I am standing beside the pine table in front of the kitchen window mixing the tuna and medicinal herbs for Sofia. My own watermelon juice was first, the jars full of pink clustered together now on the top shelf of the fridge. I move the blender through its speeds, my body on automatic with the familiar steps. I stand looking outside but not seeing. I am glad I’m finally taking care of this. I’d put it off for too many days, something always getting in the way, robbing the time or the inclination. I flip the lever to slow the speed, turn the other to shut the blender off. I am still staring out the window when I come to. I see Serena, adorned with her yellow palo verde blooms. I see the lime green umbrella, the mountains in the distance, doves in both the tray feeders, late morning snack. Pleasure washes through me. I take it in all at once like a song. I really, really love our new home. Gratitude pours out. This appreciation comes often now, slipping in at odd moments, seeming quieter and deeper than I’ve known before. Maybe that comes with age. Maybe it’s tied to the fact that this one belongs to us more fully than before. Or maybe it’s just her own magic working on me, her spot on the planet, her mountains nearby, her birds, her sky, now her palo verde, her bougainvillea, her human, her cats. I feel like we belong here. And so lucky. I hope she’s glad we came.
I roll over on the bed, extend my arms out, flex my hands. It’s Sunday morning, and I relish lounging in bed, indulging in that sweet place between sleeping and wakefulness, soft dreamy half thoughts floating through me. I stretch again, spread my fingers wide. When I arch my back, I see the tiny crescent of the waning moon framed in the clerestory window. I love to see the moon in daylight, and this feels like the perfect beginning. I get out of bed, and I see the sun has already reached the courtyard. The two tallest of the volunteer sunflowers are alive in their namesake’s light. My movement at the window startles doves from the ground. More doves take flight when I open the door, and Boo charges out. I remember it’s the one day of grace from the construction site across our little road. I scurry back inside to do what I revel in doing once each week—I open the louvered windows at the front of the house. The Sunday quiet is the only thing that enters. I stand for long moments looking out the open window in the gentle air.
I am not so naive or so bigoted to believe all doctors are assholes or all nurses are saints. I know both groups have their fair share of both. But when my stepfather was in the hospital, it was the doctors who were the challenge and the nurses who helped to get us through. It was the nurses and the other family members of patients on the floor. There is something that happens between strangers sitting together in a room when each of you faces losing a loved one. I remember sitting in the little alcove on the eastern side of the oncology floor in the Newport Beach hospital. And I remember a short blonde-haired woman whose husband was dying. I remember seeing recognition when our eyes would meet across the small space. I think we came to love each other a little bit sitting in that room together.
I was sitting there one afternoon, slouched against the blue fabric chairs, when I heard her voice and looked up. She was standing in the hallway, head tilted up toward the oncologist. “You want to understand?” his voice now, loud against the white tiles. “Then you go back ten years,” he growled at her, “and go to medical school.” I don’t remember what came next, only the way the bottom fell out of me for her in that terrible moment. I knew it had already been almost impossible to remain upright, to keep limbs and torso stitched together, and here she was bludgeoned now by his mean, defensive arrogance. I wanted to scream at him on her behalf. I may very well have gone after him, spoken my mind. I was 24 and had a habit of doing so. But I hope I went to her instead. I hope I offered comfort when she needed it. And I hope my eyes spoke those same volumes to hers whenever we met in the alcove or passed each other in the hallway. Brave, kind stranger—que le vaya bien.
This is my 49th post since I turned 55. Before I become 56, I have seven more to go. After falling so incredibly behind in my tumultuous year, I didn’t know if I’d be able to catch up. But now I can believe I’ll reach my goal. Forty-nine and seven, all those magical seven numbers. And I’ll become eight sevens soon. I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I want to have a theme for my 56 posts while I’m 56, or if I want to leave it wide open again for a second year in a row. So far I’ve alternated each year, chafing when I “narrow” things to a theme, floundering when I have no theme at all, no scaffolding. I know one year I want to build my year of posts from sleeping dreams, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. I consider returning to my first blog, to nudging myself again to have new experiences and report on them here. Or I could write about the topic that’s grabbing me now, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Or pilgrimages as a whole. Or walking and noticing, being present and connected to the world. (These last three are all of a piece in my mind these days.) So I could write this coming year about the walks I take, or the walks I research or the walks I read about. Or maybe I can allow myself to let this next year be one juicy messy mish mash, be all of the above, even flash fiction added to the mix. And mix rhymes with 56, so maybe there’s a fun title alive in there somewhere waiting to emerge. I’m tossing it around now as I write this, cooked dinner in a bowl. No choices made yet, no drizzling of olive oil or sprinkling of cayenne. No nutritional yeast, no curry. Only the bright green of the bell pepper, dark brown of the mushroom, the tofu stark in contrast, resting against the blue sides of the big ceramic bowl.
