Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Self-Sufficient Young Man

Throughout the hubbub of completely dismantling and rebuilding a life, it is easy to overlook the simple day-to-day events, even more so to undervalue a holiday.

My son celebrated his birthday this week. Now living in two households with at least one distracted parent, it was a birthday that stretched over the entire week. I saw it coming, had my eye on the day like a field mouse seeing a shiny object while keeping an eye out for a swooping hawk: it lured my interest, but I remained focused on the necessities of survival.

We talked about what he wanted and which nights he would be where. A few suggestions around cake and guests were bantered about, but nothing really took hold, and this was all the same time his sister was leaving for her first year at college. Most of his ideas and wishes required much less attention.

He did offer that instead of an awesome new road bike, he would be pleased if we could refurbish my ancient Peugeot. Undeterred by my hems and haws, a week early, he took it to the shop for an estimate and called me to come and see. He knew I would not make him walk it back home.

Towards the weekend, he said it looked like a bunch of friends would take me up on my summer long offer to let him host a campfire (we live on an acre of woods between 2 “cities”). I suggested a birthday cake celebration, but he wanted no presents or a party, just a campfire and friends. So Friday afternoon, I grabbed pretzels, root beer and lots of burgers for hungry teens. The chainsaw roared through the woods making logs out of a half-century of debris. He and the first arrivals dug a pit and circled up stones until mosquitoes chased us inside.
A small apartment with no place for me to hide, they kindly tolerated my presence and filled our home with laughter. After dark, and surrounded by citronella candles, s’mores performed their usual magic and a few guitars had been brought. Although I discreetly tried to stay out of the way, he invited me to bring out mine and join them, singing songs he loved as a little one.
The fire peacefully settled the night into promises of many more such this Fall, and in the summers to come.

On Monday, the actual date of his birth, we planned to meet after the soccer team dinner and go for cake, just the two of us. On my way to pick him up, however, I learned he was off to watch movies with friends. Hardly seeing him since the campfire, the disappointment sobered my evening like a punch, and my apartment felt terribly lonely.

Our next time together was Wednesday, and he confessed to a need for cake, a chain-store bought sugar-loaded monstrosity with toxic colors. Too late and spontaneous to get his name on it, we settled for the smallest—which still could feed a party of kids—picked a candle, and came home to a movie. At a crucial scene, I realized he was in the kitchen lighting the candle. If I had not jumped to it, I am sure he would have sung to himself as well.

My eyes teared to remember all the birthdays celebrated when his parents were together, the happy times he had known as a family of four and more. No matter tensions and struggles beyond his ken, his birthdays had all been holidays, his holidays celebrations of family, food and fireworks.
So much has changed for the boy. He has become a Man to his mother, a Pal to his Dad, playing adult roles in costumes that fit him so well, I forget his tender age. He works hard to balance his time between us, adapts to the shift with fortitude and good cheer. Only once has he expressed feeling “like a toy fought over by children.”

More often, I see the young man who stood at the precipice of our new life the first time to our apartment under construction with a gaping hole to the basement where a bathroom should be, saying, “Yeah, Dad, we can make this work.”

To my son, with all my love, and best wishes for many happy birthdays to come.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ode to Hayward Street

After months of hot and cold activity, we signed papers today accepting the offer on our house.

The reality of loss sets in with a crushing weight, even though I have not slept there in months. No matter the justifications that this move is necessary, in spite of the assurances that all will turn out for the better, the door closes on hopes and dreams of 20 years that culminated in this house we designed together.

Our children chased each other through the rough framing as little ones, and scratched the softwood floor with their new scooters on a Christmas morning. Now, one is off to college, off to a new life all her own, returning at Thanksgiving to a home she has never seen. Now, the other has grown taller than me, his voice changed, his heart grown huge, his smile so proud when he slips the ball between my feet and races past in our soccer games.

