Monday, November 26, 2012

Birthday in the Mountains

Far from books, far from library shelves and their coded wisdoms, snow showers visited northeastern Pennsylvania this Saturday.

If you had chosen to stand with friends that morning in a mountain cemetery, the brief and sudden movement of flakes barely distracted you. You had to watch – one more time – your generation negotiate a landscape from which someone older had disappeared.

You got to listen to another summing up of a life. You recognized – one more time – that such a summing up, even when it is accurate and insightful and loving, does not restore that life.

If the Saturday happened to be your own birthday, you found it hard to convince anyone that there were few places you would rather have been – with friends, on a mountain, under a grey sky full of silences, about something so real it could not be delayed. The universe had trusted you to be up to it.

There was a lunch on the road home. Friends had undertaken to locate a spot beforehand where we could pause over fare carefully prepared. The Hotel Fauchere in Milford, Pennsylvania, will stay vivid in my mind for its creamy mushroom soup and its quiche with kale and onions, its table next to a window through which I watched a porch lined with wooden rockers responding to the winds.

This morning I am back among books.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Private Reading

It was a gamble.

I usually know what any of my writings sounds like as I compose it. I hear the voice I would use if I were reading the post aloud. I test how it flows, where a transition might be abrupt, how a particular word fits or does not fit the paragraph in which it appears. I edit as I write, I edit as I hear that voice reading in my head. Occasionally I read something aloud if I need to assure myself that the writing works.

This week I decided to ask someone to read aloud to me a piece that I had written. I wanted to hear it in another’s voice.

Almost exactly a year ago I had written about a wake I attended for a family with its roots in Irish Boston. As that anniversary approached this year, I decided to share a link to the posting with a work colleague who is a member of that family. I asked that she be cautious about sharing the link to my blog with too many people, but I wanted her to read what I had written about her family. A writer herself, she might appreciate what I had been trying to achieve.

About a week later her son – a man in his twenties – came up to me. His mother had let him read the writing I had done about their family. He wanted me to know that he had enjoyed it on a number of levels.

I took a gamble. I told him I had an unusual request to make of him. I asked whether he would be willing to read aloud what I had written. I asked him whether he would read it to me.

If he was taken aback by my request, his natural sense of courtesy kept him from showing that. I have spoken with this gentleman a number of times. I suspected something of his own bookishness would make my request intriguing and maybe even oddly pleasing. We arranged a time when he would stop by my office and read to me.

I will admit that I was eager at the prospect. On another occasion a few years back I had asked someone else to do just this. It had been a regular reader of the blog, though, and I had simply wanted to show my gratitude for his faithful and attentive reading.

What was this request about? Why had I suddenly asked someone for this private reading? What was I looking for? Validation? Assurance during a week that had been difficult on other fronts? Maybe it was just company in the solitary venture of writing. I do not really know.

I had been right, though. As I heard his reading begin, it all sounded right. He did not rush. He did not flatten his voice to sound cavalier about what he was doing. He let the words I had written carry him into re-creating that afternoon in a Boston funeral home a year ago. I was moved as I listened. He paused just where I had imagined pauses. He opened up where the piece transitions from details of that afternoon into surmise and reflection on what I had encountered that day.

I had taken a gamble. I had simply named what I wanted. I got more than I expected.

Now I get to say thank you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rodin Google

I did not expect Rodin this morning.

Not on Google.

I did not expect to remember walking in the hot July sun along the paths of the Hotel Biron in Paris.

All the roses.

My first visit to the Rodin Museum.

Taking slow steps, taking slow pictures.

Finally there!

Sometimes the universe has a way of telling you that you are just where you were meant to be.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Birthday Month

Who have you become?

Conventional wisdom would have you expect consistency as you age, the return of a recognizable self as each new birthday approaches. Part of each birthday is a prompt to acknowledge goals reached within the past year or perhaps subtly modified.

In the collection of psalms called the breviary, there is a serious note sounded on Friday of each of the four weeks into which the psalms are divided. Regularly for someone praying with this volume, after the lulling rhythms of day to day, just when you think you know what to expect from the prayers, a Good Friday scene is set. There is again a passion and death to recall, there is the real possibility of free fall within a human life.

At the end of some weeks, that Good Friday mood in the breviary can feel abrupt, disruptive, needlessly somber. Not always, though.

Tonight was going to be a theatre night. A friend with whom I worked years ago had contacted me two months ago and proposed a drive into downtown Boston this Friday evening. A production based on the Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid would be starting its run. Former Latin students, we each understood the other as the ideal companion for this Friday entertainment. We had selected a Malaysian restaurant close to the theatre and planned to meet there at 6:30 and catch up on the news.

His call this morning struck a serious note. One of his young daughters was going back into the hospital today. A long-term condition that had appeared to be improving re-appeared in the last round of tests. Taken anew out of the weekly rhythms of school and work, my friend and his wife would be by their daughter’s hospital bed the next three days.

They would be practicing hope again, each awaiting the return of a recognizable life.

In two weeks I reach another birthday. Some years it may be good enough just to turn on a lamp at day's end and recognize most of what I see.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Man Reading

This was my third morning with the poem “White-eyes” by Mary Oliver. It was five-thirty, and I was sitting in my usual place on the living room couch. Coffee in hand, I opened the volume Why I Wake Early to a clearly marked page.

On two previous mornings I had stayed with this same poem, each time arriving at a point where I felt my heart leap at something I had forgotten to expect. No matter what else my mind had been working through just a day before, I seemed to stop, go still, grow lighter as the poet’s communication came into focus. I was drawn each time by someone wanting to say something – something about her experience of a marvelous world, something about her life.

That urge on the poet’s part to open a door with her words regularly leaves me breathless. At words offered with intelligence from a generous heart, my own heart opens.

In my home I have on display two vintage photographs of men reading. I love to ponder what may have prompted someone years ago to pick up a camera at the time each man was reading. I like to think the photographer found his own heart awakened at the sight, stirred at the nearness of another’s inner world. Imagine the conversations waiting to begin!