Syllables of Time

Two weeks ago David and I went to the opening of a show of Catherine Tuttle’s paintings at McGowan’s Art Gallery.  The paintings were vividly interpreted landscapes of the White Mountains, seen from a hiker’s perspective.  A few of our hiking friends were also at the opening, and we had fun showing each other which paintings we’d love to own, to have a favorite view at home with us all the time.  David’s friend Bob, another painter, was also at the opening, and the three of us were talking about establishing a practice of art.

“I’m painting every day,” Bob said.

“I’ve started writing a haiku every day,” I said.  “It’s a way to have at least 17 syllables of time a day that isn’t about working.”

“Why did you say syllables of time?” Bob asked.  “Why would you say time?”

“Because that’s how I think of it,” I answered.  Bob talked about a recent book by a local author, Turn and Jump: How Time and Place Fell Apart.  Bob had read the book and its essays on how time and place were closely connected in the past, when small towns set their own pace by the rising and falling of the sun, before the frenetic calculation of every minute of most days by schedules and appointments and things that have to be done right now.  I’ve been exploring the theme of time in my poetry for decades, and have an entire manuscript of poems that is mostly a mediation on time, physics, and the immutable laws of the physical world that underlie the mystery of consciousness.  Where does time exist?  It can’t be measured, but we all experience its passing.  It has no physical dimension, but controls how we move through our day every day.  Just the word move implies time, as any change in physical location, awareness, feeling, consciousness, anything, requires the passage of time to be perceived.  Something is one way or in one place, and then it’s not.  That takes time.

“I think part of being retired,” Bob said, and he is, “is reconnecting time and place.”  I need to read that book.  Today’s Haiku:

Dark morning, dark day
Rain stripping the last brown oaks
Syllables of time.

My Life At Airports

I got a call and an email at 11:17 this morning, letting me know my 4:05 flight out of Philadelphia, back to Manchester, was delayed until 5:20.  We’re going camping in Baxter State Park this weekend, to climb Mt. Katahdin (long story, but getting access to a trailhead to climb Katahdin is so complicated, and it’s so far away, it’s easiest just to camp there) and had a highly optimistic plan to go spend tonight with our friends who are camping with us, at their condo in Portland, Maine.  The plan was far enough advanced that Amy asked where she should make a dinner reservation for tonight.  Knowing air travel, I said let’s play it by ear, my plane may be late, I’ll call you from the airport on Friday afternoon and let you know how it’s looking.  I didn’t expect to be calling Amy as early as noon, letting her know I knew already that my plane would be too late for us to get to Portland tonight.

The late plane also changed the plan for getting me back to the airport from the training I did with the board of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  The board meeting finished early, so my friend Carol who invited me to do the training decided to drive me to the airport, rather than have me take a shuttle.  There was plenty of time so she continued talking about some plans with a few board members.  Then I got another call and email at 12:56, saying the plane would be leaving at 4:40.  Not quite so much time now, so Carol cut short her conversation and we left for the airport.  By the time I got here, there was another call and message.  Now the plane was leaving at 4:15.  Perfect.  Just time to do my usual airport Body Shop body butter stock up and get to the gate. 

Except I got to the gate and there was another call and email — plane now leaving at 5:25.  Then the man at the gate desk made an announcement that our plane was here, but not the crew.  As soon as the crew got here, about 6:30, we would leave.  I thought, okay,  maybe I’ll go get some food.  Then there’s another announcement — the plane that’s here has mechanical difficulties, so even when the crew gets here, we may not be able to leave.

