Archive for April 11th, 2008

I look in the mirror before I start writing but I can’t hold my own gaze. My nose is red from crying, eyes small. My skin is blotchy, and I am critical of my hair. It seems to get pulled straight by its own weight. I want my curls back.

Dad tells me this morning that Onofre is on — and then Dad can’t find the words. I wait, I’m thinking “life support,” but I don’t want to say it. Surely he’s not on life support.

You know how it is with far-away aunts and uncles, you see them three, four years ago. The time Onofre’s kids drove him to the casino near Española and we drove up from Albuquerque to meet him. We all had casino buffet: deep-fried shrimp and chicken-fried steak, green beans from a can, with canned mushroom soup for sauce and bread crumbs on top. Casino buffet food that we all oohed and aahed over, even me. And then the next year we see Uncle Onofre at his house in Pueblo, and all his kids set out a feast for lunch, white bread and wheat, roast beef, turkey, ham, bologna, three kinds of cheese, mayonnaise in a small bowl, potato salad. Beer.

Hospice. Dad finally says it. He remembers the word, that sounds like “hostile” but means something totally different.

Dad hasn’t lost a sibling since Mabel, and she died young; it’s been years. I don’t even remember how long ago. Onofre is younger than Dad by two years, they called him “Cielito” when they were kids, Little Sky, for his wide, sunny disposition. He whistled and sang, smiled a toothless smile, we called him “Uncle Bear” because he had a barrel chest and even when I was a kid I remember the hair on his chest popping over the top of his shirt. He was in-the-moment, spontaneous, huggable, not as cerebral as his brothers, skinny arms compared to his big chest. I remember the first time we visited them in Pueblo, they had an outhouse for a toilet and after our visit was over, I wished we’d never go back.

Not anymore. Now they live in a regular house, small but nice couch, chairs, just like the rest of us. So how did we get from the casino lunch buffet to the sandwich smorgesborg to the hospice? Via outdoor plumbing and hairy chest and bear hugs. Just like that it’s almost over.

I’m not sure why I’m crying for Onofre. I think I might be crying for me, for not being able to hold on to the girl I once was. For not being able to hold on to Dad, his big hands full of tremor and fear. For having to take Mom to the doctor, to see what’s wrong with her back, to do a Stress Test, to fix the bloody noses. I gently suggest that doctors don’t have all the answers, that maybe she should go see my alternative doctor. Mom gently doesn’t hear what I have to say.

It’s windy again today. I’m agitated and this cup of black tea doesn’t help. I can’t stop the wind, can’t stop time, can’t take away any of the moments lived. Once I remember talking on the phone to Dad, long ago, when I was in my 20s and thought we all had forever left. He said something to me, I can’t even get a taste now of was it Politics or Work or Family? All I remember was my pure and complete response, FUCK YOU! I hung up and sat there, having just told my dad those words, I wasn’t even scared, just angry and relieved, the way you can sometimes get relief from certain actions.

This morning I ask Dad if he wants to go to Pueblo to see Onofre before he dies. No, he says, and he doesn’t offer why. If he dies in Spring, they’ll cremate him now but hold a memorial service this summer, when all the old people can be outside in Colorado.

That’s not the same as seeing him before he dies, I think. I don’t push it. I know it would be hard, but I am kind of surprised. I guess it’s the part of me who refuses to accept that my parents aren’t up for anything anytime.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER

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I’m looking at my ruddy face in a small, round, silver mirror. I look older than I remember. Thick eyebrows, salt and pepper hair; it looks the grayest to me right after a haircut. There is something about the way it lays across the black plastic smock, and falls in shredded pieces on to the floor. Accents of changing color. I don’t mind. It is my grandmother’s hair.

I have a little pouch under my chin. I hate to admit it. Blue eyes that used to be hazel. More blue with age. I don’t often look in a mirror. Once in the morning after my shower to spike my hair. I’m a fluff and blow person, not much fiddling around. I look in the mirror when I brush my teeth. That seems strange and I don’t know why I do it. I am looking into a mirror now. It was suggested in the Writing Topic on growing older; I thought it might push me (over the edge?).

