Thursday, February 24, 2011

Four Years

Whenever I travel, especially alone, I bring along the DVD of The Darjeeling Limited.  I sometimes have trouble falling asleep - my mind races and I can't relax - so I like to have a very familiar, sedate movie in the background to lull me to sleep.  It used to be the Meg Ryan/Kevin Kline sleeper French Kiss, but ever since I saw Darjeeling, I knew it was going to be "the one" for a long while.  I love it so much that when I saw a previously viewed copy of it at Blockbuster for $3.99, I bought it... even though I already have one.  And I contemplated buying another, just in case the other two wear out.  I know... weird, right? But it's true and I'm trusting that you won't judge me too harshly.

Raf and I saw this movie about 3 years ago and it struck a chord - three brothers taking a spiritual journey on a train in India, exactly one year after their father's sudden death.  Raf's dad Isaac had died in February and, even though we saw the movie in December, it seemed to open a wound.  There's a deep, painful sadness that sort of hangs over the movie, even in its funny moments. I've found that even though I've seen the movie countless times, I still feel that sad weight on my heart, every single time.

Since I've been in Italy, I've watched the movie repeatedly as I've fallen asleep.  Yesterday, I felt as though I was obsessing over the details - I watched the "behind the scenes" and Googled it and YouTubed it, searching for more more more about the movie.  Hoping, perhaps, to crawl into the story itself and make sense of grief and mourning and learn how to move forward, past the sadness, into a meaningful future in which I don't feel those pangs in my heart every single day.  Even I was a little bewildered by my obsession.  I mean, I love Adrien Brody - his face and green eyes sort of remind me of Raf - but it was borderline teenage girl.

Last night, I was sort of sleepy and fast-forwarded the DVD to one scene, in which the Whitman brothers recall the day of their father's funeral while they are on their way to the funeral of an Indian boy.  Tears streamed down my eyes.  I thought it was the music or the cinematography or the acting or the colors in the Indian sky.  When the scene ended, I fell asleep.

This morning when I checked my email, Raf had forwarded me a beautiful note that his brother Sky had written in honor of the 4th anniversary of their dad's death, which is today. I had forgotten the exact date, but obviously this information was stored deep within me.  

The brain is a mysterious organ.  On one hand, it would seem that we are "in control" of our thoughts, but I'm learning that there is an intelligence within us that doesn't need controlling.  It just moves intuitively, fluidly, guiding us, like a train on tracks that lead us where we need to go.  It may not be where we expected to end up, but it's where we are.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Better than a whole dang bottle of Midol.

Weird Kids

Marlowe got "Rapunzel" hair for her Valentine's Day gift, just a fun little thing I thought she'd play with in the privacy of our own home.  Naturally, she took all three feet of it for a spin at the local park while Emme had her softball practice the other day.  I thought she'd be self-conscious - there were other families and kids there - but no, she reveled in the bizarre fantasy of crazy-long blonde hair.

I sent these pix to KP, a mom of three, who texted back: "I love weird kids."

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Sweetest Thing

Today, while Raf was opening his plethora of birthday cards and Valentine wishes over his morning coffee, I got choked up.  Not just about how much I adore him, or how good our life together is, or how I'm happy he's my Valentine, but how much I'll miss them while I'm in Italy for the next two weeks.  I leave in the morning.  

As I wiped a stray tear away and gulped my coffee (caffeine always makes it better, doesn't it?), he said, "You have to go.  This is what you love."

I didn't seem convinced and he let this doozy fly:

"You know, each of the five of us has a life separate from the other four.  It's important that we pursue what we love individually, or else it will ultimately be bad for all of us."

When we make a wish, it may affect everyone... but maybe for the best.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Dreams They Come

Dreams are tricky things, especially after a loved one has died.

I have believed, for quite some time now, that those you've loved on Earth will visit you in your dreams.  This theory is somewhat common among psychics and mediums, spiritualists and quack-jobs, as well as those who just want to believe something, to hold onto the love that they shared with someone special who has moved beyond Earth.

Lately, I have been dreaming of Max.  Raf does nearly every night - I may have mentioned this before, that it sounds as though his dreamscape is something of a sports lounge for him, his dad and his brother - but it had been a while since I'd dreamed of my brother-in-law, though I think about him nearly every day.  In my dreams, he is generally just in the background somewhere, like in a train station or busy public place, hanging out, watching, not being overly conspicuous.  I just tend to notice him there and continue on in my dream.

The other day, I asked Emme if she ever thinks about Uncle Max.  "Yeah, sometimes," she said.  "But usually I'll just see him in my dreams.  They're never about him, but he's in them, in the background."

I was struck by how similar our dreams were, and that night I had another dream of Max, much more vivid than usual.  He and Raf were sitting side-by-side at a desk, talking low.  I couldn't hear them; so, knowing it was my dream, I moved closer so that I could hear them.  They looked a little perturbed and said something like, "We're talking business here," a phrase my father-in-law used to say to Emmeline when she was a baby.  I wanted to say, "But you're dead, Max, and any time I see you, even in dreams, I want to hear what you have to say, how you are, what your new existence is like!"  More or less, I relented and allowed them space, joyous simply for the chance to spend time with him - dreamworld or not.

I discussed this with Raf the next day on a hike with the dog, explaining that I'm glad I at least get to see Max in dreams.  

"I don't want to see him in dreams," Raf said sharply.  "I want to see him for real."

We walked on, gravel crunching under our shoes.  It is my tendency to try to soften the sharpness.  I would normally have said, "But we have to be grateful for what we get," but I held my tongue.  He's right.  Again and again, we are reminded: he's dead.

