Friday, August 25, 2017

Mirror, Mirror

On the northwest wall of my little cottage hangs a large gilt-framed mirror. It is round and slightly convex, so that if you peer into it, your face appears distorted. It used to hang above the fireplace in the house where I grew up, reflecting our daily comings and goings. I could stand in the kitchen doorway and see in duplicate my father in his green chair, my mother at the kitchen sink, and myself, dishtowel in hand, watching us all in the mirror.

I always have the feeling, when I look at it now, that if I stare into it long and deeply enough, I can see all my growing up years stored beneath its surface. There would be my first, halting steps, and the way I grabbed onto chairs and the coffee table and my father’s legs as I learned to walk. I would see my first haircut, the soft golden curls that framed my chubby baby face gone forever. Or I’d see myself sitting under my mother’s piano, a book in my lap, tracing the words with my finger as I learned to read.

My brother and sisters would be in the mirror, too. I imagine every game of marbles on the living room floor, every castle built with blocks, every game of bingo and lotto and Chinese checkers forever stored in its reflective depths. If I concentrated, I would see the day a professional photographer came to the house to take formal pictures of my brother in his crooked bowtie and my sisters and I sitting primly on the sofa in our matching plaid dresses, the mirror gleaming over our heads.

I would see my mother at the piano, playing The March of the Wooden Soldiers as we thumped around the living room in time to the music. There would be all the early suppers in front of the television, the noisy New Year’s Eve celebrations, the quiet evenings in front of the fire.

Every Christmas tree we ever had would shimmer with tinsel and colored lights behind the glass, every Easter basket revealed as the mirror recorded its hiding place. I would still be coming down the stairs in my green corduroy coat on Sunday mornings to parade back and forth in front of the mirror admiring my first high heels, or whirling about the living room with my mother as we practiced the be-bop with the kids on the Dick Clark show.
I would be there in my graduation robe, my wedding gown, my favorite bright red maternity dress. My children would appear there, snuggled with their Memeré on the couch or their Peperé in his big, green chair.

The only day not recorded in the mirror is the last day we both spent in that house. It lay on a chair, wrapped for moving, it’s face hidden as I said my goodbyes. I treasure that bit of glass and gilt now, for it’s more than just a mirror. It’s the repository of all my days.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Making Choices

Making Choices

There are times when the going gets so rough we have little choice but to go ahead on our own definition of faith. An illness befalls us, a death separates us, our safety or security is threatened, we lose what we hold most dear. We look around for something to hold onto and there’s nothing solid, nothing permanent - only the beliefs we’ve built into our lives to save us at just such times. Here are some principles I’ve come to recognize as sturdy foundations.

We can choose to believe in the continuation of life despite bereavement. If we look to nature and the change of seasons to reassure us, we can see our own cycles of birth, youth, old age, and death. We learn to trust that spring will always come again no matter how hard the winter. For every body that wears out, or falls ill, or is damaged beyond repair, we trust that another will be born somewhere, keeping the great wheel of life revolving. We come to understand that death and loss are part of life, that no one and no thing on earth is impervious to change. When we accept this realization rather than fight it, we step back into the flow of life and are carried along, buoyed by our acceptance, and protected from the harshest blows by our agreement with life.

We can choose to see beauty in the face of ugliness. The two concepts are so personal, so subjective, that often we can’t label them definitively, but there are a few things most humans agree are beautiful—a child’s smile, the dazzle of sun on water, sunsets that paint the sky in brilliant colors, rainbows, flowers that bloom before the last snow has melted away—and a few that many of us deem ugly; the distress of poverty, the pollution of our natural resources, the results of a casual disregard of another’s humanity. We have only to look at our surroundings and at each other to see that our attitudes control what our eyes see. We tout our free will as one of those concepts that raise us above other life forms. If this is true, then it is up to each one of us to choose our definitions with care.

We can choose to see hope in the face of despair. Bad things happen to everyone; there are no exceptions. We get to experience life in all its manifestations. We watch as natural disasters sweep away everything familiar, witness triumph turn to tragedy and fall from the sky, read of accidents and deliberate cruelties. But we also come to know heroes, those who in times of great distress put their own lives at risk, their own fears behind them, to rescue those of us who can’t do it for ourselves.

We choose to see love in the face of fear. It is fear, not hate, that is the opposite of love. When we work to instill fear in others, we seek to rob them of their power to do what’s right. If, as Gandhi advises, we be the change we want to see in the world, if we choose to believe that our love for each other is a greater strength, and a more honest one, we can achieve wonders.

We can believe in the power of memories, those cherished moments we’ve chosen to keep in our thoughts and recall when our souls are loneliest: recollections of loved ones, of happier times, of days when things felt right.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Life of Walking

--> I read that the Tarahumara Indians of the southwest Sierra Madres must, when they die, make a journey to every place they ever lived and collect their footprints. These, along with their hair, they must present to their god. What an interesting concept. I wouldn’t have much hair to present (mine has always been rather fine and thin) but collecting my footprints would be great fun.

I’d start at the place where I was raised in Massachusetts. My footprints are in every room of my beloved homestead. They race up and down the stairs and out the doors, cover every inch of yard, front and back, then venture off into field and forest. They climb the old apple tree that grew beside the berry patch, find narrow, prickly paths between the blackberry canes, stop at the edge of the brook that bordered the property, leap from an old stump at the side of the road. And the road! I’d need another lifetime to collect all the footprints I’ve left on my old home street.

After leaving home as a young adult, I lived in New Mexico. My footprints must still be in Albuquerque and in Old Town, in the arroyos and the desert sands along the Rio Grande River. They must still wander through dormitories, resound in the dimly lit, spidery tunnel that connected the classrooms, trace their way along the sidewalks of Santa Fe, climb the mystical, winding stairs of Loretto Academy.

Having collected those, I would search next in Media, Pennsylvania where I moved as a bride, and in King of Prussia, Philadelphia, and the Amish towns of New Hope and Lancaster. Next, I’d search them out in Kansas City, Missouri, where I spent a few months with my newborn son while his father served in the military, and then in several Connecticut towns - Glastonbury, Bristol, and Tariffville - where we first settled as a young family. My footsteps must still ramble down the winding country roads,
through the cemetery where I often sat and dreamed at the foot of a life-sized statue of the Good Shepard, and along the sidewalks of Simsbury and Avon.
I’d have to drive far north to find the next set, up through the green hills of Northern Vermont. How long would it take to gather twelve years of footprints from Noyesville where we spent our first shivery winter, to Danville where we homesteaded in a hand-hewn log cabin for the next eleven years? How many times did I go up and down the back hill to the outhouse, up and down the front hill that served as a driveway, hauling loads of laundry and groceries during mud season when the car couldn’t make it up? How many times did I climb the drive, hauling countless gallons of water from All Right Springs ten miles away when our well went dry? 

My feet also walked ground in St. Johnsbury, in Greensboro, in Barton and Glover, in Morrisville, Newport, and Montpelier. I’ve left traveler’s prints in fifteen other states, in Canada, and in parts of beautiful, green England, northern France, Holland, and Germany.

Now my footsteps lay themselves down on a new road just three miles from where they first began. They’ve crisscrossed Main Street a million times, left themselves along Giberson in search of daisies, at the Mill Pond dam where I lean over the bridge to watch the chaos theory in action, along Miller to town, and over the bridge up Cook Road on my way to work. They’ve traversed Bear’s Den Road and Berkshire School Road, pattered along Salisbury Road and down Root Lane. Collecting them all will be life-affirming, for in every footprint I know I will also find a piece of my self.