“It is rescue work, this snatching of vanishing phases of turbulence, disguised in fair words, out of the native obscurity into a light where the struggling forms may be seen, seized upon, endowed with the only possible form of permanence in this world of relative values—the permanence of memory.” ~ Joseph Conrad, from “Henry James: An Appreciation” (1905)

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, UK

                   

“the world’s so small, the sky’s so high
we pray for rain it rains, we pray for sun it suns

we pray on our knees, we move our lips
we pray in our minds, we clasp our hands

our hands look tied before us.” ~ Nick Flynn, from “Fire”

Tuesday afternoon. Hazy, hot and humid.

The Green Bridge of Wales, Pembroke, South Wales, UK, by geographyalltheway.com (FCC)

Well, I survived the weekend. Saturday was an endurance test, and when it was over, I fell into bed and slept hard. The many nights of interrupted sleep were gone. My body gave in to exhaustion at last.

The memorial service was very nice. Many people from her congregation shared stories about her, and the reception afterwards was very nice. Several congregation members (some of whom I remembered, and others that I didn’t) came up to me during the reception to say that they had enjoyed my reading. One woman said that it made her wonder what her children would say about her when she died, which made me wonder what people would have to say about me when I’m gone.

Then we (all of my kids, Corey, Ann, Mallory and I) went to her house and sat around for hours. We looked through her things and shared memories. We found a bunch of old photographs, her wedding album, her baby book. We drank wine and ate the leftover food from the reception. It was more than a bit surreal.

Of all my children, Alexis took it harder than anyone. She had a very special relationship with her grandmother, and she is feeling the loss acutely. She closed herself off from the rest of us, didn’t want to be hugged or comforted. We all grieve in our own way. After all of us left, Alexis stayed behind (later I learned for a long time). I think that she wanted the time alone to say goodbye.

The rituals we go through when we say goodbye to those who have died—so strange, yet so comforting. I know that they are for the living, not the dead, yet I’m not entirely certain that I would want people coming together to remember me. I suppose there is always the fear that no one would come and then if they did, they would not have good things to say . . .

I’m still having moments of unexpected tears, melancholy. That I seem to be getting a chest cold is not helping.

“The part of us that has to be burned away is something
like the deadwood on the bush; it has to go,
to be burned in the terrible fire of reality, until there
is nothing left but . . . what we are meant to be.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Irish Coastline

Everyone seemed to like the collage, which is good. The hours that I spent making it really helped me. With each picture, I had a memory. Moving the images around to find the perfect place felt a bit like reliving each memory. I let the pictures speak to me, and when I was finished, they ended up where they were supposed to be. It’s really hard to explain.

I’m sending a CD with the separate images and the collage to Helma in Germany so that she can share it with everyone over there.

I was telling Corey that when you see pictures from the 50’s, everyone looks a bit like a movie star. I don’t know if it’s the black and white film, or the fact that everyone was always so well groomed—perfect hair and makeup. The pictures from her wedding were remarkable. All the men so sharp and handsome. The white gloves on the women. There is a picture of the then happy couple as they left the reception, and my m-in-law is wearing one of those fox furs, you know, the ones with the fox head and feet? So chic then.

Those always terrified me as a child, like someone had just coshed the animal over the head and then draped it around the woman’s shoulders.

The woman in the pictures had sleek hair, bright eyes, a tiny waist. She was young, happy, and filled with possibilities, her whole life before her. I know that she had a full life, that she saw many places, did many things, and I’m trying to hold onto that, not the last years when life was so unforgiving.

“And much of this I fancy you yourself have felt: much also remains for you to feel. There is an unknown land full of strange flowers and subtle perfumes, a land of which it is joy of all joys to dream, a land where all things are perfect and poisonous.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Sea Cave Pembroke, South Wales, UK, by geographyalltheway.com (FCC)

My mother came to the service. I looked at her and realized that she has shrunk so much, in that way that old people do. She told me the other day that she has gained weight deliberately so that she won’t have so many wrinkles on her face. My mother is 79 years old, yet I know that she does not see herself as being that old, any more than I feel as old as I am. She said at one point that she didn’t like being around all of “these old people.” She meant it.

During the reception I was watching her. She seemed so bewildered by it all. And I felt sorry for her because I knew exactly what she was thinking: Will there be people who miss me when I’m gone? Will there be people who say nice things about me?

What is a life? Is it the sum of all things done or is it a reflection of things never done? What defines a person, gives them worth? Religious people, of any kind, would say that a life is defined by the service to the maker, living a spiritual life.

I would have to admit that I have no answers to these questions, only more questions.