The body gives out, breaks down. Elasticity is lost; wisdom gained. I don’t have a problem aging. Life is easier now than it was 20 years ago. I’m 34x happier. I worry that I won’t get everything done I want to do before I die. That goes back to the Bucket List. I don’t have any control over that. I am where I am. I’m in my 50’s.

Fifty used to seem ancient to me. Forty seemed ancient, too. I couldn’t imagine being 30. Decades have passed. The older I get, the more I know who I am. I have this theory about aging. I believe people become one of two things:  happier and more settled in who they are. Or angry and bitter. That’s black and white. I’m sure there is gray. It’s something I have noticed. And so I keep watching to prove my theory right.

Old, cranky, bitter, judging, hoarding, fighting imperfection, not able to accept that the body is aging. Graceful, happier, wiser, content with who they are, willing to not be perfect, to pass the torch, giving what they have to the next generations to come.

Maya Angelou turned 80 years old on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Do you think Martin knew he would not live to grow old? Or that Maya thought she would reach the age of 80? There were many articles written about her on April 4th. She is of the giving and wise variety. Yet she hasn’t shrunk from her responsibilities — as a woman, as a writer.

If Martin Luther King were alive, he would be one year younger than Maya. She was an aid to his cause, all those years ago. She still speaks for him through the way she lives her life. Think of everything she has seen.

I ran into a conversation between Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. Maya, one of Oprah’s mentors, was talking about living according to your principles. She is a Clinton supporter, and under constant pressure, remains loyal to Hillary. She has written a poem for her. Oprah is outspoken for Obama. They debate, have long conversations. They each stand strong, loyal to their candidates. They are respectful. They remain friends.

You can talk about spiritual principles. Or you can live by them. Talk is easy. Cheap. Principles are the hardest to uphold when we want something. Or in the face of adversity. Angelou said courage is the most important principle – because without it, you can’t really live up to the others. We might think we want to live at all costs. And then something comes along we are willing to die for.

If you think about Dr. King, he had an offer to go back to a seminary and teach for a year right before he died. He wanted to go. To rest. But he knew it would feel like he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations. So he stayed true to his vision. And went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers. He marched at the front of the line, even though he was tired, worn out. And he dropped his head in despair when a group of young marchers at the end of the line erupted in violence. Maybe at the end, he felt old. He was not perfect. He was human.

I started thinking about Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King and their great courage. I pale in comparison. When I look at what they have each been through, I wonder why I complain about the obstacles that fall my way. But I have learned not to compare myself. Not to anyone. Not to other artists, or writers, or teachers. My demons are mine. I earned every age spot, wrinkle, and wart. I’m not young anymore. Yet I am the most alive inside I have ever felt.

Growing older — it is harder to keep the weight off. I could lose 20 pounds. You can’t see that on a blog. My friends look to my vibrant Spirit. My family loves me unconditionally. So does my partner. The mirror tells me I look sad. Tired. But my eyes are bright. My heart feels heavy. It will not last. It will pass. When I think about dying, I think about looking down on loved ones, urging them on toward their dreams, smiling, holding the space. The way my grandmothers Ada and Elise do for me.

When I visit the South with my mother, we often visit gravestones under plantation magnolias in ancient cemeteries. The history is there. We didn’t create it. But we carry it. We walk among the dead, recall living memories. The pilgrimage, for me, is to pay my respects. To those who have come before. I am in the lineage of the Southern mothers, fathers, grandfathers, great aunts, and grandmothers whose graves I visit. They are not there. My memories of them are.

I drive past the homes where relatives used to live. Some remain in the family. Some belong to complete strangers. I don’t know them. I never will. But I have to bear witness. I don’t want the dead to be forgotten. I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to be remembered. And so I remember and honor others.

Visiting graveyards, a wrinkle in time. The living commingling with the dead. It might sound morose. But I don’t think of it that way. In Kit Carson Memorial cemetery, Mabel is buried not far from the black, wrought iron around the Carson plot. She would not be amused. The more I think about it, the more I want to be scattered to the wind, high over some tiny, rocky beach on the Oregon Coast. No gravestone. No marker. I want to be remembered as a free spirit. Though no writer ever feels free.

I’m staring in the mirror again. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

You are.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, April 11th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER and the post, 40 Years

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