Saturday, June 14, 2014

Beginning, Middle, End, Part 3: The Middle

In between the beginning and the end, there was a week at Wildacres in the North Carolina mountains.

This was my third time staying there, and I'm a fan for life. I wrote stories and letters, meditated, napped, ate three meals a day prepared by others, walked in the woods, read, laughed, met new people, heard beautiful music and words. Sometimes I sat on the back porch of my dorm and rocked and did nothing. 

In the middle of the week, we had just finished breakfast when the sun disappeared and a huge storm came up. The dining hall, where I was, is mostly glass, and the storm raged against the windows and blew doors open. One woman came rushing back into the hall, alarmed by the strength of the storm and thankful that she had been able to get back inside safely.  As I walked around the grounds afterward, I realized that there was a lot of damage: downed trees, upturned and damaged rocking chairs, broken glass where pictures had been blown off the walls.

The fact that we were all okay at the end of the morning was a blessing, part of the security, ease, and trust that pervades Wildacres. We have no locks on our doors and all the buildings are open twenty-four hours a day. Every building at Wildacres is a sort of sanctuary.

I am thankful for my time there, an in-between respite from what came before and what will follow.  We (women especially) don't give ourselves this gift often enough: guilt free self-love in a place where we are taken care of and feel safe. 

I am filled with gratitude to the people who built this retreat center with foresight, and to Mike and Kathy who maintain and manage this place where we can find shelter from the storms.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Beginning, Middle, End, Part 2: The Beginning

Two weeks before the End, there was a beginning: my daughter's marriage.

It was a poignant occasion with all of our family there. One niece came from Australia! It was the first time we'd all been together since, well, since I don't know when.We got to know the groom's family too and they are the most wonderful people.

We Potters, as my brother said one time, "always have to do things a little differently." That particular time he was referring to our purchase of a turquoise VW van, but the wedding ceremony in a small New York city park was no exception.  There were no bouquets, no white frothy wedding dress with satin shoes, no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no fancy reception with wedding cake. The flowers were attached to a park structure with the rubber bands they came in. The champagne was put on an old wooden park table, the glasses on the trays meant for the ice tubs. It wasn't a fancy setting but it had everything we needed: the bride, the groom, friends and family, and sunshine.

The ceremony  itself was simple but meaningful.  My daughter, never at a loss for words, admitted that she was nervous, but her hand-written vows were funny and heartfelt. The groom put his written vows back in his pocket and looked her in the eye and said such sweet words that we were all moved.

When my daughter was christened, my mother gave her a lace cap to be worn on that day and used on her wedding day.  Since my daughter didn't have pockets in her un-wedding dress, the groom carried it in his pocket.  It was a sweet reminder of all our loved ones who were no longer with us.

After the ceremony, we all walked a few blocks to a restaurant where we ate creative and delicious food, drank champagne, laughed and cried as we toasted the newlyweds, delighted in being two families happily joined together. The restaurant desserts were divine, and consolation for the lack of a cake!!

As part of the ceremony, the two mothers spoke.  Here is what I said to the couple:

You all know that I believe in the power of words. Here are some times when words really matter in a marriage.

The first is today, when the two of you look at each other and say the words that will join you in marriage. You say them in front of witnesses, people who have always loved you and supported you and will continue to do so.

A second is when you disagree with each other.  Words that you say during conflict can actually bring you closer if spoken with compassion. When working things out, look at each other, speaking and listening through the same eyes of the love you are using today. Your words can be “I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better, I forgive you, I’m willing to find a solution for us.”

A third is during times of sadness or grief.  No one can understand another’s sorrow, but you can listen with your heart, say words like, “It’s okay to cry, I’m here for you, I loved her too, You have my support for as long as you need it.”

A fourth is broader, more constant, and that is in your every day expression of love for each other. It’s waking up and saying Good Morning, taking the time to share the successes and challenges of your busy day. It is a meal together where you look up and enjoy each other’s company.  Your words can be, “I admire you, I care about that, You look so beautiful/handsome, Thank you for listening/telling me that, I love you.”

Use your words wisely during your marriage. Mete them out with thoughtfulness.  Be kind to one another. I love you both and know that your life will be full of the kind of words that will strengthen your marriage.

I know that my daughter and son-in-law are off to a great start, joined in marriage with the approval of all of us who love them. 

It was a beautiful beginning.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beginning, Middle, End, Part I: The End

(This is the first of three related posts.)

Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm.
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
                                        -- Bob Dylan

Back in 2000, we had had a particularly lucrative year. We decided to splurge and buy a boat.  In November my husband and a friend flew to Michigan and the boat was lowered into broken-up ice so they could check it out. We had it shipped to North Carolina and I first boarded her in early 2001.

