"...I'd like to get away from earth a while
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better..."
Robert Frost, "Birches" (excerpt)
We went up to West Point last weekend. We got a free upgrade on the rental car and packed it up with bottles of root beer, oranges, water, sweaters, and crayons for the drive. The Palisades were orange-y red brown against blue, blue sky. It was a perfect fall day, with the smell of football and dried pine needles and America the Beautiful in the chilly October air. It reminded me childhood autumn drives to the cousins in NH or to an alumni game somewhere, crayons melting on the grey Chevy's back dashboard. I loved that grey Chevy----no car seats, no seat belts! I had two black front teeth by the time I was five years old from slamming into the front dashboard at unexpected stops. My brother once cracked the front windshield into the most impressive spider-webby star with his head. Losing control on the highway---that swinging, weightless, back-and-forth----was common enough that I thought it was an honest part of driving, like passing on the left or stopping at stop signs.
It's a miracle we're alive, my mother says wistfully when the subject of driving in the '70s comes up. It's actually more than getting through the 70s that's a miracle. Life itself is a miracle. But do I remember this? Not so often. I'm usually too caught up in the dread of having to cook dinner. If I were to get away from earth for a while, and return to start over, that would be a gift, and I would seriously consider applying to West Point. In other words, I would come back focused, unapologetic, disciplined---quite the opposite of my current life which often feels like that swaying, slow-motion, conceptual driving of the 70s.
Anyway, we spent the day at West Point----the war museum, root beer under a maple tree, Can we go now can we go now?----and on the way home we stopped at a revolutionary war fort. We had to park on the other side of a very high bridge that passed over a small stream way down below. There was a house by the stream, with a porch, and windows into the living room, yard tools, a driveway. "We're right under the bridge," the family living there must tell visiting friends... "You can't miss it." The traffic on the bridge was highway fast, and there were many pedestrians crossing the bridge and looking down. What a curious life down there, and how curious to hover over it, gazing down at someones humble little life, indifferently. I pointed out to Liv the tops of the huge elm trees that were at eye level, and how rare to see the tops of a tree without being a bird or an angel. She was polite, but mostly she was fascinated with that house. Me too. Though the vertigo was significant.
I have a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy, she has four-year-old twins. Another friend is in chemo too, with four children under ten years old. Another friend is mourning the loss of her mother. Another fights for custody of his children; another is fighting for her marriage; and more are fighting for their home. The 40s, I am beginning to surmise, is an intense decade. Life really kicks in.
The pain can be great. So great in fact, that we do leave earth for a while. For a few moments or a few months, we detach and drift up there, safely protected in the ether acre and looking down at our suffering selves. We're up there at the top of the maples, watching in silence and wondering how it's going to end.
Once, grace came to me in six lines of dialogue with my husband. It was not a wild revelation, a symphony orchestra, a parade down Fifth Avenue, or even angels from heaven descending to comfort me. It was just a very short exchange of honest words. And then I came back to earth and began over.
This painting is by Marguerite Robichaux----a miraculous, angelic presence on this earth. Click here for more about her and an upcoming show in Boston.