Last night, my daughter and I stood in line at the grocery. The store was crowded and of course they had only a few lanes open. While standing there, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug and kissed me on the cheek. Then she leaned against me, her head resting on my shoulder. I smoothed her soft hair and we laughed about the cover of The Globe magazine. She then decided she wanted a candy bar and wandered off. I stood there, flipping through an US magazine when I was approached by an elderly woman.
“Your daughter is beautiful.” She said.
I smiled and thanked her. My daughter is beautiful. She has been fortunate to have had no issues with weight or acne and she has a tiny hourglass figure and milky white skin. I’ve never made a big deal about her looks or her slim body. I grew up with a mother tortured by her body and in turn she tortured her children. Instead, I figured if I let nature do its job, then she’d end up the weight she was supposed to be. This doesn’t mean I bring a lot of junk food in the house, but neither do I sweat it when she wants to eat a candy bar and a bag of chips before dinner.
The elderly woman reached out and patted my arm. “You did a great job with her if she will still hug and kiss you in public as a teenager.”
I thanked her again and looked over my shoulder where Nat was doing peekaboo with a baby in a cart in another aisle. There are a lot of things I did wrong as a parent. But when I see her laughing, when she walks me to the door every morning and hugs me goodbye, when she looks at complete strangers we encounter and finds one thing nice to say them, I know I did a good job.
We’ve had a rough time through the teenage years, but she’s still loving and sweet. There are days when all we do is battle, then she’ll come in the room and tell me she wants to do better at communicating with me. She hasn’t always understood the way the grownup world works, but she’s getting there. She is generous and compassionate and she strives to be a good person. In the scheme of things, maybe raising a considerate human being is all I could have hoped for.
My daughter joined me once again in the line and she smiled at the elderly lady. “That’s a pretty scarf.” She said to her. The elderly woman beamed and moved back to her cart.
Yes, my daughter is beautiful. Inside and out.
I am grateful for all that I’ve experienced
All the lessons I’ve learned
The life I’ve been blessed to lead
The people I’ve been fortunate to meet
I am thankful my heart finally melted
and it’s ready to receive
I am finally found
Just in time
It’s never too late to venture out
of the comfort zone
It’s never too late to love and be loved
I am full of possibility
This morning the sun was hidden behind a veil of thick clouds and the wind blew cool Fall air. I began my walk in the park, one I have done many times, with no destination in mind. I listen to my music loud and I try to clear my mind. I’ve never been the type to enjoy exercise, but lately I am learning to love it. Every exhale is a negative thought, every inhale is gratitude for what is good. I listen to the lyrics in the music, and I write a dozen stories in my head, I rewrite painful realities in my life and every one of them has a happy ending.
This morning, long after my calves ached and my arches burned, I kept going. The breeze blew my hair and I felt buoyed by it. I was carried away and didn’t want it to end. Each person who passed, waved and said good morning and I returned their greeting. We were all on that road for various reasons, but we were all determined to complete whatever goal we had set for ourself.
I kept going when songs made me nearly weep with ache. I kept going when my lungs burned. I kept going even when I wondered why I bothered. One morning does not change all the others that follow, I thought. But this morning, I was driven by things other than myself and I kept walking. One hour turned into two, and finally, at the end, when I could see the parking lot, I called enough.
I felt strong and determined. I felt confident in happy endings. I felt grateful for sheer exhaustion. Grateful for every second of every minute I’ve been happy. Buoyed by the wind and the eternal hope it will never end.
The Tibetan monks spend weeks creating sand mandalas, intricate sand painting of vibrant color and meaning. Once the mandala is complete, the monks then perform a ritual of sweeping up all the grains into a glass jar, wrapping it in a silk cloth, then distributing it in moving water. All the weeks of labor, of painstaking placing sand to represent deities and ancient symbols, swept away and carried across the water. The lesson in it all is that material life is impermanent. You and your things can be swept into a jar.
