Not-Thinking

ChristmasOur daughter spent the holidays in England with the family she married into, but so it goes.  The 1930s picture above of an unknown California woman reminded me of myself, i.e., “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” Although I really didn’t feel that celebratory.

We had a quiet Christmas dinner with Monte’s parents, just the four of us. One of my favorite moments was when my mother-in-law brought out a few old snapshots from her childhood in Long Beach.  Here’s one of her as a young girl on a bicycle, about ten years of age, pedaling her two-wheeler along the sidewalk, already so competent and sturdy. DSC_0069

Anyway, although it was quite early, I felt disproportionately sleepy after dinner, as if all of the events of the year had finally stopped rolling forward and settled into a heap at my feet. So I sat on the sofa half-listening to a drowsy  conversation that touched upon ship design, native plants, measurable rainfall, and El Niño speculation.

Afterward, we stepped outside into a cold, glassy, moonlit night, and our Christmas was officially over. I felt relieved. Just a few more winding-down days, and we will sail through into the symbolic hope of a brand new numeral.

What a year it has been! I am now precisely one year distant from my mother’s final spiral, and I am still prone to seeing poignant images of her in my head, or spontaneously remembering qualities she possessed, and often, with a jolt of recognition, bumping into those very characteristics within myself.  I never knew.

I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been a hard learning. Her death dislodged all the old sorrows along with new realizations, and I officially understand at last that I will never not be sad. But I am trying to steer clear of the currents that pull me to places where nothing can ever be changed or resolved. I can see that following those streams of thought is repetitive, futile, and excruciating, and thus to do so is insane.

It’s tricky, though, to carry one’s history gracefully without staring at it and replaying it over and over, but I am allowing (or trying to allow) the present to distract me. I find tangible little tasks, like sorting out the utensils in that crammed kitchen drawer, or trying my hand at persimmon bread. I go for walks and focus on my Fit-Bit (yes, I am that ridiculous) to see how many steps I have gone. I’m turning my attention to my Living Stories website (and I’ll write more about this in a subsequent post) and pulling weeds and dripping pretty watercolors onto wet sheets of paper just to see what happens. I call it not-thinking, or being shallow.

But at other times, it feels like one tier down from enlightenment. It feels like I am really on to something. Because, really, what good does all that brooding yield? Does anything undone become done or anything done become undone? I am only un-doing myself. What is over is over.

My wise friend Dan tells me it is not a matter of not-thinking, but of not indulging “the inner monolog”, not chewing on the thoughts that randomly arise while we are going about our day.  He elaborated in a recent email: “Sometimes I’m well into them when I realize that I don’t have to be entertaining them…I do this a lot when I’m walking the dogs. I realize I can just walk, and I realize how beautiful that oak tree is, half-way up the hill, or those mare’s tails to the south, ahead of the front moving in, or how intricate the tumbleweed that has rolled into my path.”

For me, it is so very easy to be depressed. I see that shadow looming always. But there is so much beauty, so much wonder, and it too is real. So I am staying afloat, more or less, noticing colors and counting my steps, even letting music in, selectively. To be alive is to know sorrow and loss, and while the particulars of my pain are grueling to me in their own special way, the basic feelings are universal. So maybe the best outcome is compassion. Or noticing the oak tree by the creek. And now I’m going for a walk.

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