“More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.” ~ Charlie Chaplin, from The Great Dictator (final speech)

I’m embarrassed to say that I had never seen this clip before. So incredible . . .

                   

Just us. Quoted from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940):
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

“But happiness is brittle, and if men and circumstances don’t destroy it, it is threatened by ghosts.” ~ Marguerite Yourcenar, “The Man Who Loved the Nereids,” trans. Alberto Manguel

Sunset in Plymouth, Massachusetts, by kmohman (FCC)

“I feel the dead in the cold of violets
And that great vagueness of the moon.

The earth is doomed to be a ghost,
She who rocks all death in herself.” ~ Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, from “I Feel the Dead,” trans. by Ruth Fainlight 

Saturday evening, party cloudy and very mild, low 60′s.

Yesterday evening was the viewing for the kids’ grandfather. It was held at the same place where we had Caitlin’s funeral service. I hadn’t been in that building since 1988. It was painful crossing the threshold.

Sunset over the Indian Ocean by ((brian))

I cannot say too much about being there as I felt very removed from everything, on the periphery, as it were. There was the family, my ex and his new love, my children, the evil step-m-in-law, my s-in-law, and a bunch of people, some of whom I knew, but most of whom I did not. I felt like a crasher at an intimate party.

Afterwards, I decided against attending the funeral and graveside service today. Everyone was going over to evil step-m-in-law’s house afterwards, and I knew that I definitely did not want to do that, and I didn’t want anyone to have to make a special trip to bring me home, so I erred on the side of discretion. That, and the wife told Ann that she could not speak at her father’s service as it was “not that kind of service.” Ann had held it together really well throughout the evening, and then she asked—probably to more to be polite than anything—if she would be able to say something and was shot down.

What kind of service does it have to be exactly for a daughter to say a few words about her father? Enough. It was the final blow for me. I never have to see that woman again, and if I do, it will be too soon.

“Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.” ~ Edward Hirsch from “ Was Never able to Pray”

My f-in-law was dressed in his Navy dress uniform, and an American flag was draped over the coffin. As with most of the dead, he did not look like himself.

Pacific Colors of Dusk by W Mustafeez (FCC)

How can the dead look as they did when living? That which made them the persons they were is gone. That light is gone. That spirit is gone. That soul is gone. All that is left is the shell, and if we were a more civilized society, I think that our burial rites would be more akin to ancient funeral rites: a burning on a pyre, allowing the body to return to the earth, the spirit to places unknown.

I think that if there were no cemeteries, those of us who cannot let go might be better able to move on. If we witnessed the burning, the resultant ashes, we might be better able to close that door. I know that this is a very odd statement coming from me, the woman who loves cemeteries, but I know that those places, the graves, the monuments and memorials, the flowers and trees—they are all for the living, for those left behind.

Burning makes sense. As does floating off to sea on a wooden bier. Give back to nature what belongs to nature.

Sorry if I’m offending anyone.

“It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “You Begin

What defines us? In spite of what the media would have you believe, it’s not the physical. Certainly there are those who are defined and identified as their physical package, and those of us from afar make judgments as to what kind of people they might be, but what do we know, really?

Reykjavic, Iceland Sunset by borkur.net (FCC)

How do I define myself? What makes me the person that I am? Is it my heart? My brain? My thoughts? My political party? My social affiliations?

You might be wondering why I’m wandering down this path again, but the statement by the evil-step-m-in-law really, really rubbed against the grain of everything that I believe. She is all about appearances, what is acceptable, what is proper. Yes, social etiquette has its place; it keeps us from eating with our hands and cleaning ourselves with leaves. But to be so caught up in what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do, to allow that to determine the right way and the wrong way to grieve—it’s just too much.

It’s like the color black. No, listen, I’m going somewhere with this. Black used to be the only acceptable color at funerals, just as white used to be the color for weddings, and white was the only color allowed at Wimbledon. Archaic. A widow who wore a red dress to her husband’s funeral was considered a hussy. But what about the woman who chooses to celebrate the life she had with her partner? What if red was a favorite color?

