Bravehearts, One and All

Photo: Man on balcony of Biltmore Estate by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of bravery. It intrigues and impresses me. I haven’t looked up the definition since elementary school, but I’m confident of its core meaning. It is generally equated with being willing to face and cope with unseen or unwanted challenges, to persist in holding steady or going forward despite strictures, opposition or hardship. It is about nurturing hope despite a current reality that serves to quash hope. Bravery involves finding reserves of strength though feeling weak, harnessing courage in presence of fear, and taking meaningful risks when one might be cautioned otherwise. It is standing up, stepping out, going forth because one must. Or one determines it more desirable. To do otherwise would be harder to live with even if there is reasonable chance of failure. Bravery calls for a deep moral fortitude, for a tensile mind and will.

Often it seems we don’t even know we possess these until we need to use them. They come to us at our command or perhaps with assistance. Surprised, we revel in new prowess it can afford us.

Then again, I may be kidding myself. How much do I know about the need of truly mighty bravery? It’s true I’ve had diverse experiences through which to assess such qualities in people, either first or second hand. But neither do they include the full spectrum of circumstances by which people develop then utilize an almost mythic bravery. I am not a trauma nurse or doctor, disaster aid worker, war veterans’ services provider–those who surely see this firsthand. But I am a retired alcohol/drug and mental health counselor. And I have been witness to a lot of true stories that caused my heart and spirit to lurch and weep and experience great joy for lives lost and found again.

But I don’t have to go to work to see lives being lived despite many perils. There are examples of this even on streets I traverse, places I go.

For months homeless men have made their shelter in a cement entryway of a nearby church. The doors remain locked but this area is free to use. In bone chill of rainy winter they huddled deep into worn sleeping bags or tattered blankets. Sometimes a radio could be heard. Sometimes they’d be talking with one another–perhaps two or three as if there was a limit–or sharing a hot or cold drink. As the seasons morphed into warmer days and nights, they’ve been there less. But mostly they are there, belongings piled up on carts or in plastic bags. They–or others–rummage in our garbage for salvageable food or cans and bottles to turn in. And when it’s a decent day for one reason or another or weather is more amenable, off they go. I rarely have seen them arrive or leave; they just are there and not there. They, like thousands more, live a nomadic life in our city. They are tough or get toughened in every way to just go on living.

They are brave urban street survivors. They endure so much of what we will not ever have to, if we enjoy better fortune. By that I mean we have adequate income to cover our needs, adequate care and medicines to help treat illnesses of all sorts, none of a variety of addictions (gambling is perhaps the worst) that plunge us far over the edge with little help of rescue. I’ve had many clients who lived in city’s forests, along streets in tents or boxes or in relentless heat and cold of the open air under the freeway overpass. Their feet get weary and wounded from walking–from poorly fitting shoes, no socks, no shoes. They live with hunger despite a free warm meal once a day and handouts. They get lonely except for a stray dog they feed scraps and then give a name to only to know it might be taken or die or run off, or a buddy or two they trust this week. They suffer from maladies that they just ignore or cannot get treated. Fight to keep what little they have from those who rob them, and suffer attacks from stronger and angrier people.

The ones who came to me for help desired a safe place for their own, even a very small room. Or a  corner under an awning or camping in bushes with no one bothering them since being in open air offers freedoms, too. Sitting in my comfy office I knew they came partly for respite a while, for dryness or warmth or air conditioning. And to talk and just be heard. To get help with an opiate, methamphetamine or benzodiazepine addiction; or bipolar  or psychotic episodes or recurrent depression with crippling anxiety. To find a way out of the particular rabbit  hole they found themselves in despite once dreaming and working for a far different life. No one expects to be homeless, after all.

Not often did they admit to being brave but they knew they coped with things a great many others cannot. And endurable and enduring street life is predicated on one’s wits, physical and psychic strength–being able to engage in fully operant survival mode. Some might say “dumb luck” also played a part in staying alive. Still, I’d remind them that basic bravery was a prime asset among internal  and external resources that worked on their behalf. That dipping into even a piddling spring of hope one day to the next enabled someone to not throw in the towel. Because often all appears lost to the mentally ill and physically debilitated, the addicted and traumatized. There is powerful value in this tool for survival, this bravery. To keep on until a better answer is found. And this often did bring them to my door, seeking change. Renewal.

Their sort of bravery works for them. It is not a choice often, but more a requirement. It is far different to have to deal with harsh realities and try to make a change than to choose to face fear in order to do something new that is engaging and meant for one’s own satisfaction.

Bravery is a potent quality for us all to use, however. There are people who stand up for basic human rights despite any backlash from naysayers. Those who sacrifice personal security or even their lives to help or defend others. People determined to generate improvements in quality of life despite opposition branding them variously as budget busters or out of touch with real communities or having too radical an approach to make viable change happen.

