A long time ago, the Spring after I received the “probable” diagnosis of MS, I made a list in my journal of “Things I’d Done Enough Of” and “Things I Haven’t Done Enough Of.” The principle of considering how to spend my carefully curated energy these last nearly 24 years now has continued to be guided by these two questions I asked myself so long ago.

Perhaps these days people would call that second column a “bucket list,” but that isn’t really accurate in my view. There’s not even really a list anymore. It’s just that when I come to how I’ll spend my time and energy, the question about whether I’ve done enough of something or haven’t yet done enough of it is often quite useful. Sometimes the things that end up in that second category surprise me, but I trust when they show up unfailingly.

Drawing and painting and pastels definitely fell into that category, and for 5 years it was all I wanted to do. I’d even put food aside or leave it sitting to get into or finish some art, which means it was pretty important for a foodie like me. But in the last several months, I’ve felt my need to draw every day slow to a few times a week, and then sort of recede to the background. In the last 5 years I’ve gained more skill, and more enjoyment, and just a couple of days ago I did a charcoal sketch of a friend’s cat that I love, and I have in mind another figure I want to draw into my sketch book.

Events in the world and our country, though, turned me unexpectedly back to something I really really wanted to be able to do in my youth, and, much to the disappointment of my grandmother, could not master. In those days knitting left handed was sort of unheard of and I never got the hang of how to flip things over and join my grandmother in one of her favorite pastimes.

A few months ago, earlier in the summer, I had just donated an extra few dollars to RAICES, an organization working on the border to provide asylum seekers their right to legal representation, when I happened to see under “other ways to give” the following: “If you knit hats or little teddy bears, you can send those to us too.” I was instantly and utterly overcome with a desire to somehow, someway, learn to knit finally, just so I could do this. In a world awash with dehumanization, in addition to the little money I could chip in for bail and legal support, I wanted to be able to give a little tenderness to those who had made it safely across the border and out of detention, or who had just been reunited with loved ones.

And, I thought, it will lift my spirits, too. I’m always happiest when I am making something–no matter what it is. The only problem: I could not knit a stitch.

Buoyed by visions of little teddy bears and tiny hats, I turned to the internet and also to a friend who’s been a life long knitter. She loaned me some equipment to start with and my re-entry into that long ago effort to try to really learn to knit began.

The  good news: there were plenty of videos showing left handed beginners how to knit or crochet. The bad news: I still couldn’t do it. Despite leading with my left hand, my right hand, the one affected by cerebral palsy, was required to maintain dexterity and tension between individual fingers that is simply beyond my abilities. My friend, ever helpful, suggested that maybe if I googled “knitting for people with arthritis” or something like that, I might come up with a solution.

That’s when I had the inspiration to simply type in “knitting for people with disabilities,” because that is most accurate in my case. Which is where, I’m happy to report, I came upon knitting on a round loom. It changed everything. And the large gage round looms are often given to and used by children–so perfect for my inner child that felt like such a failure when she couldn’t knit.

In the 4 months since I began this creative experiment, the  loom has functioned as a powerful mirror for me. It’s taken me back in time to my disappointments as a teenager that I could not join my grandmother at the knitting shop. I felt the fear of failure and the hope of success and I learned over time how not to knit too tightly on the loom, to “keep it loose,” and how to understand it’s about the stitches, not the peg or the needle. It’s given me a whole new way to play with color.

I love that a hat is basically all one long piece of yarn, and that if I make a mistake I can’t live with or repair I can unravel the whole thing and start over. In those moments I thought of Penelope, and how each night she would undo the stitches in a funeral shroud for Laertes so it would never be finished, to keep the suitors who wanted to take the place of Odysseus as ruler of the kingdom and partner in her bed.

The loom reminds me that all things round are magical and resonant for me, and that I used to love it when my first art teacher would talk about “coming full circle.” I learned that it won’t make me a clean stripe in the round, so I had to learn how to create the illusion that it can. I practiced on these very small hats until I got the hang of it.

I started knitting when Romeo was still alive and snuggled up between me and Cotton. Now Cotton is my knitting buddy and sometimes he gently places his paws on my legs while I work the yarn.

Way back in 2013 when I wrote a post announcing the categories I had decided to use on this blog, I opened with these sentences:

“My brain thinks better in circles than straight lines.  When I started having cognitive difficulties from the Multiple Sclerosis, one of the first things to become unpredictable was linear tracking. So I am lucky that I  am also at home thinking in symmetries, correspondences, any pattern other than a straight line.”