When my daughter was four we were living in NYC and I heard about a Tibetan festival being held on Long Island. Braving the city traffic, the bridge and Long Island, I drug her out in the cold fall morning to see something she could have cared less about. I was in a crisis of a sort. I had been since uprooting my daughter from Kentucky and moving to a city I knew nothing about with a man I was beginning to discover I knew even less about. Spending a Saturday with Tibetan monks seemed a better alternative to the chaos my life had become.
We arrived at this nondescript house down an equally unassuming road, drove up an impossibly steep driveway to stumble upon Shangri La. There among the apple trees was a Tibetan wonderland. Behind the main house was a large hall, open to the outside and there scattered on the rug on the floor were monks enveloped in orange robes, tied with ruby sashes, with their eyes closed and the most mournful, plaintiff chants emanating from their open mouths.
My daughter, usually a flurry of activity, paused in the doorway with me, holding my hand tightly with her eyes wide with wonder. We stood there, the pair of us, enraptured by these men in their robes, so removed from anything but the harmonious sound that carried us away. In that moment I was standing there with my little girl, whose tiny hand was intertwined in mine. It was just the two of us, experiencing something beautiful and profound and I had blinked away tears at the perfection of it all.
Later, after we were given paper mandalas to color and a small woven bag, we mulled around the grounds, saying hello to our like minded brethren. An elderly woman from Tibet approached us, her smile toothless and her face creased with the beauty of her life. She crouched before my daughter and ruffled her hair, pinching her cheeks. Then she looked up at me, her dark eyes alit with something I could only describe as happiness, and remarked I was surrounded by love. It was one of those remarks you file away.
I was watching something on television the other night and they were explaining the sand mandalas. My little girl, now a beautiful young woman, turned to me and asked me if I remembered that morning we went to the Buddhist temple. I did remember, I told her. I had been thinking about the same thing. That morning, listening to those monks, seeing that old woman. I am surrounded by love. At the time, I thought it meant I had people who loved me. My daughter, my family, my circle of friends and the man I had moved to NYC to be with.
Years later, sitting in my living room, I realized that’s not what she meant at all. I am surrounded by love. I am the carrier of it, not the recipient. I am the one with the open heart who was shocked by the power of loving my daughter, whose heart flew open with the possibility of getting love in return. I am surrounded by love and it’s mine to give with no expectation of it returned. To love a book, a song, a band or a perfect Saturday morning. Love is not restricted to people. It can apply to food, to scents or to soft sheets. You can love this life despite all it’s impermanence. I have built my life mandala, only to have it swept away in a stream, but always return to work on another one. This time more intricate, more colorful than the last. To see for a brief moment, this life in its entirety and then to sweep it up.
I am surrounded by love. And love is all you need.
Even at my age, I think there’s room not to take life too seriously. Call it a midlife crisis, but I put purple highlights in my hair. I did it for
no other reason but I wanted to. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, what is it that I really want? There was a time in my life, when
I dared not ask myself that question. It seemed too selfish.
But as the years wane away, and as I face my own mortality and limitations, I recognize how fleeting perfect moments are. Life is dotted with
stresses and tragedies, like millions of stars in the sky. It’s those stars we pay attention too, because they are the most visible. But the dark matter,
the space between those dots of light, that’s where the contentment, peace and happiness dwell. I have finally figured out that happiness is a choice
you make. Not forcing yourself to be happy in unhappy circumstances, but actively seeking out what will bring that joy to your life. Such joy
that the unhappy pales in comparison.
I watched this show called the Wonders of the Universe. It reminded me how inconsequential life is and how finite it all will be. Stars will be born, stars will collapse, and yet
the universe will whirl around it. It reminded me that the choices I make today will one day not matter in the scheme of things. I will have to face consequences, but it is
all temporary. I can let go of the past, dying stars of who I use to be, and emerge a new brighter version of me.
Now I can have purple hair, and I can open my heart fully and risk the greater hurt. I can pursue what makes me happy without guilt. I can laugh every day because
there is joy. I can let go.
