Friday, April 22, 2005

Wonder if sitting at home doing nothing will ever be an option?

Tomorrow Dorian and I will drive in to Oakland High School where she will do her Special Olympics track and field practice followed by swim training. She lives for Saturdays these days. I feel so grateful for the inspired work of the Kennedy family in creating this marvelous program for the developmentally and physically disabled. She's earned a trunkload of medals for every possible event over many years -- going from one sport to another over the course of a year. In the appropriate seasons she enjoys bowling, track and field, basketball, softball, soccer, swimming -- and in winter, cross-country skiing. We've done some things right; and Special Olympics is one of them.

Later in the day I'll meet Tom for the trip by BART to the SFMOMA and a four o'clock lecture by artist, Kathan Brown. Looked her up on the web in preparation for hearing her talk and again felt grateful for this remarkable resource. It means that I will bring so much more to the lecture, and that I will take away even more. What a world! ...maybe a trip to the observatory soon will fill in some of the empty spaces in my understanding of the universe ... do you suppose?

Meanwhile, there's this desktop (not my computer, but the one it sits on) to sort through. I've still not moved on locating that little scrap of paper upon which the name of Dorian's possible next home is written. I've continued to pile clutter on top of all that lies below -- and though I'm very much aware of what I'm doing, I can't make myself complete the process and make that call ... and if I can't find the phone number ... .

Guess I'll just do string theories and blue herons and Papa George kinds of thinking until it magically works its way to the top of the heap.

Had no idea it would be so hard to do what I know must be done.

No amount of well-intentioned but empty resolve will deliver us to that place where we must go.

For the sake of her emotional and physical survival in my eventual absence from her life -- she must be released to her own fate.

Life is precarious at best, and precious -- and terminal.

Some lives are more fragile than others ...

... and do I really trust the world with hers?

Apparently not.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

It's a curious day ...

one that matched my mood; bright sunlight one minute and then clouded over the next by slowly-merging wisps of cumulus clouds on their way to prepare for the next showers... April lives up to her promise.

Yesterday brought another day of real pleasure in the company of an interesting and engaging man whose company I've come to treasure. We drove to San Francisco early in the day -- out to Golden Gate Park -- for a visit to Spring! It was all that I'd hoped. It's been many years since I've taken the time to see spring. The visit to the Conservatory where the tropical plants are grown was simply amazing. The giant ferns and fronds of proportions that defied logic reached to a lofty 30 ft in some instances. We didn't last too long in the heat and humidity, though both are essential to the maintainance of some of the most lush and dramatic blooms on earth. There were orchids of every kind and size, hibiscus and bouganvillea and passion flowers and cyclamen, some with pistles and stamen so erotically exotic that it made me want to look away! The brilliance of the colors rivaled the best that man can offer despite an artificially-produced pallette of limitless range. We're pikers when compared to what nature can and does produce.

Saw my very first great blue heron standing regally at the edge of the lake in Strybling Botanical Gardens. It was so still that for an instant it escaped notice. I could have so easily missed this miracle. Then with the slightest of movements this magnificent irridescent blue and lavendar and soft mauve creature lifted one reed-thin limb after the other in a grand stride and disappeared into the giant-leafed Australian plants that grew at the rim ... I felt the loss as one who lives under the flyover of such birds -- but for so long has ignored their existence. How many other miracles have I missed while preoccupied with world-tending and child-rearing and seeing only those things that occur within fifty feet of my consciousness?

The power of the wild blue heron served to reawaken images of the wetlands of my childhood where there were egrets and mallards; springtime rituals involving the gathering of caterpillers from the branches of wild anise to capture in jelly jars -- to take home and watch excitedly as they slowly evolved into beautiful monarch butterflies! Memories of gathering polliwogs in those same marshes where now stands the Oakland Coliseum and its expansive parking lots. Watching over a period of many days the budding of legs and the shrinking of the tail as those tiny green frogs emerged magically from the sleek slimy little black tadpole bodies. I thought of the egrets who lived among the tall cattails of the marsh and so silently strutted nearby as though we children were not there at all -- lifting long spindly legs out of the mud then down again in a stately march as we watched in hushed silence ... so many visions still locked in my child's mind. I could almost feel the earthworms that Papa George encouraged me to learn to love (after some initial repugnance) slide through my fingers and back into the ground as we troweled the warm soil in preparation for spring planting.

I doubt if Papa George knew much about ecology. I'd not even heard the word then. He was, after all, the son of a slavewoman who'd spent much of his life helping to work the family garden in St. James Parish. I don't believe he ever attended school. He' spent nights as a waiter at the downtown Oakland Athletic Club on Clay Street, and his days smoking his pipe and tending his garden.

