The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Next January 1, 2015

IMG_2875Dad didn’t quite make it to 2014, and enigmatically, his few and final words to his grandson were: “When beautiful January comes….”  Last January we experienced unusually heavy snows and low temperatures, and dad’s Studio flooded and froze; both the floors and walls were ruined. It was a stunning and heartbreaking loss, but after a thoughtful reassessment of the situation, what followed was the beginning of an important, year-long process of re-birth… Was my father being prophetic or poetic?…. Who knows? Either way, January will always make me think of my father’s mysterious, near-final words which, intentional or not, heralded the way for the next chapter in our lives…

After having passed the first anniversary of my father’s death, I find myself thinking more about it than I have in months. It’s strange terrain now. There’s an inclination to feel that somehow he’s slipping further away, that somehow it’s slowly becoming more and more like he never existed at all… I know this isn’t really true, and if nothing else, I and my son are proof that he was here. And Elihu’s our insurance that his line will continue forth into the world… (Not that the planet actually needs more humans!) But why even think like this? Very few people on this earth will ultimately be remembered for the long haul. Most of us, except for the very slim part of the earth’s population that comes to know some true degree of fame, will indeed become forgotten after a while. After all, life moves on, and the void left behind naturally fills in with new creations, new endeavors… There are only so many stories one can pass down to the next generation, there is only so much time in which to tell them. Beyond a certain point, it just doesn’t make logistic sense that we’ll all be remembered by our descendants.

It gives my fragile ego a small amount of relief to think that now I’ve left behind a digital footprint, and that in some way I, my family and my life, will now never die… Perhaps in a century’s time my long-dormant blog will fall to the bottom of the searches, and it may ultimately come to languish in a virtual state of suspension, but still, it’ll be there, somewhere. To know that gives me the variety of comfort I imagine folks derive from erecting several tons of marble to mark their final resting place. When I lived in Chicago I was a fan of the city’s beautiful cemeteries, and it boggled my mind to ponder the immense amount of industry that went into their memorials. I would stand in the middle of a peaceful forest with headstones and statuary as far as the eye could see in every direction, the only sound being a soft hush of white noise from beyond the cemetery walls… In that peaceful, natural oasis it was hard to imagine the toil it must have taken to erect these monuments – let alone dig the holes in the middle of a frozen winter! I think of horse teams pulling great loads of stone, of the pulleys and levers, the carts, the wheels, the manpower… I imagine how loud and chaotic it must have been at one time. I imagine all the horrible job site injuries that must have happened; the crushed fingers, the sprained muscles and worse… All of this motivated by the need for men and women to memorialize themselves unto eternity. Really, doesn’t it all seem so silly, so vain? So futile?

Ok, so if burying one’s body in a cemetery and spending a chunk of your estate on a piece of granite to mark the site is a ridiculous notion – especially because without an accompanying bio and headshot, future passersby will have absolutely no idea what you were fabulous for and why we should even remember you – then what should one do with one’s own body? A good question. A question I’ve wondered at for years, but until my own father died, I never truly followed it through to a conclusion. There are no easy answers. Even for me, a gal who has not a fraction of a doubt that our souls continue on to another realm of existence after this flesh-and-bone school of life. I mean, I may not care what happens to me after I’m gone (I don’t worry about my body’s disposition in any way affecting my soul’s successful transit outta here), but thinking about it now is what’s hard. Either way, it’s just plain icky. Biological life is wet and smelly, and there’s no tidy way around it. Everyone knows this, of course, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty application of the concept, screw it. It does not help.

Having already muscled through the notion of my dear father’s body being scorched to ashes by a turbo-powered blow torch (and having visited the place and seen it with my own eyes as part of my process of closure; here’s a link to the post “Tiny Trip”, scroll down to the very end), I suppose one could say I’ve made some progress. Yes and no. And I like to think I’m pretty laid back about things. Again, yes and no. I’ve butchered chickens. I’ve tried to participate responsibly in death, bringing it swiftly, honoring the sacrifice of life. I’ve tried to be as matter-of-fact as possible about things. But it’s just so strange, this territory of a non-living body that once was a real, living person. It’s hard to reconcile those images. So in order to help myself do just that, I searched out – and found – a book on this exact subject. It’s called “Stiff” by Mary Roach, and I highly recommend reading it if you too would desperately like to demystify death and the culture of cadavers. The author is delightfully witty, and without her good humor it might be all to easy to simply shut the book before the end of the first chapter. (Even so I had to put it down every so often and take a break from it before resuming.) Still and all, I don’t know. I just don’t.

But Elihu does. Since he was quite small he’s known what he wants done with his body after he’s through using it. When we first began talking about death, burial and such, he would get very emotional about it – insisting that he wanted his own dead body to be taken into the forest and left for nature to take over. I explained that it would likely lead to a whole mess of legal trouble – that the people who laid him there to rest might even possibly end up in jail. This made him angry. It was surprising to see such a young child express such indignation. He found it fundamentally wrong that he and his family be forbidden from doing the most natural and correct thing possible. Whenever we found ourselves discussing it, he’d get very upset. Likely he now understands more clearly how small eighty acres is in actuality, and that barring a life on the Alaskan frontier, a burial in the family’s woods won’t be an option. But no matter, this kid is not worried. This, after all, is the same kid who scolds “it’s just a dead bird” when I wince upon pulling a frozen hen out of the chest freezer, wondering which gal it might have been… This is the kid who told his grandfather not to be afraid to die, because it was “just like turning the page in a book”. This is the kid whose last words to his grandpa were “See you shortly”. So thankfully I’m in good hands. I think I’ll leave it up to him. I just don’t want to know is all.

Do you know what thanatology is? Until a couple of hours ago I had never heard the word before. And that kinda surprises me, having conducted more than my fair share of searches on death and dying. (Here’s a link to a gal whose life’s work is all about death. If you have the time, the panel discussion is interesting, although it’s more theological than thanatological.) Thanatology is simply the scientific study of death. It deals with the forensic aspects of death – like those hard-to-think-about physical changes that occur in the post-mortem period. Plus thanatology also includes study of the social implications of death. Really? Such a thing exists? As well it should! There is only one thing we can absolutely count on in life, and that is our death. But even so, we so seldom talk about it directly and specifically… and that drives me nuts.

