Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grace and Grit

'Twas the season to be 'false'. Much of a month before Christmas Day there was just so much to do! (And what was it all for?) There actually is little left of religion in "Happy Holi-days". (After all, they are not so 'holy' for many of us.) And the Xmas lights (er, Christmas) got strung out and affixed to the balcony, and wound around the tree. The decorations got hauled up from the basement storage and cradled out. There was eggnog, carols on the stereo, with the fresh biscuits-a-baking too! All very festive. All very manufactured. All very commercial. All of it much of a made-up occasion to arrive at a certain date. All of it, really, quite expensive. (The cost of gifts quickly mounts like unmonitored money in a bank balance.) All contrived and historically inexact. Like New Year. For what? To celebrate a lie? To promote a Santa, a Father Christmas, or an Easter Bunny? (Oops, wrong season.) One must get one's dates right. Keep the lie alive! Just make it a consistent event. Or is there too much of a bah-humbug in my tone?

Actually, the effort required to participate in the season takes one out of oneself, as it were. It is best done with grace. And with grit! You've got to expend a different amount of time than usual when putting up tree lights, hauling out wrapping paper and writing cards and tying bows and... yes, shopping for presents. It becomes about thoughts of others. It becomes about a consciousness of family and friends and people in the past and the present, and it becomes a wish that all will find peace and joy and happiness and health and wealth and all the good things that time and circumstance can afford. And in that wish, one connects with others. And it all can be, should be, ought to be, good!

Who did not receive a Christmas card? (Who was not left alive to send one to me too?) The last time comes to us all. There is a finality that is inevitable, sad as it may be. And grief, sweet grief, lingers long and abiding until you too must die. We each take our turn. But it is of the living people who become no longer in contact with us that I herein think, not those already departed. It is of the very many relationships one has had to let go (especially by the time one is in the seventh decade of life,) that I now recall, because Christmas, that singular event marking the yearly passage of one's life, recurs to remind us all: where were you last Christmas, and with whom? And what of the same event ten or even twenty years ago? And what happened to the people of one's childhood, one's workplaces, the students and the colleagues and the friends and the very many people cared for along the way? Where’d everyone go?

Meryl Streep (although dubbed in an infamous tweet as an "over-rated actress") had it right, I think. We best lead our lives "with grace and grit." It certainly was the topic of her speech at the Clinton Convention. And so too was it the thread through her speech at her Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award. That our leaders be imbued with grit is a given, (it takes great perseverance to get to stand before a country as a candidate,) but to have grace, now there's a stick with which to stir the mud-puddles. There are so very many alternative ways to handling a situation, to responding to questions, to pressure, to crises, and to the climb toward wherever one is going, in every case. In every case, indeed. At all times. Grace is a quality of choice, ideally a consistency of character, and of measured practice such that it may be observed in the physical, yes, but even more so in the manner in which a person treats another. At Christmas time or not. (We give grace not only at the dinner table, just before a meal.) And so we give thanks for Christmas and New Year and Birthdays and the Easter Bunny too. It all is about care and gratitude. And that is the grace we perpetuate, or not: the treatment of others. Despite our grit.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Puzzling Pieces

Our lives are a constant muddle. We may appear to have it 'all together', but there are pieces of the whole puzzle that simply do not yet fit, are not easily to be found, and may even be entirely lost. Such is the feeling for those bereaved. There is a hole in the heart of things. And it may well take a keening agony of time before there is easy memory to make that missing piece of one's life yet again a part of the whole picture. But if the past is an organizing of details and dispositions such that great patches of the puzzle of one's life may be viewed as picture-pieces in themselves; it is the exacting 'final edges' of our own lives that we cannot yet make concrete; we are but to add each day to a series of snapshots that will eventually become blurred within the whole. (Isn’t it sad to see a respected youthful TV star become a dismal drunk in his 80's?)

As I write there travels together a nearby seagull, two crows, and a squirrel outside my car's window-view over to the parking lot. An unlikely grouping? Here with the traffic whizzing past on my right, and the concrete paving on the left, the otherwise bleak piece of this early morning's puzzle is enlivened by their vibrancy. (Unusual for me to be parked here, yes, but my wife is at the dentist, and I elected to drive her downtown.) And so I place this piece of today's puzzle in its slot. With more care and attention to detail I might draw out my explication, but much of our own pieces of life's puzzles remain in our own mind's eye. So too for the 1,000 piece puzzle we just completed recently. It took us much interrupted time, traveled with us in linked-together-patches in its box through two house-movings, and eventually became something we'd pluck away at on our to-one-side-table reserved entirely for the fun of piecing puzzles together! But like iconic memories of one's own, a single piece in itself is hardly of much significance until it is linked with its counterparts. Even then, the whole, when finished, is taken in with a sense of satisfaction, but not really examined in all its details. The birds, the squirrel, might only be given a casual glance. It is the highly irregular and most unusual that stands out. Yes, even an obituary can be reduced to but a single sentence.

Before I die there is much organizing that needs be done. For you too? For whom? Yes, those who follow us, who depended on or are materially linked to ourselves will much appreciate the right-way-up of things. They will want the will, the apportioning of particulars, and even the wishes to be carried out. But once all the pieces of one's life have been put together, and then dispersed (especially if there be many claimants), there remains but the essence of a person; the details, generally, get forgotten. "How many years has it been since she died? Was it in '96 or '97?... Really! She was 83!? Well, I'll be!" The puzzle-pieces that made up a lifetime remain apart.

Words define us. ("Well, I'll be!") Our colloquialisms are quaint and episodic, but fragment easily with our casual usage. My brother's recent visit was an exercise in being conscious of precision. He was much given to concrete reality. "As good as it gets," became our catchphrase. With all that was, that attended our being together after such vast gaps of time and space since our boyhoods, there was a sense of comfortable coordination, such that the edges and corners and straight pieces and even the picture we together make fit as neatly and precisely as the very puzzle of 60+ years of brotherhood has allowed. (For me it is as though some errant piece of the puzzle of my existence has been found.) And now, although he is already gone back into the box-like seclusion from which he came, at least I have a vivid and vital memory of him. (It is that sense of the "ta-da!" one says when a piece of the puzzle for which one has spent time looking, fits!)

Sometimes we have to make up the missing pieces. Not always do we have a picture to follow, to trace and paint, (as I did when four of our 1,000 piece puzzle-bits were not to be found!) No, we have to guess at what the links are between the concrete and the imagined. And we try to make sense of what and even why things happen the way they do. Indeed, for most, we do not get to leave a neat or lasting biography. In the meantime, it is in our accepting that what-is, 'is', that it is about "as good as it gets," indeed.