October 8, 2009
Sometime in June, I spotted an ad for a round-trip ticket from Seattle to Minneapolis for the irresistibly low price of $98. Mike was wary of traveling anywhere, especially by air. Too much stimuli. He becomes agitated and anxious in the airports and on airplanes—afraid he’ll miss the plane, or be too far away from the restroom. He might lose his cane.
In addition a two-week, house-hopping visit with my three energetic children and six grandchildren was not a restful vision. We expected the birth of my tenth grandchild around mid-September and I hoped to be there for the moment. I nailed a ticket but Mike declined numerous invitations to join me.
“No thanks, I’ll manage here just fine by myself.” He wouldn’t be just fine. First of all, meal preparation would be arduous, let alone the cleanup. On the other hand, we have one child living in Bellingham and I was confident Andy and his wife, Juliana, would step forward to prepare all Mike’s meals. There’s also the probability of Mike stumbling and falling, for instance, outside in his studio where he is currently preparing a batch of golden plum wine. We are fortunate though, we have good and watchful neighbors. Jed lives two houses down the lane and just happens by every now and then, around five-thirty in the afternoon.
“What are you up to today, Mike?” Jed asks, poking his head into the studio. Typically, at this moment, Jed’s three-year old daughter Lillian runs up the walk and rings our front door bell.
“Anne,” she calls as she walks in the door, “are you in here?” From the kitchen, she beckons for me to come down from my desk in the loft.
Lily thrives on consistency, so our routine is dependable. If I miss even one cue, it will throw our timing completely off.
“Anne?” Lily asks, leaning against our Culligan water machine, “I’m feeling a little bit thirsty?”
“Oh, well,” I say, “would you like some water?”
“Yes,” she smiles happily knowing I remember the drill.
“What color glass would you like, Lily?”
“A green one.”
“Oh, I wonder where a green glass would be,” I say, hopelessly looking around the kitchen.
Lily jumps up and down excitedly pointing to a cupboard high over the refrigerator. With the joy of great discovery, she shouts, “It’s up there!” I open the cupboard where we keep all the sippy cups for grandchildren, and there it was, one green cup.
I take it down and hand it to an eager Lily.
“You can help yourself to the water, Lily. Do you remember which handle is cold?”
“Yes,” she says, rolling her eyes at me and pulling on the blue lever. She fills her cup halfway, as usual and follows with two sips of water. “That’s all I need now,” she says wiping her mouth with her sleeve.
“All right Lily. Shall I take your cup?”
“Nope, I can do it.” Just to prove she knows her way around our kitchen she takes her green cup over to the sink and stretches up on her tiptoes. “I’ll just pour the rest here in the sink.”
“You’re getting tall Lily and very clever.”
“I know,” she says. “Now, may I look at your books upstairs?” Lily walks confidently through the dining room leading the way to the stairs.
Later Lily and I watch as Jed helps Mike lift the racking bottles to siphon the wine, separating the clear, gold liquid from the settled, darkened sediment. Together they deftly complete the transfer from one bottle to another and then repeat the process with a second batch.
That morning Mike attempted to transfer the wine on his own. He wound himself up in the siphoning hose and left about a gallon of sticky liquid on the floor of the studio, making walking even more treacherous. Some experiences are just more rewarding when shared with another person.
Watching Jed’s facility with a job that even two years ago would have been simple enough for Mike to accomplish, made me wonder. Should I keep trying to convince Mike to come to Minnesota with me? With a good family-neighbor infrastructure in place, we certainly could make it possible for him to stay home in Bellingham. Maintain the status quo, because at this stage of his life, Mike, like Lily, responds well to structure and a familiar routine. But unlike Lily, Mike knows he is becoming more and more indecisive. I had a hunch he’d enjoy taking a chance–overcoming the barriers. At the minimum, who wouldn’t be renewed by the birth of a new baby?
I strive to be patient, though, to wait for any new idea to float around awhile and settle. For Mike, the vision was large and looming—two weeks away from his bathroom, his dog, naps in his own bed. Could he manage without his daily walks under the big leaf and vine maples, and his precious yoga schedule?
With some melancholy, he mourned, “The trees will probably turn while we’re gone, you know.”
Admittedly, we are both accustomed to the crystal clear mountain air of Bellingham. And, there was the undeniable reality that, for two weeks, Mike would be eating someone else’s cooking on an unfamiliar schedule.
It would take days maybe weeks of pondering for all those real and imagined fears to calm in Mike’s already anxious brain. He needed space and time to digest and absorb the elements, separating the clouds from the golden opportunity. Then he was free to consider a swap, exchanging the negatives for the possibility of a rich and extraordinary experience.
Finally, even on the day we purchased his ticket, we could never have imagined the beauty of the journey ahead, or the unfolding of such peace, joy and clarity in our lives.