In re-reading the posts I wrote last year at this time, I’m fascinated to remember the tiny details of dad’s final days. I begin to see patterns – of course I’d read about them before my experience with dad, and I’m somewhat aware of the landmarks that one meets as one gets closer to death – but today I was able to see the whole process with so much more clarity. The events that I might have ever-so-slightly doubted the validity of last year – even while experiencing them for myself – I now know these to be real and universally recognized sign posts on the final path. It’s exciting to know that it’s not as mysterious as we might feel it to be… Last year, when I’d asked a nurse what exactly we were to be on the lookout for in dad’s final days, she gave me a short list. But then she added “I don’t think he’s there yet. He still has some transitioning to do.” What in hell did that mean? Just why such goddam cryptic language? At least I knew to be on the lookout for blue skin. But still, she left me guessing, and I didn’t appreciate it. So now between the local hospice volunteer training and this thanatology stuff, I might be closer to making peace with things one day. We’ll see.

Then after the bodily issues, there’s the tricky business of what comes next. I have known and loved some hard-and-fast atheists and agnostics in my life, and I’m absolutely fine with the idea that nothing at all comes next. The tidy nature of it does have its appeal. (Given the true definitions of those terms, I might be either one myself; I neither know unquestionably what I believe, nor do I believe there is one single creator, but rather a collective energy of awareness and love that permeates all. Another post, another time.) And for those who believe that we need to keep our bodies whole and pretty for the rapture – that’s cool too. (Only what about the plastic fillers, chemicals and wires used to keep folks pretty while they wait? Yeeks. Wouldn’t want to come back like that.) Ultimately, no one truly knows. But in my thinking I’m certain about the general gist of things. I used to worry about losing the respect of my dear friends for whom belief in an afterlife means you really aren’t as intelligent as you might once have seemed. Mech. And as for heaven or hell? As I see it, none of that exists. There is no good, no bad. Just a re-integration of our essence back into a loving non-space in which an assessment of our progress is made; a timeless, placeless ether in which to assimilate, learn and regroup in an atmosphere of acceptance and perfection.

Me, I think that our essence – the unquantifiable God spark that makes us us – transits out of this physical dimension and moves into that non-space ‘afterworld’ upon death. Like the signal from a station which your radio is not programmed to receive; it still exists, but you can no longer hear it. This all might even yet seem like so much fluffy conjecture if I hadn’t beheld my father beginning to ‘transition’ out of this world… There are some who might chalk it all up to a simple physiological process of the body breaking down, but I don’t. I watched as he was greeted by deceased family members, and listened through tear-filled eyes when he told me how much he missed his parents. Unknown to him, he followed form perfectly. He pointed to crowds of people in the corner of the room, “waiting on the curve” and asked me who they were (how honored I was that he could share his visions with me) and he said he was “in pleasure” as he watched them. I know now that he was in the middle of his process. By that time he was not altogether ‘living’ anymore. Like a radio station on I80 in the middle of hilly Pennsylvania, the signal was beginning to fade.

So I’m good with it. And not. I feel that dad is doing just fine where he is. It’s just me, mom and Andrew that have the rough road. Once, last year when I was missing dad as acutely as ever, I wondered out loud if dad was with me, if he knew about the Studio, if he approved of what I might do with the place…. Elihu was tired of my laments, and curtly told me that grandpa had “work to do” and it wasn’t fair to bother him with things that were now my business. “He can’t always be here with you, mommy. He’s got a lot of things to do.” I may have a wise kid, but still something inside tells me that outside of this time-space realm, the rules are different. If there is no such thing as locale, if ‘reality’ is as plastic and ethereal as our dreams, then I like to think dad is smiling, telling me it’s all fine, and that he’s right here with me when I need him to be.

But forward movement is required on this plane, so I can’t let my progress falter. Dad is where he is, and for the time being, I’m still right here. Nothing to do but keep going. Everything has happened as it should, and I’m striving to understand it the very best I can, so that I can move on with confidence toward whatever it is that will happen next on this great adventure.

 

Curve Ahead July 31, 2014

Where to start? The cast of characters is growing, from Log Cabin Joe to Hillbilly Al and a handful in between, and the sub-plots are multiplying. A house is being built to the great heartbreak of all who live nearby, another beloved house which we all had hoped might stand is going to be torn down, people will be moving in, and people will be moving away. A ghostly visage was spotted, serendipity threw in a few hard turns, neighbors popped by unannounced and set to framing out a new step in front of my house (because I’d asked to borrow some scrap lumber to do so for myself), and a potential blind date turned into a new and interesting friendship. Neighbor Chad, a former professional speed skater and dad to those cutie boys Ryan and Brandon, faces surgery to repair a torn ligament he got from falling out of a tree while deer hunting last year, my new met-on-an-almost-blind-date-but-not-quite friend must wear a heart monitor for another week and remain in the company of people at all times, lest he pass out while alone, with no one to call for help (hence his staying on as my house guest.) A couple more art classes to go at the Studio, some concrete being poured and set, a wall going up in the basement, the lawn to be cut and a coop door yet to be hung, the various comings-and-goings that all of this activity entails, including the requisite gear; earth movers, spinning concrete trucks, tractors, trimmers, boxes of tile, great, heavy balls of clay, five gallon buckets and rags to clean up… All of this is chugging along, plus a small group of family and friends is planning for an intervention with my brother at the beginning of next week. A few days later, Elihu comes home. Whew!

The past three days have seemed almost like a week with all the chaos and activity. My guest, Ken, erupted in laughter at it all (as I casually pulled a dead mouse out of a drawer, dumped it into the trash and continued to start the morning coffee without missing a beat), just imagining the highly entertaining cable series he absolutely insists my life should be. “I’m just wondering where we should put the camera” he’d said, smiling, shaking his head… I’ts not often that friends get a view from the inside here at the Hillhouse. Yeah, I’ve had guests before, but somehow life here has never been quite as animated and unpredictable as it has of late.

Night before last, as Ken and I sat on the couch enjoying a rather deep, existential discussion, I saw behind him, approaching from the kitchen and through the short hallway, a rather healthy-sized bat. Living in the country as I do, you might think this has happened before. And indeed it has happened in every other place I’ve lived – but not here. Until the other night, that is. I was watching with great concern that the poor beast not knock over some precious breakable as she continued to encircle the room, but soon realized that this creature was deftly missing – with room to spare – every obstacle in her path. I was impressed! My friend, himself a pilot, must surely have been sharing my amazement… maybe…. I glanced over at the couch. Ken was clearly not bearing respectful witness to the miracle of flight taking place right before our eyes… Humor me if you will; picture a black Mr. Clean; tall, built; a take-no-prisoners kind of physique that lends itself well to the military and police work (he’s retired from some twenty years of exactly that) – and now picture that same gentleman covering his face with my over-sized pink velvet throw pillow, ducking down and shrieking like a girl every time the bat made another pass around the room. One had to laugh. Thankfully, he had to laugh too. We both did. I admit, that lil creature was movin fast, and to us it felt like a random, unpredictable flight that might easily have ended up in someone’s face. I was finally able to catch her by trapping her in between two frog nets, but then she hooked her way out, and flew off to the mudroom. The door to the mudroom remained closed, while the backdoor to the outside stayed wide open. My second house guest eventually left and did not return. So far as we know.