The paradox of the loom for me is that I’m required to track in the round. That means I get to move in the round but think in linear sequence, or vice versa. Like meditation, it’s a treasure chest of the challenge of focus and the gifts of relaxation and clarity.

Some circles, however, are so large and so invisible that I don’t see them ever coming “round,” so when they do, it’s a gift beyond compare. In this month when the days grow shorter in the northern hemisphere, and we haven’t yet “turned back” the clocks, there’s a feeling of loss in the air, laced with the beautiful quality of slanted light. I caught a glimpse of what some of that magic can illuminate the other morning walking back from our brisk jaunt on the early morning beach. Another weaver had taken up residence at my street corner:

In another area of my life where I honor the circle, a dear friend of mine back in Moscow and I continue our tradition of getting together on the new and full moon, only now we do it on the phone. Just the other night, when the moon was new in Scorpio (and therefore invisible to us) as we were ending our conversation, she asked me if I had received a package from her. “No,” I said, surprised, and then had to sheepishly admit I’d probably avoided collecting my mail since last Wednesday or Thursday (we were talking on a Sunday night). She seemed concerned and asked me how packages arrived, given none of us have mailboxes at our house. Some of us use a mailbox bank at our clubhouse and some drive up to a tiny post office in Gleneden Beach where there are PO Boxes. I told her there were lockers for packages at the mailbox bank, but if our regular carrier was working and something heavy came, she always very sweetly delivered it to my door. But if someone else was filling in for her they would put it in the locker. “Well, ” she said, “maybe you’d better check the locker,” but, expert at keeping a secret, she wouldn’t say anymore.

Allow me to digress for a moment to gripe about picking up the mail. I try to work it into our second walk of the day which is late afternoon or early evening, which often coincides with the time the mail is being delivered or has just been delivered to the mailbox bank. For some people in our neighborhood, getting that mail right after it’s in the box seems to be one of their central daily goals, as if it might curl up and disintegrate if it stayed in it’s little metal cubicle too long. Though some people walk down, many people drive down, and the result is often a minor gaggle of impatient seniors idling in their cars waiting for their turn at the bank.

If, as I am,  not known for swiftness, and, until recently, walking with two dogs, this can be a bit of a gauntlet to navigate. I usually solve it by joking about getting run over by senior citizens hell bent on getting our mail. I even end up laughing to myself when people walking the other way tell me with consternation, “the mail isn’t here yet,” or “it isn’t ready yet.” Apparently a few people bugged the postal workers so much that there’s now a sign saying to stay away from the mailbox bank until the postal worker is done delivering mail, or it won’t be delivered. This really cracks me up. Why the intensity over market flyers and bills? In practice, though, I try to avoid “rush hour” at the mail bank, because it can be stressful to be standing there trying to keep the little metal door open, scoop out the mail, fiddle with the key to the parcel locker and try to get it to work, all the while trying to avoid exhaust fumes or having the dog waiting in the ‘wrong” place.

This particular Monday I had decided we would go to the beach first and circle around to the mailbox bank on our way home. It would be later and we would most likely avoid “rush hour.” Still, I was a little grumpy I would have to carry a package home and there might be a bunch of junk piled up in my box. Nevertheless I brought a grocery sack and resigned myself to the walk home with whatever had piled up.

When I got there it looked as if the coast would be clear. Only another couple we know and their dog we had visited with on the beach were there. So I opened my box and found the key to the parcel locker, along with several pieces of (mostly) inconsequential mail. As I went to open the parcel locker, a car drove up and waited right in front of me. Then another behind it. The parcel in the locker was heavy! What in the world had my friend sent me? I could barely get it out of there, and it threatened to fall to the ground, but something told me not to let that happen.

It turned out that one of the people in the cars was a friend of ours and Cotton wanted to see her. I made him follow me to the picnic table so I could put the package down and try to sort things out. My friends saw this was difficult for me, and the one in the car said, “hey, do you want me to take that to your house in my car?” “Would you?,” I said, realizing it was going to be a long walk home with it on a day my hand was sore from knitting (!!!).

