My Husband’s Desk

Tom and I are in the last phase of transforming our Happy Valley home into one that is truly ours. We have lived through a cycle of all four seasons here, settling in, groking (if you will) our transplanted lives.

And so we have been unpacking the boxes that have waited patiently for our attention. Most of them were packed in April 2013 as we readied our Livermore home for sale. Most of them contain books that are the residents of our library.

We turned our garage into what we are going to use as our library shortly after we moved in. It was completed in January. Boxes were transferred there from the storage unit. And then they sat waiting patiently for us to unpack them.

We were diverted for a while by our involvement in the local community theater. But we discovered that it was not a hospitable place for us. It was not the community that either of us felt comfortable being part of. So we left.

We grieved that for a week or two. Then we set to work unpacking the life that we brought with us from California.

We were surprised at how much we didn’t need—that’s tricky when you make a big change like that—knowing what you can’t live without. It felt good to prune away dead wood.

And now comes the library. It is really Tom’s room—housing his collection of classical CDs (7,000—that’s not a typo). It will be filled with shelves of books, some that are ours, but most are Tom’s that he has collected since he was a teenager. They are in pristine condition because Tom treasures them so.

It is also where his desk is.

toms deskFor years I tried to convince him to buy a new desk. I don’t know why except I had some misguided notion on my part that he needed a new one—one that would fit the décor better.

He could never find one that fit him as well as the desk that was his. Or maybe it is the desk that is him.

He bought it used for fifty dollars when he moved to Chicago to take his job at Roosevelt University right out of Cornell. It followed him back to California when he became editor of Keyboard magazine. It went into storage at some point after he moved to Southern California where he played keyboard on 11 or 12 Jerry Goldsmith movie scores and edited a Yamaha users’ group magazine.

His desk’s time in storage coincided with the disintegration of his first marriage.
It followed him back to Northern California where it has been out of storage ever since.

I have seen him sit at it to write morning pages, create what he calls “fair” copies of the music he has composed, and sometimes to just stare out the window, taking in the beauty of the world outside.

He has repaired it where needed. Reinforced it where it was frayed. It has the right number of drawers on either side with a drawer in the middle. It is the right size: five feet wide.

As we sat talking after breakfast last week, he told me the history of his desk. It’s at least 42 years old, but since he bought it used, who knows when it came into the world. It was clear to me that he feels comfortable with his desk and that comfort gives him peace—the peace that is necessary for his mind to explore and create.

I wondered why I ever thought he needed a different desk.

Tom has given me the gift of family. I grew up in a family where my safety was sacrificed in the name of harmony. With Tom, because of Tom, I have learned the safe harbor that family can provide.

I found the perfect gift for Tom several years ago when I found him slippers he didn’t know existed. He slipped into their comfort. And I understood that giving comfort is a wonderful gift.

Thxday 2014Tom’s desk now sits in front of the library window. He looks out on the Olympic range that harbors the valley we live in. It is our present. I heard once that the present is where the past flows into the future. I think one needs comfort for that flow to happen.

I’m giving thanks today to Tom, his three daughters (who are the daughters of my heart), and our grandsons for providing me the safe harbor that family can be. That is my present, the place where the past flows into the future.

Shades of Black and White

earth from the moonA picture of an outhouse was posted on my Facebook this morning with the instruction to “Like” if I knew what it was and had used one. I not only knew what it was, I had used one when I was five when we visited my aunt’s farm in Iowa. The year was 1955. They still did not have indoor plumbing.

My father’s was the last generation where it was not unusual that you were raised on a farm. I suspect I am the last generation to have visited relatives who had no indoor plumbing. They weren’t poor. They were just rural.

I suspect I am the last generation who, as a child when asked “Do you want ice cream?” and responded “What kind?”, heard in return, “What kind? What kind? Why in my day, it was so unusual to have ice cream we never even thought of asking what kind.”

The astonished were my grandmother and my great uncles and aunts. My grandmother had nine siblings—born during a time that spanned the end of the nineteenth century and first decade of the twentieth.

My maternal great grandfather was born two years after the end of the Civil War. He travelled by covered wagon, remembered hiding from Indians, took part in the third Oklahoma Land Run, and chased after the James boys and Cole Younger gang when he was a marshal in the Oklahoma Territory. His earliest memory was jumping between the railroad ties—his legs barely long enough to make the jump. He figured that memory went back to when he was four years old.

My great grandfather, who traveled by covered wagon, lived to see men land on the moon. His daughter (my grandmother) flew across the country in a passenger jet for the first time in 1959. His grandson, my uncle, worked on the Mercury space program.

