4E4B9974-8225-481C-9C6A-94917EEA5BFAI started making lists when I was about twelve. I know this because I have them. Mostly the lists were about people. People I liked, people I had crushes on, people I hated. The lists changed frequently, sometimes almost daily. Often there were ties for first, second and even third place. When my friend Fern and I spent hours on the phone at night, reading each other our diary entries, we’d sometimes make lists together. We had enemies lists which often included politicians we heard our parents discussing. We had favorite athletes lists and music lists, teachers lists and of course, lists of our peers and family members.

We changed popular song lyrics to reflect our current passions and we had so much fun singing them, especially the ones that were Beatles songs. I still find myself substituting our words when a tune pops up in one of my playlists. You’d never have known that either one of us had a care in the world. But of course we did.2C3C38D7-153F-4A78-AAB3-A00CA2C3EDD5.jpeg

My lists got more complicated as time passed. There were the standard lists that were more like timetables, when work needed to be done, birthdays and events that needed to be remembered, the stuff of calendars. But I had lots of other lists too. In my attempt to keep my priorities straight, I managed to write lists for a wide variety of topics. I had self-improvement lists, lists of books to read and movies to see, lists of subjects to become knowledgeable about, lists of places to see and goals to accomplish. I have a list I call “the permanent list.” That’s the one that has the unforgivable words or actions of people that I’ll never forget or forgive until either my brain or breath goes.

“Michael Quotes”

Right now I have a list of nicknames Michael called me. I also have a list of his terrible jokes and funny quotes that are part of our family’s vernacular.

“Birds of today”
Blue jay
White breasted nuthatch
Downy woodpecker
Carolina wren
Brown thrasher
White crowned sparrow
House wren
Rose breasted Grosbeak
American Robin
Chipping sparrow
White throated sparrow
Redbellied woodpecker
Red breasted nuthatch

I have lists of birds and butterflies that have visited my garden. I have lists that are so obtuse I can’t recall why the words are on the same page. The habit of listmaking is a part of me which I suspect will go on until I don’t. After years of waking up and thinking of the day ahead, asking myself what I should think about first, I figure this was a pretty rational response to the flood of thoughts that’s my typical response to opening my eyes.C08C79FA-014C-48F6-8F4E-6A375951D07F

I suspect that some of my dreams are my subconscious attempts to keep sorting through the ever burgeoning thought stack in my head. Some people hoard stuff. I hoard words, ideas and feelings. I’m aware that the sorting by list is ineffectual at times. For now, it’s become clear to me that I can’t anticipate how long it may take, if ever, to always remember that Michael is dead. I mean, I know that he is. But when ambling through my days there are countless times when I expect him to walk through the door. If I feel like ignoring a text, I always think, wait, it might be Michael. I’ve called my son his name periodically.753F6863-5EB9-4FC5-97F4-980D106C38E2

In our younger days, Michael owned the car of his dreams, a white 1967 GTO convertible. Vroom, vroom. Today I was in a bookstore and saw a thick shiny book on the history of GTO’s and walked straight over to it, thinking I’d buy it for him and how much he’d love it. These moments are fleeting but real. If I don’t like my dreams, the ones when he and I are arguing, it sours my day. When I have a good dream about him, I wake up and acknowledge that feeling before going back to sleep.

September 17th, 2019

 Hi baby,
Things are better now. Tristan is healing well from his surgery and Gabriel turned 9 today.

And I’m still writing the letters that represent our constant dialogue over so many years. I can’t list myself out of these deeply ingrained habits that had to do with our life together. Although not quite a complete germophobe, I don’t expect that I’ll ever be without a small container of hand sanitizer in my purse. When he was immunocompromised, I was determined not to let him get sick. I sprayed surfaces with Lysol and suspiciously counted the number of times people touched their mouths and noses and then put their hands on common surfaces. Whatever I could control I did control. Endless hand washing and hyper- awareness. Good luck getting rid of that. I know it’s a peculiar preoccupation to watch people spreading their contagion around but it’s just normal to me now. I forgive myself. I try not to be angry about all that he’s missed and that we’ll miss together. That’s a terrible place to be. I only allow myself those thoughts for short moments. I think my quality of life would truly be pathetic if I got stuck in those mean, jealous places. The list habit comes in handy during those times. I can think of about a zillion things that should supersede that negativity.6A0B79E9-2268-4AE1-BA57-F1B24602A382

Right now, I’m in the midst of other people’s hardships. I’m knowing more and more sick people and I have one very dear friend who’s in hospice awaiting her death. That’s at the top of all my lists now, along with the knowledge that as I’m aging, I’ll face more and more of those sad times. My dad always used to say that if you’re lucky enough to survive to age 70, sometimes you can just cruise along for awhile. He never got there. Neither did Michael or my favorite brother-in-law. All lost at age 67. I’m past that age now. I wonder when my turn will come to face my own demise. I don’t know if I’d think about it as much as I do except for how many early deaths I experienced. Nah, I probably would.3EA763C5-9962-423F-9926-B298CFBE5857

I always expected to just keel over one day like a tree felled in a wood. I certainly didn’t expect to be around longer than Michael who came from a family where everyone routinely lived into their 90’s. I think we’ve all been led to believe that’s possible for the majority of people but I don’t think that’s right. For every octogenarian, there are dozens of people who’ve already checked out.

I’m in the middle of three history classes this semester which are jamming huge swaths of time into 8 weekly hour and a half sessions. I come out of those classes dizzied by the compression of geologic time and long-gone civilizations that can be glanced over and set aside before tackling thousands more years. You realize how teeny you really are when looking at the world in these abbreviated segments. It’s fascinating stuff but absent a time machine, wrapping your mind around the brevity of our lives on a comparative scale is pretty daunting. And kind of comforting at the same time.

It’s only Wednesday and this week, I’ve considered the pre-Scottish elders and the Bog people alongside the Greeks and the Babylonians. We’ve looked at art and religious rituals, at least insofar as archaeologists have theorized about them and shared with us. I’ve been in ice ages and ridden tectonic plates and recognized that the Scottish oceanside rocks are basically the same as Maine’s because they used to be connected. All quite dazzling ideas that stimulate me to make more lists of things to explore, knowing full well there isn’t enough time for me in this universe to get through even a twentieth of what I’m writing down. But the habit is there and so I do it.

Lately because a cell phone makes it so easy to photograph anything, I’ve begun supplementing my endless writing with pictures to illustrate my lists. I have a photo of every place I’ve ever lived in but one because it was demolished a long time ago. I can always think of something new that needs to be photographed.