Then there are the rest of us, perhaps at first glance ordinary people, no celebrated dragon slayers. We live our lives quietly, industriously, but often with fervency, a sense of expectancy. We are visited by lesser and greater life problems. Our strong bodies get busted. The love of our life finds then marries someone else. A best friend behaves like an enemy, or worse yet drifts away without a backward glance. Our talents fail to bring us the supposed glory we envisioned. Our good education somehow prepared us for a mundane job. We fail our children in small ways that will haunt us or in a big way that is never beyond shamed and pained attention. Our lives can be dolorous, frayed by restlessness, thinned by loneliness. Tried in seven variations yet discovered wanting again.

But we prevail, anyway. We chose to continue tromping on our way. We’d rather try again–if nothing more than because we wonder what else is out there. Trying emphasizes seeking or finding opportunities; it implies better possibilities. Ones that are preferable to the present circumstance.

All that bobbing about on the river of life, or being impeded by rock, branch or uncharted, unnatural dam. All the re-routing we must make. It takes stamina, too. We do not get to live by instinct alone but also must engage brain and soul power.

When once I was struggling with my own upended life, a person of authority told me something that stayed with me ever after–but as an example of what was an untruth. She said, “Trying isn’t close to enough and is not the point here. Only victory over your trauma symptoms will be enough, but that’s unlikely.”

I was a teenager in a psychiatric ward where I was sent to “get over” a damaged childhood. I had had about enough of adults’ ignorant ways. I looked at the psychiatrist to see if she was joking. She was not.

I retorted, “Victory is right in this terrible trying I do every day and night. Don’t you tell me trying doesn’t count. I’ll succeed because I’ll try hard enough and long enough to figure things out. Get better, get out of here and go on.”

With her words to fight against and my stubborn pushing forward, I began to think of myself as someone who might rise above. Who could change things even if they needed to be done alone. I loathed that place with its high, narrow windows and guttural sounds all night long and the mind-numbing pills I rarely swallowed. I began to alter my internal life story from one of fear to a tentative then quiet boldness. I did not feel brave but profoundly longed to be. So I started to act as if I was. Increments of courage propelled me. I learned to endure a dim and haunted place where many seemed to be fading or forgotten. To feel their ruinous grief within echoing walls while sorting out my own. To scrub bathrooms with a toothbrush when I broke a rule. To float beyond it all while trying to block out someone screaming in the night. I would not succumb. I found even an approximation of bravery cast enough encouraging light to offer refuge until the real thing kicked in.

Of course more challenges lay ahead. But I saw a light and parsed out some of what might work to better reassemble the pieces.

That was an experience long ago lived. But today’s post has another, far happier genesis.

I was on the East coast last week and got to spend time with my oldest daughter, a sculptor who teaches at a university. Naomi (Falk, not Richardson if you look for her on Instagram) was buying rather esoteric and expensive items for an upcoming sailing trip to Greenland starting in July. (Rubber boots, dry pack, super dark sunglasses that cost plenty, special socks and other clothing, etc.) She made an iPad purchase and was been talking with the salesman about how she needed certain video editing capacities and waterproof features for a trip. He inquired about it further so she shared more. He “high-fived” her and peppered her with excited questions. A Hawaiian, he’d been following the return of a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe after three years at sea with navigation via only stars, wind and waves.

That conversation was a first and fascinating to hear. After two days with her I’d seen a different reaction. This man got it entirely. Usually when people asked and she shared the basics, they responded with mouth hanging open. Incredulous. Or they blinked at her blankly, repeated her statement but as a question, to make sure they heard right. She said something like this:

“I’m going on a trip in a fifty-one foot sailing vessel with a small crew and a few others for an artists’ residency. But it’s also about examining environmental issues, climate changes and how they’re impacting glaciers and Greenlanders. Yep, sailing up the East coast toward Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and then to Greenland’s western coast. ”

And she’d note: “I know only basics of sailing, but may not need to use my limited knowledge. I’d like to, though. I hope to scuba dive at some point.”

Or she would say: “Why am I doing it? Well, it’s not something I’d be expected to do. It interests me, the whole experience. I took a boat around and to the Faroe Islands last year, had an artists’ residency in Iceland before that– I can do Europe, for example, any old time. In fact, have gone and will go again.”

She was generally grinning while speaking, yet her essential equanimity always struck me. But that is Naomi. She gathers much information, cogitates, makes a decision and goes forward, even if there are more questions to be answered. She trusts her process and gut. She takes calculated risks, ones that many would not consider much less do. I consider her brave in more ways than one. Born at two and a half pounds, two and a half months early in the mid-70s when such preemies were not often expected to live much less fully thrive, she seemed pretty brave from the start.

“My brave and foolish daughter, dear Naomi,” I teased as we headed back to the hotel laden with her purchases, and we laughed even as I gulped a little.

