Back Through the Looking Glass

Thanksgiving Day was fine.
Going to church, gathering fallen leaves and flowers to make little bouquets for the neighbors, writing holiday cards, learning a new Sacred Harp song (“Sweet Solitude,”  Hannah More, 1835), learning how to tune & play a scale on a mountain dulcimer, brisk walk to the cemetery in hard rain, dinner, then tucking into flannel jammies with a rediscovered book that I loved as a little girl, about Catholic saints.

Then over the weekend a confetti of invitations rolled in. Lots! Out of nowhere!
There wasn’t even time to take in all that popularity. So I went to just three occasions, with beautiful families in beautiful homes. I got to go and watch friends in really solid marriages, and their parents and kids and friends flocking in together with kisses and hugs and telling their stories and joking around. The food was great; how do people think up such wonderful recipes? And the homes were a treat to the eye, photos and heirlooms and artwork and china and silver and carpets created and handed down for generations.

Then it was back here to Tuffet Central, to think it all over.
After being in among these couples and witnessing a little of life in community, now even three days later it’s still an adjustment being alone again. It’s making everything feel hard; waking up and going to work and going to sleep and getting the chores done. I went diving in to the holiday sweets all over the office, and a lot of health progress went right out the window.

Gee, where’s the lesson in all this?
To dress up and appear at these wonderful occasions and to support my friends at their life celebrations and to be grateful is a real gift of God, part of healthy mature living. Maybe healthy and mature people can do it all the time. It was beautiful, but somehow I forgot — socializing is not companionship. They’re two different things. Maybe for a little while I shouldn’t go through the looking glass and watch other people’s family holidays.

By tonight I needed drastic cheering up. So I visited a new library for some good books, then came home and fixed a cup of green tea, and cooked up lunch for tomorrow — greens & vegetables with a dab of tinned salmon and some extra ginger and garlic and tomato sauce. While it cooked I practiced my new song.

Say, maybe I’ll take the new song and the bowed psaltery to work tomorrow and try playing it where the acoustics are good, in our parking garage. Then I’ve been wanting to start a holiday gift basket collection for our wonderful cleaning crew who work so hard. There’s an essay to finish for the colleague I’m nominating for this year’s achievement award. Then there’s a neighbor nearby who lost her husband, I’ve been meaning to write her a letter and enclose a photo of her lovely Memory Garden from last summer.

There’s no better day for it all than to start right in tomorrow.

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Thanksgiving 11.22.18

The day began with gentle sunny breaks for the walk to church.
This afternoon was supposed to be a long prayer stroll along the shore. But half an hour away from home the wind rose and grew chilly, and the heavens opened.
At the cemetery, this Pieta memorial with Ginkgo tree looks surprisingly serene, considering how hard the rain was falling.
Thanksgiving Walk 11.22.18

To take the picture I pulled my rain slicker hood far up and out, then positioned the cell phone inside the slicker so that only the camera lens was peeking up and over the collar of my sweatshirt. After that one snapshot, the downpour was getting stronger. I hurried for the bus stop to keep the phone from getting damp in my waist pack. What a pleasure to get home to dry clothes.

Here is Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving 11.22.18
My wonderful enterprising Chinese-American neighbors planted potatoes last spring in our community garden. Then they invited me to join in for the potato harvest. We picked a shopping bag full, and then in great good humor they handed the bag to me and cheerfully refused to take any potatoes for themselves! With careful washing and trimming, and some steam, these turned out tender and very sweet. The other bowl is Brussels sprouts, with a portion of red beans, red cabbage, and daikon radish pickles. There are sweet potatoes steaming up right now. Then for dessert there are dried fruits and nuts, clementines, and some dark chocolate. Now to knock on my neighbor’s door and invite her to come share…

Wishing everyone a beautiful blessed holiday…

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Fast Food

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
— Letter to the Hebrews, 13:2

The fast food restaurant has always been around, I suppose, with its franchises and logo and color scheme and ads. It never dawned on me to notice, or to walk in. Well, until last week.

I needed a public rest room in the middle of the city. Surprise! Public rest rooms aren’t really around any more. And this was after 5:00 on Veterans’ Day, so a ten-block round trip expedition determined that even the public library was closed. Hm. I hiked past chic shoe and jewelry shops, wondering what to do. I could walk a mile over to the room where I was staying, and then a mile back. But I was already running late in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It was getting dark and cold.

