I first encountered them when I was a child. My mother said, "They're good for you." That mix of slime and seeds and skin? It looked like ooze from the smashed corpse of a mutant cockroach. It would eat your guts out, leave you writhing in agony and foaming at the mouth. From that day forward I kept a safe distance from tomatoes.

But when I was fifty, I married a man who adored them fresh from the garden. So, wearing rubber gloves, I sliced them into pretty crescents for my honey-bunny.

At fifty-five, I realized my crimson nemesis was a necessary evil. It kicked up flavor in spaghetti sauce. I hacked a couple into chunks the size of meteors, which could easily be identified and left behind in the pot when I served myself.

At sixty, I diced them into pea-sized cubes and they swam incognito in my chili. If accidentally spooned up, the offender was gulped down my gullet, bypassing taste buds.

At sixty-four, I ordered vegetarian loaf at Eden Alley. It arrived crowned with a suspicious blood-red glop. Maybe I was mesmerized by the aromas of thyme, basil, and oregano, but I could no longer see the existential threat in those tomatoes. I scooped up a forkful along with mushrooms and spinach. An acidic tang mingled with the smokey flavor of portobellos on my tongue. My God! Surely the angels serve this dish in heaven.
After six decades, in instantaneous revelation, I transcended slime, seed, and skin. Today, tomatoes. Tomorrow, Everest.

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Can it be a year since she died? Wasn't it only yesterday I fell in love with her?

She'd emailed me, troubled that an acquaintance of hers had accused her of making a comment that was racially charged.

Back then, I was mistaking spirituality for a carte blanche to analyze my loved ones. I replied, "Maybe you're upset because you really are prejudiced and you don't want to face it." I threw in some Buddhist jargon for good measure.

A week later, her email response. "I'm furious with you. I've been storming around my house trying to figure out what to do about it. I didn't ask for your opinion. I wanted you to listen."


Oh. Her words stung. I recognized myself––that damned impulse to spout my opinions as though they were facts that would transform you into a better person.

She asked, "Can we meet for coffee, to talk this through?"

I was grateful for the chance to apologize in person. "Yes!"

We crowded our coffee, pastry and roiling emotions on to a tiny wrought iron table.

She said, "I couldn't let this go. I'm mad, but scared to approach you. I thought you might blow up, walk out on our friendship. Then I realized that would have to be okay. I only want relationships where we can talk honestly."

"Me too, Stef. I'm really sorry." We talked it through. (I listened.) I miss that Stef, willing to reach for my hand, so we could slog through the muck together.


 
 
  1. A rising tide lifts all boats.
  2. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder.
  3. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
  4. Here today, gone tomorrow.
  5. I haven't got a penny to my name.
  6. I wasn't born yesterday.
  7. The lights are on, but nobody's home.

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Dear Junco,

I'll try to be kind. After all, you were the first special bird to find our feeder. The sparrows that preceded you were nothing to marvel at. I felt quite important when my friend Sarah pointed you out, way back under the evergreen.

"See that little black bird?" she said. And I did! My first day of bird-watching, and already I excelled.

"So cute," Sarah said. "He is," I replied. "He'll poke around right here under the feeder, if he approves your seed."

That was a last week, Little Junco. Every day since, you and a couple dozen of your buddies are hopping around among those un-marvelous sparrows. Under the feeder, and on the feeder, too, where frankly, you're not supposed to go. So, little junco, please do me a favor. Take your gang to somebody else's backyard. I need the space for that darling black-capped chickadee, who's waiting over there in the redbud tree. Isn't he cute?

Sincerely,
The Management


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Betrayed

02/26/2015

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The passage of years sheds new light on dark memories.

My first husband's buddy touched my crotch, uninvited, unwanted. As he walked by me in my dining room, the back of his hand grazed my skirt. His knuckles tapped, in a subtle move that only a pro could have pulled off. My simultaneous reactions were: 1) That did not happen, and 2) Oh yes, it did. Sensation-wise, sirens blared and horns blasted; and neon arrows and helicopter searchlights pointed at The Spot. My mind might have doubted, but my body knew the score.

The man was a respected manager, trailing a string of whispered allegations from promotion to promotion. He reported to my husband, who'd heard the workplace rumors, but believed his friend. Why not? None of the women could prove a thing.

I didn't tell my husband. He would have said I was mistaken. and that betrayal would have shamed me more than the knuckles did. That's the dark memory.

Here's the new light: That silence said nothing about my spouse, but it spoke volumes about me. I denied him the chance to take my side. I withheld an opportunity for him to love me. By failing to trust him, I betrayed my first husband.

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I first suspected the existence of parallel worlds last spring, when I passed beneath the branches of an oak and heard birds roosting above my head. I tried to get a good look at the warblers, but no amount of tilting my head or squinting rendered them visible. Chirping emanated from everywhere and nowhere at once, so I spread my arms and let the chatter rain down on me, grinning at the enchantment in the canopy.

After my husband installed a bird feeder outside our kitchen window, an overpopulated city sprung to life in our silent winter garden. As I pressed my forehead against the icy pane, great clouds of birds swooped in to feed in a jittery mass and then exploded off the perch like scattershot. I was a child again, watching a magician wave his hankie. Voila, a flock appears; voila, it vanishes.

