Blog: Point No Point

Stand with love and light

Today our hearts ache because we are all human.

It is not partisan to speak out against hate, and to name it for what it is. Today our community grieves the loss of three lives to an uprising of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. There are no “sides” here. There is only an act of unconscionable aggression based on a fundamentally flawed view that divides humanity along spurious lines of “nationality” or “race.”

Our hearts ache because we are all human, all connected, and we are all in this together.

As Martin Luther King said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Stand today with light and love and trust that your contribution to our human family is felt, appreciated, and entirely necessary.

Pine Street Episode 45

Allison and a green house: whatever she is seeking, is it in that house?

Allison walked with her iced coffee up the street three blocks, then zigged and zagged until she stood in front of it.

The house she’d decided to buy.

Dark green, with white trim, an old roof (that’ll probably need replacing), and a brick red door. An overgrown yard, mature trees, a patio out back that would be sheltered from the prevailing winds. A front porch that sloped precipitously toward the street, as if to propel any occupants out at high speed. Yet the house seemed to Allison the most welcoming place she’d ever seen.

The simple fact that there was no For Sale sign didn’t daunt Allison at all. Sooner or later, the house would go up for sale. The market here was heating up, as the town finally recovered, lingeringly, from the recent recession. This town had clung to high unemployment and lower wages like an insecure lover, hanging on much longer than most other places in the state. But no longer. The town had done its therapy, read its self-help books, and reinvigorated its old gung-ho attitude.

People wanted to live here, where the cost of living was still about two-thirds of the big city, where neighborhoods had high “walking indexes,” where acreage outside of town shared water rights and wells and views of two mountain ranges ringing the valley. Where the big city was ninety-some miles away, two hours of driving time (a commute not much longer than many suburbs far closer yet with far more congested highways), and high-speed internet could compensate for the wintry days when avalanches closed the mountain pass. Property values were perking up, housing stock was coming back on the market, and Allison’s only question was when the green house would formally become hers.

This Saturday in June, Allison stood with her coffee staring at the house she already called “my house,” unaware of anyone watching, allowing tears to roll down her cheeks. She was single, about to complete a master’s degree that would have very little value in the commercial world, seeking something she could not name but something she was certain waited for her in the green house.

Strains of music from an acoustic guitar barely registered in Allison’s consciousness. The green house sighed, wishing it had been invited to the wedding party next door.

Pine Street Episode 44

Allison wasn’t invited to Marilyn & Douglas’s wedding. She wouldn’t mind. Instead, she’s starting an end and ending a beginning of her own.

If Allison, Franny’s elfin neighbor, had been aware of the wedding celebration going on with so many of her acquaintances in attendance, she would not have felt left out or envious. Allison would have been pleased for the happy couple and relieved that she was not invited. Allison was not a wedding person.

As if to make that point with some emphasis, Allison chose that afternoon to break up with her boyfriend. She felt bad about doing it over the phone, because that made it feel more like a business dissolution than the end of a romance. Her boyfriend – ex-boyfriend, she mentally corrected – took it with great maturity and kindness.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” he said at the end of their brief conversation. “I’ve known for a while it isn’t me. And I like you, Allison, and I hope you find it, whatever it is.”

That gentle prod, the recognition that she hadn’t found what she wanted, that she was a seeker – that prompted a wave of grief and tears that saying good bye to her ex-boyfriend did not. Allison had arrived at her twenties as if she’d been on a train with a single route and destination: college, graduate school, thesis, career in a major university in a big city. And now, that train was not simply derailed (that metaphor implied a violent break with the past that Allison did not feel).

It was as if she’d woken up from a nap in the dining car to realize that it wasn’t a train at all. She’d been in a creaky old diner in a strange town, living a kind of Twilight Zone episode in which the diner, the town, and the people were all unrecognizable and yet familiar, and her job was to figure out what alien force or government experiment had put her here.

The one way in which Marilyn’s wedding interfered with Allison’s peace was this: when Allison sought to shake off the sense of strangeness, of being lost in her own life, by getting her regular coffee at the shop across the street, Kassandra was not there. The other barista, covering Kassandra’s Saturday shift, was pleasant enough, of course. But the loss of the familiar face in the coffee shop made Allison feel completely unanchored, adrift at sea, and so she took her coffee to go and walked out, blinking away tears.

Pine Street Episode 43

Back at the celebration of Marilyn & Douglas’s wedding, Kassandra wants to find Marilyn to wish her well. She finds someone else instead.

