blue sky days

IMG_0861 Every time I looked up this week…blue.

I know August was my designated “more images, fewer words” month, but the skies these days…I just can’t stop gazing up at the harkening-to-autumn clear blue skies we’ve been treated to lately.  I can’t stop stopping in my tracks at the same spray of yellow glory–Jerusalem artichoke blooms, my sources tell me (thank you, JZ)–and I can’t stop being amazed at their sunny faces against the achingly glorious blue sky beyond.  I can’t not take photos of these skyscapes, each one more vividly blue than the last.  And you know me, I need to share.  So here you go.

IMG_1129Here’s those Jerusalem artichoke blooms.  My phone was full of this exuberant sight, taken over and over, as I kept encountering it, every time I circled round my beloved reservoir.

IMG_1180Wait, here they are again!

IMG_1146It took an out-of-town visitor to remind me that there are treasures to behold in my back yard.  If by my back yard,  you include the hub of the universe on the other side of the river.  I.M. Pei must have been dreaming of skies like this when he designed the JFK Library.

IMG_1212I seem to find blue skies even when I’m not looking for them.  Here, reflected in the windows behind the best door hardware, anywhere.  Come to my home town and I’ll take you on a tour of these doors.

They’re worth the trip, all by themselves.

IMG_1184More reflected glorious blueness.

It was just that kind of week.  Blue skies, and a chill in the air.  Waking up early and needing to pull up the comforter, as a frosty breeze wafted through the window.

The fact that we’re now in the land of more dark than light is probably what makes these blue sky days all the more vivid, more acutely in need of being seen, and appreciated, and duly noted.  It’s going to start being dark at 4PM before I know it, and I will grieve the lack of sunshine in the evenings and in the early mornings.  Best to just keep looking up, and letting these skies, and the light these days, soak in, at every opportunity.

to everything there is a season

IMG_0694Need parking karma?  Call me.

I’ve counted my parking karma as the one super-power that came about with my mammogram result.  And, trust me, living where I do, parking karma comes in handy.  But as I’ve put the treatment phase of this story behind me, and, truth be told,  am less in need of good on-street parking options around town, I seem to have developed a new…well, super-power is not exactly what I’d call it.  Weird capability, more like.

I keep finding people’s wallets.

Okay, two times doesn’t count as an epidemic.  But in the past two weeks, when I’ve been out on my early perambulations in My Fair City, I’ve twice found myself crossing paths with other people’s wallets.

The first one, two Sundays ago, was the sad event you might expect the words “lost wallet” to portend.  The day was rainy, and the leather folder was soggy.  Clearly, someone had emptied it of its useful (to the emptier, that is) contents, and simply flung what remained into the gutter.  I picked it up, and, expecting to find nothing of value inside, was surprised to discover a passport.  A passport!  Well, for anyone looking for cash and perhaps an obliging credit card to make some quick nefarious purchases, I guess that this overly official piece of ID was not worth hanging onto.  I know how hard it is to replace a passport, so I knew that for that item alone, I’d need to find its rightful owner.

Passports don’t tend to include current contact info, unless the owner has penciled it in.  This one hadn’t, but the name on the passport matched a business card, still tucked into a wallet slot, right between four library cards.  Four!  Local and far flung, public and private, big city and small town.  My heart ached for the man with dual citizenship and a love of borrowed books.

I tracked him down by email (easy enough, thanks to that business card) and was careful to indicate in my subject line that I only had what was left of his wallet, not all its original contents.  He responded immediately, and once we realized we were just blocks from one another, he walked to my house, rang my doorbell, and was as effusive in his thanks as one human being can be to another.  I apologized for the fact that it was wet and otherwise empty, but no matter, the fact that he wouldn’t have to replicate that most precious item was enough to nearly make up for the loss of everything else.  He promised to send me an announcement when his next art show would be opening.

One week later, one more wallet.  This one I spied only after I’d noticed the sun glinting off a shiny credit card, lying right there, out in the open.  A credit card, then beside that, the wallet, and beyond, some loose change: the tableau suggested no foul play, more likely a slip up, dropped by mistake upon stepping out of a cab or off  the bus.  Unlike the first, this second wallet was brimming with its owner’s identity: credit cards, student ID, driver’s license, frequent buyer/flyer/user cards.  Everything about this one suggested that I’d have no trouble locating its rightful owner.

But when I arrived at the address listed on multiple items, I did not find the woman in the photos; instead, I met a confused and sleep deprived individual who had only lived in her new apartment for two weeks.  Ah, sorry, my mistake.   A few Google clicks and one LinkedIn contact later, I was able to email the wallet’s owner.  The hours that passed before I got a response made me quite sure that somewhere in my neighborhood, there was a graduate student of architecture, sleeping in on a Sunday morning, not even aware that her wallet had gone missing.  I was weirdly relieved to know that her first moment of awareness would be clicking on my email, thus eliminating the whole, “Oh, shit!” and retracing of steps and calling stores and restaurants and party venues phase.  The good news would precede the bad news.