(Later, a wise local gave me a tip: just stroll casually in to the rest room at any fine hotel! But at the time that didn’t dawn on me.) Instead, I spotted the fast food restaurant and walked in, and up to the hard-working Counter Associate.

“Hello,” I greeted him. “Can I just, like, buy a $5 gift card and go use the rest room?”

“Excuse me please?” the young man asked, with just a hint of lilt in his intonation. Courteous, attentive, pleasant looking. Bright intelligent eyes clicking through my enigmatic question.

No wonder. I realized to my chagrin that my question did not in fact make intuitive logical sense. (The lady wants a gift card for the rest room? Is our bathroom full of GIFTS?)
I tried again. “I would like to use your rest room. But I do not need to actually buy anything. So may I just buy a gift card instead?” It’s understandable that businesses spend time and money cleaning their premises; they need to save the rest rooms for people who are actually customers. Besides, a gift card would be useful for any of the many people outside, sitting on the street, asking for pocket change.

The young man made a snap decision. At a low discreet angle he showed me a laminated card with four digits, then pointed upward and over. “Code, for upstairs,” he said. Lilt of intonation again.

I made a snap decision too, about his intonation. Was that Slavic? Maybe. Was it polite to ask? Maybe not. This may have been wrong on my part, it may have been tactless even, but I switched to Russian. “Góspodi Vas Blagosloví, Lord Bless You,” I said, clasping my hands, and ran upstairs.

Soon I was back downstairs. Before heading out the door I caught the young man’s eye over the waiting line of customers, and waved goodbye.
He motioned me to stop. With a quick word to his co-workers he sped through the restaurant to catch up with me.

“Please, about the code,” he apologized, in clear cultured very polite Russian. “We are not trying to make things difficult for anybody. It is just that there have been incidents with people using the bathroom. People who have serious difficulties.”

“Vsio poniátno, totally understandable,” I said, thanking him for his help.

“Now. Look,” he said quietly. “What can I bring you? Coffee? Some food?”

“What?? Oh! Why — no, I’m fine. Honestly. That was all I needed.”

“Seriously,” he assured me. “It’s really all right — I’ll pay; it’s my treat. Anything you like! Please. Come; sit down, have a hot meal.”

At first I felt mortified for troubling him. But mostly I was profoundly touched. What royal hospitality, from a hard-working person to a total stranger!

That was a long day, by then. All-night plane flight, jet lag, a plumbing overflow that required all my cleverness to set right in the house where I was staying, eight hours of walking, running four hours late for a dinner invitation in the suburbs, a cell phone that had just died (containing the directions I needed, to find the friends in said suburbs), an hour spent looking for a rest room, a head cold coming on, temperature falling fast, and now standing here in my favorite travel clothes — comfy hem-frayed hoody sweatshirt, and jumbo khaki duffle bag from the Army Navy surplus store that closed in 1984.
No wonder this attentive tactful young man thought that the older lady might be a little down on her luck but was too proud to admit it!

(Next day I telephoned Corporate with the store number and address, to name and praise their young colleague. I post-mailed them a thank you letter too, for his personnel file. True, for his sake I changed the story a bit, telling them only that I went in asking for directions, and that he took me aside to make sure that this slightly distraught traveler was okay and didn’t need him to summon further help. I added that I work in medical education, and that this man’s vigilance, respectful behavior, and quick thinking were just the qualities taught by our faculty to future health care providers. And after a quick look through their company story and food philosophy, I promised them that on my next trip in the spring I’ll go back to that restaurant and will actually buy myself dinner.)

But meanwhile, feeling deeply blessed by this astonishing kindness, I thanked the young man profusely, took a good look at the name on his badge, excused myself, and galloped off toward the subway.
Then, just before running in to the station, I suddenly remembered: in my pocket was a little souvenir from home, a keepsake for my hosts in the suburbs. What good luck!
I ran back to the fast food restaurant.
My benefactor was still at the counter, poetry in motion, whipping out beverages and burgers.
I waited in line for my turn.

Vot moi spútnik, Here is my traveling companion,” I explained. “And now, it can travel with you.” I slipped him the little gift face down, then backed off into the crowd.

He picked up the keepsake and turned it over, and blinked with wide eyes.
It was the Russian Orthodox icon of the Trinity, by Andrey Rublëv. It was sealed with the label Spasí i Sokhraní, Save and Protect, and a Trinity prayer in Slavonic. The icon portrays the three strangers in Genesis 18, who visited Patriarch Abraham. Abraham welcomed them in, not knowing he was really entertaining three angels.

