The time of year when beginnings and endings are all mixed up, when we know that beginning doesn’t always come before ending.
Within the span of five days many important celebrations begin and end for me.
December 31st: End of 2014, beginning of 2015.
December 30th: My birthday with no beginning or end. Also my sister Margot’s birthday.
December 28th: Beginning of our 52nd year of marriage. No end in sight.
December 25th: We celebrate the birth of the message of love; and love never ends.
Finally, solitude after a three-day marvelous whirl with my siblings in Minneapolis to celebrate our niece’s marriage. These kinds of reunions are never quiet; it’s not their nature. Since I usually travel alone, I’m not used to chatter in hotel rooms, discussions about the day’s plans, or eating meal after meal with others. No complaints, just an observation.
As we were eating lunch the other day, my brother noted that this was the first time ever that just the four of us had shared a meal together. When I think of it, that is remarkable; but it’s also remarkable that our Mom died three years ago at age 101. Many of our recent gatherings had involved being with her and the extended family. And then there are all those meals together when we were kids!
So here I am at the airport waiting for my flight to Boston; my sisters are on their way to New York and Washington DC, my brother to Portland, Oregon. I’ll post this when I get home.
Where is the silence, solitude and simplicity in a Memorial Day parade? Our town parade goes by our house and stops across the street at the library to commemorate the Civil War. Minute Men, Civil War soldiers and servicemen representing all the wars then continue marching to Wadsworth Cemetery to remember those in the Revolutionary War. By the time they arrive at the Town Center, the repeated firing of guns and the playing of ‘Taps” will have reminded us of all our country’s wars.
It’s a moving experience hearing the prayers with words of remembering and peace. It’s a distressing experience hearing the guns, with sounds of remembering and war. Sometimes it’s hard to understand where the peace is in it all. All those deaths echoed in “Taps”. And yet, there is something peacefully silent at that moment as we all simply stand in solitude.
A month ago today I arrived in Florence. A week and a half later, there I was, viewing the Trofeo Marzocco, a flag-waving contest organized by the Bandierai degli Uffizi, the official flag-waving group of Florence. My friend and I had enjoyed a delicious pizza before heading over to the Piazza della Signoria to watch. Fortunately we arrived 45 minutes early and thus secured a front-row, standing-only spot right up at the barrier. We witnessed the parade of the six groups representing towns/cities throughout Italy, followed by their individual presentations. Flag wavers and band members were dressed in Renaissance attire. What could make me happier?
I am aware that this post as nothing to do with silence, solitude and simplicity; quite the opposite. But that’s the point: we need variety. And besides, I want to show you the pictures.
I’m glad I rented a quiet apartment, one with windows facing an indoor courtyard and not the street. Yesterday evening was anything but quiet but I didn’t hear a thing out of the ordinary. It was “White Night”, “La Notte Bianca”, a celebration in Florence to usher in May 1, International Workers Day, and a national Italian holiday.
I did my usual 9 PM stroll around the Santa Marie dei Fiore, through Piazza della Signoria, along the Arno, and then ‘home’. The littered streets that I traversed this morning to get an early spot in line to climb the Duomo, indicated an active, noisy night on the streets. Fortunately, by the time I climbed down, the street cleaners had done their usual magic.
The slideshow is my version of before and after; La Notte Bianca and my morning climb up Brunelleschi’s dome.
Since this is a blog “for people looking for silence, solitude and simplicity, and who sometimes like to be alone,” I though I’d stay true to its purpose and offer a few observations on the topic. No question that in Florence, any silence, solitude or simplicity is a state of mind, certainly not found out there on the streets. It sure isn’t on the Ponte Vecchio or in the Uffizi, although in the churches people talk in a whisper. Walking along the streets doesn’t look simple, with all those people, but if I follow a simple rule, I get where I’m going: Keep Walking. Don’t be polite and give someone the right of way or you’ll disturb the flow and cause a pedestrian traffic jam and/or a bicycle accident.
No way do I believe that traveling alone is the best way to go. it’s just one of the ways, but since most people travel with another person or in groups, traveling alone for an extended period of time is more than just a little different.
I make all my travel plans. Where to go, when and for how long, how to get there, where to stay, what to see, when, where to eat--everything. The bad news is that I have to do it all on my own. The good news is that I get to do it all on my own. With no one to chatter with, much of the chatter in my head stops; and with that comes silence, solitude and simplicity. The good news is that I like it for chunks of time in my life.
