The Glue of Love and Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

Albert Einstein, in a letter, after the death of his friend, Michele Besso

To time we’re young

a blush over morning

brilliance that fades

repeating through years

and generations

 

Words sail through space,

bubble like champagne,

like the thoughts shared by friends over wine

through time

What is the glue, she asks,

that binds us,

that holds us together

some friends, but not all

over distance and years?

 

I have no answers,

the universe is a mystery

the dazzling beauty

of the night sky in June

the rhythms of nature and time

sometimes it comes together

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Heritage Vineyards Mullica Hill, New Jersey

other times though,

there is confusion and contradiction

the day that changes from sun to rain

and back again

we walk through city streets

see a bride and groom

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smell the scent of rain-damp flowers

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get caught in the next downpour

nature is confused

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We watch a movie

of family and history,

and family history

a mystery

life, death, survival

hiding underground

and then burying the secrets

the sins of the father

haunt him and his children

like ghosts

spirits that rise from graves

there is jealousy, too,

and sister-love

and music

some also underground

circling

becoming the means to an end

to forgive

to heal

 

We walk through crowds of people celebrating Philly Pride Day

rainbow flags on display

(people, too)

have dinner at a bar

then on to see a play

a musical

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another tale of family secrets

the father has a hidden life

(some boys, some underage)

many in the audience chuckle knowingly

watching his daughter coming of age

coming to know herself

and, of course, I remember

(not a letter)

but the phone call,

the funny, memorable, filled-with-laughter phone call

from my daughter

not that it’s a surprise

not that it changes anything for me

though it changes her world

and it must have been a scary call for her

and she must have sighed with relief afterward,

but love is love is love

and all I want is for my daughters to be happy

the show has more secrets

and more tragedy

and three versions of Alison—

not separated–

past, farther past, and present–

existing at the same time,

as it does within our minds

 

It is Father’s Day,

my father is gone for many years

I think of the secrets he must have had

the life before children

I see old photos of him

younger hims I never knew

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I can’t talk to him,

or I could,

but he can’t answer me

not in words that I can hear

perhaps in dreams

or illusions

or in a bending of time

still there are bonds, love,

glue that binds us

despite secrets

despite not knowing

he lives in my heart and mind–

is he gone–or not?

 

Welsh Cookies

I made Welsh Cookies–called Daddy Cookies at our house–for my husband for Father’s Day.

 

We saw the movie Past Life, an Israeli movie set in 1977 in Israel, Germany, and Poland.  Trailer here.  We saw the musical Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel. It won five Tony Awards in 2015. Here’s the Tony Awards performance.

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Monday Morning Musings:

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“Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

–David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul.”

–David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

 

Nine people killed in a Charleston Church

on a June day last year,

forty-nine killed in an Orlando club

a week ago this June

innocent people going about life,

eat, pray, love

dance to the music

black, white, Latino, gay, trans, and straight

hearts that loved

no longer beat

no more inhaling and exhaling

sending breath into the air

in and out

inhale

exhale

 

We began as creatures of the sea

perhaps a sea sponge, 640 million years ago

or perhaps a comb-jelly drifting through the ocean,

we emerged from the sea

a cross between fish and reptile,

walking as if on crutches,

moving between sea and land

what compelled us,

creatures of earth

to leave the sea

to breath the air

inhale

exhale

 

And yet, the sea calls to us still

a longing for the rhythm of life,

rocking on the waves

that soothing lullaby of motion,

we tell tales of mermaids and selkies

creatures of both sea and land,

fantasy, or secret desire

to live between these worlds?

We’ve been sprinkled with stardust,

sparkles in our genes,

perhaps we have relatives on distant worlds

who swim in other oceans

whose breath sparkles as they

inhale

exhale

 

My husband and I spent the day on the beach

we walked, leaving footprints behind us

that filled with water and vanished

removing all signs that we had strolled that path

we splashed in the surf,

causing ripples in the water,

like those we create each day, existing

rippling time,

watching the seabirds soar above us

their wings wide and white,

I thought of angels,

like those shielding the mourners in Orlando,

like those who stood at the funeral of Matthew Shepard.

I watched those birds,

wondering about the fathers and mothers

protecting their young ones

do they listen for their breaths

as they

inhale

exhale?

 

We read our books

and watched the waves,

a beautiful day,

the sky bluer than the sea

almost cloudless as we arrived,

but then clouds grew

blooming like flowers,

floating like creatures in the sea

or like the frozen breath of giant beings

formed as they

inhale

exhale

 

Father’s Day,

neither of us with a father any longer,

but he a father, and I a mother,

our children began as cells, multiplying,

growing arms, legs, brains

swimming in an amniotic sea

listening to my heart beat

and my breathing

in and out

till they emerged,

tiny and perfect,

and breathed on their own

and walked upon the land

inhale

exhale

 

Do souls cross the ages

as clouds cross the sky?

do we wander through space

after we die?

do we visit oceans on distant worlds?