What we wear to honor the dead is not nearly as important as what we say and think. And what we say to others about the dead isn’t nearly as important as what we hold in our hearts.

“It is impossible not to notice that our world is tormented by failure, hate, guilt, and fear.” ~ William Saroyan

But this is not my fight, as much as I wish that it were, it is not. So I did the best thing and stepped out of the picture.  As much as I would love to have that final confrontation with the evil-step-m-in-law, I will not. I’m not a complete barbarian. As she left the funeral home last night in her white Mercedes, I thought for a moment about how she was going home to an empty house, and for a second, I felt sorry for her, and then I thought about the old Ford that my m-in-law used to drive, and the years that she went home to an empty house, and any pity that I may have had went away.

Sunset over the Tasmin Sea, New Zealand, by multitrack (FCC)

Brett asked me last night why I never let go of anything (it was completely unrelated to anything I’ve been discussing here), and I told him that I didn’t know, that I just couldn’t.

But the fact is that I have learned to be much better about letting go of certain things. I make a real effort not to hold onto my anger with Corey, something I was never able to do with my ex. I would nurse a grudge forever, or until I felt he had made sufficient apologies. Then I learned that an apology isn’t worth anything if it is forced. It is words, mere words.

I have made myself let go of my feelings that my eldest son loves his father more than he loves me, and in doing so, I have come to really appreciate having him back here with us, and we rarely have the kind of conflict that we used to have when he was in high school. Perhaps we have both grown.

So in some very real ways, I have learned to let go, but as I said to Brett, I will never let go of Caitlin. I simply do not know how, nor do I want to.

More later. Peace.

Music by Morgan Taylor Reid, “Simply Human”

                   

I Was Never Able To Pray

Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.

~ Edward Hirsch

“The Most Terrible Places . . .”

 

A Visit To Buchenwald

4870761030_9137a5c886_b

Ari Kohen reflects on touring “the most terrible place I have ever been in my life:”

Having been to Buchenwald, it all seems so much harder to believe than it was when I was listening to survivors’ stories, learning about it in school, or going to a museum. But it becomes almost unthinkable to travel here, a few miles from the Goethe and Schiller houses, and to try to imagine how people could build a place like this one, let alone how they could live in its shadow. They went to the neighborhood bakeries, they read great literature, they played with their children, they walked in the local parks. It is unimaginable to me, especially when I think that these were regular people and not devils. We want them to be monsters because only monsters should be capable of this; but that is one of the principle lessons, I suppose: regular people perpetrated these monstrous crimes and so it is regular people — us, all of us — about whom we must think.

(Photo by flickr user Vincent Desjardins.)

 

“ . . . Our real fears are the sounds of footsteps walking in the corridors of our minds, and the anxieties, the phantom floatings, they create.” ~ Truman Capote

Cottage in Bowd, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

“But mostly they were lies I told; it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t remember, because it was as though I’d been to one of those supernatural castles visited by characters in legends: once away, you do not remember, all that is left is the ghostly echo of haunting wonder.” ~ Truman Capote

Thursday afternoon. Cloudy and warm, mid 60′s.

Cottage, Hemingford Abbots by gillpenney (FCC)

I slept fourteen hours last night, with only a few interruptions. The house was very quiet and the dogs accommodating. I feel better for it. The choice was between doing the dishes, folding clothes or beginning a post. Not much of a choice really. So here I am.

Last night, the kids went with their father to their grandfather’s house. Corey picked up Brett from his night class and dropped him off there. I imagine that it was one of those uncomfortable gatherings in which people spoke about nothing of consequence as the reality was much too hard to acknowledge. My heart aches for the loss my children are feeling, and I feel strangely guilty that I don’t feel more.

I’m not sure if my heart is in protective mode, in denial, or completely closed off. I would truly hate to think that my distaste for the evil-step-m-in-law is clouding everything that I feel about this man. That would be too, too small-minded. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I just don’t know how to express this, so perhaps I shouldn’t even try.

