Monday, September 26, 2011

Yesterday as I drove through Franconia Notch, I looked up at Cannon Mountain's ski trails.  The ski lift disappeared in the clouds that covered the top half of the mountain. It reminded me of a dream I had a long time ago, and from what I was seeking refuge in a remote corner of the White Mountain National Forest.

I had the dream when I was in my mid twenties, and it was exactly the sort of dream people might have when they are doing the developmental work that normally happens around that time.  I was on a ski lift with my father, which never happened in real life. My father told me when I took up skiing, "People who strap fiberglass to their feet and go down a mountain should have their heads examined."  That's the kind of thing my father was prone to saying.  He also told me that even if he believed in Heaven it wouldn't matter because it would be full by now.  

My father is a retired engineer and military officer.  He's never been overly demonstrative in any direction.  He has always preferred to read a good book than to talk to just about anybody. Showing affection is not his strong suit. In the dream though, as we glided slowly upwards, he wordlessly showed me how much I meant to him.  

He gave me a folded piece of paper, which unfolded to reveal things he had collected from my whole life up until that point.  Everything I had ever wanted him to say to me was said.  Every question I had about who I was, where I came from, and how he felt about me was answered.  He also gave me a jewelry box containing trinkets from my childhood - acorn tops, pocket knives, tickets to the ferris wheel at Coney Island.  

As I relished in these physical affirmations of how precious I was to him, the ski lift stopped at a halfway point.  I got off but my father stayed on the lift.  I stood there holding the paper and the box as I watched him go silently up and fade into the mist.  

After I had that dream, I knew the day would come when my father would leave whatever he could and go on without us.  I realized as I recalled the dream yesterday that I am now on the ground watching my father being taken slowly away.  

We are not sure whether it's the brain tumors, the chemotherapy, Alzheimer's or multiple small strokes that is taking my father away from us, but he is surely going.  He never gave me a paper or a jewelry box in real life, but I have them just the same. What he gave me was a chance to find them myself.  He taught me to trust my intellect and to think for myself.  He and my mother taught me to love and respect the natural world, and that there is no creator besides nature, no rules beyond the laws of science.  He helped me to have the ability to find solace hiking up a mountain in the midst of the crisis created by his illness and change in how he is in our lives.  

My father really doesn't believe in heaven.  I don't know where he was headed in my dream, but it was warm and peaceful.  In reality he's terrified and trying to get off the ski lift with me, but we all know he can't.  For now, I will maintain eye contact as long as I can before I can't see him any more, and I will never let go of  what he gave me.  I know I will need it to walk down the mountain without him.  

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Maladjusted universe

I was at the airport, waiting for my flight to board.  After going on earlier that morning about how everything  had gone smoothly for a change, my flight was delayed due to weather.  After emailing my friends about this, I was reminded that the universe does indeed hate me.  I have highly suspected this was the case all along.  I don't know what I’ve ever done to it, but I’m going to love it anyway.  I’m going to give it a pinch on the cheek and tell it to go have a bath and calm down.  It’s a bit sulky.

Telling it off really doesn’t do anyone any good.  It is tempting, though.  When I have been unable to resist, it gets all passive-aggressive and does something else hideous. The only rational choice is to love it and let it be no matter what it does.  It's a stingy, surly, asshole of a Universe.  (I hope it's not listening.)  Surely, it's ineffably vast and beautiful, and transcends petty concerns like time and meaning.  It plays a mean, random game, and should have a yellow card thrown at it for being unnecessarily foul. Even so, hating it only poisons the hater.

Who and where is the referee?  Is it a god?  I don’t think so.  If I thought one existed, I would think he/she/it needs a yellow card too.  It’s an endless cycle of infinite regression in which nobody can stop the universe from doing whatever it damn well is going to do.  As wonderful as it would be to have an unbiased and fair buffer between me and the rest of existence,or in between everyone who needs solace, protection, food, peace, etc. and the cold infinity of  soul-less space, in my heart I don't believe there is one.

Someone once asked me if I had any faith, and I said, "No, I don't."  That's not quite true, I've come to realize.  Even though I can't know with certainty, I believe that time will pass and things will happen.  That's the sum total of my faith. The conclusion that logically follows is each moment should be cherished, even in the midst of pain and tragedy.  Right now is all there is.  For me, there is no redemption, no savior, no fluffy afterlife.  There is always something to smile about, be grateful for, marvel about, or be comfortingly humbled by, right now, if I choose to look at it that way.  I often do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Agent of peace and normalcy

I just read part of an article mourning the demise of Borders, and I realized it is having an impact on me.   My daughter and I were near our local one on Saturday, and I asked her if she wanted to go in.  She said, "No.  It's too sad."  I didn't think much about it at the time, but I'm sad about it too.

We are a family of readers.  My kids have grown up going to Borders.  The girls started reading the Harry Potter series when they were in second and fourth grade, and they were at Borders at midnight for all the releases after the first book.  We waited in line with our pre-order tickets, watching as costumed Harrys, Hermiones, Rons, Dumbledores, and Snapes ran around excitedly. Buying Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans became a Christmas tradition in our family.  The girls would give me a jelly bean, saying it was coconut, and I would dutifully bite into it, knowing it was likely to be sardine instead.  My oldest daughter regularly threw up after biting into disgusting ones.  It's a very strange tradition, I know, but we still laugh about the sausage jelly bean incident. She still gags when she thinks about it.  I put one of the pre-order tickets in the scrapbook I made for my other daughter when she graduated from high school, and the last page of the 7th Harry Potter book is on the last page of that scrapbook.  It is the end of an era.  

My ex-husband and I used to go there and look at the home improvement books, getting ideas for the house we were completely renovating.  I sometimes forget that there were a lot of good times with him.  A lot of them happened at Borders.  I am not high maintenance where gifts are concerned, but I appreciate when someone gives me something that shows he or she knows me.  I can look at my bookshelf and see a lot of books he got for me: the two-volume set of the complete Far Side collection, A Brief History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell, Spook, Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, the Encyclopedia of North American Birds, the Planet Earth boxed DVD set, two Onion books...   There are many more too.  The marriage failed miserably, but there was a time when we were deeply connected.  We had many, many dates at Borders.  It is one of the places we were the happiest, either apart or together.

And out of that connection came our son.  Some of his first steps were at Borders.  Taking him there mostly meant chasing after him exasperatingly, but there were hours spent reading to him on the carpeted steps in the children's section.  He started at the books he could chew on, and has so far worked his way up to the "Books for Young Readers" section.  It can be difficult to get him to sit and read, but damn, that kid will sit on the toilet and read for an hour at a time if left alone.  It must be a guy thing.  He thinks it's normal to spend the better part of an afternoon or evening surrounded by books, and to hunt for the perfect book.  

As I reflect on Borders closing, I realize that even though the universe obviously wants to choke the life out of me, I have managed to have some really good, normal times. Years after I have died, my kids will undoubtedly recall the time I gave my daughter a "Bonsai Potato" book as a gag gift and when, inspired by the Harry Potter series, we went to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan to hear John Irving, Stephen King, and J. K. Rowling read from their works.  The universe can take away my husband(s), house, parents, good credit rating, security, companionship and dreams, but it hasn't taken away the memory of the taste of the Godiva dark chocolate/lime truffles we ate while waiting to see J.K. Rowling in person.  I know the universe can actually take that memory away too.  For right now, we still have it.  In a way someone who is waiting for multiple pairs of shoes to drop at any time will appreciate, I am grateful for any and all agents of peace and normalcy in my life.  As it turns out, Borders has been one of those agents.