And then I thought more about those words.  It’s not that she feels no trepidation. It’s that she does/creates/investigates unusual things, anyway. Isn’t that what it takes in life to keep the wheels turning? I mean all the wheels–the wheel of invention, the wheels of learning and time and creativity, of us becoming adaptable, goals being met and life being lived? We need common sense; I’m a huge proponent of the homely quality that withstands many stressors. But we need to take risks, too, that teach us what we are made of and what we may need to know. Lessons and insights that can connect us to more than our claustrophobia-prone, exclusive ways of being. And it takes bravery to take the first step away from all familiar toward something imagined but not wholly known. It requires visionary breadth to position ourselves in a scenario far different than what we know in this moment.

Whether life is terribly hard and wounding or safe yet empty of curious impulses, we cannot forge any new path without resurrecting our waiting bravery. And to do that may mean being a little foolish at times. Conjuring and planning what may not seem to make complete sense but which triggers a compelling sync with who we’re meant to be. Energy of anticipation. Magnetism of secret dreams unveiled. A sense of embarking on a finer adventure. Being true to our best selves.

We all are capable of being brave. In fact, I believe we are born to it. Perhaps we just forget in the morass of daily duties what bravery is, how it feels. It feels vibrant. (Even dauntless, not so foolish a thing to feel as we stumble–it’s like having a burly staff for balance.) We would do well to call it forth for ourselves and others, then do more good and be who we long to be. Call it forth even more under the press of worldly burdens and losses. There are days when opening the door requires a mantle of bravery for an emboldened step beyond the threshold. Find the heart to claim it and take a chance.

Naomi posing good-naturedly at McColl Center for Art+Innovation, Charlotte, NC

Whisked Away! (Despite Usual Protests)

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An evening stroll near our hotel

Well, my apologies. The firm plan was to write a short piece on Sunday evening for the usual Monday posting. But each hour and minute faded away and before long it was bedtime and then the alarm went off. And then I found myself on a plane. Those who know me realize this is not a prime event for me, in itself.  I do love to watch the clouds and landscape– until I remember where I am.

Folks who enjoy my blog are well versed regarding my spouse, Marc, who travels for his work. He has always done so. The last few years more than usual. I have had opportunities to go with him on some business trips but frankly, sitting in a hotel room doesn’t seem too appealing. And if he must entertain customers and cohorts in some packed steak house with lots of alcohol involved (by others as we don’t imbibe spirits) at the end of the day, you can see where that might leave me. Dying to get outside for fresh air, quietness and then a good book while propped up in bed. I mean, I’d happily go to a concert or take evening stroll by a lake, garden or even a tinkling creek. Or a fun venue where we could dance–but this is work time for Marc, not time to hang out, have a blast with his wife. No, travelling with him is like being at home but in another place–he goes to work, returns  tired and full of work talk where I pretend to advise him, we eat meals, and so on. I pick up his socks, tidy up the bathroom after he shaves. It can actually be fun, anyway, once past the mundane.

But let’s face it, going to a certain area, say, in Mexico where one needs to be escorted by a Mexican citizen from airport to hotel to manufacturing sites and back again–well, this rules out leisurely meanders along fascinating streets. Not to mention the uncertain water issue, since I would not be ensconced in a luxurious tourist resort. Oh, I wish. (Trust me, in all likelihood I’d be stricken; I have an unpredictable stomach as it is.)

Marc used to go to Japan frequently. I have few excuses for not going although I was working full-time back then. And way before that I was tending to a slew of kids. His European trips elicited some envy from me (Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, England, etc.–how I longed to shrink and stow away in a pocket), but quite likely that company would’ve declined to send me along. This despite my most invaluable business sense, as well as always balancing a budget and schedules for a family of seven. Imagine! (Perhaps oddly, I do enjoy business talks with my spouse and do try to figure out a game plan figure out co-workers. It’s like making up a story plot wherein I get to save the company millions and insure fair employment practices and am finally the heroine.)

No, he travels alone or with coworkers, even in the USA. It is a lifestyle so many must undertake due to career requirements. I have my family and friends, my daily priorities (plus my own job until four years ago) in Oregon. I am comfortable with solitude as well since the last adult child left 15 years ago. But his side of the story is that he asks me to travel with him and I do not desire to go. For example, two or three weeks ago he asked me to fly to Ohio with him. The Midwest, just a state away from Michigan where we grew up. It was to be a short trip, about 5 days. I declined. I had things to do, I said. Maybe another place. Like Chicago or New York City or Miami or San Francisco, anywhere in Hawaii or Alaska (the last two states I have not been to yet). Not Chillicothe, Ohio, not that week, despite a couple of historical attractions. I’m sure it’s a pleasant town–he told me so.

