A quick post—I am hard at work and have only a few minutes, but I needed to write this for my beloved friend P, who is still in Holland.
P has been going back and forth to Holland for almost a year, tending to her mother, whose health in her mid-80s has been in decline. She bought a ticket three weeks ago when she was told her mother had suffered another setback. Her mother had asked the nursing-home staff to email her daughter a photograph of herself in her nursing-home bed for Mother’s Day:
Een dikke kus van Ma!—A big fat kiss from Mom.
Gosh. It has been 14 years since I had a kiss from my mom, who died June 3, 1999.
It’s hard for P to be so far away from her mom. “She’s just worried about ME having a good day,” P said to me during our morning walk and her eyes spilled over. “She’s only thinking of me.”
That’s the kind of mom I want to be. I want to let my kid go and do his life, even if it’s in another country, on another continent, or in the same house. My first real exercise will come this summer. He’s 15 and can go wherever he wants in our city.
P and I have talked a great deal about how we can’t know when life’s great changes will happen, when the shit will finally come down. Useless to walk around holding an umbrella over my head. I have to live and practice enough flexibility, spontaneity and ingenuity to respond to life’s surprises. I meditate to discipline my mind, prying its rigid fingers off the stories it writes before the shit happens. Trying, always, to dictate the story arc (I usually have several running at once).
P booked the ticket. Then, once she got there, she worried: that something would happen.
That, this time, nothing would happen.
I was talking with some women in recovery this morning. We meet up early Thursdays and this morning I was talking about some changes in my life, telling them I’m responding with as much flexibility, spontaneity and ingenuity as I can but that I’m still procrastinating on some tasks, that it feels as though I’m letting myself down, Letting God Down, and that when all is said and done, I can’t control everything—Shit Happens.
“But shit is unknown,” one of my friends said. “We can’t know what shit’s going to happen. That’s what makes change so unnerving.”
To get out of my head, to stop compulsively controlling The Story, I’ve been walking P’s dog, Ginger, three or four times a week, along with my dog, Flo. I’ve been doing this since P started going away. I herd Flo into the back seat and drive to P’s house at around 8, by which time everyone else in P’s family is at school or work. Ginny jumps on me (I can hear P telling her to get down) and, even though I shouldn’t when she jumps like that, I give her treats and kisses because she smells like P’s perfume and because she loves me, because I miss P and I want to make her dog happy even if I can’t make her happy—even if I can’t see the smile on her face, even if I can’t feel her arm threaded through my elbow as we walk.
Walking Ginger and Flo takes me two hours. They’re big dogs (Flo is only 45 lbs. but she has a big-dog attitude), and I sometimes walk five or six miles to do it. In the summer P and I will spend three or four (sometimes five) mornings each week walking the dogs together.
P taught me that dogs actually smile. Especially Labradors.
Saturday I walked Flo, and P’s husband, whose name is also P, walked Ginger. The off-leash park is around the corner from their Loft/House and we walked up the hill in chilly, damp air. I’m training wiry Flo to obey and stocky Ginger to jump:
Sunday and Monday I didn’t sleep well. In the small hours Tuesday I woke and checked my phone: an email from P titled “Sad”:
My mom passed away this morning 7:10 Dutch time.
Two hours before I woke.
That morning I walked Ginger and Flo and on my way up the hill passed a sign hanging from an electrical box:
So I took a “motivator” for P. It was a handwritten poem, maybe put there as a project by neo-hip-hop-folk-rapper students at the school across the street. It’s about Unknown Shit About To Happen.
Running like the wind
Fast, faster, fast as can be
Running to wondrous things
To a life full of possibilities
No more lying around
Sitting and lazing on the ground
Nothing will come to me if I don’t go and get it
So I’ll run towards the things I want to get
And I don’t care anymore if I have to sweat
And as I run I see all new things
Different lands with all kinds of shapes and beings
I feel different airs
Smell different scents
And I can suddenly handle the idea of rent
For as I run I can see what can be
All sorts of fun is waiting for me
So I run and I run, until I can’t anymore
And then I decide to run some more
And although I’ve seen so much more now
I know that there’s so much more to make me go “wow”
And since you worry because I’ve never worked so hard
I’ll send you a letter saying “I’ve found my inner bard”
This bard tells me my journey’s just begun
And I know life’s about to get much more fun
And all because I decided to run
“When I come home,” P told me before she left, “I’m not leaving again for a long time.”
But who knows? We can’t know. She might fly off to Barcelona again, or to Siena, or run off to stay in the loft in New York City. I might drive to Boston or fly to Rome, book a train to Ancona and take a ferry to Zadar.
The fact is, when shit happens, my life usually gets a lot bigger. If I allow it. And I don’t think God cares whether I sail to Zadar, but I think God wants my life to be big.