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Poetry Collectives and Such

Last week I received a glorified chain letter, but with a difference. It was entitled poetry collective.Annoyed, I reflected I would not participate but I did not delete it from my machine. A few days later, coming across it again, I thought it might be a neat idea to receive a poem or two.

Now- I am not a poetry person, rather my solace is fiction and prose and narratives. Yet in my head are stored bits and pieces of poetry that rise to the surface occasionally. “Such as home is the place…”, the haunting Robert Frost poem that emerges whenever my plane lands in Toronto; or the mantra I uttered to my kids for years as we pulled into the drive way. I giggle to recall one of my courting love notes to my husband when we were seriously dating, an. e. e.cumming’s line about” I like my body when it’s with your body…”

It is a nuisance to engage in writing chain letters, but angered by my day’s events yesterday and looking for an outlet, I pounded on my computer. What poem, I ruminated , shall I send out into the world? Oppressive weather, lost earrings, changed appointment dates? A return to the slings and arrows of life in Toronto prompted William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming. Heavy, dark and forbidding. And how perfect for angst of Easter, but truly in tune with my mindset, I remembered from my university years “ …turning and turning, the centre cannot hold”.

Was I ready to explode too?

Yup, I was feeling torn apart, angry, twisting with frustration. So I clicked on the first name in the list and sent off the poem, a bit embarrassed not to be sharing rosebuds but gloom and doom that “ the centre will not hold”. I felt heavy, my imagination clothing me in the cloak of a grim reaper, my scythe ready to slice through the encroaching darkness.

But quickly, a response returned to express :the receiver loved the poem. I thought I recognized her name and to be of my vintage so I imagined she too might have been  introduced to Yeats back at university 40 years ago. Perhaps  her awareness of stodgy intellectual love- driven Yeats was accompanied by thoughts of U of T’s grassy quadrangle, and being young and wistful and dreaming of a happy future, maybe even in a  classroom.

The next step, however was to blind copy 20 people with the request to also send out poems. I chuckled to include my list of friends from Vienna to Los Angeles, contemplating a worldwide circuit that might travel around the world spreading poetry. So maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea and my mood began to lighten, especially when I was forwarded this,”It’s a green speckle time/ my favourite time of the year/ when all the trees begin to bud/ and summertime is near”. Joyously, some qother participant, had decided to play along with his best shot, his of a burst of spring.

Alas, my damn computer refused to co- operate and I had wasted almost an hour tracking down correct configurations of email addresses. Anger rising again, I reduced the size of my list, anticipating I would bcc in smaller bits, but again, my damn computer would only send one bcc at a time. So I sent 5, thinking, maybe I’ll do this later, but almost immediately two of my respondents emailed with thanks, but no thanks, I don’t do chain letters.

 I completely understood but the idea of poetry circling the globe like children of many colours dancing was morphing into a fleeting wisp of a thought.

Just back from three months in San Diego, the incomplete chain letter fell to the back of the closet in my mind.The crashing ice storm, the appointments put off, the reassemble of one’s life back home forced itself into my head space.

Where waking up to the blue cerulean sky had awakened a positive spirit in San Diego,the grey of Toronto had reminded me of more cold bitter days until we limp in to spring -in maybe two more months or more.The enjoyable colours of birds of paradise springing wildly by the walkways en route to yoga class were replaced by rustling squirrels and one very confused robin caught in an icy downpour here.The desirability of walking out to meet the day in shirtsleeves had returned to the grumble of dashing into the car buried to the chin in multilayered beneath my winter coat and turned my smile upside down.

Double humbug. I’ld even stopped the uplifting morning meditations and felt myself the tight brown shell of a small nut. And now even poetry would not go out into the world to shake some snow from tree limbs.

I should be happy: warm, secure in my lovely house, finally reuniting with my gracious grandsons here at home. But I am yearning for the sun- not sweating by a beach, but striding out in the fresh air, feeling alive and grateful for the day.

I’m not a supporter of things American and the name Donald Trump or Ted Cruz raises my ire and makes me rage with anger that so many people can be so stupid to support these crazies. I soothe myself that our fellow Justin Trudeau although not his father’s prodigy of brilliance is,at least, demonstrating the right moves towards diversity and environment,espousing a better world. But I must wonder at opportunities in the US, and why in 3 months, five of my writing articles were accepted in a variety of publications while here in Canada, no one is interested.