And thus the heavy little package arrived at my house before Cotton and I got home. There were many dinner prep things to do for him and for me, and for a little while I forgot about the package. But before I sat down to dinner by the fireplace, I noticed it and thought to my still kind of grumpy self, “well, I guess I’d better open it and see what’s inside.”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have guessed. As I opened the top I noticed there was lots of packing and then what looked almost like Christmas ornaments snuggled into tissue paper. They were about that size, but they were–could it be? Pears from my tree on Asbury Street! I knew the feel of those pears in my hands, the size, the color, from the years of tending the tree and its harvest. I could hardly believe my eyes and my hands. My eyes welled with tears to see and feel and smell–and soon to taste– what must be these old friends from a dearly loved past.

When I texted my friend, “are these MY pears?” “Of course!” she wrote back. “How???” I said, and she wrote back “talk.” So we chatted and she told me the story of how she had had to take a detour that put her in front of my old blue house waiting in traffic. She spied over the one remaining fence bordering a parking lot branches filled with pears spilling over the top of it. She said the tree was calling to her, something both of us consider a normal occurrence in our dealings with plants and animals and even stones. So she pulled over and at first started picking the ones that were hanging over the fence. Then, since there’s no fence at the back anymore (some of what was once my garden is now parking lot) she simply decided to walk around and pick as many as she could manage to pick. We giggled at the fact that while she was doing this a couple came out and got into one of the cars. They smiled and waved and she smiled and waved back.

My friend (who is a talented herbalist) and I have a long history of playing with plants and nature together, so this was yet another pearl on that luminous string of memories. A special one, because holding these pears in my hands again and tasting their unrivaled sweetness is what I imagine a heavenly reunion to be like. Those things we no longer have, those things we had our time with and will love for always returned back to the hand again, to taste and touch and hold yet another experience with them close.

The taste of vanilla sunshine is mine again for its brief tenure this season. And my friend says as long as she’s there and the tree is there, she will go back to pick for us. The circle, when made with love, may be wider than my vision, but it is indeed, never ever broken.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

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“Rosy,” chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

A little while ago, a Wednesday, the day of the week Romeo died (which for now, constitutes an anniversary each week), came two literal tail winds, or “wooshes,” as I sometimes like to call them. The first one came when a hummingbird grazed my ear as I sat, a bit lost, in a dear neighbor’s yard–how it thrilled me to feel the wings beating, to “hear” them. The second one came in the late afternoon as Cotton and I began our walk. From behind came first the feel and the sound of muted thunder, as the high school athletes who come here to train with their coach who lives in my cul de sac started out their run en masse–and wooshed by us. Cotton was in wonder beside me. We stopped to “feel” them pass–all youth, grace, male, female, brown, white, black, yellow. The tailwind was palpable. For a moment they carried us with them and I said to Cotton, “yes, they are doing what you like to do sometimes,” and though he understood, he was content to stay.

Just days after Romeo passed, a friend wrote to ask me if Romeo had come to “visit.” I said yes but did not elaborate–it would have been too exhausting to describe in that moment. I remembered that Tinne, our golden, tried for the corporeal. The afternoon after she died she did her best to materialize in the kitchen while I napped to reassure me she would help me find another dog (and she did).

Romeo has a more ethereal approach, in keeping with his less “material” nature. He brings the feel of a rosy color or light, and the wooshes, the upliftment of the tailwind. The sonnet I wrote about us, “Scenes From A Valentine’s Day,” comes to mind since it describes a feeling of love that comes from sharing moments of wonder together in the world.

Mock up for Romeo Valentine Card with the sonnet “Scenes From a Valentine’s Day” on it. Poem and art by Maria Theresa Maggi

Scenes from a Valentine’s Day

Romeo, my four-legged Valentine,
focuses on a clump of dead leaves
with the olfactory equivalent
of a microscope, while over us
the sky has opened to sun, then turned gray,
and now a few flakes of snow flutter
in the air that shifts its color with the clouds.
We’re on the edge of campus; a young man
in black sweats crosses our path, his arms full
of red roses wrapped in red paper.
The snow falls but doesn’t stick yet;
the sky is that color of milk hinting
a storm might come, its wide mouth agape,
as if opening to a deep kiss.

by Maria Theresa Maggi, from If A Sparrow, Finishing Line Press

Romeo witnessed my wonder like no other. Those moments we usually have in solitude, he was there for, for years. And now I feel him present in spirit during them, as if to kiss me on the cheek, or, place his head gently on my hand. Subtlety was his gift then, and now. In spirit, he still imparts to me and Cotton such refinement and beauty. We felt our first moment of wonder together as the beautiful young people wooshed by us. If I look for the nuance, I’ll find everything, all the love we need, all the wonder. Romeo has that woosh quality now full bore, like the angels on the San Diego freeway once imparted to me.

