Walls of snow line the streets of Turtle Town. For some reason, lack of funds maybe, the Boro did not remove the snow as it usually does with an army of heavy equipment and dump trucks large enough to rival a Baltic nation’s. So it sits like instant mix mashed potatoes piled alongside the black macadam roads and alleys of our humble, shepherds pie kind of town. The rising temperatures help with the less than meager removal effort, which is actually counterproductive because this week is Ice Fest, a downtown merchants group idea featuring ice sculptures placed along two blocks of Main Street. Yep, frozen water sculptures in the middle of winter; and here the temps are warming up, threatening the entire enterprise. One year, oh fifteen years ago maybe, it rained the whole week of Ice Fest, which resulted in Slush Fest. The finely carved figures were turned into watery gargoyles and grotesques. Needless to say, it was not a breathtaking experience.
Which got me thinking: what takes your or my breath away, Blog Breathers? Is it a tragic moment or a spectacular vista that pulls your breath out of you? Incredible beauty or incomprehensible grace? A letter from the IRS? Seeing your ex- with a new partner? Seeing yourself naked?
Breath is the essence of life. If a baby does not breathe at birth, no oxygen flows and brain damage begins. For adults it’s about three minutes, I believe, before brain damage commences. So whatever takes our breath away must connect deeply to our slice of humanity, for better or worse, way down in the brain stem where our automatic survival instincts and reflexes reside. Breath was tenuous 25 years ago for my then infant daughter. The die was cast. Which die? half a pair of dice or a metal form? Instead of the facts, your perspective will answer this question
Last night at the winery my lovely daughter was singing at her best. Lo and behold, her first grade teacher showed up, pushing her walker slowly across the floor as her husband steadied her gait. “I saw it on Facebook. I had to come,” she exclaimed. “I might have to leave before you are through because I’m older than dirt. Don’t let that distract you, Jessi. I just can’t stay out late any more. Do me a favor and let one rip full throttle, Angel, okay?”
Now I am used to my daughter performing at a high level, her lush voice paddling through rushing rapids and cute chutes of tricky syllables like a skillful kayaker in white water. I don’t get as anxious or rapturous at her gigs as I once did. The new and exciting have become the familiar and comfortable, a steady joyous cadence nontheless.
Lois sat next to me very comfortably like family should, oozing kindness, appreciation, and joy. Some disease was trying to take her breath away. She was having none of it. Instead she ordered red wine and sipped optimistically. She chatted up the connections, remembering twenty years ago when our precious daughter was the only girl in her first grade class. Having been an outcast at the parochial kindergarten the previous year, we had been anxious about how Jess would fare in a public school classroom. Lois was the Answer to our prayers. After a few weeks Jess came home with a big cardboard star covered with decorative stickers and positive adjectives. She was Star of the Week. That star hung in her bedroom for years, radiating love and acceptance over her as she slept, breathing quietly as a happy puppy curled against its mother.
I spent a morning in that classroom twenty years ago. It was so filled with love and acceptance. I recall that all ten kids played musical chairs at one point. Lois would hug the kid who wound up chairless. After a while I started to wonder if her hugs were more desirable to the kids than a silly chair without her in it. That day I saw more love and validation in an hour than I recall having seen in a lifetime around schools. I almost forgot to breathe because a big balloon of gratitude clogged my airway briefly.
At 9 pm Jess started singing. Lois lit up, put her hand to her mouth repeatedly as she gasped. “She’s beautiful!” “Oh dear God she is precious!!” “What a voice.!!!” Tears dribbled over her cheeks. She reached across me to grasp my wife’s hand. Deep down in her brain stem, I believe Lois wanted to jump and dance exuberantly as the musical kayak shot through her veins and all across the rivulets of her frame. “I love that song.” “I’m so proud of her.” Oxygen flowed; feet tapped; hands clapped; heads nodded; smiles spread; and warmth expanded solar plexuses. Another minor musical miracle occurred.
God is good.
Just like in the old musical chairs protocol, Lois had to hug Jess as she finished her set. She didn’t, no, couldn’t leave until Jess sang Carol King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”, full throated and beaming with joy. Music is her oxygen. Surely she would die without it.
Goodnights were shared and broad plans made for the next time. I felt the residual glow left behind from Lois and Don linger in the empty chairs beside me. I was sure now that those kids slipped out of musical chairs on purpose. Love and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder. And what power the beholder exercises over the loved one.