i’m not sure i ever thought that someday i would have a piano in my backyard. barney is a very old upright. about a hundred years old, he is tired and worn from long years, decades even, spent in a basement boiler room, but i can see the life in him as the sun hits him. never ever would i have imagined the idea of wild geranium growing up around a piano tucked into a bed of day lilies, just a few feet away from our little pond. never would i have imagined the idea of water getting on a piano, without dashing to wipe it off. it rained yesterday and i had to fight the urge to run outside and wrap my arms around him. barney’s new life is to feel loved and not ignored, appreciated and smiled at and not relegated to a dark, piano-inappropriate place. he was slated for the scrap dealer.
i really am an acoustic girl. my big yamaha grand has a studio of its own. my growing-up-spinet has a spot in our basement (not an easy place to move it to in this old house.) barney has a place in the backyard.
and all have big places in my heart.
there is something profoundly striking about a beach that has been newly combed. so fresh. so ordered. so manicured. absolutely stunning in its no-foot-has-stepped-here-ness. it is simple in its pristine beauty and can make you just sit and stare.
i have always loved the beach. crab meadow was my growing-up favorite. i could ride my bike there and, later, drive my little blue vw there. it was there that joe-z yelled at me for going too slow on waterside road. it was there, off-shore, that crunch and i fished in the middle of the night. i took long walks with my dog missi there. i spent many hours listening to AM radio under a hot sun on a big beach blanket with susan. i played frisbee with robin and, years later, making a pilgrimage back to the island, skipped stones with chris. about twenty years ago, many high school friends gathered at the new restaurant on the beach. about ten years ago or so, i returned to that restaurant for dinner, drinking in the familiar smell and sounds of that beach at low tide. many times i climbed the fence before sunrise to take sunrise pictures. many times i walked for hours on that beach – winter, spring, fall and yes, the obvious, summer. i thought on that beach. i watched seagulls on that beach. i wrote on that beach. i pondered and wallowed and figured out a lot of life on that beach. but i don’t remember crab meadow beach ever looking so neat and tidy. it was full of rocks and pebbles, seaweed and horseshoe crab shells, typical of a north shore long island beach. yet it spoke to me for years and years. and, were i to go there right now, i suspect would still speak to me.
and now, i sit on the side of lake michigan and stare at this beautiful crisply renewed shoreline. it’s totally different than crab meadow. and, it’s a different time. and this beach? it appeals to me too. years ago, when i moved here, i was surprised at how many seagulls were here. these gorgeous stripes of sky and water and sand speak to me. even manicured. hmmm…especially manicured.
i don’t think anyone would describe me as manicured. ever. ok, well, maybe during my employ at the state attorney’s office in florida. i had this amazing boss named debbie whose style was flowing and just really lovely. and so, it was probably during that period of my life that i came the closest to ann taylor suits and accessorized scarves, with etienne aigner pumps that exposed the ever-important toe cleavage. but since then? there have been a real variety of clothing styles, most all falling under the headings of blue jeans, black shirts and boots or flipflops. back in high school my incredible english teacher andrea wore bandanas in her hair and peace sign pendants. she inspired us to embrace being sensitive and aware and to write poetry. she inspired us to be alive.
i think i am more andrea than debbie. i think i am more crab meadow than lake michigan. most of the time i paint my own toenails. and sometimes i don’t blow dry my hair. as an artist, my life is not pristine or ordered; as a human, my life is not neat and tidy.
but every now and then, i love to sit and stare at a pristine, ordered, neat and tidy beach that is waiting for the gorgeous disorderliness to come.
sixteen days ago we celebrated with momma the release of her first published book. she is beautiful and fiercely independent at almost-94 and she was full of joy as she practiced ahead of time with a sharpie and then signed copies of books for all sorts of people who showed up at the signing of ‘shayne’ – the first in a trilogy of children’s books. at the end of this enormous day, we sipped martini & rossi asti spumante (momma and poppo’s favorite from days gone by) and we ate chocolate-covered strawberries in exultant glee.
fourteen days ago my almost-94 momma sent me a text message with her iphone that said she had mastered powering her electric wheelchair all the way downstairs to breakfast and again to dinner. she was amazed she did it and i know she was beautiful and fiercely independent as she made her way through the halls of her assisted living facility.
thirteen days ago my almost-94 momma was not having a good morning, but she was elated to see the diary notebook we brought her – we had searched for it and found it in a random bin in her garage. she gently stroked the notebook titled ‘europe 1971’ and i knew she would sit and read all the details, study all the maps, look at all the brochures and hold my dad’s hand and these cherished memories in her mind’s eye for hours and hours. she would envision her beautiful self and my handsome poppo in 1971 and their fierce independence to tour around europe for six weeks in the new vw bug they had purchased there.
nine days ago my almost-94 momma called to tell me that kelly had introduced her to new potential residents as “our newly published author” and momma was humbled and oh-so-excited to report this. i am positive she rose up in her wheelchair, beautiful and fiercely independent.
four days ago my almost-94 momma was found on the floor of her assisted living facility apartment and was rushed to the hospital. i am quite sure she was beautiful to the caring people who rushed to her aid, but maybe not so fiercely independent.
yesterday my almost-94 momma was just conscious enough in her hospital bed to look through my niece’s iphone to see me. tears were coursing down her cheeks and my sister wiped them away. she looked beautiful to me. her fiercely independent spirit is fighting seriously devastating infections. she is in a precarious place. i know she reaches in her mind to my dad in another plane of existence and yet, for now, she clings to this life here.
one day ago my almost-25 daughter was briefly in chicago and i had a wonderful opportunity to see her for a precious bit of time. she is beautiful and fiercely independent; she celebrates life on mountaintops and snowboard slopes and on hiking trails. yesterday i celebrated her life with her, a couple margaritas and a gluten-free pizza. life marches on. beauty and fierce independence are passed to the next and the next.
today my almost-94 momma continues to fight. she is tired and her fierce independence is challenged. but i do know that inside of this beautiful woman is a person who will make the decisions that she wants to make. joan wrote, “…one of those times when there is no way around. only through….a transition each makes alone in the end.”
as tears ran down my face this morning after another difficult call with my sister about my momma and her prognosis, david read to me a paragraph written by pema chodron called ‘the power of the pause’ – “a momentary contrast between being completely self-absorbed and being awake and present.” he read another quote as well…this one by martha beck, “real power is usually unspectacular, a simple setting aside of fear that allows the free flow of love. but it changes everything.”
and so i hold in this pause my beautiful and fiercely independent momma. i listen for her voice, i hold her in my arms and wait to feel her arms around me. i am awake and present and hyper-sensitive in my vigil with her. i do not know what the outcome of this huge physical trial will be. i try not to have fear. i am holding on and letting go. what i do know? before the pause, in the pause and after the pause i will always love her. her beautiful-ness and fierce independence. my sweet momma.