“Still, when all is said, somewhere one must belong: even the soaring falcon returns to its master’s wrist.” ~ Truman Capote, from Summer Crossing

Well the other big news is that Corey will be going to Lithuania next week . . . yes, you heard me: Lithuania. You know, that little country on the Baltic Sea?

Rustic Kitchen (photographer unknown)

Apparently, that’s where the ship is in the yard, and the company is putting on a minimal crew to move the ship from there to Cape Canaveral, where it will begin its new route. At first, we thought that he would be leaving this Saturday, but now the departure date has been extended a week.

This change in plans means that Corey will have to pack for both cold (very cold) weather and warm weather. He has mixed feelings about the whole thing. I mean, Lithuania? But at least we now have a clearer departure date, which means that we can all begin to acclimate ourselves to the idea of his leaving.

Truthfully, I know that it’s not going to really hit me until he is gone—the idea of him being gone for more than a few weeks is hard to wrap my brain around. I mean, everything changes, absolutely everything. I’m really hoping that my breathing is back to normal before he goes because Tillie the lab is going to need some daily exercise so that she doesn’t get lazy or out of shape. I plan to do morning walks with her, but breathing without wheezing is actually a necessity for such things.

“The wind is us—it gathers and remembers all our voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and the fields.” ~ Truman Capote

Anyway . . .

Now that I’m beginning to actually feel better, feel as if I’m getting some energy back, I look around at all of the things that I need to do: I need to do everyone’s taxes, need to complete next year’s financial aid for Brett and Corey, need to deal with the pile of whatever in the corner of my room. It’s so easy to throw a shirt on a stool, but before you know it, the shirt has morphed into some kind of dark blob that has taken on a life of its own.

This bathroom here . . .

Thankfully, all of the Christmas decorations are packed away. I ended up doing most of that myself as I knew that I would. In moments like that, I almost agree with my mother’s declarations that decorating is a waste of time. I said almost . . .

Overall, the house needs a really good cleaning, and I haven’t felt up to it in weeks and weeks, so now everything is reaching critical mass, well at least in my eyes. I often wonder what happened to the woman who used to clean the entire house each Saturday—polishing the furniture, scrubbing the floors, vacuuming everything—where did she go? Perhaps she left in exhaustion. Of course, that woman got by on five or six hours of sleep a night, exercised each morning before work, and worked full time.

Yes, exhaustion . . .

But as I said, a change is indeed going to come to the abode, and everyone needs to get on board.

“So the days, the last days, blow about in a memory, hazy autumnal, all alike as leaves: until a day unlike any other I’ve lived.” ~ Truman Capote

I came across a Truman Capote quote on my tumblr dash, and thought to myself, “yes, it is indeed a Capote kind of day.” I have long admired his descriptive abilities. It’s as if his diminutive body was filled with nothing but words, words that he poured forth in huge bursts, and then when he ran out of words, he stopped living.

This view from my bedroom window . . .

He died quite young in 1984 at only 59, of liver cancer, a result of years of alcohol and drug abuse. I always think of Capote in terms of burning out rather than fading away.

I remember assigning “A Diamond Guitar,” a Capote short story in one of my American literature classes. What was interesting was how much some of the students really hated one of the characters. To accomplish such a thing among audiences is a good indication of how the characters were so well drawn, enough to give rise to hate and empathy. It was the same semester that I assigned Carson McCullers’s novel Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I saw/still see many parallels between McCullers and Capote, their writing, their tortured lives.

I do so miss teaching literature. It used to distress me to no end when one of the boys would come home from school and tell me that his English teacher said that X story meant Y and only Y. Teaching literature in a vacuum is unpardonable in my eyes . . .

“Did you ever, in that wonderland wilderness of adolescence ever, quite unexpectedly, see something, a dusk sky, a wild bird, a landscape, so exquisite terror touched you at the bone? And you are afraid, terribly afraid the smallest movement, a leaf, say, turning in the wind, will shatter all? That is, I think, the way love is, or should be: one lives in beautiful terror.” ~ Truman Capote

I know that you will probably think me quite mad, but in thinking about all of the things that I need to do around here in this house, my thoughts are drawn back to the kind of house I used to imagine I would be living in when I was young. I never imagined a brick ranch in the suburbs, and I have no desire to live in a cookie-cutter McMansion. I always thought that I would be living in a log cabin or a big open loft, or an old farmhouse. The idea of living in a rambling tree house is also quite appealing, the very hap-hazardous nature of such a structure.

