Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inch Forty-Seven: The Immediacy of Now

I am not quite halfway through my Portland sojourn, trying not to dwell too much on the fact that after today my time remaining is less than the time I have spent so far.

I have been immersed in family since arriving, sharing meals, sharing laughter, sharing hugs, sharing stories, sharing Ramona. I have had the satisfaction of seeing Ben stand taller and straighter within himself as he grows in confidence and maturity as a husband, father, son, and employee. I have walked with Sam discussing streetscapes, community fabric, and architecture. I have talked with Alise and watched her navigate her days with an ease I would have loved to possess when I was her age. I have been taken in and made welcome by Alise's mom, Mona, and sister, Jenna, giving me a home away from home. And I have had the wonder of spending hours with Ramona, marveling that the toddler I knew last May has been largely replaced by a confident, articulate, and utterly charming little girl.

The trip has been good for me in ways other than family and love. I have done more driving--at night, in heavy rain, on jammed freeways, across vast stretches of Portland--than I have done in years. This has boosted my confidence immeasurably, showing me how tentative I have become over the last few years. Striking across town from Sam's to Ben and Alise's yesterday, going on some sketchy verbal directions, minimal street signage, and gut instinct, I called Warren and crowed in triumph when I arrived.

I have stayed off electronic media for most of this trip (this being an exception) and have relished the disconnection. I have even set aside my camera for long stretches. I do not want to miss the immediacy of the moment trying to frame a shot. I want to soak in the vitality of Ramona and not look at her from behind a camera. Trust me, I've taken lots of photos of Ramona and there will be more. But there is also a time to set aside the camera and savor the real time I have with her.

When I was driving to Sam's yesterday, a brief shower came up despite the bright sun. I shouted to the empty car: "Portland rainbow weather!" I was not disappointed: a perfect arc soon shimmered across the sky.  It was a good omen for what has been a wonderful trip. All this love, all this family, all this now, and a rainbow too.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inch Forty-Six: Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm leaving on a jet plane, just like the song says.

I leave tomorrow for Portland, Oregon, to spend eight days with both of my sons, with my daughter-in-law Alise, with Alise's mom and sister, and with the one and only Ramona. To say I am looking forward to this trip is a bit of an understatement.

All the same, I hate to go, just like the song says, because Warren is not coming with me. This is a solo trip, something I have not done in many years. I will miss his companionship, his support, his presence, his love.

I imagine time will both compress and expand on this trip. On the one hand, the time with my family out there will go so quickly and all too soon I will be saying goodbye and hugging everyone and kissing Ramona one last time. On the other hand, the time without Warren will stretch out. I will be experiencing a time shift from fast to slow and back again. If I were a physicist, I would speculate about time dilation, but I don't think those formulas measure the heart.

The singer in "Jet Plane" warbles "don't know when I'll be back again." Not me.  I know exactly when I will back again.

And so does Warren.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Inch Forty-Five: The Things We Remember

William Street 1971
 Jack remembered the night sky of orange, their minister sobbing in his father's arms, firefighters and volunteers standing on downtown rooftops that bitter cold night to squelch any embers that might land on another building.

"It was 44 years ago this month and I still remember watching that church go up in flames," he said.

At another downtown fire 31 years later, Jim, a captain with our fire department, arrived on the scene and remembers the odd, eerie "clink clink clink" sounds coming from the building after his men had gone inside.

"I suddenly realized my men were slipping on the ice that was already forming inside and we were hearing their oxygen tanks hitting the walls and floor as they tried to keep their balance," he said.

We are in the midst of several days of intense cold. Bone-chilling cold. Bitter cold. The waning moon hangs in the west in the morning and casts a baleful eye on our frozen town.

