Trying Times

After we hiked for several hours in the backcountry, my friend welcomed me into her home for shower (with some poison oak soap) and a nap in her guest room. I didn’t bother to unmake the bed; I just got horizontal right on top of the bed spread with a soft burgundy coverlet over me, stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, and soon drifted into a delicious but disorienting sleep. When I woke up a half hour later, it took me a few moments to remember where I was. The room was so quiet, the light so soft, the furnishings so unfamiliar. I could feel my body unfolding itself, feel its demanding aches grow muffled, and watched my consciousness meander where it would, poking around in the usual places but finally sitting still. It’s nice to have refuge in the house of a friend.

It’s Mother’s Day, almost, which is just another arbitrary greeting card proclamation, but I couldn’t help but remember as I lay in my friend’s bed yesterday that on May 10 twenty-five years ago, when I was a very young mother myself, I received word by phone of my brother Eddie’s death. I can’t even remember who called me. All I know is that I was wearing a rose-pink dress, and my daughter and I were playing with a tiny white kitten that had just come into our lives. My little girl watched me crumble abruptly into sobs, and her presence was a comfort, though I hated to upset her. So my dear brother Eddie was in my head yesterday as I rested in my friend’s quiet room, and I resolved that I would write about him today, but now I find that I cannot. It’s just plain painful.

Speaking of mothers and pain, which I’m afraid I far too often do, I saw an elderly woman in the supermarket the other day who reminded me so very much of my mother. She was white-haired, frail, bewildered and brave, pushing a cart, but mostly using it for balance, leaning against it, standing at the end of a congested aisle and apologizing for being in the way. “You’re doing great,” I said to her, but maybe that seemed condescending. “You’re not in anyone’s way,” I added. What I really wanted to do was hug her, but that might well have just freaked her out or knocked her over. More accurately, what I really wanted was to hug my own mother. I wish I had been a lot more tender and patient with her, more appropriately awed by her courage. If you still have such a person in your life, cherish is the word.

Getting back to yesterday, I had lingered in the valley in order to attend a political action meeting. (We use the word “action” but it often feels like frustration, exasperation, anxiety, outrage, disillusionment, and a lot of other things that aren’t really action.) I decided to stop in town first for an early dinner. On a back street of Solvang, I noticed a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I’d never seen before, charmingly called Hummingbird Restaurant. I can’t explain…it just felt like a scene from a novel and I was meant to walk in. The proprietor, a man named Harold, told me he was from Barbados, and his specialty was Caribbean cuisine. I sat on the patio and he served me a big bowl of gumbo, and I wondered, as I often do, about the utter implausibility of everything.

Fortified, I drove to a nearby horse ranch run by a friend who had offered to host our meeting in her office. It was a scene of rural America in all its bucolic beauty and optimistic endeavor. There were friendly horses and a shiny green tractor, a barn stacked with hay, and a large field of golden grass, newly mown, stretching out toward the mountains in the distance. The air was a sweet fusion of hay and horse and honeysuckle, and I stood outside for a very long time, loathe to go indoors. But we have so much, and there is so much to lose. We have to keep trying.

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