I have my butterfly and bird photos to go with their documentation as yard visitors. I keep having my storage on my phone fill up because I’m documenting everything. Maybe there’s a gene for this need to list and illustrate. It’s so much a part of me that I was lucky to start early and thus have plenty of writing and pictures of me in many moments with Michael and my family,  including really intimate ones. Ah, the days of the self-developing Polaroids. I was compelled to record. I think my daughter is like me. A record keeper. Maybe it’s a coping skill, a way to not be overwhelmed by the complexity of our lives. We certainly have more than our share of angst right now and I think lots of people feel the stress. So I suppose I’ll keep at it, trying to organize everything and trying not to forget what’s important. I guess I could have worse habits. Even a little Purell isn’t that bad. B3E3073E-31EC-443F-B83F-CAED33AEFEBE

Third Base

57CDAE0C-3087-4783-B636-8656230AABCEGrowing up I watched a lot of movies and a lot of television. Choices back then were more limited and tended to be family-oriented for the most part. Seems like you watched the same ones over and over again. I often find myself thinking lines that came from the ones that stuck, either because of their dramatic power or more often, because of their humor. Having a partner who was so similar to me was great because we shared a lot of the same cultural influences and often spoke in code. I still remember when our kids figured out that a good portion of our conversations were lines stolen from movies. When Michael was teaching, he incorporated many of his favorites into lesson plans.074377CA-E0E3-48FB-B04E-59A411017DB5

I don’t know what I want to do, what I need to do or what I should do. It’s kind of like freeze tag, the kids’ game when you get touched and have to hold your position. My position has been in my recliner lately. The facts of my life kind of belie that image. Objectively I’ve been doing a lot, some things by necessity and others by choice. But there’s an aimless quality about all the activities when taken together, as if they’re just reactive behaviors rather than part of a bigger plan. And I suppose that’s because I don’t really have a bigger plan, which was one of the essential ideas pounded into my head by my dad who repeated like a mantra, “you have to have a plan, you have to have a plan.”06985597-ED9D-4083-BB06-52F8AC0B1D88One sketch was from the famous Abbott and Costello, a comedic duo from the late 1940’s and 1950’s –  “Who’s on First?” Through the use of pronouns they wind up with a hilarious dialogue about a fantasy baseball team that goes in circles and is laugh-out-loud funny. Michael and my daughter adapted it into a political skit about characters from the George W. Bush era and performed it each semester in his history class. A big hit, pun intended. I found myself thinking about it today because “I don’t know” played third base in the original skit and after the recent past, I feel like I’m on third. I don’t know. Usually I know a lot, certainly enough to keep ahead of most games. Lately, though, I’m getting stuck because of a seemingly relentless series of events that just feels like too much. My brain is still operational but emotionally I’m frequently feeling like I’m in a paralytic state. I’ve misplaced my mojo.806EA27A-00B2-48E5-97CC-A6695DCAC655

He didn’t mean an inflexible unchanging one but rather a central guideline to help you shape the direction of your life. How do you do that when so many different things, out of your control, just happen and don’t fit into the plan’s framework? I feel like more of shock troop member, getting sent in to respond to some unexpected situation, rather than someone who’s following a designed pathway. Or maybe like a firefighter, waiting for the bell to sound, announcing where the next emergency is and letting you know that it’s time to fly out the door and do your best. I don’t know. Certainly not much that’s happened in the past seven and a half years has been part of what I thought my plan was. Things just happened. And I’ve reacted.633A7C00-1309-4F25-9B7A-2CE04CD7BBD2

First, there was Michael’s cancer and I reacted to that, along with him, for over five years until he finally succumbed to the disease. As I recovered from that, I had a plan, a plan for honoring him in a exhibition of his life, which took some months and turned out well. But in the midst of that planning, my daughter who is federal public defender, was assigned a tough and sensational murder case. Her job is to provide the best defense possible for all of her clients as is clearly stated in the Constitution. Even though we live in a state where the death penalty doesn’t exist, the attorney general assigned a death penalty to this federal case.77276C5C-3CC0-4AA0-81C5-C015747467F9

So suddenly, just months after Michael’s death, my kid was bearing the burden of being responsible for another person’s life. This much publicized case was a heavy load for our family to carry on the heels of our personal loss and everyone, from her own husband and children to her brother and me felt the weight of her job which went on until mid-July of this year, almost two years since she received the assignment. All of us hoped to find a way to some kind of “normal,” as we continued to adapt to a life without Michael, something none of us thought would happen when he was only 67, a good thirty years younger than the lifespans of his parents and virtually all the older members of his family. So we were recovering. Some weeks passed. My grandkids started school, the youngest beginning kindergarten. I was recovering well from my second knee surgery and started taking a few classes to give my days structure, to learn new things to enrich my life and begin a new regimen for myself.F353B17D-292C-4A9D-A2D9-916F275B73AA

The first week of my “plan” had begun when my five year old grandson began feeling sick. My kids took him to convenient care, ostensibly our first line of defense for garden variety illnesses which pop up unexpectedly.  When the examining doctor said he couldn’t find any evidence of a physical illness, my daughter asked, “are you implying he might have something terrible like lymphoma, he implied that a very sizable swelling on the little one’s neck might indeed be indicative of a life-threatening disease. How terrifying and crazy is that? What ensued were several days of miscommunication with our little guy getting sicker and sicker until finally, he was hospitalized, placed on IV antibiotics and painkillers, and ultimately CT scanned.77F6C073-825F-4138-97A5-BEF4D4CAA02C

What was unearthed was an abscess that required surgery. I’ll never know if the abscess would’ve gotten so large and scary had he only been prescribed antibiotics the first night he was examined. In these days of antibiotics as a last resort because of their having been over-prescribed in the past, now it seems that a logical bit of doctoring has become the proverbial baby thrown out with the bath water. He’s made it through his ordeal as have all the rest of us, but “plans” certainly were kicked to the curb as we all responded to the immediate need. Every family member here in our town tossed aside regular activities to do our part as we fearfully watched a healthy, active kid turn into an exhausted, feverish listless little person.F89E1FD2-1D75-424C-B703-6ADD4B4D6649

I don’t know. Standing here on third base. Now the crisis seems to be past us. But it’s our third test in two years, three months and fifteen days since Michael left us. What’s next? We’re all trying to do our things. There is school and there are jobs and projects to be done around our houses. The seasons are going to change soon and with that will come a variety of chores. Every day I look at my lists and my assignments and note how many I haven’t done a thing about in weeks. Still trying to get off third base. I can flee into nature. I have managed, despite the polar vortex of January and a strangely cold April, to create an environment in my garden which has drawn beautiful butterflies, moths and birds.