There was surely a kind of native wisdom that allowed native peoples the world over to develop a sense of a natural order that told them to plant at certain phases of the moon and that provided a non-verbal non-literate "book" of natural law that made the beans and the squash and the melons and potatos prosper and the tables bend from the harvest and the canning kettles overflow with the winter's store. I'd forgotten all that in this world of plastic-wrapped on-demand pre-cooked dinners. I'd forgotten my little girl horror as Papa George twisted the Sunday dinner live chicken by its head until it died in a burst of flying feathers and then chopped off its head with an ax -- then handed it through the kitchen door to my mother to scald in the huge pot of boiling water. Then came the plucking of feathers and the unforgettable stench!

That beautiful blue heron brought back visions of my crushed panama-hatted bib-overalled Papa standing among those bean-poles and spreading zucchini plants. She erased -- for the moment, at least -- all of the development that has replaced the scenes of my childhood. She closed the gap between my very young and very old Bettys for just long enough to prove that change is not necessarily progress, and that having lived long enough to watch some reversal of the "let's-cement-over-the-planet" philosophy and the re-birth of the connection with the earth is a blessing. After all, I've now lived long enough to witness an earnest effort to rid the world of the culverts and to day-light the creeks and rills of my childhood. I've lived long enough to see birth of a new appreciation of the role played by wetlands in the maintenance of flood control and protection of habitat.

How wonderful that I got to be a player in the process during those years of working with the environmentalists of this area from my position as a state assembly field representative. But until writing this piece, I didn't realize how much those restorations have meant to me. Maybe one of the functions of these flashbacks is that the perspective of aging gives one a way to put the words and concepts learned in later life together with the experiences and emotions of those first ten years. Maybe those connections don't get made if we don't live long enough to make them. Perhaps this is what gives meaning to higher education -- it gives younger folks the tools for making the linkages that those of us without formal educations can only evolve into over many years.

Thank you wild blue heron!

...but I have no idea of why I felt so tired at the end of the day and ended up in bed so very early last night. Could it be that since I've stopped working actively, I'm spending more time in the past than in the present? Is that fatiguing? Is this what getting old feels like? It's been a long time coming -- but maybe it's here. And what on earth do I do with that? Do I simply fold into it gracefully or do I give up on the memoirs and get back to work? After all, when sixteen -- I had no idea that I would be around for my eighteenth birthday, did I? There were never any guarantees, and there still aren't. I suppose one goes on planning and living and projecting into the future until one's time is all spent and that thing that believers call eternity takes over. I think that I'm more certain than ever, though, that the thought of becoming a part of whatever creates the life of a blue heron by helping to replenish the earth is about as fine an ending as one might wish. My kind of immortality ... .

But then what do I know?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Dreams ...

Just watched the CNN coverage of the naming of Pope Benedict XVI. Not sure what I was expecting, but instead of my usual feeling of quiet regret at having opted out of the believer's club, the absurdity -- the surrealism of it all overcame the regret and cynicism raised its flag of victory, yet another time.

The paradox of sitting in my apartment with a remote control in hand viewing live coverage of the faraway Vatican Palace -- an ocean and a continent away in southern Europe(!!!) was the epitome of scientific achievement, right? How then did the voices of a youngish Norbertine priest combined with CNN's Wolfe Blitzer's in any way fit into this reality? Blitzer was asking (quite seriously) just how the new Pope would rule the world of Catholicism in this new era following the reign of one who'd left such huge shoes to fill? The priest's answer: "The hordes of pilgrims who've gathered here over the past few days have been heard to shout, "sainthood now!," indicating how deeply and universally his predecessor was revered." Then he added with great solemnity, "The Chief Exorcisor here in Rome is already in touch with the fallen pope and knows that he -- together with Jesus -- will be providing strong support to the Pope Benedict XVI in the days to come."

Suddenly the whole scene took on (for me) all of the aspects of theater and magic and the mysteries of the occult. Shades of Harry Potter! All of it; from watching the faithful so mesmerized by endless hours of watching that chimney for the tell-tale sign of white smoke, to the celebratory announcement that came after a relatively short period of negotiation and consensus.

The elaborate vestments (and one can hardly consider them other than costumes) scarlet splashed everywhere -- the lavishly beautiful interior images of the Papal Palace and the Sistine Chapel in a world reeling from "wars and rumors of wars," continuing genocide, devastating bombings; out of control AIDS epidemics ravaging already long suffering and exploited Third World populations; unprecedented natural disasters involving tragic loss of life and property; no longer deniable effects of global warming; economies on the edge of collapse; and corporatism that threatens the sovereignty of all nations on the planet. What can account for the world's ability to compartmentalize all of that so effectively -- and to pinpoint all of our attention on 171 elegantly red-robed and blessed-beanied Catholic Cardinals in the process of naming a new Pope? He is, after all, only one leader of a single denomination in a world with multiple belief systems with multiple dieties and/or avatars charged with the responsibility of saving souls (or not) or guiding their flocks through the endless privileges and pitfalls of reincarnation.

