The Length of the Chain Between the Imagination and the Stake of Reality

Last night I rewatched The Long Way Home, a 1998 Hallmark movie starring Jack Lemmon. While this is not his best movie (oh, wait — maybe it is. I never particularly liked most of his movies), it certainly spoke to me considering my present situation.

In a way, our circumstances are the opposite — I have too few loved ones left and he has too many. In my case, the house where I am living (my father’s house) will soon be sold out from beneath me, and I will be left to fend for myself. In his case, his children made the decision to sell his home after the death of his wife and have him move in with them. He is lost, doing not much of anything but sitting around, having accepted their belief that he needs to be protected from the death sentence supposedly conferred by old age. (He is only 75, which might be old, but not in my world where my mother lived strongly to 85, my father did it “his way” until he was 97, and my forever young dance teacher is 78 going on 48.)

But both Jack and I are poised on the precipice of a new life, struggling to find meaning, purpose, focus in the light of our losses.

I’ve been trying to envision various ways of continuing my life, perhaps traveling, and that is what Jack does — goes on a road trip. After a minor accident where he couldn’t make it home, he meets a college student on her way to Monterey where she will have to deal with her own family situation. Impulsively, instead of going back to his son and daughter-in-law, he decides to go with her, taking the long way home to his children in Kansas. (Kansas — a possible homage to the Wizard of Oz, the ultimate road trip / long-way-home movie?)

The main theme of this movie for me is freedom. The college student tells Jack, “Freedom is the length of the chain between the imagination and the stake of reality.” (She says it in such a way that it sounds like a quote rather than a spontaneous outburst, but I haven’t been able to find the citation anywhere.)

I never quite understood this quote, despite having seen the movie two or three times, but now I’m getting an inkling of what it means. Reality imposes such harsh rigidity on us, tying us to the necessities of taking care of others and ourselves, and keeping us bound to the inevitablity of death. And yet, and yet . . .

Our imaginations take us elsewhere, enabling us to envision other possibilities, which lengthens the chain that binds us, and sets us free to live not in the darkness left behind by our loved ones who are gone, but “in the light” of them.

The poster that hangs above the door of “my” dance studio.

 

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Thing With Feathers

Hope seems to be the theme of my day. Though I’m not sure what hope is or what I am hoping for, Emily Dickenson’s poem Hope is tiptoeing around my mind:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

She seems to think hope is necessary, maybe even eternal, but what is hope?

OstrichThe freedictionary defines hope (the noun) as: A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment. The same dictionary defines hope (the verb) as: To look forward to with confidence or expectation. Both of these forms of hope seem to indicate a specific thing that is hoped for, though not everyone who has hope has a wish for something specific.

Hope is also a theological virtue, and hope the virtue is defined as the desire and search for a future good. And yet, as that most prolific author, Anonymous, says: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

So hope, but don’t hope? Very confusing, this concept of hope!

For many of us, we have hope of the archaic kind (hope used to mean trust or confidence), but even that definition seems to leave us with questions — Trust in what? Confidence in what? Others of us know hope only by the lack of its opposite — despair, which interestingly, is defined as the absence of hope. (So hope is a lack of despair, and despair is a lack of hope. The epitome of circularity.)

Still, hope is more of a thing, with feathers or not, than simply the lack of something else.

So what are we hoping for when we hope to have hope?

Scott Russell Sanders says: “In order to have hope we needn’t believe that everything will turn out well. We need only believe we are on the right track.”

I’ll leave it at that, and not ask “on the right track to what?” We are all on some sort of journey through life, and the hope that we are on the right track makes hope about today, not some mythical future, and perhaps that is enough.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

All Jazzed Up

I was invited to dance today. I don’t always get to dance when the class is invited to perform because sometimes — like today — there is only room for a few dancers and others in the class are more experienced than I am, but today I was given a turn, and oh! What a joy! Of all the surprises life has thrown at me in recent years, the most surprising is this love of dancing and the privilege of being taught by a professional dancer who has studied with many famous dance teachers in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Australia and Hawaii, and who is willing to pass on that knowledge to both the promising young and the unpromising mature. (Unpromising because of age, not enthusiasm. None of us adults will ever be prima ballerinas, nor we will ever wear toe shoes, though perhaps we — meaning me — might eventually be able to point our toes in a dancerly way.)

We didn’t wear fancy costumes today, but we looked jazzy all the same. BTW, in case you don’t recognize me, I’m the second from the left with the page boy hairdo.

Let’s boogie!

