On my way to the compost tumbler this morning, carrying a bottle of urine…. Why go on? With an opening line like this, is there any need? All that could be said has been said. This is my life. And I have one. Surely, there could be no better evidence than this. I do what needs to be done. Things get done in what Frank Sinatra called ‘my way.’ And yet the way is not solely mine, for this transmission grows out of a conversation with my 30-year-old volunteer, Paul. Who seems to be making a transition toward the Agrarian Path, after some exposure to my raised beds. And who has not only emptied the compost tumbler, as well as filled it, but noted its most effective constituents. The thing is getting full, Paul pointed out only yesterday, and things decompositional once moved along more swiftly…with a healthy dose of urea. The latter being in abundant and available quantity on the bedside table of this quadriplegic, plastic urinals filling nightly, part of my ever elimination-interrupted sleep. All of which brings me, bearing a small amount of the night’s byproducts, rolling out to the plastic compost maker this fine morning, and thinking about my mother.
She had in the last years of her life Alzheimer’s, or something like it, living in a series of care facilities, one more caring than its predecessor. And at what must have been about midpoint in her decline, sitting on the bench in front of one of these nursing homes. Waiting. And carrying a large purse. Too large not to escape notice. In fact, seated where she would not escape notice. For my mother was constantly complaining about her confinement, frequently expressing the wish to be elsewhere. And now she was here. I or my brother or his wife or someone, perhaps my mother’s sister, either witnessed this moment or its aftermath. When someone from the nursing home spotted my mother a little too far from the front door, waiting with a few too many things, and ushered her inside. ‘Busted,’ said my mother. Which is what I am recalling this morning. That remarkably she never lost her sense of humor. Despite being burdened with a turbulent mix of sadness, guilt and despair. So much had gone wrong in her not very happy life. And there she was muttering about being busted, a wry sense of her own plight, and apparent acceptance of her own halfhearted efforts at escape.
And why this hits me, and how this hits me, on this particular moment on the way to the locus of accelerated garden rot…is anyone’s guess. Except for the mixture of fecundity and things breaking down, growth and old stuff disintegrating. And what of my mother is in me? Much. That helpless and wrenching sense of so much going wrong and me somehow being responsible for it – while not giving up and maintaining a certain humorous pluck in the face of it all. I can see myself in all this. And though it would be nice to lessen the torture burden, the sense of having failed and too much going wrong, the survival spirit is admirable.
And in a process that might be described as knitting together or unraveling, various threads touch and inform each other. For it has been hanging over me, seeping into everything, grief. Apparently springing from the time of year. It seems organic, the organism’s approach to the grief of 2 April. It’s like garlic. The growth of the plant from cloves into green shoots, then bulbs…follows the clock. Garlic responds to lengthening days. Try planting the stuff after 21 June, and it’s not the same. Garlic knows. Grief knows. But what I know, or think I know, is considerably less. It has been bewildering me, the descent into sadness, the apparent reversion to an experience I would like to forget. Sad, everything has become sad. Who could understand?
Turns out my friend Richard, for one. Over lunch in Palo Alto just yesterday I mentioned, half apologetically, that with Marlou’s yahrzeit approaching, everything was feeling pained. Sure, he said, launching into his own experience, his mother’s recent death, how the anniversary took over, springing to emotional life much as my current mood has. It is good to talk, that is what struck me as Richard and I exchanged our truths. It is good to trust. It is good to have friends and to value and tend to those relationships, just like garlic in the garden. And my emotional turbulence is not a fault, does not have to bewilder me as it did my mother. It is life, and I am not to blame, just to experience and endure. And laugh. No, not all the time, but the fact that this is possible at all, well, that is to be treasured. Honored and treasured.
I have been taking care of business this week. My usual inclination is to let things drift, bills and bureaucracy building up on my desk like sand dunes in Death Valley. But I have been moving things along. Getting my book contract sorted, finalized, even done. Dealing with tax matters. And with grief. Jane and I are going out on Monterey Bay on 2 April, taking a whale watching excursion. On the very same boat from which Marlou’s ashes were scattered last May. I feel like I’m doing something, perhaps the only something anyone could do. And things are decomposing and composing and weaving and unraveling…into whatever comes next.