Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Suffering & Healing

November 29, 2011

The four of us huddled in sleeping bags on the floor in the master bedroom of our new house, even though it was late July. Our furniture would arrive in a few days. The moon hid behind the branches of an unidentified tree in the backyard. A low train whistle sliced the night. We wondered if it would always be mournful. If we would always hear the train bawl.

We’d left our home. A small house in Texas. You could run a circle in that house. Start in the kitchen, through the den, then the center bedroom, parlor, dining room and back to the den. You could see the Christmas tree from the center room in the parlor, maybe hear Santa laugh.

An old lady died next door. The new owner chopped down the old lady’s tree. She had once said, “When the tree goes, I go.” When we left, we said goodbye to all the houses in our neighborhood. One was circular, one had a pink cow painted on it, and one was the house of many colors. Each resembled an old lady with a different bun and unique apron.

How tender was that night–the four of us in our new house. Unsure. The empty house, echoing. We toasted marshmallows in the fireplace. Our furniture hadn’t arrived. Friends and family trailed a thousand miles behind. Gone was the walk to preschool, gone was the marriage tree—two trunks that grew out of one plot, gone, gone were the long syllables that swept like “ooooh” over our landscape, down from the Llano Estacado.

We were in forests now. Corn stalks walled in country roads, the plains were out of sight. Trains whistled. But, we slept in one room together. The surety of our bodies, side by side. Our warm breath mixed and folded into snores. Only in dreams, would we see again the sandbox, the fallen nest of sparrow eggs by the side of the house, or the neighbor’s boxer through the chain link fence. Small suffering.

The next day some boys from the church came to paint a room. Two brothers. One is married and in med school now. The other is a homeowner and lives alone. We may never see them again. Isabel Allende once said something like, “Life is about losing everyone and everything you ever loved.” For the most part that is true. Unless you die young. Unless you have never loved. Unless you are a Christian. There are fewer warm bodies in the room. In Camelot, Merlyn says to King Arthur, “You may lose your mother, your father, your only love, your dog. There is only one thing for all of it—learn.” For a long time, this statement bewildered me. But, I have learned something. Life is also about finding everything and everyone you have ever loved. For some of us. We lucky few. Coffee with cream, blankets, snow.

In that room, we four suffered a small death. However, that death made us more fully love what we had lost. That death bound us each to the other. That death, at least that one, made us more open to new lovers.

There is so much suffering in the world. When one loses everyone and everything one loves, one must find other things and people to love or one dies. The way to alleviate suffering is to love. Let the furniture arrive. Useful advice, I don’t always take it. Sometimes, I want to turn back the clock, find myself among the tumbleweeds just before they blow away.


October 11, 2011

My skin feels grimy at the end of the night in St. Louis. We moved to the city just six weeks ago. My husband and I are returning from an evening at a microbrewery. We pull up in front of our house. Like everyone else, we park on the street. Our two-car garage sits empty in the back. Sally, the neighborhood matriarch, hollers at me. We’ve got pizza! She’s sitting on a porch swing near a screen broadcasting the end of a Cardinals game. It’s 10:30 Friday night and half of the block is gathered on their lawn.
They are always, cooking in there, says one neighbor, swirling a glass of red wine, tilting it toward the house. They are always drinking too. Cans of Busch-lite or glasses of red box-wine. A family member presses a cold can into my palm even when I insist I don’t want one. Some of Sally’s kids or assorted relations, we haven’t figured out which, live on this street. They replace each other’s roofs and are remodeling Sally’s kitchen. The grandkids or neighbors ride bikes up and down the sidewalks. Recently, Sally has been working ten or twelve hour shifts at a doctor’s office that has added new practices, but no extra staff.
I am not sure what her husband does, a mammoth man anchoring down the couch or bench in front of the TV. Sally’s daughter, Mary, boasts that for the first time in her life she has moved up in the world. She swallows some wine from a glass and smiles. From waitress to dental receptionist. Her first full time job. She’s thirty-three. Mary wears glasses and a pageboy clipped by her sister-in-law. The front lawn is oily with varying degrees of intoxicated relatives. I think about my own daughters two thousand miles away in Seattle. Both are in graduate school, one is studying to be an architect, the other a microbiologist. Sally says she never imagined she be in this place, with a “real” job. I never imagined being in this place.
She complains too that she has to do the work of two people; she can’t always depend on a paycheck, but reiterates how grateful she is to have had this opportunity to be a receptionist. She’s looking for another job. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says smiling again. I invite Sally and Mary to tour my house. They ooze over everything, the old-fashioned spice chest and telephone cabinet. I cannot tell if it’s feigned or real. I wonder how they see my style. For one thing, when I had my wood floor redone, I used a water-based stain instead of the high-gloss polyurethane that Sally is using in her house. Sally whispers to my husband that my house looks like a showroom. Not a good thing. However, when we return to the living room, Sally lingers over a poster I’ve had framed and mounted above my fireplace. A girl, in sheer saffron robes, draped over a couch. She also notes my other piece of art, a highly popular Klimt. She pauses, rocks on her feet.. At last she says, they look like angels.
Then, out of left field, Sally notifies me she once earned a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. Explains she didn’t go because she was a daddy’s girl. Continues that she been a concert violinist and was offered a job with the symphony. I got married … had children, she says. I couldn’t travel. You make your choices.
I gulp down the last of my beer, think about the five different states I’ve lived in, the people on Sally’s front lawn. Before they go, Sally and Mary regale us with sloshy testimonials. They know Thomas is a minister, but I know they don’t have a clue about Unitarian beliefs. Sally laughs and says if she falls asleep before she finishes her prayers, the angels finish for her. Mary declares, with a look of astonishment, that she prays each morning in the shower. She is still wearing her dental uniform, almost like medical scrubs, even though it’s Friday night. Her teeth are crooked.

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