20141122_141237b

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Throwing Paint at Life

Life is a great big canvas

I try to throw as much paint as I can on my life, but sometimes all I manage is to dab a bit of color onto the canvas. Today was a dab day (well, except for dance class — that always adds a spash of brightness to my life), so I thought I’d repost this photo as a reminder for me to be bright and bold, and not sit around letting my recent losses narrow my life.

Wishing you a big, bright, bold day!

(The flowers are a photo of paradise poinciana that I shot and turned into my version of impressionist art.)

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Being Important

I’m feeling restless tonight as if I should be doing something important, but here I am at the computer, playing games of solitaire. (Well, I was playing games. Now I’m playing a different kind of solitaire called “What will I blog about tonight?”)

When life is all about family, spouses, soul mates — creating a shared life — everything you do seems important, but when you are alone, importance is hard to feign because the isolation of being the only one in the room makes even breathing seem unimportant.

Despite the way it might sound, I’m not depressed or sad today. I’m feeling good, actually (probably leftover endorphins or adrenaline from dancing). I’m not lonely, either, just alone, and sometimes aloneness echoes in empty rooms, making it seem like some sort of lack. It is a lack, of course, but it isn’t a lack of life or . . . importance. It’s a lack of companionship and maybe a lack of “other energy.”

fireThere are some things I don’t necessarily understand when it comes to dancing. I call myself tone deaf, but I’m not — I just hear a single track of melodic (and not so melodic) noise and find it hard to separate out one particular sound or thread or beat from all the rest, which is why barbershop quartets hurt my ears and simple tunes are soothing. (I can count, though, and as my dance teacher says, if you can count, you can dance. Or something like that.) One woman I particularly enjoy dancing with (she’s so very elegant and graceful she makes me look good!) hears sounds and beats that pass me by  even when she points them out, but I pick up on something she doesn’t — the energy of the group. When we are all dancing as one, I can sense the energy we generate, as if we are tied together with invisible strings, moving arms and legs, heads and torsos in perfect rhythm. There’s nothing quite like that feeling, at least not in my experience.

Even when we are not all in harmony, as often happens, there is an air of connectedness in the studio, with all of us focused singlemindedly on the steps. One woman came with her husband last month, and though he didn’t bother anyone, it gave those classes an uneasy feel because it disrupted the flow of electricity of connectedness among the dancers. (This isn’t as mystical as it sounds. The energy I sense is more of a focus rather than waves of electricity, though I know we all respond to the electricity we generate.)

That energy from another person or a group — that “other energy” — is missing in a solitary room.

Some people spew energy even when they are alone, so rooms don’t seem as empty to them. I don’t spew energy, which makes my presence in a room even smaller and quieter than it would normally seem. And makes whatever I do seem unimportant, as if I am just passing time.

But the truth is, “being” is important, so even when we are alone, regardless of how it feels, we are being important.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Continued Deforestation of America

I’ve been sorting through files that belonged to Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, files that I couldn’t sort through right after he died. It felt voyeuristic then, and it feels voyeuristic now because the pictures, notes, cartoons a person saves tells a lot about that person, more maybe than they would want anyone to know. Still, I didn’t want to throw out that particular file without going through it just in case there was something I might need. (Though how I could need something I’d never seen before, I couldn’t tell you.)

I’m glad I did. I came across the photos posted below, photos that took my breath away. I remember reading stories in grade school history and reading classes about settlers, and the stories always seemed to begin or end with the hardy souls cutting down trees and clearing the land. This legend was so ingrained, it wasn’t until my twenties I realized the truth. What????? They cut down trees for farmland????? Trillions and trillions of trees — for what? The American dream of owning a piece of land? The insanity of it all is . . . well, insane. Yes, I know — persecutions in Europe, religious and political freedom, etc, etc, etc, but unconscionable for all that.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote a piece about how wilderness areas are being called irrelevant now, but I guess the truth is, wilderness areas have always been irrelevant to this country. Once people had cut down all the eastern trees, they set out to tame the west. And here we are today — tamed into submission. Is it any wonder I am committed to finding the wildness within?

Jeff and I planted hundreds of trees. I have a hunch most of them have been cut down by now, but still, we did our part to reforest America. And that is something to be proud about.