“I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter. We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide.” ~ James Kavanaugh

Trebarwith Strand, Cornwall, England (Pixdaus)

When I found the above Kavanaugh quote, I thought about which part I could delete so that it wouldn’t be so long, but then I realized that I couldn’t delete any of it because the entire quote sums up so much of what I feel. I am a searcher, always have been. And I have never been content, not really. That is not to say that I have not had periods of great contentment, because, of course, I have. But if you read me regularly, then you know that I move through a veil of melancholy.

It is just who and what I am. I have those I love deeply, for whom I would do anything, anything at all. I have a man I love completely, who has brought me great joy and a sense of peace that eluded me for years. Yet I would be lying if I said that I was truly content.

But exactly what is it that I search for still? I don’t know. Not really. I can only say that I feel as if I have so much left undone in my life, that while I have done many things, seen many places, tasted many flavors—that while all of that is true, I have still not done all that I had hoped I would do in my life.

I suppose if I had to sum up my life at this point, I would say that I am a daughter who was always lonely for a sibling, a mother who has always longed for a lost daughter, a spouse who has always felt that I should be more. I am perpetually on hold, and that is because I have not moved forward. I live in the past, haunted by loss, and I long for a future somewhere else, somewhere verdant and lovely.

In spite of all my education, I long for more. I wish that I could sit in rooms and discuss Eliot and Woolf on cool fall afternoons as the sun shines through the windows. I long to explore those authors I have yet to read, to immerse myself in new stories, new words set in far-flung places filled with people who are living life, people who are feeling.

I have a hole in my heart that will never be filled because I will not allow it to be. I have lined the walls of that red chasm with my father, my daughter, my uncle, my friends; I have poured into that bottomless vessel all of the memories of old loves and long-ago days. And unlike most voids, this one sustains me. The negative space defines me.

I dream of thunderstorms and turbulent oceans. I smell the faint scent of lavender and honeysuckle. I taste the last dregs of cold cups of tea.

I am a searcher in a world that has little room left for those who wish to explore.

I am old, and I am young. I am everything, and I am nothing.

More later. Peace be unto you and yours.

Music by Kate Rusby, “Underneath the Stars”

                   

Song of Tea

The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second cup breaks my loneliness.
The third cup searches my barren entrail,
but to find therein some thousand volumes of odd ideographs.
The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration;
all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores.
At the fifth cup I am purified.
The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals.
The seventh cup—ah, but I could take no more!
I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves.
Where is Paradise? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.

~ Lu Tung

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“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” ~ Norman MacLean

  

           

“Many a time have I merely closed my eyes at the end of yet another troublesome day and soaked my bruised psyche in wild water, rivers remembered and rivers imagined. Rivers course through my dreams, rivers cold and fast, rivers well-known and rivers nameless, rivers that seem like ribbons of blue water twisting through wide valleys, narrow rivers folded in layers of darkening shadows, rivers that have eroded down deep into the mountain’s belly, sculpted the land, peeled back the planet’s history exposing the texture of time itself.” ~ Harry Middleton
Currituck Sound, NC

Sounds of soft rain outside the window, punctuated occasionally by quiet birdsong. Much cooler temperatures. The perfect day to read a book . . . or perhaps not. 

I have been thinking about water—rivers, lakes, oceans. I was reading Janson’s blog today, and he was talking about his affinity for the Atlantic Ocean, how it is so much a part of him. I can relate to that. The Atlantic is my ocean. I have lived on both sides of it. I have seen its brown-green hues to the north and its amazing blues to the south. I have swum in it, floated in it, dived beneath its waves, and traversed it in different crafts. 

I have sat on the shoreline and let the waves roll over my feet, tickled by the froth of receding water. I have watched fiddler crabs scurry away from the waves, and open-beaked pelicans dip below its surface to catch food. 

No matter where I go, I always feel that I am home when I exit the Hampton Tunnel and see the Chesapeake Bay spreading out before me. No other air smells like sea air; no other air feels like the salt-infused spray of sea air. 

“Rivers are magnets for the imagination, for conscious pondering and subconscious dreams, thrills, fears. People stare into the moving water, captivated, as they are when gazing into a fire. What is it that draws and holds us? The rivers’ reflections of our lives and experiences are endless.” ~ Tim Palmer
Dark Hollow Falls, Skyline Drive, Virginia

It is no coincidence that when I choose to go somewhere for vacation, it is almost always to a destination that is near water. Even in the foothills of Virginia, I can get the two things I love to see the most: water and mountains. Peaks of Otter in Bedford, Virginia overlooks Abbott Lake. This mountain retreat is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Guests can sit on their porches at sunset and look out on the beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains. 