My husband and I ventured in to a feed store redolent of cedar. We were explorers, who'd crossed a border into foreign territory. The owner spoke a language peppered with exotic words like milo, while she rang up a fifty-pound bag of seeds and a bird book for identifying our backyard population.

Today a visitor clad in polka-dotted plumage flapped onto the feeder tray. I scoured the book for its photo in order to prove its existence. When I looked up, the traveler had vanished … along with the magic.

Another lesson from the animal kingdom.
More about the trouble with labeling things.
 
 
I admire how basketball players fall. Splat on the belly and then slide across the floor, slick as a sled down a snowy hill. Or thud on to the butt and pop up as though it were part of a tumbling run. Right back in the game.

I need to learn that, because the winter I lost my footing on an icy sidewalk, my hand took the brunt of it, which broke my wrist. I was out of the game for months. It was an artless tumble. Strictly amateur.

Last week, my husband and I walked into the Y for our usual cardio and found the gym swarming with guys and girls in wheelchairs, in town for their regional basketball tournament. As in all endeavors, a star emerged, a kid with genius moves. He was fast, graceful, smart, and accurate. A set belt strapped him into the chair; both legs were missing from the hip down, his right arm amputated at the elbow. While he was executing a series of intricate fakes, dribbling into position for a three-pointer, his chair rolled over. It pinned him underneath, wheels in the air, spinning. I couldn't tell how it got worked out––I'm often six moves behind while watching a game, but he was upright and sinking a free throw before I could gasp. Before my respect finished its artless decent into pity.

I tell you what; I admire how basketball players fall.

Wheelchair Basketball
Love Letter to a Basketball Coach
 
 
My brother's plane was late. I passed the time by pacing and exchanging sympathetic hellos with others packed into the airport, waiitng. I expected Wayne to roll through the gate in his wheelchair. Instead, he walked, his backpack and coat piled on the chair seat. "Hey Wayne," I said, "that looks pretty funny, you pushing your backpack."

"I'm so tired of sitting on that damn plane, I want to scream. I need to walk."

I imagined him––a six-footer––folded into those tiny seats. "Well, hell. I'll ride in the chair and you can push me," I said. I plopped myself down and set the backpack in my lap, twisting around so we could gossip while we made our way to baggage claim. He parked me off to the side of the carousel, and then waded into the mob to wrangle his duffel
bag.

A man emerged from the crowd heading toward me. I opened my mouth to say hello. At the last second, he averted his gaze and hurried past. A woman approached. I smiled up at her. "Hi," I said. She seemed to locate my voice; her head bent in my direction, but just as our gazes were about to intersect, she turned away. One after another, their gazes bounced off the top of my head like basketballs
hitting the rim.

"The weirdest thing just happened," I said to Wayne. "Your wheelchair made me invisible."

"Yeah," he said.
"Welcome to my world."
 
 
I lay in bed after waking up at 5:00 AM. I noticed dust was piling up on the blades of the ceiling fan. I worried about the credit card bill. I wondered why on earth I was lying there. Such a waste of time. Tomorrow I'd get out of bed right away. A ray of sun crept across the bedroom wall. I figured out how to spend less money, and then I swung my legs out from under the covers and got up.

My routine. Day after week after year. Until the day I stopped as both feet hit the floor. It occurred to me ; although I always got up … I hadn't decided to get up. There'd been plenty of time to make that decision, but it seemed to be missing.

An experiment followed. I woke at 5:00 AM. Would my legs swing out of bed by themselves?

Thoughts flew by like the daily parade at my bird bath. Boy, that ceiling fan's filthy. Gotta drive Lynn's mom to her doctor's appointment. Hope I don't get lost. Think I'll wash the car first. Better  wait till next month to buy … Hold on. What's that? I sensed a change in my body, it's location non-specific The impetus to move! Undecided. And then my legs swung out from under the covers. Getting up happened on its own. Staying under the covers happened on its own.

The clock read 6:15. An hour watching truth unfold. A timeless hour of freedom.


Read about another daily routine that happened on its own

And here's something else I did, which I could not control
The dance of life leads you where you need to go

 
 
"Honey, I want an office. Where I can close the door and write."

My husband chuckled. "The whole house is your office."

True. The patio. The couch. Even the kitchen counters. In fact, closed doors made me claustrophobic.

A girlfriend and I were admiring her back yard. "I love writing at home, but Ben likes to tell me about the news and I hate saying don't talk to me." We strolled past a bird feeder. "If I had some signal … maybe stick something in my hair."

She led me inside. "I've got it!" She held up a box filled with cat toys, including brightly colored feathers. I stuck an orange one in my hair and checked myself in a mirror. "Yeah. This could work."

Ben agreed to try it. Still, I was nervous about upsetting our routine.

After sunrise, I plodded into the spare bedroom, grabbed the laptop, and stuck the feather in my hair, the door to the hallway open beside me. Downstairs, the blender whirred. Floorboards creaked. Energy vibrated, telegraphing that Ben had already perused CNN.com.

"Those damn––" A foot crossed the threshold. He screeched to a halt. I typed. Silence. I typed faster. He tiptoed down the hallway. Yeah. This could work.

How do you close the door?

Read another post about how dicey it is to change.