The topic of cold and fires came up earlier this week after a Civil Service meeting, when a few of us talked about the difficulties of fighting a fire in intense cold. The number one rule, according to the Chief and Jim? Keep the water flowing. Our talk segued to the additional challenges of fighting fires in historic buildings, be it the William Street Methodist Church that burned all night long in 1971 or the fire in Bun's Restaurant that consumed a third of a three-front block (a block being a building, not a street block) in 2002. Both buildings were built in 1888.
Bun's fire 2002 

These were not our first downtown fires and there have been other fires since then. In these and the other downtown fires, our city fire department contained and controlled the fire so that only one building was lost in only the most severe fires and damage was contained and the building saved in the others.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies fire as the biggest threat to  historic commercial districts. Built before building codes, historic commercial buildings often have false walls and ceilings that can conceal fire, they often have old wiring, they sometimes have odd utility chases that serve as tunnels for flames, and they lack many of the safety features that modern and renovated structures have. In a commercial district, because most buildings stand wall to wall without yards to separate them, it is easy for a fire to quickly spread from one building to the next.

Our downtown is made up almost exclusively of historic commercial buildings, many of them the same age as the two fires Jim and Jack mentioned. In looking at those and the other downtown fires of the last forty years, one only has to imagine what would have happened if the fires had spread. We would have lost key buildings in the core of our downtown if not our entire downtown. Fires of that magnitude and devastation have occurred in other communities nationwide every year. 

That we still have our historic downtown speaks to the skill and dedication of our firefighters. Saving our downtown has made for many of our fire department's finest moments. 

When I walk downtown, so comfortable with the streetscape that I sometimes don't even take full notice of it, I wonder what my impressions would be if we had lost the buildings I take for granted. 

I wonder what I would remember.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Inch Forty-Four: Another Year

We have an old blanket we keep on our bed, on top of all the other blankets and comforters. It is green and soft. The satin binding has long since worn away or been cut off. Sometimes, if I am having a bad day physically, I will crawl under just that top blanket and let its warmth lull me to sleep.

The blanket originally came from my Aunt Ginger, who many years ago had earmarked it for Goodwill. Heck no! The blanket then had many years of service left and the steady use I have put it to for probably two decades now attests to its longevity.

The blanket is as good a symbol as any for my take on my year just ended. Despite our brutal early December schedule, I finished 2014 feeling satisfied and centered. Worn? Yes. Fatigued? Absolutely. But like that old green blanket, I carry on.

2014 held a variety of experiences, many of them good, many far better than good. We had the joy of having Ramona, my daughter-in-law Alise, and my son Ben come to Ohio in late spring and spend a week with us. The joy of having them here was great, the pure unadulterated love of a toddler indescribable. Along with my good friends and colleagues, I helped celebrate the eleventh anniversary of our monthly free legal clinic in October, serving our 2000th client that very night. I saw Warren and the Symphony reach new heights and gain national attention for groundbreaking community outreach programs. I spent time with good friends near and dear to my heart, either in person or through  correspondence.

And I read hundreds of books, always a sign of a superb year.  

Some of 2014 had to be endured. Friends and colleagues died. There is the steady advance of dementia in my mother and my Aunt Ginger. My own health was all over the board in 2014, before it and I finally stabilized. Last night, I finished my tenth round of oral chemotherapy, swallowing the capsule three hours before 2014 ended. This treatment has stayed the advance of my bone marrow cancer, although it has extracted its own price for that stay. For now, it is a toll I am willing to pay, although I know the toll will get steeper with time.  

Various authors portray the turning of year in less than glowing terms. Scrooge, before his transformation, characterized this time of year as a time for finding yourself "a year older, but not an hour richer." Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story "The Sister Years," portrayed the Old Year as a "weary, bedraggled, world-worn" woman who "heaved a heavy sigh" as she waited for her younger sister, the New Year, to arrive. 

I don't share those outlooks, despite my having many wearisome hours and days in any given week. (In fairness to Scrooge, he didn't feel that way either after his ghostly visitations.) 2015 holds promise. I head to Portland in two weeks to spend a week with Ramona, her parents, and my other son Sam, who I have not seen in two years. Warren will not be on that trip, but we are already planning to travel more in 2015. I was contracted last September to create a new OVI Court for our Municipal Court and that project is coming closer to being a reality. At Juvenile Court, where I work, we get a new judge on February 9. I am hoping the next six years hold great things for the Court and my work there.  I can only dream of what this year holds for the Symphony and for Warren personally and professionally. 