My great grandfather was 104 the last time I heard his stories. He died in 1973 at the age of 106. My grandmother died in 1988 at the age of 99. My uncle, who was born just a few years after the Wright brothers showed we could fly, died at the age of 100 in 2010. He built and flew his own airplanes over the years.

I have the benefit of having heard personal stories that date back 147 years. That has given me a particular perspective on change, an intimate look into daily lives from an era that no longer exists. I remember the phrase, “I might as well do that as go to the moon.” I don’t hear that one anymore.

I believe that the decisions we make that affect the course of our lives, are largely informed by the size of the world we inhabit. My great grandfather’s and grandmother’s world had clearly drawn boundaries—that was their world. Telegrams brought in the outside world to my great-grandfather; radio and then television brought it into my grandmother’s.

But now, we have the Internet, email, twitter, and other various and assorted methods for bringing the world to our front door. A letter that once took weeks or months to arrive now takes seconds—from across the globe.

I have been thinking about this for the past two days after getting involved in a “discussion” on Facebook. I never seem to learn that one really can’t have a discussion on Facebook, but there you are.

The discussion was about whether or not the Baby Boomers (me, for example), are the scourge of the earth. This was presented as how Millennials see us. I thought this was hype until I got responses from my comment detailing why I didn’t think it was true. According to the responders, Baby Boomers are responsible for the demise of Unions, trickle-down theory, the failure of the economy, the election of Ronald Reagan, and the reason Republicans prevailed in this last election.

We (Boomers) may have done good things in our youth, but we grew up to start the Tea Party. We have left the Millenials with a world in a mess.

First, there is probably some comeuppance in all this. I remember my generation in its youth blaming the “greatest” generation for leaving us a mess. In some ways they did, but we also grew up in an era that supported affordable college, reasonable student loans, the hope for social justice, and belief that the Constitution supported the rights of the individual over states’ rights.

I got a great education in history, civics, science, math, humanities, literature, music, drama, and visual arts.

That kind of education I believe is the key to our future.

I could not convince my Millenial assailants that I believed in that, had fought for it my whole life, and continue to fight for it. They simply cast me as their enemy who had nothing of value to offer the world because of the time in which I was born and came of age.

This scares me. I wonder if they have an ice floe in mind for me. But then, ice floes are becoming fewer and farther between, turning the environment polar bears knew well into dangerous territory for them.

This last election really bothers me. It had the lowest turnout of voters since 1942. Republicans ginned up fear (Ebola! Isis!) to get their base to the polls and suppressed votes that might not be in their favor, while Democrats tucked tail and quivered. It was hardly a referendum. Only a fool could say that America has spoken and they want what we want. Nobody offered anything other than fear and retreat.

I don’t know whether those Millenials who want to send me to an ice floe voted. The generations succeeding mine seemed less and less interest in voting.

So I want to give my perspective on voting. I came of age when people died, in this country, for fighting for their right to vote. Others, who had the right to vote, died fighting for voting as an American right. Those fights expanded over the years so that we have a much more inclusive society now. Though that inclusiveness is tenuous.

There is much about the Millennial generation that I find exciting—they seem to want to forge their own way. But I’m concerned, because we live in a time of such rapid change, that they might not have a broad enough perspective.

We had to throw away an iPod that no longer works. Well, it’s six years old, after all, I told myself, then thought about it. In the movie The Red Violin, the violinmaker selected wood that has been aging for thirty years to make his masterpiece. I remember thinking that not only did he choose the wood that had aged thirty years, but that someone had thought to set it aside for aging, and he knew where it was.

My iPod was six years old and it made sense that it no longer worked or was relevant.

That’s a different perspective of time.

I wrote at one point to my assailants that I used to think things were black and white. And then I realized that not only is there a range of colors and shades of grey, there are also shades of black and white.

The best thing about the world we live in today is that within seconds we can see the varying shades of black and white, some we never knew existed.

But we have to rise above fear and facile answers to understand how to respond to the world we live in. It’s a world that is both bigger and smaller than the world inhabited by my great grandfather, grandmother, and uncle. It’s both bigger and smaller than the one I grew up in.

I hope that those who are trying to reinstate the status quo of fifty years ago fail. I hope the Millenials don’t hate me for being born at the end of the first half of the twentieth century.

I hope that I have gained wisdom over my years and that I can have some influence on the future.

I might as well do this as go to the moon. Well, we did. It started with our imagining we could. It’s the shades of black and white that stir our imaginations, that help us leap beyond our expectations.

Every generation leaves a mess as well as gifts. Let’s look back at the pictures of the earth taken from the moon and embrace the shades of black and white so we can clean up the mess while enjoying the gifts.

Why the Goose Family of Third Street Crossed the Road

The geese seem to be in their winter home—wherever that is.

