[This essay was written about a vacation several years ago. There are references to my husband's father, Colombo, who was living in a nursing room having suffered a debilitating stroke.]
It would have appeared that we required no lessons in leisure. We lay warmed by the sun on royal-blue loungers, our books cast aside – too much effort to read. Dave was snoozing, I was daydreaming, and the cranes had stopped by to gaze at the vast expanse of the Gulf.
Well, I can’t really attest to their goal. I’m not sure how cranes pass their time when not eating. These seemed to be presenting themselves for our viewing pleasure. Like runway models unveiling this season’s fashions, the cranes unfurled their pale gray wings and turned a slow pirouette. Hold your applause, please.
With heads imperiously high, long slim bills upraised, they stalked past, their gait impossibly slow. One reedy leg would lift in imperceptible increments to near body height, the webbed foot contracting, knee bending, body arching slightly forward, leg extending, descending, weight shifting, foot splaying upon contact, step. Repeat. There was ample opportunity for copious photographs, although we could not actually capture that astonishingly slow stride. Still, I have added these embodiments of unhurried patience to my mental slide show.
Our Florida trip reaped several new slides: the cranes of course, Dave’s beaming, “I’m on vacation” face, and the E.T. smile of the baby sloth. He made his debut during a rainforest documentary seen during our rainy-day visit to the Mary Selby Botanical Gardens. He clung to his mother’s belly as she beat the cranes at their slow-motion game in her lingering, lumbering, climb to the forest canopy. Her little guy looked for all the world like he was two sheets to the wind, so moony was his smile. As soon as I saw him, I knew he’d be a valuable addition to my show. That contented grin could soothe the most frenetic of anxious stomach butterflies.
Florida-Dave is the star of my show. Always, he is my sounding board, companion and comfort. It is good to have a psychologist on call. But, he also plays that role for the kids at school, our families and friends. And now, Colombo’s hard situation has drawn on Dave’s reserves, as he pulls out the stops in cheering and caring for his father. Dave is generous with his heart and time, and that takes a toll.
In Florida, he sets down his burdens, and the elements do their soothing work. The turquoise Gulf bathes away the sadness and the sun’s warmth banishes the pallid tint of winter’s chill. His smile is broad and white against tan skin, his hair wild and unbrushed. For Dave, “I’m on vacation,” is a statement of soul more than fact, and I treasure this slide above all.
When I was little, I imagined a blissful adult world of self-determination. No one to tell me what to do, bedtime when I felt like it, snacks when I wanted them. So many precious years of my youth were spent yearning for adulthood, and now I envy the carefree years of youth. Neither perception is accurate – even Peter Pan found that magic pixie dust was insufficient for flight. To initiate lift off, you have to think happy thoughts.
Sometimes I have to work hard to drum up those thoughts. Images of Colombo drooping in his wheelchair, wistful yearnings for my babies, and anguish over the situation in Iraq take a lot of space. My friend Joan has said, “I don’t like spending too much time in my head. It’s a dark place to be.” I know what she means. As a result, I have acquired an impressive library of self-help books. The volumes speak with one voice on three key tenets – Be grateful. Be kind. Think happy thoughts. The words are more erudite of course, but the message is the same. It is easy to cower in despair in this shrinking world of terrorist attacks, global warming and personal tragedies. But my thoughts are mine to control, and when darkness overwhelms, I insert a new slide.
Far more definitive than the amorphous “think positively,” the creation of my mental slide show has involved selection of auto-smile images from a lifetime’s storage of peak moments. Little Casey and Tucker dancing naked after their baths, the sun-flecked waves off the beach in Weekapaug, Mom and Dad cozily reading in their beds, Dave grinning as he paddles his kayak. I lift visuals chosen for slide status from the memory current that blends and dilutes as it merges with the ocean of the past. Each “slide” is a sure-fire happy thought, held for retrieval when I need to balance the blues.
Many of my slides are from nature. While my world spins with unexpected jolts and painful adaptions, there is a comforting certainty that all is unfolding as it should in nature’s balance, cycles, and purposeful connections. The touch of bee to flower, the pickings of scavengers, the deposit of waste that secures a seed in fertile ground. Despite man’s fervent efforts to divorce himself from these rhythms, I believe the ancient wisdom that says we are all connected. My slides remind me of the patience, purpose and joy of which we are a part.
When the daily whirl stirs my stomach, I release the butterflies to flutter skyward, and start my mental show.