Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Watching you sitting, playing

Watching you sitting, playing
           fingers moving
           strings trembling at their touch
           gentle, tender, passionate
           my body understanding
           heart stopping
my breath catches
your brow furrows in concentration
           lines around your eyes deepening
the curve of your lips pausing unsung lyrics until you feel them
intensity coursing through you
frightening and fantastic
           as the music touches you
           as you touch the music
           possessing it simply by your being
           possessing it simply as you possess me
stirring me
wanting to reach you, to touch you
but too selfish to interrupt this moment of magic you are making
           for you
           me me
           for us
not wanting this to end
unless my breath mercifully fades
           as simply, surely, and sweetly
as the last note you promise.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Calendar

Each Christmas there is one gift I anticipate and find myself impatiently waiting to unearth from behind or beneath an assortment of colorful packages with curly ribbon and sparkly tags. Typically it is wrapped with paper just taped neatly around it and no box or bag to hide the shape I recognize. Occasionally there is one of those plain little sticky bows strategically arranged at one corner, but no festive wrapping can encourage me to pause and admire this present in my rush to finally discover what is in store for me this year.

Pulling away the paper from this treasure, I stare down at my new calendar. Every year I receive a new wall calendar to hang, and on some rare Christmases I excitedly find two of these precious gifts hiding under the tree. I cannot recall when I first started receiving my very own calendar, but every Christmas for as long as I can remember my mom opened a special calendar to hang in our home. Sometime shortly after Christmas day she would take down the last year's calendar from the wall and set it next to the new calendar that she had opened up on the table. When I was very young I remember sitting on the floor playing, and as I got older I might be reading or doing some other task or activity but always aware of the comforting ritual of this changing of our calendar.

She never varied her ritual for transferring all the important dates to this fresh new calendar. Out would come one of those old wooden school rulers. The kind with the metal strip down the length of one side of the ruler. I have no idea what function the makers of those rulers intended for that metal strip, but its use in our home was very important in getting our calendar ready for the new year. My mother also used a ballpoint pen. Never a felt tip, and certainly never a marker or a pencil. Then she would begin with both calendars open to January and write the first important date to remember of the new year on the new calendar - my birthday. There was some sort of magic about as she carefully printed my name diagonally across the appropriate box. She would line the ruler up from the lower left corner to the upper right corner of each box and then lovingly print each and every name or names for birthdays and anniversaries. With each page she turned she would reposition the little piece of cardboard that came packaged in the calendar so that it was underneath the page on which she was writing. This was essential so the pressure of her pen would not cause the print from the underside of the page to transfer onto the next month. This was a detailed operation that seemed to take hours until finally the last page was turned, and she placed my grandfather's name on December 05 to mark his birthday. Sometimes I would wait until she was completely finished and ask if I could look at the calendar. I had already admired the different pictures each month. What I was looking at were the carefully penned names that ended up having flat bottoms on each letter because of writing across the ruler. Each date with a name on it held its own beauty, and the comfort of my mother's writing was a treasure I could not have named then although I felt it with every page I turned.

In the calendar of my life each month contained some special date marked by my mother. There was always something I was looking forward to celebrating. And at some point I began receiving my own especially chosen calendar. At first my calendar would hang in the only space that belonged solely to me - my bedroom at home. Later my calendar would travel back with me to college, tucked safely in a bag for the trip, and then find a home in whatever place made sense in my residence at that time. The calendars kept coming and traveled with me to the little town in western Kansas where I had my first job after graduate school. The house that held my calendars for two years there has since blown away in a tornado that leveled that town several years ago. With each move I made I found 'just the right spot' in my house for my calendar, and somewhere along the years it left the rooms with my studies and found a permanent home in my kitchen. The kitchen, they say, is the heart of a home. And each day as I passed through my kitchen to grab something for lunch on the way out the door to work or leaned against the counter eating something quick after a late night my calendar was there with all the special dates of my life marked.