And there was the apparition. And the change in my route. Why had I chosen to double-back and take Locust Grove instead of 9N as I’d intended? Having just given Ken a brief history of my folks and the Baroque festival, I figured I’d use my mistake as an opportunity to point out soprano Ruth Lakeway’s empty house. When we crested the hill and I indicated the house, Ken told me he saw a woman in the porch. I gave him a look. “White hair, lavender colored, long sleeved top” he said. “Wait, you’re not shitting me?” I asked, in almost a panic. He insisted that as an officer of the law – not to mention an artist who painted and drew landscapes, people and animals, he was trained in observation. He knew what he’d seen. That was enough for me; I turned around and made my way back to the house.

There were in fact people at the house. They emerged from the garage – on the other side of the house – when we pulled in. Still, none fit the description. It didn’t matter at this point, and it was soon forgotten as I re-acquainted myself with the new owners, who were in the middle of a project. They were removing items from the house, preparing it. I kinda knew what was coming next. It was known that the house had done nothing but take on water since Ruthie’s death eight years ago, and that the mildew and moisture had finally won. Although the woman who now owned it had known and loved Ruth as I had, and had herself dreamed of one day living in the sweet house, it would never come to be. The house now had to be torn down. I looked at Karen to see if this was the truth, and her eyes teared up. She insisted they’d had every manner of professional opinion on the matter. It was coming down. I made no attempt to be stoic… I began to cry. It was clear that she was just as heartbroken as I was. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my grief.

In her day Ruthie had created a wide sphere of influence through her loving presence in the community and her unique, gentle demeanor. With no husband or children of her own, she had given her time and energy to her church, her voice students and so many more. This house was for me a sacred place, as it was to many others as well. I marveled over our being there, in that moment. Over the circumstances. Had I not made the ‘mistake’ of driving down her road, had Ken not spotted that visage in the porch – I wouldn’t have known this was happening. I wouldn’t have been able to take the lamp from her back porch so that I might use it in mine, I wouldn’t have been able to remove Ruth’s windchimes and then hang them on my own porch in remembrance of her. Did Ken see Ruth? Yes, I believe so. I believe she was helping as best she could to gather me into this event of closure. As we all stood on the front lawn, talking and comparing stories, Ken told them what he’d seen earlier. The consensus seemed to be that this was all meant to be, we had all found our ways there in order for this to happen. There were tears, hugs, prayers and goodbyes. And for me, there was gratitude.

From the insane to the mundane, the silly to the serious, it’s been a crazy mix of life here lately, and yet the next week may hold still more… Mom has finally come around to understanding that Andrew will never, ever get better on his own (yes, we’ve been here before, but I feel this time it’s different) and she can begin to see that he has only good things to gain by taking part in a detox and rehab program, and he has only potential danger and harm if he doesn’t. Plus this heaven-sent former cop of a friend has brought to our attention how devastating it could be should a civil case ever be made against Andrew in the event of an alcohol-related death. This is some serious shit, and although I’ve been making my case for several years now, it’s taken this financial threat to bring it home. That, and a little magical aligning of the stars. We’ve got a great family drama scene on deck, and I’m eager to finally see it through to its conclusion. Which will in of itself be but a beginning to a whole new chapter…

I checked in with Waldorf today, and it seems I’m just about off the hook. They’ve covered nearly every class except for a day or two of the high school. There’s a slight chance they might need me to cover for a bit, but it doesn’t appear that it’ll pose a conflict with my new work at the Studio. This is beyond my wildest dreams, and the feeling of freedom and possibility has me a little giddy. It’s almost like I have too much oxegyn, too much space, too many options, too much opportunity. My unexpected house guest and the little surprise detours of late have stalled my progress for the time being, but it doesn’t worry me. We’re approaching a Great Change. Middle School for Elihu, and with it all the changes of pre-teen life. A new situation for my mom and brother, a new career for me, a new house in the neighborhood, two new families moving in, one moving out. A parking lot going in the woods for the Studio along with a network of roads into the forest, a new heating system and myriad other upgrades. Networking, meeting people and growing programs, seeing plans become real…. I’m at the cusp of a whole new chapter in my life. I’ve been riding it out on a long, slow straightaway for the past few years, and finally now I see a big curve up ahead.

Breathe in, hands at ten and two… I’ll give it just a little more gas, and we’ll be taking that turn before we know it.

 

 

Twelve Days December 27, 2012

In my home, as a child, there was always talk of the twelve days of Christmas. Sometimes, on one of the twelve days, there might be another present or two for us – usually under Frank and Martha Carver’s tree, the two other older people in the lives of me and my brother, Andrew. They lived on a farm with a Franklin stove that was always warm and a house that smelled wonderfully of the country. We Conants and Carvers all knew that Christmas was about a journey. Not that our family felt any affinity towards the religious aspect of the holiday, in fact I’d say they were solidly secular about it – but in spite of that, my parents delighted in singing the old religious hymns and recounting the historically accurate account of Christmas which our commercial world seemed to ignore completely. Making the season even more personally meaningful to us all was that Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve, and my parents – though seven years apart in age – were both born on January 6th, Epiphany. (The day most of the Christian world is busy celebrating Christmas and giving each other gifts as the wise men themselves did two thousand years ago.)

I too, have stressed to my own child that this season is about a beginning, a journey, and finally the culmination of that journey on Epiphany. My son is himself easily able to see metaphors in life and can see the season for what it offers. He may still believe in Santa, and we may not be a household dedicated only to the teachings of Jesus, but he can still understand how holy a time this is in our yearly calendar and how this time is a good one for self-reflection and renewal. I myself, however, in spite of my lifelong efforts to remind my peers that the true celebration of Christmas only just begins on the 25th, have just finally gotten one thing straight. The twenty-fifth is not the first day of the twelve as I’d always thought (I’d been counting Epiphany as a stand-alone day after the conclusion of the twelve days) but rather the first of the twelve days of Christmas begins on the twenty-sixth.

