the most interesting or most colorful or perhaps most thoughtful guest. I have no idea what criteria they used, but I love that they did it, dissecting a party that way.

I had a lot of fun looking through all of the birthday wishes I received via Facebook, I have to admit. I mostly loathe the thing most of the year, but when my birthday rolls around, it's awfully nice to feel all that love. And I find it fascinating, the different ways people choose to send birthday greetings. Some are simple, straightforward. Some people use imagery, and some now use that weird thing where you can choose a color backdrop for your message. Some are up early and on the ball with the birthday greetings, some get around to it a day or two later. 

In the spirit of the Superlative Guest, I decided, this year, to choose the Superlative Happy Birthday Wisher. After reading through the messages several times, there was one that stood out, right from the start, really.

The award this year goes to ... Mike Colbourn. His birthday message: "Have the best day possible!"

When I first read it, it made me stop and think. The word, "possible" suddenly seemed filled with questions. What's possible? And if it isn't, why not? Am I aiming too high or too low? What does the best day possible even look like?

Do I try to have the best day possible every day? Or do I allow petty circumstances and irksome people and unanswered questions to get in the way? What, exactly, is the best day possible?

I doubt very much that Mike intended for me to go on a mind-bending side road with his lovely message. I am grateful that he took the time to write to me on May 19, but I'm really glad that his unusual birthday greeting made me think, and that's why he gets Superlative honors this year.

The thing that Mike probably didn't know was that he was using language I associate with hospice work. When a person is close to end-of-life, one of the things we try to help them imagine, as their days wind down, is what their best possible day might look like. It gives us a kind of goal and some structure and it helps to keep the concept of living fully in the forefront of everyone's thinking, even when life is heading toward her final bow. 

"Maybe time running out is a gift," sings Jason Isbell in his very sweet song, If We Were Vampires.

It is. Time running out is a gift. But time is running out every single day and we need not wait until we are dying to think about what constitutes the best possible day. It's a great question to contemplate on a very regular basis, and so I thank Mike for that little wake-up and if you are reading this, Senõr Colbourn, I'll be a the mountain chapel for a wedding in early August and will bring your medal and chocolate chip cookies then. Congratulations and keep up the good work! 

The rest of you have 359 days to to compose next year's winning entry. And hopefully just as many days lived in the best possible way. Amen.

Double I, HI

Sam was standing in front of the dairy case at the supermarket in Manchester, staring at the yogurt options. He is tall, 6'2" I think, and too thin. He is always pulling up his shorts or his pants because he can't make his belt tight enough to make up for the weight he lost this past year when Lyme Disease made him lose his appetite.

He stood and looked for a while. He had come to understand that he needed to eat better, that he needed to eat more protein, and to eat more, in general. So we were shopping for smoothie ingredients: fruit, juice, yogurt, only we couldn't find any whole-fat yogurt. There was 2% fat and 0% fat but no whole-fat in sight.

"Am I the only person in America who is trying to gain weight?" he asked, of no one in particular.

If I had an Instagram, I would have Instagrammed Sam in that moment, so tall and slender, handsome, standing motionless with his hands in the pockets of his shorts, staring at the dairy case at the Shaw's Supermarket in Manchester, Vermont on a Saturday morning, making me laugh.

We were walking through the cemetery yesterday morning, Coco and Daisy and I. It was rainy, overcast, chilly. Nate had just gotten in Mark's car to go to the driving range with Mark and Jack, and Coco was bummed that her brother was gone. She was walking slowly, lagging behind.

I kept looking back to see where she was, to see if she was planning to try to catch up with us, but she was playing a little game, hiding behind the gravestones and peeking out. I walked Daisy up to where the path turns to grass, then veered right to visit Mabel, who was buried last week. 

I turned around and saw her, standing in front of a large stone. Her body was kind of soft, in that "I'm looking at something with curiosity" way. Her hand was on her hip and her head was tilted a bit. She was wearing layers of clothes: a t-shirt with the Swiss flag emblem that her aunt brought back from Switzerland, a long striped cardigan that used to belong to Julianne, a white rain coat that was once mine. She had a red Swiss baseball cap on her head and orange boots on her feet and she was still wearing her purple pajama bottoms. Somehow all of this looked great on her. 

I stood and watched her as she stood and looked at the grave marker. 

"I'm trying to see if it's anyone's birthday today!" she yelled to me.

If I had an Instagram, I would have Instagrammed Coco in that moment, layered with all those funny clothes, staring at an old gravestone in the cemetery in Pawlet, Vermont on a rainy Monday morning, making me laugh.

