memorials, remembrances, and new beginnings

IMG_6435At last, the magnolias in bloom!

Spring finally arrived. And with it came the dates on the calendar that forced our fair city, our whole world, to remember what happened at the finish line on a glorious day last April. We all looked back, whether we meant to or not. And even when the news feeds weren’t playing it up,  the flashbacks kept creeping into our collective frontal lobes. This was the day it happened, one year ago. This was the day we were stuck at home, wondering what was going on in Watertown. This was the weekend when we all came out and the sun shined and it seemed like the world was a beautiful place, a little less scary, a lot more hopeful. We all kept remembering, last week, and then, having paid all the remembrances and acknowledgements their due, we all turned the page, adjusted our hats, resumed our journeys, and looked forward to the 118th Boston Marathon.

IMG_6369Thousands of daffodils were planted along the 26 miles of the Boston Marathon route.  They all bloomed on cue.

IMG_6183A trip to the Boston Public Library early last week turned into a moment of silence at the Dear Boston Memorial, at this quiet corner, where visitors could add their messages of hopefulness and healing to a leafless tree.

Okay, confession: over the years, I’d gotten a little bit blasé about marathon spectating. My sweetie grew up in Concord, where what you did on Patriot’s Day was show up for the crack o’ dawn Shot Heard ‘Round the World re-enactment at the Old North Bridge, rally to hand out bloody Marys while the parade passed by, then skidaddle out to watch the runners head for the hills of Newton. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and somehow, getting out to the race course started seeming too time consuming, finding a place to park near Heartbreak Hill to cheer the runners on, too dicey. Squeezing in along the barriers in Kenmore Square—it all seemed so unnecessary. The crowds, the traffic, the lack of actual bathrooms. The ease of watching on TV from home and checking online to see how my long distance runner friends were fairing. The absence of small boys at my house, on school vacation, needing an activity to fill their day. Truth be told, with the exception of one single outing with an out-of-town guest a couple of years back, it all added up to the fact that I hadn’t been to the sidelines to watch in person since, well, since my friend Joanie Samuelson was still Joan Benoit, the year she knocked 2 minutes off the fastest ever marathon time for women. That was before I was married. That was a long time ago.

IMG_6565Ah, Joanie, we knew you when!

But this year, on this beautiful spring day, I knew I had to go watch, and cheer, and be part of the throng. If a million people were going to show up, a year after what happened last time—well, I wanted to be there, too.

So off I set, on a morning perambulation that served to remind me how close to the race course I live. It turns out that the spot my California friend and I camped out at a few years back, for my one post-marriage viewing session,was as obliging a spot to spectate from as I could ask for.

IMG_6486More daffodils, accompanied by a tri-corner-hatted alto sax player. Patriot’s Day perfection.

 IMG_6489I planted myself just across Beacon Street from Team GoJimbo.  I was told he’d been given a heads up to be on the lookout for bunny ears.  I suspect he had kicked quite a bit of asphalt by Mile 24, where we were watching.

As is always the case at these sorts of events, you find your spot, you stake out your space, and then you befriend the folks around you. I had a trio of North Shore attendees to my left who were pulling for the pride of Marblehead, Shalane Flanagan.  On my right was a family of five, all there for no runner in particular, just collectively rallying for the day.  That, and all intent upon offering red twizzler licorice sticks to whoever might need that particular form of pseudo-nourishment.  They had no takers while I was there, but who knows, it might have been just what some back-of-the-pack marathoner was hankering for with 2.2 miles to go.

I got to the sidelines in time to clap for wheelchair athletes and army guys who had started walking the course before dawn.  After them came the blue lights, the police escort, the press truck, and the excitement of the fastest women, so lithe, so focused.  Not long after that, the elite men, led by  Meb Keflizighi, decked out in red, white and blue, so proud, so strong. After each leader group came the aching long gaps between the front runners and the also-elites, those whose day wasn’t going as planned.  The north shore native and USA hopeful Shalane Flanagan, who led for 17 miles at a blistering pace, seemed already in tears when she passed by, the crowds entreaties to keep on going unnecessary, but also incapable helping her bridge the widening gap.  She ran boldly from Hopkinton onward, recklessly, perhaps, and in doing so, paced the winner to a new course record. But while she was at it, Flanagan also ran the fastest any American woman had ever run Boston.  She had nothing to be ashamed of.  Yet she apologized at the finish, for letting the whole of the Boston Strong realm down.  She needn’t have worried; she was cheered and adored and celebrated all the same.  Everyone was, on this day.

