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Monday
Jun242013

The Long Goodbye

popsicles and abandon on the back porch last summerEzra started calling Ed my brother when they were three.  Ezra and Ed, and later, Ed's sister Reece, converged on the sidewalk in front of our houses innumerable afternoons over the past four years, learning to  toddle, tricycle, scooter, ride bikes.  We parents sat in the shade of the giant old maple tree watching the kids wear a groove in the sidewalk. When I found out last month that Ed and his family were moving, I went into a tailspin. 

I was supposed to have another baby and I forgot and now it's too late and Ed's moving and now Ezra is going to be alone forever!

That hysteria mostly waned in the ensuing weeks, but it helped if I tried not to notice the growing tower of packed boxes through their dining room window.  It's not fair to say I'm so sad every time you run into your neighbors on the sidewalk.

I want a brother, Ezra told me recently.  Apparently he knows which button to push to send me into paroxysms of self-reproach. 

Do you want a brother like Cooper? I asked him later, as our friend's three-month-old played on the floor.

No, Ezra said.  I want Eddie to live with me.  Like me, Ezra doesn't relish the thought of a baby around here.  Like me, he wants the insta-fun of developmentally appropriate friends.  Is it too much to ask for the new mystery neighbors to have a five-year-old boy?

A windstorm last October brought a huge piece of their old maple crashing into our yard.  A tree service took the rest of it a few days later.  No more meeting place.  No more shelter from the hot summer sun.  Maybe that old tree was the ballast and without it, it was inevitable that one of our families would fly off into space. 

During our last-hurrah gathering, all the grown-ups tried to huddle in the shade of the small Catalpa that's left.  We gave up and moved the party into the back yard where the space was shadier, if less communal.  The kids stripped down completely, tearing through the house and yard with unselfconscious abandon for hours.  They partied like it was their last night together, and maybe it was. 

We adults don't have that kind of freedom, but we have beer and sappy speeches, and wiped-away tears.  We have all the customary things to say: We'll stay in touch.  I hope your new commute is easy and your new neighbors are great.  We'll come crash your pool some time. 

What we mean is

Don't forget us.

We'll miss you.

Thank you for growing up with us.

I hope we're not alone forever.

Wednesday
Jun192013

Death in Summer

The geese at the lake are aggressive at this time of year.  They hiss and squawk at the dog and me when we run by in the morning, warning us not to come any closer.  Downy little goslings toddle in line behind their fearful mamas.

A June Friday night calls us to the lake on our bikes, three in a row.  Will rides the funny swing bike he just found on Craigslist, the one Ezra giggles at and calls the wiggly bike.  Ezra just proudly sized up to his Big Bike, 16 inches of rolling speed demon, and I ride the beach cruiser gifted to me last year.  Every time I ride it - often this time of year - I think of Jackie in her new life on the West coast, and Dylan, gone too soon.

Freedom hangs in the lake air on Friday evening.  No cars to avoid on the bike path.  The smoke from the nearby wildfires has cleared in the summer breeze.  Swings that go higher on demand, 'til your stomach drops out, your hair blows back, and you squeal.  The weight of another week lifts away in the clear golden light.

On the ride home toward dinner and a date with the DVD player we stop under a tree.  I notice first the several geese nervously shifting their weight back and forth, huddling near their goslings.  One goose honks plaintively, hovering over a baby convulsing on the ground.  Will and I urge Ezra onward, but he can't be pulled away.

Ez, let's go!

Rooted.

I don't want to get a first-hand look at life and death on Friday night at the park, but I guess that's what's happening.  I park my bike and go crouch by him.  From here I can see the baby gosling's intestines in the dirt, the plaintive mother goose and the baby's last twitches.

Why does that baby have a hole in him? Ezra wants to know.

I think an animal got his mouth on him, I say, probably a dog.  You know how animals have predators?  Well I think one hurt that baby goose.

The mama goose honks and squawks.

Why is that big bird doing that?

That's the mama and she's so sad because her baby got hurt, I say and the baby's twitching slows.   That's what mamas do.  If you ever got hurt I would cry and cry and I wouldn't be able to go on, I add, before realizing I don't want him to identify too closely with the disemboweled chick.  But I won't let anything happen to you.  I silently pray that this is true.  Let's extend for a while longer the fiction that mamas have the power to protect our children from pain.

Isn't there a doctor that can fix the hole in him?

Ummm, I don't know of any goose doctor.

Why can't Daddy fix him?

Daddy's really good at a lot of things, but I don't think he knows how to fix that goose, I say.

The goose is still.

Ezra is quiet for a minute and then asks, When it dies, is it dead forever?

Exhale.  Yes.

Why?

Because that's how it works when you die, I say, wondering if this is really true.  I am mystified by this last breath, this single moment that is the fulcrum between being and no longer being, the tipping point from which there is no return.  You can be so alive and then... not, with barely a warning.

Sit down, my friend Chuck said when he called me four years ago.  Dylan died last night.  And suddenly I couldn't breathe.

My brother's friend went dirt biking in the desert last weekend and never came home.  Search crews found his bike, wrecked, and followed his footprints for a mile.  They found his body lying peacefully, hand on his heart, his brilliant blue eyes open to the vast sky.  He was so alive, and then he wasn't, his last breath scoured by the hot desert winds.

Ezra watches the still bird at the foot of the tree carefully.  The honking has died down too.

Do you want to say a little blessing for him?

We are both puzzled about how this works, but I try.

Great Spirit, I offer, please help guide this baby goose through the transition.  Please help him find a place with lots of water and no dogs and no pain, forever.

Somehow it is enough for Ezra and we get back on our bikes.  The evening caresses us on the rest of the ride home.  It is the perfect night to be alive.

Wednesday
May222013

Irresistible

Monday
May202013

Made of Stars

Wednesday
May152013

Fear, Invitations, and a Little Film

This is what summer on Jen's block looks like.

The truth is, I am terrified to create.  Also I'm terrified not to. 

In the tension between these two things lives a little voice that says it would be so much easier if someone would just ask me to make something.  I know that art springs from a place of granting yourself permission, or maybe of a compulsion too strong to resist.  But there's still a part of me too timid to claim this for myself.

A year ago, Jen Lemen said, come here for a weekend and let's make some art.

And as I was boarding the plane I thought well, I couldn't ask for a more direct invitation than that.

I landed in the midst of a whirlwind of emotion and I watched through my camera, wondering if it was rude, or voyeuristic, or crazy, to record this stuff.  I decided to sit in the discomfort, and also in the love, just witnessing it.  I thought maybe the camera could hold space for all of us to process our own moment.  Mostly I wanted to be part of creating something that was both beautiful and true.  I hope we did that.

Today over at Hopeful World, Jen is releasing our little project to the light.  I am so grateful for the invitation to create with Jen and for the nights that I sat side-by-side with my friend Dustin editing. Let's make more things that are beautiful and true.