My biologist son gave me high praise by noting the variety of species appearing in the yard. We’ve had fledgling wrens, cardinals and robins this year. Also too many rabbits and squirrels who’ve eaten their way through most of my tomatoes, apples and pears. Still, the ground where Michael cultivated his vegetables and herbs, is now a place for pollinators to feast as they move through their life cycles. His perennial herbs remain and release heavenly scents although I rarely cook with them. Cooking has fallen to the bottom of my “plan” list.

I’m working with my rocks and placing them around my yard, labeled with the part of the world they came from. I’m replacing those plants that were lost to the deep freeze and hoping for a healthy return next spring. Sitting in my recliner will feel less like “I don’t know” when it’s cold outside. At least I hope so. I don’t want to be stuck on third base. I need a home run. Maybe if the world cuts my clan a little slack for awhile, I’ll get out of this old school comedy routine. There’s a lot going on in the world that’s pressing and more important than my little universe. But that’s easy to forget sometimes. I don’t ever want to get so self-involved that I ignore the big picture. Third base. Either someone bats me in or I find my mojo and steal home plate. Sometime soon.

If you’re interested in this routine, here’s a link for your viewing pleasure. 

The Silent Switch

0C8C6B72-26B8-4F57-B6F7-C284FFA8F94AI wonder if all people are born equipped for life’s passions. And if they are, is the capacity for them the same for everyone? Does everyone start out with a genetically determined amount or is there an infinite level that is sometimes achieved and sometimes not, depending on what happens to each of us? I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. Some people seem like they’re boiling over with passion and others act so subdued that it’s hard to know if they’ve every experienced a single moment of that powerful sensation.467C3065-720B-4130-934F-81C1356DD73B

I think passion has lots of different connotations, both positive and negative. Some passions are conscious and others lurk below our mind’s surface. They can be enriching and growth-inducing or deleterious and damaging to our health. Passion can be enthusiasm and avid devotion. It can be overwhelming in both rage and love. It can be intense sexual attraction. It can be vehemence and anger. Probably it’s combinations of a wide range of feelings and this can be very confusing. I know that I’ve felt all types of passions ever since I was a little kid.9E1265A4-5E0B-4F77-B852-5643A3E24C25

When I was about five, I got a chameleon. I loved it so much I squeezed it to death. What a horror. I was way too young to understand the implications of the potential for destruction associated with a positive feeling. But I learned more and more about that as I grew up. My parents told me I was born loving everyone and everything and that people loved me back. My mom said she was afraid someone might steal me, most particularly my dad’s sister, someone she detested. My older brother told me he first remembered being truly happy when I came along. Sad for him but good for me. I did love so many things with a passion. I loved my parents. I loved warm milk. I loved animals. I loved fudgsicles and chocolate popsicles. I loved playing outside. I loved school and school supplies, especially crayons, erasers and glue. So I guess I started out with my fair share of passions.


As I got older, I extended all that passionate love to people. I loved my friends. I started to love boys. I loved sports and movies. I loved justice. So much passion. It wasn’t long before I started getting knocked around by reality. Reality was that just because I loved what I loved didn’t mean that I was going to reap big returns on my passionate investments. I loved school but after 9th grade, it mostly bored me to death and as I went off on my own to learn, my grades tanked. I had just enough natural talent to take me into college but nothing about that structure worked any better for me at that level.


Then I realized that the just world I dreamed of may as well have been in a galaxy far, far away. The disappointment from that discovery ignited my negative passions which are still going strong today. Always something to be furious about and to fight against. Fuel for my engine.


I loved participating in sports but that brought me negative attention. I wanted to be an attractive girl but my youthful participation brought me the nickname “moose” which had a profoundly negative effect on the joy I found as an athlete. In my junior year of high school I cut 60 PE classes and as a senior, had to make them all up, two for one, in order to graduate. On swimming days, I was soaking wet on and off for hours. But I still loved sports although I became more of an observer rather than a participant. I still have my swimming but at one point I dreamed of smashing home runs and spiking volleyballs for a long time. I made it back to volleyball as an adult, playing while pregnant. Maybe that vibe is why my daughter turned out to be an exceptional athlete in a time that was somewhat kinder to women than the days of my youth. Although not yet kind enough.  But let me stay on track here.EEC54807-67EB-4109-9AF9-ECB2A8D68A46

I was a passionate friend and potentially a passionate girlfriend when I was a kid. I fell in love easily. And I stayed there. There’s another component to my particular brand of passion – loyalty. My husband and my kids always told me I was the most loyal person they ever knew. That’s probably a fair assessment. Once committed to someone, at least in my own mind, if not in actual practice with the person I’ve sekected, I stayed put. I’m hard to get rid of once I’ve made my choices. Despite the fire that burns in me so frequently, I’m not the type to flame out. My burn is slow and long-lasting. A lot of disappointment and pain have to happen before I walk away from someone. I guess it’s fair to say that I have personal standards of how people should treat one another, my rules, for sure. But I’ll bend and accommodate for a long time before I give up on a person. Over the years, I’ve developed what I call my permanent list. I have occupants on that list who said or did something egregious enough so that I know I’ll never forget it, at least as long as my brain is functioning. But for the most part, that list is of those individuals who are beyond my forgiveness. I know that’s not a very politically correct attitude in current culture. Forgiveness is a real thing advocated around me. Being unforgiving is supposed to be bad for you, toxic and unhealthy.

Your Greatest Strength


Social intelligenceBeing aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.VIRTUE CATEGORY: HUMANITY


Forgiveness Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ shortcomings; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.VIRTUE CATEGORY: TEMPERANCE

I took a personality trait test from a Yale-sponsored class a few months ago. You answer all these questions and a list of your character traits ranked from best to worst is generated. My best trait was emotional intelligence, followed by loyalty and my worst was the inability to forgive. Sounded right.  And it works for me. Michael was always trying to get me to let things go and be more forgiving. He said my hot rage and grudge holding was going to damage me physically. Well, look who’s still here and who isn’t? I’m living on the terms that suit me.03A68944-F82E-410E-A143-7789DCDA88F3

I guess I got the most bashed around emotionally by my first serious college boyfriend. I thought I was going to marry him. The truth is, I thought I was going to marry everyone I ever loved, going all the way back to when I was five years old. But this was the first genuinely reciprocated love I’d felt as a grownup and despite warning flags about not being ready and immaturity, I was convinced that if I fought hard enough, I could make this happen, even with evidence to the contrary popping up regularly and painfully. We were together on and off for three years. One morning after feeling that we’d had the best night of our life, I woke up to him telling me that we needed to break up and that things just couldn’t work. I was astonished, hurt and enraged. As he made his way out of my apartment, I followed him into the street, screaming at the top of my lungs that he would never find anyone who loved him the way I did and that he’d regret this decision for the rest of his life. My roommate and another friend dragged me back into the house as his metallic blue Chevy Hornet pulled away.5F65EFD7-E3BF-47A6-9D62-9EB1920020A3

