elizduggan

Writing Life, Real and Imagined

Real and Imagined

2018, The Year of Listening.

January 1.

 

Today is the coldest January 1st in NJ’s recorded history and I’m making my first pot of butternut squash soup by sautéing carrots and onions and celery and squash in a tablespoon of butter. I’ll throw in some vegetable broth and salt and pepper, maybe a little fresh thyme and nutmeg and after 45 minutes, will puree everything and finish it off with a little fat free half and half. Good, no?

The sound of the stove’s gas burner, of the dryer churning in the other room, of the furnace kicking on brings loving thoughts of my dad, Big Red, who worked outside every day installing heating and cooling systems. They inspire caring thoughts about those who are cold today, and grateful thoughts that is no longer my lot.IMG_8912

 

January 2.

The sun does nothing, really, to raise temperatures this frigid morning but its brilliance lends sparkle to the snow on the ground and to my recovering spirit. This morning the world seems silent.  School buses are tucked away in garages, children tucked in their classrooms, sensible people are wrapped and bundled and have rushed from home to car to wherever, giving these cold winds little chance to penetrate coats and hats and mittens.

The only thing I hear this morning is the wind.

And in it, humanity’s great exhale…the breath, the sighs, the exaltations, the cries and laughter of all the people who’ve ever lived.

I stop for a minute to listen and then add my voice to those who call out again from the past.

“Hello…I love you…I miss you…Peace…”

The sun kisses me, the wind tugs at my hair and dies again.

I am warm.

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January 3.

The phone rang tonight after supper and for once, there was a person at the other end of the line.

As this person is one I gave birth to several decades ago, the call was particularly welcome. It took only a minute or two of chattering about the expected storm, dinner, siblings before it became abundantly clear that my task this evening was to listen.

It’s so easy to get caught up in filling empty conversational spaces but this time it was important to let the spaces be, to give my child the opportunity to do with them as he would.  What I heard in words and in the silence was a highly ethical, moral man talk through challenging life decisions in the best way possible.

On the surface, it seems silences are empty things, but I think sometimes they are so full that there is no room for words.

The space today was filled with love.

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January 4.

Today’s sound is constant, numbing, begging, calling out for attention and concern – yes, the latest weather emergency that compels us to turn to the Weather Channel, learn more than we ever knew we wanted to know about something we never knew existed [bombogenesis? Really??] ad nauseam.

Instead, I think we’ll turn on the music, throw another log on the fire, and enjoy an indoor day filled with veggie stew, board games, and maybe a little post-holiday clean up.

Stay warm, and for local weather reports – rely on your windows.

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January 5.

A single siren call replaced the rooster’s song this morning.  The :::brrrraaapppp::: of a snow blower cajoled its fellows from neighboring garages until a chorus of noise and exhaust fumes filled the street.

Just when it seemed we must all be deafened by the song, a quiet :::skritch, skritch, skritch::: sounded in back of house.  And there, braving a wind chill of -10 degrees fahrenheit, the man of the house gently lifted the snow from the deck and tossed it into the yard.

Snow pant steps, then the gentle :::skritch:::

Snow pant steps, then the gentle :::skritch:::

A kind, quiet act of love performed alone in the backyard, in the cold, in snow pants.

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January 6.

Went to church today, the first time in a long time, to support a friend on the loss of his mother. I remember what it meant to me when friends unexpectedly appeared at services when my family members died: over and over and over, faithful friends just showed up.  And even when only a short greeting  or hug could be exchanged, their presence, an undeniable physical manifestation of support, meant the world to me.

So, for this friend, our turn to stand up, to be part of the rows of people that let his family know:  “You can fall back on us. We are all here to hold you up.”

I miss church. I miss the community. I miss worship. I miss being a part of something bigger than me.

Today I was reminded by the voices raised in prayer and song that there is a place I belong and that I am welcome there, even though I’m so long gone.

Maybe tomorrow, responding to that call, I’ll go home.

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January 7.

This morning’s drive was mostly silent and the radio was usually turned down. Having given up the monthly cost of Satellite Radio in protest of the hate speech they allow and the fees they charge for the privilege of listening, I’m once again subjected to the vagaries of radio wave reception between mountains and tree branches. It’s sometimes annoying, sometimes edifying to pay whichever station is in range,  but it’s always kind of fun to hit “scan” on the dashboard just to see what comes up — or not. Silence has its own particularly peaceful charm and I welcome it.