If ever there was proof of the dominance of European religious systems (both Catholic and Protestant), this past month of observances has provided it. That organized religions should be playing such a prominent role in our daily lives should come as no surprise given the decline in the educational system in this country. By default we're falling into the same kinds of religious fundamentalism that so marks current Mideastern internal political unrest. Given another generation or two, one might well expect that those small nations will discover the freedoms inherent when church and state are held separate. Allowing them to --- without interference -- evolve toward the obvious may be the secret to achieving world peace.

There are among our elected officials a number who might be quite comfortable in the roles of the Mullahs and Imams of the Mideast. There seems little difference between those scenes of all males sitting in worship on their prayer rugs in temples of Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan -- and the images of those Cardinals marching off into their Holy Conclave with nary a woman in sight. It's all a matter of degree. One might suspect that -- given their wont -- if the church had not been challenged over the decades here in this country and in much of the developed world, women would still not have the vote, been allowed to own property, or, even themselves! Even the control of our own bodies has again fallen into question of late, and may well be soon lost to those proclaiming a reverence for life (only not ours).

Find myself wishing that I had enough time left to spend a few years living in either the Far or the Middle East, just to learn something about life under other systems. I'd love to know how the women in those countries have survived with their religious beliefs intact. If they have, that is. I've never really known whether my atheism is a simple rejection of the religion of my own experience, and, whether under some other system I might have been a believer, too. Don't know. But I suspect not. I've never had much difficulty separating reality from belief. That may be where the rubber meets the road for this pilgrim. I've always felt that what I believe is far too important to be left in the hands of others. But I know deep down that reality is something best arrived at in concert with others, and can rarely be accomplished alone. But even as I type the words, the statement falls apart. Isn't it probable that reality is really no more than agreed-upon "truth," and ever open to interpretation? Could that "truth" be little more than curiosity satisfied?

So much to learn and to know ... and to never really be quite certain of...

But then I've never been too comfortable with certainty, anyway.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, 'n Dizzy ...

Beautiful concert at First Church in San Francisco on Friday evening. Fine seafood dinner at Tadich on Sacramento at Battery in the Financial District -- then the drive straight up hill, past the Pacific Union Club, Grace Cathedral, scraping the clouds high on Nob Hill to Van Ness and the music of the masters. I do enjoy it tremendously but continue to feel less "at home" than as a curious visitor to the world of European chamber music. Will always be simply a refugee from the world of jazz -- off on a junket. I'm surely not alone with such feelings since these are clearly a different form of music lover, with very few who cross over from the black world to white. There are rarely more than one or two others who look like me in such gatherings. Nice visit, though. I feel myself relaxing into the music more and more -- and wishing that I might be able to take on the cello one of these days, even while knowing that it's far too late ... .

Yesterday was a quiet day sitting in my car in front of the highschool where Dorian was involved in her every-Saturday-morning Special Olympics practice. We've move past baskbetball (except for the upcoming state games) and into track and field and swimming. That means lots of time sitting in my car reading and working crossword puzzles while she romps and runs and swims the morning away.

We watched Bob's appearance with Xia's friends at KUSP in Santa Cruz. A friend captured it in some way with the computer and forwarded the links to us. Dorrie and I then (magically!) watched and heard Bob singing his original songs with this little band of kids -- and loved every minute of it. His work is so fine, and I'm so proud of his continuing contribution to children's music. The wonder of these Internet archives where one can enjoy programs-on-demand hours after they've actually been aired ... such a world!

Today is mine. Am attending my first ever Citroen Rally over in Marin County with Tom. We'll spend the late morning and afternoon chasing down items (signs?) in a kind of treasure hunt (or that's what it sounds like) with him at the wheel and I keeping an eye out for the whatever-it-is that will bring rewards. The day is beautiful; San Rafael is always a joy to visit; and he's bringing along a picnic to share when the rally ends. Nice Sunday.

What I'm not doing: Should have attended the State Democratic Convention at Los Angeles this weekend, but have just about completely unplugged from all such activity of late. It all feels beyond me now, and in the hands of the young and the energetic. I'm hoping that Phil Angelides will get the nomination of the party and will be confirmed for the candidacy for governor to succeed Arnold. He's someone I've watched for years and who will serve the party and the nation well as he ascends the leadership ladder. He's a visionary with the ability to implement his goals. We'll see how far talent and integrity will take him in a world where neither seems any longer treasured. He's been on this escalator to power for some time now, and his time may have come.

Am praying that there is enough energy to stop the special election called for by the governor, so that $70 million dollars of state moneys won't be needlessly squandered. I take that quite personally since my Dorian has had her life interrupted (along with countless others of the handicapped) through the budget cutbacks that have already befallen her world and mine. At least she had a home to be returned to. What about those who have ended up on the streets of our California cities?

But today I will skip voluntary public service in favor of the Citroen Rally with Tom. Maybe this is the way that elders have traditionally passed the torch. We just set down the reins, cut the horse loose, and play in the fields of life until it all ends quietly ... maybe. Maybe not. We'll see.