How you stand here is important. How you
listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe. (William Stafford)
“How you fall is also important,” says my friend Nyuol, who is twenty-six but very wise. “If you fall, fall gracefully. If you stumble, turn it into a dance step. “
We are sitting beneath a trellis in Dorothy’s backyard, lit by stripes of sunlight. An old friend, a new friend, and the stranger that is me. (Stranger and stranger every day.)
Dorothy reads us two of her poems. I linger on these lines:
Pretty soon you don’t know who you are, think you were–or care.
The lizard’s your sister, the mountain your mother, the sky your mind.
I haven’t minded the sky enough lately. I haven’t mined the sky. There’s a lot of material I’m missing.
Nearby is a gathering of irises, very purple, past their prime, proud dowagers.
Dorothy reads a poem about wrinkles. (They don’t hurt.) It’s interesting…isn’t it…seeing ourselves age?
But I worry. What will we leave for the young ones? Things are veering out of control. This is a dangerous time.
One danger is to discount the quiet reality of a moment such as this one.
Let us evict from our heads that fraudulent narcissist who is taking up far too much space there. He is not worthy, says Nyuol.
I am only beginning to grasp the monumental patience, restraint, and stamina the struggle will demand of us.
But we are here now, and we shall honor this reality.
Dorothy weaves in snippets of Mary Oliver, who always seems relevant…starting with wild and precious lives and what we plan to do with the one we have.
Nyuol remembers Dorothy bringing Mary Oliver poems to the English learners when he first came to this country. Wild Geese, in particular:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Dorothy’s husband Tom has joined us. He’s a kind and soft spoken person, and I’m always glad to see him. We are both a little hard of hearing. He pours us wine, a glass of beer for Nyuol.
“Tom and I have acoustic neuromas,” I stupidly announce to Nyuol. “It’s a kind of tumor in the auditory canal.”
To which there is no response.
“Benign,” adds Tom brightly, lest anyone worry.
It’s a breezy day. Everything is, to paraphrase Rilke, recklessly in bloom.
Nyuol is writing a novel and thinks I should too. You can make up anything, he says. Otherwise, it’s just reporting. He chooses to proceed un-tethered to his past, and invent new meaning or no meaning at all.
I’m mostly a reporter.
Earlier in the day, I had ridden my bike past a long hedge of pink roses. I saw whales. And someone pointed out a hawk’s nest by the side of the road.
I went back to the school where I used to teach. My old partner Donna was there. “I keep thinking about what you said after 9/11,” she told me. “Remember what you said? Hope is not optional.”
I probably did say that. It sounds exactly like somebody I used to be when I knew who I was.
Tom and I have segued to a sidebar about music, in an aging Boomer way. He’s a big fan of Neil Young. And by the way, he says, he recently revisited my oral history website and re-read the fabulous interview we did with Jackson Browne.
I turn to Nyuol. “I interviewed Jackson Browne,” I tell him proudly. “You know who Jackson Browne is, right?”
To which there is no response.
Soon we are making our goodbyes and moving towards the car. Dorothy quickly gathers fragrant bundles of rosemary and oregano for us.
The mountains grow hazy in the late golden light.
“How can anyone live here and not be astonished?” asks Nyuol.
I don’t know.
My car still smells of oregano from Dorothy’s garden.