Do I sound a tiny bit petulant or sadly, worse? But I am truly not ungrateful for his offers. I just have my own preferences. For the most part they do not include flying, then digging in for days of hotel living, even well decorated hotels.

And then a little over a week ago he asked me for the tenth time if I wanted to accompany him on a trip to North Carolina. I’d always had one reason or another to decide against it. The small town he visits holds little allure for me. And it has been starting to heat up out there, the sort of hotness imbued with moisture that builds all day until you move through a veil of heat. Even if it doesn’t rain, one’s skin and hair thinks it has. The very air can seem oppressive to this Northwesterner; walking fast and long is out of the question. Good reason why Southerners speak and move more slowly. We once lived in Tennessee so I offer that opinion from experience. It was inexorably, deeply relaxed.

But I said, “Okay!” A trip is worth taking to try something new, I reminded myself. And to see one’s spouse somewhat more. Marc was surprised and pleased. We found a good hotel in a more metropolitan and interesting area.

I then noted the weather: thunderstorms off and on most of the week.

I began to visualize the following: me sitting or pacing more likely in a dinky hotel room–okay, it’s a roomy and pleasantly appointed suite, but still–and watching television and reading and maybe writing if I got inspired despite jet lag, chronic thunder and lightning with drumming rain and a bed pillow entirely unlike my own. I contrasted that with my daily power walks, writing at my desk, talking to neighbors and friends, music I love on the stereo, eating what I like to eat, going where and when I like to go…That is what happens to people who are not natural travelers, I guess: we can easily imagine less than the most satisfying scenarios. We even might catastrophize. But I kept my misgivings to myself a few days.

On the day before we were to fly out, I told the truth.

“What?” Marc said. “We have everything arranged. But if you really don’t want to come, then don’t, of course. But think about it a little more.”

I wanted to forego any further discussion and back out, period. I then did think of my husband, how often he must be out there working, ever working even during meals, how he goes back to a lonely hotel room. Falls asleep with television on, then sleeps restlessly.

And I also talked to Naomi. I neglected to mention earlier that my oldest daughter, artist and assistant professor, lives in South Carolina, about two hours away from where we would be staying. That meant we could visit her at least for a day. But she sounded so busy–she is working on art for an exhibit, she is doing some summer work at her university, and preparing to sail soon to…Greenland. She travels.

We also have a daughter, a chaplain who lives in Virginia, but it seemed she could not get away at all. Scratch the ole meeting halfway idea.

I have to put the following in quotes to feel like it’s a real conversation.

“I don’t know, Na, I’m now thinking I won’t go this time.”

“Why not this time? You haven’t come out yet with him in five years.”

“I’ll get too antsy in a hotel. Nowhere to really go without a car. Way too hot to walk far.”

“Rent a second car and explore.”

“I’m not so great at driving all over a new city. And it’s added cost for us–the company won’t pay for that.”

“It’s not that much, make sure there’s a GPS for the car, then take him to work! It’s only 30-40 minutes to his job.”

I’m thinking: she always has a solution. This kid has always had answers right and left, and she loves to travel, anywhere at all. I start to feel a bit pressured. I resume my defense.

“It’s supposed to thunderstorm most days.”

“Yeah, it does that off and on out here–remember Tennessee?”

“Yes, I do…I’m a good bit phobic about such thunderstorms, remember that? And I’ll be stuck inside and will get bored out of my mind. Well, I can at least write…but I do that here.”

“I think I can meet you this week-end, we’ll figure it out if you come.”

“I don’t know, Na.” But she about got me on that last sentence.

Naomi sighs, I can hear it despite the texting.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mom. Just go– just for somewhere new to check out!”

I consider this. I do like new places once I get my internal (and reliable) compass realigned and a little sleep. I think of seeing Naomi, too. It has been six months; it will be another six, likely.  She is sailing the sea to Greenland to see glaciers and unknown stuff!

I want to see her.

“I need to go with the flow, right, have a little adventure. I’ll let you know.”

And Monday I was on that plane to Marc’s delight. I also used to not like flying; now I’m better with it and that’s a good thing as it took us all day to set feet on ground in North Carolina.

About when we landed, Naomi texted me:

“What did you finally decide?”

I answered: “We have arrived!”

“Oh, good!”

I drag my huge suitcase (I do not pack like traveler, no) and we find a rental car. It is so humid my wavy hair starts to curl right up but much fuzzier, I can feel it.

What have I done since arrival? Not much so far. Walked for short periods in steamy weather that can take my breath away, though I feel oddly adapted after four days. Read and wrote a bit. Even found a leafy, delightful shopping district so naturally hot-footed it over there and had fun an h afternoon, even though my water bottle emptied too soon and it felt like I was crossing the desert but with a damp wind at my neck.