After awhile, as the number of runners increased and as their bib numbers jumped from two or three digits to four, I started searching for my friend Joan.  Through the miracle of smart phone technology, I knew she’d passed the 40K mark, and would soon be coming my way.  I suspected that her presence would be made obvious by a roar from the crowd, a more enthusiastic rumble of clapping and cheering.  She’s a legend, after all, an Olympic gold medalist, a three time winner in Boston, a New England treasure.  We’d know when she got there, I figured.  But still, I was watching intently, in case the folks outbound from me were not aware of her presence, not looking for her familiar gait.  I reminded myself to look for a hat, probably a white hat.  She likes to wear hats.  That, and her slack, stoic running face.

Sure enough, there she was.  No entourage, no wave of recognition, no men hangers-on, trying to keep up with her pace and catch some time in the spotlight at the finish.  No, my Joan was running alone in the crowd, her son Anders somewhere in the next wave, her daughter Abby just behind.  No motorcade, no special treatment for the woman who has run marathons in under three hours in five different decades.  Think about that.  Last time I looked, there were fewer than a dozen people who had achieved that feat, in the history of mankind.  Joanie is the only woman.

IMG_6563The hat.  And the familiar short-legged gait. She is amazing.

When I finally headed home, the sound of the crowd, the cheers, the endless applause, the recognition of appreciation for so many thousands of runners’ willingness to put in the miles, the training, the effort–it rang in my ears, all the way back to Cambridge.

IMG_6500The Boston skyline, from the BU bridge.  My favorite viewing spot, any time of day, any time of year.

And when I got home, on twitter, this:

IMG_6564Linda Muri.  World class rower, phenomenal coach.  She had one of those crappy mammogram results just a few weeks ago, and is now in the middle of chemo treatment.  File under, one more amazing Boston Marathon story. Read all about her remarkable effort, here: http://ihopetheycaughtitintime.blogspot.com/

 

Aha! A book review for your reading pleasure

IMG_6412

This is a classic example of me forgetting I’d even read this book, let alone reviewed it.  Oddly, reading my own words is a curious adventure–hey, not bad!  Well edited, truth be told.  My biggest darling that needed killing was a metaphor around Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, whereby I compared the main character in Anna Quindlen’s Still Life With Bread Crumbs to the mother of the stars of S&S.  Seriously, why didn’t Colonel Brandon give Mrs. Dashwood even a moment’s notice?  This is a book about her, writ in the twenty-first century prose.  And for once, Anna Quindlen didn’t feel obliged to put an Issue with a capital I in the story.  It’s just about finding love, wherever it may be.  And whenever.

Enjoy!

http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/still-life-with-bread-crumbs

Oh, and just for fun, here’s my favorite doorway in Cambridge, as of yesterday anyhow:

IMG_6411* * * * *

 

 

Fast forward. Oh, and while you’re at it: stop, look and listen

IMG_6399We woke up to more seasonal confusion today.

The weeks are spinning by on me. Mondays turn into Thursdays with what seems like no Tuesdays or Wednesdays to speak of in between. Boxes are getting packed, drawers emptied, and my head is full of the mental math that goes with the endless decisions around things like, for instance, towels: which ones to box up, which ones we’ll need for the summer sublet, which can be given away. There’s triage at every turn (pricey ground cloves of indeterminate vintage: keep, give away, or throw out? Multiple futon mattresses: put in storage, hang onto one just in case, or leave the whole lot out on the sidewalk?) and there’s a permanent pile by the front door for whatever charity is passing through—Salvation Army, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Epilepsy Fund all have me pegged as a regular contributor. It helps to be able to offload stuff to a non-profit where someone will use it, or where it will be sold to put some money in the coffers to advance the cause, whatever the cause may be. Makes the offloading feel useful beyond my own clear-the-decks project, which is a good thing.