And why in California, people are welcoming and smile at you, often strangers initiating conversations with no ulterior motives, and why, too, does the service industry really try to satisfy -even should you sound or look weird?I love Canada and even when my husband was offered opportunities to move or study in the states, he refused. Whenever I can, I laud our healthcare, our innovations, our society, the Eldoas.

But maybe as the tail of winter is wending through my mind and I am experiencing shadows not sunlight, I feel down, yearning for the pink buildings of La Jolla and the outside cafes for leisurely lunches with my friend Peggy. Like frog and toad, I know spring will come again, but right now as the gloomy brown day envelops my yard and the perplexed robin stands perplexed on the soggy lawn, I yearn for the purple bougenvilla at  the side of our condo.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)       THE SECOND COMING
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;

    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know

    That twenty centuries of stony sleep

    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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California 

I think California is in my blood, as my family, certainly not during The Gold Rush but sometime later sought a better and warmer life in California. My father’s aunties – Dora and Annie arrived and settled in Los Angeles. They had their children, Annette, Julius and Frances who married, had children and grandchildren in that state. And cousin Harry Geller from New York moved there too, somehow involved in the music business with a record or two under his belt. When we visited to celebrate one of my sister’s birthdays, Harry’s son in a station wagon drove us through the Hollywood hills and we felt very special.
I have no family tree so there is a tangle of branches, one that also involves an Uncle Joe, my grandmother Molly’s brother I think. He died penniless in Miami. He was, so the family gossip goes, a lover of show girls, a gambler, a “ good guy”: his profession an auctioneer, flitting all over the country. The first time my family visited LA, he must have been working Las Vegas and visiting his sisters in LA because he took us to a posh restaurant called Sportsmanship’s Lodge where we caught our fish for dinner. At least surprisingly, I did. He gifted my sister and me with silver pearl necklaces which I still keep in one of my jewelry drawers. So impressed was I by this handsome renegade that I wrote him a poem. I recall he seemed touched. He seemed dashing and cool, tipping everyone and gliding through that luxurious restaurant. To a young girl, he was the embodiment of suave and charming, a Jewish Clark Gabel or Harrison Ford, a guy with panache.
LA was a merry- go- round of novel experiences and sensations when I was barely eight years old: colourful family barbecues, mini amusement parks, sparkle, fun and sun. While I was struck by the lure of an endless summer, my father struggled with the dense and poisonous air that clogged the skies and so he returned home early as the smog caused him tremendous breathing difficulties, but my mother, sister and I stayed on: to be charmed and dined by the mishpocha in this place of low houses and incredible vistas.

This was my first taste of a life style that was relaxed and welcoming. Farmer’s Market with its fruits, vegetables and Mexican crafts, Disneyland with all its incredible lands that spread for acres. We panned for gold at Knoxberry Farm and we were loved and catered to by our glamourous peddlepusher clad family, frolicking in their crystal pools that glistened in the never ending sun. My first bite of the magic apple entreated me for more.

