It is a short book, 173 smallish pages. And it is “serious” literary fiction. Why on earth would I pick up such a book, promising to be a hard read? Don’t know. But I did. And luckily I started it early in the evening, because I couldn’t put it down.
WAITING FOR EDEN, a finalist for the National Book Award, tells the story of Eden, a badly burned veteran who is not expected to live. It is also the story of his best friend, now a ghost, who waits to escort Eden to the Other Side, and the woman that they both loved.
How do you communicate when you can’t talk and can’t see? Eden finds a way, and it profoundly changes the lives of those around him, including his wife and the medic in the ICU ward. I found the tale to be raw and emotional, not sad but rather an uplifting tribute to the human spirit and the will to survive, whatever the cost.
From the nurse who cared for him on the night shift: “In his body she felt many things at once. Frozen soil. The bark of a tree. Baked sand. A handful of gravel. Glass, both shattered and whole. His textures were a mosaic of many, trapped in the inches of skin…In the space between them there was only her whispering:’If you want to go, go. But if you want to stay, sleep.'”
I felt replete when I finished reading this novel. I hope you will be, too.
This ramshackle house, about to collapse, with not one true-square corner to its credit, is how I wake up some mornings. Out of plumb, not syncing with the world I find myself in. My jokes don’t seem funny, even to me. My cat purrs and bites me at the same time. I stub my toe on the sidewalk edge I have stepped over hundreds of times before.
And then I have to stop and breathe. I’m fine. The world is fine. We will all make it through this life, together.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. ~The Velveteen Rabbit~
I am reminded that there is both joy and sorrow in Mother’s Day. Joy, for the present family connections. Sorrow and regret for mothers who are no longer with us.
But it also occurs to me that the primary attributes that we celebrate in mothers: care taking, love, empathy for others, are present in all of us, whether we arewomen or men, biological mothers or not.
For example, we are mothering when we take care of, and love the tools of our trade. I am reminded of my father, a carpenter and gardener, whose day in the shop or in the field wasn’t complete until all tools were cleaned of mud and grit, polished, and put back where they belonged. That way, he was able to lay a hand on them instantly the next time they were needed. His favorite phrase was, “Take care of the things that take care of you.” He was right!
We take care of and love, other living beings. It goes without saying that I spoil both of my fur babies rotten. They are talked to, coddled, and given the best places to sleep in the bed and on the couch. I, in turn, rearrange myself in the left-over space around them.
But care and attention also extends to the cats next door. One is a gray puss with big eyes, an outside cat with human-parents who sometimes leave for days at a time for work in another town. She’s learned that there’s a fresh water dish and food at my house, at the ready for her in a sheltered area. Her buddy, an orange Tom with a chewed ear, has found a home-away-from-home with two little girls across the street.
We love and take care of both our own children, and others. Watch what happens when a small child gets lost and separated from parents in a large store. Some adult will step up and make sure the child is delivered to the front of the store where a loud-speaker announcement soon ensues, to locate the frantic parents.
We love and take care of total strangers. Once when I was rear-ended on a busy street, I was helped from the car by the guy that hit me! And then strangers were dialing immediately for EMTs. Three burly guys pushed my car out of the traffic lane. We do these things, instinctively.
Where we fall down, sometimes, is closer to home. I am of the opinion that we don’t love and take care of ourselves enough. Sometimes I forget it is a partnership and not a dictatorship from the neck downward.
When I am mindful, I eat what my microbiome needs for nutrition and energy. I exercise, even when I don’t “feel” like it, so that my body gets the stretching and movement that it needs.
But often, when I flub up on a risk that I’ve taken or a venture that’s gone sour, instead of being compassionate with my humanness, I berate and judge myself in the worst possible derogatory terms. I am merciless with my scorn and derision for the failure.
I wonder, why I do this to myself?
Why can’t we be as mothering to ourselves as we are to others?
It’s something I’m working on, especially this very special of days, Mother’s Day.
When I was a little girl, my family had an old upright piano, black. We lived in a small house, so the only place available for it was in the baby’s room. That meant whenever he was taking a nap I couldn’t practice.
My mother engaged a piano teacher who came promptly on Wednesday afternoons to give me a lesson. We didn’t have a lot of money, so it was impressed upon me that learning was important. My mother, when she had a moment, would also sit down at the piano and play the old wartime songs from the 40s. I still have her tattered songbook.
I’d like to say I became an accomplished pianist, but instead I flunked. I think I was the only kid of nine–at least I felt like it–to get fired by a piano teacher.
Fast forward to my early 30s. My mother-in-law had a spinet, maple finish. A traditional housewife, she’d sit down to it in the afternoons, after the wash was done, the house cleaned, before it was time to start dinner, and she’d play old country hymns. I loved to hear her play.
