Like the herd of elk I saw in the meadow as we arrived at our cabin, I am moving on. After 9 years of being a full-time Language Arts teacher, I am starting a new chapter. Inspired by a seminar I took at my husband’s last reunion at Yale, I have stopped, reassessed, and recognized that if I don’t pursue my dreams now, they may never materialize. It has not been an easy decision. Today, when I told my 7th grade students, who were looking forward to having me for 8th grade, many of them cried. I am passionate about writing, vocabulary, grammar, reading–all the things I teach. Yet, I have found my schedule increasingly draining. Each day, I expend a huge amount of energy just getting the students to stay focused for our 90 minute classes. It has taken me months of going back and forth, changing my mind constantly, to finally realize that fear of the unknown is not the right reason to stay.
The morning after we saw the elk, they were gone.
I spent Christmas Eve morning making 62 ravioli. In the background, the King’s College Choir at Cambridge sang Christmas Carol favorites. This is my first Christmas without my mother and my cat. The music of the season has been especially soothing. I feel as if I have come to a place of greater acceptance of both these losses. Though I still have my tear-filled moments, I have started to once again embrace the future.
A total of 7.5 miles, including an ascent of 2300′. I’ve been on 14 high-altitude hikes since early June. It is hard to believe I broke my ankle a year ago. I am grateful for my strength, discipline and for the wilderness areas set aside for us. It is this beauty and the immersion within it, that elevates my spirit. Another birthday looms, but I am learning that the numbers themselves are not what limit us.
I just finished reading In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin. A sentence near the end of the book resonated with me deeply. “…in the end the whole world is nothing more than what you remember and what you love, things fleeting and indefensible, light and beautiful, that were not supposed to last, echoing forever…” (Helprin, 702).
I have built a memorial to hold the ashes of my cat, Smooch. There was a spot she loved up at our cabin, in the tall grasses under the aspen trees. I dug out a circle and put half of her ashes in it. Then I made a white quartz border with the letter, “S” going through the middle, from top to bottom. I filled the negative space with dark rocks. I then built a rock path leading to the spot. That was two weeks ago. When I arrived this weekend, there was a penstemon blooming right next to the spot. The amazing detail is that it was not the florescent lavender or bright pink of the other penstemons on our land. It was a deep, almost black, purple. As silly as it may sound, I couldn’t help but feel it was in some way, acknowledgment of her presence.
Having finished scoring all of the final exams and getting grades posted, this first hike of summer was especially sweet. The dirt road to the trail head was blocked by fallen pines. As we walked up the road, we were stunned to discover hundreds of uprooted trees, many with trunks two feet in diameter. It must be the result of the 100 mph winds we had earlier in the spring. Nonetheless, we made it to the lake. It was amazing to see tiny alpine forget-me-nots already in bloom.There was a brief window of bright sky before the thunder rumbled in and the graupel turned the landscape white. What is it about the scent of pine and rain that makes everything feel so alive? This is the beginning of my return to the world without walls.
I will be part of a three-author poetry reading at The Book Haven in Salida on June 6. It is also Dies Librorum, their celebration of the bookstore’s 10th anniversary! From 5-6, there is a Rapid Fire Salute to the Written Word. Every participant will have 1 minute to read a favorite passage from their own writing or any other author/poet.
The actual Dies Librorum will begin at 6:30, with more music, food and wine. Each author will present their poetry for 20 minutes beginning at 7:00 p.m.
Like Frederick the mouse in one of Leo Lionni’s children’s books, I have stored images of beauty. On February 25, my mother died. Her final three weeks were under hospice care in her home. I flew in for a visit and there were some incredible exchanges I will never forget. Yet, I am also haunted by images of her deterioration and helplessness.
Now, my cat of fifteen years is severely diminished and approaching death. The tears are back, a mix of this double grief. I remember holding my mom’s hand, saying my last goodbye, before heading to the airport. I said she would live in my heart forever. She said, “I’ll be bouncing around in there.”
Rationally, I know that at almost 92, with a failing body, it was time for my mother to pass on. It does not change the nature of the loss, though I am certain that those who lose loved ones at an earlier age have an element of tragedy that I did not experience.
I can apply the same thinking to my cat. When I adopted her from the Dumb Friends League, she was 4 months old. Although she probably would have preferred to be an outdoor cat, she has had time prowling around the yard under our supervision. She has slept in our bed, and in her older years, stretched out on top of me for naps. This morning, she purred and I drank in the sound, the sound that may soon disappear from my life.
I swim in a sea of tears,
in the deep waters of grief.
There is no tomorrow.
Sifting through the moments,
the treasures of a life shared.
The gift of love
opening the door to pain wide,
yet what is greater?
Love, the gold we all seek,
that I have been blessed to find.
february 19, 2013