As soon as I string the Christmas lights across a section of the bougainvillea, the little Costa’s hummingbird alights, claiming one loop for his new perch, a good spot to spy on his feeder. For two weeks in November he came to sit on the back of the chair beside me each morning. When I spoke to him, he swiveled his head, studied me, considering my words, the sound of my voice. He darted off to chase someone away, then perched near me again. It surprised me how moved I was to have him there beside me. I’d talk to him, go back to reading the paper, look up again to tell him how glad I was to have him there. Sometimes I’d forget to greet him, need to apologize. Now I have to love him from a distance, unless I’m near the feeder when he drinks, and then I have to stop myself from reaching out to run my index finger along his back. I don’t know where he sleeps, but maybe near that strand of lights in the bougainvillea. They keep me company when I wake up in the night. The lights have always been my favorite part of this season. When I hang the two strands outside the gate, I walk out three times to see them. I stand in the middle of the road and let myself feed on them. They’re like magic to me, fed by the sun, coming alive when the light leaves the day. They awaken a longing in me, too, a kind of nostalgia, decades of Christmas lights in all my homes, in all my places. But I think what calls to me, what feeds me, is a kind of hope. Might we all know brightness and beauty. Might we always have light in the darkness like this, quiet, steady, full of peace.
I was ten in 1968, an only child. None of my parents were activists. I was imbued with the spirit of the time but not a part of it. I am a child of the seventies. I grew up with duck and cover drills, crawling under our desks at school and covering our heads (as if this might actually help us in the quake of an atomic bomb). We grew up knowing Social Security may not be there when we reached 65, knowing the world could be destroyed anytime at the press of a button. Maybe it was in the face of this I became an eternal optimist, or maybe it was simply in my nature. But optimist or not, I have lived my whole life afraid that one day I would need to put myself in front of people with machine guns to stand up for what is right. And I didn’t want to have to die like that. In recent years, I’ve shaped a softer possibility for myself. Maybe I don’t have to die. Maybe I can speak up, do the right thing, without risking my life. But our current climate in the United States has awakened all my earlier fears. On the way home from my mother’s last week I met a woman named Liz. She and Zoë and I met at the Fullerton Amtrak station and shared the three seats at the back of the bus on the last leg of my journey. We talked nonstop for hours. Liz told me they threw grenades at the protesters in North Dakota. She said one woman had her arm blown off. She said another had one of her eyes put out by a rubber bullet. She said they used water hoses on the protesters in the heart of a northern winter. I have not researched this, but I’m inclined to believe her. Today between work needing to be done I Googled “Sacred Stone” and signed letters for my U.S. senators and my congressman to stop the pipeline. I called Palm Springs City Hall and left a message in hopes of finding out what I might be able to do to make sure we declare ourselves a sanctuary city. On the way home from Ralph’s before dark I start singing, “Give Peace a Chance.” I want to be able to stand up for what is right, but I don’t want to have to die for it. I’ve heard people are being “planted” to stir up trouble where the intention is to practice nonviolent resistance. The only thing I can think of in my head if I am there when this happens is to just start singing. So today I sing all the way home from the grocery store. It’s a warm evening. People look at me through the open windows of their cars. No one waves or gives me any indication of being with me, but it is my hope a happy sense of that comes to them moments later, after I pass by. When I walk through the trailer park, I imagine my song touching people through the open sliding glass doors. I know some people might think I’m crazy or even wrong. But I don’t stop. In between, I laugh. I am all welled up with the love of it. The waxing moon is rising in the east. It will be full here on Friday afternoon. I sing to the moon as I walk. And I get good chills along my arms, my legs. I am embarrassed and joyful, both. I wonder what my neighbors think as I get close to home. I hope some of the people who hear me, whether they know me or not, are touched by my heartfelt song. “All we are saying,” I sing, “is give peace a chance.”
I’m engrossed in preparing for one of my classes. I sit for hours with my laptop making choices again and again about how to bring my course over into this new online learning system. Each time I need to make a small decision, I have to try to figure out how it works, explore the possibilities of the software first, then choose what seems best. Nothing is simple. But I have given up lamenting being forced to switch over. Because I am inside it now, fully engaged, no longer frustrated by the limitations of the software, only fascinated by the process, the details, the decisions. All day while I work the rain comes, steady and sweet. The birds are loud outside the window. Now and then I remember to stop to listen, look up, savor their boisterousness. In the early afternoon, I hear a soft skrittery sound. A hummingbird is sitting on the open louvers. She is out of the rain. I talk to her, touched and honored. I hope the warm air from the heater wafts over her perch. At one point I realize how good it feels to be immersed in my work like this. But I want to go for a walk, see how full the creek bed is. In the not quite dusk, I get a glimpse of the mountains when the clouds part, and I know I’ll regret it if I don’t get out there. I tear myself away from my laptop, pull my wild fuzzy magenta scarf over my head. I take my lime green umbrella, lock the door behind me. I refuse to bring my flashlight because I want my pockets free. The umbrella feels like enough of an encumbrance. Later I realize I didn’t even bring my key, but I don’t care. I stand beside the creek, the clean air cold on my face, and watch the water move. I startle a cottontail. I walk to the foot bridge where the falling water gets loud, then away again, the frogs and the wide moving water always beside me. I dream of snow falling on our mountains as I walk. It’s dark when I get back, and the light in the living room makes my home look warm and inviting. I dig out the spare key, glance at the courtyard in the light from the three paper solar lanterns in a row along the shed. Everything is glistening in the wet dark. I feel lucky and grateful for my home, for knowing I get to be warm and dry, get to have a good dinner. Before I go inside, I pick two handfuls of mustard greens for my soup. I even have a good book waiting for my Friday night. It feels like the ending of an ordinary day in an extraordinary way. Thank you.
It’s the small things that stop me, give me breath. The unbelievable yellow of the new kitchen cloth from Trader Joe’s lying in a bright wet clump on the edge of the sink, the fleeting perfection of its spotlessness. The messy lumps of peeled mango piled inside the red glass bowl, waiting for me to finish writing and open a chilled bottle of Topo Chico to go with them. The surprising thunder of the cicadas in the neighbor’s tree, filling our courtyard garden, growing louder and louder as dusk darkens to night, their wild crescendo crashing through the open windows, the abrupt silence at full dark. I still find myself rubbing my fingers against each other sometimes, evidence of my hidden anxiety. But tonight I listen to the now-quiet air and feel the kind of peace I’ve been longing for.
[Editor’s note: This was originally written shortly after “The Thinning Veil.” As I work to return to my blog, there will no doubt be a mix of things past and present, maybe off season–this was in the heart of the summer–and so on. But here I am!]