Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adjusted on the Space-Time Continuum

I’ve written about my chiropractor before. He’s an interesting man, trim and earnest and I still haven’t decided if I take him or chiropractic seriously. Yet I start each week, every Monday morning by getting into my car, weaving in and out of rush hour traffic on the expressway and driving to his tiny, homey row home of an office, off of Fitler Square, to get “adjusted.”

He talks a lot about subluxation and the nerve endings emanating from the spine and freeing up the blood flow to all of my major organs and when he talks like this, I nod and try to believe. But, he also talks about other things – spiritual, other worldly things in the same pleasant, matter of fact tone he uses to discuss my vertebrae.

And you’d think I’d be more skeptical of this portion of his therapeutic repertoire, but instead, it is what motivates me to soldier through heavy handed back cracks and neck twists as he comes at me with all the force of a murderous strangler.

Today, when I ask if he can do anything about the fact that I will be missing next week’s session because of a vacation, he asks, “Do you believe in the space-time continuum?” And I brighten and smile slyly ( because I know what was coming) and reply sweetly, “I’m not sure, but I am open to being convinced.”

And that is when he gets going and I just sit back and enjoy the ride, letting his hands hammer my wayward spine and his gentle voice massage my restless spirit.

"Picture a room," he says. "An ornate room filled with lovely artifacts and beautiful furniture. Then imagine a giant plasma television screen with multiple images appearing on the wall of the room. And when you enter, you first see the screen, and it captivates your attention. Then after a while you turn your head and you stop and look at the crimson sofa with the gold embossed frame, and after that you turn to see a painting on the wall and you gaze at it for a long time. This is how we experience time, he says. One moment at a time. But they are all there, all those moments in that room which is our lives. It’s just that our minds cannot embrace it in its totality so it arranges the moments in a linear manner."

" Do you believe that?” he asks, while taking out the mechanical hammer gun, then battering the side of my head.

“I think so,” I say, feeling a pulse of energy rip through my brain.

“Good,” he says, “Then I’ll adjust you twice today, once for this week and once for next.
He leans in close and makes one final push against my shoulder.

“And since you believe, I’ll charge you for both today!”

When I get in the car, though ( having paid for only one visit, that ole chiropractor is a real jokester) I think about time and how there are some people - certain friends, certain students, I feel I have known all my life even the parts we haven’t lived yet. And I think about these moments where the past, present and future conflate into a ------ I don’t even have a word for it. My mind cannot conceive of it. The closest I can get is something like this - it feels like the present moment is a future memory of past event. Very powerful. Very overwhelming.

When I got the phone call that one of the Jenkins brothers had been killed, in those moments when I didn’t know which one, when I didn’t want to know which one, when I didn’t want to let my mind go to a place where I thought about which one, I felt it. The moment before the adjustment. The moment before the words that will change everything, before and after. And then to learn it was the other brother, the older one, the one I had never taught. The one I don't really know. My mind went back back back, all those years ago, to the young boys that I knew at Simon Gratz High School twenty years ago - even then somehow, they were always the grown men who lost their older brother to gunshot wounds to the chest on a Thursday night in March in a store a block away from his home. It’s just now that they know it.

The events of the present change how we know our past as much as they alter the future. When something huge happens like this, and we experience it in what feels like the here and now, is it rewriting the life we thought we’ve already lived or bringing where our lives have always been going, where our lives have already been into clarity?
Our perceptions of the lives we are living are constantly being adjusted along the space-time continuum.

Leaving the chiropractor’s office today, I am still not sure if he’s adjusted my spine, but he’s certainly touched my spirit.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Through the Eyes of Love

I spent a good part of this winter day looking through old family pictures. I was looking for one special photograph somewhere amidst the thousands that are in boxes I store in a cabinet in the family room. And while I pride myself on keeping pictures, documents, artifacts that are important to our family’s history, I am woefully inept at keeping them organized.

What prompted me to take this extended walk down memory lane today was a series of photos that I received by email from a friend. He had been telling me stories about his life while traveling through Central America and about the wonderful people who had become part of his extended family when he lived there. Attached to the email were pictures.

When I scrolled down to view his pictures, I was totally struck by one of them. It was a simple picture really – one that millions of families might have of their little girls. This little girl was beautiful – bronze skin, dark brown curly hair, wearing a floppy hat, the brim resting atop sunglasses that were way too big on her. In her pink sleeveless shirt, with her gold pierced earrings, chubby cheeks and pointy chin, she was smiling for the camera as if she just knew that she was the most the most wonderful, beautiful, amazing little girl on earth. Later, he told me that those overlarge sunglasses and that funny white hat were his, and sure enough when I went back to look at the pictures he had sent, there was another - this one of him with the hat sitting askew on his head (not big on him at all) with the same sun glasses, looking small, on a chain around his neck. And in this picture, he is holding the little girl and both of them are smiling so big that you can almost hear their laughter erupting from the image.

These are simple photographs, really. But they moved me deeply. And they are the reason that I spent my day rummaging through boxes of my past looking for a special photograph – one that also conveys that special bond of love between a grown man and a little girl.

I went looking for a picture of my daughter Allison when she was just about the same as the girl in my friend’s picture. And she too is “dressing up,” wearing clothes that belonged to me – a pink moirĂ© dress with a satin ruffle at the neck – the dress that I had worn to my Sweet Sixteen decades ago. She had found it that morning and decided to wear it, though it is way too big for her. It was falling off her shoulders and dragging on the ground. She too is wearing a goofy hat (probably her father’s) and sunglasses that overwhelm her small heart shaped face. And in this picture, she is standing next to her daddy, holding his hand both of them looking directly at the camera, with gargantuan smiles on their faces looking like he is escorting her across the stage in a beauty pageant. .