 IMG_6258

Signs like this have become a fixture of our front walk.

 

Meanwhile, simultaneous with the fluttering calendar pages, there are certain hours of my days that just…drag. The ones between when I put my head on my pillow and when I actually go to sleep, for instance. The ones between 3AM and 5AM can be particularly ornery. In addition to my creaky joints that began with my ACL blowout of 1988, I’ve recently been visited by one of those spine injuries that tends to happen when you’re not exercising, not even doing anything of note. I’d put vacuuming squarely in the “not of note” category. Which is what I was doing when something went twang in my lower back, and which has since migrated to my left hip (aka, until recently, “my good hip”) and has, for a month now, been sending little jolts and tingles down my left side whenever I sit or lie down. Walking around, fine. Packing boxes, no problem. So, yes, it could be so much worse. And it’s officially a complete bore to talk about. The good news is, I’ve gotten some physical therapy that helps, and some meds to get me through the night. And thanks to my devoted reader and woman of amazing contacts, my dearest Jo-Del, I now have a weekly appointment with a gifted Chinese message therapist every Friday morning.

 IMG_6409

It’s a walk over a bridge to a completely other world..

Ah, Mr. Zhang. I have no idea what you’re doing. I only know that on Fridays at 10AM, I get on your table and give myself over. Here’s a part of my life where I do wish time would stand still. Instead, these sixty minutes always tick-tick-tick away, an hour folded over into itself, somehow. Mr. Zhang’s street address is 138½, which adds to the magic—it’s like Harry Potter’s platform 9¾ , which similarly transported that young wizard to another realm. I step in the door, I take off my shoes, I lie down, and I give over to the realm of Mr. Zhang’s healing hands. I don’t even care how my inner thighs jiggle under his acupressure efforts. I lose all my compulsions to present myself as fit and smart and mindful—the sorts of contortions I go through whenever I speak to doctors, in an effort to not waste their time, to make sure they understand that I am intelligent, that I was a good athlete in my day, that I’m heavy but well above average, fitness-wise, that I’m not making this shit up. Mr. Zhang just checks for tightness, for asymmetry, and where he finds me tense out of kilter, he kneads, and presses, and asks, “This okay? This is tight, yes? This spot? Yes?” and I mumble back, “hmm, yeah, right there.” We listen to the local college radio station while I’m there, which at that hour is all jazz, and he covers me up in warm blankets. It’s a cocoon. It’s a relief. I adore my hour in his care. I have no idea if it’s doing any good, but boy, for that sacred sixty minutes, I’m somewhere else with my pesky body, and it’s a good place to be.

 * * * * *

I have been the recipient of multiple lessons in recent days, around being aware, being present, being observant. Of myself, of my world. I like to think I’m fairly well wired for noticing what’s going on out there in the great beyond. I see things most people miss–always have.  But so far as my physical being goes, I’m afraid I’m not so finely tuned. My Mr. Zhang visits make me realize how much of my time is spent trying to cover myself up, avoid my flaws, look the other way. I focus elsewhere when I approach anything vaguely reflective. I wonder how much of my joint pain these days has to do with a couple of decades of ignoring my joint pain when it was less vivid. I get bruises these days, and I don’t even remember what I bumped into.  It takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to ignore cracked molars. And god knows how long it would have taken me to notice the lump that was picked up by that 3D mammogram.  I’ve not always been my body’s best friend.

 

So, onward I go, facing renovations on all fronts. My body, myself, my house. Triage, everywhere I look.  Wishing for some of what’s coming up to just be over with, wishing some of these hours wouldn’t fly by so quickly. Wondering what I can do to be more forgiving of my body and my psyche, as time marches on. It sounds so egotistical, but yes, I am my current project. Me, and my home, two improvement projects at once.   My health and my fitness, just for starters. And after that, a more complicated “me” project–the one where I figure out what to do with my creative notions.  It’s time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, beyond devoted wife and mother, dutiful aunt and daughter-in-law, volunteer and fundraiser,  ardent reader, mid-level New York Times crossword puzzler.  Writer of blog posts, book reviews, emails and Instagram photo captions. Cookie baker, applesauce maker.  Low intermediate birder.  Red Sox fanatic. Home town docent and tour guide.  Friend to many dear friends.  Former athlete, hoping to work my way back to something resembling a present-day athlete.

