Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

friendship, funerals, & the bus people ~

Today is my friend Carol’s memorial service. It will be held in the chapel where I was married, on the campus where Carol, her husband , and most of my family — including my husband & I — went to college. Somehow, that comforts me a bit.

Because our lives didn’t really overlap much, mine &  Carol’s. We met on the bus, commuting back & forth to our work lives, more than an hour’s bus trip from home. My friends & family know her, still, as ‘Bus Carol,’ to distinguish her from Boss Carol & Aunt Carol.

For years, Carol & I sat next to each other on the bus, trading the stories women weave their friendships from: bright & dark threads alike, a few glittering ones of great beauty every now & then. The story of her older sister’s death, the story of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. The happy adoption of her niece & nephew,  the marriage of my elder son. Carol’s older brother lives in Portland, where my two sons live; she knew where the wedding venue was, down in the Pearl.

From these bits & pieces of our lives we spun the web that connected us, our families. Once my husband & I ran into Carol & her husband at a restaurant we both frequented. But it was the only time we saw them there. Our lives were like that: connected, really, by the bus trip. Twice a day. Six times a week, for years. Sitting next to each other. Weaving…

The bus people are their own family. We grew close to each other, the regulars, sitting at the front, teasing Jerry the driver. But Carol was more than one of the bus people to me.It was Carol who talked me in to bringing my new puppy on the bus. It was Carol who held him. It was Carol who brought me goofy erasers for my pencils, and a basket of books when I had an operation.

When her voice turned raspy, we thought it was asthma. That was the first diagnosis she received. I told her of my husband, of my son, both managing their asthma. She was fluent in medical, from her research as a professional dietician, and knew asthma wasn’t a death sentence. It wasn’t long, however, before another, far more frightening diagnosis came: ALS. Lou Gehrig’s disease. We had one more semester, together on the bus.

The Buddhist in me knows that life is impermanence. I’ve done the contemplation on death — more than once. And I have lost people I love: both my parents, the elders of my life. But to lose a peer, a beloved friend, is very hard. Carol was younger than I am, and that seems so unjust. She was smart, talented, so very funny & dear. Her family has been riven by tragedy so many other times, that her death seems even more undeserved. Not that death is rational. But this one? It strikes at something deep within me.

Whatever there is after death, it doesn’t let me see my dear friend, or hear her, or trade jokes and stories with her. It isn’t a veil I can lift to carry out the many plans we thought we had time for: a trip to Guthrie to see a beekeeper, lunch together in Portland, tea. The only tea we shared was just after she heard her diagnosis. It was not a happy afternoon. I held her hands and listened.

I would listen gladly now. I wouldn’t interrupt. I would hug you and hold your hands and be grateful for just one more bus trip. Together.

grieving for Carol ~

Once again I am wishing I believed in an afterlife where I would reconnect with people who leave me too soon. Leave irredeemably. Permanently. That hard word forever. But I don’t.

Once again I wish I had had more time. More jokes. More stories shared. More of her. But I didn’t.

And once again, I am breathing. Breathing in for her husband, who was there with her to the end. Breathing out for her sister, who is the only one of 3 sisters left, now. Breathing in for her many friends, each of whom has lost someone rare & precious. Breathing one breath at a time, wishing words could save me.

Death is the ultimate rejection, I remember hearing once. I never see it like that. Too many moves as a child leave me looking, still, to see if I might bump into a familiar face. If someone is really just gone for a bit. Just around the corner, up ahead.Some fragment of my childhood clings to me still, and the sense of maybe? still hangs around.

But she isn’t coming back, the adult in me knows. And she had a very short, hard final year. I should be happy she isn’t suffering. Only a bit more than a year ago — not two — she was fine. Just a rasp in her voice. But as of last night? The voice that was stilled far too early by ALS is gone completely now. And I’m sitting here. Breathing. Remembering, once again, that grief has no logic…

time — that queen of bees — flies ~

If time were a bee, she would be the queen these days. At least for me. These days, she is slower than the frenzy of summer bees, storing up for winter. She is less hectic than early spring bees, tending the new hivelings.

And she’s altogether okay with just hanging out, eating honey. Time is done w/ the royal jelly thing now that she’s queen — that was then. Now? It’s all relative, this time thing.

There’s something incredibly freeing about retirement. Paradoxically, you don’t have to be a grown-up, now that you’re an elder. All those years when I worried I shouldn’t wear jeans? I wear them daily. The times I wore high heels (but not for decades…)? The briefcases and portfolios? Not any more! All that’s behind me.

I don’t have to get up early. Or go to bed so I can. I don’t have to blow-dry my hair, or match my socks! It’s great!

Now, like the queen, I can eat honey. I don’t anticipate any workers materialising, but that’s okay. What would I use them for? It’s enough to practice drawing birds at the breakfast table, having time for the epiphany of seeing the triangle shape in a mourning dove’s head-on gaze. I’m perfectly satisfied singing goofy songs to my dogs…So I’m not bringing in $$. So what? I’m certainly bringing in happy. :)

The other day, for instance, I was able to take off for a late lunch w/ my sister, sharing our plates w/ her runny-nosed three-year-old grandson. And having great fun while doing it. Another day, three of us had a conference call for a sister’s big birthday. And tomorrow? Who knows! That’s half the fun ~ I have no idea what might come.

There’s enough time I can squander it: sit on the deck in the late afternoon sun, make dinner instead of taking the Christmas tree down on time. I can read — both pieces of ‘literary merit’ and sheer schlock. (I happen to like schlock, just FYI.)

But it isn’t really ‘wasting’ time. What I find is that because I have this priceless commodity, I have the time to take time. Take time to listen to my grand-nephew tell his grandmother, in his inimitable 3-year-old dialect, that ‘you ahn‘t pwetty; you both aw gawjus.’

I can take time to do some things for free, like writing an article for a local social justice group. Or send out holiday cards this year.

Is any of this earth-shattering? Of course not. But it reminds me that each moment is priceless. And sometimes, it takes to understand that ~

 

Sofía the sparrow, Barney the blue jay, Fiona the finch, & others ~

One thing you learn when you draw birds: you’ve never reallyseen them previously. How different each one is. I thought I knew the birds on the deck — I can even distinguish a few from each other. But I recognise them by their behaviours, not how they look.

Now? I am seeing their differences… Their fat round winter-puffed bellies, the tilt of a head, the way a woodpecker darts at the birds to either side of her perch.  It reminds me, all over again, that nothing is simple. And everything is connected…

There’s one woodpecker I know by both behaviour and looks: it’s the young male from this spring. He’s not very bright — hence the ‘behaviour’ recognition. One of his favourite pursuits is pecking at the post the seed cylinder hangs from. (I told you he wasn’t too bright…) But he’s also less brightly coloured, even though a male. He has the tell-tale red blotch on the back of his head, but his black&white always looks a bit dull, as if he washed his clothes w/ something that faded grey onto them.

And there are fat sparrows (some may have done steroids!), lean sparrows, long-bellied sparrows and I haven’t even gotten to the blue jays, cardinals, finches, titmice…

There’s an entire family of cardinals, two seasons worth. Males & females & young males. I can even tell one of the young males from the others. The finches I’m still learning — they’re less individual and more a flock. :)

Each different. Each similar. And yes, I know I see metaphors everywhere. But it really does seem kind of like a Buddhist thing. You know what I mean?

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