And

We are going down the road, together, sitting in the car. You are driving and I am in the passenger seat. When I look out my window I see the woods, some litter, a stream, perhaps an animal. When you look out your window, you see the road, the yellow lines, big trucks. 

We are in the same space, going in the same direction, but we see two different worlds outside our windows.

This, my friends, is why it can be so hard to get along with each other, even and sometimes especially with the people we love the most: we are each having a surprisingly unique, specific-to-us experience of this life. It can be very confusing.

And also, I believe, why it is so important that we take the time to hear each other's stories. I have come to believe that it is in the richness of our personal narratives where we find the salvation that will give us the courage to hold hands as we walk through this difficult life. 

I don't know why roses smell good to you and awful to me. I don't know why I dislike cats and love hiking. I have no idea what would make you want to spend your life adding up numbers or why your dream is to visit New Zealand. Those things don't make sense to me, but if I hold your story in a place of curiosity, then you might teach me something. 

And what better way is there to live than to learn and learn and learn? 

I have spent a lot of energy in this life trying to get people to see the world my way. Trying to advance my clearly superior POV. It's exhausting. And futile. Comical, really. 

I was back at the pulpit yesterday after two weeks away, and it felt great. I have such an intriguing sense of belonging there, in front of the church. To be sure, I miss pew-sitting and stained-glass window-gazing, but I feel that God may have been correct in leading me, confused, laughing and nervous, to the Pawlet Community Church. My story, many days, doesn't make any sense to me; I can't imagine how it feels to those who know me, or what kind of reaction they get when they talk about me out in the world. Still, it's my story and I love it.

My niece got married the other day, which is usually a cause for celebration, ceremony, a lot of whoop-whoop. This wedding happened quietly, privately, so that she and her husband could head to California where he will begin his time in service to our country as a Marine. Clare will start college there. Last summer she attended a National Student Leadership conference on health and medicine at UC Berkeley and discovered that she very much liked California. 

There has been a fair amount of hand-wringing around this as Clare is 18 years old; everyone is digesting this information differently. I have made mention that their story mirrors another one I know pretty well: my parents got married very young, then headed off to an Air Force base to begin what has turned out to be, so far, fifty-four years of married life. 

Let's face it: there is no way to know whether or not a marriage will take hold and last. Most of the people I know have been divorced, some more than once. Some are getting divorced, and a bunch are unhappy within their marriages. Getting married at 18 seems risky, but I don't think we've nailed the secret formula when it comes to happiness in love or marriage. I wish them well, I hope their joy sustains. I am not willing to discount their ideas simply because they are young. I know enough to know that age doesn't guarantee stability in love or accumulation of wisdom. Why not take the risk? Godspeed to Clare and Matt and may all their dreams become realities. 

Your window; my window.

My sons are both colorblind. When I see a yellow car, Sam sees green, or what he thinks might be green. We see it differently. Is one way right or wrong?

We are all going down the road together. We are sitting together in the car of life. Sometimes you are driving, sometimes I am napping, sometimes we are quiet, listening to music together.  Sometimes we are talking about what lies ahead, sometimes we are sharing what came before. But we are all in the car, we are. And there are streams and big trucks. And there are woods and yellow lines. There are pastors and pew-sitters. There are first marriages at 58 and first marriages at 18. There are yellow cars and green cars. 

The best part? We are all in the car, on the road, together.
Amen.

Spectacle & Festival

Our lives are being invaded by ticks. All conversations these days seem inevitably to circle back to ticks. Every little spot, every phantom sensation, we think it's a tick. Our stories have become stories of taking ticks off ourselves and our dogs. And of Lyme Disease.

We kind of deserve it though. We took over the land where the mice and deer used to live without hassle. Of course all this selfish human activity would eventually come back around to bite us in the ass, literally. 

I do have a theory, though. I think that all these tick troubles will bring us closer together. We have to keep checking ourselves and each other for ticks. Tick checks throughout the day. We can only become better acquainted with our bodies, right? We have to look at them more carefully now, run our hands over the limbs. We have to try really hard to see the out-of-sight places. In the future I imagine online dating profiles: "Single woman seeks tender-hearted man for long walks in woods, stream-side picnics and subsequent tick-checking. Must be attentive, meticulous, able to discern difference between a mole and an insect. Near-sightedness a huge plus."

Ticks will bring us closer together. I'm sure of it. 

It was a wild night last night. A big storm rolled through. The light was eerie, lots of thunder and lightening and strong winds. I took it very personally and thanked Mother Nature for blowing out the past year of my life in high meteorological style. Afterward, the sky was full of twinkling stars and the wild dogs were howling like mad. There was lots of flashing heat lightening and the sound of fire trucks in the distance. I had warm milk with honey before I went to bed and I slept well. I dreamt I was taking care of a beautiful baby, someone else's. He needed clothing so we picked out some jammies with lobsters on them.

