Here and Now

Even the mornings, this week, are hot, but a breeze blows, fine and strong enough to lift my heavy short hair as I take my early walk. I arrive home a couple of miles later glazed, searching for a cold, wet washcloth, and knowing this early morning is the respite. The rest of the day will be humid, pushy, discouraging; it will chase me into the air conditioning.

The grass browns in spots and crunches when I walk on it. I haven’t had to mow in ten days; all that grows are weeds and a funny kind of occasional grass that shoots out top fronds like fireworks.

One hanging planter looks as if all its green is quenched; I cut back brown stems and leaves and discover fresh green growth beneath. Ruthlessly, I pare away anything that looks unhealthy. I give that plant a buzz cut. And in a few days, from the short, sturdy, cut green stems, leaves begin to sprout.

Rains tear through, pushed by thunder. Lightning crackles, and the air cools. I pull my sandals on to rush outside, but even now, even in this released coolness, I can feel the hot, dense air creeping right back.

It is August, mid-August: that pivotal time. But I am trying not to peer too far ahead, not to reach too far backward. I am trying to follow Ram Dass’s advice. I want to be here now.

***********************

Back to school: James applies to attend Muskingum University full-time. Buoyed by success in his last two classes, he wants to embrace a five-day-a-week schedule, to study at this small private college that offers extraordinary help to students with disabilities.

James will tell you that John and Annie Glenn attended Muskingum, and that Agnes Morehead and Jack Hannah did, too. Scientists, musicians, actors, writers…

He receives his acceptance letter and is luminescent. We help him chase down transcripts, pay deposits, contact financial aid.

Jim will major in English and minor in Film Studies

He orders books.

He signs a promissory note; he has skin in this game.

He is, he says, very excited and very nervous.

****************************

And in moments when I am not alert, the what-ifs creep in.

What if the transportation plan doesn’t work?

What if taking four courses overwhelms?

What if COVID comes soaring back, even worse than it is right now, and virtual learning chases Jim back home?

I have to heave against a heavy door and push it, groaning, shut, closing in those doubts, muffling those voices.

Because this is NOW; excitement limns Jim’s days. His first course book arrives in the mail, a used Norton anthology, and he handles it like a sacred text.

This moment, right here, right now, bubbles with promise, simmers with possibility.

What if, what if, what if…

What if I just enjoy what’s happening right now?

********************************************************

Back to school: I visit Lace Up for Kids for the first time. Susan and I meet there just as the squall cracks open, the wind whips, and I realize I brought the wrong bag—the no-umbrella bag. Susan has an extra, though; she passes it out her car door, and we hurry through the rain-dancing parking lot, open umbrellas luffing, to the back entrance of Secrest Auditorium.

Lace Up is a well-oiled machine, and many hands turn the gears. We follow the path a kid, or a family, would take.

Down the ramp: at the bottom, two smiling volunteers staff a table full of brightly colored, brand-new socks. Every kid picks a pair.

Then to the curtained cubicles in the center of the huge room. The curtains are open in the front, and kids go into a cubicle, sit in a chair, pull on the fresh new socks. A friendly someone comes and waits on them, just like a clerk would in a fancy shoe store: measuring size, asking about style and color, and bringing choices.

Kids lace up those shoes; they step down off their chairs and walk around, testing the fit. Someone checks to see where their big toe hits.

Serious conversation takes place, and finally, that one kid walks off with just the exact right pair of shoes.

This happens about 700 times over the course of two days: finding new shoes, the just-right new shoes, for the first day of school.

This year, thanks to the vision and persistence of Eastside Ministry director Jamie Trout, each of those 700 kids will go home with shoes AND a brand-new outfit, picked out for that kid especially, and with  brand-new underwear…with top-to-bottom clothes for that important first day of school.

We talk with a volunteer who oversees the new-outfit bags, and then we go upstairs to the health fair. Here, tables line the corridor. Participants can get a vaccination. They can take a book from the Literacy Council table. There is mental health information, and there is addiction services information. There are people to help kids get a library card. There are coloring pages and brightly colored pamphlets sharing important things to know.