Which it indeed did.  Ten minutes after I got her call, wallet-owner #2 was at my front door, even more effusive in her relief than #1 had been.  She was, after all, getting her entire plastic-ID life back.  She and her boyfriend, who accompanied her to my doorstep, were delighted and slightly awed that such a thing could happen, that a complete stranger could go to any lengths to make sure a lost wallet would be rightfully returned.    They all but bowed to me in their gratitude.

IMG_0733Okay, honestly, this photo has nothing to do with this story.  Except that this mural is on the street where Wallet Loser #2 used to live, but doesn’t any more.

I found myself wondering, after they left.  Why was I so anxious to go the distance, do the digging and get those wallets back where they belonged? Why did it matter to me, to meet my recipients face to face?

Here’s what I’ve concluded:  First, I’ve left my own wallet behind, multiple times, in all the usual zones: I’ve left them in the grocery cart, on top of the car, at the coffee house counter, in the diner booth—and, almost always, I get my wallet back. Maybe that’s my truest superpower: I can space my most critical personal items and have them float home to me, intact.  At some level, I feel a need to both pay my good fortune forward and back.

But second, and new to my thinking: there’s something more going on in my life, and that’s the fact that I jump at the chance to help others out these days.   I’m convinced that the reason I kept tracking these wallet owners down, not just dropping their lost items off at the closest police station, was that I wanted to be of service.  I wanted to be the active helper, the donor of my usefulness.  I’ve been a recipient of so much good will in the past year—I truly am in that spot where any chance to be the good doobie feels like a chance to repay my whole world.

So, for all of you out there who have had those conversations with friends in hard spots, and have offered your help, and have come up empty on what to do to be of service, and have subsequently found yourself laid up, or needing assistance of one sort or another: call me.   Soon enough, when your ship has been righted, you’ll know what this feels like.  It feels so very good to be the giver.

the best of all new beginnings

IMG_0872

There was a time in my life when I went to weddings, lots and lots of weddings, as one after another of our friends and family were joined in matrimony.  There was the year of the 12 nuptials, somewhere in the late 1980s, when my summer calendar was ablaze with big red hearts on almost all of the Saturdays.  Simultaneously, my credit card bills ballooned from May to September, with lots of itemizations for cutlery and stemware and linens and suchlike.  It was what we did, like the friends in Four Weddings and a Funeral.  We dressed up, we showed up, we stood up front when asked, we raised our glasses and sang silly songs we wrote for the occasions.  We knew Corinthians 13 by heart, especially the part about love being patient and kind.  There was some tent-sliding and skinny-dipping along the way, which makes me realize how young we were, and how long ago it was that this was what we did on summer weekends, year after year.   It was a lovely run, being there for the people we loved on their most important day, and it seemed like the wedding seasons would never end.

IMG_0871

 And then, without notice, the wedding invitations dribbled to a halt.  We were all married, apparently.  We started having kids and trading holiday greetings with photos that provided proof of the power of our DNA, as the faces of the children mimicked the faces of our cousins and college friends.  There were a few christenings along the way, a bar and bat mitzvah or three or four.  New ceremonies for new passages replaced the registration lists for high ball glasses and gravy boats.

Lately it’s been graduations we go to, but the run on that is coming to an end as well.  We have one more to go at our house, a few more on the family front.  What next?

IMG_0933

Well, weddings, it turns out.  Weddings of the next generation.  Starting, for us, this past weekend.   John and I got dressed up in our country wedding finery (read, nice but with sensible shoes) and headed to the home of my high school French teacher and housemother, my Beacon Hill and Cambridge home-away-from-home-keeper.  One of her lovely daughters would be tying the knot, on a glorious September day,  and we were invited.  I rsvp’d with the same phrase our beloved matriarch Bobbie used when she replied to our invitation: “We’ll be there with bells on!”

IMG_0899

Here’s what’s most lovely about weddings: they all follow the unwritten script, no matter where the actual script came from.  Book of Common Prayer, Omar Khayyam, Walt Whitman, do-it-yourself vows, it doesn’t matter.  There’s the lovely moment of realizing you’re in the right place, when you see the flowers and ribbons and “Park in the field” signage.  There’s the running into people you haven’t seen for years.  There’s the music, then the lull, and then the magic moment when the music begins again, and the wedding party appears.  There are sweet words between parents and daughters, givers-away and spouses-to-be.  There are the words spoken at the altar, or in the garden, or under the chuppah, that you feel in your heart, in your throat, as the moment, and the momentous-ness of that moment, become a physical sensation.  To Have and To Hold.  For Better or Worse.  As Long as We Both Shall Live.  Or words to that effect.