On an impulse, Kassandra rose from the lawn chair she’d been sitting on in Marilyn’s garden and made her way through the crowd. She intended to hug the bride and leave, unsettled by feelings of sadness and anticipated grief on what should be a happy occasion. But she had trouble locating the art professor and stumbled on a threshold that separated the patio from the house.

“I knew that would trip someone up. I recommended a mat or something across there. But in all the, well, we didn’t have time. I’m so sorry.”

Kassandra turned to see who was speaking. “I’m sorry?” She inadvertently repeated the speaker’s words.

“Not your fault. I hope you’re okay?” She recognized the man’s face as someone she’d seen around town quite a bit, but not a coffee shop regular. Grey hair, kind eyes, gentle smile, and tanned skin.

“Oh, I’m fine. I was just, I wanted to find Marilyn.” Kassandra smiled back. “Do I know you?”

The man’s smile expanded. “I don’t think we’ve met formally. I’m Leo.”

“You played the guitar and sang. Sorry, I’m so flustered, I didn’t place you right away.”

“And you work in the coffee shop, right?”

“I do. Kassandra. Nice to meet you, Leo.” She reached out a hand and he took it, holding it for a moment before letting go.

“Thank you for coming. I know it’s important to Marilyn to have everyone she loves here today.”

Kassandra was jostled by someone else trying to make a path. Leo put his hand on her elbow. “Let’s step over here.” Somehow he managed to find a pocket of space in the crowd. “So many people can be a bit overwhelming, can’t they?”

“A bit.” Kassandra knew her expression indicated she was overwhelmed, but it was not because of the crowd. It was that word Leo had used, “love.” Marilyn wants everyone she loves around her… but I never thought she loved me.

As if he read her mind, Leo continued. “She loves you or she wouldn’t have invited you. She doesn’t always express emotions directly. Thoughts and ideas? No one is clearer than Marilyn in describing those. But she’s very private about her feelings.”

“I love her too,” Kassandra said. And you know, she thought, I do. I love her. “She’s been kinder to me than my own mother. That’s why, I…” Kassandra trailed off. She was not sure what she wanted to say. That’s why I wanted to be here, why I’m crying, and why I need to leave? Because I love Marilyn and I can tell something is very wrong?

“I’m sure you deserve it. Marilyn is picky about her friends.” Leo’s smile seemed designed to send Kassandra back into a cascade of tears, so she refocused on the crowd. “Come on,” Leo continued. “I’ll help you find her.”

Pine Street Episode 42

Kassandra the barista’s strategy for ending phone calls with her mother: talk non-stop without breathing to prevent interruptions.

Kassandra had wanted to clear her attention for the wedding celebration, so she made her weekly call to her mother before she left her apartment. She waited until she could legitimately tell her mother she only had a few minutes to talk.

“Hi, Mom, it’s me,” she said when her mother picked up.

“Kassandra, darling. How are your finals coming along?”

“Finals were last week, mom, we talked about them then, remember?” Kassandra twirled a strand of hair around her left index finger, a nervous tic she’d had since girlhood.

“Oh. Yes, now you mention it. Then you must be looking for a summer internship. Do you want your father to find something for you?”

“No. I’m working at the coffee shop this summer like always, and taking a couple of classes too.”

“I applaud your dedication, darling, taking summer school. But how does the coffee shop get you ahead?”

Kassandra swallowed a sigh. “I like the work. And it helps pay for school. Mom, I have to go in a minute, but I wanted – ”

“Where are you going?” her mother interrupted with a tone of skepticism.

“To a wedding, Mom. But – ”

“One of your friends is getting married already? Kassandra, college is for building a career, not gaining an M.R.S. degree.”

“I know, Mom. This friend is an older woman. One of my professors, in fact. But – ”

“Not that art professor we met, the one who bids too much on eBay?” Kassandra resisted an urge to hang up.

“No. I mean, yes, that professor, but she doesn’t bid on eBay. I have to go, but I just wanted to call and check in. I know you worry if you don’t hear from me. So I will call you next weekend, okay? Thanks, Mom, I love you.” Kassandra’s strategy to end conversations with her mother was to talk continuously without breathing, so her mother couldn’t interrupt.

“I love you too. Don’t you want to talk to your father?”

“Tell Dad I love him too. Goodbye, Mom.” Kassandra clicked off. One more week of time bought before having to have The Conversation with her parents, the one in which she would tell them the truth about her future plans.

I suppose, she mused, that it will be exactly as dreadful as I imagine.

