Friday, February 24, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Nine: Friday Morning Thoughts About the Newest Newberry

It is Friday morning and I am sitting at the kitchen table, the sun bright on the table, on the floor, and on me. The sheets are in the washer downstairs while I sit here and pen my thoughts.

For anyone who knows me and my work well, you know that a Friday morning at home this time of year is unheard of. We are in the throes of attendance season when I am scheduling and attending multiple mediations at multiple schools all over Delaware County. (Indeed, I had three scheduled today. Thanks to a coworker taking over for me, I am home.) This is not the time of year that I lollygag at home.

I'm home because I'm sick. I'm home because in February alone I have been exposed, sometimes repeatedly, to pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis, the flu, and every garden variety illness every school building harbors. I'm home because my body finally caved.

I think I have just a bad cold. Given my battered immune system, if that's all it is—a cold—I will be thrilled. I would love it if more serious possibilities glanced off me.

My being sick with a cold is not unlike my being sick with cancer, at least as far as my evenings go. Granted, it is a lot messier, what with the nose blowing, but otherwise I spent last evening as I spend most evening, curled up under a blanket reading.

Last night's reading was extra special because I held in my hands the brand new 2017 Newberry Award book. Once again, as they do more often than not, the committee members picked a wonderfully inventive, beautifully written work, The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon is a fantasy novel, aimed at middle schoolers. It is light-filled, not dark. Yes, there are two villains; they are vanquished without gore or violence. Luna, the girl of the title,  is smart and funny and heartbreaking. She grows from infancy to age 13 over the course of the book, and Barnhill nails age-appropriate behavior and language at every stage. While the book is about growing up and coming of age, it is about love and family (and its many configurations) and loss and hope and love in the face of loss. Indeed, it is that hope and overpowering love that save everyone and lift the book to its glowing end.

As a further bonus, The Girl Who Drank The Moon has the most intriguing use of paper folding I have ever read, causing me to say out loud the ultimate compliment to a writer: "I wish I had written that."

So last night, as I sneezed and blew my nose and ran a small temperature, I disappeared deep into the Forest with Xan and Luna and the wise Swamp Monster (Gherk) and the Perfectly Tiny Dragon Fyrian who in the end grows and makes a Simply Enormous Decision. I loved every minute of it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Eight: Shabbat

It is Friday night.



I am sitting at the kitchen table writing this by longhand, that act (writing) being a violation of strict Sabbath observances. I lit candles after sunset, another violation, then turned on the oven (and another) and baked brownies (and another).

I am not an observant Jew.

Despite my lack of observation, I am deeply appreciative of the Sabbath and its spiritual importance. For Jews, it is 24 hours (sunset to sunset) in which we are to step out of the secular world and into a world of prayers, family, contemplation, study, community, and reflection.

It is our break from the everyday.

I am rarely removed from the secular world on the Sabbath, but I try hard to lace in bits and pieces of it when I am able.

Tonight, as the sun was setting and the Sabbath was arriving, I took a walk downtown to post some letters and enjoy the early evening. I had just enough time, I figured, to get home and light the candles before the sun set. (Note: I rarely light Sabbath candles, yet another indication of my persistent failure to remove myself from the secular world.)

As I walked home, I walked past Linda and Mark's house. Linda, a longtime dear friend, was on her porch. I hailed her and crossed the street.

We hugged.

Linda and I sat on her front step and talked. Talked of family, talked of aging, talked of community, talked of life. While we talked, the sun went down and the shadows grew deeper. The Sabbath was well upon me before I stood up and said I had to leave so I did not trip in the dark.

As I walked home, I thought of my long friendship with Linda. We have been through some life adventures together in the almost twenty years I have known her. I reflected on the pleasure of just sitting and talking and being in the moment of that long friendship. Indeed, for that fifteen or twenty minutes, I stepped out of the secular world into the world of community and friendship.

I may not have observed this Sabbath by the book, but I think I observed it in my heart.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Seven: Bonds

"And what about Sam B____?" I asked.

"Oh, Sam retired a few years ago," said Dick.

Sam retired! There are photos of him holding Ben as a baby. Sam retired! But Ben is 31 now, so that is not improbable.

We—Dick, his wife Milly, Warren, and I—were sitting around a table in Chicago having this conversation. I have known Dick and Milly for almost 30 years; they are friends from long ago when I lived in Stockton, California.

Way back then, Dick worked in the county Public Defender office with my then husband. Milly and I both had law degrees and very young children.  Paths diverged. We moved to Ohio. Dick became a judge. Milly continued her solo practice. I practiced law, got divorced, became ill. Our boys grew up. Life went on.

The bonds of friendship held. I last saw Dick and Milly (and their sons, then in their late teens) in 2006 in Cleveland. When Warren and I got married two years later, they sent us a hassock of camel leather that Milly had brought back from Egypt or Morocco. (Dick and Milly are world travelers.)

Over the decades, we exchanged Christmas cards and an occasional phone call. [Note: A Christmas card from Dick and Milly is a mini-travelogue. Seriously.] We'd talk of getting together but they were in California and we were in Ohio. "Get to Chicago," I'd urge, "and we'll drive up to see you."

And that's what finally happened. Last weekend they flew in and we drove up for a much anticipated reunion.

We had a long weekend of food and talk, of storytelling and catching up, of comparing life notes and telling jokes that even Warren, who'd just met them, soon joined in. After one final breakfast together Monday morning, we all hugged hard and went our separate ways. It was wonderful.

In my past life, I was frequently criticized for "hanging on" to old friends. Anyone qualified: friends from my childhood, friends from my college days, friends from anywhere. My ex-husband would accuse me of "always dragging along" people from my past, implying that I had some deep, unhealthy motive for keeping these relationships.

As we sat at breakfast Saturday. laughing and talking, I saw a table full of those I'd hung onto from my past. (That includes Warren, incidentally.) I didn't drag any of these friends along into my life. Instead, it was the bonds we'd made over the years that brought us together: bonds of friendship, bonds of laughter, bonds of love. And here we all were, making new bonds, strengthening old bonds, and celebrating all of the bonds, past, present, and into the future.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Six: Inching Along

I did not post last week. I believe that is my first miss in over three years of posting weekly inches.

Last week was an intense week, full of much work (I am in the middle of school attendance mediations, always heavy on my schedule), doctor appointments (3!—Count 'em!—3!), aging family member issues, and a long weekend out of town meeting old friends in Chicago.

As I flashed through my to-do list Thursday evening, knowing that we were leaving very early Friday, I made an executive decision not to post something that night. I had neither the time nor the concentration.

My weekend was largely internet free. I did not want to spend time online that could be spent with Warren, with good friends during the day, with a good book at night, and all in a great city. When I started this post, it was in pen in my trusty notebook (think back to school paper sales), curled up on a couch in Oak Park.

We got back earlier today, pulling into our driveway about 5:00 p.m., having said goodbye to our friends after an early morning breakfast. Tomorrow both Warren and I will resume our regular routines of work, chemo (well, I will), and the routines that make up our days.

Life resumes. I'm back.