IMG_0926

Then there’s the release, and the relief.  It all went as planned, or not.  The weather held off, or it didn’t.  Whatever needed to happen, happened, and whatever comes next is frosting–quite literally, once the cake is cut.  There will be cheers and snapshots and kisses and dancing.  There will be more clinking of glasses, more toasts, words heartfelt and true.  And before you know it, it’s time for one last dance, one last hug, and then time to go, with a slice of cake wrapped in a napkin.

IMG_0928Yep, it turns out, weddings still keep to that lovely script.

a new school year, and new beginnings

IMG_0771

The photo above is of me, and dates back to September of 1963.  That was my first day of kindergarten, and my first ride home on the big yellow school bus.  I can still remember the canvas-y smell of that skirt, the rubber-soled squeak of those shoes on linoleum.  In my hand I have a work of art to add to the special folder that lived in the bottom drawer of our marble-topped hallway bureau, the first of many submissions to the schoolwork portfolios my mother faithfully kept, one oversized envelope per child.  I look at that photo and I see my childhood self, excited to be moving on up, in love with the start of a new adventure.

Which is, at the heart of it, why I still love Septembers.  But it’s not just the beginning of the school year that did it for me, then or now.   I’m still struck, every end-of-summer, with a longing for the seasons to change toward clear and cool—especially days like today, when the weather gets unbearably sticky.   I can’t help but look forward to ski season, when daylight ebbs.  I’m ready for new beginnings.  Then as now, I’m anxious to start reading ahead, to see what’s around the bend.

This September, I’m feeling a curious sense of urgency to turn the calendar page.  2013 has been a year of extremes, the highs being delightful, the lows…well, you know.  I hate that sense that I’ve been wishing this year away since before it even started, the same way I used to wish away the dark winter hours between dinner and bedtime, when my preschool boys were wound up and cranky and unwilling to go nicely and quietly to sleep.   It’s not 2013’s fault that I want to put it in my rear view mirror, or better yet, switch to a new make and model.   But here we are, post-mammogram-bad-news-recall-wise.  So yes, let’s recalculate, and start over, for good measure.

Truth be told, new beginnings can be a little bit daunting.  New shoes and new pencil boxes and protractors were fun when I was in grade school, but new teachers and new kids and new subjects I might not be good at, like long division—those were scary.  These days, it’s the ongoing continuum of dealing with change that’s unsettling, from student to worker bee to mother and volunteer and caregiver to…well, what am I these days? What’s next?  Where do I go from here?  In the immortal words of Mark Twain, “I’m all for progress, it’s just change I hate.”

Yeah, I do, too.  Except that I don’t.  I still look forward to the promise of a new ski season around the bend, but more than ever, I’m looking forward to starting anew, just because.  Back when E was about to finish high school, I was busy clearing my non-profit plate—getting off boards, co-chairing one last fundraiser, finishing up my duties around capital campaigns and writing assignments, so I could specifically make space for a new path.  I didn’t know then that my notions around where that new path might lead would be interrupted by a curious mix of alternate “next things,” filling the plate I’d just emptied out with items not always of my choosing.  Some have been the by-products of tragedy, some a function of health issues and family ties, some the happy luck of renewed friendships and happenstance.  I wouldn’t be writing these posts, for example, or walking around with my phone in my pocket thinking about what the subject of my next photo essay might be, had it not been for that mammogram result.  I wouldn’t have corresponded with a long-lost freshman roommate, and wouldn’t be writing book reviews, were it not for the kismet of re-kindled connections.  I’ve gotten some gifts, some perfect pearls of love and kindness and opportunity along the way.  I’ve also gotten some lemons.  I am so lucky, on so many fronts, I know that above all.  And at the same time, I’m getting good at making lemonade.  It’s a huge cliché, but the truth of it is, you learn to deal with what you’ve been dealt.  And then, god willing, you move on.

IMG_0752Remnant of an abandoned fireplace at the edge of a new corridor, keys no longer required…

We did the requisite dormitory run this week for our younger son, filling up the back of the station wagon and lugging plastic boxes full of bedding and books and clothes and sundries to a new room, glistening with fresh paint and new possibilities.  Meanwhile, our big guy is moving out of his little twin bed in our house and into an apartment with three other recent college grads, a classic combo of new-to-the-city hires and hand-me-down furniture from the last crew that passed through their multiple-roommate rental.   As with nearly everyone’s renting housing in these parts, their lease runs from September 1st to September 1st.

IMG_0759And just this morning, after passing by these posters, all shouting “Try this! Take me!” to new students whizzing by,  I slipped in the side door at Memorial Church and enjoyed the first morning chapel service on the first  day of the new school year.  Drew Faust spoke briefly and eloquently of new beginnings, of aiming to be both ever true to tradition, and ever ready to accept the changes that a new world bestows upon us, ready or not. By definition, we begin again, again and again.   And then we gathered together, and sang.

IMG_0810It seemed like a good place to start.