Pine Street Episode 41

Another guest at Marilyn & Douglas’s wedding feels the presence of anxiety and illness: Kassandra, the barista.

Franny might have been surprised to realize that one of those guests at Marilyn and Douglas’s wedding felt the undertone of anxiety and ill health clearly, without knowing why. Kassandra the barista stood in another corner of the garden, also moved to tears. Marilyn had invited Kassandra just a few days before the ceremony, when the art professor made one of her increasingly rare treks to the coffee shop.

During a lull in business, while the one or two customers in the shop sipped their drinks and no one else popped in, Kassandra had picked up one of the cloths they kept in a vinegar, lemon juice, and water solution to wipe the tables. She squeezed out the excess moisture and stepped into the main part of the shop to tackle the small piles of pastry crumbs and phantom outlines of dried coffee drips on the Formica surfaces. Kassandra found wiping down the tables a kind of meditative exercise. While her hands were busy, she inhaled the aroma of vinegar and lemon and her mind floated over the events of the day. If she anticipated something stressful, like an exam at school or an upcoming visit from one or more parent, she could let her anxiety dissolve in the scrubbing motion of cloth on slick surface.

Marilyn had stepped in during one of Kassandra’s more vigorous scrubbings, as the barista rehearsed what she would say to her mother during their weekly phone call. Every week Kassandra planned to tell her mother that she would complete her degree, as planned, but then take a year off to work before deciding what to do next. Every week, her nerve failed and she mm-hmmed her way through the conversation. Kassandra scrubbed the big red table, practicing her lines: Mom, I need some time to decide the direction of my life. After all, it is my life, Mom, not yours or Dad’s. Absorbed in her preparations, she didn’t hear the bell over the door.

“Excuse me, dear.” Kassandra turned to see her friend the art professor, wearing a lovely silk scarf around her neck although the day was warm. “Oh! I’m sorry. I must have been lost in my thoughts. What can I get you?” Kassandra hustled back to her position behind the counter.

“I think a chamomile tea, and not too hot.” Marilyn’s smile seemed an attempt to cover the fact that in all the years Kassandra had served her, the professor had never ordered a chamomile tea not too hot. Kassandra returned a smile of her own, hoping it didn’t betray her surprise. She took in the professor’s slightly gray skin, the impression of frailness it created. She wondered whether to ask, and if she were to ask, how she would phrase the question.

“Here you go,” Kassandra handed over the tea, not too hot. “I can add some ice to cool it more if you like.”

Marilyn took a sip. “Perfect, thank you. You are always so kind.” She smiled, more genuinely this time, Kassandra thought. “It’s very short notice, but I want to invite you to my wedding. It’s this Saturday, at my house. In my garden. Will you come?”

“Of course,” Kassandra had surprised herself by replying without a second thought. “I’d love to.” They’d settled the details of time and address, and no need for gifts, and as the art professor left the coffee shop, Kassandra had felt tears pressing her eyes. Unaccountably, she’d wondered if she would ever see Marilyn again.

In the garden at the celebration of the art professor’s wedding, Kassandra experienced precisely the same wondering.

Pine Street Episode 40

A wedding, a bride: a silk dress, lily of the valley, and the importance of having someone to lean on.

Not for the first or last time, Franny marveled at Marilyn’s wisdom. Sure enough, the little house expanded effortlessly to hold the crowd of people who arrived to celebrate. Franny stopped counting at about sixty people, because she couldn’t keep track of who’d she already counted. At first she tried counting by attire colors: “One yellow shirt, two pink dress, three baby blue scarf…” but her imagination couldn’t keep up with generating new color names. “Fifty-nine puke green and buttercup yellow plaid pocket square” did her in.

Franny found a tiny shady spot in the garden to stop and sip her glass of sparkling water. She re-envisioned the ceremony, which had taken place under an arbor on the patio a few hours earlier. Leo perched on his rickety stool in a corner, playing his guitar to welcome the guests, shifting to Bach’s chorale to indicate the start of the ceremony. Somehow his night of nursing vanished without a trace on his face or body. His eyes sparkled, his white jeans sparkled, and his music sparkled. The few friends who gathered for the ceremony grew hushed, and organized themselves into a semi-circle around the arbor.

Douglas stood on the far edge of the patio, handsome in a relaxed linen shirt and grey trousers. Only his eyes betrayed any concern at all, as he gazed at the back door of the house, waiting for his bride.

