Because yesterday was going to be a very full day, rather than put off what I consider my daily must-do’s until later, I did them first thing in the morning.
The must-do’s include a very brief practice that passes for meditation or devotions (it’s not exactly either, but that’s the closest summation). And, writing practice. And, the drinking of alkalized water. The putting on of sunscreen. Breakfast.
Then, out for morning walk.
(If the illustrations, all part of this walk, which accompany this post do not make sense, bear with me… they will by the end.)
This spring, I am staying in Nashville for about six weeks at the home of my friends Hugh Moffatt and Mary Vaughan. As I came down Hugh and Mary’s gravel driveway, I slipped on the gravel. Almost losing my footing.
But not quite.
Instead I caught myself, continued walking. As I did, up surfaced that old companion, recall.
Another morning, another driveway, another slip.
I’d been mightily chuffed with myself that August day, 1997. I’d stayed up late, attending to things with the vigorous motivation that often comes before pending travel. I was to fly from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to New Orleans. I was keynoting at the Louisiana Bed-and-Breakfast Association’s annual conference. Thanks to my diligence, I’d leave with desk and conscience clear, emails answered, bills paid, junk mail junked, files filed. Oh, I was pleased with myself, in love with my own competence.
I headed down to the SUV, in which Ned, my then-living husband, to whom I’d been married eighteen years at that point, would drive me from Eureka Springs to the airport in Fayetteville.
Then I slipped. Loose gravel.
And that morning, unlike yesterday, I did go down. Hard. Ankle struck a large rock, audibly. I may have screamed.
Ned, quickly leaving the car and running to me: “Are you all right?”
Blinding instant pain, shocking in its intensity.
Because I had never broken a bone before, I knew only that this was a type of hurting I had not previously experienced. And it shoved every bit of anything else out of my brain. Or should have.
Me: “Yes, yes, just help me get to the car, please.”
And my old instincts (the ones I was to outgrow, in part through this misadventure) kicked in. I resisted.
Resisted that something not-trivial had just happened to my right ankle.
Resisted this undeniable reality in favor of the powerful delusion of my own in-charge-ness.
“Just get me some Advil, please, ” I said to Ned. “And an ice pack from the freezer, if you would. I’m fine. I have to get on that plane, those people are expecting me.”
There is a word for this: hubris.
There is, too, a relevant proverb, quite literal in my case: “Pride goeth before a fall.”
An agonized hour later — why wasn’t the damn Advil kicking in? — we arrived at the Fayetteville airport. I opened the car door, placing one hand on it. I swung my left leg and stood. So far so good. Then, trepidatious yet determined, I swung my right leg out and attempted to stand on it.
Again, I am not sure if I screamed; I do know at that moment my vision was reduced to a flash of white; there was nothing but pain. I collapsed back into the car.
Ned went into the airport to get a wheelchair.
After calls, the emergency room at Washington Regional, X-rays, a wrench of my foot (that time I did scream), a cast, painkillers, and a trip back to Eureka Springs, Ned went to New Orleans instead of me, and delivered the keynote.
I came to believe, later, that this incident was a signal moment: the overture to maturation.
The moment I began to learn that some things are simply not negotiable.
That life does not always go according to plan.
That no matter how great your self-discipline and determination, how positive your thoughts and big your self-confidence, how vast your belief in “If I can dream it, I can do it,” and “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”, no matter how much strategic research and planning you do, no matter how powerful your visualizations — there is some stuff that just will not yield.
You must yield to it. Period.
Oh, sure, there’s always your attitude. But that doesn’t exempt you from, at times, ending up flat on your back in the recliner.
You were, after all, in the middle of big important stuff!
And then you broke your leg, and the stuff turned out not to be so important after all. Life, events, turned out to be bigger than you were.
“You” meaning I.