Several hours of driving brought us to an old place tucked between row houses and piles of snow.  It was bricked, patched, multi-layered, multi-colored, fireplaced, chilly, redolent of coffee and pastry and filled with young people from the neighborhood sipping and chatting. Added to this mix, our group of six.

So the sounds of this cold day were heartwarming. A kitchen clattering, wait staff and conversations wafting through the rooms. And we five women in our group, young to old, listening and chatting and unburdening and laughing and supporting; passing wisdom to the young ones, being honored with their confidences about prepubescence and relationships and friendships lost and gained.

Once again this week, the listening sounded like love.

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January 8.

The disappointing thing about those white earbuds many of us sport in the gym is that they do not filter out ambient noise levels there. Or anywhere else, I suspect.

I hop onto the treadmill and in the moments before it kicks into high gear [or what I call high gear, anyway] there is time to survey the gym, look around to see who’s there and attempt to reconcile my sense of “Oh lord I don’t belong here” with “Well, who else belongs here if not you??”  I wave to a man whose name I don’t know but who is in the gym every time I am.  I do a couple of high steps and side steps and butt kicks and stretches, I listen to what’s going on around me. There are always at least a couple of friends chatting while working out and today I feel a little jealous about that. The treadmills around me thump with heavy footsteps or zoom with fast ones. [Quiet] grunts emanate from the free weight sections [this IS the “No Gymtimidation Gym, after all — grunts are discouraged], there’s clanking when the strength machines are carelessly released [also discouraged], peppy music on the PA and the whir of fan blades overhead.

Finally, the podcast I’ve chosen kicks in and instead of covering up all the gym noises, adds another layer to the cacophony.  Oddly, it doesn’t sound like the Tower of Babel as you’d expect. It seems that each sound settles into its place. They’re all still there, but they’ve joined together to become a hum of background sound while the podcast comes to the fore.

Mary Oliver offers this from her poem “Wild Geese”:

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, /the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.”

A lovely, calming, encouraging interview with Krista Tippett proceeds and the conversation offers sweet insights on writing, on living, On Being. I’m glad I listened. I’m glad those two women breathe in the same world I do. And I’m glad for my little white earbuds.

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January 9.

Chirps outside the back door this morning    announced the that Winter is loosening his iron grip. Icicle drips confirm the good news and erase my visitors’ snowprints. I am sure, I am sure that Spring calls, too.

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January 10.

This mostly silent day, whispers and the promise of laughter will have to do.

 

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January 17.

“Secret” is such a loaded word. “Secret agent”, “secret plan”, “secret whisper”, “secret friend”, all imply some nefarious doing that needs to remain hidden from the rest of life, held tight and private and unshared.

I think there is a difference between hidden and private, between what is implied and what is said, between half truths and outright lying.

Today, instead of listening to what isn’t being said, I will listen to the honest sounds of hunger being assuaged, joy of companionship, the art of just being, true and honest and in the moment, before flying away.

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January 18.

 

It happened on a pastel morning, just like this one, after a sunrise that didn’t seem to fulfill its promise, when hoped-for vibrant dawn colors simply stopped trying and settled for blue-gray and white.

It happened in almost silence, except for the sounds of the furnace booming on and off and the icicle dripping from the gutters outside the family room.

It happened on a day like today, when the sun wasn’t bright enough to cause a squint, when birds found it was easier to walk than to fly, when a sigh was easier than the words.

It happened on a day like today.

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February 1.

Yesterday’s sound came at the end of a dance that was filled with lunges, swirls, pas de deux and quick steps. One could barely keep up with the movements and countersteps, braking and advancing, back, forth and back again, repeatedly repeatedly so no one could possibly know where it would end — but we who were dancing had an idea HOW it would end.  The :::thump::: that told me that the squirrel had not successfully crossed the street. A glance in my rear view mirror confirmed the suspicions voiced in my gasp.

“Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god”

The poor little thing has stayed with me this day [um, no, not on the tires] and has offered a few lessons for me.

  1. Life is unpredictable, tragedy is random.
  2. Find the joy in every day, actively search for the wonder.
  3. Best laid plans…well. They’re a good idea, for sure, but keep in mind:                       “mann tracht und gott lacht”
  4. Stay the course – or don’t. [See #3]
  5. Kindness and generosity matter.
  6. Try to see things from the other…squirrel’s…viewpoint.
  7. In the words of the late, great philosopher Warren Zevon, enjoy every sandwich. Or acorn. Your choice.

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