Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Mark fills a huge coffee mug with kitty kibble, and he pours filtered water into a big glass, and, just as dusk sets in, he walks across the street for the feeding of the cats. These are the cats we’d thought were taken care of; but, after the dust settled, and after their people finally, irrevocably, moved away, it became clear that the cats were living under the front slab at the empty house.
Mark, who would tell you he’s not a cat person,–who might even tell you he hates the damned things,–feeds the cats every night. There are three of them: a big gray-striped cat, a small gray-striped cat, and a black cat with a Roman collar. When they see Mark they gather on the cement block stoop, and they sing to him. The little one runs across the street to meet him, dances between his legs.
The clerical cat has bulging sides; we think it may be a mommy-to-be.
A ‘For Sale’ sign went up in front of the house after the former neighbors were well and truly gone. There was a brisk flow of people in, looking; we got to know the realtor’s car. But early this week, the realtor met some people in front of the house. There was a great flurry of hand shaking, and the realtor took the ‘For Sale’ sign with her when she left.
Now the same two cars have been at the house each day. There is a lean and grizzled-looking older man who drives the smaller car; there are two woman, both plump and blonde and pretty, maybe a mom and daughter, who arrive in the other.
“What about the cats?” Mark and I ask each other, worried. I take the dog for a walk, and the women pull up. I hear one of them saying, “Come here! Come here, buddy!” and making clicking noises, inviting noises, with her tongue. Maybe they’ll adopt those critters.
But when they leave at the end of the day, the cats are there and hungry. Mark slips across the street under cover of darkness and fills the bowls that still sit on the slab.
Will the new owners take the cats on as pets? Will they appreciate the fact that we—the whole neighborhood ‘we’–have nurtured those cats through a difficult winter, making sure they are fed and warm, or will they wish we’d found a different solution?
What will happen to the cats?
There is no way, right now, to know. When the people are well and truly in, we can wander across, make their acquaintance, find out their feelings about those feline residents. Right now, we simmer, and surreptitiously ferry cat food across the street.
It’s a between-time; there is nothing we can do but wait and see.
In the mornings, there is bird song, bright and sharp and clear; single notes break the silence as the ebony sky grays, and, swiftly, more join in. There’s a cacophony, a full-throated chorus.
Spring is here, we think, and it’s a joyous thought after a rugged winter.
The weather warms, and Mark and Jim break out the cargo shorts. Shy crocuses shiver up between clumps of grass. The daffodils push up in the front yard; buds appear, nodding like sleepy heads.
And then the temperature plunges and robins hop through snowy yards. We huddle by the fireplace with our books at night, reconciled to the return of the frigid air. It’s not really winter, but it’s not yet spring either. It’s a between time. Anything can happen, weather-wise, and we can’t move forward with spring things until this interim is over.
After Christmas, Jim takes a deep breath and makes a decision. He is going back to school, pursuing his bachelor’s degree, designing a program that will help him work at a library. He emails his college of choice, makes an appointment, meets with an advisor. The advisor sends him home with a list of things to do, and Jim sets to work, requesting transcripts, filling in forms. He gets everything done and he waits.
Then, last week, good news arrives: he is accepted into a specialized studies program. He can begin taking courses this summer. We cheer; we high-five. Jim starts planning.
Then he realizes he has three months to wait.
It’s a between time. Jim has lots to look forward to, but he can’t start for a while yet. Right now, it’s a waiting game.
I’m with Goethe—whatever it is, I think, begin it. I am blunt and direct, and I don’t like waiting.
So when a problem sprouts, I want to take a sledge hammer and pound it into oblivion. What is the point of letting it sit there; why on earth should we tippy-toe around it? Slam that thing back down to earth.
But sometimes God or nature or the universe, or whatever power one invokes, puts the brakes on. Right now, she whispers, right now, you need to wait.
Wait! Wait! I don’t want to wait. I want to get it out in the open, survey it under the bright sun, figure it out.
I do not like between times.
And so maybe I need to embrace them, relax into them, figure out the wisdom of this time that sits like an airlock between one decisive period and another. Maybe I can stock up on the oxygen I’ll need for the next challenge. Maybe I need to look around and make sure my resources are gathered, that I have the tools I need to do the work ahead.
Maybe I need to take a deep breath and just relax and accept the interlude.
Maybe I need to realize I am not always in control of what happens next.
This morning, James and I took a road trip to a favorite library, 50 miles away. The snow had mostly melted—just ragged little tufts left in the onion grass sprouting on the lawn. They looked like scraps of cotton. The sun was out; a few clouds (they looked like ragged cotton wisps, too) scudded across a blue, blue sky.
We drove down Route 146. The lake was full on one side; we could see it through the bare-branched trees. It will be hidden in a month or two when the trees are fully leafed. I drove and looked at the trees, thinking it felt as though they were holding their collective breath. There’s a haze of buds on all the branches, a shimmer of almost-there green or redness. But the branches are like knobby fingers, tightly extended. Not yet, not yet, they’re saying.
We drove past meadows that are sere and brown and seemingly lifeless. Not winter, not spring; almost, I thought, a time devoid.
“Look at the vultures,” I said to Jim,–conjuring images of lifeless prey–and we both peered up through the windshield. The big birds swooped and soared, black wings arced.
“Wait,” said Jim. “Look at that one. It’s got a white head.”
There was nothing behind us. I pulled the car over, and we craned our necks, tracking the white head, close enough to see the cruel curved beak, watching the eagle curve and loop on the wind. Maybe, I think, a sight we wouldn’t have seen when the trees were green and little wildlife were running through hidden fields, enticed by the feeling of invisibility among the tall grasses, seduced by the warmth of a springtime sun.
Strong and sure and joyful, the eagle soared away. I pulled the car back out onto the highway, and we resumed our road trip.
But—an eagle, I thought. An eagle in the between time. There’s a message there, for sure.
Like finding the wisdom of between times, I just have to figure out what the message is.