I can feel her eye roll all the way from heaven as I sit in the hotel breakfast lounge. Not for me, of course. She would never have allowed me to go out into a public area dressed like that. She led by example. Hair, make-up, clothes — even when at their most casual — impeccable. And I wanted to be just like her.
When I was old enough, she got me my own starter kit for make-up. Most likely they were the free gifts from her purchases. She wanted me to learn with my own products. And not to mess up hers. This was clear from my earliest of memories. If I wanted to dunk my cookie, she gave me my own cup of coffee. And so it was with make-up. With clothes. I could admire her shoes, but never walk around in them. Because these things were special. They meant something. She took pride in herself. To be tall in stature was good, to be tall in self-worth was priceless.
And so we dressed for the occasion. Each day was just that. Whether we were toasting, or just going to the lobby for toast. I finished my morning coffee, not in judgement, but in thanks. I stand tall. Every day. My mother still sees to that.
They say that paper has a memory. Meaning, if you fold it, the crease remains. Perhaps the same is true of the heart.
The limb I found myself wobbling upon yesterday was a bit more unstable than usual, so I gathered in my heart and took it to the paper. It always welcomes me. And even with all of its security, it still challenges me. Dares me to create. To learn. To grow. To find the beauty even in this moment of uncertainty.
I didn’t plan the portrait, I just started to paint. As she came to life, I knew what she needed to wear. My mother would have loved this ruffled blouse. How it gently gathered around the neck and framed the face. She was the queen of white ruffles, my mother. Such a delicate beauty.
And there it was — found — the uncertain beauty of the moment.
My heart is not broken. But it will be forever creased. Remembering and saving all the love. And it is here, in the beautiful folds, that I have the courage to move from limb to limb. To dare the lift of love, ruffle my feathers from heart to face, and let myself fly.
It wasn’t certainty, but the complete absence of the need for it. It was only a moment. Perhaps it will take even longer to explain than it lasted. But it did happen. This morning. I walked out the back door. There was no change in temperature. It felt like the world was one big room. Everything equal. I walked around the yard in my swimsuit. I can only describe the feeling as enough. I felt thin enough. Pretty enough. Clever enough. (Not because I had changed, or gotten better, it was just that everything was connected. There was no better, no worse — we all just were.) I was loved enough. Given enough. Not wanting. Nor waiting. Just being. A part of it all.
And I hope you can hear the joy, the gratitude in the word enough.
I jumped into the pool. Still the same temperature. I swam my laps in the blue that held no separation. Was it sky or water? Swimming or flying? I wasn’t sure. But it was enough. Leaving the pool, the water beaded upon my skin. Under the sun. Slowly drying. I was embraced. Framed. Just as the woman in the painting. Golden.
By the time I reached the house, it had passed.
Only to be felt in glimpses now. But those glimpses, I smile knowing, they too, will be enough. I’ll catch a flash of it, walking past her, hanging on the wall. Or maybe walking on the street. I’ll smile as she randomly strolls by, effortless, this stranger, not known by name, but by frame, both feeling, it is indeed golden — just to be — and we are enough.
I sit now within and between the labored breaths of my mother-in-law. How many more? It’s not certain. But there’s no need for it. Not now. In and out. Pausing. And there it is — the slightest smile between the gasps. A glimpse of just being. And I know it’s enough. It has been so beautifully enough.
She’s somewhere between water and sky now. Her arms, merely twigs, make a flutter. The sun is calling. She, I, we, all caught in the golden glimpse. It is more than enough.
We took the bus from the roller rink to city park. Our sweaty legs were the only things grounding us to this world and the green pleather bus seats. We hovered between the exaltation of this finale to the fifth grade, and the silent wishing that this day would never end.
We jumped on picnic tables and rolled in the promise of summer grass. Our teachers started a fire and passed around graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey chocolate bars. Some of the boys lunged with the toasting skewers, fighting off the time. Then blackened their marshmallows in the fire. The girls roasted theirs to a delicate brown. The hot marshmallow melted the chocolate sandwiched between the graham crackers. We all shook our heads in agreement to the name — s’more! For that’s all we wanted — more!
Perhaps it was the crash of the sugar high that silenced us on the bus ride back to school, but I think it was more than that. The open windowed breezes blew through t-shirts and pony tails, as our heads rested on classmates’ shoulders. Maybe we knew how special this day was. How exotic to catch yourself in transition. The magic of this moment, no longer a fifth grader, not yet in junior high…just here, together, joyfully sweated in our exhaustive friendships of youth. I mean we used everything. We spared nothing. We gave each other every laugh. Every tear and fear. We faced every open window. Together. Knowing we had it all. Knowing there would be more.
I laughed the first time I saw them in the exotic aisle of the grocery store here in France. Hershey Bars. Exotic! And then I was transported in time and place. Tasting this magical day of so long ago, so far away. And in that moment, I thought, they got it right. What could be more magical than this? More exotic?
I stood silent. Catching myself in the between. Hovering in this space of brand new and brand familiar. My imaginary pony tail brushed across my face and I smiled.
I will give everything. And humbly shake my head in the agreement, “S’more!”
The amount of reasons not to do it had to be plentiful. It could be too dry. Too wet. Too hot. Not warm enough. The tractor could fail. His body could fail. Grain prices out of his control. And yet, I never heard my grandfather complain.
Sitting on his overalled lap at the card table he only spoke of the current hand he was playing. He and the chosen three adults laughed, accused, pointed, shook heads in knowing victory, slapped losing cards on the table, and kept playing. Oh how they loved to play cards after a full day of farming. And when the sun came up the next day, he walked past the card table, pocketed his pipe, and went to the field that was given, worked it accordingly, without complaint. Each year turning it from brown, to green, to gold.
Yesterday at our family gathering, (a multi-national event), I was speaking with my German niece in English in the French countryside. “I don’t have enough time,” she said. “And I’m sort of afraid,” she continued. “And I could fail…” She offered up reason after reason not to paint, even though she claimed she wanted to. She was looking so far ahead. Beyond canvases painted, sold and shipped. A business created, and what if that failed, all before a brush or tube was even purchased. “You could just paint a picture,” I said. I could hear my grandfather’s voice deep from within.
He never played next year’s hand. He farmed in the day that was given. What a lesson to be learned. I remind myself constantly. Because I, at times, can get way too far ahead of myself as well… with all the what ifs of tomorrow. But really, we only have this day. And I choose to make something of it.
It occurs to me as I’m typing this, the answer to one of her questions. I told her I was working in my favorite palette. Stroke by stroke in these moody, earthly colors. She asked why I loved it. It’s so clear to me today, it’s the hand I was given.
Thank you, Grandpa.