The Luxury of Contemplation

What is the best summer fruit? The fragrance of a nectarine gives it an instantaneous bonus when comparing all the choices. Of course peaches also smell heavenly. Should aroma be a consideration when contemplating such things or flavor alone? Blueberries and grapes have only the faintest scents but they are sweet and delicious.

And cherries. Recently I’ve been alternating between the dark purple bing cherries that stain everything with their juice and the rainier cherries, the equally sweet blond comrades of their deeper hued family. In the end, I might select the black raspberries I picked from my own garden, unadulterated by chemicals, still warm from their sun flecked stems. What a peculiar way to spend part of even an hour. Does this really matter? Certainly not to anyone but me. After I’m gone I suppose my kids might bite into a fruit and remember that it was my favorite. I remember that my mom loved strawberries best while it was cherries for my dad. Hardly earth-shattering facts but tiny pieces of a bigger picture, I suppose.

1975 – An arty shot Michael caught of me sitting in our pickup truck in Bull Shoals National Park, Arkansas

I think my expression in this picture taken long ago captures my current state of mind. My brain flits between the overall state of the world, at least as I see it, and the type of navel-gazing typically associated with a focus on the self, contradictory as that may seem. I know that switching between the big picture and the minutiae of my life is a privilege afforded to me by fact that my official work life has ended. So far, I have the means to stay retired. I have uninterrupted hours on my hands. I live by myself with few responsibilities other than the ones I choose. I don’t even have a dog for the first time in 52 years. Working people with schedules, kids and all that comes with that, and poor people, whose sole occupation is survival, aren’t likely to be sitting around ranking summer fruits. Oddly, in this second year of the still roiling, uncontrolled pandemic, I find myself more engaged in these distractions than I was a year ago. When the mandatory lockdown was in place, I knew exactly what I had to do, what I wanted to do. I had goals, wanting to be sure I didn’t squander what I decided was an opportunity in time. Now in this more muddied context of caution and normalcy which isn’t really normal, I’m ranking fruits.

Last year I spent more time outside. With the pool where I’d spent decades of summers closed, I created this little space for myself in my backyard. I practically lived out there. When I had my telephone physical with my doctor, she told me she was concerned because my vitamin D level was getting too high. Not exactly average for a woman of my age. I kicked my feet and danced in the cold water, plugged into headphones and expanding my music library. I studied the backyard critters and made lists of them too. I sharpened up my bird call ID’s and got better at spotting different butterflies and moths. I paid plenty of attention to the news, terrified by the former president’s management of the pandemic, his politics during the campaign and the ominous rumblings of the new and still current Republican strategy – fear tactics, lies and the biggest lie about the “rigged election” constantly inserted into daily life.

My pool

But things are supposed to be better now. I’m back to swimming in my favorite pool. My community was terrific with vaccines. Caution is still a thing but there’s a bit more flexibility in daily life. Democrats own the White House and both houses of Congress. Why can’t I be having a better time? Maybe I’m just a pessimist by nature. That’s partially true. My philosophy has always been to be prepared for the worst and be thrilled when anything better than that happens. Ok, I can’t understand why the majority party doesn’t just roll over these hideous obstructionists who never give an inch when they’re in power. With a conservative Supreme Court and efforts being made across the country to disenfranchise the voters of color who are the critical voting bloc for Democratic success, where’s the aggression we need for a federal override of these state by state racist laws being passed? What am I missing? People tell me to stop paying attention to the news cycle. Why? So I can wake up next year and be stunned by what could be rolling across this country?

Time to go back to the smaller world. I weed and water and deadhead the forlorn faded blossoms. I try to ignore the fact that except for what I’m watering, the ground is bone dry. I wonder about questions for which there are no answers. For example, if a female is born with all the eggs she will ever have, does that principle apply to other less concrete parts of who we are? Was I born with a reservoir filled with love and the capacity for caregiving? Has it gone through its own type of menopause? I feel like I’m mostly tapped out, especially in regard to adding anyone or anything new into my life which could be emotionally expensive. I’m good with what’s already, here except for some occasional annoying days, and I’m saving a space for my son’s potential partner and/or offspring. But I haven’t budged on getting a dog yet. That’s definitely the cerebral part of me dominating the emotional part. I think I’m pretty well-integrated but those two elements are not the same. And how about my deep appreciation and attachment to nature standing shoulder to shoulder with my detestation for squirrels and rabbits who wantonly destroy my hard work that is most definitely not for them? My community, like many others is over-populated by Canada geese. Their excrement and aggressive behavior is problematic for kids and adults as well, trying to share public park space with them. Ultimately, without natural predators, some culling is required to maintain a healthy balance in a managed public setting. People opposed to that are protesting and sending me emails to join them. But I believe there is such a thing as the welfare of the community, and as the meat was going to be donated to a food bank I was fine with that. I can’t pretend that everything gets to run amok and that people always take a back seat to animals. Surely there’s wiggle room in this nature devotion thing. At least there is for me.