That little icon found the right home. It’s a symbol of hospitality at its purest (which just happens to be a classically Russian national virtue): an attentive look, a kind word. Side order of fries, offered from a generous heart.

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How Was Your Weekend?

The Question. It’s all over America.

And every region has its own. It’s the first thing people ask, right after saying hello. They can ask the same familiar folks day after day, or use it to establish a relationship with a person they’ve just met. James and Deborah Fallows give regional examples of The Question in their book Our Towns. (My favorite was “How’s your mama & them?” in parts of Louisiana where there is a chance that a new acquaintance might actually know your mother.) When I visited rural Maine, it was “Got family here?” In Kansas, church-going people have asked me “Where do you fellowship?” In Boston there was “How was the parking out there?” or “How ’bout them Sox?”

At our office, it’s “How Was Your Weekend?”
The point seems to be “We all made it back! F Troop all present and accounted for.” It’s a light friendly ritual.

Does anybody else have a hard time with this?
Me, on Monday morning I show up and log in — completely absorbed with plans for the day and week, spreadsheets and priority lists and process management procedures.

Then, someone with the best intentions asks “How was your weekend?”
My chain of thought snaps. Looking up from a spreadsheet, I give the questioner a perplexed look. Weekend? Which time interval from Friday evening to Monday before breakfast? How much detail would people like? In what amount of time? What level of factual or emotional honesty? What would they like to hear?

Etiquette says that all I have to do is smile. Say that it was nice and restful.
Except around here, “Fine, thank you,” is not enough of an answer.
The followup will be “Did you do something fun? Spend it with family?”
And in these parts, the questioner will share that he/she and his/her spouse went hiking, or rock climbing, or kayaking, or skiing. (It’s a big outdoorsy town. People run around excelling at sports I’ve never even heard of.)

And to be fair, on Mondays it is a blessing just to have a conducive job, with co-workers who are friendly and who greet me.
So to hold up my end of the dialogue, sometimes on Sunday I rehearse a news bit to offer. “Thank you; I updated my advance directive medical paperwork. And you?” Usually that sort of pastime earns a laugh and perhaps a concerned look. So sometimes I try asking The Question first. Then I can just take in the gladness in stories and photos of real people with real lives: the new baby, the family reunion, the overnight boat cruise and B&B with someone special, the movie with the grandkids. And even when their lives have troubles, everybody shares it together. It sounds like a good way to live.

I should have this ritual down pat by now.
But every Question brings another cold chill of sadness, and anxiety about not fitting in to office conversations. And my every smile and “Fine” reply feels like another layer of clear turtle-wax, burying over a personality that would like to be real. Some day if an actual potential let’s-do-everyday-life-including-weekends person ever shows up, how will he or she even know that under all this clear wax varnish there is me?

The other day, a super-bright enthusiastic new young colleague asked me. But this time, the high-gloss smile cracked under the weight of accumulated truth.
“Sad. Weekends are hard. I’m sorry; just trying to focus on Monday here.”
“Okay OKAY!” He hurried away, and I felt sorry for saying the wrong thing and making the office a little less bright because of it.

And now, by repeated popular demand, here is my weekend.

One new social gathering or more, to strike up conversations with new people and take an interest in them.
Chores: grocery shopping, cooking, ironing, balancing checkbook.
Paperwork.
Church.
Long walk.
Library.
Garden.
Volunteering.
Getting ready for Monday.
Research emotional intelligence and social bonding, and how to get some.
Bible.

Then, bedtime before the leaf sweeper truck passes by the window at 8:45 pm.
The leaf sweeper is a mournful sound. It marks the end of the weekend, and the end of one more chance to forge new permanent social connections. So the idea is to be in bed and halfway asleep before the leaf sweeper passes by.

Now there’s an answer: “It was great, thanks. This week I beat the leaf sweeper!”
How would that sound around the water cooler?

Update: After writing this I went to work early next day.
One of the top brass authority figures was there early too. He’s a military officer retired, tall imposing yet friendly guy who walks super fast leaning forward like he’s braving a head wind. He said “How was your weekend?”

For some reason, this time I actually answered the question, throwing my hands in the air and getting vehement about life and the meaning of it all.

He surprised me then. He stood there with wide eyes and listened to the whole outburst and said “That sounds very hard. I am so sorry.”
I went over and gave him a slappy patty shoulder hug.
He said “That was actually the idea I had in mind too. Everybody ought to get a hug sometimes.”
I thanked him for listening.
He said “My first reaction was ‘Gee, I better make sure I never ask her THAT again.’ But you know what? After talking to you, I will be here at the office on Monday mornings to ask that same question every week, just to check up on you and see how you are doing.”
He probably will, too.