Later when I had completed Grade 10, I was allowed to travel by train, sitting up, for three days and nights -all by myself, even having to change trains in Chicago- to visit my mother’s sister’s family who also had recently relocated to LA. I chortle now for I would not have allowed my fifteen year old daughters to set off by themselves, but I do recall low voices arguing at night between my parents before that summer trip, but my mother surmising that my grandparents would be there later in the summer to supervise. Ha! Only then did my father finally succumb to our consolidated nonstop pleadings.
That summer was a whirlwind where I learned parents existed as only landscape, that teenagers moved in packs, rose before the sun or stayed out all night, apparently hunting grunions, that girls did not wear girdles, that they knew how to apply eyeliner and the only way to get to the beach was on the back of a motorcycle. It was froth for me that summer. I felt I belonged, that I had friends and I was liked not for what I did, how much money my parents had, what synagogue or country club I belonged to (NOT), how I looked, or what I had accomplished in school, but for me: whoever that might be and was evolving.
When the summer was over and the grandparents much more solicitous that summer of my aunt than myself, drove me to the train station, I wept copiously and clung to my cousins who had provided me deep insight into how adolescents should live, and the true meaning of freedom. My grandfather in amazement remarked he had only seen such grievous parting when families were torn apart in Europe to avoid the holocaust.
For me the sweetness of those days, of belonging to a roving herd of happy accepting kids contrasted markedly to the snobs at my school who had demarcated the lines that separated cool rich people like them with unkempt, socially awkward skrags such as myself. Even when I began my life back at home, my few friends disparaged of the language I had acquired during my summer sojourn. Into my sentences, I casually dropped such exclamations as ”bitchen” or “boss” as my Californian friends had as they lazily tanned and hung around Hermosa Beach or by the surfside of warming fires at night. In spite of the looks and raised eyebrows in Grade 11, I felt lighter, happier for my summer experiences.
I would return to California every few years, as my cousins inviting me, wanting to be part of their gang who partied, ate new and different foods and relaxed on the beach for hours. I even met my first real boyfriend there. I certainly learned how to tame my curly hair and rid myself of split ends.
Still, there was a shadow of disbelief regarding this lotus land, in stories passed down. For once my father’s grandparents had also packed up, intending to cast their lot with Dora and Annie in the Golden City. The story I heard was that polio had begun its devastation there and my grandmother fearful that her chubby children, but especially her beloved Solly might succumb, prevailed on my grandfather to return to Toronto.
She must have been terrified as I had heard that my stern and haughty grandfather who spent every Friday with his family ,berating my grandmother and accusing her of wasting their hard earned cash on new fangled and modern appliances such as washing machines, actually prevailed and they came back here. Life was hard and both grandparents labored for Tiptop Tailors, artisans, and perfectionists both. Ironically my father succumbed to polio when he was 29, I wondering if he had stayed on in Lala land, would he have escaped the cumbersome braces and necessary crutches and lead another life, free to walk holding his grandchildren? Would his attitude towards me differed?
My aunt Marion, born Minnie, hated her father’s father who was blind. According to her and her sister Goldi, it was rumoured he groped the granddaughters. My grandparent’s courtship that had begun with his gift of extravagant hats devolved into my grandfather tearing them to ribbons before my grandmother’s eyes. As well, my father would retell bitterly, his father hid chocolate medallions that the children loved, rarely sharing them. My father vowed never to argue about money as his parents had. So no matter how small his income, he never fought over finances with my mother, leaving her to figure out how to stretch the small amounts he earned from his passion: the perfection of sound from his investigations with condensers, tubes, circuitry that covered all of our cake boxes en route to creating the perfection of music and sound. When I think of my father, I see him, sitting at his worktable, focused inward, still, and listening to some sound he is coaxing from a piece of equipment, centred, unmoving, fixed in his investigation and pursuit of musical excellence.
Although our family did not derive much from his work, we always had the best of food and that was sufficient. Several times a year we would drive to Buffalo and purchase our clothes, or search the sales in Toronto. As a girl, my profound embarrassment involved standing at the corner bus stop of Eglinton and Bathurst with shopping bags that I implored my mother to turn inside out, bags that hid underware purchased from Honest Ed’s. I, fearful that some deb from school might see me and laugh at another transgression.
So my father’s parents had returned home to the drudgery of the sewing machines at Tiptop Tailors. I don’t think they ever forgave one another, only adding fuel to their fire. I recall the Saturdays that they visited. As the sun was setting, they came to the back of our store and into our living room behind the door, sinking deeply into the deep pink chairs in the corners of the room.
I think my grandmother’s face lit up when she saw my father. My poor mother always with the burden of cooking, running up and downstairs, ironing, cooking, making life seem as normal as possible, even interrupted should she try and bake a cake because customers had come into the store. When the grandparents approached every Saturday, she was always ready with supper, barely able to conceal her week’s exhaustion on her thin body, often lamenting why Saturday for those suppers?
Nights were the worst for her as she feared my father on a service calls to install hi fis or fix television sets might slip and fall in the snow, and how would he lift his braces-enveloped body from the ice and mounds of snow. I remember her sitting hunched on a couch, her eyes far away in worry. Only on Tuesday evening would the limping hunched Mrs. Ward appear to babysit us so my parents could go to a show.
So many years later, the call of California in my ears, with my own young family, we explored the coast line, delirious in Napa’s wine country, haunted by San Simeon’s Hearst castle, driving along Big Sur even in the foggy mornings to that miraculous zoo in San Diego where my parents had taken me long ago.
California holds for me so many memories at pivotal moments in me life, moments that buoyed me up, and floated me away from my ordinary self back home. Not surprisingly I continue to return, seeking the sun and friendship I experienced so long ago.

