Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Love Works

It has taken a multitude of tutorials in happiness, but I have emerged smiling from a swamp of sadness. I probably could have used therapy, but thirty years of marriage to a psychologist and a library of self-help books have kept me afloat. Still, when I have been particularly irrational or anxious, my husband Dave has observed, “So much for all of those self-help books.” He doesn’t understand that the woman he lives with is the self-help-sustained-Lea. He can’t even begin to imagine what Lea-on-her-own would be like.

What a nice change to feel buoyant. I wonder suspiciously (I am, after all, still me), if this is another hormone spike paving the way for a menopausal salvo of gloom. “No! No! No!” chirps my new happy self. “You are older, you’ve gained perspective and perhaps a little wisdom of your own.” Maybe Midwife Menopause has sprung me from my mope-y, uncertain chrysalis and I am reborn.

There have been irretrievable casualties along the way. My memory is shot. I am a list and “message-to-self” junkie. Even with these aids, a thought not immediately transcribed to some objective safe-house – a calendar, the computer, a message machine - runs the high probability of loss to the ether. There are so many words poised, beyond reach, on the tip of my tongue that it is a wonder that their weight doesn’t render me speechless. A trip to the store for spinach may reap three bags of groceries, but no spinach. A friend’s birthday card is returned in the mail marked “insufficient address.” Insufficient? I’d omitted her name and address.

I know I’m not alone in this. It’s practically a ritual of sisterhood among women my age to exchange similar stories, poo-pooing Alzheimers fears, blaming lapses on busy lives and brain-spilling details. As I returned to pick up the groceries I’d left at her station the other day, the cashier at Shaws assured me, “Dearie, you’ve just got too much on your mind.”

One February morning, I invited Doug and Robin, two fellow members of the Conservation Commission, to our house to hash out wording for a land acquisition ordinance. As we sat in the dining room, quietly talking and taking notes, our meeting was interrupted by the jangle of the phone. It was a blasé dispatcher informing me that my scheduled furnace cleaning was in jeopardy due to lack of parking along our snowy street.

Scheduled cleaning?

With the phone receiver wedged between my head and shoulder, I checked the calendar. Yes, “Furnace cleaning” was right there for this date. We’ll skip over my crisis of confidence in realizing that even calendar documentation of appointments was an inadequate prod for my feeble memory. I scurried out into the five-degree day, hat-less, glove-less, and coat-less, to greet the Wilson Fuel man and solve his parking woes.

He sat scowling in his van as I leapt into my car and shifted into reverse, pulling the car back to create space for him to park. I walked over to his window and gestured toward the clearing.

“That’s not gonna do it,” he snarled.

I hugged myself to ward off the cold and the hostile vibes, fluttering helplessly for good measure. The Wilson man climbed out of his vehicle and stood with feet planted unforgivingly, his solid form encased in navy sweats well-marinated in oil. “I’ll shovel more space for you,” I suggested.
“It’s not gonna help and if the van gets hit by a passing car, you’re responsible. ”

“Let me try.”

I pictured Doug and Robin nibbling wedges of provolone on Carr’s delectable rosemary crackers before a toasty fire in my dining room. I thrust, lifted and pitched great chunks of snow, all the while interspersing silent, teeth-gritted, name-calling with the satisfying image of my bitter call of complaint to Wilson headquarters about this surly worker.

I stood aside to allow the filthy white van maneuver room, and massaged the ache in my lower back. Inexplicably, a self-help mantra from author Wayne Dyer pried it’s way into my pinched heart. “Be love. Be kind.”

Hmm. Be love. Be kind. Let’s see what I’m made of.

“You must have had a long day,” I offered ingratiatingly. I left out the “that would explain why you’re being such a jerk,” part.

“I didn’t want to come on this job,” griped the Wilson man. “It’s late, but they made me come anyway.”

“Let me make you a cup of tea…” I purred.

“No, no, I’m fine. Listen, I didn’t mean to make you do that shoveling.”

“Oh, that’s all right." [Miss Pollyanna!] "How about chocolate? Surely you won’t pass up chocolate!”

With a laugh, he shook his head, “No, really, I’m fine. It’s just that I worked for twenty-one hours yesterday and all day today. I’m tired.” He held out his hand. “My name’s Theo.”

Melting, melting…both of us softening. Inspired by who knows what playful god, I gave the man a hug.

“I’m going to make you tea and chocolates!” I exclaimed and with springy steps, marched inside to prepare restoratives for my exhausted new friend.

Theo went down to attend to the furnace while I finished the meeting with Doug and Robin. I relished a few Carr’s rosemary crackers myself. Periodically, I ran down to our dark, low-ceilinged, hell-of-a-1700’s-basement to share a laugh and words of commiseration with Theo. As he kneeled on the grimy floor collecting soot from our furnace, he said, “I feel better already. I’m glad that you were in a good mood.”

We parted that night with the greatest congeniality – and I was left with stunning proof that love works. It’s not a cliché. It’s not trite. It’s true. Love is a powerful force and it changes everything.

Now, if I can just remember to apply the lesson...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's in a Picture?

My college photo album is pale slate blue with decorative gold trim, tattered pages and frayed binding. It shows the wear of its thirty years. As Casey and I snuggle by a cozy fire, flipping through this relic of my youth, I picture the neat stacks of albums upstairs in my daughter’s room. With covers of burgundy, floral and forest green, they are as fresh as the faces beaming from their pages. In each shot of kids mugging, hugging and carousing, oversized plastic cups feature prominently. “These are, of course, soda?” I've suggested archly while looking through her pictures.

“Yes, Mom,” she always replies with an eye-rolling smirk.

I wonder aloud if Casey’s albums will bear the stamp of thirty years’ passage as overtly as mine. I ponder the prospect of my daughter at age fifty, lugging them out, the floral and burgundy coloring by then faded in tribute to their years.

Dave clumps into the den with an armload of wood and adds a log to the fire. Embers pop as he wads sheets of newspaper into knots and shoves them under the grate between the heavy black andirons. Fed by new fuel, flames curl, bright and warm, as I turn a page of the album. “Trinity College, spring, 1972” is printed in my neat schoolgirl's hand under a photo collage of a softball game.

I smile at the pictures of my friends and roommates, their young faces so open and relaxed, with no greater agenda than some beers and a game on the quad. I notice a lot of oversized plastic cups around.

“Those cups are, of course, soda. Right, Mom?” says Casey with a grin.

"Of course," I respond with the same eye-roll she'd given me. Then, with the feigned primness of a prairie school marm I add, "But, the drinking age was eighteen."

In the background of one picture, out of focus because he was not the subject of the shot, is Davey Sylvestro. When I took the photo, I’d only recently met him; we were introduced by his older brother, my friend, Sly.

Casey crows at the boys’ long hair and Dave’s smooth upper lip; he didn’t grow his mustache until 1973. “You look so cute Dad! Like an Indian,” she says. I glance at Dave and catch his eye. We both smile. Without too much trouble, I see my nineteen year-old boyfriend.

That makes me think. I wonder if there’s a boy in any of Casey’s pictures, out of focus in the background, barely noticed because he’s not the subject of the shot? She mentions new names all the time: boys met in classes, at hockey games, at meals and at parties. She hasn't emphasized anyone in particular yet...


“Sweetie? Could you run up and get your albums? I’d like to take another look.”