Sunday, April 15, 2012

Moment to Breathe, Moment to Contemplate

by Zinta Aistars

Guinnez shows his guest Buddy the way to his new home
It's a sweet Sunday morning, begun with overcast skies and soft, warm rain ... and I love these kinds of mornings, too, not just the blue skies and sun. These soft mornings make me feel a little sleepy, cozy in my new old farmhouse, and slow me down for a moment or more of contemplation.

And there is so much to contemplate ...

The past three weeks are something of a blur. A wonderful blur. A blur of miracles, of adventure and discovery, of homecoming, of connection. I've moved from one event to another almost without transition.

On Friday, March 30, I left my office in Grand Rapids, where I had worked nearly five years at a health care organization, at 3 p.m. and rushed home on this new route. I moved into this magical dream place, my dream come true, on March 26. My tires crunching and spitting gravel as I tore down my long driveway into the woods, I was already dialing in to join the phone conference with four new colleagues at my new job in Kalamazoo by 4 p.m. -- and I was on the clock as a new employee an hour after giving up that status elsewhere.

So it went, one transition blurring into the next, no time to think or wonder or review. I only knew this was all good, all like puzzle pieces falling neatly into place. The new job, I knew, would continue at such a pace until an important deadline in July. I had been given an immense project to complete by then, my initiation by fire.

Warnings had come my way, and I had nodded acceptance to them: forget about those holidays and weekends and easy evenings. There will be few such. This deadline takes precedence. I agreed to that, even as my brain steamed and melted at the edges, learning the new place, the new ways, the new routine. All those new names, and I had no time to spare in figuring out where and how I would get my information for this project. Nose to grindstone, and that's that.

First nights sleeping in my new old farmhouse, Z Acres, were those of a log. I fell asleep the moment I crept under the covers, and stayed in deep sleep until the alarm went off, pre-dawn. No such moments of waking and wondering where I am ... I am Home. In this, I felt no transition. I felt only a long awaited Homecoming. Z Acres felt right the moment I put the key into the door lock.

It was amazing, in fact, how all my belongings fit. As if the little red farmhouse had been measured just for me. Where I had wanted extra space, I found it. Where I had wanted to simplify and downsize, I now did. I had all that I wanted and needed here, no more, never less.

And the horizon, stretching out to yonder, and all these glorious ten acres, mine to wander and claim as mine. After nearly three weeks acclimation, I unsnapped my old chow pup's leash for the first time ever. He was a runaway when I got him years ago, when he hadn't yet reached his first year; he is somewhere around 11 edging on 12 now. Younger, every chance he got, he ran and would stop only long enough to look back over his ruffed shoulder with a mischievous glance: "You following? Good! The game's on!"

Now, unclipped, with a bigger back yard than he'd surely ever known, he stayed close, and only occasionally wandered to sniff at a clump of wild growth, ponder a mystery noise in the bush, dip his snout into the pond out front for a quick drink. Even he seemed to understand he was Home. There was no point in running anymore, nowhere else better to go. My rowdy old pup who never seemed to stop barking for long back in suburbia, where he lived behind a white picket fence, now sniffs the air in silence, and lies on the edge of the deck pondering his domain in serenity.

For all the rush and spin of life now, I still find those moments of peace, just like the old chow pup. Mornings, when I step outside for a moment to watch the dark swirl from the sky to reveal first light. Evenings, when I return home from a hectic office, to step out of my car and stand still while watching yet another line of deer leap across the back acreage, a hawk swing an arc overhead, a crane to draw a straight line across the sky. And on the days that I work from home, regardless of the work pace, I can feel the stress lift from my shoulders. I am where I should be, in this moment of time.

Come Easter weekend, however, there was something of utmost importance awaiting me that had nothing to do with work or even the farm. I pointed my vehicle toward Chicago and headed south, then east. My daughter is preparing for a September wedding, and there was a very special gift I wanted to give her for Easter--a wedding dress.

Lorena feeling giddy at the bridal store
We were a gaggle of giggly women gathered to help her choose. On the Saturday prior to Easter, I joined my daughter, my mother, my sister, and two nieces, both to be bridesmaids at Lorena's wedding, and we drove to a bridal shop where an appointment was in place for this important decision. Lorena's mood took swings between giddy with the fun of the moment to a thoughtful seriousness, pondering her decision. Because, after all, the final call would be her own. I was sure she would know the right dress once she put it on.

Lorena's grandmother, a bride of 61 years, remembers the wearing of the veil.
Lorena pointed out certain styles she liked from a catalog the bridal fitter showed her. Strapless and with her shoulders bare, yes, she liked that. Fitted across her slender body but swirling out like the gown of a princess at her hips, yes. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Maybe something entirely different? So many options! Cut this way or that, pure white or soft white or ivory, with faint hints of other pastel colors beneath or simply embroidered, a straight line across the bodice or something more curvaceous.

Oh heck, I wasn't good at this. Fashion holds little interest for me. With her slender figure, there wasn't a dress that didn't look spetacular on her. I assured her, there was no wrong decision. What one wears is surely of least importance ... and yet I understood that this gown would be one that she would cherish, with all the lifelong memories surrounding it. Her Derek was a fine man, their love was built on sound premises of mutual respect and understanding, a strong bond of friendship and compatibility. If I had my doubts about the institution, I had none about these two. I was sure theirs would be a fulfilling and lasting union.

