I’ve been making a concerted effort to sit still for at least an hour a day, preferably outside in my yard. Doing nothing but looking around, perhaps listening to music, a passive act. A time to observe, to think, to ponder. The impulse to be busy is strong in me, and necessary as well, for a couple of reasons. I live in a house that’s way too big for me that’s situated on a double lot. When we moved into this old place back in 1978, it was being used as three apartments. We thought it was our starter home. But back then, home interest rates were soaring as were real estate prices. We quickly realized we could never afford to replace the amount of space, both inside and out. So we chose to slowly convert it back to a single family residence over the next few years as we added kids to our life. Michael and I were strong and energetic. Over the years, we reclaimed this place, which with a 19th century home and limited wealth, is a never-ending process. We accomplished a lot. But since his death five years ago, along with the normal parts of the aging process, managing both inside and outside maintenance by myself has become a big challenge. I’ll readily admit, I’d rather do almost anything than housecleaning. I love working in the garden, but every day it seems bigger. I had mowers for the lawn who recently quit. That used to be Michael’s domain. My new plan is to let parts of it return to a natural state. We’ll see how that goes. If my daughter and her family didn’t live across the street, I’d probably move. I’m not doing that. So instead, as a new option, I’m trying to just sit still and do more nothing. Today I was thinking how lucky I was to be looking down at the bowl of beautiful summer fruit in my lap, listening to the birds chattering, mindful that I’m pondering first world problems. I can barely focus on the cascade of dark news from everywhere. The gun violence against the innocents, the wars raging around the world, the ugly political hellscape, and the continued substantive inaction against climate change are just too much. I’m not glued to news all day long but I can’t ignore reality.
As I sat out there, I suddenly realized how evanescent life is, with most events vanishing almost instantly. Except for a few major moments, what I do on a daily basis is hard to remember over even a brief period in time. Memory isn’t the issue. Life pace is what has sped up, if not in actual time, at least it has in my head. I decided to look back at 6 months of my photographs to explore the smaller details of my existence, in addition to the relentless avalanche of the big stuff. For example, on January 1st, I was thinking about the dim photo of a red barn across Round Lake in Michigan, where my family vacationed with a group of our old college friends and their families every August for about 8 years. I decided to draw the barn – see the second photo. I heard later that it’s since been demolished. I’m glad I took the picture. Here are some additional moments from January, 2022. That was when I was feeling the sting of the Omicron variant and wasn’t too happy about the regression back to isolation. We had icy weather. I admired the beautiful Carmine, the male cardinal, through my window. I caught some beautiful skies as I drove around town and spent some time with my family. Half of them contracted Covid – I escaped.
My daughter’s first dog died that month and I memorialized her by drawing a picture of a photo taken on her wedding day, when Stumpy dove into her wedding dress, unnerved by all the strangers in the house. I also baked blueberry muffins, wanting my grandsons to remember that I did normal grandma stuff despite my utter lack of interest in food preparation.
I spent a lot of time inside, looking out the windows of my house.
February was a cold icy month. I spent a good deal of time at the windows again, with occasional trips into the countryside. Eventually life improved as my son and his fiancée returned from Panama where my kid was working on a biology project. I was glad for the human company.
There were two powerful events in February, beyond the daily ins and outs of life. Almost simultaneously, my eldest sister’s daughters called me to let me know that this sister from whom I’d been estranged for years, had just been diagnosed with the lethal brain cancer, glioblastoma, already advanced. She was a significantly mentally altered. A devastating revelation made worse by the chasm between us. I cast about for something to do and wound up making a short video, singing her the songs we’d shared as children. This sad news came close to the terrible news of Russia having invaded Ukraine. I never dreamed I’d live long enough to see another land war in Europe. I felt like I was existing under the proverbial dark cloud. A dreadful time.
Winter held on in the beginning of March but eventually gave way to warmer weather. I was desperately worried about the struggle facing my ill sister’s children and appalled daily by the tragedy playing out in Ukraine. I tried to keep Covid anxieties and the ugly politics in my country from consuming too much of my mental time. I managed to stick with one of my central coping skills, finding a little beauty in every day.
I was more than pleasantly surprised when my son and his fiancée dropped by my house for a visit and announced that they wanted to get married. In a week, at my house where the presence of Michael is still so powerful. Only a week to plan a wedding was somewhat daunting but we managed to pull off an intimate affair in the loveliest room in our house, with a Zoom audience that included a big crowd of far-flung family and friends. The joy was a wonderful antidote to the dark news of the previous month. I missed Michael terribly though, one of the moments that you want to share with your partner. I did sense the joy he’d be experiencing as a part of my own.
April arrived, spring unfolding slowly but beautifully. I always look forward to the resurgence of my garden, hoping that my perennials will reappear while planning for bright annual accents. I also have favorite spots to explore in my community, especially a lovely arboretum which has a gorgeous cherry blossom display.
April was also a month for my grandson’s soccer season, a Lucinda Williams concert with my younger sister and a Lewis Black stand up comedy show with my daughter. In addition, we had a visit from family members we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic. These happy shared times offset the dark news that my older sister had rapidly succumbed to her virulent cancer. The microcosm of life with its highs, lows and everything in between.
May, generally a lovely month, is a mixed bag for me, a month I approach with a good deal of trepidation. May 1st is my wedding anniversary, now so close to the fifty years I’d so hoped to celebrate with Michael. This year was actually the 50th year since we’d moved in together but that’s not exactly the same thing. From there I go through Mother’s Day, Fern’s birthday, now dead and gone for so long, my birthday, followed rapidly by the anniversary of Michael’s death and finally, his birthday. lt’s a slog for me, although I’m getting more practiced at doing better, handling the barrage of memories and lost dreams. I’m able to enjoy the migrating birds who rest awhile in my yard, stocking up on food for the rest of their journeys.
I enjoyed lots of family time and welcomed the peonies, lilacs and roses that supply not only visual beauty, but scent the air with impossibly sweet fragrances that invite the pollinators to my garden.
The classic embarrassment of riches, squeezed into the spaces between personal and world traumas. But in these first five months of the year, a whole lifetime of wonder emerges from the daily avalanche of rapid pace that too frequently obscures the best parts of life. I was able to have a brief but lovely visit with two of my oldest friends who shared in my life with Michael. They make me so comfortable when I express my still vibrant passion for him with acceptance and no judgment because they were in it with us. I brought my kids to dinner with them and it gave me joy. A kousa dogwood tree that I planted to honor Michael’s memory bloomed for the first time in this fourth year since I put it in the ground. And it’s now taller than me. I’m so grateful for it.
But perhaps the best two things I did were celebrating Michael in ways that he would so love. After the complications of the pandemic, which interfered with awarding a scholarship named for him, a scholarship to be given to a serious student whose writing reflects excellence in style along with a significant interest in addressing current social issues of the day, I was finally able to resume that privilege of honoring a young person in her way to college. And after that pleasure, I was able to gather with our whole family in a beautiful spot on Lake Michigan where we spent many happy times with our kids as well as on our own. That’s a lot to draw out of an hour of sitting still and reflecting on the whoosh of time.
I’m going to practice this alternative to tearing around like a maniac. My perspective on life feels much better than it has in a while.