An Excess of All Things

Speechless seemed to be the theme of my last entry… I claimed that I would be speechless if our current President won the election, a completely ludicrous prospect at the time I wrote the blog, and I was speechless after a visit to Poland at being confronted with what I had always known but never physically witnessed – the evidence of the eradication of the population of Polish Jews.

I now think that speechlessness is a weak response to both assaults. I, we, are obligated to have much speech and action in reaction to both the current administration in the US and also the historical and contemporary, and perhaps perpetual outbreaks of Anti-Semitism, let alone all recent attacks on racial and ethnic groups worldwide. Finding a voice in response to Anti-Semitic hate crimes and hate speech is an ongoing passion for me. On the domestic front, it was exhilarating to be present at the very exciting Women’s March in Washington DC in January, although being in downtown DC during the inauguration the day before was clearly more representative of the true divisions in the electorate. Tense and upsetting.

If asked how it’s going these days, I answer, as we all do – (or the all that surround me, those who care deeply about the environment, the arts, the poor, about those from other countries, those of other religions than the Christian majority, those who aren’t heterosexual, plus the many other folks with kindred value systems) – with the appendage tacked onto all pronouncements, that I am doing well except for the current political circus – Quite well, considering the current political disaster, ridiculousness, horror – pick a word and fill it in.

Yet even without such hat tipping, there is, of course, the constant and conclusive reality of death. Its specter haunts the dark corners of our lives, popping out in the form of a jokester or hobgoblin, depending on the day. My friends and family members tell me of their struggles, this one is wrestling with a virulent breast cancer, that one a bypass, and this other one is understandably worried about her son who is going through hard times and is very depressed. It is that kind of time here in my small piece of life. Nothing conclusive to make of it. I just take note. There is an excess of all things not so good but also, to be fair, all things good.

There is the news that I’ll be at a writing and arts residency in Paris for the last half of this year, and while Paris is certainly not at all distant from the eye of the political and even life vs. death storm raging around us all, something about the opportunity to make art for six months seems to create a kind of altered state … I find myself, dare I say unabashedly, anticipating the short term future with terrific relish. No, I have some abash, is it embarrassment… or whatever the word is for the hiding of good tidings from others, the others grappling with their worries and crises… well, you get the picture. Am I crowing about my fabulous, magical good fortune anywhere but here? Only to my closest confidantes.

What does it mean to be happy? The American dream, happiness. What did the shtetl dwellers in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland know of happiness? I want to believe they too had moments even as they each day wrestled with the enormous hardship of their circumstance – maybe sitting in the town square selling a chicken or two, joking with the guy on the left side or the right, chuckling at someone’s story of her mother in law or husband, jumping up to whirl a child around and around. Yes, they would exclaim. Isn’t life grand?

Yes, I want to exclaim, isn’t it grand to be alive at just this exact instant, when my body can still glide from place to place, a foot lifting and then another, no muscle aches or pauses in the reliable thrum of my heart, and airplanes can take off through the clouds, carrying me from here to there. I will not hold still. Not yet. No. Soon someone, some force will notice my pleasure and pluck me right off this planet – two stubby fingers grabbing me by my hair and yanking me right to kingdom come. Hold still, he or she or it will command. Stop kicking and screaming. And then I will join the dirge, keen with sorrow – I do not want to die, I will cry. No, no, no, no. I will accept any reprieve offered. Random shootings – okay. Earthquakes – okay. Flash floods – okay. Parkinson’s – okay. Multiple sclerosis – okay. Breast cancer – okay. Stenosis, okay. Lymphoma, kidney dialysis, congenital heart disease, stents, bypasses, amputation, paralysis…

I don’t want to suffer, say my pals. As long as I’m not in pain, they say, I will go on living. Do they hear what they are saying? How do they get out of bed in the morning? Life is pleasure and pain – those Buddhists got something right. Who offers a life without suffering? Jeez.

I’m not looking for a bargain here, a good deal. I’ve paid some dues and I expect to pay more for this broken down but still limping along thing we call living.

Lately I find myself storing up seconds, minutes, stretching them into noticeable experience. Stop, I say out loud. Stop what you are doing. Be here now, that weary maxim, jumps to attention. There is sunlight creating a rectangle on the orange brown strips of wood that line the floor next to the blue chenille covered couch – a serendipity of complements, color theory consummated and captured like a photo within my view. I see it. I uncross my legs to let the blood course freely down and then back up to the heart. I can hear the heart beat its rhythm, the dependable and magical drum keeping time as I suck in air and then cast it out.

I am so happy, I want to say to my beleaguered fellow travelers. I am here in this perfect moment and the air is filling my lungs and I cannot somehow, will not, perhaps, find any extra room right now for more.