Today I also learned that there is a correlation between the signs of the zodiac and these twelve days. I realize this may be dangerous territory for some; to mix the Christian teachings with the Zodiac (the study of the Zodiac being something which seems either too ridiculously ancient, esoteric or just plain bullshit to many) may seem a stretch, or perhaps wrong, blasphemous. But I am at once impressed at the way in which these different templates match up, how magnificently it all seems to work. (There are also 12 tones in our western chromatic scale!) I realize that to some the relationship between the Zodiac and the days of Christmas may be no new information, but for me it was. I also just learned that many folks are under the impression that Christmas day marks the end – or the culmination of the twelve days. Big world. Lots of stories. The journey to the truth takes time and discretion.

We’d had our holiday party last Friday on the Solstice, the longest night of winter, a landmark on the holy calendar in its own right. While I invited my friends and neighbors, with whom I have never had conversations of a religious, spiritual or metaphysical nature, under the auspices of a general open-house among friends, I secretly held the intention that Elihu and I mark the night in camaraderie and love, that we might mark the occasion rightly and set a happy and bright tone for the future to come. I noticed that there was no talk of the date, no mention of its rumored significance (save my humorous toast to the ‘end of the world’ as I thanked my guests for attending) and I found that interesting. Also made me wonder once again, where were all those other folks who, like me, believed in pausing for just a moment to acknowledge this special day?

I may feel alone in my desire to live more connected to the ancient traditions, it may seem as though I’m alone as I concentrate on my connection to Spirit, to God, to the rest of the world and all its inhabitants… but my Yahoo inbox tells me otherwise. I know there are others out there. But these ‘other’ people live far and wide, and I know none of them personally. I did see a neighbor on Facebook who, although she purported to be hosting a ‘cookie party’ on the 21st, called it a ‘celebration of Solstice’ on her farm’s page. (Her lack of the article ‘the’ before ‘Solstice’ made her true intention seem even more apparent to me.) So I know there are others whose attention is not entirely in this modern, me-first world. And we’ll come to know each other someday. Not worried. Things seem to happen as they should.

Surrounded by the woods and fields with birds always at my window feeder, I’m in a perfect spot to contemplate my connection with all that is. Yeah, I’m feeling the need to remain at home, to remain quiet, to go about my chores and to live in gratitude as best I can. Some days I really miss people, but so far I just haven’t found a need to be with them. Somehow, after four years here in relative social isolation, I still feel the need to be alone. So I’m going to use these next twelve days to contemplate things as I wish them to be, to contemplate also the strengths and lessons of those twelve signs…

There is a meditation for today on the sign of Taurus – the second of the twelve Holy days – and also coincidentally both my and my son’s birth sign – which ends with these words:

Now I choose
to shape my future
in a balanced dance
between comfort and challenge

The original text is much longer and is more specifically related to the sign of the bull, but for me, these final lines seem to sum things up very nicely. I’ve spent the past four years learning how to live on my own. From here forward I need to expand, to grow my endeavors, learn how to thrive on my own. And right now, it looks daunting to me. I’ll probably need to keep an eye on that balance thing.

Not sure what messages await in the next ten days, but I’m interested and curious. So much to do, so much to know in this world. For the short stretch of days ahead I’ll try to live as mindfully as I can. I might not be able to live in such a state of concentration the remaining days of the year, but I’ll do my very best for the next ten.

 

Ev’ry Little Ting September 4, 2012

Well, he’s here. The first thing I thought when I saw my son was that his hair was long and his pants were short. (His nails were long too, kinda looked like the poor kid had been living under a bridge for a bit.) But overall, his spirits were bright and our reunion sweet, and as usual, when it was Elihu, Fareed and me, we had a lovely little get together in the midst of our three very busy lives. This time his father seemed a bit less stressed than he has in the past. Fareed had left his phone behind, as it’s being repaired, so for the first time I can ever recall, he was traveling untethered to the complex life that awaited him back home. No doubt upon his return he will be knee-deep in situations, both personal and professional, all which need his urgent attention. But for our late afternoon lunch together, he seemed remarkably present. We talked of Von’s memorial service, and of plans for this important first week of school. The weather was perfect and there were enough fish and chips left over to bring home for supper. In spite of a two hour delay to the train’s arrival, it had still turned out to be a very enjoyable afternoon.

Although my plan had been to get us back into our ‘early to bed, early to rise’ routine, Elihu had rediscovered trains on this past trip to Chicago, and with money his paternal grandmother had given him he was able to buy a new car and a new engine (the passenger car lights up on the inside to reveal tiny tables and seats!) and so he was eager to locate his ho scale track, set it up and get the new cars going. You can imagine how I felt when I heard those plans so late in the day (nay, so late in the evening by now as we’d started late). I didn’t want to simply turn into the bad cop parent who automatically puts the kibosh on things ‘just because’, so in the end, since Fareed and Elihu were actually making a working track and things looked good (we can thank my major putting-it-all-away campaign of the past five weeks for them even finding the silly trains) – I left them to it and myself turned in to bed. Last night it was so good to have all three of us together as we seldom are – that I just let it be.

Our visit was over in an instant this time, as Fareed had a flight to Chicago the next morning. There wouldn’t be a family outing to get school supplies, instead just a trip to the airport. Elihu woke up with a sore throat and a bit of a temperature, but we gave him some throat spray and he toughed it out, sleeping in the back seat on the ride to the airport. The goodbye was harder than ever before – Elihu had been with his dad for over a month, after all. We three all group hugged before Elihu and I pulled away and got into the car. As we drove off Elihu remarked that this was the hardest time he had ever, ever had saying goodbye to his father. He himself cited the long visit. And he knew he’d feel better soon, but he had some lasting sadness for sure.