The Hindus believe in destruction, there emerges new life. There must be the eternal sequences of death and rebirth. So here I am reborn, better than before. With purple hair.
Cancer has always been on the periphery of my family. My great grandmother died from it, my grandmother Tumor died from, yes, you guessed it, a tumor. My aunt had colon cancer at thirty five. It’s always been there lurking.
Now it has invaded my immediate family. My father recovered from surgery, the tumor was small and supposedly all gone. It has not invaded the surrounding tissue or lymph nodes. He’s home from the hospital and resuming life, albeit with the knowledge he had cancer. It was there and now it’s gone. Gone. Stay gone.
I would be remiss as a human being for not wondering when it’s my turn. When does the Russian roulette of junky genes call my number? My new attitude has been “if it’s not happening right now, it’s not happening.” A mantra I’m repeating over and over as I lay in the dark blocking out whatever negative thoughts might try to creep in my conscience. It’s not happening to me right now, so it’s time to concentrate on my father, on my daughter, on this life I’m navigating.
I keep telling myself I’m different from my family. I have never smoked, and they all were heavy smokers for at least 20 years or longer. I’m a vegetarian. I attempt exercise. I meditate. I try to wash whatever bitterness I have on my skin off in the shower. But it’s still a roulette wheel isn’t it. If it’s my turn, then it is.
I’m not going to change the life I’m trying to carve out because of fear. Fear has never been a friend of mine. It’s led to rash decisions that have reverberated through my life. I won’t allow fear to dictate my future. Or cancer.
I am the captain of my own destiny. Or something profound like that.
*For my beloved D, who has shown me the notes
Muriel collected sounds instead of sea shells or elephant figurines. The rasp of a man’s stubble as he ran his fingers over his cheeks while deep in thought was filed away. The rhythmic clanking of metal wheels on a train track soothed her to sleep at night. She awoke every morning to the chatter of birds even though her apartment was ten stories above the city. When she sat on the subway every evening on her way home from work, she could hear the soft lulling sound of a violin.
She had carried these snippets of sound with her since childhood. They were neatly filed away in her brain and she was able to access them when needed. Sometimes she would sit in a movie and only remember what sounds she heard; the crashing of a car, the sigh of a woman or the slap of a hand on flesh. If you asked her what the movie had been about, she would not be able to tell you.
Her obsession with the audible had made her transition into adulthood difficult. She was not able to relate to her peers who would cite popular songs and the only thing she could say she liked was a brief background of organ notes or a certain pitch to the singer’s voice. She was distracted by the noises around her and unable to concentrate on conversation for any meaningful period of time. So, she withdrew into her own world. She surrounded herself with hushed quiet by taking a librarian position.
Every afternoon, she walked the two blocks to the diner around the corner for a cup of soup and grilled cheese sandwich. She was not particularly adventurous with food, finding it a health necessity rather than anything one would enjoy. It all tasted very similar. She often thought she had given up the gift of taste for her acute hearing.
As usual, she ordered the broccoli and cheese, the Wednesday soup of the day, and her sandwich, and then retreated to the corner to read her newspaper. There was a baby in a stroller parked behind her mother who was passionately discussing something or another with another woman at the table. The baby babbled softly as she shook a plastic set of keys in her fat fingers and her mother’s bracelets jangled pleasantly as if it were an instrument playing along. Muriel smiled and pretended to read her paper.
She looked up just as the shuffle of rubber soled sneakers came within earshot. The young man who worked behind the counter was approaching her with a brown tray carrying two white porcelain bowls and a wax paper wrapped sandwich. She looked up into eyes she was certain would be called hazel, but not quite sure. Maybe they were blue. He had a few days growth of beard on his cheeks and he looked older than he probably was. She liked the prominent sweep of his nose and the softening around his lips as if he was trying not to smile. Then he cleared his throat, one of her most hated sounds, and she suppressed a shudder.
Before she had time to react, he sat down in the chair opposite her, the tray creating a loud thud against the Formica and then the metallic sound of silverware being jostled.