Soon, three new children will spend their years here, snuggled on their parents’ bed during thunderstorms, learning about homework and hard work, readying for prom. In summer, they will fend off mosquitoes around the playhouse. On cold winter nights, they will eat popcorn, staring into the fireplace we built to fulfill a promise I made when we agreed to move to Vermont.

I could not imagine a better family to take our place. To truly be a Home, the house deserves such happiness and laughter. The central dining/kitchen/living area is all one space to support a busy family immersed together in the multi-activities of daily lives. Upstairs are rooms to find a little quiet and space to think alone. Above is a studio with Lake view (in winter) to create and express passion, and below is a basement for tinkering, and a teen haven we will never see.

Our family moves in different directions now, challenged to find our different ways, and still be family for all the important events in life.

Those delicious comments on my last entry are absorbed deeply with gratitude. This process of writing so honestly from the heart does make me seem hard on myself and in need of encouragement, but it is the process necessary when—despite all warnings to the contrary--the horse slides/is pushed out from under and one stands soaking wet in the middle of the torrent.

How do you decide which bank to swim for? Will you ever find Home again? Is it actually easier to just let go, submerge, and allow the embrace of the water to quiet all the questions? Can one ever dare to try another ride, either in that same saddle again, or on a horse colored differently?

It is important for me to understand that this house would not be changing hands had I made different choices about nailing the studs together and spreading mud over the sheetrock. My hands got dirty, for sure, but are cleaning up well. Still, cracks have appeared and some details of trim need to be finally finished before the new family can move in.

I love the home we built. I will miss it--and the family who lived there--with all my heart. I am proud of the man who built it and all that he tried to do. Even so--especially so--there are parts of him I have to fix. Embracing the act of writing has illuminated some of the dark corners, and in that light, the shadows have lessened. In celebration, I unpack my guitar and sing with ever clearer voice and more nimble fingers.

I am so grateful that there are those of you, Online and Inlife, who seem to like what you hear, and choose to sing along.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Paths Taken

The Universe sometimes delivers lessons (opportunities) with all the subtlety of a tidal wave the day after Christmas; or, like in a game of catch between father and son on a quiet summer evening, with a stunning blow to the head.

This is no coincidence that on the repaired doorstep of my new home, on the verge of a new life, I should be examining so closely and celebrating so lovingly my parents at the end of theirs. Their story book marriage sets a standard that, as next of kin, seems only too natural to want to repeat, especially when they made it all look so easy.

Having grown aware of a tendency towards compulsive behaviors, my latest form of addiction seems to be monitoring constantly the hits on this blog, yearning for comments. Feeling so satisfied, proud and bolstered by the evidence that my words have touched others in an emotional way, your words are like opium to my aching need for approval. Equally, I admit to suffering envy to read that another site enjoys 1500 hits a day, judging those words must be that much more profound than mine.

Addictions, compulsivity, yearning for outside approval, and envy; these are all aspects of deep-seated insecurities psychologists tell us. In our Families of origins, we were somehow deprived of the love we needed, and live our later years struggling to heal from the loss. We have to work hard to overcome the behaviors that we developed to compensate. If we are lucky, we learn compassion for others in the same struggle, especially for our own parents, understanding that given their own losses suffered, they were only doing the best they could. As were their parents, and so on and so on and so on.

Without blame or rancor, I too trace my need for approval directly to the amount of love, praise and encouragement washed over me by my mother in my early and developing years. Given the wonderful childhood that is described, however, how dare I then complain of suffering damage from too much love? How can one blessed with such a creative, stimulating, incredible childhood still cry “foul”?!

My mother never made me more special than any other child should be to their own mother (like tommy Smothers, my sisters’ will sometimes disagree), but there is no doubt that she made me feel very special. In fact, to claim that perhaps I was loved too much just proves a parent's plaintiff complaint to be true: there's just no winning.

