Last night, it rained so hard that it woke me up. I walked around silently closing the windows all around the house. It was an interesting night because I found myself dreaming what felt like a very long saga of a melodrama about changing patterns. As with many dreams, it was vivid at the time and harder to remember the blurry edges now that I am awake. Suffice it to say, it was vividly about changing patterns, sequences and designs of layouts in a fantasy world of characters I did not recognize and at the same time, felt like myself.
When I woke up (a second time,) I felt that the Universe had shifted slightly and that the dream’s gestalt had permeated my consciousness – at least I remembered its energy as being very positive at the same time that it was challenging me, as if to pose an important question. Yes, I said to my inner self. Instead of looking at health issues as the glass half empty, it’s time to look at the broader context of our lives as brimming with all good things that we worked hard for and which we may now enjoy together.
A case in point is an experience G. and I shared last night while watching a documentary of the Polish pianist, Piotr Anderszewski, filmed by Bruno Monsaingeon, a master producer of intimate, poignant films about famous musicians, notably of Sviatislav Richter, near the end of his days. I observed as the film progressed, how intently G. listened to the music he played. In parallel, I also listened intently to a young man (at the time) who was difficult to watch sometimes in his facial expressions, but whose playing was infinitely musical. In a way, it was a paradigm of the kind of intimacy that we share in our married life together: individual reactions, yet shared at the same time – and in the end, compatible in the assessments we make separately when we discuss them later on. It is a rare thing, I think – and each time it happens, I am touched by it.
In any case, I messaged a pianist friend of ours about the documentary to let him know about it and he returned almost immediately with a Youtube clip called “Technique Doesn’t Exist!” featuring one of our favorite pianists, Maria Joao Pires. It turned out to be almost an hour long so we’ll watch it together this evening. The opening of the Pires clip showed her and one of her star pupils playing Schubert’s well known Fantasie in F minor, four hands together on the same piano. This is a piece that I’m familiar with, having played it with others and also listening to Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia go at it in one of my favorite recordings. It gets a little bombastic in the middle but that’s the way it goes.
In an interview online, Anderszkewski related that in Warsaw during Chopin competition years, the local populace’s passion for it was similar to ours with football. In fact, he recalled in 1957, that his Aunts got into such a disagreement about who played Mazurkas the best that they stopped speaking to each other for weeks! His sister, Dorothea, is an accomplished violinist who is a concertmaster of one of the major orchestras in Poland. The pressure to practice at an early age coming from their strict father has obviously been rewarded by two ardent musicians who enjoy each other’s company musically as well as being siblings.
All of this, the changing pattern dream-like message, the music we witnessed separately and together last night and the cool, rainy Sunday morning that we are enjoying with our coffee this morning has made me realize that in fact, it’s time for a change. With an all-day rain predicted for today, I’ve decided that tomorrow would be good timing to transplant a bed of a half-dozen dark red day lily plants from a side plot that has been shadowed by trees to a sunny front garden which has successfully evaded a permanent planting of perennials so far because previous attempts have been unwittingly mowed down by mistake every summer up to now.
With the soaking rain today, it’ll be easy to weed the front plot, add some loam, dig up the daylilies which are robust and healthy and transplant them while the ground is soft and yielding. Maybe this time, after mulch is added, I’ll pick up a little plastic picket fence divider as a boundary to protect it until the transplants get established.
Most interesting is the strong impulse to play the piano again today. To review and enjoy some of the pieces that we played for each other twenty years ago: the second movement of a Mozart sonata, Bach partitas and even perhaps some Chopin ballades and mazurkas!
Life can indeed be seen as a glass half empty or as one that is half full. Ours is the latter and it only takes a little prodding every once in awhile to renew that perspective and enjoy our good fortune. With thanks and gratitude to the Universe which moves in mysterious ways and to a family whose understanding and love is appreciated every day.
Although I’ve had this book, “The Big House” (written by George Howe Colt) on my shelves since it was published a decade ago, I’ve just recently found and read it again. It is a poignant memoir about a huge weathered house on the Cape that has been in his family for almost a century.The first few times through, I was put off by the somewhat lengthy digressions that he makes about the “white WASP” Brahmin society from which he derives. Everyone goes to Harvard. Everyone, it seems, has money that they don’t have to earn. There is a degree of genteel snobbery towards others as well. And there’s plenty of marital discord, infidelity and alcoholism, not to mention mental illness to go around.