Forests in 1620

forests 1850

forests 1999

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

When I Have To Leave Here

People ask me what I’m going to do when I have to leave my father’s house now that he’s gone, and I always give them the same answer. “I don’t know.” It’s the truth. I don’t know, and it’s rather liberating for a worrier such as I am not to know and not to care. I do think about the near future occasionally, wondering if something wonderful will come and shove me in a certain direction. (Any sign would have to be an obvious push because otherwise I would miss it or misinterpret it.) But for the most part, I’m enjoying not caring. I have a place to stay tonight and maybe to the end of the year. That seems security enough for me right now.

Other people are more worried than I am about my blank future, and most offer suggestions of what I should do. Often those suggestions reflect more their own blighted dreams than my needs. For example, I applied to mYAMAdventure.com in response to one such dream. The friend who sent me the link can’t do a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike and since she doesn’t know anyone who did, she’d like to live vicariously through my hike. (Assuming, of course, I ever do such a dangerous thing.)

I won’t be on the street, that I know — I’ve had an offer of a place to stay in an emergency. Nor will I be destitute. I’ll have enough to get by for a while no matter what happens.

Meantime, I’m clearing out what I can of my still too numerous possessions and packing up the things that I’m not yet ready to get rid of. A year or two of paying storage costs might make me change my mind about what is important, but for now I’m keeping the necessities such as pots and pans, dishes, eating utensils, comforters, a rainbow assortment of towels — all the familiar household goods that will make some future place feel like home. (The urge to chuck it all looms up occasionally, but I’m not quite ready to obliterate my past.) I also have boxes of notes, notebooks, and started novels (one that has yet to be typed up. Yikes), and a few irreplaceable items such as the tables my now deceased brother made for me. (His death started the long siege of losses I’ve suffered in the past eight years.)

The nA Spark of Heavenly Fireon-essentials are harder to know what to do with. For example, I have the handwritten first draft of all my books. I write long hand, silly though that might seem nowadays, but when I wrote those books, I didn’t have a computer or even a typewriter. Just pencil, paper, time, and me. So, do I continue to keep those first drafts? Or do I toss them out? (Not a rhetorical question. I really do want to know.) It doesn’t look as if I will be a brand name author any time soon, so I don’t need them for posterity. And anyway, the published books deviated quite a bit from those first drafts. (In at least one case, the final book resembles the draft not at all.) Unless someone comes up with a good reason for keeping them, out they go.

Such are the small decisions of my life. The major ones might take care of themselves, and if they don’t, well . . . I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

For now I’m basking in the glory of not knowing.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grieving in the Desert

It’s been a while since I went walking in the desert. A couple of months ago, I started taking extra dance classes, so I felt as if I needed to rest in the evenings and on the weekends to make sure I had the strength to dance, but lately it’s more because of . . . well, because of laziness, I guess.

After last night’s upsurge of grief for all my losses, I wanted to talk to Jeff (my deceased life mate/soul mate). During the past four-and-a-half years since his death, I’ve felt the closest to him out in the desert away from the traffic and commotion of the city. But he wasn’t there today. Of course, he’s never been there except for the part of him that used to be a part of me, but today even that tenuous connection was missing.

Bell MountainI used to worry that my grief kept him tied to me so he couldn’t go wherever he needed to go, though I’ve believed from the beginning that when he died, he went far beyond my influences, back to the higher reaches of radiance he came from. (At the same time, oddly, I believe he is gone, obliterated, oblivious. This second belief seems to be the result of my logical mind, while the first is more intrinsic.) I have no true belief as to what happened to him — either way, he is gone from my life with only his very pronounced absence still making him present to me.

At the moment, I have his photograph standing on a table where I can see it frequently, though sometimes I put it away or lay it face down depending on my current state of dependency. During the time of my dysfunctional brother’s nearness and my father’s decline, I needed to keep the photo handy to remind me that my life wasn’t always such a horror. Eventually, I’ll pack the photo away and not look at it much if at all — I’m not sure it’s a good thing to keep reminding myself of our past. The past is past, and only shows itself in what I have become because of it, anything else seems to be . . . I don’t know. Wallowing maybe. Irrelevant perhaps.

It does seem strange to think he isn’t relevant to my life anymore. For thirty-four he was relevant to everything I did, said, thought. Now my life is mine alone. I still wish I could go home to him, but though I seldom admit it even to myself, I know I would chafe under the life his illness forced us to live. I remember how numb I was that long year of his dying, and I don’t have that sort of defense any more. His death and my ensuing grief killed that particular mechanism in me — now I feel everything, as if my emotional tuning fork is poised to thrum at the slightest disturbance.