When the opportunity arose, we bought a piano, a concert grand this time, because money was flowing. My daughter took lessons, and became amazingly good. Soon she was playing Beethoven Sonatas with gusto. I loved to hear her play. Sometimes I’d take lessons, too. But a heavy career prevented the good practice needed to advance and I never did.
When my daughter left for school, the piano was sold and the proceeds used to start a new company. A good investment, surely, in our future. But I cried when it left our house.
Fast forward to now. Living n a house separated from neighbors by a wide margin. No way I’d interrupt anyone’s conversation, even if I played loudly and badly. Semi-retired so time to play. I took the plunge and bought a new piano, a studio upright this time, walnut finish.
I moved the piano five times! I heard other people play it. But I never played it much myself. I had an abortive attempt at lessons and quit when the teacher shook her head and said, “Well it is nice that you know how to read music.” At least she didn’t rap my knuckles.
It was time to let go. But more than letting go of the piano, in a way it was letting go of a part of my mother, and of my mother-in-law, and of my daughter playing so brilliantly as a little girl. Letting go of the dream of someday, some way, playing casually, fearlessly, enjoying the music. I had to acknowledge it wasn’t going to happen, at least not in this lifetime.
I put an ad in Craigslist, and after a few abortive responses, a gentleman came to visit it. He brought his young son. And the two of them, each in his own way, sat down and played the piano. It came to life! I heard what the keyboard had been hungry for all these years.
I took the proceeds from the sale and bought a good classical guitar. The guitar is Canadian, with a cedar top and rosewood sides and back. It is hand-made with nylon strings, a very personal instrument. I cradle it and it hums.
I signed up for online lessons, and am learning to take short, frequent practice times while the fingers toughen up and develop the needed callouses. I know if I play with a pick the sound is more bright, but I like the softer, more visceral sensation of playing it with my own fingers.
I am learning to be patient with myself. In the first week I learned three chords! That was enough. I have the rest of my life to welcome this new companion into my life.
It was hard letting go. And yet, since I have been willing to do so, the music I always knew was within my soul rises to the surface each morning as I sit down to play. And I am content.
Charles Dickens in his novels of Victorian England used to speak of thick, foul miasma of air that stung the nose and burned the eyes.
We had that here yesterday as an inversion layer crowded the smoke to the earth, grounding the air support helicopters and spotter planes.
I attended a community meeting in Sedona that seemed to be a platform for showcasing the dozens of support agencies working to control the fire.
The nasty little secret they don’t tell you is that to ‘control the fire’ they actually burn more. I was surprised to hear that the fire which had consumed Oak Creek Canyon would now be deliberately increased to three times its original size by firefighting units to create a buffer of safety.
What they mean by this is that the priority is to save people and structures, period. The pristine slot canyon that was West Fork is no more. What wasn’t burned by the original flash fire is now being systematically bombed with napalm-like fire starters to burn out the little that is left.
On the canyon floor, fire rings has been set around all of the structures, to ‘pull down’ the fire from the slopes of the canyon to the floor to save the buildings. What this means is that there will be a narrow fringe of green around the buildings, surrounded by char.
Who would want to live in such a place? Who would want to visit it?
Perhaps my initial shock and disbelief has now turned to the anger stage of mourning. I hold two images in my mind: one of the canyon that I knew and loved in all its serene beauty, and the other, the blackened destruction created by the firefighters who actually at this stage are fire starters. It is difficult to find gratitude for that.
The road through the canyon will not be open for a number of weeks, if then.
I do not know when I will be able return, or even if I want to.
I’ve lived in Arizona for over 50 years, and for most of that time Oak Creek Canyon has been my haven.
I rode down the switchbacks in my girlfriend’s boyfriend’s ’57 Thunderbird, when it was brand new and we were, too. I had my Senior High ditch day at Slide Rock. I swam naked in the creek with one boyfriend and was proposed to by another, sunbathing on the red rocks near the creek.
Oak Creek fed my soul. When my first marriage was disintegrating I’d come down to the creek and stick my feet in the water and just cry until my toes were numb, and then dry my eyes and my feet and pick up the pieces of a challenging life.
This pristine beauty has been a sanctuary and an anchor for me, and I thought it would be always be there. Now it is not.
Larson Newspapers Slide Fire aerial
In just 24 hours, with 40 mile per hour winds and 10% humidity, the fire started north of Slide Rock and raced through the entire canyon. What had been a lush, green oasis in the desert, visited by something like 4 million people a year, is now a blackened crater.
I should be grateful. Thus far no structures have been damaged or people hurt. Part of the canyon, the lower part, they say is still at present intact, untouched by the fire.
Yet I mourn what has passed from my life and never will return.
I can never again experience the healing green, the murmur of the creek, the perspective from the top that said, “It will be OK. This, too, shall pass.”