And there are always books—to read, to reread, to laugh over, to cry over, to reflect upon and hold close to my heart. Books are always waiting in any new year. 

Yes, 2015 holds great promise, although whether those promises will be kept remains to be seen. Come this time next year, I hope to be like our old green blanket, worn a little more but still comfortable, minus the satin binding but still of good service. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Inch Forty-Three: Time

As the year winds down, time and the passage of time are on my mind. Driving along the Olentangy River, I see the sycamores have emerged again, their trunks startling white against the grey-brown of the other trees lining the river. The crops are all in and grey-brown fields stretch to the horizon, the end of the season upon us.

It is that stub time of year, the last fleeting days of December, the day when darkness comes earlier and stays later.

Aunt Ginger is a reminder of the relentless roll of time. At 85, she is a diminutive version of the woman she was at 80. Her step is shakier, her mind is shakier, and when I look at her, I am aware of a fragility that was not there five years ago. I told Warren that Aunt Ginger is becoming translucent.

Ginger is down to the stub time of her life. She speaks occasionally of where she is, not with despair, but with amazement. "85!" she'll exclaim. "I never thought I'd live this long!"

The press of time is on lots of minds this time of year. I avoid shopping malls as a matter of belief year round, but especially at this time of year. All the same, one Saturday a few weeks ago found me at a Target shopping for a menorah. There was a palpable tension in the air as shoppers tried to find that perfect gift, all of them aware of the clock ticking towards Christmas. My cashier commented that she hated this time of year. She was pleasant, but clearly she was already counting the days until the store closed on Christmas Eve and the rush was over.

That cashier was down to the stub time of the holiday shopping season, not to mention the stub end of her patience.

Even avoiding the worst of the commercial feeding frenzy, I find this time of year has a rushed, harried quality to it. Being married to a performer and the Symphony, I find my time gets squeezed between rehearsals and performances. Warren's schedule is even worse and he tends to take December on a dead run. There have been days that we have peered blearily at one another, wondering what day it is, how late the evening will go, and what absolutely needs to be done at home versus what can be put off for another day. Warren's last performance was on December 19, and both of us felt tremendous relief when the conductor put down the baton.

On the shortest day of the year, I took a solitary walk around a nearby park in the chill afternoon. The loop I walk follows the Olentangy briefly, and I noted again the sycamores. In the evening, I lit the menorah for the sixth night of Hanukkah and watched the candles burn steadily. In the corner, the Christmas tree was had just bought and decorated that morning was aglow with its own lights.

Endless time: the passage of the seasons, the winter solstice, the wheeling around of the sun and moon that brings the winter holidays back to us again.

Thoreau observed that "time is but the stream I go a-fishing in." In these eternal moments of light and dark, the stream I go a-fishing in is deep, and its bottom strewn with stars.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Inch Forty-Two: My Cup (And My Candles) Runneth Over

In my post last week, I worried that I would not be able to find a menorah and Hanukkah candles easily this close to the holiday. The rehearsal/concert schedule is so fierce and time is so limited. Between last Thursday at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Warren was home for approximately 22 hours, about 18 of which were when he was asleep. From Friday at 5:00 p.m. until Sunday at 7:00 p.m., I was home approximately 17 hours, 12 of which were spent sleeping. So there was no time to try finding one at a synagogue shop in Columbus (many of which would close Friday and not reopen until Sunday, if then). No time then, no time even this week until the weekend is upon us and Hanukkah half over.

My one faint hope was that Saturday afternoon, while Warren was in rehearsal, I could drive to the Mansfield Target and find one. I did not call ahead to ask as I had a few other purchases regardless of the success of the hunt and I did not want my hopes dashed.

Not that I had high hopes.

Target was packed. The Christmas area (where I was in search of a small tabletop tree for Aunt Ginger) was a madhouse. I found the tree, found the cheese grater that Sam had asked for in kitchenwares. But no menorahs.

