Monthly Archives: November 2012

What’s in a name… anyway?


Yesterday I ran into a pleasant woman who ran up to me, gave me a hug and cried, “Maureen! How lovely to see you… it’s been ages. How old are your grand children now?” I happily gave her an update, listened to her news, and we parted with promises to phone each other very soon and arrange a lunch date. And I would have happily done so… except that I could not remember her name!

I have always had a horrible memory for names. Kindly friends have tried to help by suggesting mental exercises but to no avail. “When you meet someone,” one of these friends once instructed me, “repeat the name several times in conversation. And pay attention,” she added sternly. “You’re usually thinking about ten different things and a name has no chance to stick.” I have tried—I have concentrated—but no dice.

It’s embarrassing. I envy people who have instant recall or who have trained themselves to remember. One such fortunate soul suggested that I make myself remember something interesting about someone. Bright blue eyes.  A catchy laugh. A beautiful speaking voice. Well, I do remember all that, but not the name.  “You are hopeless,” I was finally told. “At least come up with conversation points that you can use with someone you don’t recognize.”

I winced at that, having just put my foot—both feet, actually—in it by an innocuous remark. I had asked a nice lady how her husband was. Her face darkened, and her eyes flashed fire. “I have no idea,” she gritted. “Do you?”


Lately I’ve kept myself talking about safe subjects. Granted, there aren’t too many.  Asking about family in general terms, I’ve found, is somewhat safe since everyone usually has some family. Then, there is work. “What are you up to these days?” often generates conversation, though some unhelpful Unknowns have responded. “Oh, the usual. You know.” Sometimes I have had to be devious. “Tell me all about you,” said with great sincerity, can usually carry one through a coffee and a Danish and perhaps even offer valuable clue to someone’s identity!

Best of all ruses, though, is the simplest. “I’m embarrassed,” I will often say when backed against the wall, “but I am so awful with names, and I’ve forgotten yours…” Of course, after I have told the same person the same thing several times, even honesty wears thin. And then there is the awful dilemma of having to introduce someone whose name has retreated into the subconscious. The spurious question, “Won’t you tell me how to pronounce your last name?” doesn’t wash when the lady is surnamed Smith or Jones.

The other day, however, I found myself in one of those serendipitous moments when the world is bathed in light. There, coming toward me was a woman I had met a few weeks ago and whose name I actually remembered! Oh, joy! With all cordial haste I walked up to her exclaiming, “Marie, how lovely to see you again!”

She stopped, looked at me, and a glazed look settled on her features. “Ah,” she said, “yes. How very nice to see you, too…”

Well, turn about IS fair play.

Tyrant memory

            Teases, eludes and wanders…

            Leaving me stranded.



A Thanksgiving Walk



Breezy, today. Under a clear blue sky the leaves are flying. Like small gold and russet ships they launch themselves away from their parent tree and sail bravely into the wind. I watch them dance and swirl, eddy and float before coming to rest at last on the ground.

Thanksgiving is a day to offer thanks. So many things I am always grateful for, huge things like family and love and friendships. These are the bedrock of my life. Other things, though, slide by without proper notice, and Thanksgiving is a good time to give them their due. So, I am thankful for the leaves. Not just for their beauty, though that alone is enough, but for a lesson in courage.  To take that leap into the unknown, to defy gravity and all its power takes a moxie that we all need in life, a faith in our own ability and a joyous certainty that the future is ours to shape.

What would we do without thatcertainty? I know, surely, that I would never have taken risks or faced challenges with little more than spine to back me up. Now a still-gold leaf settles in my hair, perhaps tired of its dance with the wind and ready for a new adventure. I listen to the music the wind makes as I walk and give thanks for all music— music that touches the heart, stately chords to lift the soul, and, naturally, music for dancing. Rumbas and Tangos and waltzes that swirl and glide… oh, surely, I am grateful for music.

A squirrel scampers past, chittering at its companion who is scurrying  off with prized acorns. So comical are they that I laugh and realize that here is another thing to be grateful for. Laughter—I shudder to think what the world would be without it. Solemn people whispering tonelessly to each other? Horrible! A world without a child’s breathless squeal of joy? Unthinkable! And how about that old black-and-white movie that had us in stitches?

In a shadowed world

            Shared laughter is a gift…

            Sunlight to the heart.

The sky has suddenly darkened, and I look up to watch a cloud cover the sun. I understand the science of clouds, but even so they seem far off and mysterious. And beyond the clouds, beyond our atmosphere lie space and the mystery of space. When I gaze up at the night sky I think of the amazing photographs that have been taken of galaxies I will never see… photographs of gigantic suns made of flame and fire, so hot that no one will ever investigate them— or worlds that have burned down to the core and have turned into a sphere of diamonds! Wonderful indeed it is to know that there is something magnificent but unobtainable. Just as Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp… or what’s a heaven for?”  I dream of  solar systems which orbit two suns, of nebulae far, far away which may host a world teeming with life, picture green skies over purple fields or a silent orb around which circle not one but three great moons…. I will never see these things, but they may indeed be there….somewhere.    There
is a chirp nearby and here is a chickadee perching on a nearby branch and getting ready to sing his morning song. He looks self satisfied and important and as he puffs out his little chest I can see that everything in his world is as good and as it can be.