Sometimes, when I am at my most mystical, I feel as if my life’s journey is just beginning. That everything up to now has been prologue. (That sounds familiar. Didn’t Shakespeare write, “What’s past is prologue”?) So I won’t say prologue. Maybe school. My life does have a bit of that “almost graduation” feel to it, along with the panic/excitement of what is coming — whatever that might be. I’m trying to follow the advice of a very sage woman and not give too much thought to the future, but my mind does seem to wander/wonder at times.

I will make one plan for the near future, though. I’m planning to walk in the desert again tomorrow. Even though Jeff might be absent, I was very much present, and that’s what mattered.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Too Many Losses

I’m sitting here with tears running down my face, and I don’t really know why. Just too many recent losses, perhaps. Two losses — the death of my father two and a half weeks ago and before that the loss of a dear friend to what seem to be irreconcilable differences — aren’t many, it just seems like a lot because any loss renews my grief for my life mate/soul mate, who died four and a half years ago.

windI tried to wait until the tears passed before writing tonight because I’ve wept way too often on this blog, and I just didn’t want to have to admit to more sorrow. But here I am . . .

I was fine all day until after dance class this afternoon when everyone went home to someone and I returned to a borrowed house. I don’t mind being alone — it’s rather peaceful not having to worry about other people’s ills and crotchets, not having to figure out what someone else wants or needs. But perhaps that’s my problem. After a lifetime of being needed — from a childhood spent taking care of younger brothers and sisters to a recent adulthood spent taking care of the sick and dying — all of a sudden, no one needs me.

It’s not that I want to be needed — I don’t. (It’s long past time for me to figure out what I need rather than what other people need.) It’s more that I’m not used to the emptiness not being needed has left behind, an emptiness I have yet to fill. Dancing helps, of course, but there are only so many classes I can take. I’m filling many of my weekend hours sorting through and packing my stuff for storage, but I can only do that for so long, too, because it’s sad dismantling what’s left of my shared life with my mate. Not only is each item I get rid of one more thing gone from that life, it’s a reminder that I won’t be going home to him. Not now, not ever. The odd thing is, I really had let him go several months ago with the realization that he is a person in and of himself and on his own journey that has nothing to do with me. But preparing for the coming upheaval in my life brings it all back.

Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself tonight. Instead of sitting here whining or trying to figure out why the tears, I think I’ll go for a walk. If nothing else, it will be good for me.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Relevance of Wilderness

I read an article today that called John Muir’s philosophy irrelevant. In case you don’t know, John Muir was an early environmentalist who believed in our oneness with the earth and advocated the importance of keeping some wilderness areas as undisturbed as possible so we can experience nature in its original state and to ensure that there will be wilderness areas for coming generations to experience. He founded the Sierra Club to further promote his ideas, and while the Sierra Club has gone beyond strictly environmental issues into other political arenas, Muir’s philosophy still holds true. It is important to spare at least parts of the earth from human depredation, because who are we and who would we be without the earth?

Muir’s detractors think his philosophy implies that only awe-inspiring parks are worth saving, and that his vision is rooted in economic privilege and benefits mostly rich white folks with the leisure to backpack, rock climb, and otherwise enjoy the far off places. They say that new generations, especially the diverse communities of working class and minorities, see the world differently than WASPs such as Muir, and that it’s more important to cater to their vision by creating and protecting urban parks and close-in mountain areas.

I don’t know what the rich think — as a matter of fact, until reading this article, I haven’t even seen the phrase “White Anglo Saxon protestant” in years. I’m certainly not a WASP — well, technically I am white, I suppose, though traces of Finno-Ugric blood might skew that a bit. But I am not Anglo-Saxon, protestant, rich, or privileged in the way such folks are said to be.

Nor do I know what the poor or those in diverse communities think. Perhaps they no longer believe it’s important to keep some wilderness areas pristine for the sake of our souls. Perhaps close-in parks are more important to them, but that is their choice. It does not negate the need for hard-to-reach wilderness areas. Besides, most people I know who love to hike or commune with the mountains or find solitude and spirituality in the far reaches of the wilderness are not rich. Some are retired with fixed incomes, some make great sacrifices to be able to afford the lifestyle they love/need, and some indulge their nature-lust in the small increments their time or money afford them.

I’m one of those who like close-in places because of the ease in accessing them. I can walk to the desert from where I am currently staying, and in fact have spent thousands of hours hiking those informal trails. Even if I never went up to the mountains, I still like knowing there are relatively untouched places, and that we as a people value them so much we will protect them.

Seems to me, such an ideal is always relevant.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

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