I just noticed earlier this week that they weren’t flying over our home. For a while, flocks of them flew over heading south. Once in a while a flock headed north. For all I know they might have been the same geese. Or maybe they were part of a tribe that came back to help any stragglers. There is, after all, strength in numbers.

GeeseFamilyI wondered what happened to the Goose Family of Third Avenue—the one whose adults acted as crossing guards as the little ones and mothers crossed the road, stopping traffic in both directions. The guards would stretch their necks and, with laser-like focus, aim their eyes at the cars, giving them no option but to stop so that their goslings could safely make it to the other side. Perhaps, they did know there were sentient occupants in the cars and their eyes were seeking ours, trusting that we would see in them what we have in us—a love for our children.

My relationship with the Goose Family of Third Avenue covered a period of weeks, at the most a couple or few months. I can’t say for sure. I watched their children grow from fuzzy little goslings to feathered young geese crossing Third Avenue in Sequim.

At some point, I noticed that I didn’t see them anymore. I suspect the young ones were ready to fly and so didn’t have to waddle across the road. I suspect they were among the flock that flew back and forth over our property on their way south, and perhaps returning north to be part of the gatherers—those who made sure that any stragglers followed them to the home they make when winter sets in here.

I know nothing about the behavior of geese. I’m just guessing. I do know for certain that those adult geese who crossed Third Avenue were protecting their young.

Take a leap with me now.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Seattle, staying with my nine-year old triplet grandsons while their mother was on a business trip. After dropping them off at school the first morning, I stepped into a Starbucks, intending to spend some time writing.

I noticed the accent of the man next to me when he responded to my question about logging on to the café’s Wi-Fi. A few minutes later, overcoming whatever shyness I do have, I asked him about his accent—where is it from?

He was from Palestine it turns out. I have met Palestinians before as I traveled, but none were as gregarious as he. Others had always been friendly, but carried a profound sadness—the sadness that comes from dislocation.

My new friend was loquacious, as well as gregarious. Clearly, a born storyteller. He had attended a Catholic college in Oklahoma. Think about that—a Muslim attending a Catholic college in Oklahoma. Kind of spun my head around.

Many in his family still lived in Palestine, fortunate enough to be on the lower cusp of middle class as opposed to the grinding poverty most Palestinians live in. When he asked what he could send them, the women said flowers. In addition to being an engineer, he was a master gardener.

He sent them bulbs, disguising the contents’ package with lots of chocolate bars. He had to do that to get past Israeli customs, one of the signs that Palestinians are colonial subjects of Israel.

The bulbs he said were lilies.

“Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
“If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more [will he clothe] you, O ye of little faith?”
Luke 12:27 to 28

That’s what flashed across my mind—the poetry that originated in this land made deadly with sibling rivalry for their God’s love. As if God’s love is finite so he or she has to choose one flock of humans over another.

I could see the women—his relatives—in a field surrounded by lilies, chattering about their daily lives, savoring chocolate bars. Such a different image when I think of the Gaza strip. A rainbow replacing the cloud of destruction I usually see in my mind.

As my Starbucks’ friend led me further down the path his story took us, I learned that he was on a break from work. He had gone to a meeting where he brought flowers and chocolates to one of the women consultants, and was accused of sexual harassment.

He wasn’t worried, he said, because he knew who he was. He suspected that it wasn’t the woman who complained but rather her boss, who seemed to have a thing for her.

My guess is his suspicions were right. My new friend was cheerfully married with five children. He was a master gardener who knew the mystical allure of chocolate. He was simply introducing the beauty of this moment into a mundane situation. And for reasons that are beyond my comprehension, someone in authority saw fit to turn it into an us-or-them conflict. He saw the look in the eyes of the goose and forged ahead, without regard to the life he might destroy, because the goose family was in his way and he was in a hurry.

And yet, I left Starbucks encouraged, rather than discouraged. I knew that my new friend would be okay regardless of the outcome of his suspension. I knew that he would be okay because, as he said, he knew who he was. And I knew that he would never plow down the Goose Family of Third Street regardless of how much he was in a hurry, for he knew that this moment of beauty could always be found in the mundane.

I call it the grace of everyday living. And that, I believe, is our salvation—taking time to savor the grace of everyday living.

I miss the call of the geese. Other sounds fill the air, but I do miss their call. I wonder when I will hear them again. No doubt it will be a sign that spring is awakening. And maybe there will be a new generation of The Geese of Third Avenue who will stop traffic as they shepherd their flock from one side of the road to the other.

I imagine there are many reasons that the goose crosses the road. One, I am certain, is to remind us to meet its eyes so we can experience the beauty in this mundane moment.

So we can savor the grace of everyday living.

So we can feel loved, knowing there is enough love to go around.