Two of this year’s Academy Award buzz films - The Kids Are Alright and Barney’s Version – are about relationships. There is a third, Blue Valentine, but I don’t think I can bear to see that one. I think one more grim relationship movie might do me in.
My take away from both The Kids Are Alright and Barney's Version is that we humans are so profoundly fragile and flawed that sharing a life with another differently, but nevertheless similarly fragile and flawed human being is a risky and potentially doomed endeavor.
As I drove through an evening filled with sleet and darkness, the radio played Life Is A Highway, and the voice in my head scoffed. She can be quite patient, Voice In My Head, but I find she is increasingly trenchant. Even when we are both in agreement about say, a school of thought on raising children, Voice In My Head turns it over like a stone on the beach, checking for crabs and hidden barnacles.
I remember sitting under the low, wide tree in the front yard of my grandparent’s farm. I do not know now what sort of tree it was, it may even have been a bush, but I was a child covered by branches and gentle shade, and it seemed a tree to me. Nearby was an aging pear tree, whose branches offered a safe haven. Across and opposite, just a scamper away, was the front door of the farmhouse. Next to me was my grandmother’s button box: an old coffee tin with a black lid, a tall square-ish shape, the outside depicting workers with kerchief wrapped heads bending over bushes in a field.
I stood in the calendars and journals corner of Banyen Books – Vancouver’s iconic hub of all things energetically alternative – and berated myself for not finding a kitchen wall calendar sooner. I had waited too long, the year had turned, the old calendar had come down and now the organizational corner of the kitchen felt unmoored. Consequently, so did I.
My friend’s mother reached out to me one difficult year and gave me a Christmas card I cherish. She celebrates Chanukah but we have long shared in each other’s families and traditions and she knows me well. Nevertheless, choosing a Christmas card when Christmas is not your holiday is not, I would imagine, an easy undertaking. The range in options is extraordinary - from the glitzy to the somber and religious, to the downright tacky. The Christmas card she chose to give to me was perfect, and says everything I treasure about this season.
(can we pause to discuss this thorny issue for a moment? have you ever tried to decorate with boughs of holly? it is not jolly. holly is plentiful out here on the West Coast and seems to thrive with an ornery vigor in spite of our rainy climate. holly’s tough green leaves and bright red berries are festive indeed but in reality, give me hives wherever the nasty sharp leaves penetrate my skin)
Every year the Christmas tree lights and decorations come up from the basement in thesame big square awkward box with my mother’s handwriting on top. Every year on epiphany, I re-pack it carefully and tie it with the same large ugly bow made of netting from a Christmas package past. Every year the last items put back into the box are the Christmas books.
My hand hovered over the link, undecided, curious; did I really want to click, find out I’d made all the wrong decisions, doomed my child to second rate choices, quashed her opportunities before she even knew she had them?
The website promised to show me top schools, enrollment in which would measurably increase the student’s entrance to high quality educational institutions later in life. We are long past the school search. We have in fact, leaped the which-high-school hurdle. Why was I so tempted to click?
The time has shifted, the darkness has settled close. It is night-dark by the time I’ve finished boiling water for the afternoon tea. The leaves, which just last week made a gorgeous glow over Vancouver’s streets and parks are now gathering in gutters and empty wading pools where they will collect washed-away worms and grit until spring.
I’ve just spent a week in a retirement home. I looked around at the comfortable surroundings designed to accommodate late-in-life transitions – wide corridors, shared spaces andinstitutional sameness, yet each individual’s doorway subtly unique in ways that both broke and warmed my heart – and Alice-like, suddenly I was holding up a mirror in which I could see reflected my attendance at Blissdom's wrap party.