All my ships

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Talking with my friend at lunch, I realized how much she’s withdrawn from things since I first got to know her 10 years ago.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:

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2 Responses to All my ships

  1. God Susan, that song is beautiful. I’m fighting back the tears as I type this on my phone in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The passers-by are probably wondering “what the…?”

    Maybe there is a detachment toward the end for many of us. A grievous acceptance and resignation. A tidying-up of business so to say. Others continue to rage and rage against the dying of the light. I don’t know what is better. I’m sure it’s the attitude that one brings into it- a depressed shutting down or a calm acceptance of what lies ahead for all of us, a wisdom of the cycle of life, a breathing in and out of the universe, to tie back to your book passage (beautiful by the way).

    I would like to have that calm acceptance, that serenity, but at the same time I wished selfishly that mom would have raged on and on longer. She went gently though, that was her way; she fought her battles internally anyway. We all have and will have our way.

    Obviously a very moving post and song for me Susan. Thank you my friend. xx, Christy

    • sswl says:

      Christy, I have the same reaction to that song. It’s the last track on Amos Lee’s album, “Mission Bell.” El Camino is also the first track, but sung by Lee alone. I like them both, but hearing Willie Nelson’s creaky old voice really touches my heart.

      Agree with you that there’s often detachment toward the end, and perhaps it’s what I’m seeing in my friend, though I find it worrying that she isn’t thinking as clearly and has a series of stock phrases to sum up different aspects of her life. She seems less and less able to have a real back-and-forth conversation. Her sister’s had dementia for some years, and I find myself wondering if I’m seeing the beginnings in her. In my case, I think the detachment comes out of depression and have been taking some steps to counteract that. I’d hate to give up before my time.:)

      If you don’t know Amos Lee, listen to “Colors” and “Black River” from his first album. He’s a brilliant songwriter and a great talent.

      Thanks, as always, for your support and friendship.


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