At first I used the ruler technique on my calendars too, and the flat-bottomed letters always gave me that familiar sense of comfort when I looked at the names. But somewhere along the line I stopped using the ruler. Probably because I couldn't find the damn ruler one year, but the ballpoint pen remained non-negotiable. The name or names continued to slant from the lower left corner up to the upper right corner - it just can't be any other way, and at some point I added my own flourish of drawing stars in the birthday date boxes and hearts in the anniversary date boxes. There are no 'appointments' or 'meetings' or 'schedules' or other mundane scribblings on my calendar. Those are relegated to scraps of paper or smart phones or some other calendar somewhere by not my calendar. My calendar is a home to all those I love, and I do not love my dentist, or gynecologist, or cable repairman. Most years I have tried to get the new year's calendar ready for it's job as soon after the beginning of the year as I can, but there have been some years I find myself feeling unquestionably sad as realize that January is either almost over or has definitely passed. What I have lost somehow feels much greater than a few days of staring at some random image on a calendar.

As happens in life, sometimes some names have been added and some names have been removed from my calendar at the beginning of each year. Someone who seemed to be important proved to be not very important at all. With all of the adding and deleting I found myself facing new years missing people who had died and were going to potentially leave their boxes empty on my calendar pages. Without a second thought I determinedly inked their names at the bottom of their usual boxes with small hearts. This is not something my mother has ever done on her calendars, but my heart was not empty so I could see no reason that their special boxes should become blank.

Through the nights I rummaged through the refrigerator while three babies inside of me said EAT SOMETHING CRAZY to the nights I sat at the table sighing because three babies inside of me were refusing to allow one morsel to pass my lips I would look up at my calendar on the wall to see what was happening that month. Through the nights I traipsed through the kitchen down to the basement to bring up another load of diapers from the dryer to the nights I blearily washed my 36th baby bottle of the day before the next meal in two hours I glanced at my calendar on the wall to make sure I wasn't missing something important that my exhausted brain might have forgotten. So many important dates to come that I cannot yet know, and the pages keep turning month by month on this amazing gift I receive each year.

Does it matter whether the calendar theme is my favorite movie, cartoon dogs, festive baby pigs, exotic fruit, or impressionistic paintings? Nope. I have found a tolerance bordering on fondness for cats just because of an exceptionally great calendar. I have found an appreciation for the artistry in the design of shoes and handbags! I have learned there is beauty and fun and comfort in things I would have never imagined and all because I opened a calendar I would have never bought for myself but one with which I now could never imagine missing our special year together.

After I pore over each page on Christmas day and then carefully and lovingly write each name in its special place I hang my calendar on its nail in the kitchen and wait in anticipation to see what new wonderful thing the turn of the page will bring next month. Mostly I will have forgotten and then smile to remember. Sometimes I will impatiently await an extra special page that stood out for me. Excitement and joy from 24 pages of silly, beautiful, funny, breathtaking, thought-provoking, head-shaking, heart-warming, and soul-stirring images mix with the familiar names and memorized dates to create the pages of my life.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One Remarkable Left Turn

At first glance he appeared to be no different from any other man standing at some busy traffic intersection holding the familiar cardboard sign usually scribbled almost illegibly with a request for help. I had pulled off the interstate to fill up with gas before we began the road trip back home after our Christmastime with my family. The babies were giggling and playing in their car seats, and the doggies were attentively nosing against their pet taxi doors to evaluate whether or not this decreased speed would result in some tasty morsel from one of those drive-through food makers.

I was stopping at a cross-section on the interstate that was a usual stop for me to refuel. There were truck stops on each corner and lined up further down the sides of the road. After I come down the exit ramp I always turn right and scan the gas prices as I decide between a couple of gas stations I frequent. A cent or two difference seems a silly reason to make a choice of one station over the other, but there is always that twinge of feeling as though I am doing something wrong if I pass up the chance to save 15 cents on a tank of gas.

So why I happened to glance to the left on this day as I headed down the exit ramp I could not have explained. I never look left. There is only one station that direction, and it seems a bit more out of the way since you have to travel across the overpass to get to it. The parking lot is a little less well-marked to help truck and car traffic get in and out without hassle, and usually the gas price is the same or higher than my stations on the right. But today, for some reason, I made note of the big gas price sign that stands alone at the left on a pole high enough above the station for interstate traffic to see. Waiting for the light to turn green I hummed along with the Christmas music on the radio and peeked in my rear-view mirror to check on the babies. After I made my usual right turn and was half a block away from my stations I realized that for the first time that lone station to the left of the exit ramp was a full five cents a gallon cheaper than any other station around. I must have paused for a moment to consider if rerouting myself was really worth saving five cents a gallon, but there was not a lot of other traffic traveling in the middle a Tuesday afternoon so I was able to turn around and head back to the left without bothering any other drivers as I changed course.