This potting shed-cum-writing studio . . .

I envision white rooms that are not carpeted with wall-to-wall, but colorful rugs, lots of toss pillows, comfortable niches in which to curl up and read. The kitchen would be like a farmhouse, with an old solid wood table. The bathroom (or at least one of them) would have a claw-footed bathtub. The floors throughout would be wood planks, and the windows would open out not up.

Outside would be an huge herb garden—lavender, mint, verbena, rosemary, thyme, Russian sage—the smells from which would drift in through the open windows. There would be lots of trees, perhaps a small orchard, wildflowers and roses, climbing vines around the front door. Birds would be frequent visitors. As would butterflies and dragonflies.

Adirondack chairs on the back lawn. Within view, would be the sea.

My whitewashed country cottage by the sea. Some dreams never die.

More later. Peace.

Music by Peter Bradley Adams, “Wait for the Faithless”

                   

Before You Know What Kindness Really Is

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, from The Words Under the Words

“I told her once I wasn’t good at anything. She told me survival is a talent.” ~ Susanna Kaysen, from Girl, Interrupted

Sunrise on Hambledon Hill, Child Okeford, UK, by MarilynJane (FCC)

                   

“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic . . . Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.” ~ John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and cooler, high 40′s.

Ann called early this morning to tell me that her father, my kids’ grandfather, had died. She’s lost both parents within five months.

Frosty Sunrise, Morebath, UK, by me'nthedogs (FCC)

I was never as close to my ex-father-in-law as I was to my m-in-law, mostly because he wasn’t an easy person to be close to. He was a very quiet man who spent most of his time watching sports and old war movies, or sitting in his study looking through his stamp and coin collections. He was a Navy seal before they were called Seals (UDT), and our friends used to joke that he would probably die one day sitting on the couch, drinking a soda and watching a game.

After he retired from the Navy, he became a middle school shop teacher, and it was at the middle school that he met the woman he would leave my m-in-law for after almost four decades of marriage.

Once he left my m-in-law for the evil step-m-in-law, I saw little of him. My ex used to take the boys over to his house to fish when they were younger, but as the years passed, my kids mostly saw their grandfather at Christmas and possibly once during the summer. That is until his health started to decline. Then there were the visits to the hospital.

The man smoked way too much, and his body finally caught up with the smoking—emphysema, COPD, and finally, cancer.

I think that I will miss the idea of him more than the actuality of him, if that makes sense. It’s hard to quantify my feelings as I felt for a long time that he completely abandoned his family. He left before the boys were old enough to know him, but Alexis was the grandchild who was closest to him for the longest time. She loved her Grandpa, and she is feeling the loss keenly.

“I am haunting your dreams,
conducting these fevers
from a distance,
a distance that leaves me weeping,
and storming,
and bereft.” ~ Katie Donovan, “Yearn On”

It’s very strange, this losing people in your life. I acknowledge that this is the natural order, that people inevitably get older and die; this does not make the process easier to bear.

Through the Trees, Dorset, UK, by MarilynJane (FCC)

I find that as I type these words I am more numb than anything. There have been no tears, and I’m not at all certain that I will go to the services as I am unsure of my welcome there. There was never any question with my m-in-law, but this is different. The evil step-m-in-law made it quite clear after my ex and I separated that she was cutting me out of that side of the family.

Perhaps I’ll go and sit in the back. I just don’t know. I suppose that I will take my cues from Ann and the ex. In this, I am only a bit player.

I keep getting flashes of memories, just glimpses, really. Nothing concrete: him sitting on the end of the couch, an RC Cola in front of him. His biggest physical exertion came through golf. Although, I know that he did take up growing roses in later years, which is odd as he never spent any time at all in the yard or the gardens of my m-in-law’s house when they were still together. She did all of the yard work, kept the house, did all of the cooking. The house was her domain, the garage his.