“I made you two soups today.” His voice had a soothing timbre, probably higher pitched and more uncertain than he would have liked. But it sounded so pleasing to her ears, she felt her face flush.
“I ordered the special.” She said back, hearing the timidity.
“You have to speak up.” He said, turning his head and she could see a flesh colored hearing aid poised in the graceful curve of ear. Then he turned to the other side and she could see he had a matching one in the other ear.
“Are you deaf?” She asked her voice louder than she thought necessary but she wasn’t sure.
“Not quite.” He smiled, his front two teeth barely overlapping and she thought it suited him perfectly. “I can hear, just not well.”
“I hear too well.” She replied. “I have exceptional hearing. Even the slightest sound my ears pick up.”
He cleared his throat. “Like what?”
“Like that baby rattle, or the oxygen pump of the old man in the corner or the ring of the cell phone of the waitress behind the counter.”
“Wow.” His smile widened. “Are all those noises annoying?”
“Sometimes.” For the first time she admitted to even herself.
“My name is Guy.” He offered her his hand and shook hers firmly. “I’m like that for tastes, even the slightest pinch of pepper or a vegetable not quite in season. I can taste it all.”
Muriel could not help but smile back. “My name is Muriel and I taste very little.”
“So, I’ve noticed.” He pushed a bowl of pale orange soup toward her. “Try the butternut squash.”
“I never have.”
“Try this one.”
So, she dipped the spoon in the soup and slowly lifted it to her lips, parting them as her tongue slid along the spoon. It was not unpleasant, but it was bland to her. She shrugged.
“Humph.” He grunted, unwrapping the sandwich. “Try the grilled cheese, I made it with gruyere.”
She wanted to pretend it was the most delicious food she had ever eaten, but she knew he would be able to tell. Instead she was honest. “It sort of tastes the same.”
Guy frowned and rubbed his fingers over his furry face and that sound sent a shiver down her spine. Then he smiled, and held up another spoon full of soup.
“Butternut squash tastes like the sound of a bass drum. It’s one note you have to add layers on. So the nutmeg is the clarinet playing softly on top and the cream is the flute and together they make a symphony of taste. And as you eat it, you will get a note of pepper, that’s the cymbal crashing in on your tongue. Sometimes a total surprise.” He held the spoon to her lips. “Now eat it with your eyes closed.”
And so she did, and for the first time in her life, she tasted the sound of food. She savored in the many notes he had described and when she swallowed she opened her eyes and looked into the most definite hazel of the man across from her.
“Now what does the jangle of bracelets taste like?” Guy asked.
“Like lemon Italian ice.” She said, as if it made total sense. “It’s tart, yet sweet and cold, and a sour delicious.”
“Ahhhh.” Guy closed his eyes and she knew he could hear the sound she was describing.
Muriel reached across the table and touched the tip of her fingers against his. “Thank you.”
“We’ve only just begun.” He winked and intertwined his fingers with hers. “You have a lifetime of food to eat and I have eons of sounds to hear.”
Muriel decided that day, the favorite sound she would ever hear was the sound of their laughter together. It tasted like happy.
I don’t buy into the end of the world prophecies. But I have a cold, my fever just broke, and I don’t exactly feel like frolicking in what I am told is the Earth’s last day. It seems so pretty out there too. But I will go see the latest Depp Pirate movie. I figure if I’m going out, might as well be after watching a mediocre movie my daughter is insisting we see.
If it is the end of the world…I do want to leave this:
I know love and it’s a many splendid thing. It’s never too late to find it. Don’t squander it. Chase it and hold it down until it calls uncle.
Children are indeed wonderful and horrible at the same time. It’s a crap shoot the kind of kid you’ll end up with. Do your best and love them anyway.
Kleenex with lotion is the way to go when you have a summer cold.
Don’t tan. Hear me Snookie? I’m relatively wrinkle free on my way to purgatory because of my ghostly whiteness.
And to my beloved D….you’ve made even the rainiest of days swirly and sunny. See you on the other side.