I also listened daily to bullfrogs or spring peepers and who knows what all that make a happy racket at a nearby pond. Are there cicadas somewhere in there? There must be; we are in the zone for those cool,  weird bugs. And I also wondered about snakes and bird songs. Mockingbirds, perhaps?

But I also packed my swimsuit and after a couple of decades of not once swimming, I eased in, felt that cool water gently cover me and was thus transported. I have worked on my side stroke and breast stroke and just floated about every single day. It has been heavenly to do that whenever I desire. (I need higher SPF protection, however…) We’ve had good meals, with more to come, and evening strolls. And tomorrow Naomi will drive up to meet us–I can’t wait! Then comes the week-end and Marc will be free a couple of days. We’ll explore the region, absorb experiences while catching up with our usual banter, debate and sharing. I will take my photographs, happy to let eyes roam over new landscapes and people.

The trip is not yet half over. Alright, I’m glad I came. There was a thunderstorm already. It was gusty and somewhat ornery and happily brief. There are more forecast near the end of each day, when it swelters. Can’t change that but my attitude is always another matter. So far, that outlook is open and good. In fact, I am appreciative that I get to do this. Marc was saying last night that he slept so much better with me around. And it’s good to hear that, to be here with him, see where he has been coming for so long. It’s pretty countryside with many deciduous trees for a change. And I have slept like a summer’s dream, too, waking up right and ready to check out more.

I’ll be back next week with a new post.  Time to head to that sparkling aquamarine pool!

Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: She Comes into Summer

Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

She tricks the eye. He is not prepared,
grace of shoulders aligned so strong,
feet of light that skim the earth
and her face, it is not what he recalls.
How it curves inside incandescent air
or is it her shine, this child soon
in flight beyond his scope of knowing?

It happens like this amid slogging
and leaping through his life, the falls
into capricious and unwise ways.
All the silt and slivers of rust mixing
with moonstone, wildflowers and luck before
he can right himself, sort what means what.
He fears he’s not made all good, done right.
Yet she still comes along. Forebears him.

When do daughters know they are
loved well or enough, he wonders,
then leans close to discern meanings
of expressions, spaces between words.
Once she was that fragile and wholly divine
he could hardly stand to hold her.
Now he peers into the well of his heart
to find her like sun glossing the waters,
like his own dreaming and her mother’s prophecy.

She comes into summer on a wind
from the west. Her fairy dress shivers
and her eyes are birds that must sing
and her trust is dispersed too easily
and he cannot watch all this changing
as she glides here and there, farther away.
But he will not cast off. Not now, nor any tomorrow.

Sights Set on Siblings (how about you and yours?)

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My dear Allanya, younger of my two older sisters and the only one left me. And it sure seems hats have become a family thing for shade and fashion…I must get with it! (T-shirt is one of several designed/hand drawn by her partner, a fine artist.)

I keep planning on getting back to more thought-provoking or inspirational narratives. (A good working title grabbed my attention yesterday. Since I like how titles pop up and grab hold, I may use it later; an idea is already making a comfy spot inside my mind.) But…early summer is upon us which means more time outdoors, sights to see, people to visit with–more basic and ofttimes long-awaited (while it rained for seven months) fun to  enjoy. Even–maybe especially– amid the heart-trouncing times when we are apt to feel too often helpless. So I do feel compelled to go out and find a variety of joys to add to my store, as well as share them.

That was easy to achieve with a visit from the younger of my two older brothers and my sister-in-law, Wayne and Judy. They are near-constant world travelers and zealous photographers (and exhibit their photographs). This time they only drove from back East across the United States, up the West coast and then paused in Oregon for about a week. So we got to hang out. I last was in Wayne’s company at my oldest sister’s funeral service in Texas two years ago. Our other sister and brother, Allanya and Gary, joined in during the visit, as well. We four are in our sixties through late seventies and are generally up to discovering whatever is curious, entertaining or educational–or otherwise are ready to something happen.

We share a few characteristics as family members do: mostly large blue or blue-grey eyes and generally early grey hair (mine came late in early sixties); musical talent; a lifelong love of learning added to a deep passion for all the arts; resilience and industriousness; heart disease and related issues; enjoyment of facile to ponderous conversation, often peppered with puns, light sarcasm or teasing; and an abiding sense of God’s Presence in one way or another. Of course, we sport many differences but you can tell we’re blood family when you see and hear us together.  We’re all creative so are a bit nutty, some of us more than others. (We also have some quirks, etc., of course–but that is not for this post!)

No one wants to think while telling tales, guffawing while scarfing down a tasty meal, strolling among refined gardens or indulging in nostalgia that this visit may be the last time we are all together…Those of us yet here, that is. If our oldest sibling, Marinell, could pass on sooner than expected–a sister so kind and capable, lively and eager to enjoy another day until she became rapidly, critically ill– we have to realistically accept that any of our troupe can also surprise us, one day stepping out the back door. We are trying to win this battle with a genetic tendency to falter and quit life due to heart ailments. But you cannot pull it off forever, likely–certainly not that exit from one world to another.