Lorena watched my face for approval, but I tried to give none that would overshadow her own decision. I watched her face for that moment of knowing. But finally I gave in. Couldn't help it. She came out from the fitting room to stand against the wall of mirrors, all of us women sitting in a row as her expectant audience, and we all held our breath. Then our cameras started snapping.

That's my girl. That's my baby, first one, grown into a stunning woman. My eyes remained shining if dry even as my sister, her aunt, dabbed a tissue at the corners of hers. Perhaps I lacked the romance gene as I had come to prefer a life of living alone, or maybe just ceremony that so often in our society, at least half of the time, ended in divorce, failed to move me ... but I was pretty sure I would need those tissues at some point, too. Just not today.

On this day, I merely admired her. All that she was. Not just a bride-to-be, but a fine young woman who had traveled some hard roads in life through no fault of her own, and survived ... and thrived. She had built a good career. She had earned more than one degree. She had faced down demons and won. She had built a network of friendships, and she had given herself wholly to many good causes, fighting for what she believed in. She was a tough woman with a great, soft heart, with the stamina and determination to move mountains when needed. Of all this, of all of her, I was proud.

And then she knew. This dress, this one. The fitter handed her a bell to ring. It was the bridal store's tradition that when a woman chooses her special gown, she rings the bell and makes a wish. Laughing, Lorena grabbed for the bell and rang the heck out of it. The entire store resounded.

Derek and Lorena at their church doorway
On Easter Sunday, I went to the church service at the church where my daughter and her fiance go every Sunday, an easy walk from their condo. I wanted to be a part of this service because I had so very much for which to give thanks on this day of renewal ... but I also wanted to meet the pastor who would marry my daughter and Derek.
With my daughter in Chicago at Easter 2012
What a wonderful little church! Tucked into the inner big city, a white church with red doors and a little garden with a prayerful wishing well, even a fruit tree in full blossom. The congregation was rich with ethnic backgrounds; I heard different accents and languages, saw a rainbow of skin colors, and being a bicultural person myself, I felt right at home here. I sat beside my Chicago darlings and gazed at the streams of light coming through the stained glass windows, listening to the music, the rising voices of the congregation in song. The pastor was brimming with Easter joy, and I couldn't help smiling as I listened to him, his arms outspread in invitation.

The Easter potluck in the church basement was as rich with flavors as the congregation. Every dish was lip-smacking delicious, and I ate all my belly could hold. I especially enjoyed the Ethiopian fare.

But this holiday, too, would soon come to an end, and I returned home to Z Acres. Another week at work, another week of steaming my brain. The moments when I felt that work falling into place were rewarding, the moments of lingering steep learning curve, uncomfortable but challenging, and I was determined to make that steep climb.

This past weekend, though, would need some time away from my desk, too. I had several large pieces of furniture yet to move from my house in Kalamazoo to this one. My best women gathered, four of us, and two huge pickup trucks and one hefty Durango. I trailed along in my little Honda Civic. Between us, we hauled out the big wooden bookshelf, another, and then removed the dining table legs so it would fit through the door. The deck furniture, my blue bike, the grill and firepit and my eco-mower, and we were ready to go.

We may be little but oh we are powerful! I looked at my femme heroes lifting all that bulk and nearly laughed in pleasure ... except that it is hard to chortle when you are lifting a large bookshelf. Amy was a poet who farmed, her second year in business of a CSA, or community supported agriculture. She and Diane till the land and nurture vegetables in sustainable manner. Diane is her business partner, also a yoga instructor. And Dawn is my son's lady, a mother and hair stylist. All slim and all petite, but don't let that fool you. It was amazing to me what we accomplished in a few short hours. Then again, maybe not so much. I knew these women well enough to know they could do most anything to which they aspired.

A celebratory lunch on the patio after moving

Amy and Diane take a break by the flower beds at the farm
Buddy and Guinnez, the dogs, looping joyfully around us, we carried all the furniture into the farmhouse. The legs went back on the dining table. My boxes of books could at last be unpacked. I made a quick lunch for the women and uncorked a bottle of 2007 cabernet savignon to toast my new home and the good friends that would gather here in coming years. I don't plan to ever move again.

Evening would fall softly, softly. The women and their trucks had gone to their own homes. I had given my eco-mower a good workout in back of the house, where the grass was growing fast and lush. Guinnez nosed in the fresh cut grass, nibbling at it like salad, then lay down on the deck to watch over his domain.

Finally, I sat down on one of the deck chairs to do the same. Work awaited. It always did. With all these transitions in my life, I was falling behind in some areas, while sprinting to keep up with others, balancing priorities. But for this one moment, I would take time to draw a breath, deep into my lungs, and a moment to say thanks. I would be sure to never lose sight of what had come together in my life. A dream. At long last.

I had a wonderful family with which to share my joy. My children were healthy and crossing thresholds of their own into rich lives. I had good work to do, plenty of it, and could support this dream. My best years lay ahead.

Life is good. Life is oh so good. And I am counting each and every blessing, and saying thank you, thank you, thank you for each and every one.

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