By the time we were back in town, we were back in our own groove. We stopped for some groceries, ending our errand by visiting Elihu’s favorite floral department. We saw shopping cart filled with fine-looking arrangements which were marked for the trash. When we asked if we could purchase them ourselves at a discount we were told absolutely not, that ‘corporate’ wouldn’t allow it. I can tell you, I know waste, I turn my back on it regularly, and Elihu also knows the crap embedded in our systems – but to see this, it just represented such wrong that we were both rather sickened by it. All that effort to get the flowers here – let alone that they themselves are such works of nature – then they are left to die, never to know the purpose for which they have lived at all… Elihu was near tears. We had to keep moving. But as we walked, we began to make a plan: we’d write the CEOs – we’d make them understand, we’d be the ones to finally change the situation and bring justice! Carts of doomed flowers marked to half their original prices would find themselves brightening the homes of people, many of whom could never justify such a purchase ever before! Extra sales! Extra joy! A win-win…. We left the store our chests full of hope for our new future quest…

But shortly we were back with our chickens and frogs, and the campaign to save the fading flowers is itself fading. It’s a perfect day – sunny with a breeze, clouds are passing overhead. I find my zero gravity reclining chair, and uncover my whole self to the sun. It’s good to live off the road. Elihu is busying himself with catching frogs. That’s good, cuz I’m tired on account of our having to rise earlier than I’m used to… So I’m in and out of little cat naps in the sun. Every so often he’ll bring a chicken or a frog over to show me. We’ll admire it together, then he’ll dash off again. Round about 1 the mother’s clock in me goes off and I suggest lunch.

When it’s ready, I lean outside and ring the bell which I’ve mounted on the side of the house for just this purpose. In the thirties and forties it was the dinner bell for the lakeside house where my father spent his childhood summers. It makes me happy to know that that rich, distinct sound is the very same one that called my father from the beach so many years ago when he himself was a young boy as his grandson is now. We have a nice lunch, full of humor and silliness. Then we make plans to go to town so that Elihu might play a little djembe again. He wants to, and there’s still time.

Town is busy, yes, but it’s clear that it’s the last day of racing season. The streets aren’t packed as they’ve been. While I hear Elihu playing some very new ideas – and playing the best he has played in a long time – the tips aren’t coming in, and he’s feeling discouraged. After a while he’s recognized by an old school pal from pre-Waldorf days, so we leave our  post and walk to a record store with him and his mother. Soon we run into our friends from down our own road, we befriend a young man with a lovely Bernese mountain dog, and learn the guy working at the record store plays drums. It’s all a nice, serendipitous hang, and it seems a charming hour of our life has passed, until we part and head for the car.

As we near the car Elihu begins to break down. I wonder if it might not be part of the transition again. We get into the car, and he begins to talk about what’s on his heart. Elihu weeps his discontent to me. He is sad that there is no sense of connection with people. He feels people make pleasantries rather than real interaction. He says he wonders why he’s even on this stupid planet because he just doesn’t feel he belongs here. I know this is in part because of the transition. It is. And he’s old enough that I can posit this to him without creating a worse scene. I ask him. He nods, he agrees. But he adds that it’s much more than just having difficulty switching gears. He tells me that his ‘soul’ is not happy. That this town makes his ‘soul hurt’. I explain that it might be because this town is all about making money, and then spending it. Everyone is chasing the thing that will make them feel good. The next outfit, the next restaurant meal, always the next… This is not a culture of connection. It is a culture of distraction. I feel it too. And that’s precisely why we need to make compelling music and beautiful drawings and share these things with others. We need to help create the connection we feel is missing. We just sit for a while and think. With the windows open we can hear 86-year-old Jamaican Cecil pickin out melodies on his banjo across the street on his bench. “Don’t worry” he sings, “bout a ting, ev’ry little ting’s gonna be alright”. It helps. I tell Elihu to cry if he needs to, not to stop. So he does. He weeps.  (It would only be for me that I should ask him to stop, for it is heartbreaking to hear someone else’s discontent so acutely.) He’s ok for the moment, but we need to get home.

When we do get back, I throw yesterday’s fish into the oven for our supper, and join Elihu on the couch. We nestle ourselves into the cushions and finally, my arms are around my son. We just sit. We listen to the the wind change, and to a summer rain begin, a blue jay scolds past. A lovely evening breeze blows into the house and past us. He feels better, and so do I. After a while I suggest we play a game, so we find Mancala and In A Pickle and do our best to play each game through to its successful conclusion. But we’re not great rule-followers or rule-understanders, so we make up some of our own, and we do our best to just have fun. Which, thankfully, we do. We enjoy a nice dinner and are just about to retire to a much-needed bath when Maximus begins to honk outside. We have guests.

Turns out it’s our neighbor Zac, come to give us two big bags of wood chips from his mill. Perfect, we could definitely use em in our coop. We throw on our shoes, Elihu his dark glasses and head out to say hi and thanks. We get to talking and hanging out, and long story short, Elihu’s glasses fall to the driveway and as Zac drives off they get crunched beneath his tires. Which would have been fine if Elihu hadn’t just left his other pair in Chicago. Geez. And we have to go out tomorrow! We need school stuff! And Elihu has – school. He can’t leave the house without his glasses. Literally. So this  is a major monkey wrench in the works. (Or a spanner, depending.) It looks bleak, but I try to keep it light. Some options, none great. But let’s not worry about it now. Dad will overnight the others soon, and we’ll do what we can here. Right?

Right. We read the locally-inspired tale of Rip Van Winkle and soon Elihu is asking me to turn the closet light on and stay with him. “Daddy always leaves right away” he says through sleepy eyes. How can I deny him? The dishes need doing before the morning, but I can’t leave. I rest my hand on his arm and his eyes flash open, but on seeing me still there, he sinks back into sleep. I wait a bit more, watching him sink, hearing his breath change… I get up from the bed and look at him lying there. I’d expected to be struck by how big he was getting, but instead, he still looked tiny to me tonite. A tiny little boy in a big bed. So much going on in that tiny little person too. So much. It’s so good to have him safe at home again.

I know there’s still a lot going on, much to do and problems to be solved. But I also know that in the end, ev’ry little ting’s gonna be alright.

 

Pause July 18, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:44 pm
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It was Martha’s birthday yesterday. Even Elihu had almost lost track of how old she was. Day before yesterday she was once again admitted to the hospital, and although her condition had been reported the worst yet, when we went to visit her we found her very much on top of things, sitting upright in her chair and eating lunch, a birthday card and new African violet plant on the table beside her tray.

She was 86. She had been born in the hospital in Binghamton, New York, and although it seemed more than likely it was not an air conditioned place in 1926, I had to confirm it for myself. “Was it hot?” I asked her, unable to wrap my head around giving birth in a stuffy, un-air conditioned room in the middle of July. “My birthdays have always been on one of the hottest days of the year” she announced as she lifted the fork to her mouth. I watched the lone silver bracelet dangle from her arm as she spoke. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t see Martha wearing that bangle. Guess she probably didn’t wear it while she was driving the tractor all those years ago. Maybe she wore it when she taught music at Skidmore. Where did it come from? Did her mother once wear it too? Did it sit inside the bedside table drawer at the Binghamton Hospital while her mother gave birth to her eighty-six years ago?

