I love my granddaughter unconditionally, but as to hanging out with her 24/7, it turns out that that’s conditional. After the third explosive melt-down of the week, this one about how much orange juice she poured (don’t ask!), I had had enough of early puberty 11-year old tantrums exploding unpredictably and wreaking havoc on my age-diminished nervous system. I made the additional two mistakes of trying to discuss it in the middle her heat and mine and the common error of taking it all personally, as if she had betrayed me. So my last sight of her before she awoke at 3:30 am the next morning to fly home was an angry face after two mostly delightful weeks together.
And so on the morning of the last day of a most marvelous year, I awoke feeling disgruntled and out-of-sorts. Not the musical “satisfying end” I ask of life and my morning meditation did nothing to alleviate it. (So much for almost 50 years of a zazen practice aimed at Zen equanimity). The five of us down to my wife Karen, my daughter Kerala and me, we packed our bags quickly and drove away at 8:50 am on an uncharacteristically cold and foggy Palm Springs morning, only to turn back six blocks later having discovered the missing second set of keys in Karen’s bag.
On Highway 10 by 9:01, Kerala attempting back-seat sleep after taking her kids to the airport so early, Karen engrossed in a book, me left with my own thoughts and none of them good. They kept riding around on the merry-go-round of "life sucks" and picking up passengers along the way. The entire cast of Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste stuck out their thumb and I foolishly picked them up, adding to my disquiet my fury, outrage and bottomless grief over our history of wretched sub-human beings inflicting untold misery, death and destruction on others with the full sanction of political systems designed to let them do it and still sleep at night and the silent consent of all those kept purposefully ignorant or knowing enough to know better, but refusing to refuse their little crumb of unearned privilege thrown to them by those who grew rich and powerful from the whole mess. Also mounting the horses were my own cast of characters that remind me of all the ways that I’ve failed as a human being and letting me know that I’m not really worthy of the love I (we all) crave to both get and give. Then some concern for these extreme weather conditions that have made all of our plans provisional jumped up to join the gang. It was not an auspicious start to the final cadence of the year.
Somewhere around Whitewater, exit 114, the sun broke through the fog and that lifted my spirits a millimeter, but mostly I soldiered on with bad carousel music spinning around in my brain. Deep breaths weren’t helping, trying to talk myself down from the ledge didn’t work— I was exiled from my own sense of well-being and needed to find my way home. Finally decided to listen to some Doc Watson and Erik Satie and both helped bring me back to times when I could fully taste and savor life. Then after a lunch stop, with Karen and Kerala now fully awake, we began to talk about our mutual concerns for this 11-year old girl who can take our breath away with her beautiful spirit and then turn around the next moment and knock the wind out of us—and not in a good way. That helped a lot, as talking often does.
Heading up Route 5, the rains began falling, torrentially at times. Then there was a long stretch with gusty winds and tumbleweed rolling across the road like a giant pinball machine game, cars swerving to avoid them or run over them or get them caught in their front end. Some of them were enormous! It was somewhat comical, but also nerve-wracking and I wish I had taken a video!
Then more torrential rain and now strangely energized to drive, I stayed in the driver’s seat as we approached the 7th hour, left route 5 for 580 to turn towards San Francisco and suddenly encountered red brake lights as far as one could see. For an hour and half, my average speed was 3 miles per hour. (Still not clear what it was, but I think an accident). Finally broke free for a glorious few miles and then another traffic jam from hell. This one was 45 minutes of snail-like driving, some 15 feet after five minutes or so. For a reason I’ll never know, the freeway between exit 132b and 132a was completely closed, leaving all the cars having to funnel from five freeway lanes into one exit lane. Another brief flight of freedom, then slowing down for some flooding on the right two lanes and finally to the Bay Bridge, miraculously not backed up. Gliding into San Francisco with Glenn Gould playing and then Johnny Hartmann singing, still trying to approach some solid restoration. Home after 10 ½ hours of driving, take-out Vietnamese dinner, unpack and me with 30 minutes before my neighbor’s piano curfew. Played some Bach Goldberg Variations, Schumann’s Arabesque and the middle movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G to properly close out the year.
What is this life but a constant seesaw of exile and homecoming? There are a thousand ways to leave home or lose your way or get evicted and if we’re lucky, many ways to find our way back. But our home keeps moving its address and what works one time fails miserably the next. Nothing you can depend on to always take you there and no dependable address that is consistently the there that becomes here.
These past five to ten years, New Year’s Eve has been a wonderful Paula Poundstone solo comedy show followed by a gathering at a friend’s house where some 20 of us hit the streets at midnight ringing his collection of Tibetan bells. But no Paula show this year, no party offered by the friend, just Kerala reading in her old bedroom, Karen still unpacking and me writing this at midnight Midwest time. A few text dings of friends in other places reminding me I’m not alone and love and companionship are real.
So there you have it. My 365th Blogpost/one-a-day average certainly too-long story to exorcise the little and big demons and metaphorically ring those bells out full-force on this electronic street. May you and yours prosper and thrive— in friendship, in beauty, in Spirit.
Happy New Year!