Two mornings ago, I came into the house where my family had gotten together for a few days (we slept in the camper in the driveway) and my sister informed me that the boys had made butter before I got up. The Boys would be Fynn and Alex, my sister's youngest son. The two that had been nearly inseparable for a month now, but periodically needed to be separated as they tend to squabble a fair bit … two last-borns competing for attention I think. But, butter! They'd made butter. I found a half pint jar on the table, with a nice golden lump swimming in some cloudy liquid. It didn't appear like they'd used any, but simply had the fun of shake/churning it before I ever got out of bed. I really wish my dreams were as efficient as that.
Not making any sense? I thought not. I haven't been for awhile now … my thoughts churning and flip flopping all over the place, without any real answers or solutions or clarity appearing at all. No buttah, just lots of queasy stomachs and cloudy hearts.
Back when I started homeschooling, my sis-in-law warned me that I'd be confronted with my own issues in ways I never had before, so be prepared. I was a bit baffled, but soon saw exactly what she meant. Time together with someone who has large quantities of the same DNA and spirit and abilities that you do can be utterly maddening, delightful, and problematic. You see yourself reflected, amplified, and not always in the best light either. No one warned me that this trip would do that all over again, but in deeper and more fundamental ways. That I'd be confronted with memories of all kinds … things I'd buried, feelings I'd stuffed, and wounds I'd never licked. Relationships lost. People I'd loved. Personas I used to be.
Tangled together with all of this is the undercurrent of my mom's continued slide into Alzheimers, and what it means for me and my family as a whole. I'm already utterly uprooted physically, I'm watching one of my foundation stones crumble, and I'm trotting around the country throwing myself into the laps and homes of past friends, new friends, relatives, and all kinds of people who know me directly or indirectly, get a lot of my past, and often have at least a fraction of an idea of who I am and what makes me tick. Lots of mirrors, lots of shards.
Churned, but not seeing much gold yet.
So part of what's made me able to even articulate my current state is thinking back to the 6 weeks we spent on the East coast of Florida, in the Hobe Sound / Jupiter / West Palm Beach area (picking up right where I left off in the last post). Michael had committed to another Sol LeWitt job a couple of months earlier, so we'd had to prearrange where we'd be when that started. I'd also been invited on a cruise with my sis and friends, leaving from Miami, so parking ourselves on the coast near friends in Jupiter just made a lot of sense.
Michael's job started first, so the day after we got set up in a campground in Hobe Sound, we shipped him off for 12 days of scribbling in NYC. The kids and I settled in, and then went to visit Rebecca and her family … the Rebecca I've known as long as I can remember. My first concrete memory of her is playing on her family's rooftop in Lima Peru, making pea soup out of the pellets we found up there … only to discover it was rabbit turd soup thanks to the abandoned hutches left by the previous owners. I could go on for days … countless long summer weekends playing on her farm in southern IL (driving 4 wheelers all over the place while our dads talked for hours), wandering San Salvador in rattletrap taxis and on foot when our families visited there together in our teens, 3 weeks backpacking in Europe, an infamous spring break in AL that resulted in spending a night stranded in a gym with the residents of an old folks home, after we tried to get home ahead of a once-in-20-year snow storm. Her gregariousness balanced my shyness beautifully … we were always friends.
We drifted apart somewhat in our 20s thanks to a split in the church, and after her wedding we didn't see each other for what turned out to be many years. A couple phone calls, finding each others blogs, and news via friends kept us up on basic life events, but we'd not had more than a cursory conversation in nearly 20 years. I missed her though, and was pretty sure our kids would get along famously if we'd give them the chance. Within 5 minutes of walking into her house, I felt right at home. Open hearts, open book, open door. Picking up for the most part right where we left off.
By the time Michael got back the kids were fast friends, and we'd been woven right into the community she and her husband John have beautifully gathered around them, including going to church with them, and meeting old and new friends there too. Waters I'd barely stuck a toe into for the previous 12 years … but ones that are a huge part of who I am and where I come from. My tribe by birth. The tribe where my real foundation as a Child of God was inadvertently trumped by Child of BTP, Daughter of Don, Granddaughter of Albert, Great Great Grand of A.H. Rule. Shoes that pinched just a bit too much when it came to my freedom to worship, and so I'd left them on the mat and backed tearfully out the door ten years ago. A massive churning, that was.
So going to church with John and Rebecca was no little thing. Not to my gut, my heart, my history. I dipped a toe in, wondering if I'd get scalded, but trusting too that if Rebecca's heart was representative of what I'd find there, I had nothing to worry about. Love won, hands down. Hearts were just as open as I used to find them … even when my last name and history were figured out … and my fears crumbled. I was met with warmth, understanding that surpassed anything I'd expected, and offers of friendship and work and help.
Help that I was still afraid to ask for mind you, for fear of taking advantage somehow. Need won out over fears however, and when my brakes failed as I was about to pick up Michael from the airport, I eventually called John and he came right over, diagnosed the problem, took me to pick up Michael, bought parts (and then more parts), and had the burst brake line fixed by the next afternoon. Love and kindness, that was.
Community loves on each other, helps each other, and looks out for each other. Shares when it can, builds when it can, and reaches out when it can. Knits itself into a unit of some sort that functions best when all its parts are working. The church I grew up in excelled at community, and still does in many cases. I missed that almost more than anything, after walking away … it was a huge piece of my foundation. My sense of belonging somewhere, to something bigger than myself. I've found bits of it elsewhere … in a co-op preschool the boys attended in Brooklyn, on our block in NYC in the later years, and in the delightful neighbors we had on the Delaware River in PA. Truly developed communities, that worked together like a family.
So to find community in Florida, in a group I was no longer nominally a part of, was somehow a shock. A heart-twisting one, given that I'm not willing to give up the freedom I have to worship elsewhere in order to 'belong' to that group again. But it showed me I didn't have to belong to contribute, nor do I have to give up what I believe is right. If I love across invisible fences, they have a tendency to disappear. They're only fences if I treat them as one. Love wins.
We left Florida after I got back from a week of utter bliss on a boat in the Caribbean with 3 women whom I adore, and I took with me the feeling that something had healed (in me), something had grown (my hope), and something was breaking (my heart) the more we started wandering north. Alabama and New Orleans and Mississippi and Arkansas and St Louis were all still to come, but each one was a step closer to Chicago, to my folks, and to a year's worth of changes in my Mom.
My beautiful Mom who now needs 24-hour care, is confused often, and has less and less ability to access the memories that are becoming locked in her head thanks to Alzheimers. There's been a guilt war waged in my heart for months now, as there have been hints here and there that maybe I should go be her caretaker as I'm 'free' at the moment. While I don't feel called to do that right now (and my family would have very little of me if I did), I trust that if I am hollered at, I will listen. In the meantime, my inherited and well-exercised tendency to guilt is alive and kicking … some things are hard to let go of, yes? I'd do well to take notes from my Dad, whose acceptance of what is happening to Mom, and steadiness in the face of constant change and curtailing of his own freedoms, is rather astounding. A glimpse of that buttery gold, methinks.
Carry on, Mr. Bowditch.