And if one turns left, walks all the way down the long, carpeted aisle in the auditorium, down between the folded back seats, and reaches the stage, one will find a local haircutter volunteering time, giving kids back to school do’s. Back behind the stage, sheltered in the wings, that haircutter gives each child full attention, clipping, brushing, blowing: making sure that little head of hair looks darned near perfect.

Every kid, regardless of their family’s income, will show up for school on Day One in special new clothes, with new shoes that fit, and with a trim new haircut.

A lot can happen, good and bad, during a school year. But for right now, this is enough: seven hundred pairs of spanking new shoes, seven hundred new outfits. Smiling kids running out of the hall clutching a book.

********************************

August is back to school, and back to school is promise. I rest in the promise; I try not to look for the disasters my mind conjures, lurking in wait down Promise’s corridors.

********************************

She is slowing down, and Andrew, one of the forest guides, signals to his partner and falls back.

He looks around, spots a sturdy log, and motions her off the path.

“Look,” he says, “at the back of your right leg.”

She looks; the back of her sturdy hiking pant leg is covered with burs, sticking, piling, dragging.

“You’ve been picking those up for a long time,” says Andrew. “No wonder you’re tired!”

“What are they?” she asks.

“Oh,” he says, “those are other people’s demands and expectations. As you walk along, they stick. If you don’t clean them up as you go, they accumulate. They can get pretty heavy.”

Andrew pulls a kind of comb from his pack; it is metal, with long, thin, sharp teeth. He hands it to her.

“Some people carry those things around for decades. They get used to the weight; it starts to feel like what normal might be. They become,” he says, “distracted.”

She leans back, carefully, and begins to pull the burs, the ones that cling behind her knee, above to mid-thigh. They fight to stay hooked; they Velcro off reluctantly.

It takes a while to clear the burs; she’s built a big pile by the time she can sit, lift her leg onto her left knee, and comb out the ones stuck to the calf of her pant leg.

The last two encroach; they grip the hem of her pants, but little prickers have sidled into the tender skin just above her ankle. She grimaces, sweeps the comb, pulls them out, makes sure no tiny thorns stay embedded.

A little blood flows.

Andrew, ever prepared, gives her ointment and bandages. She dresses the cuts and looks at the startling pile of burs.

“What do I…” she starts, and he smiles at her, shaking his head.

“You don’t need to worry about those,” he says. “They’ll rot away, blend into the soil. Leave them behind.”

They sit for a small time, until she feels refreshed and ready. She stands up, slips her pack back over her arms. She offers the metal comb to Andrew.

He laughs, shakes his head.

“Keep it!” he says. “I have more. You should check every day, make sure those burs aren’t clinging.”

She flexes her right leg, which feels light and free, and grins.

“Feels good, eh?” says Andrew.

She nods, anxious now to catch up to the group, to savor the journey through the cool green forest. She can appreciate the walking without the extra weight. She will do as Andrew suggests and cull the unwanted stowaways daily.

She will work to be here now.

*********************************

The tomatoes are huge, and Mark tends them carefully. Their rooftop perches proved too dangerous; after they tumbled a third time, Mark started barricading them close to the house. He puts the Roma and the cherry tomato plants on the step we never use. He angles the black metal chairs up against them.

He puts the Cordell tomato plants snug up against the house, and he blocks them in with the Adirondack chairs and ottomans.

Sandee, who knows a bit about growing things and wildlife, suggests that deer don’t like garlic, and we buy big, cheap containers of garlic powder. At night Mark waters all the plants carefully. When he is done, I shake the garlic powder. The tang rises, heavy, wet, and pungent.

We joke that we’ll have pre-seasoned tomato sauce.

At lunch, Mark moves the plants onto the little table, where the sun reaches them. After dinner, he moves them back behind the barricades.

August, and the plants burgeon with fruit. The Roma tomato especially is full.

Then one evening Mark checks the plants and finds that all but one of the Romas are gone.

“BASTARDS!” he howls, and the neighborhood reverberates.

******************************

“This,” Susan says sympathetically the next day, “is why we have a Farmers’ Market.”

******************************

Later, we think about what we will do next year. We’ll build a raised bed with a peaked roof, and plastic netting draped over the sides, weighted at the bottom. We’ll let in the light and keep out the deer.