I took these pictures in The Rose Garden on the way to Piazza Michelangelo. Today, April 25, is Liberation Day, a national holiday in Italy. It marks the fall of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic and the end of the Nazi occupation in Italy in 1945, towards the end of the second World War. People were out in groups having a marvelous time. No solitude wanted. It reminded me that on July 4 I don’t want silence, solitude or simplicity.
Today is opening day for the Red Sox. No, I’m not going. It’s too cold to sit in the stands, and besides the game is at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Memories of opening day 1955 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. A friend and I had sent for tickets and taken the train from Connecticut to New York, and then the subway to Brooklyn. We arrived early to see batting practice and all the pregame activities, but when they didn’t open the gates to let us in, we knew that the game was going to be called before it even started.
Any Dodger memory is worth of telling as far as I am concerned. But the Brooklyn Dodger memory supreme for me happened that day as my friend and I were heading away from Ebbets Field. Standing there in the rain was Jackie Robinson, looking around for someone.
“Do you think they’ll play tomorrow, Jackie?” I asked.
“I think so,” replied a rather preoccupied Jackie.
“Who are you looking for?” bold me continues.
“I’m waiting for my wife.” And with that he put his signature on the little piece of paper I handed him.
I wish I still had the autograph, but memories are really better.
My friend went back to Connecticut. I called my grandmother, Brooklyn Dodger fan supreme, and spent the night with her on Brooklyn Heights. The next day she and I went to the opening day together. That was the beginning of that magical year!
Yesterday I attended the memorial service for my friend Denny, a friend for 45 years who died at age 90. Evidently she happily faded away, which is what all of us would expect from her. I remember Denny telling me that when she was a little girl she noticed that she often felt sad. “So one day I decided to pretend to be happy. And you what? I started being happy and I’ve been happy ever since.”
More about Mom and her sewing group. The town-wide Sewing Group was comprised of many subgroups--knitting, crocheting, needle point, and actual sewing. There were two big sales a year, with all proceeds allocated to local charities. Each member made a commitment to contribute a certain number of items to her group (um, don’t know if any men were involved).
Mom group knit little baby clothes, and I mean little--newborn to one year-old. Mom’s specialty was owl sweaters (a row of owls with button eyes across the chest), size zero to 3 months. I don’t know how many blue, pink and light green sweaters she knit over the forty or so years that she went to her Monday afternoon meeting, but she was a big producer of a very popular item.
However, during the last few years I doubt that she contributed more than one sweater, and I pretty sure that the group waved her obligations, although up until the last year when her memory faded away, she hardly missed a meeting. After she stopped driving at age 95, someone in the group would pick her up and off she would go with her knitting bag, but probably only to smile and eat the goodies provided. They loved her presence and on her 100th birthday her sewing group friends celebrated by planting a tree on the grounds where she lived.
Of course we, her daughters, wanted her to knit an owl sweater for each of our grandchildren. The first few great-grandchildren were lucky enough to get one, but the younger ones were too late. When my sister asked Mom about it, Mom pursed her lips and said that she had to knit for the sewing group. This didn’t see right or fair. Mom was being selfish. Well, maybe not. Maybe we were being selfish. Mom must have figured that it would be selfish of her to knit for great grandchildren when her sweaters could raise money for less-fortunate children!. And besides, Mom was not a big gift giver: ‘I want my grandchildren to love me for who I am, not because of anything I give them.’
I still have Mom’s knitting bag with a blue owl sweater half completed. My sister thinks we should finish it. Um, maybe that will happen. Mom would like that.
The holidays have been put away, as we say. What a relief to return to a simpler day-to-day existence. No, existence isn’t the word I want, for it lacks soul. It connotes making it through the day, and although that’s the way for us sometimes, we don’t want that. My thesaurus offers ‘survival’, with ‘extinction’ as the antonym, so you can see, existence is not quite it.
I’ll have to settle for being, day-to-day being, which may sound rather awkward, but it’s what I’m reaching for. Much of the solitude that I long for has to do with being; sitting, walking, reading, writing, praying, all at whim, not because of obligation. Turning 74 a few days ago helps this being feel right—one of the benefits of ageism. I’m done with most of my obligations.
Snow has been falling since 1 AM Thursday and now it is 7 AM on Friday. Only 8 or so inches here but more in Boston and more still at the cottage. By the time I get there on Saturday the driveway will have been plowed and all I’ll have to do is shovel the steps.
Right now there is solitude here at home. Being is a state of mind, and so, here I am, being, minus the walking.
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