Archive for August, 2011

Here’s Bandit

August 23, 2011

I would have needed much stronger photographic skills to have taken anything other than a fuzzy picture of this kitten in perpetual motion.   I took this photo in July when I was contemplating giving him up for adoption.  Now he’s a fixture in our family and, as such, demands a blog entry the same way he demands attention even (and especially) when I’m trying to do something else — typing, sleeping, washing the dishes, etc.

Kittens!  I’ve been avoiding them for almost two decades.  When Clarabelle had kittens, the four of them were uninterested in me, and she kept them well in hand (or in dewpaw, as the case may be).  But when this baby showed up at my apartment, my superstitious nature told me he was here with a message.  Indeed, he has already reminded me how easily I can choose to close my heart — not from any inherent stinginess, but because I know how joy isn’t the only emotion that enters when you open that door.  I can too easily anticipate the anxiety from watching my loved ones suffer and grief over their eventual passing.

My friend Uma says that life eats you.   (This statement conjures an image from a children’s book’s drawing of the Greek god Cronus eating his children.)   Most everyone would find this disturbing, but I suspect she’s right.  We can run away from pain, fear and sorrow, but it will get us in the end.   No one gets out of this mess alive.  Maybe I will eventually find Uma’s insight comforting.  It would be nice to at least think that my existence nourished something else.  In taking on Bandit’s well-being, I hope I’ve opened myself to this truth.  It will inevitably wear me down but maybe it will give birth to something else.

The Right Answer

August 19, 2011

Last weekend I quietly celebrated a birthday.  In my family, my birthday is the last in a series that starts the beginning of August.  My sister, maternal grandmother, and mother celebrate their birthdays on the 1st, 2nd, and 4th, respectively.  For my first two decades, my birthday was treated as an afterthought.  It was as if all birthday goodwill had been exhausted before my day arrived.  I could itemize the traumatic details that led me to this conclusion, but suffice it to say that this early experience instilled an eerie ability to remember the birthdays of anyone who chooses to share theirs with me and a willfulness to celebrate my own in whatever manner I choose. 

The best birthday advice I ever received was to keep celebrating:  “it’s the only way to stay sane,” my friend insisted.  I do this as much as possible before, during and after my birthday.  There’s certain to be more than one night during the month where sparkling wine and chocolate cross my path.  But when I set out on my own personal celebrations, it most often involves swimming.  This trait, in fact, is well known in my circle, enough so that I’ve received swimming passes as gifts and this year a piece of artwork that offers the truism:  “Swimming is always the right answer.”

There are those who are natural swimmers, the enviable ones who can do laps for an hour. Even if their strokes are sloppy, they are never out of breath; they belong to the water like fish.  Then there are the ones who have the resources, physical and financial, to train;­ they move through the water like sharks, purposeful, menacing.  My abilities are so meager that I can get intimidated when I’m forced to share a swimming lane with more than one person, but I’m deeply attached to the sport nevertheless.  Maybe it’s because it’s a skill set I learned as an adult.  I remember how, during the summer I turned 35, I would zip down a winding country road in my sports car, music blaring, hair flying, to one of our county parks.  While harried mothers chased their toddlers and teenage girls coated themselves with oil, I would force myself to swim laps, working to improve my weak stroke and my stamina.  I was going two, sometimes three, days a week and making no discernible progress until one day, well over a month into the endeavor, when I realized I was swimming just a little bit longer and a little bit smoother.  For someone who’d decided to hit the “reset” button on major portions of her life, this kind of discipline-reward connection was ridiculously meaningful.

This year I didn’t go swimming on my birthday.  This year that date fell on a Sunday, and a hot one, threatening afternoon thunderstorms.  The only county park where I can go swimming without getting sick has no reserved space for lap swimmers, and I have an abiding fear of being struck by some hapless but powerful adolescent as he flounders from the shore to the floating deck.  But I treated myself to a swim two days ago and then again today, the last Friday that the county parks will be open for swimming.  All day it had been overcast and gently raining off and on, but I’d heard no thunder, seen no lightning.  The park where I swim is on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, 20 miles west of town, and when I arrived there was a sign on the gatehouse saying the beaches were closed due to thunder and lightning.  Indeed, no one was on the beach; the still water was green, reflecting the forested hills that skirt the lake.

The lifeguard admitted there’d been no thunder for a long while and urged me to jump in.  The joy I felt in having such a peaceful, beautiful place to myself was probably something he wouldn’t have understood; the young gravitate toward crowded, kinetic spaces.  When I emerged from the bathhouse in my suit, I saw raindrops dimpling the water.  “Oh great! It’s raining!” I exclaimed to no one (a privilege of aging is that I no longer worry about other people’s opinions).

After a respectable start this June, I haven’t kept up with my swimming, so after 25 minutes, my swim was over.  But while I was in the water, the raindrops fell gently on my face as I backstroked and watched the low clouds dissolve the space between air and water.  As happens every birthday, the years spooled through my mind, awaiting review.  There have been high points and low, successes and losses, regrets and satisfactions.  What I thought I wanted turns to ash in my hands; how I once conceived of happiness seems hopelessly naïve in hindsight.  To consider how far I have traveled, how much I have suffered, and how little I have accomplished has more than once been the start of a depressing evening.  As I drove home, however, I couldn’t help but feel thankful for every moment that had led me to this.  This is the best kind of birthday gift one could hope for:  a feeling of contentedness that may be fleeting but is no less real.