Risking Delight

Last night I went to sleep all on my own, without taking even a flake of Ambien, which lately has come to feel like an accomplishment, and my head rewarded me with a series of weird vivid dreams. In one of them, I was wearing an orange flower-print dress. It sounds garish, but it was gorgeous. It had a 1940s vintage look, in a silky rayon fabric, and it fit like it was custom made for me, nice and snug around the midriff, then flaring gradually, wide and twirly by the time it reached my knees. It was a dress I could spin around and dance in, not that I ever do either.

In fact, it was the dress you would wear to stand on a bluff at sunset waiting for your lover to return from afar. There would be just enough of a breeze to tug the silky fabric taut against your body and lift the hem a bit further above your knees, and the light would be the very golden kind. Yes, it was an orange print dress splashed with sunshine and flowers, unabashedly orange, and I felt fabulous in it. I swear, if I could find that dress I’d buy it and wear it. I’d break into song and know how to dance and be whoever I was in my dream.

But there are big things to worry about. Why was I dreaming about dresses? Is there some sort of symbolic message here, some meaningful yearning, or am I just exceedingly shallow? It had been a full week on the political front, brimming over with drama, obscenity, and meanness.  And none of this should be a surprise. I will never forget the words, shortly before the election, of a plainspoken octogenarian acquaintance in New York, the African-American man who now lives in the building on Coney Island Avenue in which I grew up. “How can anyone not see this for what it is?” he said, with tears in his eyes. I naively reassured him that it would never happen. But that was the before.

As if we needed more explicit evidence, events this week further demonstrated that the Republicans can’t govern and don’t understand policy, and that Trump, a disgusting authoritarian who surrounds himself with sycophants, is dangerously unfit for the powerful office he has been allowed to assume. (Don’t hold back, Cynthia. Tell us what you really think.) This is a president who is essentially at war with the American people and our democratic system of governance. He will likely be his own undoing, but in the meantime, his loyalists don’t perceive the difference between reality television and the real world, are blind to lies, hypocrisy, and corruption, and are titillated by the vulgarity and hate so freely spewed.

But with the “health care” debacle (and it isn’t over yet, folks) we also saw that the voices of the people matter, Democrats can stand together when it counts, and at least three GOP Senators have courage. I resent that we are all being held hostage, and so many vulnerable people have been made to live in fear, but the week brought renewed hope after all, and it’s worth savoring that for a moment. History has a long arc, with setbacks and detours and cycles and pendulum swings, and I believe we will eventually move beyond this. Right now, though, there is a sense of urgency.  The stakes are awfully high. (We have crazy people with access to nukes…how’s that for a wake-up call?)

As you can see, I need to lighten up. Maybe that’s what my dream was all about. We’ve got to keep some humor on hand, and joy, and capacity for crazy and colorful dreaming. These dark heavy garments are weighing me down. I need to step out again into the sunlight of possibility. As Jack Gilbert wrote in his Brief for the Defense, “We must risk delight.” It ain’t easy, but we must.

The day before I dreamed about the dress, I’d experienced one of those baffled woman-of-a-certain-age moments in which I locked my key in my car in the supermarket parking lot, and had to call roadside service through my insurance company. I felt pretty exasperated standing there waiting, my keys within full view on the front seat. I noticed a man with a bag of groceries wandering around in search of his car. “Can’t remember where I parked,” he said, embarrassed. I told him, by way of reassurance, that I’d done that many times and in fact was dealing now with an even more extreme example of fuzzy-headedness. He sympathized with that. He even came over and explained to me which window I should break and which to avoid if it came down to that, and I very much hoped it wouldn’t.

I continued to wait for my rescuer. I convinced myself that this was a good exercise in patience and humility, a benign little snafu. Eventually an enormous red, shiny tow truck arrived, glaringly more than was needed, blocking three parking spaces. A skinny kid with a clipboard and tools climbed down, leaving the engine noisily running. He asked me the year and mileage of my car, and expertly proceeded to assess the situation. His arsenal consisted of a slim jim, an inflatable wedge, and some other thing-a-ma-jig, and he was in his own way an artist. In a matter of minutes, he had unlocked my door, and I was so grateful and impressed, I sort of lurched forward to hug him, but he backed away. He did not, after all, see a fabulous woman in a flower dress but rather a worn out old broad in a gray tee shirt and a faded pair of jeans who couldn’t even tell him how many miles her car had, although I am still wondering why that was something he needed to know. But he was my hero. (Isn’t there something very cool about a person who knows what they are doing? My husband, for example, has no idea how exciting it is to watch him true a bicycle wheel. But I digress…)

Newly liberated, I marveled at the ease with which I could insert a key and turn on the ignition, then sit on my butt and with minimal effort be transported home. I switched my radio dial from news-noise to classical music, and headed north on Highway 101. If you’ve done this drive, you know how it is. In a matter of minutes suburban development diminishes and country comes quietly forward: mountains, ranchland, and the sea. This is the Gaviota Coast, the last precious stretch of undeveloped rural coastline in the “lower” portion of the state. Although highways have cut through the coast range and across the rolling landscape, this land of ranches, farms, and open space remains a beautiful anachronism. It is in every way a transition zone.

My heart did its usual flutter of pleasure at the point where the highway curves slightly and opens out to a panoramic view of it all, and I reveled in the beauty. (Thank you for that comment, Laura.) I suppose I appreciated everything even more because of the small inconvenience and delay that preceded it. The ordinary seemed extraordinary again, as well it should.

Friends came for dinner that evening, and we had homemade ice cream and lemon granita and tomatoes from a local farm, and we sat outside and drank wine as a thin crescent moon appeared in the sky with a bright tiny star beneath it. I was unkempt and unwashed, like a worker come in from the fields, but I laughed at myself, and I was so very tired that night that I went right to sleep, and in my dreams I changed into a woman in an orange dress splashed with sunshine and flowers who was filled with light and light enough to dance.

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