Category Archives: When Time Stops

Home

I lie on an old brown sofa that is covered in tiny nylon loops which should be scratchy but somehow aren’t, probably with a dog or two. We bask in a late afternoon sunbeam that slants in through the ground floor window. I am reading, or was reading, or am about to read. In another season, the wood burning stove might be radiating a blistering heat an arm’s length away, with a humming fan pushing the warmth toward the rest of the house, but in this memory it is summer. My mother or one of my sisters plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the old upright piano. The music literally fills the air, and then my lungs as I breathe it in, where my bloodstream absorbs it and carries it to all my cells. I am lifted, carried by it. The bench creaks softly as the pianist shifts octaves, a page whispers as it turns, a dog sighs with contentment. We listen for the sounds of Dad returning. A well-used dartboard hangs in mute challenge surrounded by dozens of tiny holes. The long wall on the south is paneled in yellow pine, and the brown vinyl floor, excellent for sliding on in socked feet, bears a repeating Moorish design. Bifold doors on the north conceal the treasures of multiple generations: books and toys and remnants of kits and tools that haven’t found a home anywhere else. More curiosities are stored under the lid of the kneehole desk Dad made. Into its sides he has burned the brands used by our ranching forefathers. The room smells of old books and sheet music, tooled leather, lemon fresh Pledge, and dog, with a hint of the medicinal, antiseptic and earthy aromas that venture in from Dad’s adjoining veterinary office. It is the music that always pulls me back though, if not the gravitational center, then at least the magnetic north.

The piano, the sofa, the dogs and the people are all gone or in exile now and the house is in others’ hands, but that moment, repeated with minor variations over and over throughout the first half of my life, is omnipresent. That is home, where I started and where, sometimes, I go to restart. No matter when or where I am, I can always return to that couch to drift in words and music and sunlight, surrounded by the presence, or imminent presence, or the remembered presence of people and love.

Thank you, Mom and Dad and Sisters. Thank you for giving me a home.

What moment or place do you go to, when you need to go home?

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Fresh

The subzero morning quiets all the noise in her head. Icy air prickles the exposed skin of her face, pecking like hungry birds, and traces stiffening paths up her nose and down her throat. Even through dark glasses, the pale dawn light on the snow is blinding. She smiles, and her teeth are chilled. One step after another, her snowshoes carry her further from the house still crowded with the memory of all the family who recently left, and the three warm sleepy bodies still there, hunkered under afghans and watching TV. That colorful space, big enough to house the numerous and sometimes conflicting conversations, agendas and activities of three generations, is a speck under the wide open sky. The only sign of life is the exhaust from furnaces swirling above the uniformly iced rooftops. There are no other people out at that hour, in that temperature; no pets in the backyards. Even sound is absent; no birdsong or distant traffic noise compete with each crunching step and wssshing stride.

Thoughts retreat as well. The parts of her brain dedicated the last ten days to executing plans, anticipating, performing and connecting, find rest as she listens for rhythm in her gait and breath. Flat frozen ponds encircled by the hash mark geometry of dormant grasses offset the dark sinuous curves of the oak, maple and ash trees. The landscape is a balm needing no watchful study or tending. All the bits and pieces she had given of herself gradually return and by the time she is exhausted, leaving the last of her energy on the trail back home, she is whole again. A new beginning.

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Beautiful Dancers

A week and a half ago, some cloudiness on my annual mammogram triggered two more mammograms, an ultrasound and a core needle biopsy. With our recent and plentiful family history of breast cancer, this was worrisome. However, my time-honored strategy of dealing with problems on a strictly intellectual level and forcing my emotions into a long but fitful nap served me well. Really, what had changed? Except for some bruising from the biopsy I was exactly the same as I had been the blissfully ignorant week before. Being aware of a potential problem without verification is really, bottom line, an exercise in stress management. Try to save the panic for later, focus on breathing now.