And for that, too, I am more thankful than words can say!

We all join our hands

            As we move through the measures

            Of the dance of life.



Zumba Shakes All


There has to be a few grains of masochism in my makeup. Otherwise why would I be here so early in the morning, standing alongside young women, all fit and lean in their leotards and sweats? The wish to be fit and energetic has uprooted me from my comfortable bed and tumbled me into this gym to audition a new Zumba class.

Everybody seems to love Zumba. Wherever we drive I am bound to see a sign that says, “Sign up for Zumba” or, “Zumba offered!” So many of my friends enjoy this fitness phenomenon, and so many of their friends swear by it.  Who am I to buck the popular tide, especially when a fitness regime is what I need?

Our instructor has appeared—lithe, fit and young. I look about me and note that there are a few gray heads in the crowd which reassures me… a little. Then the music blares on and our instructor leaps into action.

And leap she does. The wild rhythms escalate. “Shake it, Guys!” She shouts. “Shake it, shake it!”

I thought that this was what I was doing, but maybe I am not shaking enough. The action called for engages parts of me that I never knew existed, and each of those parts has begun to complain. But… here I am and if I need to shake, shake I will!

The music ends. The woman next to me edges over and whispers, “I know it’s hard for you. Just do what you can and don’t worry.” It occurs to me, as I murmur appropriately appreciative words, that I have said these words to others in my time and that turn about is fair play. When I was young I used to encourage older, struggling ladies on the gym floor, and I wonder now if the words I said to them made me sound vaguely patronizing and superior. I cringe at the thought and realize, humbly, that life changes one’s viewpoint!

That word, kindly meant…

            Did it bring smiles or unease,

            Did it help…. Or hurt?

But now the music has changed and is louder, wilder, faster, and harder to follow. “You sexy lady,” it shrieks, “Bom, de bom, bom, bom!” I would like to inform the singer that I have never felt less sexy in my life, but I have no breath to spare. All around me women are gyrating  and mouthing the words; they’re into it and enjoying the experience, and they all do it so well! Perhaps this is so with everything, really. When we know how to do something, it is so easy for us that we can’t understand—and are often impatient— with someone else who works and suffers and struggles.

Another life lesson! And suddenly my sense of humor asserts itself. The thought of how I must look as I pant and puff and attempt to shake it, is so amusing that I finally relax and go with the flow. Perhaps in time I will improve—if, indeed, I decide to continue with Zumba—but I have grave doubts. Never mind! For the rest of the hour I shake and strut, jump and slide.

Then, mercifully, it’s over. As each of my complaining muscles, tendons, nerves and ligaments creak back into position, the instructor runs over. “High five!” she cries, following action to words. “You did great, Lady!”

Hobbling away, I admire her perception. Pride will bring me back, of course, and she knows it.

But first I need a nap!

So ends the lesson…

            Whether for mind or body,

            I am not certain.

“I’d Rather Be There”



On the November Beach


November is billed as a somber month and for good reason. Today the sky is heavy with gray cloud, the brisk wind is cold, and the weather forecast has not been optimistic, saying that there is a good chance for rain. Even so there is a certain beauty in a November beach.

Predictably, no one is on the beach except for a few raw-cheeked fisherman, but never mind, for the ocean is full of life. Noisy seagulls wheel about and the timid sandpipers hurry about their business. Pelicans in formation brush their bellies to the foaming surf scanning for breakfast, and underneath the waves there are fish. Now, if fish had any sense they would move away from this area full of fishermen and hungry sea birds, but alas, fish have never been known for their brainpower.

Snake-like head rises

            Out of cold, November surf…

            Fishing cormorant.

The wind is against me as I begin my walk, and I enjoy the chill of the fresh sea air. Near me, the sea edges ever closer to my feet as I pause I throw a stranded starfish back to safety. There are mounds of shells on the beach—courtesy of yet another hurricane that has sped up the coast to do damage in the north—but most of them are broken. I find a huge whelk, beautiful except that it has been split in two. I hold it for a moment thinking that some dreams are like this whelk—hopeful and beautiful and yet somehow broken.

The thought is brushed with a sorrow that comes with remembered loss. The loss of friends taken too early by death, the slow ebb of health and vigor with the coming of age—to push away such thoughts is easy, but instead I acknowledge them for a moment understanding that life needs both sunshine and shadow to be complete.

Seawater circles my sneakers and I move hastily away and continue walking. There is something therapeutic about the ocean. The pound of breakers, the cries of the sea birds, and the whistle of the wind make for a calming symphony that gentles the mind. I am settling into that peaceful mental place when a seagull hops into view. It is tugging at something bright.

