Thursday, October 07, 2010

October 6, 2010

The toughies subscribe to the same edict as the cupcakes. At least most of them.

In the end, mum's the word, as it should be.

You tumble past four decades and arrive at a place that's familiar but a little unglued.

You know you've held aloft a sign too often saying "Daft male seeking a scrap", and too often you've despaired over things that eventually fixed themselves.

Then there's the stomping on cow dung. The fear of weeping. Wiping snot on your arm with or without a sleeve. The alibi of machismo, all muscular and hard-edged, a garland of insecurity.

You try to find yourself after one too many funky times and you wonder how you ever arrived at where you're at despite the occasional smashed face, the head wounds, the knee scars, the stitches and the bruises.

There's a Taoist proverb that speaks about a fundamental law.

"True wisdom comes at great cost," it says. "Only ignorance is free." And it's true. But the truth is freebies are usually nice, and oftentimes it takes a while to realize you're already paying.

For all the learning bling and bluster of younger years, things still boil down to the pot of soup your ma made, waiting on the table after a hard cold day, heated just right and stirred with affection and ladled into a bowl that's yours and no one else's.

You sit down, take a first scoop, and you tell her how your day went and she tells you hers. She ends it with the salt of counsel and a reminder to take a deep breath, because tomorrow's always another day and don't forget to fluff the pillows before the big doze. And somehow it's all ok again.

That's always how it's been, though sometimes you forget. But she doesn't mind. And when she does she'll try not to show it.

Ma, two letters that stand for castle, ear and new land. Ma, who used to squish the creeps before sleep.

Long before the advent of the textbook she already brought an entire armory to the bedside, winnowing from thousands of patronizing attempts by others to talk sense into young minds the actual voice and power of pages: stories about the good and honorable, and how to scramble through rough times with requisite reserve and vigor.

There was Morris the Florist, General Anna and Moe Mammoth in the epic clash between the brawn of kingpins and small folks, in Jean Merrill's The Pushcart War.

Where the wild things are is where a new universe bloomed, watered by Maurice Sendak.

Of romance, solitude and friendship there was William Steig's Abel's Island, which traced the thread of Amanda's scarf, the storm, bleakness and the return to Mossville.

And what about ancient Skara Brae in Orkney, where the boy with the bronze axe drifted to and altered the life of villagers still foraging in the stone age? Kathleen Fidler's work was more than a vivid story; it showed how the past can be brought to life with the seed of inquiry and curiosity.

We like to think that we possess the ability to create our own narratives, too conscious of the constraints imposed by things beyond our control instead of the limits we have impressed on ourselves, and oblivious too often of the patient and habitually invisible nurturing that has allowed our best qualities to shine.

The sense of right and wrong, the ability to rage at unfairness and excess, the joy of puttering around, and the capacity to explore, love and laugh with abandon -- precepts so simple they are almost hymnal, yet so hard to keep -- this architecture of well-being, from the start this has been her lasting gift, just so it may be passed on.

That old chunk of coal, who was a diamond before he knew it, Johnny Cash sang about similar things, about full circles.

"Takin' nothin' back to show there/ For these dues I've paid./ But the soul I almost sold here/ And the body I've been givin' away./ Fadin' from the neon nighttime glow here,/ Headin' for the light of day, Just the other side of nowhere, goin' home."


"In the oyster-light of morning," wrote Tao Chung Yi, describing dawn in 18th century China. That was how it was last Saturday, a weekend unfolding while my daughter slept and I watched a light rain drench the football field, my son swarming the ball with others, mud splattering on their jerseys.

The lads played straight for two hours, back and forth, and then a final rush and one last lunge, and after a closing huddle the game was done.

Sodden shoes squishing with the wet ground, my boy lurched back with a tired grin on his face, said he was hungry breathlessly and then asked if his grandmother was already well.

I said she was doing better. It was her 65th birthday that day but a minor illness required the postponement of her birthday party. It's been reset to tonight, when she will share again her wine and wares to a great and growing house, where everyone will celebrate once more her embrace. #

This is for Dudi, the author's mum, a writer and activist who marked her 65th birthday last October 2.


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