Approval and encouragement was lavished upon us with such joy and abundance, it was easy for me to believe I could do no wrong. No matter that a picnic on the side of the NJ turnpike in March was blustery, noisy and miserable, the sky was blue, she reminded us, as if we could see something not visible to the other families scurrying for shelter and burgers inside. She allowed moments of disappointment and frustration to daunt us momentarily, but quickly cheered us up and onwards (she was captain, after all) to rewrite the ending, resubmit the text, and refocus our attention (can you tell I received a short story rejection today?).

Failure” was not a word in her vocabulary.

It takes an effort, therefore, standing on my new steps, to look over at my former home with the For Sale sign in the yard, and consider the sad feelings, regrets and insecurities that I “could have/should have” done better. No matter how hard we try, paths once blending in joy seem to be diverging, overcome by hurt, anger and frustration. So proud of my parents, I have to recognize that some of my own children are greatly disappointed in the choices and decisions I have made. Even having done this all once before, and learning otherwise, I fear this "failure" would be unacceptable to my mother.

The truth lies somewhere between the assessment of my own self-judgment and the reality of my parents’ lives held so high in my regard. Although my perception describes a failure to measure up to their fine example, in reality, they loved each other humanly as well, sharing a life full of good days and bad.

In truth, they love me all the same, forgive me my foibles, and long to see me stroll on a more picturesque path. And whatever my issues, my children mostly want to see their father hold his head high, resting quietly with them on the side of that path from time to time, eyes soaking in the beautiful surroundings of their own imprefect lives, sharing in the joys and sorrows of their moments; a man brave and confident, humble and joyful, making his way, loving strongly, and hurting no one on purpose.

Doing, in short, the best he can.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Living Wake

As we all know, so much of the emotional work that I am doing during this transition in my life, so much that we all do in each of our lives, relates back to how we lived and learned and were supported in our "Families of Origin". I include this video, as a great example of how, in the end, the love that is given returns a thousandfold.

Here, we honor, despite all his quirks and foibles about expressing his love for his children

("Mom," I'd cry, "It hurts my hands so much when we play catch." "I understand, Sweetie," she'd explain, "He just wants you to know he loves you as hard as he can throw.") ,

a man who knows what matters most in the world.

My father is a hard act to follow.

It is only now that I begin to understand his greatest lesson is that you make your own path.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Complimentary perspective

Today is my father's 84th Birthday.

What began last week as a "Roast & Toast" in the moment has been reenforced this week by seeing it archived on video, and continues each day since with EMAILs scurrying around the world describing just how much his life has meant to his children and our children.

I include this one in particular from my next older sister, Cathy (I'm in the middle), as an example of a continuing thread that tells a story. This is not to draw particular attention to our family as something special, but to share in a world too full of doom and gloom a story of love and appreciation, a happy-ever-after tale that seems to have no ending, but continues to grow, to ripple, like Love, shining a bright light into dark corners.

"The gifts and the examples are huge, unique and precious. They formed us.

...And taking on Granny without any hesitation in the midst of a new marriage, a new baby, and building a new house (himself). Especially after I had kids of my own, I marveled at what an incredible thing that was and tried to learn the lessons - be generous even when it seems hard, and then just do what it takes. Dad did the same thing for Geeg, though I know it was hard to come home every night to find him still holding court at the table.

Dad, I also want to thank you for how you handled our teenage years.
I know it was a busy time for you at work and you were gone a lot.
But you showed a tremendous, quiet respect for our questioning of the status quo (and thus your own life and choices). You also showed a remarkable understanding of teenagers when you built the Octagon.
Not only was it the perfect building for the purpose, but the idea behind it - giving you and Mom some distance and us some private space - was sheer genius and generosity. Most of all, it showed that you trusted us, which my friends could never believe, in a way that made us respond in kind. (And I don't think I would have had any social life at all if it weren't for that combination. As it was, people thought I had the coolest house and the coolest parents in the world. I was along for the ride.)

I am also grateful for the relationship you built with your grandchildren. Few families I know have the kind of bond my kids feel towards you. As Vicki said, you have created ripples that go on for generations. Thank you for those generous summers with Jesse and Hans (thanks Meg and Lauren, too).