And you can tell that she just knows that her daddy loves her and that she is glamorous and fabulous in that dress and that the world is hers to conquer.

I never did find that picture today, but I don’t need to see it to recall the image nor the way that photo, like my friend’s earlier today, makes me feel. What moves me so much about these pictures is the complete and total lack of self consciousness on the part of the little girls and the total love and acceptance on the part of the grown men.

How powerful for a little girl to have a grown man that she loves enter into her imaginative world on her terms– to become the client in her fictive beauty salon and allow her to groom his hair with gel and to smile with approval when seeing his spikey image in the mirror. How affirming for a little girl to be able to have a grown man play games with her and have him follow her rules, even if they are arbitrary, even if they change with no notice, because he knows that in going along with her game, he is helping her believe in and develop her ability to act on her own behalf in the world – not just submit to or be manipulated by the will of others.

Can you think of a more important lesson for a young girl to learn?

But the impact of this love isn’t just one way. I thought about this when I looked at the first picture, where the little girl was wearing the sunglasses. Reflected in the dark green lenses was the image of the man who was taking the picture.

The gift for the man in this dance of love is that he gets to see himself through the eyes of the girl who loves him – he catches a glimpse of the loving, generous, playful, and deeply human being that he is to her. And seeing this, he is challenged to be that best version of himself for her - and always.

There is a part of me that is jealous when I see pictures like these. Hard for a 57 year old woman to admit that she’s jealous of little girls, especially when one of them is her own daughter. But I never knew that kind of love and acceptance from any man when I was a girl. My father was cold and distant, judgmental and sometimes even cruel before he abandoned me altogether. My mother was an only child so I had no uncles. There was no extended family, no beloved family friends.

It took me a really long time to believe that I had any agency in the world or that what went on in my imaginative life could be of interest to any one else. It took me forever to believe that any man would find me interesting, worthy of his time, worthy of his love.

But these girls --- ah these girls. They believe in themselves. And they always will.

Angels in the Zeitgest

It's funny sometimes how a certain image or idea seems to come out of nowhere and take hold in popular imagination. I wrote the following introduction to a short story last week at my weekly writers' group. In the car on the way to the class, I felt an itch on my back. The serendipitous writing prompt that group leader Alison Hicks offered us: Begin with a sensation in the body. I wrote:

It started as a slight itch on her back under her left shoulder blade. She doesn’t exactly remember the first time she felt it, and it took weeks, maybe months before she allowed herself to believe that something was happening inside of her body- something life changing and out of her control. Rather it was when she felt the same relentless itch beneath her right shoulder blade that she thought back and knew – yes, I have felt this before, on the other side.

How strange to be going through this new set of changes now ( the itches weren’t to remain only itches for long) so soon after she had just grown accustomed to the soft hair that appeared between her legs, that had shown up one day like a spot of dust, then grew like a shadow on a lengthening day to cover more of her soft skin. And she hadn’t quite learned how to sleep with the sore fullness of her recently sprouted breasts.

It was while she was lying on her back in her single bed on the worn chenille spread her mother had laid down on her bed after her grandmother died, trying to avoid putting pressure on breasts that she began to wiggle slowly back and forth, rubbing her back across the ribs of cotton which made up the textured pattern on the spread. She can’t tell nor possibly remember whether the rubbing made her aware of the itching or if the itch had instigated the rubbing.

Nonetheless, once she became aware of it, the itch, the itches, she could think of nothing else. She noticed how they seemed to get more intense, growing more deeply, like roots taking hold beneath her skin and burrowing into her muscles. At the same time she was feeling the itches morphing into the deep throbbing pain on the inside, the outside of her skin, in those certain spots beneath her shoulder blades felt as if they were being rubbed raw and ready to split open.

She told no one. She was afraid of doctors since her brave and vibrant grandmother had died in the hospital, all alone with machines hooked up to her heart and tubes running through her veins and she, lying there unable to move nor speak, only the terror escaping through the black holes her eyes had become. And she dare not tell her mother, who had become one of the walking dead, speaking in a monotone, going through the motions of making breakfast, packing her lunch, then returning to her bed with a robotic precision and a bland cold kiss on her daughter’s cheek.

No. She would tell no one.

One night, when she could not stand the pain a moment longer, she raised her left hand and reached behind herself to try to gently rub the place of fire on her back. Her fingers were surprised by something cool and soft and soft to the touch. With curiosity, she lifted her right hand and reached behind, touching the place of fire on the other side and felt the same thing. For a moment, she stood there hands behind her, elbows extended on either side.
She doesn’t remember how long it took her to lower her arms and go to the mirror, but she does remember that once she got there, it took a very long time for her to remove her pajama top. She gazed at the reflection of her breasts, only slightly startled by them this time. But as she slowly turned her body while keeping her face looking straight away into the mirror, she saw emerging from the two bloody slits on her back the tip of glistening grey and white feathers.

Last Sunday, when I was reading the New York Times Book Review, I was startled to see that the book being reviewed on the first page was entitled Angelology by Danielle Trussant. The reviewer described it as a complex thriller about fallen angels and compared Trussant to Umberto Eco.

Then this morning, I received an email advertising a French film festival here in Philadelphia and one of the feature films was about an oridinary couple who become the parents of a vert special boy named Ricky. (Click on the title to see the trailer.

It's been almost twenty years since there were angels among us, in movies,in plays, on television, in our gardens, on our shoulders. But, there is some evidence that they are returning to the popular imagination - there are angels of all kinds in the zeitgesist - aloft and fallen. And the other night, I felt their presence. It began as an itch on my back.