There were lots of people but no clerks. I took one final stroll down the front aisle, and caught sight of a large cardboard Hanukkah sign topping the end of one row of cards.

I held my breath, walked quickly, and...

Menorahs. I quickly selected one, grabbed a box of Hanukkah candles, and sailed through checkout, menorah AND Christmas tree in hand.

When Warren and I met after the rehearsal, I told him I'd been successful. "It's just a relief," I said, adding that he'd see the menorah when we got home.

Warren didn't see the menorah until Sunday evening, Sunday performance demands (A church service! Two Concerts!) being what they were. I showed him and we talked a little about Hanukkah, which he has never seen celebrated. Then he said, quietly, "If you didn't find one this weekend, I was going to make you one. I wasn't sure how, but I wanted you to have a menorah."

That, my dear readers, is one of many reasons why I married the man. Because he was ready and willing to make me a menorah just so I didn't have to miss out on Hanukkah.

It turns out someone else was concerned I would miss out on Hanukkah. When I arrived at work mid-morning, I found this in my office:

Really? For me?

I had tears in my eyes, looking at it. I was pretty sure who made it, and a co-worker confirmed that my friend and colleague Anne had placed it there earlier this morning.

When I saw Anne, she said she and her son Sam had put it together this weekend. "I didn't want you not to have a menorah," she said, adding that she had read my blog and felt she had to do something. She knew tea candles were not quite the right thing, but she had the number of candles, and, more important, the spirit and intent of it just right. "I'll make the candles work," I assured her.

 Hanukkah is all about miracles. Love—the love of my husband, the love of my friend—made its own miracle for me this year. This year I will be lighting two menorahs to celebrate the holiday, celebrate the light, celebrate the love, celebrate the miracles.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Inch Forty-One: The Tiniest Bit of Light

As I recently emailed one friend, as we tried to find a common date when we could all get together, it's that most wonderful time of the year...except when it is not. I'm in the midst of the "not" right now.

While the oral chemotherapy regimen continues to go well ("well" being a very relative term), a constant side effect of both it and ten years of myeloma is fatigue. Deep-in-the-bones fatigue. Fatigue way past something a short nap or a good night's sleep helps. Fatigue pretty much owns me.

That ownership, in turn, impacts what I am able to accomplish on any given day. Despite my best efforts, despite pacing myself, I still get to the late afternoon and start taking items off of my to-do list. For example, I had hoped after work to (a) visit Aunt Ginger (I was way overdue to check in on her, thanks to fatigue), (b) deliver a batch of cookies as a holiday gift to a friend, (c) bake another batch of biscotti (maybe two) for some other holiday gifts, (d) pack a box of items to ship to Alise for her agency's holiday gifting for the families they serve, and (e) finish peeling and slicing the culled apples (which have been on the floor of the percussion room since Sunday) so that I can get them bagged and frozen for National Pie Day in January.

I made it to Aunt Ginger's apartment for an upbeat visit and I got the box packed and ready to ship. It is just now eight p.m. and if I rouse myself from the couch, I may get the apples peeled, sliced, and in the freezer.

Or I may not.

I am still hoping to observe Hanukkah this year, although as I type these words, I lack a menorah and candles and am not sure I can easily find any at this late date. Hanukkah starts at nightfall on December 16. I already know I will not get any candles lit until later that evening because our last legal clinic of 2014 is that same evening.

The beauty of Hanukkah is that the half hour or so spent watching the candles burn down all but guarantees a small, distinctly carved island in time. You are forced, gently and with flickering lights, to slow down, to ease up, to rest. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner said it best: "At the darkest time of year, the tiniest bit of light reminds us that we are all whistling in the dark and hoping, by these rituals of miracles of candlelights and bulbs on evergreens, we remember the divine presence."

I'll be looking for that tiniest bit of light come December 16. I may have the fatigue of a shipwreck survivor by then, but I plan on being on that island, hugging the sand, grateful to be washed ashore.