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Comforts of Home: Women Who Neighbor Women

Beguine Women lived in Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium starting in about 1150; the last traditional Beguine was apparently Marcella Pattyn, who died in 2013. Beguines were single Christian women. Because there were far more single women than single men, and because convents required a high dowry, these women joined forces to neighbor in together. They built and maintained their own homes in walled communities. They were prosperous businesswomen, plying their skills in wool and linen and silk — carding and felting, spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, dying, embroidery. Beguines were highly respected pillars of the community. They supported the local regions with money and crops, nursing, herbal medicine, shelter, and handcrafts.

The women’s autonomy, their independent communal devotions, and their personal mysticism drew persecutions from the Catholic Church. Their affluent trade was shouldered aside and ended with the Industrial Revolution and with all-male craft guilds and monopolies on the textile markets.

But now, women in Germany have re-established a secular sisterhood model of their Beguine heritage. Inter-generational housing developments gather single women of all ages, pooling their resources to live together and care for one another.

Why can’t American women do this?

That question came to mind at a local church during Lent. I was helping the ladies at a local church serve a dinner before the Lenten service. We finished cooking, and sat down for a break before serving the congregation.

The kitchen brigade ladies are active independent retired Christian women. They have raised their families, cared for their husbands in their last illness, seen the children move away, and now live alone in roomy family homes. While we ate our soup, each woman confided how it feels, to manage a fixed income while watching property taxes soar, and to see their old neighborhood communities break up and disappear, replaced by mushrooming multi-story apartments for young high-tech workers.

The women exchanged heartfelt questions. What about repair expenses and heating? What about the new world of break-ins and car prowling and vandalism and empty houses with squatters, on streets that used to be safe, with neighbors who used to be friendly? How do they cope with living alone with no interaction but the internet and the cat? What if one of them fell on the cellar stairs, or got sick?

What a revelation for me. As a girl, I was programmed to find a prosperous husband, buy a home, and raise kids; the promise was that then a women would always be secure and cared for. Now as a single woman with single girlfriends, those of us Left Behind by the Rapture, who never landed husbands at all — we have the same conversations. We talk about our fear of being priced out of our little apartments. Or falling on the stairs. Or getting sick.

So at this church supper team, I asked the women some questions of my own. What if each of these home owners takes in a mature single woman (say, me) to rent the basement? We can all pool our incomes, talent, companionship, life experience, housekeeping, hospitality skills and nurturing. Then, since a bunch of these houses are near the church, we can form neighborhood networks. If one homeowner has a grandchild who needs that basement, then the renter can just move to another house within the network. Someone like me with virtually no belongings, I could move four times a year; then the homeowners could have an interesting guest for 90 days, make some cash, and then have their house back in three months. And all the while we could all visit one another to lend a hand or just a little company where it is needed, day or night.

That’s what I said to the church women at the table.
They just stared at me. No reply. Nothing.
They looked scared. Was I going to show up at the door with a bindle swag?

“But Mary,” people tell me, “there are internet services for this.”
Yes there are. We can pay a nationwide agency to collect all our personal data in The Cloud, and sell it to heaven knows whom, and choose our companion for us.

Or, we can do it ourselves. We women can organize and choose our own households, based on existing friendships.
But to do that, we women have to take other women seriously.
And to do that, we women have to take ourselves seriously as well.
After a lifetime of mothering children and husbands and bosses and dogs and yes our local congregations, we older single women are absolutely terrible at paying true deep engaged attention to our women friends and their thoughts and feelings and wishes and gifts. Or our own.

Just now for cheering inspiration I looked up OWL, the Older Women’s League, to see what they are doing about this. Well, the national (and our local chapter) are now out of business. Has the country run out of older women?

Maybe it’s time to visit Germany. Hm…
Sisterhoods, Germany

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September ’17: Woman at the Well

Watering our little patch takes about 90 minutes.

That’s every evening; we have a three month dry spell going on. Here is the picture for September 5, at http://wasmoke.blogspot.com    The red triangles indicate areas where the air quality is a danger due to nearby fires.

9.5.17 at 9 pm

At 6:00 when the sun tucks down behind the rooftops, I pick up the bucket and head outside, saying the Jesus Prayer. But after a day of checking the fire maps and packing a bag in case we have to leave, tonight the prayer stitches together over and over. It flows at its own rhythm step by step with the sloshing bucket of dishwater toted down four floors, over the rocks and roots and pavement cracks to the fragile patch of leafy greenage. The ballast from the water and the prayer opens a calm and central space, letting in impressions of other small things.