I go get some food.  When I get back to gate C24, there’s no one there.  Another phone call and email — the plane is now scheduled to leave at 7:32.  But where is everyone?  The gate has been changed to C31.  I go to C31 and sit down at a dining area to eat.  I finish the half-way decent meal (waiting for the garlic eggplant and tofu with brown rice in the tiny Asian Bistro take-out nook and watching the cooks, cashier and customers was a people watching experience worthy of its own post) and go over to gate C31.  The sign says the next flight is to Rochester.  I go back to the one of the big departure boards, and the flight is still scheduled for 7:32, but it’s back at gate C24.  I go back to C24 and talk to the man at the gate.  The crew is here, there’s the plane, it’s been at the gate since about 5:15, but it’s not the plane we’ll be using, so either they’ll move this plane, or move us again to another gate.  The 6:30 flight to Manchester, meanwhile, has been cancelled.  A cheery customer offers to get some frozen yogurt for the man and woman who’ve been staffing the gate desk for over three hours now.  Everyone else seems fairly glum.

But, here’s the bonus — the Philadelphia airport has free wifi!


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The cars are sheened white this morning, and there are patches of white still on the grass where the sun hasn’t reached yet.  The delicate ice of frost rims a red leaf, frozen dew, fall finally here.  When we got up Friday morning the temperture was 74 degrees, yesterday it was 37, today the frost fell before we woke. 

Yesterday we picked apples with my parents, and the trees were loaded with fruit.  Trying to eat local as much as we can, apples are the fruit we’re eating right now, and we have a refrigerator bin full.  The old maple tree in front of the house is getting bare, and the leaves that are left are yellow and orange and red.  Today we’ll bring in the plants from the porch, I’ll clean off the garden, and pick whatever basil didn’t get browned by the cold.  We’ll finish taking down screens and washing the windows, clearing the path between inside and out.  We’re turning into the dark and letting in light.

Factors of 15

Okay, I really thought, over four years after Eric’s death, and over three years after I finished all the financial death chores, that the one dollar bill was the last of it.  But yesterday, the very day after the dollar arrived, there was another envelope addressed to Eric.  In it was a check for $15.36, a settlement from a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative proceeding from some mutual fund Eric must have owned at some point in the past.  If things really do come in threes, and each subsequent, unsettled piece of Eric’s estate increases by a factor of 15, like this latest check, then I should be receiving $225 any day now.  I’ll let you know.

The Last 68 Cents?

There was a message on the answering machine last night.  “This is Linda from Dr. Bezon’s office, calling about a credit balance on your account.  If you could call and verify your address, I can send you the balance.”  She left the phone number to call three times.  I didn’t recognize the doctor’s name.

Though wary this might be some sort of scam, I called the number this morning.  Linda answered, and when I told her I’d gotten a message from her, she asked my name.  Still wary, I gave her the phone number she’d called and asked who she was looking for.  “I don’t recognize the doctor’s name,” I told her. 

“Let me see,” she said.  “I can’t find that number, what’s your name?”

She seemed legitimate, so I gave her my last name.  “Oh, here’s the number,” she said.  “Do you have an Erica or Eric there?”

“My late husband’s name was Eric, but he died four years ago.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Linda said.  “But this is from 2006.  Dr. Bezon is a chiropractor your husband saw.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Eric went to a chiropractor a couple of times for the back pain he was having.  We didn’t know yet the pain was from metastatic cancer in his bones.  The chiropractor didn’t help.”

“I’m so sorry,” Linda said again.  “We just got a new accounting system, and we’re finding balances we didn’t know we have.  Eric’s account has a balance of 68 cents, from a visit on March 10, 2006.”  Two months before Eric died. 

“Well, you can have the 68 cents,” I said.  “That’s fine with me.”

“Oh no,” Linda answered.  “If you could just verify the address, I’ll send you a check for the balance.”  She told me again how sorry she was, apologized for being so tardy in finding the balance, and said she would be putting a check in the mail.

At one point in the year after Eric died, I got two checks two days apart.  I’d transferred an account in Eric’s name, but the order to transfer didn’t catch the last of the interest. A check, in Eric’s name, arrived for $7.32.  Then a check for $.01 came.  The account was finally closed. 

At least this check will be in my name.