Last week's visit reminded me of how much we laughed (and still do), and how many funny/fun things we did together, instigated and spurred on by Dad. And all of your images, Meg, bring up more vignettes. ...
... dancing polkas every Saturday in the living room to Charlotte Shed on the radio, swirling until we collapsed
-- the time when Dad labeled everything in the camper - was that on Swans? - the lamp, the books, the bananas in the bowl, even Mom, as I remember
-- Dad reading that creepy ghost story about willows on an island, when we were camping with David
-- playing baseball on the beach, at Beach Haven, when Dad told the awestruck kid that he played for the Boston Red Sox and I
was proud of him, because it seemed for a minute like it could be true
-- building and icing toboggan ramps down the front hillside, and then telling us not to be scared ... Piling us on top of each other on the bed until it collapsed under our weight ... Painting the totem pole up the wall of Lane's bedroom ... teaching us to write old english letters, and painting easter eggs with our names on them ... jumping jacks and peanut butter sandwiches in the Howard Johnson parking lots on the turnpike (while other families actually went inside and ate hamburgers) ... soaping the rocks in the creek in the Poconos so we could slide down them faster ... making up "Tom Swifty" jokes in the car - "I love hamburgers, she said with relish"
... joking in the elevator at the hospital in Denver as they wheeled him away with a kidney stone ... holding up the sign for Richard and Pat Nixon in Swarthmore - I was sure they'd stop just to take a closer look at Dad's brilliant caricatures ... and the accordion - who could forget the accordion?!?!
... watching Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan and Hogan's Heros on TV ... reading the history of architecture book aloud at every building in Europe ... drawing diagrams of cantilevers at the dining room table for Lane's homework assignment ... "Cocktail time!"
... Eating a bowl of peanuts, one at a time ... Dad's guilty look when he roughhoused too hard and somebody got hurt, and then how he stroked our heads to say he was sorry, but did it so hard he practically knocked us over, making us forget the original transgression ... Packing the car for a trip - the assembly line to load and unload the car; waking us up in the middle of the night to leave so we could get past New York by rush hour; sleeping on a flat bed of duffel bags and waking up to the streaks of dawn and breakfast.
... watching people count us in the car as they passed us on the turnpike, and holding up our fingers to show them "5"
... Playing double solitaire, Dad's accompanying monologue, complaining that we were going too fast and then beating us. (Vicki sliding cards in so nobody would notice) ... Scrabble - "Oy!"

... buying our first TV just in time to see Mary Martin do Peter Pan live on TV and then, a few years later, watching Lee Harvey Oswald get shot as we painted murals for the Christmas Fair ... going to Linville Orchards; cider and ginger snaps (I still eat them together) ... dropping us off at church every Sunday, coming back to pick us up with a new painting in the back seat (I can still hear the sound of the paintbrush swirling in the jar) ... the pride I felt, every time we drove past the TWA building at the airport!
... breaking down on the Tapanzee Bridge ... Listening to Adlai Stevenson on the radio from the political convention (John says I couldn't possibly remember, but I swear I do) and staying up late to hear the Nixon/Kennedy election results on the radio ... sitting for pastel portraits (sit still!) and for the Christmas photo (smile!) ... the Christmas cards - taking for granted that each year would be better than the last - didn't everybody's father draw?
... Learning ballroom dancing by standing on Dad's feet - side together, step, step ... Eating in the make-shift dining room (feeding Meg, I think, in the high chair) during construction of the addition, with a flapping tarp for a wall ... Meg, you say that you wished more people saw our house, but I remember the stream of cars that went slowly by on Sundays when the addition was built. We would stand proudly at the window and count them. Sometimes people were brazen enough to come to the door and ask for a tour.
... playing touch football, Dad demonstrating the moves on your stomach, poking so hard it hurt ...or tickled ... watching To Kill a Mockingbird (we went with Grandma). Everybody thought that I looked like Scout, but I thought Atticus looked (and
behaved) just like my dad.