IMG_6405What next?  Who knows?

 

As always, the first step is figuring out what needs to happen. The second step is finding help that actually helps. I figure I’m in good shape on the actual construction project, and I’m about midway on both those agenda items, on my physical improvement project. As for the what comes next in terms of an answer to the pesky “So, what do you do?” question, the how shall I spend my remaining years question…that one is still a little bit up in the air.

IMG_6410My dear 21 year old sent me this picture, with the comment, “I didn’t know they’d named a square for you, mom.” Well, they didn’t; this one’s for Arthur Schlesinger’s first wife.  But I like that my son thinks I’ve filled those job descriptions.

 

 

 

Whole new ball game

IMG_5936We’re suffering from some seasonal confusion here. Plus my cookbook shelf was empty.

So, here we are, April, and still it doesn’t quite feel safe to assume spring is here, really.  We get little hints, sometimes we even find ourselves completely overdressed in the sunshiny tilting towards springtime world, but beware: waking up to a blue sky day doesn’t mean it’s not cold enough to see your breath, out there in the sunshine.

This winter has been hanging on with a death grip.  My main barometer for weeks and weeks has been the ice at Fresh Pond, which seemed like it might stick around until August.  After a 2013 winter that offered up wide swaths of open water, 2014 iced over but good, and looked to stay that way for a long, long run.

IMG_5913April started out, looking like this.  Enough already!

I ran into the Fresh Pond Reservation ranger the day I took that  photo up above.  She bet the ice wouldn’t go out until April 15th.  My bet was a more optimistic April 5th.

IMG_5981We were both blessedly off the mark.  This was April 2nd.  Yes!

IMG_6112And just 48 hours later, no ice, just sparkle.

I hadn’t realized how much it mattered to me, to perambulate around blue open water after months and months of gray.  The view doesn’t change much when what you’re looking at is snow and ice, all around, and a sun that just scoots above the horizon.  Walking in April reminds me to notice where the sun is, how high in the sky.  I get that sense, Monet-like, of how the light plays on the water at different times of day, from different perspectives.  Truly, the best part about circumnavigating my reservoir is that I see it from every possible angle.  I’d missed that sparkle.

IMG_5994I’d also forgotten about Joni Mitchell’s cloud reflections.

I love the times when I’m walking around on an overcast day, and I don’t even realize there’s some blue sky breaking through until I see it reflected in the reservoir.  Reminds me to look up.

Still, the cold has held on.  And it takes you by surprise. A couple of times I’ve headed out at the end of the day, not having noticed that the wind had kicked up and my down coat would have been a better choice.  I’ve often made fun of the outfits I see in Harvard Yard, where the world’s smartest college freshmen look out the window and think spring, without checking the thermometer.  This past week, that was me, more often than I’d like to admit.  File under: how is it I know what to wear when it’s ten below and blowing atop Wildcat Mountain, but I can forget to put socks on when April comes around?  At least I’m not stuck sitting on cold metal bleachers these days, watching little league baseball.  Now that I think of it, those early season games were quite possibly the coldest I’ve ever been.  It’s all in the layers, or lack thereof.  I learned to keep a down sleeping bag in the back of my car for extra inning games.

And yet, spring asserts itself, wind chill or no.  Some things demand to be attended to, weather be damned, because of the date on the calendar. My grocery store shifts into Spring Mode as soon as they’ve swept out the red and pink Valentine’s Day stuff from the holiday/seasonal aisle.

IMG_5687I have no idea when Easter is, but these items have been beckoning for weeks.

Oh, and then there’s this:

IMG_6029Some championship trophies came to celebrate the beginning of the baseball season.  Some championship rings were distributed.  Some people at my house are a little bit excited.  Play ball!  And if you’re going to the game anytime soon, you might want to take that sleeping bag to bundle up in. You’ll probably need it.