Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Swinging Along the Open Road, in the Fall of the Year...."

About thirty minutes north and west from here one reaches the old vineyards, some 75 years old, interlaced with the new, some just ready for planting. My friend Elaine and I took a drive Wednesday to soak in the beauty. We met few cars but many bicyclists on the rural roads. I couldn't help remembering the old camp song "Swinging Along." I croaked and "ah"ed while she drove.

It was a delightful adventure. Not quite like October in Maine or Colorado, and not as orange as Hope Valley on the Eastern Sierra, but boasting a palette all its own.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Celebrating the Old

Pull off to the right on Highway 12 about half a mile east of here and you see old gnarled
grape roots, some looking 100 years old, in stark contrast to the acre upon acre of new Sonoma grape vineyards, the money crop replacing apples and pears. Last Tuesday four of us ventured out to take photos.  I love the weathered texture of the old roots and the stories they tell, so why not extend the same generosity to myself? I came home and wrote the following:

Who Is That Old Woman?

Who is that old woman?
Sleeps in my bed
Eats at my table
She is not me.

Sure, she lives in this house
Naps in this recliner
Drops unread newspapers on my floor
But she is not me.

Downs pills for heart and belly
Drinks decaf coffee, one cup
Checks batteries in her hearing aids
Tut, it is not me.

No dog or cat snuggles her feet
Incessantly freezing
Looking ancient, toenails yellow.
Alas, she is not me. 

Drooping eyes squint at the tv
Breath jagged, footsteps wary
She rises to pee in the night.
For certain she is not me.

And when she crawls back in bed
No other curving back warms her breast
No tender hand strokes her thigh
Still she is not me.

For I am twenty years younger.
I climb ladders to pluck pears.
I play Little Sir Echo with the Great Horned Owl.
I relish workouts at the gym.

I prune sixty roses in spring
I divide 300 iris in August.
And when fall comes, as it is now,
I embrace the persimmon and paint up a storm.

Often I melt at the tender smile of my lover
Who forgives and forgets my inadequacies.
In whose eyes I am perfect and still sensuous
As she struggles to steer her walker to bed.

The old lady who lives here knows none of this.
She grumbles and growls at her frailties.
She grasps railings stepping cautiously
She decries her loneliness at night.

Perhaps when winter comes I will
Get up my dander and ask who is this interloper?
Like a guest who smells like a fish in three days
She is surely not me. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Make New Friends, But Ke--ep the Old...

As the refrain goes.

When I moved up here eleven and a half months ago I was cautioned by other Oakmont residents to expect my bay area friends to drop off.  "The commute gets old" they said. To my delight, experience has proved them wrong. Many friends make it here often to touch base, to visit, to paint, to check up on their old friend. Even the realtor, Jackie, who sold my Oakland house.  This delights me beyond measure. 
Beth, smiling from above,  one of my painting buddies, came up last week to take me to the eye doctor, taking a day off work to do it. Now if that isn't caring I don't know what is. Here we are at Cafe Citti right down the road a bit stuffing ourselves with Italian food. 
Other loyal friends call all the time. Whee. 
My Steinbeck course is winding down and I have learned so much.  He would say my phalanxes are working, for without them one can not exist. My friends are what keep me smiling, including my new Oakmont painting friends with whom I'm sharing an art exhibit here this weekend.
Red and yellow color is beginning to glow on the grape vines. My friend in Maine sent me this photo of pumpkins there, but they are in good company here. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Each day in the Senate chambers Barry Black, the senate chaplain, delivers words to remember. His prayers grow more political and memorable as the government shut down continues.  “Save Us From Our Madness” he implores.  So far the Tea Partiers scoff him, but like so many others I cherish his words of wisdom, delivered with passion.
Last Sunday’s outstanding presentation at Oakmont’s Sunday Symposium (Herb Silverman, Candidate Without a Prayer) brought to the foreground once more my own closet behavior about being an atheist.  Not that I don’t fess up to it when asked, but neither do I proclaim it, whereas Herb proudly appeared in his favorite attire, a t-shirt with a happy face proclaiming “Smile, there is no hell”.  Herb, a Jewish atheist from New York, retired as a mathematics professor from a university in South Carolina. He applies mathematical logic to the question of God and the bible.  He is a hundred times more comfortable with his position than am I., but then I am no mathematician.
As a child, I clung to the concept of God and Jesus, like the paste I made with flour and water for my paper dolls. I think I learned all this dogma from the crumbling brown Sunday school a few blocks away.  I think Magnolia Presbyterian was on its last legs and mostly run by volunteers who tended to be evangelical. It closed down when I was about ten, leaving a big hole in my life.  My parents were not athiests, but neither were they church-goers. Sometimes we sang “Jesus Loves Me” on car trips, but I think it was because it was a simple ditty. Likewise my big sister kindly put up with my eccentric belief system, but then she was always kind to accept my eccentricities. No one stopped me from saying grace before meals, or kneeling to say prayers before bed, but I was very much alone in this. I surely needed the crutch. My belief seemed like the most stable element in my strange and highly dysfunctional household.  Also, memorizing things came easy for me, so I always got the most stars for quoting bible verses.
I remember about age nine making a private  appointment with my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Hansen.  She was a kind, rich, stout lady and it took a lot of courage on my part to ask to see her alone.  “I wake up a lot in the night with dreams” I told her. “They seem important and I can’t figure them out”, I confessed, “and then in the morning try as I might I can’t remember them.”  I felt guilt ridden, struggling to hold back the tears.
Her response was serious and comforting. “Don’t worry, Bonnie, if God wants you to remember them he will tell you when you grow up.”  What a relief I felt. Small wonder that forty years later as a psychotherapist one of my favorite activities was helping clients interpret dreams.
When at 15, my father died of a sudden heart attack I turned even more deeply toward God. I prayed and prayed to God to help me understand. Lo, he never did.
Though out college and my early career years I was drawn to the episcopal church, mostly because I loved the ritual and the music.  I thought of it as a sanctuary and a place of safety and beauty.  I loved singing in the choir. It helped that I had the good fortune to have ministers who inspired me and accepted my homosexuality. I would turn to them in times of illness or life crisis.  One is still important in my life today.
Sometime in my late thirties or early forties I began to question my belief in God. Though I occasionally said prayers, I thought of myself as a phony, or fraud, because I only half-believed in what I was doing. I couldn’t stand the feeling of deceit. I liked to think of myself as still spiritual, but I slipped comfortably into non-believing.
Ironically, when Lee and I joined the ranks of AA, I became obsessed with honesty and the remnants of pretending to be a Christian melted away.  But it wasn’t until my sister died that the final something in me “clicked”. One might even say it was a spiritual experience. All at once I knew in the deepest part of me that there is no God.
           I’m indebted to you, Herb Silverman, for through your humor and mathematical applications you force me to hold up the magnifying glass to my own belief systems.  I’m indebted to you, too, Barry Black, for the eloquence of your words in challenging the Senate to look at their own behavior. 
          Even in my most religious days I never embraced the concept of heaven or eternal life, but living without God is a big loss.  I miss the comfort.  I miss the beauty.  I grieve for you, God.  Whoops! How can I grieve for you if you don’t exist?