He sat. A lot.

I remember that she told me that he never took care of the kids when they were babies, no bottles, no diapers. I suppose it’s one of those generational things. Instead, he usually showed his feelings through the things that he made. He was a master woodworker, and he built all kinds of things through the years, everything from small Christmas ornaments to blanket chests and coffee tables. He built a set of Adirondack chairs for the evil step-m-in-law that I coveted.

“before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.” ~ H.D., from “Eurydice

Years ago he had promised to build built-in bookcases in the living room for me. It never happened.

Strange the thing one remembers in the midst of trying to remember more significant things. When I was writing about my m-in-law, the memories and thoughts came like a flood, one upon another, unabated. Now, it’s more like staccato, intermittent, jerky.

Morning Mist on Hayward's Bridge, Dorset, UK, by MarilynJane (FCC)

On reflection, it must sound terrible, like I have no feelings whatsoever about the man, his life, or his death, which is not true. Perhaps it’s more that I loved him as he required love: with more reserve, less open emotion.

I wonder how much guilt he bore in later years, how much he thought about his long marriage, his relationship with my my-in-law, if he realized how much he hurt her, how much disappointment his actions bred. I wonder if it ever even occurred to him. I do not know, yet I do not believe that he was a man prone to serious introspection. I could, of course, be completely wrong about all of this.

“‘Who are you really, wanderer?’
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
‘Maybe I’m a king.’” ~ William Stafford, from “A Story That Could Be True

This post isn’t at all what I had in mind when I sat down here, although what I had planned I really couldn’t say for certain.

Misty Sunrise Over Robin Hood's Bay, UK by PaulArthurPhotography (FCC)

The pageant of people who travel through our lives is part of what defines us. Some of those people we choose, and others are chosen by fate. Some of them become part of our lives for just a moment, and their departures barely register in significance. Those in whom we place the most significance, those we open our entire hearts to—they are the ones who leave deep indentations in the tapestries of our lives.

The longer they stay with us, the more that they contribute and require, the richer the pattern of the relationship.

My personal tapestry is many-colored, and the fabric is both rough and smooth. At its center are the richest colors and the tightest weaves. Everything radiates from the center. In my mind’s eye, it is crimson and purple and gold; it is as smooth as velvet and as rough as burlap. The stitching is as fine as it is irregular. There are rips and tears that have been mended again and again.

But it holds.

At the center are Caitlin and my father. The births of my children. My marriage to Corey. There you will find the embellishments of first loves and the tears from first heartbreak. Everything radiates from this place of love and loss, truth and lies, poetry and prose.

Somewhere in the bottom right corner is where you will find my father-in-law. Here the fabric is a heavy twill, sufficiently strong to last, without glamor or added decoration. This is not a place of dishonor or disregard, but it is not the center. He is there, firmly enmeshed in that part of my life that is the permanent periphery.

As the song says, “We’re older now and still running against the wind.”

Peace be with you and yours.

(I had a heckuva time figuring out what kind of pictures I wanted to include with this post. I finally found some lovely pictures of mists at sunrise from different places in the UK.)

Music by Bob Seger, an oldie that I heard on the car radio this morning that felt strangely appropriate: “Against the Wind”

                   

January Drought

It needn’t be tinder, this juncture of the year,
a cigarette second guessed from car to brush.
The woods’ parchment is given
to cracking asunder the first puff of wind.
Yesterday a big sycamore came across First
and Hawthorne and is there yet.
The papers say it has to happen,
if just as dribs and drabs on the asbestos siding.
But tonight is buckets of stars as hard and dry as dimes.
A month’s supper things stacks in the sink.
Tea brews from water stoppered in the bath
and any thirst carried forward is quenched thinking you,
piece by piece, an Xmas gift hidden
and found weeks after: the ribbon, the box.
I have reservoirs of want enough
to freeze many nights over.