Next year, next year, next year, we say.

But now we have the last Roma tomato ripening on the windowsill. We have two ripened heirloom Cordells; there are more on the bush.

And one day, Jim the Painter Man comes in to work with a bag full of cucumbers and tomatoes from his garden. We split them up to share.

Mark brings home sweet peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos; someone at his work also has an amazing garden.

Right now, we have the fruits of summer; we have recipes to explore and sauces to simmer.

I stop worrying about next year’s deer-resistant structure, and I cook with what we have now.

***********************************

There are visits and get-togethers and outings; we eat at restaurants. Life feels open again; we feel freed. And then COVID comes roaring back.

In our little county, 211 people have gotten sick in the last two weeks. Some of them are in the hospital. Two people who are hospitalized and on ventilators are fully vaccinated.

But they are ‘elderly,’ and they are immuno-compromised.

I meet half of that description. I worry about Mark’s lungs. So we reverse gears.

We get the masks out again. After just a long enough time that we didn’t always think to bring them with us when we jumped in the car, we make sure we again have a mask in pocket or purse or glove box. If I have to go into a supermarket, I mask up.

One sweltering afternoon, Jim and I go to the mall to walk in the air conditioning. Other than staff at certain stores, we are the only ones wearing masks, and we do get some derisive looks.

But we have to ignore them. We are HERE; we are NOW. We are living in COVID days, and once again, until we can turn this spike around, we need to be careful.

We need to be sure we are not exposing ourselves to danger. We need to be sure we’re not endangering others.

******************************

Life slides back into a quieter rhythm. I order groceries for pick up. I avoid restaurants. I wear my mask.

One night I am standing at the sink, peeling peaches—a gift from a generous colleague. I have put those plump and juicy fruits into a boiling pot of water; after a minute, I took them out and shocked them in an ice bath. Now the skins just float away.

I roll those poor, naked orangey-red fruits onto the old chopping board; I get out a sharp old knife to pit and peel them.

For a minute, I imagine a gathering, people around tables, piles of pasta, pie for dessert. I feel a clutch of longing.

But it’s okay, and it passes quickly. I peel the peaches and I roll out dough and I make a sugar-coated galette.

It’s my first time cooking with hand-peeled peaches; it’s my first time putting this kind of rustic pie together. The experiment works.

The pie disappears quickly; Mark likes it as a breakfast treat. Fresh fruit, buttery crust, a dollop of dairy…not so different from cereal or coffee cake. Who SAYS peach pie is not a breakfast food?

*********************************

Certainly peach pie is one of August’s prizes—a prize to be enjoyed despite restrictions and cautions. We’ll celebrate that gift of the season.

And I’ll walk this pivotal time, trying not to drag along any burdens or expectations, trying to savor (or at least appreciate) what THIS day brings.

“Savor every moment slowly…” writes Sassa, “as these will be your long-lasting memories forever.”

Be here NOW, she’s saying, and mid-August, I try to lean right into that.

6 thoughts on “Here and Now

  1. Kim Allen

    Good luck to Jim on his first day of school. Seems like he is walking in your footstep but in his own unique way. Sorry about the deer. My COVID dreams returned last night. I am in a foreign city this time in another country. I am on a trip, and I am lost and can’t find my way back. And one of my cats is with me, but he has slipped out my arms. And a mechanical house is trying to eat the pear in my hand. Our cases are going up too. I worry that this is our new normal. Today I join a group picking blueberries for the food bank. I will enjoy being outside, seeing familiar faces, doing something that will make a difference. I will usher for an outside concert. And join my mom for the same venue tonight. A James Taylor review. Taking each day as it comes. Being in that moment you mentioned. Have you ever read Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Wilke?

    1. Kim, I have Letters to a Young Poet on my bookshelf, so I can re-read it when needed. You have me thinking now is one of those times!

      I read about the blueberries for the food bank on FB…what a great project. And all the benefits of working together outside…and I hope you and your mom have a great time at the JT Revue!!!

      1. Kim Allen

        I am glad you have ie. Your blog reminded me of my favorite passage. I actually used it recently for a reflection at a Rotary meeting.

        “I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainier Maria Wilke

        Thank you! I am looking forward to the music.

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