Saturday, September 29, 2012

Last Week of September

In September a radiator can serve as a convenient shelf for plants. Fall may be here, but no one in your neighborhood has turned on the heat yet. It is safe for me to park a chrysanthemum right under a window.

It is still the weather when I can open a bathroom window wide during a Saturday morning cleaning. Ammonia does its job in concentration in the narrow enclosed space. Tub and basin and toilet get a particular gleam as I squeeze the bathroom sponge in hot water and pass it one more time over all the porcelain and tile. The floor dries after its mopping.

The last week of September wears a little bit of summer some years. You don’t yet put away the box fans but leave them in corners on the hardwood floors. You know that soon you will retrieve the space heaters you stored last spring.

You enjoy the evening meals that end with the taste of honey and apple and pear. You look forward to the occasional tiny glass of port with a blue cheese.

It is quiet when it rains at night in late September. You welcome that quiet.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend Breakfast

There is a place I often go for breakfast when I spend time on the Cape. To avoid going to a grocery store to buy what I need to make coffee for one morning, I get up at my leisure, shower, and drive five minutes along State Highway 6. The doors of the eatery I head to are open by 6:30, and some weekend visits I am there before 7.

It is an easy menu, uncomplicated. There are listings for daily omelette specials, but I never go that way in my ordering. I nod to the coffee that is offered within two minutes of my being seated. I do not make pancakes at home and I do not know how to make hash so any breakfast out often features one or the other.

I relish the quiet in the paneled tavern room where I sit. Regulars at the counter may chat with the staff, but other early customers like the quiet too. Sometimes I bring a book.

This past weekend on the Cape, I slept in later than usual. I had been visiting with two women the evening before, longtime friends whose wedding I attended in 2004. Their home is tasteful and comfortable, their table a hard place to leave. The evening went easily on as we caught up and dug a little deeper on some issues. Just what old friends do when they have the chance to visit.

At 8 o’clock the next morning I walked into a tavern room that was filling up.

The conversations were no longer just the quiet banter with staff. I heard things I had not planned on hearing, spoken with the bonhomie of professional travelers. One group seated at the counter talked about their college choices fifty and sixty years earlier. For some of the women speaking, college had frankly been a strategy for finding a husband. One well-heeled woman confided that she had known she would have no trouble getting married and so had not considered college for a second.

They sounded like people intent on enjoying themselves. They were glad to have others at hand to whom they could say what they liked.

When I had paid my bill and walked outside to my car, I welcomed the soft cold air of a September morning on the Cape. As I pulled out of my parking spot, I watched three couples from the counter approaching their cars. In each case, a husband walked to the door on the driver’s side; the woman took her time reaching the passenger door.

It looked so clear. As though it would always be this way.

I felt surprised in remembering that it did not need to.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Love and Absence

"Do you really believe in ghosts?"
"Maybe I shouldn't even call them ghosts. It's just stuff you can't see. That I believe in, probably more than most people. Certain kinds of love you can't see. That's what I'm calling ghosts."
Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer, page 357

A savvy supervisor at work is fond of commenting: “The data always tells an important story.” Numbers. How many people attended a conference session? How many more attended than last year? How many people bought a copy of a presenter’s book after the session?

The data often seems to tell a story that we do well to heed. How many diners rated a restaurant’s cooking as excellent? Very good? Fair? Terrible? How many people found a particular review helpful? How many visitors logged onto a blog in the last twenty-four hours? What’s the largest number of comments to appear on any of this blogger’s recent postings?

Are we doing well?

Are we making it?

Do we have the life we want?

Suppose a novel we were reading challenged the notion that the people we loved were only the people that others could see and count or the people we actually managed to see as often as we wanted? Is there any data we could find to counter the idea that love requires the sight of the beloved?

Because love is never more evident than when the object is absent, that being the time when the beloved’s importance cannot be overlooked, Persian poets in particular dwelt on the pangs of separation to deepen their love of God and thereby draw close to him.
Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, page 259

It used to be called The Religions of Man. For the sake of a more enlightened readership, the title was changed to The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. It is twenty years since I gave the Huston Smith classic my last read before today.

Something made me reach for the text as a diversion during a two-hour session that would call for nothing more than my bodily presence. Today it was just important that someone – anyone – be in a place rather than have it appear unstaffed or unsupervised.

The deeper I read about Sufi mysticism in the chapter on Islam, the more I sensed a world I would not know how to collect data on. The critical question, I understand, is not how many contemporary adherents of the Sufi tradition there are or how many translations of Rumi’s poetry are printed and purchased and made available on library bookshelves and bookstore tables.

Rather…. In a world with so much to count and measure, how does a life ever get to approach absence – or the presence of something you can’t always or maybe ever see – and understand on some level that there is something here to take seriously? That there is a kind of sustenance here that you do not wait for data to validate before you acknowledge your need for it and yield to its power working in you?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September Again

This past Friday morning it was almost September. The sunlight on one of my bookcases at home was like honey.

I realized then how much I wanted September, this great month of beginnings. Some clock had been patiently ticking inside, and I would soon hear the rich chimes again.

The day before I had taken up a volume in my office at day’s end. I had sat beside a table lamp re-reading the first chapter of Edwin Way Teale’s Autumn Across America. Separated from its dust jacket some time earlier, the red-cloth cover was comfort in my hands, the gold lettering of the author’s signature a familiar solace.

The chance last night to attend a screening of the 1963 classic Hud led a friend and me into a favorite university neighborhood. On the way we stopped at a monument to American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We attempted to identify on the sculpture each of the characters from the poet’s writings.

A few hours later we were walking back from the film. We kept talking about Hud and Lonnie and Alma, their conflicts and tensions, the dust in the black-and-white Texas landscape.

A New England night sky opened above us.

Yes, September had opened within.