Squirrel waiting for me to go inside so it can eat all my bird seed.

I’ve been realizing that I feel more and more like the person I was when I was very young, before getting into my fully committed relationship with Michael. All evidence to the contrary, he was really the sweeter and gentler of the two of us. Rather a naif when I reflect back on our life together. Because he was a tall, well-built guy who could “loom” quite successfully, as well as being quiet by nature, his soft underbelly was wellconcealed from most people. He believed that people were inherently good. I thought he was a sap. He was frequently hurt and disappointed while I was generally suspicious and downright hostile toward humans with low expectations as my baseline. As we built our life together, I modified myself for him which is what partnership requires of successful unions. When the kids came along, I went further, allowing that there was no need to impose my quirky behavior on them as they were developing, which would have been unfair. As time has moved along since his death, I have no obligation to make allowances for his needs any more. Theirs, either. My behavior is more like it was when I was about seventeen, with few filters, less tolerance and an unwillingness to adapt to circumstances just to be polite. My kids can feel the difference. I had a tuneup appointment with my therapist whom I hadn’t seen in two years – she saw the difference too. I can’t say it’s always the easiest thing to be my most natural self. I have a much smaller social life than I once had, but at least it’s authentic. My mom used to say that you leave the world the way you came in, bald and toothless. I don’t know how my behavior fits into that scenario but I do feel younger and more familiar with my inner self than I expected to at my age. I remember Michael saying I was the most singularly unchanged person he ever knew. I took that as a compliment.

This look is about right for where I am now.

I worry about what’s ahead, especially for my kids and grandkids. Our culture is ugly. I never felt in the center of my society but this time feels really dark. I don’t have a sense of a cohesive community. With all the bile about masks and vaccines, misogyny and racism and this undercurrent of rage everywhere, I can’t figure out how things will end. Seems like people want to hunker down in their spaces and ignore everything. That’s not sustainable. I worry for the planet. Every minute that passes without intent toward making deep changes is a wasted minute from where I stand. I make calls. I donate money. I bloviate. And then I go small and manageable again.

I’m getting to my becoming a mom in my blog which is after all, an autobiography for my family. This year my daughter will turn 40 so there’s still writing to be done. My photo organizing project is driving me crazy but I haven’t quit yet. I’m reading three books right now. “Never, Never,” “Arctic Dreams,” and “While Justice Sleeps” by Stacey Abrams. I need to get cracking on my book club selection for this month which is “The Winter of Our Discontent,” by Steinbeck. I don’t understand my book club but my friend who invited me to join it asked me to give it a bit more time before walking away. I think she’s afraid I’m too much a hermit so I said ok. My favorite book of the year is still “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. I think it should be mandatory reading for all schoolchildren which I imagine wouldn’t go over well with the cancel culture/anti-critical race theory crowd.

I’m worried about friends who are ill and friends who are about to lose family members. I know that this part of my life will be filled with emotional hits. I try imagining how I’ll feel when Paul McCartney dies. I can still feel myself looking at him in the Chicago Amphitheater 57 years ago. And then again at what might have been one of the greatest rock and roll concerts of my life in 2019 when he was older than I am now. And I’ve seen hundreds of concerts. There’s a list of those too, along with my favorite books and movies, including those I’ve seen since Michael died. List after list, favorites after favorites. The luxury of contemplation.

The constant inexplicable love affair with my dead husband endures. As I write this evening, I have a photo across the room, of just his eyes, looking at me with this special look which still stirs me from head to toe. I have taken on a project he always wanted to complete, a list of every song that had a woman’s name in its title. He’d already done so many of his music compilations but he never got to this one. My rule is that I remember the songs by myself-no looking anything up online. So far I’m up to 103 to be alphabetized later. On it goes.

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