She was a 1978 Bertram, a classic, with a 10x10 salon, a head with a shower, and a V-berth for sleeping. A well-kept freshwater boat.  After listening to a lot of good music to pick the name, we chose Coatimundi after a reggae song we liked. 

Our first home port was Wrightsville Beach.  It was a great place to begin our boating journey because our boating relatives lived there, the Wrightsville Beach Marina was staffed with helpful and understanding people, and the dockmaster is a gem. My dad also had a condo there and my sister lived there so we had good family time.

During the time we've owned her, the Coatimundi has also been docked at Southport, Bald Head Island, and Oriental twice.  

I have many a photo of  Durham and me or friends and family members sitting in white deck chairs on the back of the boat. I found a few while cleaning; the album was stiff and the photos were stuck to the plastic. We all looked just what we were--years younger

Besides trips to move her, we've also been to Charleston and Okracoke.  We've anchored out with friends or alone and seen some of the most untouched land this country has to offer. We've seen birds of all kinds, alligators, fish, jellyfish, crabs, marine wildlife at its most prolific.

We've had some rough times too.  Once a group of teenagers we had aboard decided to swim for Masonboro Island all at once. One afternoon a storm came up at Rich's Inlet and we had to break anchor in thunder and lightening.  On a trip to Charleston, we ventured down a finger of the waterway and sat for hours on the piles of an abandoned pier until the tide came in and we could float off. We've been shot at. There have been some, let's say, heated discussions between my husband and me in that tiny space. But 99% of having a boat has been great.

When we got the Coatimundi, our oldest daughter had gone to college. Three years later they were all gone. At a time when some long-married couples look at each other and ask, "What do we do now that the focus of our relationship--our children--is gone?" we grew as boat people, as a team. 

We replaced the engines, carpet, cabinets, deck, air conditioner, spigot, canvas, curtain hangers, stove, refrigerator, mattress, lines, hose, cords, furniture. My husband knew that boat literally from stem to stern.  He could fix anything on it.  But squeezing into tight places began to wear on him, and finally we decided to sell her. A buyer came up with our price a few weeks ago, and it was time to say goodbye.

My husband went down Memorial Day and started cleaning the boat out. It was ridiculous how much we had accumulated over the years. Today, as we hauled off the last of the containers, I felt that not only were we lightening the boat in a literal sense, but we were unburdening her for her next adventure. My husband kept smiling and saying, "Listen!" as he'd take something off, pretending that the boat was sighing with her added buoyancy.  

Everything we did this past weekend, our last one on this dear vessel, took on a sharpness.  The roads leading to the marina were full of wheat ready for harvest, and the grass around it a contrast in its spring colors. The marina where we've been for the past couple of years seemed even more pristine and beautiful. Even the light coming through the slats at the garbage can was enchanting!

The boat was a refuge for me. A place where I spent a lot of time with my husband, fixed simple food, read, rested, enjoyed nature, took zillions of photographs, watched movies, floated and swam, daydreamed, visited with friends and family. After 9/11, we spent the weekend on her to escape from the television, and as we cruised the waterway with my dad and other family members I asked for a sign that all would be well. I got one. If you're a regular reader here, you know I often post about what this boat has meant to me. The first Thanksgiving after my dad died, we took the boat to Georgetown. It wasn't Thanksgiving like my dad did it, inviting relatives and friends for a big spread, but it was peaceful and gave me some room to grieve.

Yesterday and today I kept saying, "This is the last time I'll [...] on this boat." Last night we sat on the deck and used the IPad to name the stars, which are outstanding at our marina, and after we went to bed, I stared out the pop-up vent at them until I fell asleep.  It was the first time I'd done that in all the years we had owned the boat, and I was annoyed with myself for not doing it more often.

The weather of course was exactly what you want: cool breeze over sunshine. Both days.

Today the new owner came early. The Coatimundi was ready. Empty, washed and wiped and vacuumed. I wasn't ready though and felt irritated when I saw him haphazardly toss aside the cover  my husband had just washed and dried, and when his friend put things roughly on the counter. I wasn't ready to walk away from this most amazing adventure I've been on, this time on our boat. But the owner was in a hurry to get underway as he was headed for Hatteras for the first leg of the journey to New Jersey.  So we hurried too, down the dock to our car where we couldn't hold it together another minute.

I have no idea what's next. We've agreed to do nothing for a couple of months at least.  I know something better is up ahead but right now I want to look back for a little while and remember the Coatimundi and our time in her company.