Which reminds me of one more story, a birthday story. I remember sitting in the Octagon minding my own business when Dad came out and said casually, "you know I'm kind of depressed today because I just realized that I'm too old to be the president of the United States."

It must have been his birthday. I was stunned by this, but I assured him that according to what I'd learned in Mr. Kline's class, Dad certainly was not too old to be president. And he replied, "yeah, I know. But it's too old to start in that direction. All the local and state politics, the elections. I'm too old to start down that path.

It's a funny feeling to know it's never going to happen." I was stunned by several things - 1) my Dad was confiding in me about something really big, 2) he was telling me the height of his ambition, albeit fleeting (I had always thought he could be president anyway) and 3) that he questioned himself and his own life, which seemed from the outside to be such a smooth, steady, confident path.
I have thought about that so many times since - the dual message that you should always think big and that, though every choice you make closes a door, you can be at peace with your life's journey.

There is no way to say thank you enough for any and all of it.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!!! I hope you can look back on your life with as much joy and satisfaction and you gave all of us.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Letting Go in Celebration

Only when the video was posted on YouTube did I really feel the significance of our gift to our father.

All together for the first time without my mother, on our island in Maine last week, we chose the pivotal night between arrivals and the first sad departures to celebrate birthdays. It was to be for the several just ahead when we would be off-island again, but became one big celebration for all of us since this family is so spread across the country (and in England).

What I did not know was that earlier my father had remarked to my sisters that he appreciated how his sister had held a “living wake” a year before she died because she wanted to actually hear what people would say. Of course, my sisters took the not-so-subtle hint and offered to “Roast and Toast” him before we cut into the traditional spice cake. My father, who has been a largely quiet, reserved and unknowable icon to his children, was glad to proceed.

Out side Philadelphia, there is a tiny church, a true oasis (as all should be), serene on the top of a hill surrounded by the bustle and noise of suburbia. The Quakerism on one side of the family bristling at the rites of an organized religion on the other, still it has been a special place in all our lives. Our parents were married here. My earliest memories were moving among the pre-revolutionary markers while my grandfather tended the stones of his wife and mother-in-law. I had brought my own children there for picnics and history lessons.

In 2005, my Uncle Bill died at the age of 74 on a motorcycle after playing in a softball game. We brought some of his ashes to lay by his mother. He would share this spot with my parents when the time came. On a beautiful May Day full of blossoms and sunshine, we gathered to say “auf wiedersehen” to my Uncle, but for my sisters and I, it was to say good-bye to our parents as well.

They stood hand-in-hand, my mother wrapped in her ever-expressive colors, a bit bewildered by all the fuss and the number of vaguely familiar faces, but delighted by the colors of the flowers, the sunlight, the music and the laughter.

“Oh, I could really live right here!” she purred.
“We’ll be sure to come visit you,” my sisters cried.
“I’ll bring my guitar and play for you some more,” I promised.

Except for her and the babies of yet another generation, we all knew that the next time all of us would be back to this place together would be to mourn their loss and celebrate the life of this wonderful couple. For me, having that living moment, the image of my mother and father in that place, so happy and fulfilled at the end of their lives, the slow, agonizing deterioration of my mother has been easier to bear.

So last week, when it was time to speak to our father, to let him hear the tales one more time, to voice the honor and appreciation we hold for his countless gifts of love and support, no one held back. There were many tears, but so much more laughter. More flowers bloomed, burning the image into our hearts that will last our lifetimes.

And to think we can see it all on YouTube!

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Best Laid Plans

As I sit down to write this, within minutes the jet that was to carry us towards Oregon will roar over my head. In grief and regret, I remain here on the ground feeling groundless.

What was so joyfully planned and anticipated is postponed. No matter the good reasons, my eyes well with a deep sadness for once again disappointing my Oregon daughters. We talked and cried together on the phone last night. They have generously expressed their love and granted forgiveness, but still the gap of 20 years since visiting their Oregon homes may stretch to 21.