And Marilyn – oh, Marilyn. Franny fought a tear as she remembered seeing her friend in a simple dove grey silk dress, carrying lily of the valley and sprigs of rosy dogwood blossoms; seeing her trademark short-cropped white hair and red glasses as always; radiating love and peace in her smile. She remembered watching Marilyn step out her door and walk slowly across the patio, seemingly in time to Leo’s music, and she remembered the flicker of relief in Marilyn’s eyes when she arrived close enough to take Douglas’s hand, to lean (almost imperceptibly) on him as they stood and recited their vows.

How many of the friends gathered there, watching the lovely scene, could read the horrors of the night before in the faces of the bride or groom? Who among them could imagine that only a scant hour or so before their arrival, the final scrub of the tile in the bathroom was completed by Leo, the fouled bedclothes were flung in the washer by Douglas, and Franny sat with Marilyn in front of her bedroom mirror, holding her friend’s hand, assuring her that the light touch of blush and lipstick brought all the color back to her face?

In her quiet shady corner of the garden, Franny wept as softly as she could, from worry and joy and relief.

Peace and Love Wave

Ringo Starr turns 77 today, 7-7-2017. He asks that everyone pause wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, at noon local time, to wish one and all peace and love.

The wave of peace and love starts in New Zealand and travels the world, like a left-handed drummer creating a pattern on a right-handed kit.

Here’s my contribution: Peace and Love to All, Today and Every Day.

Celebrating Independence

The Fourth of July is the day each year that the United States celebrates itself as an independent nation. July First was Canada Day, and this year Canada as we know it is 150 years old. I use “as we know it” as a kind of shorthand to recognize that there is a long history of indigenous peoples and cultures in Canada and the U.S. well before their current political incarnations.

Respecting that history means celebrating independence thoughtfully, mindfully. Each year I try to consider other contexts in which independence holds meaning. I’ve practiced days of being independent from expectations, independent from fear, and independent from judging others.

This year, I plan to practice independence from the news cycle. Twenty-four hours without discovering what’s been tweeted, accused, denied, promoted, spun, or just plain lied about. Instead, I’ll focus my attention on my home, yard, family, friends, and people in my community with whom I can interact without mediation. I’ll listen to music, baseball, the breeze and the birds.

I will be grateful for all who will keep vigil on the news cycle. I’m sure I’ll return to their ranks. But for one day, I’ll see what it’s like to be unplugged from the big picture and immersed in the small one.

 

 

Pine Street Episode 39

It’s Marilyn’s wedding day, and nothing will prevent it from happening. Not even the shadow of serious illness.

The day of Marilyn and Douglas’s wedding dawned cool and overcast. None of the forecasts she checked indicated much chance of rain, but Franny worried anyway. She hustled over to Marilyn’s house early, filled with suggestions for dealing with the weather.

Douglas met Franny at the door with a finger to his lips. “She’s sleeping, finally,” he whispered. “She was up most of the night.”

Franny matched his quiet tone. “Pre-wedding nerves?”

“She’s ill, Franny. She doesn’t want to tell you or anyone how ill. She was up all night being sick.” Douglas’s expression chased any worries about rain out of Franny’s mind. The suspicion she’d had since the day Marilyn called with the news she was getting married solidified like concrete hardening in the pit of her stomach. Franny knew her friend would not be on this planet much longer.

“Should we postpone?” Franny asked Douglas. She didn’t have to tell him she knew. The evidence was there in the quaver in her voice.

“I asked her about that around two a.m., and she said under no circumstances were we to postpone. Today’s my wedding day, she said, and nothing will prevent it from happening.”

Franny smiled. “That sounds like her, exactly. Okay, then, what do you need?”

Douglas stepped aside. To Franny’s great surprise, Leo stepped onto the porch with them.

“Leo?” Franny said. “What are you doing here?”

“Helping, I hope,” he answered. “I was out for a walk late last night and saw their light on here. I thought it seemed odd. I mean, Marilyn usually turns in early. So I knocked.”

“And thank goodness you did,” Douglas said. “He’s quite the nurse, Franny.”

“More the orderly, really,” Leo smiled. “I just kept cleaning up messes so you could sit with her.”

“Much appreciated,” Douglas returned the smile.

Franny stared at them both. Marilyn was dying, Douglas was nursing her, and Leo had been there all night cleaning up. The three of them clearly shared an intimacy Franny had been unaware of, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Feeling left out seemed ridiculously self-centered, and yet she did, a little. Well, she thought, the only way to cure feeling left out is to jump right in.

“Then you both need a rest,” she said. “While you crash, I’ll get started setting up the garden for the ceremony.”