When we go to Skyline Drive, I love most those paths that lead to water, like Dark Hollow Falls, a small natural waterfall. Chincoteague is an island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia where Corey and I have spent a few long weekends. A short drive to the south is the Outer Banks, a favorite day-trip to see the dunes of Kitty Hawk where hang gliders try their skills. 

I know that I get my love of the water from my father, whose hometown in the Philippines bordered on a powerful river. My mother is terrified of the water and cannot abide boats. Yet one more way in which they were opposites. 

My father taught me to swim in the Chesapeake Bay. My mother would always worry that I would fall into a sinkhole and drown, which actually does happen. 

But it’s more than just bodies of water. I love rainstorms, thunderstorms. One of my favorite memories of my father was sitting on my parents’ back porch with my dad, both of us silent, just watching the lightning and listening to the rain and thunder.  There is something mystical and magical about water. It holds the power to create and the power to destroy. It nurtures, and it kills. 

“But I also know that in places, the river still runs deep, and though I’ve floated it in these places, it hasn’t revealed itself in such obvious ways. I know that it might be months—years, even—before I understand what it has to teach me. I still need to give myself over to the flow and pattern and rhythm of it to learn its lessons and hear its messages. The river is inside me now, I know, and I need only wait and see where the current takes me, and what lies beneath it.” ~ Jeff Wallach
Mountain Swimming Hole Similar to St. Mary's

I know that I’ve mentioned diving naked into a deep pool of mountain water while hiking on St. Mary’s trail near Steele’s Tavern, Virginia. It was probably one of the most sensuous moments of my life—sensuous, not sensual. All of my senses were heightened: the feel of the cool, clear water on my skin, the way that mountain water has a smell like no other water. It was like being bathed in the water of life. I mean, who knows how old that body of water actually is, when it was formed. 

Water is timeless, which is what is meant by the saying that you can never step into the exact same body of water in the same way because the water has moved, shifted, traveled, and so have you. Neither is the same as at the first meeting. Still, water never seems to forget those who are at home in it. Slipping into a pool of water is completely natural to me; for me, there is nothing to fear. 

The human body is between 55 to 78 percent water. Almost 71 percent of the earth is covered by water. The human brain is 70 percent water, and the lungs are almost 90 percent water. 

Water of life. Water is life. The two are inextricably intertwined. 

“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath . . .We get one story, you and I, and one story alone.” ~ Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
Cascades, Virginia

Water has been the source of inspiration for writers, painters, and poets since time began. Claude Monet devoted years of his life to the water and water lilies surrounding his home in Giverny. His water lilies paintings ranged from small to room-sized. The hues and shading in this series are so deep and luminous that it is not hard to imagine seeing what Monet saw. 

Water is infused into every part of our lives: songs (“Cry Me a River”), books (Peace Like a River), poems (“At Blackwater Pond”), movies (Titanic). One of the books that I used to teach in my literature classes was Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It’s a lovely little book about one woman, Edna Pontellier, and her gradual awakening to life and its possibilities. Throughout the book, Edna undergoes a series of encounters with water that leave her both enervated and rejuvenated. Water and Edna’s relationship to it is the primary liet motif of the novel. 

In one of my favorite movies and books, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the two main characters are destroyed by their all-consuming love. Katherine dies in the desert, but in the last lines that she writes, Katherine speaks of life and death in terms of the senses: “We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.” 

That description has stayed with me for years. The people who have come into and left our lives throughout the years are like rivers of wisdom, each of them teaching us something, not necessarily something we wanted to learn or to face, but some piece of knowledge nevertheless. We swim through the waters of our own experiences, each day, each month, each year, moving with the flow of time, not smoothly but like water over rocks. A force that cannot be stopped.  

“I am one of the searchers . . . We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter.” ~ James Kavanaugh 
 
 

Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay 

In my life, I have walked beside many waters, tasted the brine and the sweetness. I have sailed atop the water in small 16-foot sailboats and aboard huge ships. I have dived in fearlessly, and I have stood back, content to watch the ebb and flow of the water in its endless movement.  I have decided that when I die, I want to be cremated and to have half of my ashes spread on the Atlantic Ocean, and the other half spread on the foothills of Virginia, the places I have loved the most. 

I do not desire to be planted in the earth, to take up space in some container. I wish to return to the soul of the earth, to the very hollow of existence, to become part of the ever-changing beauty, the evolving mysteries, the eternal rhythm that is the essence of nature, this life, this world. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Great Lake Swimmers, “Mariner’s Song” 

                                                                                                          
At Blackwater Pond
  
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
 
~ Mary Oliver