“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ~ Louise Erdrich
This past week I’ve been traveling – seeing my mother and brothers, my twin nephews and my cousin, a number of old friends, former teachers, and people I went to high school with. I’ve visited haunts that I haven’t seen for a while and others that were as familiar as the back of my own hands.
Moments of Sweet Relief
Here’s just a taste of the experiences of the past week that reminded me of the rich, caramel sweetness of my life:
- My mom’s ancient cat, Zap, yowling for food and cranking around the house looking for a patch of sunlight. Her halting walk-abouts in the yard, enjoying the dizzying scent of lavender or the soft touch of succulents and warm grass under her feet.
- Going out for salmon and chips and savoring each and every precious bite – knowing that I could not eat a full order (due to the gluten in the batter), so I shared one order happily with my mother.
- The beautiful, shining face of the Ethiopian woman behind the counter at the fish place. The way she smiled as she took our order, counted back our change, and handed us a tray of wonderful food.
- Sitting around in the fading light of Karen’s kitchen as we ate grilled Coho salmon and fresh garden vegetables and yellow potatoes. The feeling of being outside of time – the lull of a late summer day – breeze coming in the screen door as we chatted about our lives and finished our meal with coconut milk ice cream and coffee.
- The tenderness of the way my older brother talks to his girlfriend, and she talks to him. Eating chocolate chardonnay ice cream and later admiring the view of the Space Needle and Mount Rainier, clearly visible from the window in their bedroom at the top of Queen Anne Hill. Their shy, luxurious cats, Little One and Rosie, strolling through the room sure they’ll be admired.
- The tangle of tree branches outside Karen’s room – serene and slate gray – meditative and still.
- Listening to my mom regale me with stories of the huge cranes sitting on the docks in the Port of Seattle: “They look like giraffes, especially from the side.”
- The wake of white foam trailing behind the ferries leaving for Bainbridge Island and Bremerton.
- Watching T and M play – screaming with joy as they jiggled away on the Batman ride at Luna Park.
- Eating curly pomme frites with garlic and rosemary and a club sandwich wrapped in bib lettuce instead of bread, as I sat laughing and talking with my mom and my friends, Lisa and Melissa, inside Toulouse Petit on Queen Anne Hill.
- Making a salad of beets, jicama, fresh avocado and cherry tomatoes from Mom’s yard. Crumbling feta cheese on it, and drizzling it with balsamic vinaigrette.
- Mom spilling a whole container of pepper onto to her salad just after she sat down – and the hilarity of her trying to eat a portion of it that was black with pepper – until she realized she would have to wash it off and start again.
- Mom’s lovely yard full of hen and chicks, strawberries, lavender, heirloom tomatoes, lamb’s ears, succulents, rosemary.
- Holding my mom’s hand as she stepped off the bus.
- Shopping for groceries with her: carefully buying organic pears and watermelons, red peppers and zucchini.
- Meeting friends after nearly three decades apart. Immediately recognizing them – remembering names and faces and experiences I haven’t thought of in years.
- The way that my high school drama teacher, Dr. B., gave me a bear hug when he saw me. “I just love you,” he whispered in my ear. The fact that he told my mom he wanted to thank her for “sending three great kids to Sehome High School.” She said it was one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to her.
- The fact that Dr. B dedicated his doctoral dissertation to his students.
- Sitting in Pepper Sisters with Caytie and Mom and eating some of the best Southwest food available in the Northwest. The deluxe blue plate. The feathery sopapillas. The tangy green sauce and creamy cilantro salad dressing.
- Seeing Caytie’s oldest son again. I swear, he was a child the last time I saw him. (Wondering where the hell the time went.)
- Running into a former co-worker just after I mentioned him in casual conversation.
- Helping mom set up her Kindle, download her books, work on her email account, set up phone numbers in her phone.
- Getting copies of photos of Momma and Patty – especially the ones of her as a baby and tiny girl wearing coveralls and a dour expression.
- Watching two hilarious twin boys slurp their way through huge pineapple and vanilla milkshakes.
- Visiting with Carolyn on the drive to Bellingham – seeing all the changes – yet still having the feeling that no time had passed.
- Dinner with Shawn, Paul, Emily, Carolyn and Mom in Bellevue at Shawn’s amazing abode. The good humor and joy of sitting around a table with kindred spirits eating cool summer salads and following up with an embarrassingly wonderful assortment of gelato. Laughing late into the night – windows open, surrounded by tall trees and the quiet buzz of insects and birds.
- Lunch with my older brother and his girlfriend on Capitol Hill as we savored beautiful Bento boxes at OctaSushi.
- Dawdling and window shopping in Bellingham – reading cards and looking at a raft of beautiful stationery.
- The thoughtful reflective letters my students wrote about my summer course to close out the week. The satisfaction of knowing that what I taught them over the past six weeks was meaningful and had a positive impact on their lives and educations.
- The lovely slowness of the final days of this summer break. School — and all its attendant busyness and mayhem – is just days away — but I took the time to drink in the beauty of this moment. This. Only this.
In Spite of Everything, Joy
What I realized on this trip is that I allowed myself to relax and to be present. I don’t feel drained or as though I got no rest. I slept in my mother’s bed and woke up surrounded by things that she loves. My desire before I left was to simply remain in the moment and enjoy everything. I did just that. The trip reminded me of the importance of the small graces of daily life. The whole week we didn’t do much of anything except talk to each other, eat, and spend time together — but it was a rich and full interaction. I wasn’t thinking about the work I needed to do when I got home. I wasn’t grieving the end of the trip before it happened.
Special thanks to Melissa, Lisa, Shawn, Carolyn, Andy, Adam, Paul, Greg, Teresa, T, M, Kelly, Karen, Nancy, Kassia, Kimber, Caytie, Robert, Linda, and especially, my beautiful, Momma.
I am so grateful for the luminous spirits of the people who grace my life with love and tender support. Life is good because of you.
© 2013 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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