Breaking my ankle, as it turned out, presaged a series of events for that would boldface for me just what a parade of illusions I lived under. Over and over the uncontrollability of life and the inadequacies of strategies to “manage” it, would be brought home, as I tumbled like a rock in a lapidary machine.
This culminated some three years later on the night when Ned went out on his customary bicycle ride, was struck by a pick-up, and died.
My friend Bill Haymes like to say, “Each loss recalls every previous loss.” I think this is true, but it’s not the whole truth.
Loss can also recall knowledge, often hard-won from loss. And wisdom, which is often hard-won from knowledge. And joy, which is often, or at least sometimes, hard-won from wisdom.
As I walked yesterday, recalling that time I had slipped and broken my ankle, and the years which followed it, what I found myself filled with was wonder. Wonder, right in the middle of a spring day in Nashville, in a life utterly different than the one I had imagined for myself back when I was such a know-it-all.
Look, I don’t want to entirely diss the ideas I held then. There are things one can control in a limited fashion, surely. Self-discipline, planning, confidence certainly have their place. I think visualizing probably does help you heal a little faster, and positive thinking will no doubt leave you happier during the process. But bones still must knit back together, it’s still going to hurt, and it will take more time than you thought you had.
Yesterday, as I walked, I was thinking about all this, and that larger question of time: how much we assume we have, versus how much we actually do have, and how unknowable this is. The barrier in between is, mostly, simultaneously thin as a wisp of smoke and opaque as a concrete berm. A slip in which we recover our balance; a slip in which we go down. One breath, one heartbeat, one moment of being in a safe and customary place made suddenly and terribly unsafe by a terrorist attack, a mechanical failure, a tornado, the results of a routine medical test, some loose gravel.
We, and those we love, all of us, are always in a state of unspeakably vast unsafety.
What do we do with such knowledge?
As I turned this over, remember, I was out walking.
Walking the streets of Hugh and Mary’s neighborhood, walking down quiet residential streets that were dead-ends and circling back to the main road, walking past tulip trees and redbuds and flowering Bradford pear trees in a dizzying state of spring blossom (except for one series of trees so severely pruned they looked like hat-racks, in the middle of a divider). Walking under a bright blue sky, towards the branch library and the community garden Mary had told me was near it, sort of behind a school.
Though the world within me was active and provocative, filled not only with these musings about the past but with what-all is present in this life that has turned out to be mine — in particular, the passionate later-life love affair I am now two years into — though all this and more was interior, I was still engaged with the marvels of the exterior world.
The hand-painted signs at the community garden! And — good lord! A chicken house! With a sign that said “God Bless America” ! In suburban Nashville, in the community garden! With fine fat barred rock hens and Rhode Island reds, healthy and talkative and full of themselves…
Daffodils. Pansies. A puff of wind and a shower of petals. Dogs barking. Lawns, transforming from wintered brown-yellow to vivid green.
I drank it all in.
Perhaps I am not only happier than back in the days when I felt I had to control things (and could, and should) but thirstier. Knowing these days will end for me, and those I love, sometimes I feel that every pore is stretched open, porous, wanting to take in more, more, more.
“So what are y’all’s plans?” asked the friendly desk clerk at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had been there alone two days, a couple of weeks back, and my boyfriend was flying in to join me that evening.
“Well, we don’t get to see each other much, and… ” I demurred.
“So are you gonna go out and eat some place nice, or see a show?” he persisted.
I said, “Well, we don’t get to see each other much, and… ”
He got that sudden lights-go-on look, the ah-ha. He said, not unkindly, “Well, we have 24-hour-a-day-suite service,” he said, “If y’all get hungry.”
What I do with my knowledge of our vast unsafety is this: when we are together and in private, I kiss (and am kissed by) my boyfriend, over and over. At other times: I notice the shape of clouds, the shade of the sky. I cook for Hugh and Mary, and I pet their cat, Cameo, and see if I can get her to purr. I take in the peculiar color of the redbuds, the flowers of which cling so delicately to the branches, buds which are not red, nor pink, nor lavender, nor fuchsia, nor rose, but only and ever and always their own hue. And for how many more springs will my eyes be lavished by this shade?