The fact is, he did figure that out later but by that time, I’d mostly recovered and was with Michael with whom I spent the rest of his life. Sadly, not the rest of our lives. Michael helped me rebuild myself and to believe that I could trust someone and reestablish my belief that a lifelong positive passion was possible. I’d already figured out that I could hang on to my negative passions about feminism, politics, economic justice, the health of the planet and the like. But I wasn’t sure about people. One of the places I put my positive passions was to sports, both teams and individuals. I could afford to invest myself in those without personal disappointments that had left me flattened and despairing. I picked my loyalties and stayed with them. I had favorite teams and players. I watched everything, football, basketball, hockey, swimming and became an Olympics junkie. As time went on I added tennis and soccer. I still remember the uniform numbers of those individuals who for whatever reason, won my heart. Jean Beliveau, #4 – Montreal Canadiens. Doug Mohns, #11 – Chicago Blackhawks. Doug Buffone, #55 – Chicago Bears. Fred Biletnikoff, #25 – Oakland Raiders. I could go on and on. A lot of my friends were surprised that I was so into sports, as many of them, particularly the contact ones dominated by males, seemed in direct conflict with my feminist politics. But I didn’t care what it seemed like. My personal passionate commitments had  cost me a significant amount of emotional angst. I think I was born with a fairly deep reservoir for giving but I’d come to realize that when I put myself out there, I’d best be prepared to be doing it because I needed to for me and not because of what I expected in return. I’d had a lot of disappointment from family, friends and lovers. With sports, the worst that could happen was that your favorites could lose. The pain threshold for those things was tolerable for me, easier than all the personal disappointments. At least, it always had been for many years. When the silent switch happened, I really wasn’t aware of it at all. I’ve only just figured out that my lines had gotten blurred below the surface of my consciousness because of what life dealt out to me. I was too busy in the living of it to recognize that I’d set myself up for a whole new undoing.


So these sports. As a Chicagoan and a southsider, I loved the White Sox. I branched out and embraced the Cubs. I was a hockey fan and I sat with my dad as he agonized over DePaul’s basketball team. Except for golf, I’d watch almost anything. Eventually, tennis got my attention. I watched the women, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and of course, finally Venus and Serena. I admired their skills and grit. But I always loved the boys and most particularly, the ones who behaved well, rarely had tantrums or broke their rackets and in general, seemed to play against that spoiled brat type. No John McEnroes or Ilie Nastases for me.


I liked the cool Swede Bjorn Borg, who played like a smooth machine. After him, it was Pete Sampras, who was just a kid when he started and had a long 14 year career, complete with those beautiful serves and the tenacity to keep playing after vomiting on the court from sickness and dehydration. The civilized guys. I made an exception for Jimmy Connors sometimes because he had high entertainment value. There were a few Australians thrown into the mix and the Croat Goran Ivanisevic who had sporadic talent but took forever to win the big tourney. But in the middle of Pete’s reign, Roger Federer appeared on the scene. And that was all she wrote for me.


Federer broke into the big time as a teenager and was kind of a punk for awhile. But the tragic car wreck death of his Australian coach when he was 21 was a life changing event for him. Between that and his relationship with his older girlfriend who eventually became his wife, he pulled himself together and became who he is today, a brilliant champion, a genuinely loved public figure and a generous philanthropist. In short, my favorite tennis player.


Federer’s been playing for 21 years. I’ve watched him countless times and always enjoyed his grace, elegance and tenacity. For most of those years I watched him and the other players during the four major tournaments, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. There was a lot of other tennis happening off my radar, many tournaments and point systems for rankings. I didn’t really care about that stuff. I was happy with what I saw, read articles so I had some idea of the background for the majors, and was generally content.67D3E86B-35E6-4436-9182-8DE87FEC1A2B

When Michael got sick seven and a half years ago, that was where I was at. As we processed his disease and what we knew would be a limited future, I was trying to get a handle on interests that would distract me from the constant pressure of anticipating death. Michael liked tennis too and had played for years as a young man. Often we watched matches together. But as time went by and we rode the waves of anxiety, I started to seek out more and more information about tennis. We’d switched cable tv providers and the Tennis Channel was included in our package. I realized that there were all kinds of tournaments and that Roger participated in lots of them. He was famous for holding records in places that had never crossed my radar. And we had a DVR. I started taping everything. When I had nothing to do, I started watching more tennis. I liked other players but Roger was the one. As the months of Michael’s illness progressed, we both labored under the strain of wondering how much time we had left to enjoy our life. Sometimes I drove my reserved husband crazy, wanting to talk through everything all the time. He was in treatment, often tired and in need of rest. I had lots of time on my hands but I wanted to stay nearby, soaking in every minute of life with Michael. So I turned to the box where Roger waited in the DVR. He was such a joy to watch. Healthy, easy and an amazing contrast to my precious guy who was carrying such a huge load. Over time, I decided that who needed a DVR when you could set an alarm and watch a tournament live from Australia, China or the Middle East? We didn’t really have a normal routine or schedule any more so I could make my own hours. As years went by, Federer’s wins or losses began to affect me more and more. The worst time came in 2016 when he sustained a knee injury while bathing one of his kids. He decided to withdraw from the professional tour for months while he rehabbed thoroughly and tried to decide if he could return and play at the championship level again.


I was worried about it but at the time I was really focused on the stretch of good health Michael was enjoying so we took advantage of an excellent fall and traveled a lot. I had concerns about some signs of immune system letdown in Michael but as late as December, 2016, we were in our happy place at Starved Rock and life seemed even and predictable. Unfortunately that languorous period was short-lived. By the first week of January, Michael’s behavior was unusual. His appetite was diminished and he had some odd moments when he wasn’t making a lot of sense. We went in to see our oncologist who did some bloodwork and ordered a scan. Everything came back clean. So on we went. Things got stranger and stranger. I began to believe that there was an occult return of Michael’s cancer and began a nagging process that drove him nuts. He wanted to leave well enough alone and I didn’t. We began bickering. Right around the same time, Roger was getting ready to emerge from his medical exile and enter the Australian Open.C43021E2-8E04-43BB-8F52-CC4557C40E4B

As days went by, Michael’s behaviors became odder and odder and I kept dragging him back to the doctors. Meanwhile, Roger was winning match after match. I was up in the night, watching him in real time and trying to avoid arguing with Michael who was annoyed with me. The doctors kept finding nothing. On January 29th, 2017, I had the pleasure of watching Roger win his first major since being injured.E2DDE7EF-676A-4725-89DC-41CED38BC06C

On January 31st, I prevailed upon Michael to let me bring him to the ER to see if we could get him a brain MRI, the only test he hadn’t had. By that night we had the dreadful diagnosis of carcinomatous meningitis, a rare manifestation of certain solid tumors that’s becoming more common as people survive their original cancers for longer periods of time. We were devastated, Michael even more than me as he’d believed the continuing positive reports while I knew something was terribly wrong. We had a 32 day siege in the hospital and then I was able to bring him home in early March. The median survival time for this disease was 4 weeks from diagnosis. Michael hung on for almost seventeen.


