A day of respite yesterday from the pineapple express that’s been deluging northern California for days, but gray clouds are moving in this morning and more rain is expected. I was up before dawn to give my husband a ride to the airport for a two-day meeting in Los Angeles, and a waning gibbous moon was clearly visible in the southern sky. By the time I got home 40 minutes later, it was shrouded in clouds. I like getting up early, watching the horizon light up over the east bay hills, the day stretching ahead, full of promises and pitfalls.
Lately I’ve been reading Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds. I’ve tried her before and haven’t been seized by the enthusiasm she arouses in so many, but I was charmed by this passage about her childhood:
I would lie in a sun-puddle on our living-room floor, staring at dust particles dancing in the column of light streaming above me. Using my field guide to air, I tried to differentiate flakes of dried skin from specks of dirt, sand, or salt from the sea. Smoke and pollen were in this mix, and I imagined dust mites eating the microscopic flecks floating in the air, swirling around us all the time, too tiny to see. The sun became an honest broker in showing me what we breathe. But what thrilled me most was the fact that millions of meteors burn up every day as they enter our atmosphere. As a result, Earth receives ten tons of dust from outer space. Not only do we take in the world with each breath, we are inhaling the universe. We are made of stardust.
The world in a drop of water, the universe in…a tea cup? A broad view, like Annie Dillard’s or Robinson Jeffers’. I love these flights from nature in the particular to the universal and back again. They make me look at the world in new ways.
Back from another acupuncture appointment and lunch with a friend at Max’s, where they specialize in bountiful helpings of what’s supposed to be New York Jewish cooking but probably isn’t. (Pretty darn good, though. I had Russian cabbage soup and half a hot pastrami on rye.) I can’t tell whether the acupuncture’s doing anything. I’ve been sleeping better, but if I’m on my feet for ten or fifteen minutes, I still get into pain. This time he added needles in my forehead and on my wrists–to help with sleep, he said. “If you get enough sleep, it helps your body to heal.” Not sleepy yet, but we’ll see.
Talking with my friend at lunch, I realized how much she’s withdrawn from things since I first got to know her 10 years ago. She’s 84 or 85, I think, and has spent a lifetime in movements trying to bring an end to war, racism, poverty. But lately she’s started saying she can’t listen to the news anymore and reads only mysteries. We were talking about climate change, and she said, “Susan, I just can’t get interested in issues I know I won’t be around for. I know that’s not right, I know my children and grandchildren will be affected, but I can’t help it. I turn off the radio when they start in on it.”
I know what she’s talking about. More and more, I find myself thinking it’s someone else’s battle. Is this what it’s like getting old, gradually divesting yourself of life-long attachments? Do all the things that have meant so much just stop being important? It’s not how I imagined it. I thought I’d be richly involved, entangled even, until the last. There’s a song Amos Lee does with Willie Nelson that keeps going through my head, a kind of leave-taking: