Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Need to Write

"Writers live twice.  They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning.  But, there's another part of them that...lives everything a second time.  That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it.  Looks at the texture and the details." -- Natalie Goldberg


I have the rare gift today of a full day to myself -- no grandchildren to tend, no husband at home, no commitments -- and I find myself torn between the garden and my blog.  And, here I am, at the computer, writing away part of this lovely morning, but it is something I MUST do.  I am a writer at heart; from early childhood I have realized this need to ponder the world around me and my own life, and somehow put my thoughts into words. 

A degree of solitude for quiet introspection is necessary to a writer, so my writing was done in "fits and starts" through the years of child-rearing and part-time work.  I have notebooks filled with sporadic entries as I wove bits of quiet time into my hectic life -- trying somehow to capture the pivotal moments as well as the ordinary days.

In the autumn of 2001, as I dealt with the devastating emotions of the September 11 attack in NYC and the death of my mother earlier in the year, I finally decided to buy a real journal and begin to regularly chronicle my life.  Little did I know how I would come to look forward to these daily journal entries, in the gentle quiet of midnight, or the peaceful solitude of sunrise.  Now twelve years of journals fill an old trunk in my bedroom.  How I love the feel of my pen slipping across the pages of these beautiful journals.  I cherish these moments when I can sift through the events and emotions of my day and somehow order them into words. 

In 2007, on a whim, I decided to create this blog, Ponderings and More.  My life is complicated and busy, as I care for my grandchildren during the day, so my blog entries are sporadic and less frequent than those of most bloggers.  I do so love the moments when time, emotion, thoughts, and words come together and I have this lovely little blog in which to write the words down.  I have come to realize -- much as the quote above illustrates -- that a writer does indeed live life twice.  Often, even as I participate in life events, my mind is already sifting through my thoughts and forming the words to hold these moments forever in time.  

A writer NEEDS to write.  Sometimes the words are coming together so quickly in my head that I desperately want to write them down, but it is the wrong place and the wrong time.  Often at these moments, my grandson will look at me and say, "Grammy are you daydreaming again?"   And I look into his face, bringing my thoughts back to the moment at hand, and say, "Yes, I'm daydreaming."   And, that is what writers do.  

How I love reading through my old blog posts and journal entries.  As we hurry through the days of our lives, we forget so much -- the little details get lost and only half-memories are summoned by a song or a smell.  My journals contain the details -- those details that spoke to me at the time -- and I can relive the memories.  I particularly love a journal I kept in the year when both of my sons were being married.  The bridal showers, the flowers, the rehearsal dinners, the weddings -- all the lovely details are captured there for me to savor at will.  I keep a journal for each of my grandchildren, and enjoy remembering them as they were; they are growing so fast and changing so rapidly.  As I look back through the pages I have written, I realize that this need to write is a vital force that provides an emotional outlet to the writer.  How fortunate we are to be able to perceive the precious moments of life and record them for ourselves and eternity.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Of Lilacs, Mothers' Day & Old Stone Walks

This day before Mothers' Day has been cloudy and showery; in the morning I watched my little grandson play soccer, then came home with the intention of weeding my gardens.  Instead, I puttered in the house -- dusting, doing laundry, running the vacuum -- and headed outside to cut some lilacs.  Nothing can compare to the beauty and scent of lilacs.  I love the sensual feeling of gathering them in my arms, their lovely perfume filling my heart with springtime, and the profusion of blossoms overwhelming my soul.  Choosing a vase, filling it with slightly warm water, preparing the stems, and finally immersing my armful of beauty in the chosen vessel is a peaceful pursuit.  Lilac season is short, so this pleasure is one we must hold closely while it lasts.

Lilacs and Mothers' Day go hand-in-hand in upstate New York.  For years I set the table for Mothers' Day dinner with a centerpiece of lilacs or tulips from the garden.  As I gathered my lilacs today, I reminisced about this celebration of motherhood.  My first memory is of buying earrings for my mother and grandmother at some type of sale at my elementary school -- how proud I was to be able to really surprise them with these gifts.  As I went through my mother's jewelry box after her death, I found these earrings tucked away -- a gentle reminder of her love for me. 

My next vivid memory is of the Mothers' Day when my son was six months old.  I had experienced difficulties getting pregnant, and then my first baby daughter was stillborn in 1974; the birth of my son in 1975 was the happiest day of my life, and the first Mothers' Day when I finally had my precious child in my arms was a day I looked forward to with a full heart.  However, that morning I woke to no card, no flowers, no "Happy Mothers' Day."  Apparently my husband didn't realize how much this day meant to me.  Later, as I walked outside with my son in my arms, my neighbor called over, "Happy Mothers' Day;" he never knew what a gift his greeting was to this disappointed new mother.

