Tag Archives: life

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf.

Hurricane Harvey has come and gone leaving the Flood from Hell in his wake. I feel not one bit qualified to write about, “the Experience of Harvey.” I will say, in a nutshell, we were fortunate and had almost no damage from the storm. Certainly, nothing worth mentioning. There was anxiety and sleeplessness, but honestly, I have that every night. It’s built into my genetic code. I was more worried about my daughter worrying too much about us than I was worried about us. Sort out that mental spaghetti, if you can.

We were on the periphery of this storm and in almost all respects, despite the fact that almost fifty inches of rain fell on our home. I feel lucky, relieved, and guilty as hell.

In the middle of the storm, there was little to do but listen to wind and rain and hope for the best. We had no boat and no special capabilities, so, we just stayed put. I tried to write, but my mind wandered constantly, taking me to my phone to check radar or to the window to check the water level in the street. If I wasn’t checking the road or the phone, I was watching the news for the latest predictions and hoping for a change for the better. Any kind of focus on creative thinking became impossible.

Finally, after the rain abated and the temperature dropped, I went to our garage where I sorted through boxes my husband had pulled down from the attic months before in an effort to prepare for a retirement move. As the wind buffeted the garage door (and made me fear for our trees now sitting in soaked earth), I looked through memories that went back over forty years.

Most were newer: junior high school pictures of my daughter, a copy of a short story my brother wrote about fifteen years ago, and anniversary cards from my husband. Many were much older: My Girl Guides journal and lapel pin from England (ca. 1973), a tiny, white New Testament from about 1970, and a large maple leaf I’d picked up somewhere around 1978.

I kept a leaf. Actually, two. Not beautiful flowers or stunning butterflies. Leaves.

Now, I love trees. If trees were animated creatures, I’d say they were my spirit animals. But, to keep a leaf in a book for forty years?

It struck me, looking at that leaf as the storm raged around us and knowing, all around me in the huge Houston metropolitan area, thousands of people were losing their homes, cars, livelihoods, perhaps family members: what a lot of crap we keep for no damn good reason.

Leaves.

You hear it a lot at these times, as people wait to find out if their house is safe from rising waters or as they swim away from their inundated home: “They’re just things.”

They are and they aren’t. They’re things we spent years clinging to for some reason. They’re things we’ve invested with emotion, meaning, connection to the past. They should be “just things,” but we will still feel an ache when we think about them floating down a street into a bayou and into the Gulf of Mexico.

If they’re just things, at what point do we stop collecting them? At what point do we admit that it was absurd to lose, let’s say, three thousand dollars worth of cat toys to a hurricane, so we should probably not replace them in full. (Thank you, Steve Martin)

I’m not saying cat toys (or shoes, or purses, or fountain pens, or electronics, or even forty-year-old leaves) are bad. I just wonder if, in saving all these things, this stuff, we need to spend more time on ourselves, our souls, if you will. Some people can balance the two, stuff and soul, beautifully. Speaking for myself, I have spent far too much time in life not taking care of my soul, but taking care of what I thought others expected of me. When I couldn’t do that very well at all, I sank into despair and simply did nothing. Often times, I bought stuff to fill the void. That stuff eventually found its way to boxes that ended up in the attic. Often, I picked up things, or kept bits of my past, as if they were somehow parts of my empty soul, and they too found their way into the boxes in the attic.

I kept leaves.

I haven’t answered my own questions. When do we stop collecting? When do we stop clinging? Does it take a flood to remind us every time we start getting too attached?

If life is cyclic, and it seems to be so for me, then maybe this is one of those cycles. When we next move, if we do as planned, it will be roughly the same number of years in this home as in our last home. We will be downsizing again and much will be thrown out, donated, or sold. Time, not Harvey, will have cleansed our home. I hope, however, that I will have learned by then not to restock the new home with stuff. There will be a time when I am too old to sort through boxes. When I’m gone, I don’t want my daughter sorting through leaves.

