Thursday, October 26, 2017
“Just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
Almost every inch of my essence, all that I was, screamed “I cannot.” Happened a lot. I cannot survive, I cannot live, I cannot live well enough, I cannot be happy, I cannot work my own business, I cannot…. But over and over, all those times I started to take care of whatever seemed to be needing to be taken care of or all those times when I faced a problem or situation which needed to be handled; well, I found out I could.
Seems to be the opposite of the age-old positivity “if you can, then you should.” But what if you are so low that ‘can’ seems like the impossible mountain? What if almost every inch of your sense says “I cannot?” The key is “almost”. That is why, I learned to start with the state of “cannot”.
“Just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
I was heading out of town, toward my concert of my dreams and toward a city I knew nothing about. Before I married my ex-husband, I had vowed to myself that I would have left my hometown to move to Red Wing Minnesota, a city known for noteworthy leather work shoes and for its beautiful crocks. I picked Red Wing because I could never, at that time, imagine myself surviving in Minneapolis, much less Saint Paul. And how many times did I overlook Saint Paul totally?
Nope I was going to Saint Paul.
I told a friend of my adventure. “Who are you going with? A group of friends?” “No, just me.” Her face relaxed as she saw that my solo trip was by choice rather than a fallback. “Shopping, working, museum wandering and the concert!” Strange how those closest to me are as accustomed to the solo me as I am.
I started the trip in my usual fashion, with too many pieces of luggage and backpacks (yes, plural on the backpack) yet I did not panic. There was no need to rush. Inside my Jeep were all those pieces with my blankets, way too many shoes, the rest of my bedding from home, two laptops, and my Snoopy.
Tickets! (Yes, I did eventually find them when I calmed my mind down.)
I followed a familiar route on a major thoroughfare that slices the state in half, north to south. It’s a major artery. Forty five minutes or ten songs worth into the trip, I celebrated a ‘crossing of the bar’ moment as I drove under that last well-known underpass. I kept driving. Hour. Hour number two.
I had settled into a drivers nirvana; the point when the vibrating engine and tires upon pavement lull ones body enough to relax yet so fresh into the trip ones nerve endings perk with every bump. My mind hummed with music and sights of trees, farms and construction equipment.
I wondered the last time I had been this way. Was it a school trip in which I was one of two chaperones? I remembered. The male teacher drove the two female students, and I drove my son and his three male classmates. What I remember was the irreverent fun of four young men. And I let them. We left at an ungodly early hour with the typical teenage field trip contraband of spicy nachos and heavy caffeinated citrus soda. My son, I am sure, guaranteed them their loot would be acceptable in our truck. I savored every bit of the recollection as I did then, as the field trip was happening. I drove slower at the irritation of my counterpart, hoping that he would never find out we played every rap song as loudly as possible and screamed under the jets which were landing and taking off over the highway. Oh, to give them a moment of the wild innocence of youth.
I laughed at the memory, especially at the memory of laughter. They talked and laughed the entire drive. As a teacher my goal was to tire students out. I would like to say I am sorry, but I am not. I always tried to engage them, especially their minds. A successful field trip meant that students slept the entire way home. That they did.
But that was not the last time I had traveled west. “Pack one suitcase” I had told my son in the summer of 2014. I had never spontaneously road-tripped. For years my husband and I had promised him we would drive west. Every year we broke that promise. In a year in which either I broke everything or everything broke around me, I told my son “Pack one suitcase.” In our old 1995 Jeep my son and I drove past all familiar points to the Badlands of South Dakota.
But I had never been west by myself. I am unsure why that is even important but it became more so the further along in my trip I drove. I celebrated each mile resting back a bit more in the drivers seat with my snoopy by my side. By the time I reached the Mississippi River it felt like a new threshold.
I had an eighth floor room with a wonderful view which I insisted to myself must face east. (Um,no). I was in the midst of concert halls and museums and shops and buildings. Finding the concert would be a cinch; a fact confirmed by my phone maps and doubly verified the hotel front desk.
I quickly discovered a theme which would last my whole stay in Saint Paul. I got lost. I began walking. I asked directions again. Then I proceeded to not follow those directions. Over and over again, I had no sense of direction. None. I walked I looped around the Xcel Energy Center until a kindly doorman at the Civic Arts Center asked if I was arriving for jazz. His soft, kind voice, like steeping tea, filtered warmly in the evening breeze. He pointed me down the block, to the giant glass doors.
I approached the next day peculiarly, in almost a ‘death walk’ or last meal. I could not figure out why and more so, I could not understand why I craved the feeling so badly. Only if I went against every ounce of gut instinct would I have not followed that sense.
After three changes I decided upon the Saturday look: an old black suit jacket, blue jeans, black cami, sparkly sandals with a bit of a heel and an autumn printed scarf of muted orange and mauve flowers. My first stop along my ‘deathwalk’ was breakfast in a downtown Irish pub restaurant. Any apology for my macabre thoughts would sacrifice their sincerity. I am following doctors orders, I reasoned as I drenched blueberry pancakes with the heavy soup of perfect syrup and softened butter. I am following doctors orders, I reminded myself as I feasted on foods I hadn’t allowed for myself and will not again.
So I ate blueberry pancakes. Doctors orders.
The Silhouettes of Closed Doors.
The modern art museum reminded, even scolded me to always remember what art is – the truth of experience and expression with equal abilities to both comfort and unsettle. What one takes from art is proportional to what one brings to it, no matter if you are artist or spectator.
Two exhibits caught me. One was a Jenga-ish stack of breast-looking pieces entitled “Something for Everyone” which powered the space in front of a large window.