I pressed her for more details. All she knew about the day of her birth, besides that it was very hot, was that as her father turned to walk away down the hall from the delivery room the doctor had shouted after him to come back – and asked if he would mind helping. So he did. “I don’t know why the men weren’t allowed in the delivery rooms back then, but they weren’t. This was unusual” she informed us. Yes, I thought, this seemed like it would have been around the time when men – except the doctors of the patients themselves – were first officially shunned from the birthing rooms. (My mother told me that the ob/gyn doc who delivered me wasn’t even allowed in the room for the birth of his own child because he was a man! Absolutely insane.) So her dad had helped deliver her. This was something. And I wanted something – because I was increasingly aware that I needed to start collecting all the personal history I could from her now, while she was still very much the Martha I knew. It’s easy to think it will always be thus, but one day she will turn the corner. One day she will be too weak to talk. One day she will die. Impossible to imagine right now, seeing her here like this, very much in control of her world. But she’ll die too. We all will. Yup. We’re all headed there eventually. But you never really believe it. Not until it happens.

This morning I’d decided to call my cousin, the one whom I’d hoped to visit in Philly soon. I felt a little foolish that I’d blogged about going to see him when I hadn’t actually spoken to him in a long time. I also knew that it was just an outline of a hoped-for intinerary – and that the visit might not happen. But in a flash of unmeditated inspiration, I simply picked up the phone and dialed his number.

I got his wife, whom I’d never met nor spoken to before, but within minutes I was being briefed on the recent and surprise decline of my other cousins’s health. She told me of her husband’s sister, my cousin, who lived in Florida with her 86 year old mother, my aunt. About a month ago she’d had a stroke. (I made a quick inventory: I thought to myself she wasn’t much older than me – but then again, I realized once more, I’m older than I think I am. Old enough to have a stroke it seems.) Today she was close to death. My cousin’s wife and I stayed on the phone for almost an hour while she recounted for me the events of the past month. In contrast, I pictured Martha, a long, good life behind her and death well-earned but yet not arriving, sitting in her chair, her silver bracelet dangling from her arm. None of it seemed fair.

My cousin, at the time of our speaking, was failing fast after four weeks of a crazy, unforseen downward spiral. Her skin was now mottled, her lips blue, her kidneys had failed, her blood pressure was a shadow of its former self. As we spoke, another level of my awareness was marveling at the strangeness of it all: one minute my long-lost cousins are distant family, living only in dim memories from my youngest years, the next minute I’m witness to family intimacies I’ve hardly earned in my years of absence. But I stayed on the phone, listening, giving this in-charge yet nonetheless distraught woman my audience, my witness. A small voice inside told me just to listen. She’d been through more than I understood these past few weeks, and somehow, by marriage alone, yes, but somehow – she was my family. I had to be there. So I listened, dumbstruck as she recounted for me how my cousin had gone from a viable person to a dying waif inside of mere weeks.

We discussed whether my own 86 year old aunt should be there to witness her daughter’s passing or not. My vote was yes, unquestionably. My cousins’s wife, an ICU nurse for many years, was inclined to vote no. She advised that people look pretty horrible in those final moments – that they look much better after being cleaned up at the mortuary later on. But I still thought to myself – if Elihu were dying, it would be my deepest desire to be there, holding his hand, telling him I loved him and giving him my blessings to go. We talked, she talked, I interjected here and there, but mostly I listened. I tried to understand what her husband, my cousin, could possibly be feeling right now. I tried to imagine if Andrew were dying. My baby brother? I might begin to understand, yet it was different. He and I had hardly a civil relationship. My cousins knew each other as adults, as people. I tried to imagine relating to his heartbreak – but from where I sat I really couldn’t. I was beginning to feel I wasn’t relevant in this moment, and sensed our conversation was coming to its natural close when I heard the woman’s cell phone ring. She answered it while I, witnessing from the home phone in her other hand, listened.

I was standing in the kitchen hall when I heard her voice repeat the words she’d just been told. The clear, strong and in-command nurse I’d just been speaking to for the past hour evaporated, and a heartbroken woman responded in her place…”She’s passed?” she questioned in a weak, broken voice. My cousin had just died.

I don’t remember how I concluded the conversation – but I almost wished I could have simply hung up. I felt a bit like a voyeur now. They had serious heartbreak to deal with here. I had to go, but how? What do you say? I think I ended up saying something lame like “hang in there” – but what I’d really wanted to say was “I love you”. True, I didn’t know this woman at all really, but that seemed irrelevant. I wanted to hand over my love to her, to comfort her, to help in some way. My cousin had just died, while we were speaking, in fact, and yet my heart wasn’t broken, hers was. The only thing that would help now was the passage of time, and the return of far-flung family members. True, I was family, but I had no role in this event save to offer my love and support from afar.

Mid-summer, mid-life I sit here, wondering at it all. This is such a friggin hard planet to live on. Wealth and poverty sit side-by-side, death comes too early for some, too late for others. My father has no reason to get out of bed; simply living is a chore he does not need or even want, yet he goes on. Living. My cousin dies while her mother holds her hand and watches her go. How is any of this just? I keep to my belief that it all happens as it’s supposed to – while my more agnostic friends will smile and shake their heads at me – and yet it doesn’t make this crap easier to swallow. It doesn’t feel right, regardless of whether there are lessons here or not. Regardless of whether God is actively challenging our faith or not. Some find comfort believing everything is simply a scientific event with no moral, spiritual or ethical motivation behind it. Some find comfort in just the opposite way of thinking. Right now I’m apt to say none of it really matters.

This life is a hard one, and that we know. Nobody would argue that. It takes a lot of resolve, a good sense of humor and some common sense to make it through. That, and a moment every now and again to pause and reflect, to the best of our limited ability, on the wonder of it all.

 

Witness to a Divorce January 22, 2012

So, am I divorced yet? Did things go well? I don’t mean to be coy, but yes…. and no.

Before I disclose the results, I just have to thank you for helping me. I fairly sailed through my day in a subdued, sober form of good cheer. None of the old, familiar feelings of fear and doubt gained on my spirit. Even as I sat in the historic courtroom, the afternoon sun spilling over the large oak table strewn with piles of documents, I marveled at the sense of peace I felt. Not sure whether it was the intentional, energetic help of yours, the very passage of time since the drama began and my gleaned wisdom and insight since – likely all of it – but I sat there in a state I can’t remember experiencing before. Tranquil, yet poised for action and clear thought. Ready. Ready to speak for myself. Ready to be an individual taking responsibility for her own future. At last I was ready to face the disarming, story-spinning charm of my husband Fareed.

