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.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Inch Forty: Furniture

November was a stressed and hectic month in the family. My mother had a long-overdue knee replacement early in the month, and the triple whammy of major surgery, great pain, and dementia took a toll on all of us, but especially my father. While he was relieved of the 24/7 duty of steering my mom through the day, he all the same spent a huge number of hours by her side as without him to interpret the world for her, she is increasingly lost as to day, time, conversations, and events.

One day early in the nursing home stay, my dad and I went room to room in the upstairs of their house looking for a sewing box that is apparently non-existent now. (And where is the button tin, I wonder?) We opened countless dressers and bureaus looking for the safety pins I had hoped to find in the sewing box.

We never found the pins. But we did find drawer after drawer of abandoned projects: plastic canvas and yarns, aging sewing patterns, brightly colored material that may have been meant for a quilt. Dad quietly observed that my mother would never finish these now and I was almost tempted to offer to clear them all away, but wisely kept my mouth shut.

As we finished opening and searching the last drawer, Dad commented that he had an upstairs "full of old furniture." He's right. One room contains a stout bureau, stripped and refinished, that in my childhood had been a battered glossy white with a Roy Rogers decal on the top drawer right between the two pulls. Then there is the bureau at the top of the stairs, with drawers ranging from shallow at the top to deeper at the bottom on the left half, the right side being a door that swings open to reveal a large storage area without shelves or divisions. It is a dark piece and the wood of the door is very thin. When I was young, my mother stored flannel sheets and blankets on the right side.

I always liked that piece of furniture. There would have been a time in my life when I would have loved to have had that piece in my own home for sentimental reasons. But none of the furniture was ever proffered to any of us and it has all set in the empty upstairs for long years.

And now I am of an age and at a place in life when acquiring furniture, even childhood pieces, holds no appeal for me. I want less stuff, not more. I cannot imagine passing these pieces on to my children. In addition to the cost and risk of shipping them west, these pieces hold no emotional weight for Ben or Sam because they didn't grow up with them like I did.

I do not know how much longer my parents will remain in the house. It is a large, old, limestone structure, the second floor and basement out of reach of my mom, the bathroom a tiny, narrow add-on long after the original house was built. When they bought it in 1970, both my parents were in their 30s, with younger children, plenty of energy, and lots of dreams. That was almost 45 years ago. Now it is obvious that the house was not built for an elderly couple, one of whom has mobility problems. Dad has observed more than once that the house and yard (an acre) and outbuildings are increasingly more than he has the time and strength to tackle on a daily basis. Time, especially as my mother's needs grow, will be at an even greater premium than it already is, and the deep reserves of energy and plans my parents both once possessed have long been spent.

And when my parents do leave the house? There'll be an upstairs full of old furniture along with everything else: abandoned crafts and abandoned dreams, old blankets and old photographs, and the faint whisper of memories.