I seek to organize my life and rely on datebooks, appointment books, calendars, timetables, planners, and lists. It even helps to purchase note pads with my name at the top found in card shops. Sort of like pinching myself to make sure I’m real. I like to view my name in flowery script and then write my list underneath it. I also prefer to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times and want to know what is going to happen tomorrow so I can prepare for it. I don’t want chaos. I want certain order. Order so I can live creatively. And here where I live on the East Coast, I expect autumn to perform with a dazzling dance of vibrant colors. I turn away in disappointment when her act is cancelled and trees shake their heads and the mere stain of brown, earth toned leaves crumple to the ground in death, or jaundiced-looking trees try to wave at me alongside a gray highway. It is worse for me when summer refuses to leave even when the song birds have packed up and left. She is like the last guest to leave my party and it is 3:00 a.m. Summer in this condition is green with envy and pushes autumn back stage, and then ole man winter is announced and thuds around in heavy boots for nearly six months. I like winter, but if autumn doesn’t perform well, I have to squint to see the sparkling silver lining in winter’s dark days.
After winter trudged on stage before being announced properly, I drove from my childhood hometown in the Finger Lakes region of New York back to my home in New Hampshire. My eighty-four year old mother was with me and we were relieved to have a sunny day and dry roads. At first, I refused to look right or left, and kept my eyes on the road. I had to get home before the next unseasonable storm! I didn’t like this early snow show and wished I could get my money back. I felt out of sorts and impatient, and had forgotten I just had two weeks of walking amongst a riot of glorious color in New York. It had only been the opening act before the real show, I mused.
And then at a rest stop, I noticed the backdrop of a lilac/lavender streaked sky, and when we got back on the thruway, my mother and I began to cheer and clap for the spectacular show. An unlikely wedding, the marriage of two very different seasons, had taken place in the night when no-one was looking. Autumn and winter had eloped and when they came on stage together, they harmonized and sang beautifully. The stunning and heart-felt splendor will be in my memory always.
Today, my mother and I went to the salon for major pampering (we must be ready for more shows). We were there quite awhile and met a woman who was getting a pedicure. She had been given a gift certificate and it was her first time in this particular salon. She was cheerful, friendly, and very talkative. She was telling my mother how glamorous she looked and I proudly stated that Mom had been a jazz and blues singer. The woman asked my mother to sing and although Mom still plays the piano and sings, she doesn’t like to be put on the spot. To my surprise, however, she started singing, Stormy Weather, beautifully. Afterwards, the woman began to weep uncontrollably. She told us that her special friend had suddenly died two weeks ago and my mother’s singing had unlocked her grief. I watched as my mother hugged this woman, touch her hand, and say to her, “Terrible loss and grief feels so wrong and out of place, but you’ll have a new season in your life and there will be other seasons.” My mother knows this well, too.
What of chaos and out of order life? Do grief and beauty become compatible? I’ve experienced suffering in my own life that warmed in my heart because I clutched it so tightly there, as if I held a precious stone in my sweaty hand. It was mine and only mine, no other person’s. For that, it became bearable, even sweet. Sweet suffering? Is this an oxymoron? I can’t tell you what it is for you. But I saw it in the hills and mountains when nature wasn’t acting normal. And I saw it on the woman’s face in the salon when her grief spilled over onto all of us.
Next weekend, I’m attending iBAM! in Chicago and I’ll be with lots of Irish writers, artists, and musicians. I’m so looking forward to it, and interestingly, just this day I realized that one of the writers, Patricia Monaghan, will be attending, as well. I’ve been intrigued with her work since reading her book, The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog. And thus I found one of her poems that is titled, The Poised Edge of Chaos:
Sand sifts down, one grain at a time,
forming a small hill. When it grows high
enough, a tiny avalanche begins. Let
sand continue to sift down, and avalanches
will occur irregularly, in no predictable order,
until there is a tiny mountain range of sand.
Peaks will appear, and valleys, and as
sand continues to descend, the relentless
sand, piling up and slipping down, piling
up and slipping down, piling up – eventually
a single grain will cause a catastrophe, all
the hills and valleys erased, the whole face
of the landscape changed in an instant.
Walking yesterday, my heels crushed chamomile
and released intoxicating memories of home.
Earlier this week, I wrote an old love, flooded
with need and desire. Last month I planted
new flowers in an old garden bed –
one grain at a time, a pattern is formed,
one grain at a time, a pattern is destroyed,
and there is no way to know which grain
will build the tiny mountain higher, which
grain will tilt the mountain into avalanche,
whether the avalanche will be small or
catastrophic, enormous or inconsequential.
We are always dancing with chaos, even when
we think we move too gracefully to disrupt
anything in the careful order of our lives,
even when we deny the choreography of passion,
hoping to avoid earthquakes and avalanches,
turbulence and elemental violence and pain.
We are always dancing with chaos, for the grains
sift down upon the landscape of our lives, one,
then another, one, then another, one then another.
Today I rose early and walked by the sea,
watching the changing patterns of the light
and the otters rising and the gulls descending,
and the boats steaming off into the dawn,
and the smoke drifting up into the sky,
and the waves drumming on the dock,
and I sang. An old song came upon me,
>one with no harbour nor dawn nor dock,
no woman walking in the mist, no gulls,
no boats departing for the salmon shoals.
I sang, but not to make order of the sea
nor of the dawn, nor of my life. Not to make
order at all. Only to sing, clear notes over sand.
Only to walk, footsteps in sand. Only to live.