Do we breathe,

absorbing stardust and infinity

becoming luminous, as we

inhale

exhale?

 

As oceans are made up of drops

so each one of us is a drop in the universe

each drop is inconsequential,

each drop is unique and important,

the universe is composed of such paradoxes

and so we float and swim

and we drift, we walk on crutches

and we fight to survive

we breath

inhale

exhale

but when the sea calls to us

we return

carried by tide and time

to the sea that gave us life.

 

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Ocean City, NJ June 19, 2016

 

On Saturday night, “Father’s Day Eve,” I called it, I made pizza, and we watched the movie Cloud Atlas, based on the book by David Mitchell. Somehow we missed it when it was in the theaters. It’s not for those who like straight forward narrative, but we loved it. I would definitely watch it again. All of the main actors play multiple roles, changing gender and ethnicity. I haven’t read the novel, but I have read David Mitchel’s The Bone Clocks, which also told multiple interconnected stories over time.

Looking back, I discovered that my Father’s Day post last year discussed my father, his life, his death, and how he loved to take us out to eat. I also discussed the Charleston shootings. If you want to read it, you can find it here.

 

The idea of animals walking as if they used crutches, came from this article.

You can read more about the angels here.

 

 

 

Teach Your Children Well

Monday Morning Musings

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

–Umberto Eco

“Peace is always beautiful,

The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It was hot and steamy. The sun struggled to peek out from behind the clouds for much of the day that, despite the gloom, was also the summer solstice. I baked my husband’s favorite cookies, Welsh Cookies. One daughter called, and the other was here for our dinner of total pig-out killer nachos. My husband is retiring from teaching in a few days; our daughter is a new teacher. Father’s Day is different when you no longer have a father and your children are grown. Being a parent is different, too—not better or worse—just different.

Father's Day of the past.

Father’s Day of the past.

When my father was alive, he often treated us to dinner at a restaurant on holidays such as this. We frequently went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, but whenever he found a new favorite restaurant, we would go there. When he found a new restaurant he liked, he visited it all the time. He knew the names of the owner and the servers. He enjoyed the role of patriarch, treating us–and sometimes our friends, too. We would eat vast quantities of food, talk, and laugh.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Last night I did my best to follow the tradition of lots of food and conversation. It was not a big holiday meal, but really, those nachos were pretty amazing. As regular readers know, food and family are important themes in my life.

It’s well over a decade since my father died. My sisters and I sat vigil at his hospital bed, knowing it would be his last night. Death hovered in the background, understanding that we waited for the dawn, not wanting our father to die in the blackness of night. When Death finally came to carry my father away, my father fought him. Oh, how he fought! His death rattle was his final, terrible and terrifying battle cry, but he was vanquished by Death, as we all are.

I miss my father. Not in an every moment of every day type of sorrow, but at certain moments. Often it’s sudden and unexpected. I’ll think, “Dad would have liked this show or this restaurant.” I wonder if he would have finally bought a computer, and if he would have been on Facebook. I think he would have loved to stream Netflix–if he could figure it out. I wish he could have seen our daughters grow up. He would have been so proud to see them graduate from college. He would have attended all of their shows. He would have loved to have been at our older daughter’s wedding last year, my sister’s wedding last fall, and our younger daughter’s wedding soon-to-be. But it was time for him to go.

It is sad when someone dies of disease. We might say, “Why him? Why her? Why now?” But somehow we understand that the body can turn traitor, and we don’t have the answers.

When someone dies as an act of random, senseless violence—well, how do you cope? Who imagines that when their mother/father/daughter/son/friend goes to a prayer meeting they will not come home? Accidents happen, yes, but who would expect a loved one to be killed because someone decided he would murder people with their skin color that night?

I don’t know how I would have reacted.

The families of the 9 victims of the Charleston shooting have exhibited the values that many other professed Christians never display—chiefly forgiveness and love instead of hate. Even as they mourn, they, or at least some of them, have expressed the wish to forgive the shooter. Forgiving is not condoning. Forgiving is not forgetting, but according to research, it may help both individuals and communities heal. I hope it does.

Yesterday, the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Mother Emanuel,” welcomed strangers, black and white, into their church to begin the healing process. Racism exists in the US, a legacy of slavery, euphemistically called “the peculiar institution” in the 19th century. The very founding of this church has its roots in racism and slavery when black men and women, slave or free, were not welcomed by white congregations. It is the church attended by Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man who bought his own freedom after winning a lottery. Imagine having to buy your own freedom. In what world is this OK? Vesey planned a slave revolt in Charleston that was foiled by informants. As a result, Charleston passed and enforced stricter slave codes, and built a large fortified armory to guard the city. The Confederate flag still flies in Charleston, and throughout much of the South. Images of the Confederate flag appear on hats and bumper stickers—and not only in the South. Some people insist that the flag is a symbol of southern pride, but I suspect that few of them are black. This is a flag of racism.

America. Sweet land of liberty. Our nation was founded with the sound of those demanding freedom from tyranny and the cries of those who remained in shackles. We are a land of contradictions, but we are also a land of hope and change.

