Thursday, December 29, 2016

What My Heart Knows

My heart seems to know a good many things that my head does not. My heart knows that when a ninety-three-year-old woman announces to a crowd waiting to be seated for breakfast that it is her birthday, you touch her on the shoulder and wish her a happy birthday, and you do it in a strong and enthusiastic voice. After all her hearing is not what it used to be. Your head might observe that your teenagers are cringing, embarrassed, in the corner, but what does your heart care?

Your heart and mine know that each death of a musician or actor in 2016 hurts because another piece of your childhood is crumbling underneath you, leaving you standing on a precipice that feels both unsafe and unsound. Your head acknowledges that you do not know the first thing about these people who have died, and what you do feel about them now (just as you did before) is mere projection, but what does your heart care?


When my grandmothers were very old, both expounded on the same theme: it is not much fun, life, without your peers, peers who never needed an explanation of the particulars that made you you because they lived many of the same particulars. I got it, even then, in my twenties, young still.

Yesterday one of my sons tried to convince me that writing thank-you notes is obsolete. (He had already written them, as requested. In this, then, he was not trying to weasel out of an onerous task.) He argued that writing thank-you notes is a chore invented by etiquette experts like Emily Post. He used the internet to support his claim.

(Yes, my children are clever in ways I am not, and yes, they do not share my particulars.)

My head knows that thank-you notes may be outdated, but my heart insists that having my children write them continues to teach them how to express, or even how to feel, gratitude. Gratitude for one thing has a way of turning into gratitude for everything.


My head knows that you cannot will yourself to die, but my heart knows that yesterday Debbie Reynolds did will herself to die just so that she could be with her daughter, Carrie Fisher, once again.

My heart knows it because one of my grandmothers did the very same thing. Lying in a hospital bed while recovering from a ruptured appendix, and only two days from being released, my grandmother said her goodbyes to us all. "This makes no sense," we puzzled. But I had heard her when in recent months she'd talked about life not being fun anymore, and I wondered.

"I am sorry that I won't ever know Kate," she told me in a fierce voice that demanded silence in response. Kate was the name of my future daughter, a name I'd chosen years before. Kate didn't end up being Kate. She ended up a he, and his name would be Jack. But my grandmother's message wasn't dimmed by the inaccuracy of its specifics. It was as pointed, as clear, as could be.

She died of a stroke the next day. My head did not understand how someone pronounced well enough to go home in twenty-four hours could die.

But my heart? It wasn't at all surprised.


Back to the teens I mortified by wishing a stranger a happy birthday, to the teen who believes thank-you notes to be obsolete, but really to all the teens, because mine are no different from anyone else's:

Try thinking with your heart. You will find it rewarding in ways you cannot yet imagine. Practice a little each day, and by the time you are my age, most of the best thinking you do will not be with those quite capable heads of yours.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Reckoning

When I was approaching forty years old I started to write online. The words, stoppered up for too long I can only surmise, came rushing out heedless of thought or care for others. That's how it had to be for a very long time. Writing enabled me to get through and over some longstanding griefs and grievances.

That was yesterday. Or feels as if, but really it was a decade-long process. Unaccountably I find myself turning fifty years old in some ten months. And at this stage I am quiet. Life is quiet. The words do not come with any urgency. I wonder, "Who am I to have thought I had anything to say, to you or anyone else?" This is no false modesty. It is more a sense that we all have words pressing for release. Mine are no more worthy of consideration than yours. At almost fifty I understand that we are all in this together, that we rise and fall on the backs of others.

Quiet I may be, but not settled, not yet. In the last year I have had to do some caretaking of my body, not my mind. Fifty warrants attention to the physical self so that it's sustainable for the long haul, or maybe so that the long haul doesn't feel long, nor like a haul.

My children are not any longer children. They are delightful companions, these young adults, and they keep surprising me in the best ways. But yes, fifty means answering the question of who one is when no longer quite so actively parenting. There seems so much time! Parents of young children covet the idea of all that time, but forget that an abundance of time is not always desirable. Too much time can mean minutes or hours spent worrying about things that seem downright inconsequential without the time to frame them up all pretty with a bow.

Well, here we are. Here I am. Breathing, living, quiet but content. White-haired, older but much, much wiser. The wisdom amply compensates for the loss of youth.

I wish for you all time and space to breathe, live, and be quiet but content. And I send much love your way as 2017 slips into being, heralded or not.