One little bird flies into our courtyard garden, alights on the tip of the palo verde, then perches on the wooden fence. He is making a sweet sound, but I am not sure I can place him. He hops from the fence to the tube feeder. I think he might be a verdin, but I don’t even know if they can cling like this, don’t know if they can reach the thistle seeds through the wire mesh. In case it is a goldfinch, I tell him I hope they will be coming back. “I miss you,” I say, and he flies away. Later I see a flicker of movement, and there are two goldfinch at the feeder. I think, how cool is that? I am sure this time they are goldfinch, and females. I picture them living down the street somewhere, just popping in for a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon. Hope rears its head. I imagine this idea might spread. The two of them are eating now with gusto. “You go, girls,” I say. Maybe word will get around.
When I am posting the little flyers I’d made for the drop-in writing circle, I send off little hopes and prayers with them. May it be sweet and safe, I ask. When Laurie tells me she felt safe in our first circle, I hear that echo, send my thanks. And before we begin yesterday, the universe gives me a bit of a jolt I am pretty sure is tied to that same prayer, that same hope: sweet and safe. We’d opened the back doors of the hall, moved the big round table in front of them, sun and air beside us. It is just before eleven. I light a candle in the center of the circle. Laurie and Sharon are sitting at the table, and I’m standing beside it. A woman marches across the long hall, plants herself near Laurie’s elbow.
“Are you coming to join us?” I ask her.
“No,” she says. She stands where she is, a soldier at attention.
“Well, did you think you wanted to watch us?” I ask.
“Maybe,” she says.
“Well,” I say, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.” I’d thought about this earlier. We were not looking for an audience.
I haven’t finished my sentence when she does an abrupt about-face and marches back across the hall. She has her arms at her sides, and she is flapping her hands back toward me as she walks, as though she can swat away my words, keep them from following her.
“Um, what is the flapping of the hands?” I ask. And, “Are you really not going to talk to me?” She keeps walking away, keeps flapping her hands in my direction. “I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about this,” I say.
She reaches the door at the other end. “Maybe,” I think I hear her say as she walks out again.
We are all a little stunned. I have to check. “Was I inappropriate in my response?” I ask. They say I wasn’t. I have to shake it out of me then, a kind of invasion I feel in my body. I wave my arms around in the air above the table. “Whoosh whoosh whoosh,” I say. A different flapping of hands, I think now. As best I can figure, this odd jolt is a message. I take it as encouragement and a reason to trust. Maybe it says we can keep our space safe no matter who comes along. And maybe it says, “Certain beings will be led away.”
Our first writing circle was sweet sweet sweet. There were four of us, and we did two eleven-minute writing sessions. I loved what everyone wrote. They were vivid and filled with marvelous details. My critic was up, though, and grumbled in my ear when I was writing. It was hard to keep the pen moving, to resist crossing out words as I wrote. I think I never really “dropped down,” wasn’t able to let it come through me with any sense of ease. Was that because even though I said I didn’t want to be a leader here, even though I want to be only a participant, by virtue of instigating it, of bringing the prompts, of explaining the mechanics, I felt like I needed to “perform” at some acceptable level? Or was it the cup of green tea I couldn’t resist drinking before I arrived? Or could it have been only because I haven’t done this in a long time, because I had hopes, had expectations? I wanted to feel the magic that can happen on the page. It makes me sad I wasn’t able to surrender to it. I used to find my way there more often. It used to be easy, like walking through an open doorway, like being invited in to sip tea by the big window overlooking the lake. I told Laurie later how critical I felt about my own writing, how strong and beautiful I found the pieces they each read. “Beginners luck,” she said. She wrote a prose poem I hope she’ll work with more. She told me she’d felt safe there, and that was a boon for me, balm to disconcerted ears. It made me glad and grateful. I helped make that happen.