I’d love to share the delight of the day as it unfolded for me, yet I realize that some may want to get to the bottom line without all those extras. For those of you who are mostly interested in the lowdown, please just skip the body of the post and head for the final few paragraphs at the end. I have some images of the past twenty-four hours I want to share, and hope some will remain here with me to bear witness…

Tuesday night, in darkness and freezing rain, I’m flat on my belly under the chicken coop trying to encourage a couple of errant birds to exit their cave and allow Elihu’s waiting arms to deliver them back into safety. With the help of a rake I manage to get our miniature silkie rooster, Felix out. But two remain. I have no choice but to leave them there for the night. I still have to get my son a full ten miles across town on this slippery, foggy evening to my friend’s house for his overnight stay, then I need to return in order to fill out a financial affidavit for court the next day. And I need to leave the house by 5 am latest. Elihu and I make it to Ceres’ house, and as I unzip his suitcase – I discover it’s empty. Of the two identical bags I have, I left the packed one home. A true friend indeed, Ceres follows me back the ten plus miles in her car (after filling my tank up on her dime – too much to understand) and gets the correct and packed suitcase. I’m relieved of having to make another 25 mile journey. Onto the homework.

Luckily, having just prepared for bankruptcy, I’m pretty together with my financial info. After inputting the data my attorney’s asked of me, I punched the lot with holes and inserted them in a three ring binder. I can’t remember feeling so prepared. Faced with such an important day, I just had to write something on the occasion. So I created my post, leaving just four hours for sleep. Seemed I’d gotten into an intoxicating bit of REM sleep when the alarm clock told me it was time to head for the airport. The importance of my quest helped rouse me out of it.

Everything went smoothly. Things don’t always go like that for me. Last time Elihu flew, they had to write information out manually on his ticket in order for us to pass through security. For some reason, the system wouldn’t recognize our reservation. Thankfully, the Albany airport is small, they all know us there, and we made it, even if they were waiting for us to close the plane door. Drama. Sheesh. Fun, but too much is tiring. Thankfully I had NO drama all morning on Wendesday. Crazy. Found a shuttle to the car rental, and was nearly on my way. I had cheerful, serendipitous little encounters with folks all along the way, and enjoyed many personal exchanges that I will keep in my memory as a happy part of that day.

Among the many benefits of travel is the opportunity to meet people, and to become exposed to ways of living other than your own. As chatty as I tend to me, I naturally make an effort to get the story out of the people I talk to, and on that day, the stories flowed. It was so very interesting. I learned a lot. I learned more about the extremes that live side by side. The incomprehensibly massive budgets required of those who must travel professionally, the barely sustaining paychecks of the clerks and workers who make it possible for the travelers to do what they do.

I talked with a clerk at the car rental desk who had two daughters in college and had to make his modest paycheck cover not only their expenses, but his mortgage as well. I met a former restaurant owner who now worked selling magazines and gum and like me, depended upon food stamps to eat. When I thanked the pilot and asked if he enjoyed his job, he told me that he did not. That he made only thirty grand a year as a United pilot, that on his salary he could not afford to pay back the loans for the schooling the job had required. He planned to get out, and open up his own auto body shop instead. He sounded disgusted and fed up, highly motivated to get on with his new life. I met so many others, all hustling, working hard, putting in time at thankless, invisible jobs, all just to make it through. My eyes were opened. I was humbled. And you know what? Every last person I met had a positive spirit about them. Not a one was feeling sorry for themselves, although as I saw it, they had a right to. They shared their stories and we commiserated, but the mood was hopeful. I was inspired.

And doubly inspired, friends, when I saw my bright red, brank-spankin’ new Mini Cooper waiting for me! An older gentleman was getting into a large tank of a car next to me. “Mine’s cuter!” I shouted. “I win!” He laughed and mentioned something about gas consumption, adding to his defeat. Soon I was off onto the Chicago byways as if I’d never been gone. I turned on the radio. Bad Company and then AC/DC pumped me up and ushered me onto 294 South. I laughed at myself. Middle aged gal rocking out in her little red car. Goofy. Nothing rough or rebellious about it. But joyful, that’s for sure. Ok. Checked the presets. No XRT? Geez. Found it on my own and sank into a luxurious bath of some forgotten gem followed by Marty Lennartz signing off and welcoming Terry Hemmert on next. How Chicago can you get? This was starting off right fine. The sun was shining and I was making good time on my way out to the cornfields of Dekalb.

I was surprised how familiar it all was. The drive, the well-loved landmarks (the smiling barn near Bliss Road on 88 to Aurora – know it?). As I drove into Dekalb, strange feelings came over me. Intangible ethers of mood and strange hauntings, like a waking dream, all inspired by the places that I passed. The landscape was so familiar; it felt as if I’d never left. As if I passed these very houses each day of my life. Forgotten memories came alive when I passed the spots on which they occurred; as I neared the library, I remembered my husband’s girlfriend, plump with her pregnancy, waving at me as I passed in our minivan, as she’d mistaken me for my husband – her boyfriend. I was shocked at how much the vision still hurt, how it arrived from nowhere. The sights brought a mix of emotions. So little had changed for the most part in my three years’ absence, yet my own life had changed in just about every way possible. A strange contrast.

I drove down the main drag of town and passed our Cafe building. The business I’d run for two years. One of the straws that piled upon the camel’s back. I dropped in on a place or two, finding some friends gone, others just as I remembered having seen them last. After a quick bite (of real Mexican food, thank you) and a free cup of coffee from Matthew at the House Cafe, I headed north for the courthouse. On the way, I passed my old house. The one in which I’d thought Fareed, Elihu, our new baby and I would pass the next decade together. I spied a big plastic climber and slide near the garden, signs of the little ones that lived there now. I saw Fareed’s big tour bus parked in the huge driveway. The one that pulled into my own driveway a few months ago. This was no longer my home in any way at all. Surprisingly, this sight hurt the least. I had no desire to live there. I was a true visitor now.

