In search of story



“What is truth?” asked Pilate. Pshaw. Why didn’t he ask the really tough question: “What is forgiveness?”

We read much of forgiveness these days. Apparently we needed to. It seemed that, when unimaginable pain in Charleston reached out with unimaginable generosity, we drank like the desert parched.

What is forgiveness? I have no idea. To me, it is the most complicated, mysterious phenomenon in the universe. A writing mate wrote of it once, bravely and insightfully. I admired her courage and her words. It isn’t something easily worded. Not for me.

I know what it isn’t. Forgiveness isn’t permission to do it again. When we forgive the other, we are not saying “you may hurt me again.” Or “you may hurt those I love again.”

Forgiveness isn’t liberation from guilt. Guilt in the other isn’t always ours to lift. Besides, guilt has a place in life; it teaches us not to hurt again. Not all guilt is manipulative or distorting. Some is constructive. Forgiveness can enable a constructive guilt but it is not a magic wand that makes guilt disappear.

Forgiveness isn’t pretending it never happened. Forgiveness acknowledges what happened, not for vengeance or recrimination, but for moving forward. Sometimes for self-defense and survival.

Forgiveness isn’t merely pronouncing a formula. “I forgive you” isn’t the whole of it.

Forgiveness isn’t the absence of feelings. Sometimes anger. Sometimes grief. Sometimes feelings so seismic they don’t have names. But there they are. And must be.

Dad and Mom always said that if you can’t put something into words you don’t understand it. And so I fumble for words because I fumble for understanding. Maybe that’s the best I can do.


Hare pollution

Look — there! The monster maw! The original daily beast!


What do you mean you can’t see him? He’s there just right of center. Surely you can’t miss those in-your-face ears sticking up in the middle of the clover patch. Again and again he starts my day taunting me with those ears. “Here I am!” he advertises, knowing full well his four feet can move a lot faster than my two.

Still can’t see him? How about a close-up?


No, not the c-word! Cute does not apply! Voracious, yes. Destructive, yes. Pestilent, yes. Not cute.

Despite my bipedal disadvantage, I go out every morning, staggering under the weight of my coffee mug, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, determined to win possession of my own garden. My victories are transient.

This year there are three of them, one smaller than the other two. Papa, Mama and Junior? Chilling thought.

One was digging ferociously in the middle of the yard the other morning, stopping occasionally to shake the rain from his fur. Yes, digging in the gooey soaked Indiana clay. In the middle of my yard. Is Mama in a family way? Does she need a cozy nursery? NIMBY, rabbit!

I think I hear you, dear reader: You’re obsessing, Maureen! Get a grip! Of course I’m obsessing! Do you know how expensive plants are? Do you know that these four-legged bottomless pits eat their weight in ANYTHING every five minutes? Obsession is the only rational approach.

Aside from the expense, however, is the value of a garden. It means something. As my friend Will S. would say, he who steals my purse steals trash, but he who destroys my garden makes me poor indeed.

Farmer McGregor was not the villain.

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On being lucky

I am unusually lucky in my friends, some of whom go way back. Friends from our childhoods and teenage years are especially wonderful at this time of life. For one reason, they remember our parents, our old homes. This is huge.

Those who knew my parents and old home have a specific understanding of me. They may, like the rest of the world, think I’m a bit (or a lot) weird, but they also understand WHY. This too is huge. They know that my parents valued precision, formality, organization, and absolutely did not care what others thought/did/had. There was a right way to do everything, be it using a knife and fork or folding towels. There was a concept called “proper.” My friends knew the ironing board was enshrined. They knew their shorts-clad legs would stick to the breakfast nook benches. They knew to come to the side door and not the front.

Parents and childhood homes are part of us forever. Today’s old friends were there and know that part of us first-hand. Friendships from later in life always have to do with swapped stories about parents and childhoods; it’s how we tell who we are to friends who weren’t there.

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. In the past I’ve written about her death, and today I commemorate it by writing about my good luck in having old friends who knew her and Dad. I think too of friends’ parents I have known, some from stories, but others who were flesh and blood. From their bad jokes to their rapturously good dill pickles, they were part of my life.