So I revel in our fewer times together–I, the last to be born, who felt a bit left behind at thirteen. They had all left for college in rapid succession. So I am yet the last one in line, still the one feeling: Hold on, stay longer, let’s make this gathering last and last. I am not ready to lose any other but then, we seldom if ever areI am terribly grateful for all the family I was given.

Over the last three days our simple, satisfying pleasures were such that I decided to post a sampling here. There are a few pictures of my siblings but not one of us all together due to our varying schedules, with meetings shared as best we could manage.

Have you seen your siblings in a while? I entirely recommend it. Think you have some differences of opinion that may create a wedge? Overlook or ignore them. Nursing an ancient grudge from childhood or a new one that has not been managed well? I hope you find a way to rectify the situation or just determine to improve that ill will. There is nothing like a brother or sister with whom to share a meandering story, a delicious meal, a belly laugh and an encompassing, deeply familiar and loving hug.

So to begin. You can see I was happy and excited waiting by my dining table with with a favorite yellow tablecloth and slightly wild flowers. I always have flowers about if possible. I’m thinking: ten minutes til the first hugs!

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We dined well on Thai take out as no, I do not cook much, anymore, and Marc declined due to being tired from business travel. He is not in this story as he flew out early the next day. (You might note that the left hand photo on the wall is brother Wayne’s; I believe it was taken on Santorini.) We caught up quite a lot, ate and later parted ways until the next day when we went to Washington Park for photographic explorations with more yakking.

Below is Mt. Hood rising regally beyond Portland from a viewpoint within our close-to-city-center Washington Park. It is a lush 410 acres of steeply wooded land and connects to our 5000 acre Forest Park in the urban area. It holds within it an array of delights including Oregon Zoo, Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, a small train to ride and a forestry center and more.

We focused on the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden. Near the bottom is brother Wayne and me.

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Following becoming half-drunk on 550 varieties of about 7000 rose plants’ wiles, their beauty and perfumes, we headed to the Japanese Garden, considered entirely authentic. I have posted many seasonal pictures of this garden. One of my favorite places in the city, I spent many hours there seeking refuge and solace (as did so many others) after 9/11. I very much value how it brings people together from around the world who visit our state. I continue to find it a healing place. High up above the city, the murmuring air and sweet green light imbues all. Enjoy a slideshow of some sights.

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Below are pictures of my brother focusing on a shot as well as Wayne and Judy trying to capture the leisurely yet oddly elusive koi with their cameras. They were so exacting as they looked for shots while I am snapping away at everything that caught my continually sweeping vision. Sister Allanya was caught off guard but good-natured when I snapped her in the last frame. (Note the hat on Wayne.)

We had a delicious salmon dinner at Allanya’s and her partner’s house and enjoyed lots of talk of books we were reading, and odd or fabulous foods we’d eaten. Snake wine, anyone? (Per brother and his wife, they were not able to drink that one.) That night we also went to hear oldest brother Gary play with his band Kung Pao Chickens at Laurelthirst Public House. They play Gypsy jazz/swing/bossa nova and have recorded several albums. Couples were enthusiastically dancing to the swing music. We met a niece and her guy there. At 79, my brother remains a hard-working, very respected jazz musician around these parts. He plays multiple instruments and also sings the old jazz standards, the same ones I used to love to sing. We didn’t tell him in advance we were coming; he was very pleased and surprised to see us. (Note the hat on Gary.)

The next day we visited Matthews Memory Lane Motors, Inc. Why? All of us love classic cars! We had a blast oggling, oohing and aahing, then taking a few pictures. It was hard to get full body shots as they were packed in rather tightly. But here are a few; feast your eyes. I’ll take the black Thunderbird, please. Or maybe the Packard.

We later stopped by Gary’s place. I like the outdoor spaces as you step through french doors, onto a curving back deck and beyond where my brother has a music clubhouse and his lady, Annie, a wonderful painter and print maker, has a light-filled art studio. There was a busy, bobbing chicken scratching around out there, too, but I failed to nab her portrait before she hid.

We ate a last shared meal dinner at Cafe Mingo, a fine Italian restaurant, and then it was finally farewell. My brother and sister-in-law were off to a photography workshop for five days in the State of Washington. Following that they are making their way through at least two more national parks before heading home. Altogether, I think it will be a 6-8 week road trip. Stout stuff they are made of, for certain but then, they’ve been to dozens of unfamiliar places, the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia and such.And have the photography files to prove it, which I love to peruse.

It was a happy visit, a good time had by each in our own ways. I am gratified that another year did not go by without my seeing all of us together again. I admire my siblings for all their accomplishments but mostly, I just love them (plus their spouses) simply because we are family. We are connected, no matter what.