Meanwhile, the French Open began close to the end of Michael’s life and I continued to watch through June 11th. I remember thinking how ironic it was that Roger’s playing bookended the last months of Michael’s life. When July came, along came Wimbledon. I watched all of it and Roger emerged victorious. That highlighted my summer of preparing for the celebration of Michael’s life which was planned for December. When that was over, I stared down 2018, trying to figure out what to do with myself. I started this blog on January 1st. I was in the midst of planning my 50th high school reunion and also wanted to do a little traveling.


I finally landed on the Western-Southern Open tennis tournament in Cincinnati, a chance to see Roger in the flesh for the first time. As he was getting older I figured I’d better get that bucket list item done. Additionally, the Laver Cup, Roger’s creation was happening in Chicago, at the same time as my reunion.


I bought tickets to that as well. Both events were wonderful and I was so glad I went. Roger won some and lost some and I felt satisfied. But as time passed I found watching him, especially when he lost, to become more and more stressful. I was aware of the negative feelings but not sure what to do about them. Each match got worse and worse. This was not supposed to be my relationship with sports. I was irritable, frustrated and hostile. I could barely stand being with myself. When my son was around he tried to be comforting but I was basically so obnoxious he’d wind up leaving me to my own devices. I started thinking really hard, going back over the seven and a half year history of Michael’s disease, death and this mourning period. A lot has happened to me during that time. I spent a lot of emotional capital during those years. I spent an extraordinary amount of love on my marriage, so much that I often wonder if I can love anyone or anything new ever again. Even a pet. And then just this past week in the midst of an ugly US Open for Roger, I recognized what I’m referring to as a silent switch. Somewhere back there, as I recognized that my time with Michael was running away, I put a lot of my heart into Roger, a sports guy who was supposed to be a distraction, not someone personal. As his fortunes ebb and he gets closer to retirement I realized that my outsized reactions are more like living through an intimate loss instead of just watching an athlete’s life come to its normal conclusion. I realized that I’d transferred some of my feelings about Michael’s absence to a weird anticipatory despair about Roger’s career coming to an end. How bizarre is that? Probably not very. Roger’s trajectory is another ending, a metaphor for what I’ve been coping with for a very long time. I didn’t recognize exactly when it happened but I know it did. And acknowledging the inappropriate outsized reactions I was having helped me see the need to face this metaphor for what is – a familiar road twisted into an inappropriate level of importance. It’s time to set it back in a more normal place. Ironically, during this week of internal probing and exploring, I’ve been outside in my garden a lot. I had no trouble identifying two adult butterflies, feeding, still strong but battered by predators, perhaps by wind. But still living out there in the world. I was aware that I identified with them. No silent switching in this case. Awareness is hard and often mysterious. I’m going to keep going after it. It’s better than living in the dark. 



The Next Lane

F3B1F693-4DC8-41CC-94C6-C875D825C9CAI think it’s been established that I love swimming in my slow turtle-ish way, up and back, up and back, five days a week. I used to be faster and better but I’m still pretty steady. I’ve actually convinced myself that I could pull a Gertrude Ederle and cross the English Channel, albeit at an impossibly slow pace. Being in the water allows for flights of fancy that I expect can be attributed to a lightness of being that doesn’t happen frequently on dry land. I have no scientific evidence for that idea – I just notice that my mind goes to drifty, fantastical places when I’m buoyant for awhile. Of course, you can always think about realistic things and emotional things or any combinations of those as well while immersed. I certainly have spent plenty of time when swimming along, thinking about who I am, what I’ve done, what’s important and what’s not, whether I’ll leave a legacy of some kind after I’m gone and on and on.

It’s interesting to experience these private thoughts while sharing space with the other water creatures in my space, mostly fellow human swimmers with an occasional frog or insect taking the waters. After you start swimming at the same times every day, if you’re a social entity, you tend to look around to see who’s happening to do the same thing as you over in the next lane. And over time, especially if your pace is comparable to the person beside you, conversations are sparked, first out of politeness and later, out of discovery and mutual experience. These become your people, the ones in the next lane. Sometimes the conversation is like gliding along the surface of the pool, light, casual and not something you’d pursue outside the context of that hour spent hauling yourself along, length after length, side by side. But often you find that you have things in common with these water lovers and relationships develop. Maybe you don’t ever see the person beyond the pool but sometimes surprises happen and you share time dressed out there in the world. Quite different from those people who you barely recognize without a bathing suit, making things like seeing a fellow swimmer in the grocery store a weird sensation, like, hey I know you from somewhere but where?

I’ve had several lovely bonds develop with some people one lane over. Bonds that bring unexpected gifts and surprises. I’ve found people who will listen to me talk about Michael and how much I feel him when I’m in the water where we spent so much time together. I’ve found people who have sick family members or who are sick themselves so we swap stories and theories and suggestions about that. There are the readers who discuss books and the travelers who trade tips and spark new ideas about where to go next. I love gardening and I love art. I’ve found several people who feel the same about those two areas as me and even better, I’ve found artists whose work I love and who’ve inspired me to stretch myself in trying to create my own art and to appreciate theirs.FA76F627-E5C7-45A2-8074-4BCEDCD2AE55

Which leads me to my friend, Melissa. I’d seen her for years and years in the pool but it wasn’t until Michael died that our relationship began to evolve. In the first days after his death, I needed to get back into the water but I was afraid to go at my usual hour because I knew people would talk to me about him and that I’d just cry all the time. I wanted to swim and get back some fitness after the long months of caregiving. So I went to the pool at different times, times when I could be relatively certain I wouldn’t know anyone and would be able to stay within myself and my needs. One of those days, I heard a voice behind me ask if she could share my lane and when I turned to say yes with the caveat that I didn’t want to talk, there was Melissa, a familiar face but not someone I knew well at all. Within a short time I was pouring out my feelings to her about a traumatic experience I’d had with an artist who’d done a project for Michael, a gift from him to be turned over to me after his death. A gift of comfort and warmth. That situation turned out to be an emotional debacle and I was angry and frustrated about it. Michael would have been appalled at how it worked out. I knew Melissa was an artist and her vibe was simpatico with mine. That one conversation led to many others and we learned that we knew a lot of people in common, that we were both people who wrote, loved music and gardens and nature and also shared similar political views. Over the course of these past few years, we now have our special connection, one in which we can share lots of personal things while not being wrapped around each other’s necks all the time. She is a safe place for me and I hope I’m that for her. But her art and talent drew me into a situation I never dreamed I’d be in – the subject of a photo shoot. I don’t have a negative opinion about my appearance, although I know full well that being the subject of a photographer was not likely to be one of my lifetime experiences. However unlikely that may have been, because of Melissa and her art, I am now going to be included in one of her exhibitions which is focusing on women and their garden experience.