Typical of reunions, a cold that swept through the family in Maine has landed hard with me. In these few days between coastal visits, an agenda of tasks, reports, deadlines, applications, paychecks, etc, etc, seemed insurmountable to my swollen head, and I collapsed accordingly.

Plus, shouldn’t the World stop to watch the Olympics?

Most importantly, I juggled our trips around too many events to keep the summer straight, and failed to take into account pre-season soccer beginning 3 weeks before Labor Day instead of two. My son’s coaches were very unforgiving when asked to consider his absence for a week instead of one day. In college, I had been unable—even after two years—to overcome a coach’s disappointment over a lesser transgression. I could not bear the responsibility of a similar blight on my son’s career.

I could have boarded the plane this evening on my own, but the deepest struggle—the one that had lain painfully beneath the surface for weeks—was now exposed. As much as my heart longs to see my daughters and sister in their homes, no matter how much I want to stand on the edge of the earth looking for whales and eagles that still circle so many years since my living there, I am not ready.

Although this trip would have contributed greatly to my personal healing in some ways, there is business that must be organized here before I can go anywhere else. It is clear to me that my past is littered with postponement of business for pleasure. Often choices have been made to take the vacation despite failing contracts and runaway obligations. Blindly, I might turn towards the reward before the profit was earned. The largesse of my family and friends that have tolerated and supported me like a well-meaning addict cannot last forever. I could not take one more adventure on the promise that I will be better for my work upon my return.

The reward of a peaceful trip must be earned.

So tonight my daughters go about their daily chores sadly, my son kicks the ball despondently. My heart aches with a raw clutch of tears as if I have failed all my children once again.

In retrospect, I could have planned this better, been more realistic about my ability, my time, and my finances. I could have better cared for their feelings. It has been painful for all of us to dangle this, then snap it away.
Even as the plane now roars overhead (literally), two seats short of full, I am planning how to reschedule for myself a few months from now, for both of us in the Spring, perhaps even for all of us this summer, a trip to embrace my daughters as a man who has earned the time to revel in their homeland.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Shooting Stars

The ferry ride to an island is like passing through a door into another world.

We get out of the car. Chains clank, the diesel roars. The dock slips away so suddenly, so mysteriously that for an instant, in the sudden stillness of our journey, it feels the pylons and the shoreline are really what is falling away, until the movement of the boat is apparent, shuddering under our feet.

At the bow, we stand braced against the wind, legs a little bent and loose to absorb the waves' slap and break. Today the clouds are dark and swirling with threats of rain, the shoreline grey with mist, lobster boats roaring in fits from one buoy to the next.

Time is suspended, waiting to set feet on land again. With nowhere to go, nothing to do, we chat with strangers, as if friends, about their connections to the island. Beyond, the sea stretches, vast and unknowable, inviting us to trespass to a future promise and danger.

Back on land, my son immediately recognizes houses and docks that have been just paintings to him forever on our walls. Each turn reveals vistas of shorelines and possible adventures, both of us with 14 year old imaginations the first times we each have come here. Over the hills, we discover the harbor with sailboats at rest, and clusters of houses leading up from shore like an old village in a whaling story.

In these modern times, still in the tradition of island life, hands on the steering wheel raise in greeting to every passing car. Only a few roads, there are plenty of walkers and bikers, all waving in union, sharing this precious piece of land surrounded by the infinite sea.

We help my father step ever so slowly and carefully, painfully, from rock to rock out toward the water’s edge. He sits in the wheelchair, wrapped against the wind, nearly blind and deaf and at the end of his life, absorbing this memory. We take turns reading to him, or describing the patterns of surf spray or menacing clouds approaching from the mainland. His grandchildren and one great grandchild explore the tide pools around us as we had done 40 years ago while he painted on those very same rocks the paintings that still hang on so many of our walls

A picture of my mother sits on the end of the counter at one of the houses (we have rented three), reminding us of her unforgettable presence, even as she is so far away and drifting further from all of this that she has created and loved so deeply.