 

A Rosh Hashana Reflection on sensitivity and growing up

Maybe it is called Writer’s Block, but lately although I happily edit my blogs, embroidering them or scratching out some, I am not finding too many new topics. Applause? I shutter to think that I re-edited a blog a few weeks ago that had all ready been published ( mea culpa, please forgive me!!!) Enough all ready, do you think? The topics I usually pick over have been dissected written about, and likely have gone longer than they should have. But in my own defense, themes and topics reappear over and over again and with –perhaps the exception of technology or new scientific discoveries- everything has been said, only to be rehashed, repackaged or a new perspectives provided by brighter( or lesser) eyes.

And it is not as if I don’t feel anything, or I am merely regurgitating. If anything I am overloaded with emotion these days so that it is practically dripping from me.

I read Rucsandra’s, my Pilates’ instructor, blog on gratitude and think her logical steps should make me shake off my anger or disillusionment in 90 seconds or so, freeing myself of angst or ennui. Yet it seems to have taken up residence like the Rosh Hashana tunes that will not depart my head for weeks, these overrunning my body, and at night leaking from my eyes.

I have always felt things intensely, my father frustrated at my being so sensitive, obviously a bad word. Even in early pictures, I am cuddled against a couch, small and separate, curly –haired and all ready introspective. No smile. My mother said she was worried about the effect my father’s polio, his disappearance to Riverdale Hospital might have on me as a child. I seem to have weathered it better than my sister who was unceasingly in need of his approval and love. My reaction was one of disregard, sarcasm. My own sweet personality absent replaced by bitter reaction to his absence? For always, when trying to make sense of who we are and all of our whys, we ponder nurture versus nature and likely there are equal amounts of both with likely nature putting a spin on the latter. These days, it is discussed under the term epigenics.

As an adolescent I might soar in spirits, but a subtle or even unexpected look might cause me to plummet and so I coined the expression “the bit of dust in my contact lens” to suggest that a joyful moment could be spoiled in an instant by a surprising gust of wind that interrupted or interrupted delight .And so I might be crying again. But as a teenager, I did not cut myself or act out as adolescents do today although I often chewed savagely at the inside of my cheeks.

I think I was an adolescent who felt things very very deeply. They called me Pat the Brat although my protestations were small. I laugh now to think that on returning from California at the beginning of Grade 11, my parents despaired of my change. That I tossed off words like “bitchen” and “boss” and I knew how to apply eyeliner. And that seemed to condemn me as “bad”. And my few former friends looked askance or totally ignored me for this unscrupulous behaviour. But those were the days when my cousin Allan came home to visit his girlfriend Ricky in winter, and all the family was aghast and atwitter because he dared to wear white pants in winter. My change in words and his predilection of attire sent volleys of outrage to those who preferred to condemn rather than smile, accept or extend their vision of what was appropriate: like teahats donned only at Easter parades and at bar mitzvahs.

I had supports in my adolescence: my special aunt who made me feel “sensitive” was not such a bad thing; my mucka-pucka or scribbles at art, my love of reading and my mother’s suggestion to join B’nai B’rith to socialize. I received praise from school in the realm of languages and English and so despite the horror of the social scene at Forest Hill, I did not mind going to school, even experiencing support from the Latin teacher affectionately known as “The Whip” who could reduce all the naughty confident full of themselves boys and girls to tears. How I appreciated her and the English teachers who were as strange and eccentric as I believed myself to be. My favourite was an Ichabod Crane character who wore his molars encased in a gold ring, and mesmerized us with talk of books and Broadway. Those were oases, for in the science and math classes I wished myself far far away from concepts and equations and jeers.

At university, I could wander under the arches, sit in the grassy quadrangle, flirt in the refectory. Lunch with my friends, adopt an air of insouciance, and being introverted beneath my bangs that eclipsed my eyes sheltered me so I could pretend to be sexy and knowing. There with friends and art history classes so I felt in control of my life, floating on clouds of fresh ideas and laughing chums with whom I could share. Fridays at The Coffee Mill ,the meeting place to ponder and assess the pleasure of the weekday, unconnected to the pains of the world. Except for Saturdays when I rose early because I worked in the Notions department at Eatons downtown: that was the pattern of my days. I somehow felt like the balloon that lightly drifts on the currents of soft breezes, willing to go with the streams of light and air and breath, floating, responding, just being.

It was a new and wonderful experience: to feel I belonged and to have friends at university, truly the wonder of my short life so far. I don’t know if it was the times , the hippie seventies of carefreelessness or just me. At night there were my irrelevant parents who made no demands on me and during the day there was downtown, concerts or Yorkville or parties, often achieved by hitchhiking or loading into a friend’s friend’s car, and heading off in a pack . The cold winters did not seem to bother me and in spite of spending long hours in my room usually pulling out the miscreant too kinky bits of hair, I took pleasure in my existence, encased in a bubble. What was I thinking as I pretended to study: What to wear on Saturday night? Whereto travel in the summer? What time to meet my friends?