Yom Kippur

Two years ago on Erev Yom Kippur, I went upstairs to change for services, and lay on the bed for a few minutes, to collect myself, and to let some tears loose.  It was my third High Holy Day season without Eric, so I was getting used to not finding Eric at the Temple when I went to services, and David was in my life, so I wasn’t feeling the wrenching loneliness I’d felt in the first year after Eric’s death.  But it had been another hard summer, losing David for a time during his return home to be with Laura and their children on her journey to death, and reliving a quick cancer death, even though it was happening to a family I only knew through David.

Sam came into the room and lay down next to me on the bed.  “What’s up?” he asked.

“I’m just getting ready to go to services,” I said, wiping at the tears. 

“You know what I think about every year at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?” Sam asked.

“Daddy?” I said, half laughing.

“I realize that Daddy had the life he wanted,” Sam said.  “I used to think he just spent his life working for The Man.  That he was cooped up in these jobs that weren’t what he really wanted.  But now I understand that he loved his work, he had a great family life, he spent a lot of time doing things he loved liked hiking and kayaking.  He had a good life.”

“Yes, he did,” I answered.  “He said over and over in the weeks he was dying that he didn’t regret anything.  There was nothing he wished he hadn’t done, and nothing he wished he could go back and do.  That’s a gift.  To die without regret.” 

“And you’re really lucky,” Sam said.

“Well I think so too,” I said.  “But I’m interested in why you think I’m lucky.”

“You had something with Daddy that a lot of women don’t get even once,” Sam said.  “You had real love.  And now you have it again, with another wonderful man.”

I smiled.  I got up and we went to the Kol Nidre service.  Last year neither Sam or Adrienne were home at Yom Kippur.  This year, Adrienne was home, beautiful and pregnant with a grandchild Eric will never know.  We have a new Rabbi, David came to Kol Nidre services with us, we broke our fast with a private, home-made memorial service with Mark and Andi, on their new patio under their ancient maple tree, then went and celebrated the 60th birthday of Eric’s best friend John.  It was a fun party, a joyful conclusion of the Days of Awe. 

But my contemplation of atonement and forgiveness and the repeating cycles of life and death is not over.  The Rabbi’s stories and sermons are still reverberating in my head and somewhere in my heart too.  I’ve been weepy off and on since walking into Rosh Hashanah services without Eric, yet again, 11 days ago. 

I’m feeling lucky and sad, maneuvering my way past regret.

Up First

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The sun is coming up the road, the furniture on the deck wet with dew.  I’m wearing Eric’s jacket, which I coveted when he was alive, cherished in my grief, and still use as my extra layer on chilly mornings.  I’m up first, David still asleep after staying up late writing to the community of friends and family who were connected to the process of his wife Laura’s death through online updates.  Yesterday was two years.  We climbed Mt. Moosilauke with friends and David scattered ashes at the top and ashes in the wind cruising the tops of the dwarf spruce trees.

I’m alone with the sun slanting through the trees on the short horizon of the yard, casting shadows across the grass, illuminating the copper heron statue in the garden.  Eric comes to me in herons and stands between my garden boxes all year.  On Saturday I passed a heron as I ran over an abandoned turnpike causeway that cuts across a marsh.  The heron looked over its shoulder, seemed to shrug, then lifted off from the water, a fish in its beak.  Later in the day, kayaking in Portsmouth Harbor, stroking our way back to the car in sunset light, David and I passed a heron at the tip of a small island.  It watched us as we moved closer, then walked up the rocky beach into scrub pine and bushes.

One morning on vacation I got up first and let David sleep, and later he asked me to wake him up on mornings when I get up before him.  Our mornings drinking cappuccino on the deck are sweet, and ours alone.  Eric and I didn’t do this, because we didn’t have this eastern facing deck when he was alive.  Sam and friends built it a year after Eric died.  At that point, I was still bursting into tears most mornings when I first walked into the kitchen, seeing the sun rising above the trees, realizing it was another beautiful day that Eric was missing.  “It can be my crying deck,” I said to Sam.