After all of our talks as we swam next to each other, I got bumped into the group of women who have a special relationship with their dirt, flowers, insects, birds and all things connected to their piece of nature. Melissa is going to showcase them and their spaces.  I couldn’t be more honored. As the city girl who found myself parked on a big double lot, and as a citizen of the world profoundly interested and worried about climate change and habitats, I’ve spent years working to create a space that provides sanctuary for pollinators, and birds, a piece of ground that abounds with life. I love my garden and have been nurturing it for over 40 years now. Every flower, shrub and tree on my lot was planted by me. That is my accomplishment that brings hours of pleasure, beauty and a haven for so many creatures.

To be included in an art event that celebrates women who are engaged in this effort is truly gratifying. As I’ve looked at the photos, some of which will be included with other women I’ve never met but with whom I share a common vision, is an experience I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t talked to the person in the next lane. So I want to thank Melissa, photographer and repurposing artist extraordinaire, for making me realize that I will leave a legacy that I care deeply about, and that now, it’s captured in her work.FA9B7B8B-79CE-4792-9993-9FB590450E1D

Look around, people and check out who’s swimming beside you. You never know what may happen. C8E44AC5-04AE-4544-A710-1018FC52357A

More and Less

3114AE37-CBFB-4E62-AFC9-9904237C9309The other day I exchanged messages with a friend I’ve never seen. We met in an online Merkel Cell cancer support group. Her husband was a decade younger than Michael when he was diagnosed with Merkel, in his early fifties. The course of his disease was short, less than a year and a half from discovery to death. I got banned from that support group after being in it for a little over a week. I was bringing up questions about emotional issues rather than just talking about the nuts and bolts of the disease and its possible treatments. After I was kicked out, this friend begged the administrators for my email address and we’ve been corresponding ever since. The anniversary of her husband’s death was last week and I always check in with her on that day. I expressed my hope that she was getting along well and had found some space for small joys in her life. When she answered, I felt like she was troubled by her current emotional state. She wrote that we’d both had wonderful experiences in our marriages but that now we had to learn how to live again in real time. That caught me up short.

Live in real time? I’ve been living about as hard in real time as a person can, in my opinion. Since Michael’s death, I’ve traveled alone several times, organized my 50th high school reunion and seen my favorite tennis player, Roger Federer, twice in real life tournaments for the very first time. I’ve been to half a dozen music concerts from John Prine to Pete Yorn to Janis Ian and Paul McCartney, among others.

I swim five days a week. I go to movies and have joined a book club. I’m going to serve on my city’s historic preservation committee. I’ve taken a number of classes, had both my knees replaced and knocked many items off my to-do  list. Isn’t this living in real time? I think what she meant was that my constant emotional engagement with Michael means I’m living in the past. But that’s simply not true for me. Our long and deep emotional connection is still alive in me. He’s only been gone a tiny percentage of the time we were together. And he’s not going anywhere, not out of my head or my heart or my soul.34155DA6-CDFD-4DE8-A4FD-16257815AD53

But that seems to be a point of contention in regard to how people are “supposed” to be after a death. Michael isn’t in my way in terms of daily life. I am. He doesn’t interfere with what I do. He didn’t when he was alive either. And that’s the way it is.  I thought to myself, this exchange is another case of more and less, the story of my life. I am always talking about the things which are “more” while many around me could do with a little “less.”7C5387EE-3511-44B1-8A2E-8FADBD17CC12

I certainly know more now about lots of things than I ever have  in my life. And that “knowing” is not yet close to its endpoint. I’m learning every day. I’ve always been learning. I’m motivated. As long as my brain is healthy I expect I’ll continue increasing my stash of both useful and useless facts and ideas. I retain volumes of it, stuffed in the corners of my mind. And I like to talk about it all. In traditional terms that seems ok. Certain areas of my conversation are acceptable. For example there are topics which are nice and neutral. There’s gardening. Sometimes there’s politics, although I can’t say I’m exactly neutral in that regard. But there’s  school.  This fall I’m taking three classes. One is about current affairs in the Horn of Africa about which I know very little. Another focuses on Persia and Rome and will feature readings from Herodotus. I’ve always wanted to read Herodotus, especially after watching the smolderingly sexy Ralph Fiennes carrying around a battered leather copy of his histories in the film The English Patient. The third is about early Scottish history. I know a little bit about that, but after watching the Outlander television series with the equally smoldering Sam Heughan, (who just happens to look like my husband when he was young,) I figured it couldn’t hurt to learn more. I’m a curious mixture of intellectual and pop culture knowledge – I can disappear into the classics world and pop back into current entertainment pretty seamlessly.B94C3BA8-2B4B-4EB3-9A70-440C3CF33075

I was taking biology classes for a time during the past couple of years. Another socially acceptable conversation topic. But the science class offerings this fall weren’t that interesting to me this semester and frankly, I’ve got enough cancer stuff happening in real life without exploring more theory right now. Fucking cancer. I know several people who are actively engaged in their cancers, some of which are new and others which are old pals that lay dormant for a long time before reappearing in new places to create havoc. Now I’m moving into the “more” arena. This is where things get uncomfortable in my world. For example,  I think that the majority of people who live for a long while will get cancer. We actually have it every day, mutations that crop up at the genetic level but are squashed and eliminated by healthy immune systems. That is, until the mutations get tougher or the immune system gets weaker. After all my years of reading, that’s what I’ve concluded. Some treatments buy time. Others are still primitive. You don’t get to know whose body will react poorly or positively to what is attempted. Until there are wholly individual treatments that’s the way it’ll be. So where does that take me? I try to be a helper and do what I can for those I know.2D66BFC4-FE5D-4481-99DE-5D736D0EDA75