I cannot remember every minute, just an overview of pleasurable days as I recall my memories as an almost 67 year old who can romanticize or fantasize being a girl of 18 or so. And I smile to recall the freedom, the twirl of events that spun me in a cocoon of believing that life can get better and the darkness of high school had ended.

How do we become ourselves, growing into our skins? I used to think we were rather shedding all of our extra layers, a Giacometti sculpture, stretched long and lean and somewhat scary as the bones peer through, reminding me of The Who is Afraid of the Viriginia Woolf’s scene where very affectation is torn away to reveal perhaps “the horror, the horror”, the bareness, the skinny naked self when all the illusions cannot cover the thing/you itself/yourself.

Other times I reflected instead that the illusions we wrap ourselves in become who were really are, more garments of compassion and care : MORE layers we add to that core to flesh out the essence of ourselves and insight like heavy weights that slow us into more thoughtful moves and considerations. The thoughts and insights we glean or are offered by others that add to our understanding of human nature. Like my elder daughter’s or mother’s admonishments that now make me think before I speak thoughtlessly.

I suppose in the end, it hardly matters . We are, we act, we behave and people we love accept , restrict , remonstrate and usually forgive us and we try all again, all Sysiphusians attempting to get up that damn hill, only to fall back. Trying to balance the good , the bad and the ugly every day. Sensitive, joyful, accepting, pondering: the scheme of things

Mothers and Grandmothers

Yesterday was a tough day: my daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s funeral: GIGI -short for great grandmother passed away. Every time the organ played, I wept, memories of my mother rushing in and filling me with sadness. Perhaps thoughts of my mom had also been evoked by my posting her eulogy on my blog.

On the same day as the post, I had sent out her last picture to my sister and cousins. In the photo she looks pretty good, well for a 91 year old, hardly ready for the Grim Reaper although I recall she was not in a good mood the day that picture was snapped. From one day to the next, even in a minute, our lives change. She is like a shadow who is there but whose person I cannot touch, and whose face I cannot kiss. That fixed image captures and reflects one of a thousand moods.

When people ask how old was she when she died, and I respond with the number, they look askance, just as I did when someone else revealed their mom or dad had passed at 80 some. Now I feel embarrassed at my reaction to another’s grief. Although, of course, it is much more terrible for a life to be cut short earlier, a parent is still a parent and no matter how long they have inhabited your world, you will miss them in some way when they are gone.

However, my mother’s mother, the beautiful Layah in her youth, was a tyrant and I have few sweet memories of her, which include her blunt rejection of an African violet that I presented her with one Mother’s Day. My mother’s stories of her own mother’s tirades confounded my distance from this haughty woman. How can you feel close to person who grabs books from her child’s hands, tears them to shreds and throws them in the their face? Or the person who constantly tells you that you are ugly. Although that was not my experience, my mother seemed to relive these tales often enough to make me weary. Somehow in the spirit of resiliency, my mother grew up determined to break that mother-daughter cycle with her children- and so she did.

But as the years accumulated after my grandmother’s passing from emphysema ( she was a smoker), I was amazed to hear my mother intone that my grandmother’s life had been impacted by her coming to Canada, that my grandfather would bring home “landsmen” and relatives arriving from Poland, strangers even, that he had encountered on the street and would lodge them in her parents’ house for many weeks or even months. My grandmother bore the brunt of the cleaning, cooking, and tending to all of the visitors’ personal needs prompted by my kindly grandfather’s open door policy of welcome. This Jewish tradition of treating guests as family often resulted in the children being routed from their beds to sleep toe to jowl with one another. As well, to demonstrate some familial affection, she did look after my cousin when she was a baby, the cousin who dragged the bedraggled Lassie with her everywhere…

Perhaps she was kinder to my aunt, whom she believed prettier than my mother, and her children. An aunt, who by the way, departed for California with her family, as the gossip goes, to escape the wrath of the matriarch. I wondered how my mother could set aside all of the abuse she had endured throughout her life, even after she was married, to view her mother in a kinder light, empathizing with her as immigrant to Canada, accepting a life so vastly different in status from what she had experienced in Europe.