I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.



“She should be over it by now.”

Though those words were not spoken about me, I took them personally. I wanted to throttle the speaker. Who are you — who is anyone — to say how long it should take someone else to be “over it”? These words have simmered in me, not just for their arrogance and presumptuousness but for their universality. So many people so certain about others. What’s up with that? How did we become such experts on others?

For that matter, who are we to say how long it should take our own selves to get over something? How did we become so impatient with healing? Have we felt the wounds?

Yes, whining is fashionable, so “Get over it” is frequently the right thing to say. But what if it isn’t whining? What if the need to talk arises from the need to survive? We can no longer deny the PTSD in those who have experienced combat. Where then is our insight that residual stress might exist in many others, like caregivers, the abused, the used, and how can we say that they should “get over it”? Where is our understanding that the depth and intensity of feeling in someone else is not ours to clock?

How do we turn so easily from the mysteries of the mind-body connection and the value of the human spirit to the ready response of advice or me-stories? How quickly do such canards shut down the one who tries to talk. She should be “over it” — after all, we’ve told her what to do! We’ve told her our own stories!

Finally, do we really “get over it” or do we just put one foot in front of the other?


The can’t rant

I can’t.

Yes, I know: I don’t want to believe it either.

I’m old. My body is changing. Daily surprises make me say — just as I did back in my teens — whose body is this anyway? Do I know the person in it? It’s adolescence without the sock hops.

Such a grip on youth we have that we aren’t permitted to say “old.” Well, fine. You say “senior,” and I’ll say “old,” and we’re all happy, but don’t expect me to play Let’s Pretend. I won’t slather eye shadow on these crepey lids in some gesture of defiance. I have enough color on my legs.

I am trying to accept. The more I fight it, the older I feel. The deeper my denial, the deeper my wrinkles. I can’t. There. That’s how it is.

I can’t drive the way I used to. I can’t paint walls, climb, carry, lift, remember, balance, sleep, get it together, pull it off, think on my feet the way I used to. I can’t even breathe the way I used to.

“I can’t” isn’t negative. It’s one of the most positive things we can say as we age. It’s the reaction — the denial — that’s negative. I can’t sit this long. I can’t stand this long. I can’t eat this and I can’t drink that. Statements of fact, positively. Not to be confused with declarations of despair or diffidence. And not to be met with argument, platitude, or exhortation.

Do I embrace “I can’t”? Do I hug my inner hag? Not so much. I don’t like it; I deal with it, or try to. Denial takes too much energy. Can I afford to waste energy at this point? I can’t.


Tobasco Road

It has been fiercely hot and humid here, with wind. A hot humid wind does nothing for my cowlicks, and working in a hot humid garden does nothing for my otherwise aristocratic bearing. Picture then, dear reader, a woman of a certain age (me), with a certain wilted, windblown and grimy aspect, sprinkling hot sauce and red pepper flakes over her front garden in the soft twilight of late May.

And what makes me risk the anxious whispers of my neighbors, who may well fear the weird sweaty old lady crouching down in her front garden with hot sauce?

Rabbits. Of course.

In the front, the lawn is treated and therefore — apparently — not yummy. So they go right for the flowers. I have watched the lilies in the front rise up and crown themselves with Pompadour buds only to see them reduced to naked forlorn stems the next morning, shamed in the dawn light. I have caught the cottontailed rotter trying to look innocent with an entire columbine blossom protruding from his mouth, temporarily stilled as he reflected on our relative sizes. Beast.

In the back, I grow edibles, so that grass is never treated and apparently IS yummy. I had not foreseen yumminess. Understand I would gladly provide lemon vinaigrette if all they wanted was the clover and other grassy savories. But they gluttonize their way to the garden, and then their noses pick up the siren scents of dill and dianthus. It is quite literally a short hop from delicious grass to scrumptious garden.

The dianthus was a white Edwardian frill with a garnet center. Gone. The dill my old-timey gossip. My lilies the Chartres of the landscape. Gone, gone.

Be warned, rabbits: the sweaty old lady with the hot sauce is not amused.