I think about myself too. I have no idea when my turn might come. I think a lot about the advocacy I was able to provide for my family and most especially my husband. Will I be able to advocate well for myself if necessary? That’s one question I have no answers for at this point. I think about this stuff a lot and I try talking about it but my kids don’t like it and some friends are taken aback. They say what I know they intend to be nice, defusing comments that move rapidly away from the morbid topics. I guess that having thought about death for all the years during Michael’s illness, coupled with my longheld death anxiety from my childhood, as I watched my mom go in and out of hospitals, has locked me into what some think is the morbid side of life. To me it’s more practical than morbid. But it’s one of “those” topics that I tend to bring up that is off-putting to a lot of people. When I talk about it I’m not sad or scared or maudlin. I’m just wondering. Death is something that will happen to everyone and pondering it doesn’t stop me from living a reasonably positive daily life. But the death arena fits into the “too much” category.C7C6650C-AAAB-4C93-AD08-12D4691BC83A

The issue of my feeling Michael’s presence so often is another “more” topic. I guess it makes some people uncomfortable. Maybe they think I’m nuts. Maybe they think I’m not living a healthy life. I don’t view other people’s opinions as my problem. I’m open to sharing but am also aware that red flags pop up when I start waxing eloquent about my “ghost.” I can feel that it’s time to move on to something else, a subject more palatable for whomever is the listener.  It seems that I’ve always brought up issues that no one wants to talk about. Michael used to say that if I would only be quiet about certain topics life would be perfect. But I never believed anything was really perfect. Rather, I thought that if you kept working on problems or disturbing ideas like death, or basically anything that caused people psychological discomfort, that the process itself was almost more important than the end goal. I really enjoy thinking and discussing and sorting through virtually everything. I always thought that the more I knew about any issue, the better off I’d be. Michael, more reserved and less prone to the deep inward dives I do, loved me enough to go outside his comfort zone, sometimes kicking and screaming, into places he’d rather have ignored. In the end these explorations brought us incredibly close and gave us the stamina to go through our personal challenge that ended with his death. But what’s perfectly clear to me is that a lot of people prefer doing with less of these internal explorations into what I think are life’s and death’s fascinating mysteries. So when I bluntly bring up one of the off-limits topics, I’ll often feel the invisible hand up in my face and I know I’m supposed to be quiet. Despite the fact that I think we humans share a considerable amount of commonality in life’s essential business, talking about those things out loud just doesn’t happen enough for my taste.C70E956F-B807-48B1-B889-0486C42DCE70.jpeg

There are all kinds of self-help books and advice websites about virtually everything. But say I decide to open up a sex conversation? Lots of people cut me off fast. I want to talk about how dreadful it feels for me to acknowledge that this most essential part of my life is over. I know that because I’m completely uninterested in being with anyone but Michael. But my drive isn’t dead. I’m going to miss intimacy and kissing and being touched in the way you build with bonds with another person for as long as I remain cognitive. But that’s a “less” conversation. I often wonder what other people feel and if they’re still sexually engaged but I rarely talk about this stuff because it feels like I’m crossing a social boundary line. Maybe I am.

I just think there’s comfort in sharing information and feelings that to me, must be widespread across our species. Am I outrageous? I guess some people might think that. But to me, I’m just myself. I’m still struggling with the separateness that I feel when shut down by the unwritten rules of social exchange. I just can’t stand all these implicit boundaries. Still, I have to live in the culture I occupy so I mostly abide them. More and less. Death and illness and sex are apparently for my private ruminations except for a very few people who accept me for who I am. With the others I guess I can talk about taxes and the weather. I’m glad I still feel Michael so strongly inside me. I can still talk to him about anything and he knows I’m living in real time. With a vengeance. Another thing he always told me was that he thought I was very polite to ask him his opinion on an issue when we both knew I would do exactly what I wanted to no matter what he thought. Still valid. Ultimately, I really don’t care what anyone thinks about my choices. But I’m pretty sure they’d like them if they gave me a chance to say more.1BED999B-1077-4C47-B26A-FEBB7332EF73

WWRD? – A Tiny Dilemma

A77AB149-409F-4228-AC3F-422920486E46When my husband was teaching he grew close to a young colleague 26 years his junior. They shared a similar outlook on the world and on education. Several times a year they shared social time, going out for long lunches and beers to discuss their work and their lives. I loved that friendship which was unexpected-when our son was in 6th grade this newly minted math teacher was in the beginning of his career and our little guy was his student.8C813CA1-24B4-44BB-81F2-0D1AB90E5A56

After Michael died, his friend Dan was wanting to find a way to honor his memory. He wound up designing an amazing tattoo which gave nods to Michael’s love of music, passion for civil rights and equality, and his absurdly unrealistic desire to have a Viking funeral, utterly impossible as we don’t live near any body of water. He also had the letters WWPD? included in the art. This was a question he would ask himself in the midst of a dilemma, what would P——— do?  A lovely tribute to Michael’s ability to use his best thoughtful sensibilities when trying to make decisions under pressure.

Tonight I find myself stealing that acronym and applying it to myself. Through these past 27 months since Michael’s death, I’ve cast about for the little things in life that help make his absence more tolerable for me. Sone choices are within easy reach. I swim. I love swimming, I love my pool, especially the outdoor one which is in such a beautiful location. My spirits always lift there and Michael’s presence is palpable in that water where we enjoyed time as a young couple, eventually as young parents and on into our adult life when we had the pleasure of sharing time there with our kids and grandchildren. Unfortunately the outdoor season ends on Labor Day, with the preceding two weeks given over to two lovely midday hours of adult lap swim with no music blaring, no kids splashing and the most peaceful ambience. When people arrive they say, welcome to another day in paradise. Yes. It’s that good. Tomorrow is the last day of that adult swim. The Labor Day weekend will bring the kids and the families back and the typical chaos of an outdoor water park will be the closing to the outdoor season. So tomorrow is my last day of bliss until next Memorial Day.


Another precious part of my Fridays is a post-swim lunch with my dear friend Debbie who appeared at the indoor pool a few years ago. We’d been friendly since our early 20’s and although we’d seen each other around town, hadn’t experienced an intimate friendship until we began seeing each other regularly at the pool. We go to a homey Mexican restaurant where we know the wait staff’s names as they know our orders. We have a few hours to discuss the world from our families to our politics to whatever damn thing comes up. Limitless conversation, always a gift. So tomorrow is my special day. But oh no! There are bigger things than me, events beyond my control.