This sounds rather harsh, but perhaps it’s because I am one of those immigrants who drive by these majestic homes along the North Shore or on the Cape, where the “big house” is located on Wings Neck looking over Buzzard’s Bay and wonder to myself “who are these people” who live in these homes? Now we know, at least for this particular huge house near Woods Hole on the Cape.
Truth be told, my own home lies within a “big house” too. It’s a Queen Anne Victorian house built in 1899, at the turn of the century a few years earlier than the Wings Neck House, built in 1901. Colt’s family is one of those lucky ones where real estate overlooking the ocean is built by an ancestor, then handed down for almost a century for future generations to live in, rent out or to wait until such time that it is sold, the proceeds divided among the survivors.
Reading Colt’s description of what their “big house” meant to him, his wife, children and his large family of fifteen cousins over the years gives an insider’s look at their family. He describes times when an S.S. Pierce truck would pull up to the house, unloading staples like Keiller’s orange marmalade in grey pottery jars; Jones’ breakfast sausage and enough bacon to serve the hordes for breakfast every morning. Also beautifully described, because the author is a writer by profession, is his love of books, particularly his descriptions by title, depth and variety of books shelved in every room of the 13 bedroom house. When it’s his turn to pick something to keep from the house, it is the turn-of-the-century volumes of Dickens he read as a child while lolling on the chaise longue in one of the sitting rooms of the house.
There are estrangements between husbands and wives and financial constraints that hinder the family’s wish to keep the big house in the family even though taxes and repairs are a yearly burden. Yet, this large family holds itself together with a pervasively gracious consideration for each other that permeates the ending of this great house. The last quarter of the book is worth re-reading just to witness how the family interacts with each other as bids come in from developers who want to raze it to the ground and name a subdivision after their family, “Colt’s Pointe.”
I will let you read the book yourself to see what happens to the house, letting you know that it is not unlike the outcome of “Howard’s End,” that beautiful novel where a house becomes a living character in a story that has its own destiny, out of reach of what people want or don’t want to happen, no matter how fiercely they struggle with each other as tragedy unfolds.
As for living in our big house, I look around me to appreciate again the hard work and resources that have been poured into renewing this place, the quality of the woodworking and materials and most of all, that we have the good fortune to live in the spacious vaulted space with skylights that it provides us with. And on a smaller scale, books shelved everywhere.
Reading about a big house on the Cape has re-ignited my appreciation of our own house: the cherry floorboards up the original staircase with cherry bannisters, the wide board pine floors on the upper floor where we live, the cedar shake siding that clads the house, handcrafted copper gutters and downspouts, the stained glass windows on the first floor that abut the wisteria bower where a family of cardinals live.
Life is long, I am wont to say. Rather than cramming as much as we can into our day because we are fearful that “life is short,” and could be cut off at anytime, I am impressed over and over again by observing how life unfolds when we seem to have virtually nothing to do with the outcome. I don’t know why I landed here in a second marriage after a long, unhappy first one that had left me high and dry. Nor did it seem possible for G. and me to make such a fitting home for ourselves relatively late in life.
All I know is that our glass is more than half full and when we partake from it, it’s helpful to remember the effort that has gone into making it so. And to be thankful.
“When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.” (Lao Tzu)
I don’t know if this quote is attributable to Lao Tzu or not, but it sounds like him, doesn’t it?
A variation that might follow along that theme is this quotation:
“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
I don’t know who said that, but it strikes close to home for me. Throughout many years, being out on my own from an early age, raising children during a long and unhappy first marriage, then patching together a life afterwards with a demanding career in mid-life, I’m habituated towards feeling like my glass was half empty even though my brain might tell me that it was probably more than half full, most of the time.
Yesterday, I don’t know how this happened, but I woke up from that errant dream of being vaguely unhappy. Here’s how it came about.