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Emergency Salads, Tornadoes, and Permanent Cow Fixtures

As I drove to the store on December 30th, a woman in a fancy pickup (oxymoron on wheels) rode my bumper despite the fact that I was exceeding the speed limit by several mph. She passed me as soon as she saw the smallest gap, got one car ahead, and pulled into the same parking lot I pulled into seconds later. I daydreamed of asking her, as she picked through the produce section, if she had an emergency salad to get to. In my part of the world, however, such smart alek words can get you shot. I don’t say that lightly.

I decided at that moment that I wasn’t going to rush anywhere the rest of the day. I’ve never believed that there was any place I needed to go that was worth risking my life or someone else’s though I get impatient, too. The passage of time has weighed on me lately, but time on my mind doesn’t mean time to kill or be killed.

It’s true, the way we mark time is largely a human construct: days, weeks, hours, minutes. But months, seasons, lifetimes: Nature has foisted those on us. Since my mother’s death, the passage of days has been, well, a daily thought. An internal battle, even. It began during our time together in a tiny nursing home room those few days before she died.

We had some sweet, gentle moments: laughter, bad puns, a lot of hand holding. I’ve always been amazed by my mother’s hands. No matter the weather, the wrinkles, the dish loads, her hands were like the finest, lightest silk. Now they are ash and it is hard for me to grasp that. I sigh—she would have chuckled at that unintended pun. It’s what we do as a family: make bad jokes. It’s part of what makes us such a close family.

There were moments during which I allowed myself unpleasant thoughts. Cynical, I suppose. “Is this all there is? What did she get for all she did for us?” thoughts. Of course, that’s the angry view, the grieving view of the end. I had been grieving for much longer than the many months Momma had been suffering from dementia and a bad fall. I’d been grieving since she left Texas some seventeen years prior. I knew there was much more—more joy, adventure, choice—to her life than I was allowing. But in grief, those things look small while the hurts loom like dragons and disease. Thankfully, those thoughts were brief and mostly I reveled in my precious time with her.

I admit I’ve nursed those hurts all year. A digit change won’t fix that but perhaps Christmas Eve at Munger Place Church  and time with my daughter and her family has planted a seed.

I struggle with faith daily. Again, I don’t say that lightly. Each prayer, even “grace” before a meal, is an argument with this “creator” some people call God. At the same time, I can’t free myself form my belief that some sort of divinity has had major influences on my life that coincidence can’t explain.

Christmas Eve service at Munger was, no surprise, beautiful. Kate Miner’s love for her God poured out of her with each performance and I used up all my tissues dabbing my eyes. I know I seek that moment when in “O Holy Night” I will “fall on [my] knees, o hear the angels’ voices” and it was at this point in the service that I felt a weight lifted from me after almost a year of anger. Not because a divine presence came upon me. Not because I was suddenly healed. There was nothing magical there (except Kate’s voice). Instead, I realized I cannot stand up and be who and what I need to be without first kneeling and being humble to what I have been given. I must work with what the universe/life/God gives me rather than argue with those gifts, even when those gifts seem like curses.

What cemented this feeling was the remainder of the visit with my daughter and her family. After the service, we drove around to look at Christmas lights in the more affluent Dallas neighborhoods. In front of one house was a life-size, longhorn steer sculpture decked with holiday finery. Someone said, “I wonder where they store that in the off season.” My daughter said, “I think that’s a permanent cow fixture.”

It struck me as funny. Okay, adorable. At 32 years old, she’s still adorable. She’s always been beautiful and gentle like her grandmother. Time with her is so precious and like the rest of her family, she has the sharp and dark humor that binds us. I love every minute with her.

Two days later, December 26th, a horrific storm system struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We huddled in my daughter’s house where we lost power and listened to the tornado siren. Two major tornadoes struck and lives were lost while we had only some wind and scary lightning. Eventually, the power came back on, our adrenaline tapered, sadness set in, and we went to bed.

On the 28th, my husband and I returned to the bayou and a couple of days later, my daughter sent me a picture of the steer.

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I thought it rather sad—frippery and wealth completely unscathed while there was so much destruction in a small town of apartments, trailers, and tract homes not too many miles away. The events of this Christmas came as yet another reminder of the very lack of permanence, the randomness, the brevity, fragility, humor, unfairness, beauty, and preciousness of life.

Fall on your knees.

Here’s a link if you feel inclined to help the folks in North Texas: How to help.