Monday, February 15, 2010

A Winter's Tale

Sometime around Thanksgiving I heard a radio broadcaster announce that the meteorologists for the state were predicting a colder and wetter winter than usual. I say give those boys and girls a gold star. Winter won’t be officially over for another six weeks or so, but their prophesies have been fulfilled.

About this time every year I get my fill of the season, but this year the sensation is less wistfulness and more ache. I’m not just tired of the cold and wet; I’m exhausted by it. I’m not just shivering when I walk outside; I’m scowling. I find myself growling at other cars, which are always going either too fast or too slow, and rolling my eyes, figuratively if not literally, at the minor dramas of everyday life (the woman in the express lane who can’t find her debit card in a purse the size of a small suitcase, the puncture wound in the Styrofoam cup that leaves a puddle of Diet Coke in my cup holder, the annoying phone call from the telemarketer) that usually make me laugh at our commonality and fragility.

I think I reached my limit the other day. I was walking across the yard at Mama and Daddy’s and felt my feet sink into the saturated soil, heard a discernible squish as I lifted one shoe, then the other to slowly make my way to the front door. It was as though there was something under the ground that might suck me under at any moment. It reminded me of the scene from "The Return of the King" where Frodo, Samwise and Gollum are making their way across that interminable swamp.

There is a reason the earth needs winter. To rest, to slow down, to re-energize for the growth seasons ahead. But there is also a reason why winter doesn’t last forever. With too much water, roots will eventually mold. With too much cold, branches will eventually break. And, quite frankly, my roots are getting slimy and my branches are getting brittle.

So what’s a girl to do?

She could indulge in a little denial. Turn on every lamp in the house and burn every candle and turn up the heat. But that lasts only until morning when the necessity of making a living forces her outside.

She could whine. But, as I used to tell my little girl softball players, whining is neither attractive nor productive. And it would garner absolutely no sympathy from the friends who live in Maryland and Virginia, Illinois and Indiana, the ones who are laughing and asking, "Cold? Wet? You think you know cold and wet?"

Or she could just put on her heaviest coat, a pair of gloves and a little Chap Stick and ride it out.

Her choice. That is, my choice.

Choice is a funny thing. We demand it, then are too lazy to exercise it. We use it poorly, then deny we used it at all. We would rather, it seems, be marionettes with thin little wires connected to each of our joints, including the crooks and curves of our brains, responsive only to the deliberate but awkward jerking of unseen hands with only our strangely autonomous mouths refusing to yield.

A couple of summers ago I was at the beach and bought a painted sign made from a piece of reclaimed tin. It read, "Life Is Good." A piece of rusty wire was twisted into two holes at the top and, when I got home, I hung it on the one of the deck railings.

I walked outside last Saturday morning. The rain had stopped temporarily the night before and a fierce wind had come in on its heels. Trash cans were turned over and, up at the big curve, a tree had fallen across the road. And the rusty wire on the "Life Is Good" sign had broken leaving it dangling, banging on the deck railings, twisting in the wind.

I took it down and laid it to the side. Eventually I’ll find another piece of wire and I’ll hang it up again because, despite the cold and the wet, I choose to believe that life IS good and winter won’t last forever.

Copyright 2010

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Someone Like Lucy

My friend Lucy is eight years old. She’s about as big as a minute and has huge round eyes that are green as a gourd. And she has a head full of tight curls that, without anything else, would have endeared her to me. Lucy loves her dog Frannie, "High School Musical" and beating the grown-ups playing Wii. It is one of the great joys of my life that I got to stand with her and her parents as a judge signed the papers that confirmed what we’d known from the beginning – Lucy belongs to us.

Lucy’s mother is a high school basketball coach. One of the girls playing for her this year is my namesake Graham and her parents, who I introduced to each other our first week in law school, are dear friends, so I had lots of reasons for going to the game last week.

I normally sit directly behind the bench. I’m closer to the game there and the inevitable berating of the referees by spectators who know less about basketball than I do about brain surgery is easier to ignore. One this night, however, I took a seat far up in the bleachers with Graham’s mother, brother and grandparents.

Lucy was wandering around the gym like she owned the place and, about halfway through the first quarter, she climbed up to where I was and asked, "Can I have a dollar?"

I opened my wallet and counted out the coins. "There you go."

"Thanks," and she went skipping down the bleachers like a goat over rocks.

A moment or two later Graham’s grandmother tapped me on the shoulder. "Is there some reason," she asked tentatively, "that that little girl picked you out to ask for money?"

I, along with Graham’s mother, who knows Lucy and my connection to her, burst out laughing at the same time. It took only a minute to explain, but a week later I’m still pondering the whole thing.

First of all, there’s the question of whether I really am the kind of person of whom a child, any child, would ask for help. If Lucy hadn’t known me, if she hadn’t known anybody in that gym, is there anything about me – the way I looked or walked or talked to other people – that would make her think that I could be trusted to help?

But Lucy did know me and, because of that, she did not think twice about finding me and asking for money. She did not hesitate, once she’d made up her mind that a pack of gum was what she wanted, to go straight to someone who could help her get it. And, best of all, she didn’t feel the need to wheedle or manipulate or even convince me that her request was a legitimate one. "Can I have a dollar?" Direct and candid.

Which raises the next question: Why is that so hard for us adults? Why do we so often feel that, even with those with whom we are most intimate, we have to preface our requests with evidence of, first, our general worthiness and, second, our specific need? Why can’t we just ask, secure in knowing that where the ability to fulfill the request exists it will be granted?

The last few years have presented me with plenty of opportunities to revisit and reexamine my personal theology, the concept of a God who is big enough and powerful enough and attentive enough to be concerned with the welfare of each individual human being. There have been moments when the flannelgraph image of a smiling Jesus in blue and white robes seated on a rock and surrounded by a passel of smiling children has seemed anything but believable and that business about becoming like a little child has seemed more saccharine than sacred, more condescending than convincing, more witless than workable.

And those moments, coming one after another, can leave a person with the idea that it is better to go lacking than to ask and be refused.

Until someone like Lucy comes along. Something who doesn’t know any better. Someone who isn’t afraid to ask and, consequently, is always ready to receive.

Copyright 2010