____

It’s been a little over a month since these very early experiences after Romeo’s passing. Taken from a journal I write early morning impressions in, it was hard to form them into sentences.  Since then, there’s been many “rosy” reminders and apparitions, nearly daily, that buoy me along when they are most needed. I started really taking notice the day we had to go to our first nail trimming appointment without Romeo. The doggy care place we go to offers free pens and I went to grab one. Only afterward did I realize I had grabbed a “rosy” one when I would usually go for another color. I smiled.

In those first weeks of loss, it was hard to be out on a walk and have people ask where Romeo was. It felt like others were touching a burn. I understood intellectually all the kind words and gestures were meant to comfort me, but I really understood, too, why another neighbor who lost her quiet little dog named Jewels at 15, had said to me “I’m okay as long as I don’t talk about it.” That was me a lot of the time, especially when others initiated the conversation. I wanted to choose when to speak about it.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the couch, learning to loom knit, something I started before Romeo died, as a project to focus myself and to humanize those waiting at the border. I’ve been sending my hats and  little comfort dolls to RAICES.  It’s always “home base” after walking out in the neighborhood, the first trip to the store when he wouldn’t be here waiting for us, and much more. Gradually I’ve ventured further afield for longer. The biggest outing came last Friday night when a friend and I went to Newport to see George Winston in concert. I almost never do anything like that but when I saw he was coming I wanted to go. Cotton did beautifully at my side the whole evening as well.

In addition to beautiful piano (and guitar and harmonica) numbers, sitting in that little intimate theater helped bring about an unexpected shift in my grieving process. As we first were seated in the lovely gallery reserved for people with disabilities, I confess my mind went to the horrible what if place since there have been so many public shootings. But I let it play across my mental screen knowing it was passing weather. And then, I looked out onto the audience, most of whom were senior citizens like me, enjoying the beginning of the concert (which was also a fundraiser for the Lincoln County Food Bank) and a wave of profound benevolence swept over me toward all of them. It seemed like a huge protective blanket that allowed me to be present and to let all feelings flow, even those of sadness in remembrance of the days I might have been at something like this with Romeo. I let the tears fall. Cotton sensed this, and looked up at me. He shifted himself to put his body on my foot to comfort me. It was a beautiful gesture in a magical night.

Since then, that woosh of benevolence has proven its staying power. Late one afternoon a few days ago we were out walking past the clubhouse and a woman I hadn’t seen since Romeo died was going in to a gathering about to start. She greeted me and said ever so plaintively, “I just feel so sad when I see you walking around with just one dog. Romeo was such a beautiful creature.” Instead of making me feel like someone was poking at a burn, I got it, in the way I once glimpsed it when back in Moscow, I was worrying to a friend that I felt like I did not do enough to help people. She said, “Maria, you have no idea how many people you help and comfort, just walking around town with Romeo the way you do.” I wasn’t so sure about that but I decided to accept it on faith. And the way this student of one of my poetry colleagues moved me when I was sent what she wrote about “Scenes From A Valentine’s Day” when they read it in a class about love poetry: “I like these poems a lot because they show that love can be had for so many different things. I don’t have a boyfriend, but my dog is my best friend, so ‘Scenes from a Valentine’s Day, is now one of my favorite poems. Despite never having a ‘lover’ on V-day, I love the holiday and appreciate the day to celebrate all kinds of love, much like the speaker in the poem.”

Now that faith helped me understand this woman’s feeling of loss, and so many others who are now watching me and Cotton walk around without Romeo, and how the three of us had become part of their experience here. They are mourning too.

Now I don’t find it quite as painful when people ask or try to say something nice. And I’m glad when they ask about Cotton or say how beautiful he is, too. And it’s helped me reflect on what my special talents to inspire must be. They seem to have to do with just doing my thing. Even the folks with houses on the water have told me how they enjoy seeing me play with the dogs on the beach. When I’m there I have no idea anyone is watching. But apparently they are. Now they’re seeing Cotton and me in the early morning, as we negotiate when he can run to chase crows or when he needs to come back from going too far after a sea gull tacking down the edge of the water.They see us play with his toy, how he waits for me to try and come ‘get it’ and let’s me get it, wanting me to have a turn too. They see how seamlessly he walks with me when on leash.