To get to this little station I had to take the overpass across the interstate, and there were a couple of stop lights directing traffic around the cloverleaf. As I was slowing behind several cars to stop at the first light I saw him. Up ahead at the second light he was standing with his back to our lanes of traffic as he held his sign waist-high toward the drivers on the ramp exiting the eastbound interstate. There was nothing remarkable about this man in the blue and green plaid quilted jacket, and he had the typical assortment of bags and backpacks laid out on the side of the road next to where he stood. I remember thinking he seemed to be traveling a littler heavier than the men I see at the intersections in the city, and as I sat staring at the lumps of his belongings on the ground I noticed a reddish mound. I wasn't near enough to be certain, but now I was considering the possibility that one of these mounds was a dog. A man and a dog. In the cold. On the side of a road. Not in a warm van with snacks and warm blankets for either of them. Now I was beginning to process more quickly and could feel myself start trying to figure out how to share some of what I had with this man and his dog when he clearly was not going to see me with his back turned and his attention on the streaming cross-traffic. The overpass shoulder was not big enough for me to pull over, and while I must admit the thought crossed my mind I quickly ruled out throwing my car in park, blocking traffic with all the honking and cursing and gesturing that would ensue, and running across the road to him while the babies and the doggies sat waiting in the van for crazy mommy to return. Now, as the light was changing, and I was coming closer to him I saw quite clearly that the mound was indeed a dog laying on the cold gravelly ground resting its nose on its paws. And then I saw that on the other side of the lumps of the man's belongings was another dog! A large black dog lay on the other side and also had its nose buried in its paws.

Now I was feeling a definite panic that I must get to this man somehow, but I was being pushed in the stream of traffic toward what I thought was my original destination. I turned into the parking lot of the gas station and navigated around the lines of cars to an open pump. I stood outside waiting for my tank to fill and noticed the temperature seemed to be dropping. I pulled my jacket a little tighter and rubbed my face into my scarf as I remained focused on my need to figure out how I was going to get this thing done that had now become a requirement of my soul and not just a passing desire. There was no way I was not going to share what I had with this man and his dogs. As I pulled back out of the parking lot and onto the road I realized that if I had to turn around again and again as I made pass after pass by this man and his dogs I would accomplish this mission. I slowed just a little before the light and was graced with the gift of a bright yellow and then red light which allowed me to seem slightly less insane for stopping in the middle of the road. Now I did the only thing I could think to do. I gave a short honk of my van horn. No response. Of course there was a lot of traffic, and I was contemplating just how long I had before my beautiful red light turned a nasty shade of get-your-ass-moving green. I honked again and anticipated I would be making this trip across the overpass more than once or twice today. One more honk. Then suddenly he turned to glance over his shoulder and saw me waving my arm out my window.

Now, the realization dawned on me that this man had to make a decision about whether or not he was going to leave his post and attempt to dart across three lanes of traffic to get to a lady, with what he must have thought would be a one dollar bill, who was flapping her arm around like a mad woman. And as time seemed to slow down and speed up all at the same time I thought to myself as I saw in his eyes the decision to try to cross the lanes of cars, "Please, if anyone is watching over us right now, just keep this damn light red." He bobbed, and he wove, and he ended up just a few feet from me reaching out toward my hand. He gripped his cardboard in his other hand with a cigarette dangling between two fingers, and in the breath of a moment as he saw the bill that I pressed into his hand his face registered confusion and then dismay. Then his face softened, and at second glance I recognized that this man was, indeed, remarkable. And I had reached my true destination. I looked into his eyes and nodded as I noticed the light was just about to turn. He whispered, "God bless you," and bobbed and wove back through the cars without a backwards glance, and my eyes filled with tears knowing it was no coincidence I turned left.