One of them is the U.S. Open, currently being played by my beloved Roger Federer. I’ve watched tennis my whole life but Federer embodies the best of the sport and is such a decent human being aside from the graceful, balletic artist he is on the court. As he’s gotten older, as if 38 is actually older, I’m keenly aware that his playing days are limited. When Michael was sick and sleeping a lot, I’d stay up late to watch Roger play in Australia and Asia, bleary-eyed but grateful for his presence and distraction. He’s had a surprisingly glorious few years, returning from injury and ascending back to the top of his game. I’ve loved it. But he had a heartbreaking loss at Wimbledon this year and his recent return to the tour has been rocky. Watching him struggle can be agony for me which I know is preposterous but I can’t help myself. I know he won’t be playing that much longer and I feel compelled to watch every match. I’m loyal that way, in everything I do. Love, friendship, supporting public figures and candidates, whatever – I am doggedly present, willing to go down with the ship. My kids say I’m the most loyal person they know. So what does the U.S. Open do? They’ve scheduled Roger’s match tomorrow at the same time as the last adult swim day at the outdoor pool and most certainly it will run into my lunch with Debbie. I’ve been agonizing about my choices for hours. I could skip adult swim and bite the bullet and swim in the weekend chaos. Maybe I could still have lunch with Debbie.BBF29807-ADA4-4642-9318-4BD0E38CF449

Or I could record the match and stay away from news and social media so I could watch later and pretend that it’s live. Although somehow that always goes wrong and I find out the score in some random way which makes everything feel deflated and sad. This is not an episode of a tv series. This is ROGER. So late at night, I found myself thinking of Michael’s friend and his WWPD? I know what Michael would tell me. Go swimming, have lunch and watch later. Do what’s good for your health instead of sitting anxiously, heart pounding over something over which you have no control and which makes you crazy. I can hear Michael as if he was right next to me. But we were different in certain ways. So WWReneeD? I’m not sure yet. Except of one thing. If this was the biggest problem I ever had I’d be really lucky. I guess I’ll sleep on it.


A Thin Veneer

F8E653C7-30E6-49AC-B4A5-68CBB5F23E35The garden is a meditative place. While the chores of pulling weeds and deadheading flowers lay splayed out in front of you, your mind takes on a certain cadence that blends in with the movements of your body. Bend, pull, clip, wonder what happened over there? Volunteer plants, trees and weeds are everywhere. Little redbuds and maples and oaks. Unidentified flowers or are they weeds that look attractive? I think, are you here because of the wind or are you here because a bird dropping was filled with ingested seeds? Hmm. How did things get to be this way after all my careful planning? Why do some of you plants come roaring back every year while others vanish without a whisper? Why are you green leaves here without every yielding one single blossom the entire season? Why is one-quarter of this shrub dead while the rest is vibrant?

Where did you honeyvine milkweed plants come from and why do you relentlessly return everywhere? And who invented creeping charlie? I don’t want to put toxic material in my garden. But I want to kill the invaders.

I’ve tried to set up duels between ground covers pitting periwinkle vinca and ajuga against the uninvited guests. My home team often loses the battle or at best, fights to a draw. While I bend and tweak and think my way through the growth I muse about all this.BDC56FAA-6817-4384-A114-F2FCF687A0FD

I think of my 68 year old body, two bionic knees and inevitably feel like I’m a participant in a losing battle. Clearing one area is a pyrrhic victory as another space a few feet over has fallen into a mess. I find myself thinking of the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurassic Park.433B5650-5674-4672-B6CC-B10E127268D9.jpeg

Dr. Ian Malcolm: No. I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.CC6A096F-BD66-488A-8B15-B005B40292AB

For so many years I’ve hurled myself against this ground and hurled so plants into it. In many respects, I’ve been highly successful. I know that many hybrid tulips needed me to split them up and divide them and I didn’t have time to do it so they’re gone. Whatever happened to the butter and eggs plants that looked so great after one season? I should’ve divided the iris rhizomes.

So many disappearances while I’ve labored away. But there was family and work and life and death and I just couldn’t keep up with it all. Still, there gorgeous shrubs and blossoms every year. I try to fill the gaps left by mystery and neglect. And now that I’m older, being mindful of keeping my balance among the unexpected vines and the railroad ties hidden beneath the ground covers, but with the time to do the work, I find that I am slower than I ever dreamed possible. And if I live on for awhile, I’ll get even more slow than I felt today. As I move from place to place, feeling inadequate to the tasks around me, I’m thinking, yes, life finds a way.


If I back off for a year or so, my garden will become a tangled web of intention and neglect. The mostly civilized order of the appearance of plants from early spring to late fall will dissipate and turn chaotic. When I moved here forty years ago there was chaos and grass. Grass which just sits and eventually becomes clover and crabgrass. Useless stuff. We carved  so much lawn away that now these beds are ripe for a revolution of sorts. A tangled web will take over. As I ponder how quickly this could evolve I find myself thinking about our society. The garden feels like a metaphor for our seemingly civilized world.3B930F03-66E2-406D-A062-C66033B20DEA.png

That thin veneer of civilization has been pulled back pretty regularly these days and we see a lot of the darker side of our culture. Prejudice and violence. Division and hostility. Intolerance and rage. These aren’t new issues, but the voices on the margins are getting louder and more powerful.


Like the single little plants that enjoyed a brief stay in my garden, small voices are shunted aside by the more strident aggressive rumbles that tear at the fabric of our community. A regular societal bramble patch is what I see. Conflicting ideas about the way things should be are obscuring what was supposed to be a consensus among a people who, at one point, agreed to abide by a set of principles.


Those principles now clearly mean very different things to different sectors of the citizenry, both of this country and many others. As I toil away in my ground, I feel fatigue that’s both physical and mental. I can’t see my way through the huge divides between what some want and others vehemently do not want.C6774247-6CE7-47D4-AFDF-8B734F650CBA.png

This thinly stretched translucent veneer of being civilized is exposing the chaos just below the surface. It feels as overwhelming as the plants that appear uninvited, so tough and resilient despite my efforts to control them, that they squeeze away those which were placed in my garden with intention. Yes, the garden is a meditative place, but these days that contemplation brings more anxiety than it once did. What I’m up against in my patch of earth is a metaphor for what is going on in the culture at large. The civilized part is very fragile and fraying at the edges. If it is untended or ignored we revert back to whatever there was before we developed a cooperative culture. That is so much more frightening than random weeds in a garden, or random voices that threaten to break apart what we’ve espoused for a long while. I write these words with tongue in cheek as I know full well  the uphill battles for the little outsiders trying to find a space in this country at large. So many people have historically and will continue to live in the margins of this place. A thin veneer indeed. I fear for our future. Will we recover from the disarray which has blossomed or will it be the new state of affairs as we go forward? From flowers and plants to those big questions. The garden is a meditative place with just an active gardener trying to hold it together before life finds a way and overruns the best laid plans and ideas. My thoughts for this day. F3C5E3BA-5F79-4E64-9298-19B923CCD889