Monday, November 24, 2014

My days are not perfect, but perfection can be so boring

I turned 62 today and while that is not a typical benchmark year, I feel that at my age, every birthday is cause for a little hoopla. In 1929, the year my mother was born, life expectancy for women was 58.  By my birth year,1952, it had risen to 71.  Today it stands at 79.5, although apparently if I were living in Monaco I could expect to live until at least 89.  Must be all that French wine. On the other hand, if I lived in Tansania, I would have already reached my expiry date.  My mom is now 85 and shows no sign of slowing down, so I'm thinking that bodes well for me, but you never know.  In fact none of us, no matter how old we are, ever knows what the future will bring or how many more years we will have on this earth. All we can do is enjoy each day as it comes, realizing that each day may not be perfect but each day can be pretty good.

My birthday started at 5:45 with my dog begging to go for a walk, which is way too early to be happy about it any day that happens let alone on your birthday. I went out the back door to the grassy area that the apartments are built around. It was dark so I had to use a flashlight to make sure I didn't step in stuff I didn't want to step in.  When we set off, there were no lights on in any other apartments, but there were lots on by the time we were finished. I try to be quiet on these early morning treks, but dogs apparently love to bark at other dogs as they do their business. I think we woke up every dog in the complex, who in turn woke up their humans, who were not happy if the frequently voiced "HUSH" was any example. It rained late last night, then dropped below freezing in the wee hours, leaving the sidewalks slick as, well, ice. I was in the mood for a birthday scone so after feeding my dog, I headed out the front door on my way to my beloved Starbucks, and quickly realized that no one had availed themselves of the ice melt that management supplies us with, despite the fact that all 3 of my closest neighbors had left before me. Maybe instead of being rude they just have better balance than I do. I sprinkled the crystals all the way to my car, then stepped off the curb and almost went down. 10 minutes later, after scraping the windshield and letting the interior thaw, I drove to the gas station, stopped the car and popped the little latch for my gas tank cover, only to find that it had frozen shut. I imagine I looked a little ridiculous jumping in the front seat to jiggle the latch, then running around to the other side to see if the door popped open, smacking it to loosen it up, then back to the front seat to jiggle the latch again.  As I repeated those actions 10 or 11 times, I amused myself by thinking of someone watching a video feed and seeing my odd choreography.  Just in case that actually was happening, I made sure to send the camera a big cheesy grin and flashed a little V for victory. By the time I pulled out of the gas station I was once again shivering in the cold. But it was all worth it as the cheerful person at the Starbucks drive thru handed me that steaming cup of deliciousness and that lovely little bag of yumminess. Coffee and scones make everything better, even a cold day that started at 5:45.

My point is this.  No day is perfect. Not today or yesterday or last Tuesday. If the future held only perfection, I'm thinking it would be a little boring.  The best you can do is try to balance the irritating, the absurd, the heartache with the empowering, the silly, the joyful.  I have a tattered and very loved Eddie Bauer sweatshirt that has Balance embroidered across the front. A gift from my daughter, it's no longer fit to be seen in public, but 20 years ago I wore it a lot.  People never failed to comment on it. "Ah, yes, Balance!" they would murmur. "That's the key, isn't it?" I was telling my daughter one day about my sweatshirt apparently inspiring insight and deep thinking and she said "You realize, don't you, and that you haven't been an advertisement for yin and yang so much as a walking ad for their new men's fragrance, Balance?" Somehow knowing that made wearing it even better.  Balance, you know?

"I ain't here for a long time, I'm here for a good time. So bring on the sunshine to hell with the red wine, pour me some moonshine!" George Strait

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A River Runs Thru It

My brother, who was close in age and in spirit to me, passed away after a short but brutal struggle with cancer in December 2012.  I will be eternally thankful that I was in Southern California a full year prior to his diagnosis, and I will treasure those days forever. Because the time between diagnosis and his passing was so very short, less than 6 months, it had a surreal quality to it, as though we were all in this weird foreign film where nobody spoke English and we didn't know our lines. As the years blur the sorrow of that short time, I find myself having random yet vivid flashes of things we did as kids, teenagers, young adults and beyond. I'll think of something he said that made me laugh and smile at the memory. He loved wine and we spent a lot of that oh so precious time sitting on his deck, toasting the setting sun. To this day when I drink one of his favorite wines, I am transported back to Southern California where I can almost smell the plumeria and hear the birdsong. And every time, I toast my brother and his life and cry a little for the brevity of it.
This past summer, during a trip to Southern California, my sister in law asked me if I had read A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.  I was living in Missoula, Montana when the movie with Tom Skerritt and Brad Pitt came out. It was filmed in part in the area, and a group of friends went to see it, mostly so we could pick out well known and well loved places...although a young Brad Pitt wasn't hard to look at either. But no, I had never read the book. She said it had been my brother's favorite book and that he had given out many copies of it over the years, mostly to business clients. She had been thinking about it because one of his very good friends had mentioned in an email that he had read the book, loved it and had decided to give it to a group of business contacts he knew. He had no idea that Buddy had done the exact same thing years ago.  She was reading it now, wishing she had read it when he was alive so that she could talk to him about it....why did it mean so much to him, what was it that he read in the book that so impacted him that he was driven to share it with others?  The next day I stopped in Barnes and bought my own copy, made a cup of coffee and sat down to see for myself the answers to my sister in law's questions.
I read it quickly, finishing it in one evening. It's a novella rather than a book, but is no less impactful for its shortness. Written in the mid 70's after Norman Maclean had retired, it is a look back at his earlier life in Montana, culminating in his brother's death by brutal hands in 1938. I wanted to read it to feel a little closer to my brother, but ended up loving it because it is just a really, really good book. It is beautifully written, almost lyrical in style and the fact that I could readily identify with so many of its settings just added to my enjoyment. It shouldn't be a surprise that I also readily identified with the author, who lost his brother at too young an age and in such a tragic and senseless way. As I turned each page and got closer to the finish, I found myself hoping it wouldn't end. Yes, it is that kind of book. A few pages into the story came my favorite line. Norman and his brother were fly fishing and Norman caught the first fish then sat down to "watch a fisherman", his younger brother.  He describes how his brother struggled thru the river, then "he steadied himself and began to cast and the whole world turned to water".  I find that imagery incredibly lovely.
The very last time he fishes with his brother he writes, "At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection.  He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws and like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last."
I will never know what it was that so entranced my brother, but reading this story that he loved is much like drinking one of his favorite wines, a little sad but entirely enjoyable.

"Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it."