Over the weekend after the biopsy (but before the results) I packed for a trip to my younger sister’s to help look after her boys (with our other sister) for a couple of days, prepared my house as well as I could for a bunch of impending company (Mr. Wordtabulous’ cousin was getting married the following weekend and we would need place for five additional beloved people to sleep,) and rode that mental teeter-totter that goes, “I am in trouble; I am absolutely fine.” Regardless of what the results turned out to be, I knew that I was fine. I have everything I need and I was (and am) grateful for that. Still, it was wearing. Due to a technological black hole and some phone battery issues, it took the nurse two days and eight tries to reach me (they don’t leave messages,) to tell me all is well, which (even though I knew I was fine,) was still a relief to hear.

My time with the nephews was wonderful, and spending time this past weekend with Mr. W’s family was just as much so. At the dance after Becky and Brandon’s wedding I watched people gather, hug, eat and laugh. But not everything was awesome. Beneath the celebration there was heartache: for the passage of time, for loved ones departed, for one of our shining stars who is waging war on cancer. I felt the surge of  emotional riptides.  Out on the dance floor tiny girls in party dresses spun and hopped with mommies and daddies, next to luminous young women I first knew as tiny girls twenty years ago, next to teenage youth surrounded by people who have loved them their whole lives. Aunts and uncles and parents, new loves and long-time marrieds were out there. People facing crumbling marriages, homesickness, illness, disappointment and loss abandoned their cares and joined in. Survivors of those very same challenges turned and stepped in rhythm and in joy, reminding us that the dance isn’t just for the one moment, celebrating the vows we had witnessed a few hours before. The dance is the celebration of the enduring hope and love that makes us powerful in the face of pain, love that extends generations into the past and into the future.

Thank you, all of you made beautiful in your love and struggle, for the dance.

A Low Sun Over Bitter Lake: Two Views

I grew up in eastern South Dakota. Two of the things I have always loved about that place are the  vast skies and the way the tall grass on the open prairie ripples like waves on a lake, tossed by the nearly incessant wind. Squint a little and you can see the past, into a time before the towns, the highways, the wire and post fences and the yellow squares of lamplight signalling home existed. When there are no houses or buildings around to distract you from your smallness, you get a sense of proportion that is a gentle reminder of  our true size in this incomprehensibly enormous universe. One can get a unique kind of clarity experiencing the wide open.

 

 

When I was young, I couldn’t wait to get away from the  home where it seemed like there was nothing but earth and sky and judgment. I rushed off to experience noise and activity and possibility. Now, saturated with noise and activity, and grieving the crushing death of many of those possibilities, I fantasize about building myself a little cabin off the grid on a small rise in the middle of as much empty as I can find. I long for a  place in the openness between earth and sky, where I might quietly wait to see what possibilities clarity can bring.

 

When Time Stops, Moonlit Moment

Words streaming through my brain, linking, twisting, and rejoining—urgently and repeatedly, drove me from my bed at 4:38 this morning. Intent upon capturing some and exorcising others, I slunk down the stairs to find my west facing living room aglow in moonlight. I stopped, as did the words in my head. As much as I admire sunrises and sunsets in all their varying colorful glamour, the moon exerts a pull on my heart as of tides. Her cool monochromatic sublimity loosens my grip on the fevered daytime strivings that have followed me into the night. Stop now. See. Breathe.

When Time Stops, The Night Sky

One of my bests from childhood was sky-watching. We lived on the flat, open prairie, with few houses or buildings to significantly block the horizon in any direction. On our deck in the company of family or friends, I watched thunderstorms build from miles away and approach with lightning  and thunder rocking the sky and earth, only driving us in when wind and rain reached us under the rooftop overhang. The Northern Lights danced the skies in silence more rarely, silencing us in its beauty. On clear nights in all seasons I’d lie down in the front yard, far enough from everything that all I could see was the sky. Without trees or buildings in your peripheral vision to anchor you, you perceive that you are truly on a sphere in space. That up is no different from down and instead of securely looking up at the sky, you are suspended above the deepest abyss of indigo, midnight and black, set with blazing and muted planets, stars and galaxies, with our own galaxy, indeed, a faded milky streak across the panorama, so impossibly distant it is hard to believe it is home.

The infinite is all around us, all the time. We and everything around us are made up of unimaginably small particles that are buzzing around furiously, as we are suspended in an incomprehensibly large universe full of uncounted objects that are also in constant motion. Quantum and cosmic meet inside our minds where we ponder these great unfolding mysteries. This comforts me on days when little things insist they are a big deal.