There have been many sad Mothers' Days since then -- the year after my grandmother died, and after my mother's death, and the more recent death of my mother-in-law.  We live through these sad days and move on.  This day for me is a reminder of the deep joy I have received in the process of mothering these precious children of mine, and now the joy of being a grandmother.  As we grow older, the holiday becomes bittersweet for us, as we balance missing our own mothers against the pure love we experience ourselves as mothers and grandmothers. 

Life itself becomes bittersweet as we age.  We sift through our memories and sometimes realize that the sad ones outnumber the happy ones.  We find our bodies beginning to disappoint us -- did our baby boomer generation really believe we would stay forever young?  Our minds begin to fail us occasionally, our energy lessens, and our joints begin to stiffen and ache  -- how can this be??  This wasn't supposed to happen to us.  How naive we were.

Twenty or so years ago, a friend gave me some leftover stones from a greenhouse he was building.  I decided to use them for a little garden path.  My husband dug out the path, and I laid the stones myself -- placing and moving them to achieve the haphazard pattern I desired, and then tucking them gently into the soil.  What a lovely path it was, and how much I have enjoyed it all these years.  In the past couple of years, though, the roots from the shady maple nearby began to push up on several of the stones, leaving the path uneven and rough -- much too uneven for my stiff old legs.  Last year I took quite a tumble as I tripped on one of the stones. 

Finally, last week, I tripped again and almost fell; with heavy heart, I decided that my lovely stone walk needed to be replaced with something more even and secure.  The day they were removing the stones, I went out early in the morning to take some final photos of my path.  I'm sure the new path will be beautiful, and will be designed to fit in with my unstructured landscape.  I will be happy with it, and much more sure-footed as I walk out each morning to feed my birds.  But, I am glad I have the photos, and I will treasure the memories of my old stone walk.

Life moves on -- some things are constant in our lives, as are the lilacs and Mothers' Day in May.  Others are more transient, and once gone, they are gone forever.  It is our choice whether we spend our days mourning our losses or savoring our blessings.  It means the difference between bitterness and contentment, and I definitely prefer to be content.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Legacy We Leave

"A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it
refuses to destroy." -- John Sawhill

A stately old church in a small city nearby was demolished over the past few weeks to make way for a large grocery store.  Its story was a sad one -- the church had stood as a landmark in the city for many years.  Local groups fought to keep it standing, but appeals to the developer to save the church, and legal maneuvers to prevent its demolition all failed.  Once again, greed trumped respect for history and beauty, and now the City of Watervliet will have a mega-grocery store in its midst to bring profits to the developer and the grocery chain, and a lovely piece of its architecture has been destroyed in the process.

A recent article in our local newspaper, the TIMES UNION, brought back painful memories of the building of the Empire State Plaza in Albany during the 1960's and 1970's.  Then-governor Nelson Rockefeller envisioned a large government center of modern office buildings in downtown Albany.  To bring his vision to fruition, almost 100 acres of homes, shops and churches were razed through eminent domain.  Entire neighborhoods were displaced with no thought to the lives affected by this demolition of homes and history. 

My own church, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, was a casualty of this heartless demolition.  I loved our old church, with its beautiful old stained glass windows; I was baptized in the church and confirmed in the midst of the controversy over its possible destruction.  I remember our minister, Rev. Nelson Parke, speaking to the congregation of a suggestion he had made to keep the church intact.  His vision was of a peaceful little sanctuary in the midst of this governmental plaza -- our lovely old church, surrounded by a small area of grass and trees, with benches for state workers to sit on and relax during their lunch hours.  I thought this was a beautiful idea, and was devastated when Rev. Parke's suggestion was ignored and we were forced to build a new church elsewhere in the city.  Rev. Parke died unexpectedly of a heart attack during this time, and in my young mind, I always blamed his death on the stress from fighting against the demolition of our beloved church.

The Empire State Plaza has stood boldly now since the late 1970's -- its cold marble and modern architecture a stark contrast to the city from which it rises.  There are those who see great beauty in its gleaming facade, but I am not one of them.  The TIMES UNION article states, "for those who remember the thriving neighborhood that vanished, the Plaza is far from the bold statement of progress that boosters over the years have made it out to be."  A former resident of the neighborhood comments, "We look at that, and we see a cold, sterile environment that's really a monument to arrogance.  I think it was arrogant for a political leader to displace so many people, to uproot their lives to change their culture in the space of a few years, to destroy all the relationships that had been built up over half a century."  I agree.

And I am reminded of the above quote by John Sawhill.  It seems our society will be judged as one that is quick to destroy our environment, our architecture, and our history for the sake of greed and power.  Our legacy is a sad one indeed.