“Teach your children well.” What are the scraps of wisdom they will learn from you? “Feed them on your dreams.” Make them good ones.

My dad was not a perfect man. I’m sure the victims of this hate crime were not perfect either. His life ended too soon, but he died of natural causes. There is nothing natural about being gunned down in a church.

I don’t believe in Heaven, but if there is a heaven, I hope my dad is playing with our dog Zipper there. I hope he gets to eat huge sardine and onion sandwiches and big bowls of ice cream. I hope he has stacks of books at his feet with lots of little note cards sticking out of them, as he decides to learn about a new subject. I hope he gets to play pinochle with his friends, who argue loudly with him, tell jokes, and enjoy meals together.

If there is a heaven and the victims of the Charleston shooting are watching their families and our nation from it, I hope they will see healing. I hope that one day they will see an end to racism.

Hold your loved ones close. Cherish your memories. Dream of a better world.

“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

–Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”

What is a Father?

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As millions throughout history have discovered, it is easy to become a father—a few thrusts done in love, lust, or violence, and the biological act is completed and the father can walk away if he chooses to. It is much more difficult to actually be a parent to the child that arrives nine months later.

         Concepts of fatherhood vary across the globe. Through the ages, concepts of fatherhood have changed in Western culture. When British colonists came to what is now the United States, families were idealized as “little commonwealths.” Fathers were considered to be the head of the household, as a king was the head of a nation. By the mid-eighteenth century, the concept was changing, as were ideas of marriage, and many couples expected to be equal and loving partners within the marriage. Although men still had charge of business and politics, the domestic sphere became women’s domain, and so did most matters regarding child rearing.*

         Concepts of American fatherhood have changed within my lifetime. I was a quiet ninth-grade student when I first met my future father-in-law; I was a bit terrified. He was a stern father to his two sons, the epitome of the button-downed fifties man, the man in the gray flannel suit. Yet, there was no doubt that he loved his sons deeply. He mellowed as a grandfather, allowing our two little girls to wrap their arms and whims around him, as they prattled about things he was clueless about. What did he know about little girls? But he would sing, “C is for Cookie,” and played with them. Later, he became the adored “Grandpa With a Cane” to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s son.

         A blogger friend and I have both commented in separate posts that our fathers did not know how to do laundry. My mother said that my father never changed any of our diapers, and she handled the household duties and childcare arrangements (as well as working full-time in their antique business). But my father played with my little sister and me. He took us on field trips—and after they were divorced, he took us on journeys to museums, movies, and historical sites. He even took our friends with us on vacations to the Jersey shore.

         My own husband was a “hands-on” father from the beginning. While women of an older generation marveled at this, I expected it. One summer when I had a fellowship and he was home from teaching, he would take the girls to the pool each afternoon, and I would meet them there later. “Isn’t he a wonderful father, taking the little girls to the pool?” they gushed. Well, yes, it was wonderful—in the same way that it was wonderful, when I, their mother, took them when he was at work. I guess that shows how times have changed.

         Fathers of all sorts are found in mythology, religion, history, and literature. For example, there’s Zeus, father of the gods, to the ancient Greeks. Often pictured with a thunderbolt, he ruled gods and humans–and fathered many of each. The Judeo-Christian-Muslim God is also portrayed as a father, and the bible is filled with patriarchs, such as Abraham. Kings and tyrants (sometimes one and the same) are often referred to as fathers of the country, but their literal fatherhood has been an issue when it came to succession—think of Henry VIII and his six wives.

         Here in the US, we refer to the Revolutionary Era leaders as “the Founding Fathers.” We know now that they were both ordinary and extraordinary. Many of them had lofty minds, but feet of clay—they were human, not demigods. George Washington, “father of our country,” was tall, imposing, and popular. He was elected unanimously to be the first president of the United States. He suffered from dental problems, and he and his wife Martha never had children of their own, although he helped to raise the children from her previous marriage, and then two grandchildren. Washington was a slaveholder. He freed his slaves in his will but was unable to free the slaves belonging to his wife.

         Fathers abound in literature, and they are as varied as literature itself. The tragic King Lear descending into madness to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Bennet trying to cope with and marry off his daughters. Jean Valjean raises a daughter as his own and crazed Jack Torrance of The Shining tries to kill his own son. The heroic Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my favorite literary father.

         What is a father? I don’t know. Perhaps to paraphrase the famous phrase by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, “I know one when I see it.”

         What are some of your favorite literary or historical fathers—good or bad?

 

*This is vastly oversimplified. For more on marriage and family in colonial and Revolutionary America, here are just a few suggestions:

Morgan, Edmund S. 1944. The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England. New York: Harper and Row.

Morgan, Jennifer L. 2004. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Norton, Mary Beth. 1996. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800, with a new preface. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Smith, Merril D. 1991. Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. New York: NYU Press.

Wilson, Lisa. 1999. Ye Heart of a Man: Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.