We missed you and your sparkling laugh, Marinell.

Simone’s Summer of Unknown Wonders

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

The sun shrugged toward the horizon and the courtyard was coming alive again. Young men were circled up playing cards at a picnic table under a sole showy palm tree. Two middle-aged women were sipping iced tea on a bench, mopping brows and necks with tea towels. A toddler ran laughing and screeching from his father, who was barbecuing on his patio. The pleasant odors of roasting chicken with piquant sauce wafted across the grass. They mingled with other meals; grills were busy all over. Traffic beyond the wrought iron gates of Mistral Manor Apartments had changed from the busy commuters’ stop-and-go to revved up engines punctuated with sudden starts, then slurry stops. It was glorious June. The evening would stay warm and dusty, shimmer with summertime living.

Simone propped head on hand as she sat at the tiny round table. She traced the bright blue and coral tile mosaic tabletop she’d recently completed as she observed from her balcony perch. Just high enough to see beyond stands of trees, she could spot the customers going in and out from Cole’s Coffee Hut on the opposite side of the street. Tina and Harry Miles had left ten minutes ago, to be replaced on the deck by Carter and Gloria, Simone’s neighbors across the hall. They were bringing back an iced mocha for her and a caramel bar.

They were good to her. Everyone was good to her, and at times it felt something hiding pity and it soured in her.

But it was a decent start to an otherwise slow summer. Simone hadn’t really gone anywhere yet. The optimistic plan had been to get up and moving by the end of June, sign up for a harpsichord class, re-start easy exercise. Get in touch with Higgins and Hughes, the law firm she had worked for until the end of April. Creep back into the industrious lifestyle, those long hours of labor that paid off with week-ends of recreation. Well, no one and nothing was cooperating  with her wishes. April and May rained itself right into June and finally June was sauntering toward mid-summer with sunshine.

But here she still sat, immobilized by much. It wasn’t just a resistance of bone and sinew. How much time did it take to insert herself into a life worthy of living well?

Beneath her on a bench between the lavender, peonies and pots of red geraniums, Kari waved.

“Want me to come up there later?” she called. “I’m meeting Trey for dinner, then we’re off to salsa dancing.” Her hand flew to her mouth, eyes flicked to Simone’s legs. “I know you miss dancing… We’re just getting out of that oven of an apartment awhile. It’s been an age since we had a good meal, too.”

Simone smiled wanly at her old roommate, Kari, who had moved in with Trey last October. “Well, of course you want to get out. It’s a perfect night for it. And I’m not sure I miss the press of sweaty bodies in the clubs.  If my light is on when you get home, give me a call if you want. And dance happy!”

Trey emerged from the doorway of the apartment building and took Kari’s hand. She pointed up at Simone; he waved and they left. They were good dancers, Simone recalled, and a pang struck her.

She shifted in her chair and opened the book she’d tried to read for a week. It was something light, Gloria had said when she loaned it. Something beachy to lessen disappointment that there was no nearby beach. It might keep her mind off things, give her a laugh. But the fact was she  surprisingly still could laugh; she just kept thinking about things. About how it could have been different if she had made other choices. Just walked away that night of April instead of having continued a failing conversation that hooked her with a debate, then snared her in the argument and finally was trapped by the same old story: demands, pleadings, tears. Yes, that man could weep to beat all. And just as fast be transformed into someone unrecognizable, cold as steel, hot with rage.

Simone shook her head to clear it. The last thing she needed was Bart’s face looming at her all night. She flipped the page, read a paragraph, then read it again, a third time. No use. She pushed it aside on the table.

Four floors below there was a panoramic scene to sample, to absorb and wonder over. There was a small group circling up and she knew it would evolve into a long night of music. Two guitars, three hand drums, a rain stick, a flute or two, even a violin. It was Friday night. Whoever was around came down in hospitable weather and started up a song. Simone heard a penny whistle weave in and out and of a melody, light, clear and captivating. She caught her breath at the lilting sound.

“He’s back,” Simone said aloud and slid lower in her chair.

Sean McAllister had been touring the British Isles and Europe with his band for the last five months. He surely knew the whole sorry story by now unless he had just gotten in. Kari may have called him. He might be disgusted with the whole thing, with her, so was avoiding her. That’s what some people did, pass you by, treat you like a shadow if they were done knowing you. But then she also wasn’t partying, anymore. She had given up a great deal the past three months.

She fervently hoped he wouldn’t look up. Her face still looked less than what she’d been told to expect; progress seemed so slow. Bright pink scars zigzagged across left cheekbone and rebuilt chin, nose still was not what it ought to be, teeth still healing. But what she most wanted him to not see was her humiliation. The shame.