David doesn’t want to miss too many of our mornings together on the deck, and neither do I, because we both know we don’t have that much time.  We both watched spouses die very quickly of untreatable cancer, we both know some trapdoor of life could open at any moment and one of us, or someone one of us, or both of us, loves immensely could go crashing through.  We hike, we kayak, we swim, we walk and talk and wring everything we can out of every day because we’ve both lived right next to numbered days and know the number can be small.

But this morning David needs the sleep and I need the solitude.  Last night over dinner we talked about the black hole of grief, how it never goes away but it shifts.  At first the black hole is enormous on your page of life, it’s all you can see, but as time goes by the inexorable scribblings of life begin to fill in the margins of the page, and then the page gets bigger as more and more scribblings fill in.  The hole never goes away, and in fact never gets smaller, but so much life fills in around the circumference your perspective of it shifts.  The black hole where Eric used to be now has four years and four months of sunrises and sunsets, hikes and kayaks and triathlons and runs, new love and lost friends, weddings and funerals and birthdays and parties spilling into every margin of my life.  And mornings on the deck. 

I hear the shade going up in the window above me.  David is awake, the sun has cleared the trees, the day is moving on.

Hydrangeas and Hay Rows

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Clear, dry and hot, yesterday was a day to save summer.  I took down all the old dried flowers I’d hung on the wrought iron rack in the kitchen, and pitched them on the compost.  The now brown bouquet of hydrangea that stood all winter on the mantel went on the compost heap also.  I wiped up the dust that had accumulated behind the hanging flowers, and on the blue vase my friend Andi made that had held last year’s bouquet.  Brown out, time to bring blush pink in.

Like green beans and tomatoes this summer, my pee wee (panicle) hydrangea tree has produced in abundance.  Many years the blossoms don’t take on their rose blush until some of the flower petals have already turned brown.  Not this year.  The tree is hanging ripe with pink blossoms like a fruit tree.  Drying the blossoms is simple enough that it’s a garden task I get done every year.  Snip the stems at whatever length I want, put them in a vase, or hang them from a rack, and the blossoms dry in whatever shade of cream and pink they held when cut.  Eventually the flowers turn brown, but it takes until the next summer, when the world is full of color again, before I notice that the blush has faded into a uniform drabness.   Still, the conical shape of the flowers holds and makes a bouquet.

As I went out yesterday to pick the last bouquet, I heard a familiar clatter and chug of machinery from the field across the street.  Looking up, I couldn’t see the baler, but the mounded rows of cut hay lay across the field in parallel strips, curving with the slopes of the field, a swirl of dried grasses ready to be packed into blocks.  More summer being saved, to feed horses or cows over the winter.  It was getting late in the day, but the sun was still strong and hot, soaking into blossoms and grass, dried by the clear wind and ready to be harvested for seasons to come.

Time Out

Morning Glory

The problem with time is how it marches on, no matter what you’re doing.  However, that’s also the blessing of time.  Vacation days pass on, but so do days weighted with grief or anxiety.  On days when I wake up anxious, I know, from experience, that if I can just get through the day, the anxiety will start to wash out as the day passes.  By evening I can feel the tide of release start to seep in. 

I’m in the midst of a time out.  I’m on vacation, with no concrete plans, no trip itinerary or rental cottage, just days off, time out.  David and I get up in the morning, drink our cappuccino, and talk about what we’ll do for the day, which isn’t necessarily what we’ll do.  I’m handling this remarkably well for me.  There are moments of feeling the time off, time out, slipping through my hands, worrying that vacation is passing, but when I do go back to work, those days will pass too.  

When we sit on the porch to get out of the sun, we can see the morning glories I planted this year, blue throats open to the day, big blue faces on the vine that’s crawling up a string I strung from the eave of the barn.  The flowers open in the morning, then close up by late afternoon.  Glory, glorious, timed to be enjoyed, and then pass.