Here is a curious wasp. Every time I step outside with a bucket, a wasp is right there. How can a wasp tell so fast that there is water on the way? They have a place to drink of their own in the garden patch; every night I fill a shallow little water dish with a broad edge where the insects can drink safely, clinging with their feet instead of falling in.
Here is the holler and squeak of kidlets in the swimming pool.
Here is beige dust of dry and crumbled pine needles, edging like splinters into my socks.
Here is the sound of fine crushed glass as my shoes cut across the baked grass.
Here is the disturbing smell of smoke coming from everywhere, and haze across the red ball sun.
Here is the nice smell of pasta sauce bubbling on someone’s stove.
Here are the crows coming home to roost, but instead of rivering high up in a silent graceful flow they shoot past bunched like a fist, just high enough to clear the trees; the security guard at the bank says the birds are staying out of the smoke by hiding in the thickest bushes all day, and that he saw one crow leave a roost and fly up and die in midair, and hit the ground.

Up stairs and down, one bucket of dishwater at a time.
It’s like the women in Samaria (the proper ones, formally married, drawing water at the decent hour of early morning). But the women brought their water home, and I carry mine away and out to the yard.

The proper women with their early habits missed seeing Jesus show up at the well. And, so did the rest of the town.
A more efficient preacher would have known that. A more efficient preacher would have gone straight to the city gate where the men of importance hang out, and would have talked to them. But instead even with no bucket to draw water he went right to the well. Not only that, he picked the very hour that no proper woman would be there to draw him a drink. That is how he came across the one woman who wasn’t much welcome in the town and who showed up during siesta hour at noon to avoid the comments of the other women.

So Jesus has a talk with her about spiritual water, and how by showing up and offering a drink to him, she could find a drink for her own soul and even become a woman that her townspeople will respect and follow. By being open minded and hospitable to a Jewish stranger, she gains something that all her neighbors will want too.

“Where are we supposed to worship?” the woman at the well asks. “Jerusalem?”
But Jesus tells her to just worship in spirit and truth, and then anywhere is fine.

Finally it’s the last bucketful. We’re done.
The yard is silent; not a bird song anywhere.
The sky is soft and rosy from the closest forest fire, east over the mountains.
A breeze is coming up.

Jesus never got his drink that day.
But the wasp has his fill, sipping at the dish edge, tipping forward on little feet.
The leafy greens are safe for one more day, amen.

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4/14/2017: Good Friday

This is a deep holiday, for inner silence and reflection on the Passion of Our Lord.

At least, that’s how it was meant to work.
One Orthodox friend from Ethiopia fasts from all animal foods for 50 days before, and takes only one small meal at noon and a little bread and tea at night, and no food or water from Thursday through Saturday midnight.
Orthodox friends from everywhere else spend Holy Week at church every night. On Friday they’ll show up early to clean the church to a shine, fill it with flowers, and lay out the bier and embroidered tapestry for the candlelight procession all around the block.
The Catholic friends fast after 3:00, pray Stations of the Cross, and attend Tenebrae and Tre Ore service. Then they remove the flowers, drape the altar and crucifix in black, put out all the candles, and go home in silence.

I spent my Good Friday in a parking lot, sharing a pound of roast beef and a rotisserie chicken.
It started out with me, on the way to church like everybody else.
And there in the parking lot of Family Grocery was a frail looking elderly man. He was weeping hopelessly in the darkness, and cried out to me asking for a little food, anything with protein in it.
I ran in to the deli for a package of sliced roast beef.
Another woman leaving the store just ahead of me handed him a rotisserie chicken wrapped in foil.

The man was sobbing over his lost childhood on the farm in Nebraska, and grieving that people here in the city were so cold and uncaring. It took a good half hour for him to calm down enough to ask a few questions. He didn’t really have a narrative that we could figure out, except that his home was a basement of a house a couple of miles away.

The woman turned to me. “I can drive him home,” she said quietly. “But I’d rather not go alone. Will you come too?”
So we drove him and his little plastic bag of meat back to his basement. By then he was singing with happiness at being home with some roast beef and chicken to eat. We wanted to knock on the door and ask the owners of the house to check on him, but he wanted us to just drop him off and go leave him be.