And tonight, overhead, the quantity of stars, the Milky Way heralding the Universe even further beyond the sea, inspires like the greatest of sermons, shooting stars punctuating. Humbled and tired, I let the warm laughter of family blanket my aching soul. Against my wishes to listen and participate, my eyes close with exhaustion, all the hard work of these past months coming to rest in the long embraces of sisters and father and so much more.

Time moves on, lives end. The generations replace themselves. Yet life on an island is something set apart, a suspension of the battle, the eerie calm in the center of the storm.

With God’s blessing, we rest, visit, and rejuvenate.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sing a Song of Sexpence

A frolicsome group of friends was gathered for its weekly Friday evening social last night. During dinner, a husband returned from a ten day business trip to his open-armed wife at the party. With much hoopla and jokes around “could the check get here any quicker?!”, we sent them home to what was predicted to be a wonderfully intimate reunion.

“Ten days, after all…” the heads all nodded together.

Except for two of us who looked at each other, having to draw much deeper within ourselves to find any sympathy around that time frame: ten days being just another ten more days in a long drought.

After nearly 20 years shut up in its case, the time has come—as part of my general over-hauling—to take my guitar to the repair shop. It is an instrument of beauty and graceful sound, purchased nearly 40 years ago with all the hard-earned money of a summer between college, and deserves fine-tuning.

The odd man in a dark shop, over-flowing with challenged guitars needing his careful attention, surmised that a few hours of adjustments to the bridge, saddle, neck and frets might regenerate the action passably. Additionally, he promised the clarity of sound would be worth an entire neck replacement should that be needed. I left my treasure with him, feeling completely illuminated by his confidence and reassurance that the brightness of the action could be restored.

Music in my family has always been important, but it was my sisters who had the perfect pitch, blending their voices while washing the dishes or hiking in the woods. I took up the guitar in sixth grade as a class project and was invited, if I wanted to sing, to do so in the next room or, preferably, way beyond (we were not always polite with each other and even worse about my father's accordion practice). Somebody else needed to tune the thing for years.

But without the expectation and pressure to be good at it, I continued to play in the next room, and after awhile, me and my guitar were welcomed on the camping trips. For a lark and a tease, one day I put a sister’s poems to melody, then soon began writing songs of my own. I experimented with school talent shows and eventually, by college, was playing regularly in public, solo, duo or with an occasional band.

I never had the fortune and talent to mount the stage at Wembley Stadium. It was surprise enough to play for a few hundred now and then. I did learn that very little is sweeter than being fully embraced by your own voice blending with others reflected back by a good sound system. And in all the years of playing so many notes, actually a verse and a half was recorded that might qualify as album quality (if they were still being made).

So it was easy to allow marriage and children to change my priorities and pack the instrument away. For these many years since, my guitar has rarely seen daylight, much less a spotlight, but has occasionally accompanied a tired little one to sleep.

What a joy unfolds when you discover that some things set aside remain with you always. Callouses can be rebuilt, the fingers thought too stiff can relearn their nimble movements. My mother, even deep in her world of Alzheimer’s, not recognizing anyone, could remember every word of every song I played for her last month.

All this week, I strengthened those lost callouses on the adequate but unfamiliar electric guitar, and stopped by my old home to sing out tunes on my piano in the empty evenings while my family has been away. I have passed the time, breathing heavily in anticipation like a young man looking forward to his third date with a new love.

The guitar is sadly not repaired in time for me to take it on my trips. But I am learning that patience is so much more than just a virtue. Ten days go by, then 10 more, then 10 weeks more, and as much as we want to immerse ourselves in the hope for the pleasure of the reward, impatience only builds frustration and anxiety.

My fingers itch. My voice resonates modestly without accompaniment. My heart throbs with the anticipation of new songs. The guitar will be repaired eventually. It is worth the investment. There will still be other trips for me to bring it along and sing a few songs for family and friends on the edge of a cliff at sunset.

I will love again.

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