If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it. ~ Toni Morrison
It’s only Monday and I’m feeling anxious about various family members and all I want to do is hunker down with tasty snacks and forget about the rest of the week and everything that comes with it. Alas, life doesn’t work that way. Even this squirrel, who appears so content in the photo, was moments later focused on my intrusion. None of us are allowed to just be. Or, are we?
“There is a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same. A much more interesting, kind and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our curiosity is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we are committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.”
This morning I went out for a run on the trails. Even though it’s Sunday, which would mean more people out in the open space. And sure enough, I saw a fair number of folks. One male runner in bright, multi-colored shorts and no shirt. Two women hiking off in the distance. A man and woman walking a big ol’ black dog. Plus, quite a few of my least favorite trail users: mountain bikers.
I’ve been anti-mountain biker for years because (1) they carve up wet trails, creating grooves that harden into ankle-twisting ruts and (2) they’re rude, rarely acknowledging when I stop my run to let them pass.
My motto has long been F*CK MOUNTAIN BIKERS!
Well, today I’m rethinking my stance. Within two minutes of getting on the trail, a mountain biker rode toward me. He was on the uphill and I was on the down, so I stepped aside. The man said, “Thanks, but I can get by.” I recovered from the shock and started running again. A while later, three men on bikes rode toward me on the wide gravel portion of my route. They all smiled and called out Hello. I was barely out of their sight as I started down the narrow part of trail where another man rode up the incline. When I stepped off the trail he called out, “That’s okay. There’s room.” I replied that I didn’t want to slow him down on the uphill and he said, “We can make it work.” He was right. We easily passed each other and off I ran again. A few minutes later three guys on mountain bikes came toward me and I stepped off the trail just as they pulled off to the other side.
“Go ahead!” one called out.
I said, “Thanks, guys!”
“Anytime!” one replied.
“Enjoy!” said another.
“Have a good one!” called the third.
I grinned as I continued along, wondering if the pod people had taken over the mountain biking community. I was filled with love for mountain bikers! But because I am in the confessional right now, I must also admit I’d still prefer to have the trails to myself. However, this morning’s interactions went a looong way toward cancelling my mountain biker bias.
Pod people or not, those men were good ambassadors.
I just spent the last several hours tying up some loose threads on the YA project I’ve (most recently ) been working on since last fall. Basically, I wrote pages of notes in order to have a map for the next time I pick it up. The thing is, I cannot put any more energy into this project right now. My critique group gave me feedback last Wednesday on the first 30 pages and it’s still a hot mess. My words, not theirs. Their feedback was spot-on and they offered some great suggestions, but my heart isn’t in it anymore. This is a project I drafted ten years ago and over the following decade revised multiple times. It’s definitely a better story than it was before, but it’s still not where it needs to be.
So. I’m setting it aside because the characters and plot have become a jumble in my mind. I can’t see the forest for the trees and I’m sick of trying.
Whew. I’m feeling a mixture of emotions right now, but there’s a whole lot of relief in letting go.
Some days are so hard that I’m tempted to give up and assume the fetal position. Over the last couple days a young relative was diagnosed with a health condition and then a neighborhood family suffered a heartbreaking tragedy. I’ve felt overwhelmed and weepy. But I’ve also experienced joy as I hugged my son, watched a magpie take flight, and listened to my snoring dogs as they snuggle together in their bed. I’ve made progress on my new writing project and shared laughter with my visiting brother-in-law. I didn’t give up and curl into a ball.
Life is a series of sunshine and shit-storms, and as long as I remember to think of it that way, the better I cope. The key (for me, anyway) is tapping into the light amidst the dark. Finding the balance. I was reminded of that as I struggled to balance the light and dark in this photo of Marcel.
The result is nowhere near perfect, but then again, neither is life.
But that’s what I called him.
The name change started about the time he and my mother-in-law traveled to Alaska to visit Zippy and me. I mentioned in conversation that he didn’t seem like a Steve, but more of a Stu. So later on when we were in a gift shop in Fairbanks and I discovered a STU coffee mug, it was a done deal. My father-in-law was forevermore Stu.
Yesterday, the family honored his wishes and let Stu die. The nurses did everything to keep him comfortable, and in the hours before letting go, Stu was surrounded by his wife and four children, two daughters-in-law and one son-in-law. The last thing he said after opening his eyes and seeing us all there was “My chickadees.”
Stu had accepted, once and for all, how much his brood loved him. Following a surgery in early December, his last three months were mostly spent in hospitals and two different rehab facilities, with only a handful of days at home. His health had declined on several fronts and it was incredibly difficult for him. But the gift of those months was that Stu spent time with his family and had conversations he’d never had before. Emotionally honest conversations. Pre-surgery, there’d been a standing joke that Stu’s favorite children were the three different West Highland White Terriers he had over the years. Stu didn’t do emotions. Stu stiffly accepted hugs, but never initiated them. Stu was a rock.
Except, the evidence said otherwise.
From the start, Stu made me feel welcome in the family. Despite our vastly different social and political outlooks. Despite our vastly different dietary habits. Despite coming from such different backgrounds that we were practically aliens to one another, Stu and I had a bond.
Yes, Stu was a rock. Except for that time vacationing in Puerta Vallarta with a six-month-old Wildebeest, when Stu and my mother-in-law babysat so Zippy and I could have a quiet dinner alone. Wildebeest of the mighty lungs wailed the entire time we were gone, and Stu patiently held him and walked round and round the hotel pool, ignoring the other guests’ groans of “Here they come again.”
Stu was a rock, except when we were in Hawaii when I was pregnant with Zebu and the twisty-turny road up to the volcano made me sick and he pulled over to let me throw up in the ditch and then allowed me to drive the rest of the way, even though Stu always, always was the driver.
Stu was a rock, except when putting in hours in his woodshop making toys for his grandchildren.
Stu was a rock, except the time I overheard him telling a nurse about his wonderful family consisting of one wife, four children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, and ending it by saying he felt very bad for people who didn’t have family.
Stu was a rock, except when he confided that the one good thing to come out of his lengthy hospital stays was that he and I had become better friends.
Stu was a rock, except when he asked the physical therapist to call him Stu rather than Steve.
Stu was a rock, except when I got to his bedside yesterday and he reached out his hand for mine.
I’m so grateful I got to be one of Stu’s chickadees. When I sat down to write this, I caught a flash of movement in the pine tree outside the window. I looked closer and wasn’t at all surprised to see a Black-capped Chickadee hopping around the branches.
Wildebeest and friends drove across the country in Wildebeest’s old Subaru (aka Susie Sweet Rack) to attend a music festival. They were in Missouri on their way back to Colorado when Wildebeest’s friend drove off the newly paved, unmarked road into the dirt and then immediately overcorrected. The car spun one and a half times as a semi’s headlights approached, and then went up into the median strip where it slammed to a stop against a post. The semi, horn blaring, whooshed past them.
No one was hurt. All were shaken up, especially when they realized that the back window had shattered on impact and none of them even heard it.
It took a while, but Zippy and I actually fell back asleep after that phone call. I’m actually pretty proud of that. Progress!