It is exactly the carpe diem of which the poet A.E. Houseman wrote:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Accompanied thus, with both recall and present-tense, the richness of inner and outer worlds, I turned back from the library, school, and community garden, toward Mary and Hugh’s. Because of the placement of the crosswalk, it was necessary for me to step into the island dividing the street, where the painfully-pruned Bradford pear trees stood. Close-up, I noticed something.
I paused to examine the mutilated branches more closely. And … here and there were tiny blossom-covered twigs. Not many but some. They just couldn’t help themselves. It was their nature to blossom, and blossom they would, no matter what!
In our lives, individually and collectively, we are so frequently pruned back. And unlike trees, and other animals, we know that at some point we will be permanently cut down. And I say all this in the middle of the most terrifying election cycle in my lifetime, which at times prunes my heart and hope to within an inch of its life.
May we bloom anyway.
Blooming… feeling this, and deep appreciation, as my true nature. When I stay there, no matter what-all is happening, when I allow experience to transmute to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom and that to joy… there is an ease and equipoise. Whatever happens outside, inside, I no longer slip as much. For me, this is what has replaced certainty, the illusion of controllability, and the over-simplistic bullet-point nostrums (Ten Ways to Change Your Life Permanently! The Eleven Secrets of a 6-Figure Income By Publishing Your E-Book!).
It is a replacement, you could say, I have paid for with my life, almost. But you would also have to say, or I would, it is worth it, for the new life I have been given.
Into which I have, as if by accident, slipped.
How lovely and timely, from a fan about your age. I have some of your cookbooks, and have always savored your writing as much as the recipes. This piece speaks to me at my stage of life, and as well, my Bradford pear is beginning to bloom. And the Houseman poem is perfection. Thank you.
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you, Lulu. I love this time of life — all the accrued experience with a little wisdom, still healthy enough to gain more on both fronts. Yay 60’s! Yay, Bradford pear blossoms! xo – cd
Pat Gentry says
It’s that time of year here, too…when reflection can happily bring us back to a number of good things.
This includes, if we can handle it, a dose of humility! I was smug this week, thinking I’d safely helped deliver the six puppies an x-ray had told me to expect from a first time Terrier mom. But coming back from sending a note to a friend who was waiting for this litter, I almost stepped on a “spare” puppy the mom had dropped as she drank water outside her whelping box. Thank good ness, all are well, and who’s not grateful for all we have and all that’s about to come to us?
Happy time of Ishtar, and Thanks for the Post!
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you, Pat… I guess humility and resurrection, both, are two we never stop learning. Glad puppy is well! Happy Ishtar/Easter/Spring to you as well, my dear!
Nan Cowan says
Crescent….what a lovely, Spring renewal message that was. I would call it an Easter Sermon. But, I grew up in Arkansas….the daughter of a Methodist Minister.
I have to say that the pic of the chicken house Looked familiar …with the turned up and empty wine bottles, bordering the fence. After reading a little closer I realized that you had been in Nashville, visiting our beloved BELL Garden while staying with some friends in the Bellevue area!
Wow! I am currently serving as President of the Board of Directors for BELL Garden, and have been volunteering in various other positions with the Garden over the last 5 years. I have to say that growing delicious food, and connecting multiple generations of people with where their food comes from, as well as yummy ways to prepare it, is my passion in life! And, I have to say that you, and your writings on food and cooking, have been my main inspiration…..since I received a Dairy Hollow House Cookbook for a wedding gift in 1992! I have, since, given copies of the cookbook to my closest friends. I have the Soup and Bread, Passionate Vegetarian, Cornbread Gospels, and Bean by Bean books too!!