Church was over by then. I set out for home.
At Family Grocery, they were just closing up shop for the night. The manager was in the parking lot rounding up some shopping carts. He said “I hope that old gent doesn’t end up sick. He’s been here three times today. People bought him roast beef, three rotisserie chickens, Italian hot sausage, and a side of ribs.”

But that was last year.
This year I was all ready to keep a devout Good Friday night at home, by reading Orthodox services and an Akathist prayer before bedtime. By 10:00 I’d finished all the pre-Sabbath chores. There was only the compost bin to take out of the freezer and carry outside.
10:00 is late for taking out compost. Because at that hour, the raccoons are running around outside. They are smart enough to catch on any day now that Mary + punchbowl = Home Delivery! Still, the anticipation of a really tidy kitchen for Easter weekend sent me out the door with a heap of trimmings.

It was windy, and cold. There were stars, and a bright planet. Venus or something.
With a careful look around (raccoons?) I stepped in to the little chain-link cage with the garbage bins inside.

I was tossing in scraps when somehow the light shifted. I looked up.
Right behind me, blocking the enclosure door, was the silhouette of a tall strong looking man watching me in silence.
“Why HELLO there!” I sang out in a hearty voice.
“They oughta have a light in here.” His voice sounded uneasy. “A person could fall down, and get hurt.”
“You are so right. Look! It’s brighter out there. Let’s step outside.” I ushered him out to the main driveway.
“The light burned out over our stairs. It was dark. I fell down, and got hurt. They put me in the hospital. Tomorrow they are moving me away.”

Luckily, that clues me in. Now I know exactly who this man is. Word is, our neighbor’s dear Uncle Adam had a bad fall on the dark steps. While he was in the hospital, the family found him a nice assisted living apartment nearby, all on one floor. He has wonderful relatives who will see him every day. He’ll be fine.

I walked him home on the other side of the complex.
At the top of the stairs outside his door, in the light of the new bulb, he talked in a shy but determined way.
He laid out for me all the moving plans. He outlined in conscientious detail the type of nuts and bolts holding his bookshelf together; he removed the bolts and set them aside safely in one place, because you really can’t re-assemble a bookshelf unless you have all the bolts. He described all the different storage containers, their shapes and sizes, how he had organized each one and selected which items to fit in where.
“That’s spatial intelligence,” I said. “You can probably look at a car trunk and picture exactly how things will fit in. I can’t do that. I certainly can’t assemble a bookshelf with a lot of nuts and bolts.”
“Over the years, I have moved many people over the years,” he explained. “Furniture, and all kinds of other belongings.”
But now tomorrow would be something new: he’d stand back and watch while other people moved his things instead.

Listening to him, at one point I wanted to say “Gosh, nice to meet you but it’s late and I’m freezing with this metal punch bowl in my arms.” But, I didn’t. Because this was witnessing a massive shift in a human history. That shift will happen to me one day, and sooner than I might expect: from living in one’s own home independently, to a new and totally different chapter of life. It was important to listen to Uncle Adam. He was setting a good example on how to make that transition in an organized, determined, dignified way.

Outside his door he shook hands with me. “I am going to leave you here, and go bring you a present. I want you to have it. It’s brand new, never been opened. From the Angel of the Winds.”
I stood out in the cold as the minutes went by, wondering when to assume that Uncle Adam had many more pressing matters to tend to than some stranger he found at night in the garbage cage.
Finally he opened the door, and gave me a white gift box. “It’s brand new, never been opened. I was a winner. I won. It’s a gift, from the Angel of the Winds.”

He went inside, for his last night in his home, and closed the door.
I walked back to my studio, washed the bowl, and put it away.

Now I was too cold and too tired to read my favorite Akathists. Once again, I really hadn’t kept the feast.
I changed into warm clothes, and sat down with a little tea and sobering thoughts about the seasons of our lives, and the changes that they bring. Sometimes suddenly, and for reasons as small as a light bulb.

But wait, what about the gift?
The box felt heavy. I opened the flaps and took out a seamed styrofoam block.
I eased the seams apart, then untaped a lot of bubble wrap. Then tissue paper.

It was a glass globe. A crystal ball, but full of water and glittering confetti. The glittery bits splash up and sparkle when you tip it. Like a Christmas paperweight with Baby Jesus and family living inside, but instead there was a miniature replica of a grand looking building and a sign: “Angel of the Winds: World’s Friendliest Casino.”

To honor Uncle Adam, I gave it a sparkly shakeup and set it on the kitchen table, for the planet and stars to shine on.

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