Autumn imperatives

The leaves are now covering the trail where I walk with Comus in the early mornings. Yesterday, as I was poised to throw a stick for him into the creek, I discovered that I could not see the water’s surface for the leaves.  Comus was eagerly positioned, but even he, a Laborador Retriever, seemed unsure where the water met the edge’s bank. All these orange, brown, golden leaves.

At one point during my walk, I found  myself crying.  When these leaves were buds, my father was alive. My mornings were spent checking in with his care-givers, many evenings manipulating his money so he could continue to stay at home under full time care, my nights always on the alert for the call announcing danger. I used to think that all the space he took up would open up after he passed, that I would have time and attention available for my stuff. But what I found is that the space he took up imploded with his passing. It is not available for me to use in other ways. It is just gone.  If anything, I have less time than ever for my life, my work.

When these leaves were young, my good friend Rosemary was still sending me emails every week, pertaining to some sappy message of female friendship. When these leaves were becoming fully grown, I had not yet published a paper, attended an academic conference, mastered Endnote, embraced the writings of Antonio Damasio.  So many leaves, so little time. What happens to the essence of each leaf?

They reminded me of Valerie’s papers. She told me after the conference that she has two file drawers full of papers she has submitted to conferences. Hundreds of papers, thousands of pages, outpourings, creations, but now buried…just like that last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they cart away the precious treasure into the bowels of a massive, anonymous warehouse, to be filed and forgotten. Valerie explained that she never had the time to develop them, or pursue publication.  These things take more time and space.

I wonder about my own papers, those already filling a filing cabinet drawer, and those not yet written. I can’t help but wonder if the cost is too high. I live from paper to paper, absorbed in my own beautiful mind first, and scheduling attention for my family next. I juggle my practice and household responsibilities, but I am gauged to the next paper, my next self-imposed deadline.  I hope I am not short changing my family, especially my daughter who turns 13 on Thursday.

The other night, I drove her the 10 minute ride to her choir practice, and took my computer down to the nearby Starbucks.  ”Why don’t you just go home and work?”, she asked. I tell her it is because the energy at home is too frantic, busy, and I can’t concentrate.  ”It’s you, mom” she responds, without missing a beat, with not a bit of hostility. “When you were gone last week, things were much calmer”.

I ponder this as I shuffle amongst the fallen leaves. I can’t help wonder whether I have chosen wisely, compromising these years with my maturing daughter and my ailing husband. Then I notice that an occasional leave has fallen with an acorn attached, a seed to take root. I consider it a sign. I remember that my daughter also shared her amazement that, while I was away, her breakfast dishes were exactly where she left them when she raced out the door that morning.  And I heard her comment that the Gwyn Palthroth character in Iron Man was like her mom, because she “knew and took care of everything”. But my best token was her wearing of the home-decaled tee-shirt she recently made in my honor: “Well behaved women seldom make history”.

My process is propelled by a deep motivation in my soul and karma. I want to be a PhD, but I really want to make leaves, appreciating every one in and of itself, and knowing that somehow, every rare one, will take root and be generative.


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