A fish? As I approach, the gull fluffs his feathers and glares at me, but then thinks better of it and flies off leaving his treasure—a fish-hook made to look like a red fish. When I pick it up, a three-pronged set of hooks imbeds itself deep into my glove. If the bird had swallowed this…

We need to be so careful, I think, as I walk to the nearest trash can to toss the fish hook out of harm’s way. How often do our small, careless actions injure something or someone? On the beach I pick up glittering candy wrappers, bits of bright plastic, silver foil. Detritus that can hurt sea-creatures just as a careless word or action of ours can hurt without intent.

This lethal fish hook

            Is peril to fish or bird…

            So bright, so deadly.

Something crunches underfoot, and I see that I have stepped on a horseshoe crab shell. These creatures have been around for millions of years and yet they still populate this ocean and come finally to rest on the beach where I walk. How wonderful, I think. This fragile shell is proof indeed that the life force has swept through all of recorded time and will flow on into the far future.

The wind has quieted, the waves have gentled. The horizon is like a line of silver limned against the still-dark sky. Knowing that I am a miniscule part of this great wheel of life, I watch and rejoice as the sun bursts through the clouds and fills the world with light.

On November beach

Busy life force has left

So many lessons.

“Window To the Sea” watercolor

Walking On the Eve Of the Storm


I’m taking my morning walk. Nothing unusual about that except that today I am taking an inventory. Tomorrow, it is predicted, the tentacles of an enormous hurricane will coil themselves around this very road and trail. When the skies are blue again and the rain has died, what will have changed?

The trees, for one. Some of the branches will be torn away and perhaps some of the old oaks will come crashing down, and of course there are the leaves. For look, it has taken weeks for gold to finally enfold my favorite maple, and those leaves are already trembling in the light breeze. What will happen to these leaves when the storm has gone away to do damage elsewhere? Yes, the sun will shine again, but will it glisten gold through these tender leaves?

Watching the leaves dance…

            A reminder that in life

            all are fragile.

I walk past the golden maple and find that there is a new rosebud  on the bush nearest the road. It is perfectly shaped, ruby red, and oh, so elegant in design. A friend once said that a rosebud is pure poetry—and though I agree, I know the poem in this small rosebud’s heart might be a sad one. Will the storm rip it away? Will its carefully folded petals be ragged? I sigh as I walk on.

Further along the road graceful willow branches bow low and sweep the ground, and I remember that a willow has shallow roots. Though this tree looks buff and hearty, it has a hidden weakness that can topple it if the winds are strong enough. “Stay strong,” I tell the tree, “hold your ground and don’t give in!” Perhaps it hears me, because the long willow branches quiver.

So often the strong

            Seem impervious to harm,

            But storms have power.

Storms tap into our atavistic fear of darkness, of a fierce power and energy beyond our control. As a species we are powerful and technologically advanced. We have the knowledge to tap a keyboard and communicate with people half a world away, and we can control atoms and gaze out into the far reaches of space. But the weather is still beyond our reach, and there is always within us that knot of fear that clouds will rush in to blot out the sun and the wind will bellow and the lights will go out. At such times we take shelter and huddle close to those we love and hope that the lash of rain and wind will spare us one more time.

There are storms and storms, I remind myself. Some pass by like a puff of smoke; not all of them do unspeakable damage. This one may do just that. Even if we escape the worst of its sting, the monster in the sky is on a track to wreak havoc and destruction to the north. Friends live there. People I don’t know but who I would like so much to call Friend live there….

A sudden rustle makes me turn, and I see a bush, a prickly, leafless bush that stands at the very edge of someone’s yard. There seems nothing interesting about this bush, but them I see that there is a mockingbird inside the bush. He (or she?) is hopping from prickly branch to branch as if looking for something.

Looking for what? There is nothing to eat on this bush, and if the bird wanted shelter there are leafier trees around. But then I see the nest carefully constructed between trunk and branch. The nest is empty now, for its fledglings have all flown. I watched as the mockingbird reconnoiters, turning its head this way and that, chirping softly as if to itself.

            Perhaps the mocking bird is taking inventory, too, checking its old home, making sure that all is snug and safe—which is, after all, all that anyone can do. Then as I watch, the bird emerges from the bush, flies to the nearest tree branch, and begins to sing.

Its song is so energetic and saucy in the oppressive air that it makes me smile. As if realizing it has an appreciative audience, the mockingbird builds up steam. Gloom, it seems to say, isn’t for this bird. If the nest comes to harm, I will rebuild. Wind? Well, let it come. Rain? More earthworms for everybody. And tomorrow the sun will shine again.

Of course the mockingbird is right, for there is a wisdom and tenacity in all life. Stormwinds cannot disrupt the life force for long, and so all that is beautiful and good will endure. The storm will pass, the sun will shine again, the damaged world will draw strength and purpose and rebuild. And if not this year, then next year my favorite tree will once again shower us all with gold.

In heart of all things

            There are whispers of new life…

            A promise of hope.


“Storm Clouds”