These are always delicate moments, especially with members of that group of people who are the acquaintances you see daily but don't actually know that well, or even at all. This time I went out on a limb, as I'm known to do, and asked if everything was OK in her immediate family, and with her marriage. I don't remember now how she'd responded to my original question, but something in her response suggested death and divorce. As opposed to bankruptcy and prison, for example.
Her tone and demeanor changed - lightness and relief came to the surface - and she let me know that she and her family were OK. Marriage was fine, no one was dead, but heavy shit was all around her.
It can be so bizarre when bad stuff is happening to the people you love, especially when it happens in such a way as to allow you to go on with your normal life. It is difficult to convey to others the heaviness in your heart, and the amount of time and emotional energy you are putting toward other people's problems. In reality, the answer to the question, "how is it going?" is both, "fine," and, "crappy."
I think of those times as like being in the eye of the storm - the calm of your own life is particularly eerie in contrast to the madness of others' misfortune and struggle that is swirling violently around you. It is not an easy calm; your heart and head are with people in pain, and things feel dangerous.
That is kind of happening for me right now. Don't get me wrong, pour me a glass of Zin and I've got plenty of problems to talk about. But, by and large, the problems are a product of my own good fortune. My life is good. But yesterday, we got heart-breaking news from two old, precious friends. Jacky's dad just passed away, and Bill's sister is in the final weeks of her losing battle with cancer. My heart was very, very heavy yesterday.
Also yesterday, in the afternoon, after school let out, my son's school hosted a multi-media celebration of Dia de los Muertos - day of the dead. Fairmount is a wonderful place that is almost entirely a dual language - Spanish and English - immersion school. Not surprisingly, cultural celebrations that are from, or relate to, Spanish-speaking countries and cultures are big at Fairmount.
Monday is my day to play stay at home mama with my four year old. Also, I pick my son up from school at 2:40, rather than at 5:30, so he does not go to after-care that day. I'm incredibly lucky to be able to work less than five days a week and both of my kids have stayed out of full time childcare, mostly by a hair's breath but the psychological value of the distinction is important to me and my husband. Hippies we are at heart, and we always thought we'd homeschool our kids.
Ironically, by the end of any given Monday, one or both of my kids is/are desperately craving a group activity with other children, usually evidenced by them whining a lot and fighting with each other. Maybe someday they will appreciate the pleasures of food shopping or going to the post office but for now they tolerate those Monday activities and I try to not fill my Mondays with errands.
This week, Trudy and I picked Huck up at school and I gave him the option of staying for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. In the past, this event has been fun, albeit chaotic (as are all elementary school events). After considering things for a moment, Huck decided not to stay at school. We had another invitation on the table - joining our friends at the beach. We'd gone to the beach the day before, with these same friends, and the mood was euphoric. The weather was gorgeous in a way that fully, totally and completely validates my decision to tolerate July fog in San Francisco. 80 degrees in November. And the kids got to run off the pounds of Halloween candy they'd eaten. They needed it desperately.
On the walk home from school we talked about Day of the Dead and it hit me that it was really timely. Jacky's kids are like cousins to my own, and they'd just lost their grandfather. This was something my kids - ages 8 and 4 - could now fully comprehend. Huck and Trudy know and love these kids, and they understand what a grandfather is and have feelings and attachments to their own. It was actually quite a developmental milestone for all of us.
We talked about making an altar (and what an altar is) at our house, in our yard, or at the beach. The kids were down with it, in theory, but I have to admit I lacked a little bit of follow-through. We worked together to put up an altar structure in the back yard and then I went through the house gathering things I wanted to put inside of the altar. On the fridge alone, I found: a picture of my grandmother, who was very special to me and who really should have gotten to know my kids, and a picture of my friend Debra and one of my friend Cayce - each took their own life at age 39. That is how old I am now. I also picked up a necklace that Jacky made when she was visiting that said, "MERGE" and a Laurie Colwin book.
It quickly became clear that I couldn't just slap together an altar in 15 minutes before I packed a bag with towels and sand toys. Probably not any day but definitely not yesterday. The pile is still sitting there in my kitchen and the altar still sits in the back yard, open to receive things.
The beach was beautiful and cold. The sun was setting, and the sand and mountains were starting to glow pink. It was an incredibly wonderful place to be and I felt really shitty - sad and angry and worried. My son got the short end of the 8 year old gender division stick and played by himself, my daughter got pummeled by a wave and soaked by 43 degree water and mostly just asked to leave.
We got into the car and drove home as the sun set magnificently over the pacific ocean. We listened to the baseball game, heated our toes and, each in our own way, marveled at being alive.