Monday, September 30, 2013
It is still September. Still September and I am startled on my Sunday afternoon walk by the tall skinny stalks of blazing star that have already appeared at the edges of the road. Florescent purple spikes, they sway in the breeze over the round faces of asters, yellow as grocery store lemons. It is not time for blazing star and, yet, here it is.
I wonder if it’s because of all the rain, all the daily, drenching rain that made the summer feel so unfamiliar. I wonder if the tiny calendars inside the wildflowers have all been thrown off by the fact that they didn’t have to struggle for water, that their roots didn’t have to stretch very far, that it was all so easy.
What I don’t have to wonder, what I know is that the blazing star, my favorite among the autumn wildflowers, will not last into late October this year. I will not be cutting armloads of the stuff at Halloween and filling my ceramic pitcher with the spiky stems to sit on the kitchen table next to a pumpkin.
We are a culture that reveres early. We extol the early bird who gets the worm and the early riser who is healthier, wealthier, and wiser than ordinary folks. We make ourselves feel more secure with early warning systems. We convince ourselves that with early detection we can outsmart disease. We have come to the belief, acknowledged or not, that we can supersede whatever other forces exist in the world – nature, divinity, time, other people – if only we get a big enough head start.
If we idolize early, we despise late. We almost always attach to it the modifier, “too,” as though the very idea of late is excessive and distasteful. And, of course, we use it as a synonym for dead. So, when the language relegates that which occurs after the expected or usual time (the definition of late) to the category of undesirable, impermissible, or impossible, what happens to those things which take their time, that meander, that do not hurry? How do we honor virtues like patience, persistence, and endurance if getting the worm is all that matters?
It is still September. But come October – October 1, to be exact – the Major League Baseball playoffs will start and Evan Gattis will be playing. So will 249 other players, but Gattis is different. He started the season as a non-roster invitee to the Atlanta Braves spring training and his story has become well-known since then: 25-years-old and out of baseball for four years. In the eight years since high school graduation, while other young power hitters made their way through the college and/or the minor leagues, Gattis had spent 30 days in drug rehab and three months in a halfway house, and two years working as a ski-life operator, a janitor, and a golf-cart boy, among other things. After making his way back to college, he played one full season and was drafted by the Braves.
There were most assuredly people who knew Evan Gattis in the drug rehab or janitor days bemoaning the fact that he had lost his chance, squandered his talent, missed the worm. Those people were not in the stands at Turner Field on April 3, when Gattis homered off Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers in the league, in his Major League debut.
The mother of one of my childhood friends once referred to her as a late bloomer. I’d not heard the phrase before and didn’t understand at first what it meant, but there was something about it that resonated, something that I recognized in my eleven-year-old self.
I graduated from high school at 17, was practicing law by the time I was 24, but it took until I was 55 to become an author, my version of making it to the big leagues. There were plenty of times when I wondered if I’d missed the worm, but the roots kept stretching through dry soil and hard earth and eventually a blade of green broke the surface and finally a leaf appeared and then one day there was a flower.
The blazing star bloomed early this year and it has already begun to fade, but yet to come is the gerardia and the beautyberry and the ironweed. I can wait.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
The anniversary has come and gone again. The anniversary of the day that became a hinge, when time bent into before and after. The anniversary of another day about which the sentence always starts, “I remember exactly where I was.” And I do. We all do.
What I remember is being in Sky Valley with my mother, aunts, and cousins on a long-awaited girls’ trip. What I remember is getting up and breathing cool mountain air, sitting on a second-floor porch with a view that rolled out in waves of all the different Crayola greens until it met the sky. What I remember is all of us laughing and talking over each other as we piled into the mini-van to drive to Highlands and stopping at the pro shop for JJ to buy Gregg a shirt. What I remember is JJ walking out with a bag in her hand and an inscrutable look on her face and words tumbling out so fast that it took all of us a couple of minutes to understand what she’d just seen on the television.
There are other hinges. The day in November, 1963, when our second grade classroom work was interrupted by a sudden squawk from the brown intercom box at the corner of the blackboard and the crackly voice of an AM radio announcer said simply, “The President has been shot.” The night in September, 1972, when my exuberant monopolization of the family television for the purpose of not missing one single stroke of Mark Spitz’s run at seven gold medals turned into a hollow-eyed vigil as Jim McKay, growing older by the moment in his yellow blazer, tolled the growing number of deaths in the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics. The morning in January, 1986, when I drove into the carpool line at First Methodist Preschool to pick up Adam and his teacher could tell, because I was smiling and chattering away, that I’d not heard about the Challenger, how it had exploded into the bright blue Florida sky, how all those smiling, waving astronauts, including the teacher, were simply gone.