Remarkably, my mother seemed able to hold a longer, wider view, to be able to comprehend the once haughty, beautiful, wealthy woman whose new life was not easy or rewarding. I just scratched my curly head in disbelief. Had my grandmother ever expressed affection to my mother, with a simple kiss or tentative hug, Maybe? However, it is unlikely, for my mother never revealed a moment that would have illuminated her world with the grace or wonder of an uplifting touch or caress.

I did not experience any closeness with my Buby, not even an embrace. I do recall her weighing in on my poor showing in Grade 9 where my math and science teacher, a small and bespeckled Mr. Gauthier did not encourage my studies. My Buby admonished my mother, “Send her to secretarial college.” My father, on crutches, went in to see the junior high school principal, a Mr. Chellew, gentle and soft-spoken, who reaffirmed my mother’s belief that I was not a lost cause and did in deed have potential for university. It is funny how these signposts in our lives make all the difference.

Recently reading Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, she presents her character, Ursula, whose life first goes one way ; and then readers are shown an alternative, another direction that occurs. Throughout Ursula’s life, we observe a diversity of the same life, with some consistencies in terms of locations and people, but as Frost would say paths not taken. Atkinson once wrote books for children and there is that strong element of the fairytale in this telling : children who fly off roofs, shunting down garden lanes, disappearing. It made me think of embroidery that goes sideways. But the possibilities of following or not an experience makes all the difference.

One often wonders, why this? Why that? Why did I meet so and so, and why did his or her words stay with me and help or hinder me in making a decision? Sometimes I think about myself: that I am a Teflon brain in that that only some stuff sticks.

But it does make me ponder why of all the books that I studied in my first year at university, these lodged themselves in me : Pascal’s Les Pensees- where he explains that it is the chase, not the end ; and in particular, Jean-Paul Sartres’ la Nausee -where he says we hold on to our childhood toys and hairbrushes to remind us of our relationships and who were were at certain ages: who/m we loved, what we did, and what we cared for at that age. These books above all have remained my companions even till present day.

And why was I so moved by Le Petit Prince’s ( hmmm- I’m noticing they are all Frenchmen!)? and It is only with the heart one sees correctly; this book one was a friendless girl’s inauguration into a cadre of like-minded young women, so it is surrounded me with more than the warmth of words. As well the lilting poetry of the music of some of W.B Yeat’s ; How can we know dancer from the dance, and When We Are old… along with , Turning and turning … things fall apart…” persist where other lines and authors have fallen aside into a heap of dead leaves.

Even in my late teens these resonated in my head.

True, words echo and we hear them, directing and circumscribing our moves. We make our decisions no matter what, but I believe that so much comes from fate. When I think of how my parents’ world succumbed to his polio. And how ironic that at a young age when his parents had decided to emigrate to California his mother insisted they return to Canada because of an outbreak of polio! Was it his destiny that followed him? Was it chance that he had swam at Sunnyside pool during the polio outbreak? Or repaired radios in ambulances where polio victims had lain and put him in contact with the virus? And on that holiday weekend when his doctor was away and Doris, the rude wife of his cousin, angrily dismissed his phone call—until he collapsed, having spent his muscles mowing the grass instead of resting and conserving the nerves that would be forever destroyed…

We think of connections and missed connections, phone calls and lost letters ( not so much these days, although in Transatlantic Colum McCann works the magic of a letter never delivered!)as in Kate Atkinson’s story of Ursula and her family : lives that might have had different trajectories.

All the what ifs, the could- have- beens.

Often I feel helpless, a victim, unable to battle the co-incidences, the surprises, the onslaught of “ it shouldn’t have happened” but it did and does, as we spin caught in vortexes not propelled by ourselves. I imagine an Arshile Gorky painting of sheer swirling movement that catches one in the whirl and blur of life as it flashes past.

Maybe the ancients were right : the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spun, drew out and cut the thread of our beginnings so we believe there is magic afoot, things beyond our control, controlling us- falling apart as Yeats would say.

Yet, we are lectured that if we don’t smoke, if we eat beans and fish, if we exercise regularly, we will triumph over death and yet the man who succumbs to lung cancer has never smoked a day in his life. So it goes.

I always hated statistics, for they are numbers. There are no faces, no individualized scenarios- only a so-called set of facts gleaned to prove a thesis. We are like the medieval crew, wandering in the dark, banging our heads against nights of unexplainable confusion. No answers then and even the enlightened 21st Century has not turned on many lights even now.

Perhaps this is a good place to stop: the light has gone off for both GiGI and my mother. Rest in peace good ladies.

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