When I had passed through security and made my way up the large, central staircase of the Sycamore courthouse, I soon found my attorney, a man I’d met but once almost two years before. We were able to make ourselves comfortable in the large courtroom, as we were over an hour early. He explained that I would sit in the witness’ chair, the one beside the judge, and there I would simply tell my story, at his prompting, answering his questions as best I could in order to complete the picture for the judge. Our goal today was to inform the judge of the circumstances; Elihu was low-vision and had special needs, I worked to the best of my ability around my duties as single mother… all points the judge would need to know if we were to go up against Fareed. Had I not been there, it would have been, after these three long years of court dates, entirely Fareed’s game. Hence my pricey appearance. It was showtime. My attorney told me not to be shy or hesitant; I should make myself clear and speak directly to the judge. I reminded him that I was a performer; I was good on stage.

When Fareed arrived, it was indeed a peculiar feeling to know that he and I were not on the same side. I’d sat beside him so many times before – some times in a court of law, sometimes in heated business negotiations – and each time, whether I agreed with his methods and truthfulness or secretly did not (as was the case many times), as his wife and partner, I showed my support. I had always agreed with Fareed. It’s what a partner does. And I’d seen his craftiness up close; the way he twisted things to his advantage, living in complete belief that it was all justified, no matter how it might seem otherwise. I’d seen him and his father shimmy their way through all sorts of situations, each time the odds seemingly stacked against them, each time with them making out far ahead of the opponent. Now I was that opponent. A small voice cautioned me, but a bigger voice reminded me that I knew how he operated; there’d be no snaking around today. Besides, I had no selfish motives. That just had to count for something.

Some dynamic then began to change. The phenomenon of people being physically in each other’s space, I guess. I softened to see him, and he to see me. After all, were we not two people who’d lived over twenty years together? Made music together? Made love, made memories, made a child together? It is all still there. And so, after a short while, we were discussing the terms, reviewing the sticking points in a measured, even-tempered tone. Where I might have hissed with anger just one year ago, I was able to plainly state my case now. I was not out for blood, for anything unreasonable. I had no savings or retirement, and I needed what was fair. At the very least I needed my money back. Fareed started out adamant. He low-balled me and remained in that stance for a while. Until we spent a few minutes alone in the hall. Before long we two were laughing together. I wonder if my attorney might have thought me crazy. Here I was, in the face of the man who’d put me in poverty, created two other families, and yet I was enjoying a good laugh with him! Was I that deficient of self-esteem? Truly, it felt good to laugh. Before too long, whenever Fareed and I are together, we are laughing. Fucker.

We got down to it after about an hour’s discussion, ultimately removing the need for my taking the stand and presenting my case. I got far less per month than I’d ever thought I would. But it’s open for re-evaluation, should his (or my) situation improve. All in all, not a total loss, harsher than I feel I deserve, but livable. I know how thin Fareed is stretched financially these days and I feel bad for him. I wanted to show some humanity, engender some feelings of support. Hopefully one day he may do the same for me. Many would think I’m nuts to even think so. But regardless, I didn’t want to continue hammering away at him, creating more stress in his world. He’s got it bad enough. I did offer him my advise: don’t have any more kids if you want to get back to your projects, your profession. He laughed it off, but hey, both of his youngest boys were ‘surprises’. I reminded him that once upon a time, Jill had said she wanted six or seven kids. Just sayin.

When we finally sat down across the table across from each other in the courtroom, I remember feeling a sense of tranquility that was new to me. And when we were told to rise and approach the bench I was equally calm. This was it, and finally, there was no fear. I’d lived absolutely steeped in fear my first year in New York. And I admit that every single email from Fareed since has raised my heart rate quite noticeably. Now, my pulse did not even quicken. It was here that a poignant and unforeseen thing happened. As the bailiff called us up, I said aloud, “oh no, are we really going to get divorced now?” and at that moment, it hit us both. Tears sprang up in our eyes, and we instinctively reached for each other’s hand. How cruel, how strange is this divorcing of someone you’ve spent half your life with. But before the sentiment could be fully appreciated by either of us we were made to approach the bench.

I watched the judge, fascinated by his inner process. At each point, he paused, looking at a spot on the desk before him, as he thought the multiple scenarios through. Then, like a speaking textbook, he said the agreement out loud in perfect, unrushed legalese for the record. There were some pauses, as he picked up a book to look up the exact source of a few ancient laws (one of which addressing the question of whether either one of us taking up with same-sex partners would legally be considered ‘conjugal’ relations, thereby nullifying the support – the mood here was playful and we all chuckled over the archaic rulings), yet in spite of his slow, deliberate method in less than a half hour he had finished what had taken nearly four years to accomplish.

So, are we divorced or not? As I understand it (and there may yet be another step as regards the official filing) not until my attorney gets our agreements down on paper in the correct format and presents it to the judge on March 7th and the judge then signs it, are we divorced. Yet with respect to Fareed’s pension, and the share I’m entitled to, our union did come to an end on January 18th.

And the numbers? Are they better? By a little. Elihu and I will still need foodstamps and heating assistance (more to the point, we will still qualify for the aid). I am very grateful that there exists such a system. We may need it awhile yet. The happier news is that my near-ex has agreed to pay me back the money I invested in our first home so many years ago. Plus a little extra. Not a whole lot extra, but enough that if I sock it away (that language sounds like my mom, yikes) and don’t use it up, it might end up being very helpful in my aged years. In that I have no savings or retirement, no other source of future income except that which I earn or have saved, this feels like it makes up a bit up for our situation. Elihu and I will still exist below the national poverty line, but it won’t be quite as dire. We will receive $1,000 a month from Fareed. I’ll make what I can teaching piano lessons, and if I can get this Studio thing going, hopefully I can glean something from that. And who knows, maybe I can self-publish some material and get a little from that as well. Although I’m really not where I’d hoped (and thought I deserved) to be, at least I know exactly where I stand. There is some peace and satisfaction to be had in that.

Our marriage wasn’t actually legal on the day of our ceremony. I take full responsibility; mistaking the marriage certificate for a parking ticket, I couldn’t find it on the day of our wedding in order to have the judge sign it. I had to wrestle with this one as the guests stirred about downstairs in our living room, anxiously awaiting the event. In the end, both Fareed and I agreed that it was the witness of our friends and family that truly made our wedding binding and real. That felt right and true. Legally, we weren’t married for another ten days. And now, it seems we’re in the same place. We went before the judge, stating aloud our intentions, but we won’t have the docs to back that up for a few weeks yet. Strangely inconclusive. Plus it just felt so sad. Those who’ve gone through this know what I mean. All that ceremony in getting married, all that lack of ceremony in getting divorced. Sad.

In the end, we were truly married by the witness of dear friends. And with your witness here again today, I think we can consider both the marriage and the divorce of Fareed and Elizabeth to be concluded. Amen.