Sometimes I go about pitying myself,
and all the time
I am being carried on great winds across the sky.
Most of the time, I think we are being carried on great winds across the sky. There is help all around us, in the forms of people and nature and mysterious gifts from an address unknown.
At seven-thirty this morning I called the Chevron gas station in my little town of Montclair to see if Tommy would take a look at my car. It has a funny sound since I came back from vacation in Lakes Tahoe and Almanor. Tommy said, "Bring it in." He'll stop what he's doing to check things out and tell me what he can. He knows I won't get my car fixed there; he's just helping me out.
When I was staying with friends in Lake Almanor, I received some upsetting news. I had a difficult time sleeping that night, and the next morning, I got up early and groggily and went for a run. The mountain sky was rosy blue, the air crisp, bracing. I ran on a sunlit path through cedar and pine, worrying, and then saw a rabbit with big ears leaping over rocks and fallen branches. The world stilled for a moment of joy.
Maybe we are here to help each other, and that's it! As writers, we write for ourselves, but I think the deeper motivation is to offer something. I believe our natural inclination is to give, and when we don't give, when we hold life in a too-tight fist, we don't feel right.
I've been helped so often I had to write a book about it, my memoir, which I finished this summer. More to come on that story, but one of the epigraphs for the memoir is from Evening by one of my favorite novelists, Susan Minot:
She thought of how much people changed you. It was the opposite of what
you always heard, that no one could change a person. It wasn't true. It was
only through other people that one ever did change.
My husband Kenneth has definitely changed me. As I write this, I'm listening to the washing machine go through its final spin. I do Kenneth's laundry. Eighteen years ago, I said I wouldn't do a man's laundry ever again. Fold his stinking socks. Are you kidding? I fold and fold Kenneth's socks now. He has a lot of socks. I fold them exactly the way he wants them folded. I've become a sock-folder. And I do all the dishes. Kenneth doesn't even know how to use the dishwasher. Ah, but he's a primo chef and cooks heaven for me. We eat the earth together, with gratitude, giving and taking, taking and giving.
I'm lucky, so lucky, to have been given this chance to give to another. It might not have been so, and that's what my memoir is about, too.
Here's a poem about luck and the fountain of giving, from my second collection of poetry, just out this summer, Zephyr:
(The lines should be in one continuous block; no stanza breaks, but the format won't behave. Help!):
One day I won't think I'm so lucky,
and I'll realize how lucky I was
like today, driving home in traffic after the Russian roulette
of the mammogram, and the driver behind me going 110
misses my car by a half-inch, and the police have cordoned
off the lanes containing the mattress and the bucket,
and the leafy green July world looks like an arugula salad,
the light like Dijon mustard drizzling through the branches,
and I'm hungry for the earth
because I don't live enough in it while I'm living.
I want to forget my heart's amnesia,
embrace my breath's insomnia,
staying awake all night without me, breathing in more
of this life than I'll ever smell or taste or touch,
and I wish I could see myself sleeping, or your face
when you don't have your face on,
when you're alone and loneliness has bloomed into
a giant broom and swept clean every corner of self-pity.
I love us then like the early morning walk we took
in an unknown city, the sky like a blue egg
balanced on high dark walls,
the broken fountain with its few shining pennies.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society