He, along with so many others, had warned her. He had come to her after the first weeks she’d been with Bart and he agreed that yes, Bart was charming, high-octane-ambitious, a raconteur. And also impossible, a man who couldn’t have it any way but his own–a man who could flip some hidden switch if you looked at him wrong. Sean had told her: “I know him, he was with a band I was in a few years ago, remember? As your old friend, as someone who cares about you for who you truly are–not only your outstanding good looks and intellect–tell him to shove off!”

At which point she had given him a swat across the head with her sweater and sent him back home with leftover spaghetti and salad from their long dinner.  Before he left on tour he’d run down from his place to again lecture her at her door.

“Simone, please break it off or you’ll regret it. I want to come back to find you happy again.”

Simone had saluted him. Sean enveloped her with a hug that threw her off it was so intense and she’d batted at him playfully. But she had finally, when he was in France somewhere, broken it off with Bart. Or tried to. And paid the price.

The Irish jig morphed into something eastern in flavor, became a melancholic tune. It dove into the rich, warm air, wafted through tree branches and it seemed to hold an undertow of longing. Simone shut her eyes. Let her mind wander to better times when all was less complicated. When she was not yet even twenty-five and a whole fine future awaited her. Peace came out from its hidey-hole and she was lost in daydreams.

Until she laid her hands upon both thighs and then felt the right leg cast clenching her flesh all the way to her hip while the left leg remained bandaged from half-raw wounds. It had been an accident. She had heard it and said it over and over. Had wanted to believe it even after she’d left the hospital. But it hadn’t been, not really.

No, not at all.

Bart had roughly ushered her into the car after they left the elegant restaurant, after he’d embarrassed her at the table when he’d argued with her and the waiter over the “incompetent service”. He had driven out to the Pointe like a madman and she’d protested so he slapped her as he drove, yelling things she had never heard before. She’d yelled back to let her out, she was done for good this time. And when they had reached the Pointe, the place where only last summer she had climbed the small jagged bluffs with friends, he had yanked her out and shaken her until her mind went to jelly. And then the tumbling, her helpless body bouncing off rocks and the rushing earth, the pain explosive and endless. Simone was filled with profound blackness punctuated with garish bursts of light. Then there was nothing and she entered nowhere.

Until a week later, when she awakened immobilized and ruined, astonished at what her ordinary life had come to. Everyone else was amazed she wasn’t paralyzed or dead. For Simone, it was nearly the same as that, a horror that she would end up there at all. She could not believe she had felt love for such a person. He would be end up incarcerated a long while, they told her. Another vehicle had arrived as she had tumbled over the ledge of rock, Bart like a statue as he watched her fall.

May he suffer dearly, they said at her hospital bed when they came to check on her, but in far more brutal words than that. She couldn’t know about his suffering. She hoped he was facing himself and feeling at least regret but expected otherwise. He was probably still angry at her, blaming her for his misery. If nothing else, he’d find it all a severe inconvenience. For Simone, there were court dates ahead and she dreaded them. Just laying eyes on him. But she had to speak up for herself even though it was too little, too late. Then she might begin to move on, forgive.

Simone’s eyes snapped open and focused on the scene. She stopped chewing on her lower lip and sat up taller. This was a peaceable place, this simple home. Her musician friends and neighbors played a lively song, improvising well. The two women who had rested and chatted were now gone and a group of children jumped rope, chanting rhymes she recognized from her own childhood as well as new ones. The sunlight was silkier as heat retreated, the sky a more tender blue. Everywhere she looked were people just living life on an early summer evening. They were spread out beneath her like a colorful safety net. She pulled balmy air deep inside and felt the knotty diaphragm release. She was grateful to be home at all the last two weeks, resting on her balcony, washed in a sheer golden light, courtyard noise a familiar welcome.

A broad hand, then long arm suddenly crossed her peripheral vision and also in it was her tall iced mocha in a clear plastic glass. Simone turned to see her sneaky server, then looked away, covered her face. How hideous she must look but Sean knelt and took her hands into his, placed his lips on the smooth center of the back of each. He lay his head in her lap a moment, arms loosely about her legs. She knew it killed him, that his warning had been insufficient, that all had unfolded even worse than expected. She felt a threat of tears, blinked them away. She would not cave to her own self-pity that could rain down like arrows, leaving points of entry more hurtful than flesh wounds. She would somehow be more than who she was before. Not less. She would not keep turning back and become frozen in time, in fear.

Sean’s head lifted and his eyes skimmed her face, then held her eyes. With the certainty of caring and an uncommon grace. Not one shred of blame. Not one word to bring her to more grief. He sat in the chair beside her as they watched the tableau brighten in deepening rose and tangerine of the enfolding sunset. As he put penny whistle to his lips and piped out a new tune, Simone felt her summer shift and turn and lift. Begin again.