if, on any one of the days of this past week, i had scribbled down every last thing i was trying to hold in my head or my heart, i might have run out of ink.
there was the phone call from school, saying the little one was sick again, please come fetch.
and there was the early morning email that someone very wonderful, very brave, had died.
there was the lost assignment notebook, and the lost $40. there was the rowing jacket that needed to be claimed, and the rower, too.
there was the doctor to visit, and the milkshake to wash it all down. there was the carpool — or two — i was scheduled to run, and did, even though the player of soccer was felled by a flu bug.
there were eight lunches to pack, and three days where a can of noodle-y soup sufficed for the one spending his days on the floor in a pile of blankets.
there was dinner times four. and a brouhaha the night the little one didn’t eat much from his plate, but somehow finagled a trip to the donut shop, riding shotgun with his unsuspecting papa.
then there was the rowing trip to pack for, and the deciding which grownup would drive to toledo and which would stay home for the soccer team pictures.
there was the neighbor whose papa had died, and the figuring out who would bring dinner.
there were tomatoes to pick before they burst, and hand-me-down hostas to plant before they shriveled and died.
sometimes i wonder if maybe we’re doing too much.
if maybe i’m trying to squeeze too very much into the too-narrow skins of my sausage.
sometimes–and that list up above is barely the least of it–i think maybe it’s not such a good idea to try to live like we do.
but then, despite it all, i find myself out in the world, gathering stories, doing the work that i love, and well i can’t imagine not getting to do that.
one fine early autumn morning this week, i was tromping through parks i might never have entered alone. i was meandering along a prairie river, tiptoeing across rocks laid in the path of trickling waters. i was deep in the fronds of a fern room, all laid out by that great designer of greenspace and parks, jens jensen, the dane who fell hard for the midwestern landscape, the prairie, the rocks swept in by the glaciers, the billowing shafts and nodding heads of the grasses.
yet another hot september morn found me seated beneath a crabapple tree on a wood bench in an english walled garden beside a ruddy-cheeked englishman, one with a sketch pad on his lap, and a mug of earl grey clasped in his fist. it was john brookes, i was sitting beside, the great designer of gardens english and otherwise, author of 26 books, and something of a living legend. we were talking, he and i, about the spirituality to be found in a garden, and the distinction he makes between vines and climbers, and why one belongs in a vineyard and the other is essential for ooomph and lift in a garden.
through it all i was gathering bits and yarn for the most humbling sort of story to write (at least in my book, that is): an obituary, the distillation of one great and layered life into a mere 800 words. it is the writer’s job always, but especially here, to sift and pick, to harvest only the richest fruits from the tree of a life. to hold up mere threads that suggest the whole tapestry. to leave the reader gasping and grasping, understanding a life as its flame is snuffed out. oh, lord, let me do right.
so, yes, despite it all, despite the nights when i did not sleep, drew the bath at 3 in the morning in hopes of quelling a raging hot fever, despite the grumbling there in the kitchen, and the hauling myself out of bed to pack yet another brown bag lunch, to simmer one more pot of oatmeal, i cannot imagine a life much richer: to learn history at the foot of a great historian, to talk gardens with one of the best in the world, to talk to the still-raw widow, to ease from her the words that will tell the world of her one true and lasting love.
despite it all, i’d do it again. and chances are, soon as the page of the calendar turns, and a new week starts all over again, i will.
the variations are many, but the theme is constant: i cannot imagine one half of my life without the other, and even when they bump and collide, each half makes me so much more than a whole.
oy. forgive me. this might seem more of a lonely unspooling than reaching for common thread. except that every one of us likely has a corollary to the mayhem and triumph above: we live half-crazed lives, uphill climbs, because we believe we’ll get to a mountain top. there will be a moment, we convince ourselves, when all the headaches are swept away and the big picture is clear: the combined steps of our journey have taken us to a place beyond our dreams. how do you wrestle the dailiness of your life into a meaningful climb? do tell.
and p.s. for those of you wondering about that new tribune adventure, it’s coming next week. in the news biz schedules change with the blink of an eye. so the editors held off for awhile….