Life Force

I’ve been looking at this honeysuckle blossom hanging around the top of the vine which coils around the old play structure in my backyard. By late December there should be no evidence of summer’s riotous, fragrant profusion. Every day since the first fall cold snap I’ve been eying it, waiting for its inevitable disappearance, when that top branch turns completely barren. So far, the strong winds and pounding rain have left it untouched. Such a tiny fragile thing. Will it cave in to snow, that is, if snow ever comes around? Or is there some powerful life force going on there, something strong enough to thwart winter? I’d love to witness such a life-affirming surprise, to see that little bud lead the whole vine into its spring explosion, the bees and hummingbirds drinking nectar from the survivor before moving on to those that slept away the dark months. I think a lot about life forces these days.

The other morning I stepped out on my side porch to find the vestiges of a violent struggle, small trails of blood marking the concrete. I’ll never know what happened out there. Which animal wrought this chaos on which other? Was the predator successful, but sloppy? Did the victim fight off the kill attempt, dragging itself away, bloody but triumphant? Every day, small scale and large scale battles play out in nature. I suppose whoever has the strongest life force has a survival advantage. Good luck probably plays a part too. But just exactly how does this life force work? Is every living thing wired with a certain amount of energy when it emerges? What’s the dynamic between the hardwired piece and the environment which supports it? Do cognitive beings have a better chance of surviving? Or is every living entity more cognitive than we really know? I don’t have answers to these questions. I’m interested in survivors, survivors like me. I’ve been fascinated by my own vigor. I feel like the poster child from that 1997 Chumbawumba song “Tubthumping” which begins with the lyrics, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…I’ve felt beaten down so many times during the past decade. So much caregiving, so many deaths and now, so many limits beyond my control. What is it in me that makes me regroup and keep coming back? I have no clue except that so far, whatever drives me, still works despite these setbacks of mandatory isolation.

I got an email yesterday with this convenient reminder – I still have a credit for the trip of a lifetime which was previously scheduled for late May, 2020. I was supposed to go on a fifteen day land/sea journey through Vancouver and Alaska, including a few days immersed in Denali National Park. The stuff of dreams. The rewards for a lifetime of work, what you earned for your golden years. I canceled that trip in March, 2020, when it became clear that being on a cruise ship during a worldwide pandemic, was somewhat like choosing to be a volunteer lab rat for plague transmission experiments. I thought I’d planned well for that trip, buying a comprehensive travel insurance plan which would cover anything, just in case. Everything, that is, except one thing – pandemics. Who knew? I suppose I should consider myself lucky for getting even a portion of my fully-paid-for trip back at all. I sure would like the rest of the money but it is the hostage of the cruise line. I suppose I could throw caution aside, roll the dice and try again. But my Omicron anxiety is too high for that strategy.

Credit -KLMB

For the time being, my traveling, along with any and all other distractions, will be confined to the borders of my brain. Getting accustomed to the fact that my age puts me into the most vulnerable group has definitely been my biggest adjustment of the past few years. As a proud card-carrying member of the boomer generation, once I got past thirty, the arbitrary benchmark for surviving the tumultuous, revolutionary ‘60’s and ‘70’s and the entry into adult life, I didn’t give much thought to aging. Oh well. I know I’m on the short end of my run. The questions are, what’s the best use of my time and what can I relatively safely squeeze in to this limited life?

I’ve acquired quite a collection of sunset photos since the beginning of the pandemic. Looking at the sky is free and requires no companionship. I often wonder why I never tire of looking up – I marvel at the brilliant colors of evening along with the rapidity of the changing conformation of the sun’s rays as the earth spins in rotation, taking me for the ride. Because of course the sun isn’t setting at all, but stays planted in its rightful spot in the galaxy. Sunset is an accepted misnomer but that’s alright and as a bonus, most certainly is not a validation for the flat-earth crowd. I’m partial to documenting cloud permutations too. To date, what’s above is never boring.

Besides perusing the heavens, I’m also cranking up the music. The only downside to listening to melodies for hours every day, is that occasional triggering tune which emerges from my Pandora shuffle, the one that makes me gasp with longing for Michael. We shared so much music over so many decades that almost anything can dredge up memories. The good news is that I’m branching out into new music, music that’s about now instead of then. Technology and algorithms do have their upsides. Still, in a hat tip to my precious guy, master of playlists and genre collections, I’m working on the one he never got to, the list of songs with a woman’s name in the title. He got his oldies collection done, his British Invasion, his covers of “Who Do You Love,” and do much more. This I do to honor him while also enjoying myself. My only rule is that I have to think of them on my own, with no help from the Internet. To date, I’ve come up with 119 songs, definitely a work in progress.

In these times, as a retiree, not a frontline worker making a difference in the lives of people outside my family and friends, I was casting around for a way to brighten the strange days of social distancing. I landed on a project that adds a little beauty to the world of those I never see, while augmenting my own personal education. As a person who grew up in a big city, I had the opportunity to visit art museums, soaking in what was easy to access, expanding my knowledge of the world. I love art, fantasizing about becoming an artist until I realized I had no real talent. But I could appreciate those who did. Throughout my life, whenever I traveled, art was always on my to-do list. In Santa Fe, there was the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Amsterdam brought me to Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Washington to the National Gallery. I’ve been to the Louvre, the Orsay and the Tate. I expect I won’t get to The Hermitage in Russia along with so many other galleries too far afield at this point in my life. But the resources available online have allowed me to post a different painting every day on my social media, hoping that even a quick glance provides a little stress relief for someone. Meanwhile I’ve learned about so many artists I’d never have known except for the access provided by technology. My list of artists now stands at 279. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries.

Echo – Jaanika Talts
Autumn in Murnau – Wassily Kandinsky
Storm Sea – George Bellows
The Aviary – Jessie Arms Botke

I’m thinking about my compulsion to record everything I’m doing and thinking in my ever-burgeoning list collection. Maybe it’s my way of ensuring that this strange existence doesn’t go by without my having something to prove that these past few years weren’t void of participation in life, at least virtually, if not in the flesh. I try imagining my kids’ reaction to reading all of these lists when I’m gone. Some examples of these random notes are – Movies since Michael’s death, Kindle books read and regular ones too, Renee’s Favorite Movies, Peak Sexual Experiences, and Michael Quotes. I’m covering lots of turf. At this point, I have 1212 notes in my phone, a number of which I hope to delete in an attempt to reduce what they’ll need to sort out one of these days. Of course the lists don’t include the 25,000 photos and videos I’ve dumped into Dropbox, which include wonderful images they’ll both love, along with random snaps of ants coming out of a hill on the sidewalk, or praying mantises folding their wings. What is the impetus behind all this information gathering? Is this a reflection of that life force contemplation I engage in, every time I see that fragile honeysuckle blossom continuing to hang on here, despite everything that’s been tossed at it so far? Maybe. I’m probably attributing more to that random flower than is realistic because of its metaphorical properties. A metaphor for me? I’m still blooming, hanging on apparently, despite the setbacks, during this latter part of life? I don’t know how long that will be. But better the long lasting flower as metaphor, rather than a withered vegetable on the vine after frost. More to ponder in Covid time.

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