I’m absolutely thrilled to see that you were out walking in the neighborhood, and got to see the girls, and their hen house. I will have to find out the story on why we have a God Bless America sign up on the hen house…
I’m curious as to who you come to visit in Nashville, and how often you come? I would love to meet you sometime, and show you all around our BELL Garden. Also, wondering if you realize that Paulette Licitra, Editor for Alimentum literary mag, lives in that area too? She is also quite the Renaissance woman…..she also holds cooking classes at her home in River Plantation, and sings with her partner, Duane.
I would love to know when you plan to be back in Nashville. We just started back with garden workdays for the season, on Saturday mornings at 9:00. You will have to make plans to come join us sometime.
Thanks for all your good food thoughts. And I love the Blog!
Hope to see you in the neighborhood soon.
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Nan, wow! Never dreamed that someone in the ‘hood would happen onto this! Thank you so much — this is all SO interesting. Will drop you an email and let’s see what we can cook up. Warmly, CD
michelle taylor says
dear crescent, we have met a couple of times, once at the writer’s colony, a few times at Caribe. I bought your incredible, much loved and used by you and ned (according to the post-it you had placed inside), armoire. the above writing has inspired me! your words are so touching, go straight to the heart strings, and tell me that my life is also still one for me to appreciate, still grow and continue loving each and every new experience, friend, and the beauty that surrounds us in nature. I am so glad to be alive in this life and to live in eureka and to be surrounded by such beauty in both friends and nature. I will now subscribe to your site. your inspiration has just added at least five more years to my life and I know I will go in a new direction to broaden, to enrich it. Bless you!
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you so much, Michelle — and I am glad to think of that armoire with you! Yes… I don’t think there’s any way top be a human being that does not involve suffering and loss. But the insight and joy that can come out of that (eventually) are optional. I am so glad you are exercising that option! xo, CD
Charlotte Rains Dixon says
Beautiful post for this Easter weekend, thank you. I live in Portland, but visit Nashville often to teach and I consider it my second home. Love that city and I loved seeing your photos.
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you so much, Charlotte. I love the Pacific Northwest as well.
Yes, Crescent. Humbled in my 60s as well. I think it’s a good space to this deeper humility experience as the lesson seems to strum a vibrant cord, (in me anyway.) One I might not have listened to 20 years ago.
Loved your recount. Searing. Beautiful.
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you, Gail, for your kind words. It just never ends, does it? At least not until we do.
I think there are some things we really CAN’T get when we are young.
And maybe always. I sometimes say to the therapist I still occasionally see sometimes and to close friends, “Okay, what am I NOT seeing?” I often say to myself, “A blind spot means you can’t see it, Crescent.”
Joan Bowen says
Lovely, I enjoyed sharing your sensitive, aware, grateful, knowing walk and thought. You always find beauty and humor in your walks, both requirements for balance and refreshment.
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you, Joan. I’m grateful for what you got from this.
I love love love my walks. They give so much, and am honored when I can pass it on. And tickled when it’s received!
Lisa Alyea says
Wow! Many thanks for such an apropos post at a time when I need it the most. In brief, I am 51 and in the midst of a recurrence of brain cancer after 11.5 years of survivorship. I have since been blessed with now 5-year old twins, who, having arrived so late in life, are an absolute joy! I am now facing 5.5 weeks of radiation treatments, which, quite frankly, I am not looking forward to and absolutely dread after my experience of nearly 7 weeks worth after my initial diagnosis. Your Bradford Pear philosophy is analogous to my own on getting through this difficult time: I will blossom again no matter what!
Love your blogs and the Dairy Hollow House Cookbook 🙂
Crescent Dragonwagon says
Thank you, Lisa… I am so sorry for all you must face, thatr life relentlessly DOES this kind of stuff to us… right alongside the gorgeousness, the loand we perceive as gifts. May you, my dear, indeed blossom. With my whole heart, I wish you courage as you go through what lies ahead.