The other piece looked like a creation of charcoal drawing. A large, traditionally framed and of impeccable portraiture, the focus was a man, a beautiful man wrapped in tulle wearing rubber gloves. His gaze was an unnerving, yet saddened pride. I wondered at the lack of our society’s vigilance upon its own worth. Do we not remember the solid promise of that unnerving pride, in its beautiful, loud silence?
Can you tell I was feeling inspired? I would shortly wish that my driving would have been equally so, as I continued to not follow street signs and any other modern convenient navigation tool. I had never driven worse, assuming, of course that I ever had driven correctly to begin with. I had never miscalculated so many directions and distances. Ugh.
I really had wanted to see the design museum. Plenty of time. I began west only to miss an exit, bound into a land of refurbishment and renovation which grabbed me first with awe and inspiration until I realized I had misread my phone maps. (The swearing had begun.) Fifteen minutes at the design museum would be worth it.
As I re-entered where I had mistakenly exited, I merged – um, cut-off would be more accurate – in front of a lovely white, large truck whose driver urged his vehicle to curse at me through insistent, rhythmic honking in what I could only imagine be a Morse code of expletives.
The list of traffic violations continued with my turn into a the wrong way on a one way street. Have I mentioned the U-turn I proudly performed behind a Minnesota-proud purple and gold city bus which was backing up at that very moment? I could not even bear to look at the driver.
By the time I found the design museum, any sense I once had of navigation prowess was gone. It was closed. It was closed. I stood there. Tears. Tears which surprised tears. The best gift I have had in a long time was a museum with its doors closed. I had not known how much it had mattered. I had begun the search for the design museum as almost a thoughtless itinerary checkmark. I had not known my heart until I stood there, in front of the Goldstein Building, the Museum of Design. It had mattered to me. And I had thanked G~d for an answer to a question about which I had not known.
I had found Saint Agnes. Too late for my confessional but a short self assessment and comparison study, comforted me that although I was not dressed for mass, I reasoned that I could probably fit in. I was on time. I walked to the door. I did not go in. The chapel door was open. I peaked, then walked in, down the stairs to a good sized basement chapel. I was too late to confess my sins as I had planned but I dipped my fingers in the holy water, walked to the altar to kneel. I could still be on time to mass.
Instead I left, patting the beautiful side of the building as though saying good bye to an old friend I never had known. Good bye. I wondered at these times I have searched, in distress or in the joyful torture of curiosity? I wondered at the necessity I continually felt to exhume my soul’s rest. Nevertheless I continued. As I have always done to each trip to Two Rivers, I did the same thing in Saint Paul. I tapped ‘synagogue’ into my phone map.
Only four minutes away. I again circled. I drove in opposite directions. I found a boulevard of historically reverent homes edged in an outline of churches and houses of prayer. I saw the poses of a new bride and groom who may have had one too many photos and poses; he with a molded youthful grin and she with determined gaze of the achievement of bridal couture. They, in white and black, were beautifully back-dropped with golden maple leaves and the soft lights of early evening. It was the wrong day for the synagogue to be open, I knew. My only intention had been to drive by, but I stopped. As I walked to the door, I once again began to cry. In the safety of silhouettes and closed doors I had allowed myself one last time to mourn the fact I had not stood up to people who had laughed at my heritage. One last time to cry. I held the imagery of the burning bush statue and the metal symbolism of the tablets. I cried to realize how much it had meant.
We are always taught about open doors. When all is aligned with G~d and the universe, then the doors of ones path will be opened. A person needs to knock at life’s doors to determine your direction while stopping one from repeatedly banging on doors that don’t belong to you or are not meant for you. But perhaps I needed the deathwalk to the closed doors. Perhaps I needed to complete those silhouettes.
The Silhouette of Es.
“I’m not sure either, Es.” In the grey light of evening I could clearly see the sharpness of her look to me. The beast, that shadow of entities, could be anywhere. And that was the only guarantee. That type of hatred could be anywhere. We could sing-song our way, pretending to not see in stubborn refusal to acknowledge. But that would be the ultimate lie.
“I’m not sure,” she answered to me with eyes that lied in a comforting dishonesty. Es seemed innocently horrified but her voice was absent of any fear. Her steps were even more a lie. With each step she seemed more sure, more stable as if the strange path came up from below to mark her way.
I followed Es a bit, mimicking her as we walked side by side. She never looked again for the shadow beast. I kept looking, maneuvering my glances over, around and behind her. I did not want her to know that while I trusted her, I could not stop looking for the Shadow.
The same soil which released a path to Es now weighted the Shadow beast. Es kept walking with steps lightened by the guidance of her part of the earth.
“I will let its darkness swallow itself.”
As a lady, I had walked what might have been a bit too far than I should have at night. I guess that is not true or I am just lucky because I had found the perfect Italian restaurant. Forgetting that it was a Saturday night – the official date night or night out – I walked into the restaurant alone. I never intend my presence as a test but my solo adventures seem to be a curiosity…for two minutes. I think I just surprise people. I have learned to not appear to either be a lost sheep in search of anyone nor to appear as a harsh testimony to the world. I feel neither. I am just alone. I have found that I seem to be a curiosity here as well. I do not intend my presence as a test. (I have learned to tip hostesses who sit me at a table or a window booth. I have also learned to occupy myself with thoughts and observations rather than the automatic tapping on my phone, unless I am truly uncomfortable.)
I had not realized I needed those closed doors.
Much love. Lots and loads of love, plus one good kiss.
PS. You might be wondering. The concert? I might have shimmied a bit….