I know a bunch of people whose birthday is today, too: Taylor Watts, who was my first sort-of boyfriend. We went to junior high and high school together, until he left for Deerfield. We had an annual birthday tennis match on the court in his backyard; Cosmo, who has the very best name and moved from Pawlet to Burlington last year. My friend, Ben, who is a master chef, good egg, who weaves everyday language into poetry and simple ingredients into gourmet edibles. Joe, who died recently. I still have his voice in the "memos" section of my music library, reciting a prayer he wrote. I miss him. And Elaine, who always sits in the very last pew, is meticulous when it comes to details and has a very beautiful smile. Happy birthday to all of them; I hope someone surprises them with something nice today.

I woke up this morning just as the light was coming over the hill in the distance. I know I talk a lot about how nice it is to be alive and how we should try hard to keep appreciating that because we won't always have the opportunity to watch a storm blow through, to wake up to the sun and the birds and the wonder of a day ahead. You're probably tired of hearing me say that stuff by now. Too bad, I'm not done yet.

It was a good year, this past year. As usual, a lot happened. I expect no less from the coming year. Fifty-two. When I was a kid and my parents were that age I thought they were old. I feel like I'm just getting warmed up, even though all this tick-checking is making me think about doing sit-ups and getting barbells. 

Here is the trailer: in the fall I will be done at Fordham. I've decided to open a small counseling practice. There's really no getting around this — I've been listening and offering counsel for years now, the only difference is that, in a couple of months, it will no longer be free. Get it while you can!

I'm still thinking about flowers, too. Lately I can't stop thinking about our little idea called Harriet Honeybee. We'll see.

What else? Writing. It's been speeding up recently and I'm grateful for those of you who have told me that you think it's getting better. "Getting better" implies the inherent truth that there was room for improvement and I love it when people are honest like that. There will always be room for improvement. I intend to get a gym membership for my writing this year and insist that we work out every day. Thank you for reading, readers. I love you.

I found a funny little book while I was going through all my books and making a pile for the Pawlet Public Library Book Sale annual extravaganza: The Discourses of Epictetus. Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who was born in 55 AD. I have no idea why I have this book or where it came from, but it's so good and funny. And, quite frankly, Epictetus kind of nailed it, two thousand years ago.

To wit: "Who are you and for what purpose did you come into this world? Did not he (God) introduce you here, did he not show you the light, did he not give you fellow-workers, and perceptions and reason? And as whom did he introduce you here? Did he not introduce you as subject to death, and as one to live on earth with a little flesh, and to observe his administration, and to join with him in the spectacle and the festival for a short time?

With a little flesh. I love that. The ticks are pretty psyched about it, too.

Yes.
To all of it, yes.
And also, amen.

 

Up

I had my head hung low when I was out walking Daisy this morning. I was kind of overwhelmed with sadness, the way I am sometimes. Sometimes I know why — I am thinking about something or someone, and the sorrow comes. Sometimes I don't; it's just there. I cry a lot. I'm OK with that.

This morning I was thinking about a friend who is going through a difficult time. She is going through what I went through several years ago. I have this thing where I can feel other people's pain. Yesterday, all day, her name kept coming into my head and then I got a message from her late in the day. Something somewhere inside of me knew she was having a hard time, across the many miles. 

It is one of the hardest parts of being me, that I absorb the pain of this world. And often I don't know where or how to let it go. But I'm learning. I'm sure there are tricks and techniques and I'll get there someday. Not today.

My head was hung low. I was thinking about my friend, about the hard times we face in life. I was thinking about my own life, the unanswered questions, the things that I am struggling with now in my own quest to become a more evolved person, the things that are weighing on my heart today.

Daisy stopped. She needed to pee. The sun was shining, the sky was blue. Sam was back at the house eating the bacon and eggs I had just cooked for him.

I stood still, waiting for Daisy.

Then I tilted my head up toward the sky and saw that the huge hedge in front of me was a lilac bush. And I saw that the lilacs were white. It was a complete surprise. It made me smile in the way a sweet little surprise does.

Like when I looked down while I was standing waiting for my salad last night, at the country store near Lake St. Catherine, and saw a little boy reaching his hands up to me, wanting me to pick him up. That kind of smile; that kind of surprise.

I pass that bush every day, several times on my walks with Daisy. I have noticed the purple and lavender lilacs blooming all over the place here up here on the hill, but I had not seen white ones until this morning.

And I would not have seen the white lilacs if I hadn't stood still for a moment and raised my sorrow-full head up, away from the muddy road beneath my feet.

Amen.