Yesterday a 23-year old-woman asked me what I’d tell my younger self if I could go back in time. “Moisturize your neck,” I answered promptly. “My neck is like Dorian Gray’s picture.” After she walked away, clearly disappointed, I realized I’d turned into one of the Erma Bombeck paperbacks I’d scoop up at yard sales as a child. Or am I now a Nora Ephron? Whatever, man. The grass is always greener over the septic tank.
I had such a lovely break from the city–sunrises by the sea, swanning on tree-laced hammocks, cartwheeling in big fields–and such a bumpy reentry. On the drive back a glass-encased candle–an uncrossing candle, no less–exploded in my car, my phone abruptly went dead and still is not fixed as I type this, and so many serious accidents took place on the highways that the normally 3.5-hour trip took 7 hours. It’s not just that my nerves were shot; it’s that I could feel everyone else’s were shot, too. Finally somewhere in Connecticut I broke down in tears–the messy kind, not the pretty kind– and had to pull to the side of the road. Aloud I said: “Okay, higher spirit. You’ve secured my attention. What do you want me to know?” In response I could not just hear but see the Rilke quote: You must change your life. And here I’d thought I already had, though I guess thus far said change has been inflicted rather than invited.
I know some of what I need to do but if the rest were obvious or easy, I’d have done it long ago. This is, after all, the human experience: We learn by expanding our horizons, by stepping out of our comfort zones, in this case literally. Living so isolated from nature drains me to a degree I only acknowledge on the rare occasions I’m by the ocean or beneath a tree by myself. Yet the craving for unadulterated fields, for the noisiness of birds and wind and crickets, pulses beneath all the decoration of my New York life no matter how I try to drown it out. It grows even stronger in the shadow of dystopia. As I zoomed back to the city I no longer love monogamously I still could the heartsong I breathed in that big air; how to return to All That now looms as my biggest question though others should take precedence. Being middle-aged, it turns out, teaches us to heed older rhythms and wiser notes than what our tiny brains can measure.
Grace is glad I’m back, anyway. My friend takes my absence so seriously that I could hear her weeping as I climbed the stairs to my apartment. Witches and their familiars should never be parted.
Today is the twelfth anniversary of my youngest goddaughter Luci’s birth. From the minute I met this person as a pie-eyed, very round infant, she possessed the ability to meet people where they are and smile them into an exchanged joy; when she was a toddler, she did so wearing only a diaper and very muddy ladybug boots. Yesterday—the day before her birthday, mind you—I received a tiny envelope. In it was a rainbow pendant of Mother Mary. “I knew how much you love Mary,” she’d printed. “So I had to get it!” That she sent it at all was lovely; that she instinctively sent it during Mother Mary’s month is just amazing. I am grateful for many things in my life but being a godmother to this star flower and her sister-star Delia is high on that list; ditto for their mother Melina, my partner-in-crime since first grade. Chosen family is a miraculous thing, and so is peony-scented love.