And other hinges. The non-historical ones. The ones that won’t be found on a Wikipedia timeline. The ones that bent and crimped and creased time for no one but me. The days that started out like every other day and took detours I would never have expected or imagined.
We learn about time in units and, therefore, tend to see it as linear. One day follows another, one year comes after another. We say things like, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” and “You can’t unring the bell.”
Hinges and our remembrances of them teach us that we aren’t just marching forward in a straight line. We, as a species and as individuals, are actually spiraling, coming back again and again to the same points – the same people, places, and experiences, over and over, just on higher or lower levels – because there is still knowledge there to be gained.
It is why, despite the universal desire for peace, there is still war. It is why, despite all we know about the things that cause illness and disease, there are still people bringing about their deaths by their own behavior. But it is also why Diana Nyad kept trying until, at age 64 and after failing four times, she swam from Cuba to Key West.
“We will never forget.” The unofficial slogan of 9-11 remembrances. There is, though, a belligerence, a harshness, a quarrelsomeness to the statement that makes me recoil. I’d rather that we always remember. I’d rather that we lean into the bends in time, the creases in our days, that we absorb them all so that, the next time around, we are full and strong and maybe, just maybe ready to learn.
Sunday, September 01, 2013
One of them looked like the Jacob’s Ladder I used to make with a long loop of string laced in and out of the fingers of my two outstretched hands. One of them could have been a hammock tatted for a hummingbird. One, draped over the deck railing and onto the bannisters, was a net for flying fish and all of them, all of the dozens of spiderwebs that dangled and hung and cascaded from every corner and edge of the landscape, were constellations, thousands of clear water stars the size of pinheads drawing archers and hunters, dogs and bears, crowns and serpents across the morning sky.
I am often caught up short as I walk outside first thing in the morning. While I have been encapsulated and cocooned inside my climate-controlled house, the world has been playing. Animals have danced in the darkness and left behind a wild confusion of footprints. Hard buds have softened and swollen and opened into flowers. The sun has silently bleached away the darkness and twisted itself into a tie-dye scarf whipped loose and left to float over the clouds.
But I had never been witness to such a display as this one. The entire backyard shimmered as the webs swayed almost imperceptibly. Dew drops, strung like glass beads on filament, trembled in succession, the impish breeze turning them into dominoes. I pulled my camera put of my pocketbook and began snapping photographs, the rhombuses and trapezoids and wildly scalene triangles in the web designs made obvious by the zoom lens.
Each time I lowered the camera from my face I saw another, more elaborate web beckoning me to come, come see. And it is only because I heeded the beckoning that I walked up on the most exquisite, the most ethereal, the most splendid web of all. It stretched all the way across the double French doors that lead on to the deck. It attached to the overhead door frame and the base of a chair sitting nearby. My arms, curved out and up and over my head, could not contain it. Unlike many of the others, it was round – not a compass-drawn circle, more like a hand-rolled pie crust – and its sections spread from the center like the spokes on a bicycle tire, delicate and shiny. Sheltered by the eaves of the house, it was covered in a lighter coat of dew, making its beading sparkle more like opals than diamonds.
After recording its beauty as best I could with the camera, I stood in the quiet dampness for a few more moments, breathed deeply, and wondered what might have become of the creature that had spun such a web. Then I went to work.
That night, I watched the full moon rise from the study window. The sky was less than clear, but I thought I could still get a good picture. I could sit outside and wait for the clouds to drift off.
The night noise was sucked into a cone of sound surrounding my ears as I opened the door. The warm moist air fell on my arms like a towel and I stepped out on the deck. Only one step and I remembered the spider web. The exquisite, ethereal, splendid spider web whose delicate strands were now caught in my hair and my eyelashes, stuck to my cheeks and my chest, hanging in sticky strings from my arms and legs.
For a moment I forgot the moon. I turned to face what was left of the transparent tapestry that had so enthralled me just a few hours earlier. The tender tension was gone; long loops of gossamer hung limp in the darkness. The symmetry was destroyed, the delicate balance gone. “I’m so sorry,” I said over and over. “I’m just so sorry.” I can’t be sure whether I was apologizing to the long-gone spider or to myself.
I brushed the silky threads from my face and, in my repentance, felt the truth of the moment settle over my head: That which is beautiful, which took such effort and love to produce, is easy to forget if one becomes preoccupied with searching for the next beautiful thing. And perhaps it is in abandoning the exhausting search that beauty in all its forms finds its way to one’s door.
Patience with each. Each in its own time. Time for all.