There are many activities in our neighborhood, like classes, a group of walkers, stitchers, barbecues and chili cook offs. One neighbor I really like who’s here for the summer says it’s like “camp”–and she does as many things as she has energy for, because, she says, she never went to camp–and we laugh. I, on the other hand, rarely go to anything organized. One of my friends suggested the stitching group to me and when I said without hesitation, “no, I don’t think so,” she may have been taken aback a little at my instant definitiveness.

It isn’t that I don’t like visiting with people. I end up doing plenty of that just running into folks on our walks, or having tea with my circle of close friends, or visiting on the way to errands someone takes me on. But when I loom knit, or write postcards to voters, I actually like to do these things by myself. It brings greater focus to my efforts, in a meditative kind of way, and most importantly, it gives me the space to visualize the potential people my creations will go to, and how I can make them lovely and full of tenderness for them. Or if I’m writing a postcard to a voter, how that person might be encouraged by what I write to get out there and vote. I can’t do that if I’m visiting while I knit or write. And in both cases, it’s physically demanding enough that doing it alone means I’ll be better at it because my concentration is focused, and my awareness of when I need to rest is also more present. I’m not keeping up with anyone but myself.

It’s visualizing the positive outcomes for the people I love the most though. Perhaps the solitude I live in helps me be present in this way, and in ways that make me a better blog writer and a good long distance friend or sister. So maybe I AM doing something that is somehow that mysterious “enough.” I giggled that yet again in my life I’m still trying to answer that question for myself. And when I did giggle and look away from the screen my eye settled on a brilliant fuchsia shade in my tie-dyed dish towel–a “rosy” reminder to follow “the encouragement of life” offered to me, as it is described in a beautiful poem by Sufi Master Hafiz. Listen to “How Did The Rose Ever Open” set to music, by David Wilcox and Nance Petit, from their CD Out Beyond Ideas.”

And thanks, Romeo–you still make everything come up “roses” and remind me there’s more than enough love to go around.

“Romeo in Pink Curtain Morning Light, ” Portland, 2015

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

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In Memory of My Romeo

August 12, 2019

  My Dear Readers, For those of you who don’t already know, coming up on  3weeks ago my Romeo crossed the rainbow bridge. I thought I would weave the story of his passing into a narrative with other events, but I find I’m just not ready to do that. So instead, I’d like to offer […]

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Single Figure

July 24, 2019

I was deeply disappointed with this sketch the morning I drew it. I thought I had failed, but I was tired, and it was time to make my oatmeal, so I sighed and left it out on my work space at the slider windows, washed in northern light, and went about my morning. During the […]

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Dessert Rice

July 5, 2019

I know it’s half eaten, and even before I dipped into it, it didn’t have a load of presentation zing, but this slightly sweet rice turned out to be a real treat for me. If, like me, you have been underwhelmed at times with results from trying to make rice pudding, this “dessert” rice may […]

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Sick Bay: A Scrapbook (And A Recipe)

June 23, 2019

Dearest Blog Readers, For the last month I’ve been very sick; in fact I haven’t been this ill in 40 years. I’m much better, and getting better all the time, but that’s why I haven’t written a new post until now. The experience has been so intense and all encompassing that as I joked to […]

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Can’t Be Beet Black Bean Brownie Wedges

April 27, 2019

After eating plant-based for so many years, and basically educating myself on the internet and then experimenting at home, tweaking recipes to work best for my situation, I end up with a lot of delicious fragments of former recipes I read or made floating around in what’s now my long term memory. This recipe is […]

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A Sign, A Magic Trick, A Song

April 8, 2019

  Back when I started all the moving a few years ago, I got into the habit of tying up my yoga mat with a beautiful cotton plaid scarf a friend of mine brought me years ago from Cambodia. It may have been that it was hanging over the post of the mirror on my […]

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Soy Milk Making Meditations

March 22, 2019

Though I’ve made almond milk, hazelnut milk for months on end over the last 11 years, and even hemp milk, pecan milk and pistachio nut milk on occasion, I came late to soy milk making. While I was intrigued long ago, the prospect seemed out of reach, since everyone who did it, and every soy […]

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Kalette

March 7, 2019

I have fallen in love with a new vegetable. It’s a little kale flower that grows on a stalk the way brussel sprouts do. In fact, it’s a cross between kale and brussel sprouts. But I didn’t have to know any of this to fall in love. My heart was stolen the January Saturday at […]

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