A ritual I’ve taken on every year after Christmas was to look for the perfect winter coat at the after-holiday discount sales: a puffy but fashionable shiny black down three-quarter length coat with a huge, luxurious coyote or fox fur hood (real) that I had glimpsed in the New York Times Style page years ago and carried the clipping around in my wallet. This hunt served as amusement (or served as withdrawal from holiday shopping,) with a succession of coats tried on, delivered and then, mostly returned to the seller. Sometimes, I would buy one, then give it away to one of my daughters when they needed one more than I did. And so, the elusive coat search continued, at least until now.
Over the weekend, I looked at Patagonia, North Face and Nordstroms before I somehow found myself looking at “vintage LL Bean” listings on Etsy yesterday. I’ve been a fan of LL Bean for their quality, classic stock, especially in decades past. On about the eighth page of listings, I came upon a 1970’s vintage duffle coat, size Medium, in a deep army green with a yoked back, hood and a blue/green woolen plaid lining. It hung gracefully on the model in the photo, not crumpled up and bedraggled like others that were also online. In any case, as soon as I saw it, I instantly felt that the grand hunt for my winter coat was over. It had no fur trim, no contemporary flourishes, just a plain woolen coat that reminded me of my youth, truth be known. I also happen to have a loden shearling hat that G. doesn’t use and a Barbour tan and forest green plaid scarf that matches the color of the coat. Turns out that I had the accessories before I found the coat.
I don’t know if I can convey the sense of home or grounding that I instinctively felt with this coat. Perhaps you know what I mean. It’s as though one goes out looking for something and it turns out to be hanging on the line in your backyard or in a wooden storage chest that you forgot about or something.The other thing that this coat has done is to bring me full circle “back to my beginning” (a la T.S. Eliot) from the extravagances of decorating, food, gifts and spending that the holidays entailed; including taking everything apart, repacking the stockings, the ornaments, replacing broken ones, saying farewell to the Frasier Fir tree that was still fragrant, its needles still fresh to the touch.
As a loner at heart, my interests have been pretty insular for the most part, which is to say that I do most things I enjoy by myself: read, play the piano, cook meals, clean the house, knit, and so on. I realized after finding that coat that I have everything that I have ever wanted (and struggled for) including the most important intangible ones that are not always just up to us. I also noticed that my former habitat of being not very happy for most of my life had shifted to being happy without my truly “getting it” until now. This is not as strange or peculiar as it may sound. In any event, I awakened from feeling unhappy, to understanding that there is nothing keeping me from being happy now, except for old habits I wasn’t that aware of.
“When you realize that there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Thanks to the Helpers of the Universe who have shielded, guided and pushed me to this place. It feels as though it has been an enormous struggle but perhaps at least half of that burden might have been of my own making and wrestled within my own head. Attitude is everything and mine has been edified by finding an old duffle coat and a quotation that floated by my screen unbeknownst from wherever.
As noted, the Sage, Helpers and the Cosmos have helped me create a soft landing for my life. I just haven’t felt it to its fullest until now. And I am thankful more than ever.
What we can do every day is to realize there is a difference between all the hurtling conflict in the world and how we choose to live our day. It’s the small things, it seems to me, that truly make a difference: reading the newspaper and having breakfast together; having something light and fresh for lunch. Doing chores so that they’re actually done, and not just sitting around waiting for the next step. We are fortunate that we have time to enjoy with each other. Freeing ourselves from being dragged along by the behavior of others outside of ourselves gives us space and energy to do what is meaningful to us, even if it means correcting mistakes in something we’re in the process of making (the corners of the middle 5-star square in a quilt hanging don’t meet properly,) or being honest about why we decide to do things and then do them well, or drop them altogether if we have been doing things for the wrong reasons.
Perhaps I am overly optimistic that we can find peace of mind for ourselves in these small ways. But I don’t think so. Maybe that’s what they mean when they talk about being mindful. That word always has lots of baggage for me because it seems to entail some level of having peace of mind already in order to promote it. So, appreciating what we have so much of already is a start to living with peace of mind. The idea that the glass is half full or even almost full is a recognition that whatever we might think is missing could be something unnecessary or even bogus.
Now, I think I’m going to have my breakfast and read the paper. How about you?