Over dinner, he said what I'd been thinking but reluctant to ponder aloud.  "What if we have been holding onto this belief that when we dream of Max and my dad, or your grandmas or whoever, that they are actually visiting us from the 'Great Beyond'... but it's not that at all?"

I'm sure I muddled through some sort of Pollyanna, cockamamie spin on the spiritual side of dreaming, but today I'm still mulling it over. What if, like everything else we dream, these "visits" with Max are merely the result of our subconscious mind mashing up important bits of our lives like an elaborate re-mix?  

There are no answers, and I feel adrift in a sea of questions like this.  The saddest thing is that I had been just as comforted by these dreams as if Max had walked through the door of our home, kissing the mezuzah as he entered, filling the room with his booming laugh.  I had felt that the grief of our regular life without him - the life in which Raf still has the reflex to text or call Max about little stuff every day, sports, business, Marlowe's lost teeth, where Max is no longer the Uncle Buck-like guardian of our children in our will, where we will now set a place for him, like Elijah, at our Passover table - was balanced by the loving presence of Max in our dreams.  

In that last dream, I had said to Max, "Emme says you visit in her dreams, too."

He answered, "Yeah, I don't like to make a big fuss.  I just check in, hang out a little."

In a world with no answers, I will have to accept that answer, even if it's only my own mind helping me cope with the emptiness, an elaborate game of talking to myself. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It Transcends All Languages

I love this song.  And this version may be my favorite. (Thanks to Sarah for bringing it to my attention!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

God's Eyes

A curious thing happened yesterday as I walked my dog along the coyote trail near our house.  Okay, so we're not even supposed to be back there and I always feel a pang of guilt as I step across the threshold with the sign that reads "No Trespassing - No Exceptions." There's an old-timer who lives across the street from the entrance and he and I always nod and say kind good mornin's to one another as we pass with our dogs, and he's told me he knows the owner and for our purposes, it's okay, so I trust that.  

Gibby and I have seen lizards and coyotes and trilling birds among the coastal oaks and rustling grasses, and I try not to tamper with any of it, because I love the way it is back there, natural and untamed.  I tend to stay on the pebble path and keep my dog in line (as much as you can with a not-the-brightest-in-the-litter yellow lab) and walk for about 10 minutes in, then 10 minutes back to the entrance, then go over the hill and back home.  In the same amount of time, I could walk from my house onto the neighborhood streets, past the citrus trees and horse corrals and busy high school traffic and barking German shepherd, and get my mail at the bottom of the hill and get a booty workout as I climb back up to our house.  And, more often than not, I do just that.  

But yesterday was cold and a little foggy, sorta mysterious, a perfect day for walking alone with a dog on the trail.  We were early, but the old-timer was already finishing up his walk while discussing business on his cell phone.  He nodded to me and moved the phone from his ear a moment.  "Mornin'," he said.  "Have a good one."

I nodded back and Gibby and I started on our way.  As an experiment, I let Gibby off his leash -- I'd done it once before and he'd taken off like a rocket after God-knows-what, but it had been a while and I thought it might be nice to let him have his own experience, without being led here and there by a wishy-washy master who's just learning the ropes of having a dog.  Quietly, he ran from side to side on the path, grazing on the grass, peeing where he saw fit, checking up on me occasionally and then running toward the next tree or bush.  

Unencumbered by dog leash or iPhone (I'd forgotten it at home), I wandered up the path until I could see the house at the end of the road.  Gibby and I turned around and made our way back as the sun began to warm the foggy canyon.  He scampered behind me while I listened to the sound of my shoes crunching the gravel.  And then I saw what looked like an eye staring at me: a spiderweb artfully woven into a triangular eye in the dead limbs of a bush.

At first, I kept trudging past.  But then, because of my age and my increasing recognition of the ephemeral nature of life, I circled back and stood in front of the bush.  The crazy thing was not that I saw a spiderweb eye in the middle of this bush, or that it was one of only a handful of webs on any of the thousands of bushes along the path, but that there was a matching eye on an adjoining limb.  When I took a little step backward, it looked like two eyes peering at me, and I could even fashion an imaginary nose and mouth from lower branches.  Behind this "face," the sun was peeking out from the tip of the hill, sending luminous rays through the fog, the kind you'd see in a kid's drawing, like yellow lines from a friendly sun-face.

I meant to laugh it off -- I mean, lately I have to admit to feeling a little wacko finding the spiritual nature of everything, from a snapdragon sprouting through our front porch concrete to the pink clouds rolling in the sunset at night -- but if this is all there is, then I had to drink it in.  I stood for a long time, admiring the way the spider had created this seemingly simple design, Charlotte-style. I wondered if it was God speaking to me without words.  I thought to myself, "Does this mean I'm on the right path?"  Meaning my work, my life, my purpose, everything.  I stood there for so long that even my dog clambered over to see what was happening.  He waggled his head from me to the bush, trying to make a connection, then sort of shook it all off, the weight of this moment, and, remembering he was leash-free, took off on a merry jaunt ahead of me and God.

I wished I'd had my iPhone with me so that I could take a picture (the pic at the beginning of this post, of an oak along the path, was taken last week).  But then again, if I'd had it with me, I may have been too engrossed in a podcast or a pop song to have noticed.  I vowed to go back again today and take a photo.  But of course, it was gone.  The entire thing seemed to have been created, just for me, just for that moment.

Luckily, I had stood there for so long yesterday that the image is burned in my mind and will, I'm sure of it, take on mythic proportions as I remember it in the future.  And it got me thinking about a craft I'd made at my friend Sheryl's house, weaving yarn around sticks to create little hanging designs called God's Eyes.  I may never look at them in the same way.