Monday, April 29, 2019

Branches

This year, for the New York Botanical Gardens orchid show, the man and I were accompanied by our daughter and her boyfriend, and his mom and sister. Afterward, we had lunch at a hole in the wall Spanish restaurant in the Bronx that served the most delicious pernil and plantains, and a stew of red and black beans and rice that I'm still dreaming about. It was a full weekend of entertaining, even though our guests preempted our having to cook anything by bringing baked ziti and baked goods and lots of other food. We also got the spend most of the weekend with our daughter, as she and her love hung out here with the fam. I loved it.

After everyone left on Sunday, the man and I realized that we have had houseguests almost every single weekend since the year began, and we joked about getting a plaque made to hang above our door—"Arrindell Arms." Next weekend, my birthday weekend, will be another busy one with my favorite people—my niece and her love, my son and his love, and my girl and her love will all be here to sing and eat cake with me on Friday night. Then on Sunday we attend the baptism of my son's girlfriend's younger nephew and birthday party for her older one. All our families are becoming ever more intertwined. I love the way families become redefined as the young ones grow up and fall in love and begin to create new branches of the tree. Everyone is so different in the beginning, but we all love our children, and we grow into love with one another, too.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

What their grandmother wished

I am going to admit a secret. It is deeply held because I don't want to give power to this fear, but it is there, nevertheless, and it is this: I worry for my son and his girlfriend. He is black and she is white, and I worry about the world they must walk through. They are sweet together; born a year and a week apart, they get each other in the goofiest way. The things that make me insane about my son seem to amuse her, and the things about him I cherish, she seems to appreciate also.

They began seeing each other the week my mother died, which made me think my darling mom was pulling strings from heaven. It would have been just like her: She always wanted for her children to be partnered with good people, to love and be loved, and to experience the joy of raising a family together. It was a wish right up there with her desire that we trust in God. She would have been fine if I'd walked a different path relationship-wise, she would have adjusted, and indeed, my brother's path was never so straightforward. But this loving connection was always her prayer for us, and for her grandchildren, too. And within a month of her death, all three of her grandchildren who were already grown were in serious relationships with good people. My son, my daughter, my niece.

My son got off the plane in Jamaica for his grandmother's funeral and told me, "Mom, I met someone." A month later, my niece, who had never lacked for suitors, and who could grow bored with the most apparently perfect of them, told me, "I met someone." My daughter, at that point, had been dating a young man at college for a few months, and on her next birthday, he gave her a delicate gold necklace with her grandmother's name in sweet cursive. As far as I can tell, all three people are exactly the sort my mother would have chosen for her beloved grands, which is not to say I am presumptuously writing the next chapter of their story. That will be for them to write, as indeed they have already begun to do, with my niece marrying her love a week ago.

While I pray for them all, in the age of Trump I am secretly more worried for my son and his girlfriend, because I don't want the world to come at them in a cruel way. I am talking about all sides of the equation here: I don't want people of any color to look at them in anything but a loving way; I don't want black women to assume my son hates himself or hates black women because he is with someone of another race; I don't want white men of a certain ideological bent to do much worse. I don't want any ugliness to befall them at all, because they are lovely together, and so I wish the world to be different, or at least heading in a more positive direction. May all these children be loving and loved in this life, and yes, may they also be safe.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Easter flowers

My man made the altar arrangements for Easter Sunday. This is what our house looked like on Saturday. I am always moved be this devotion of his, this loving work that he does in memory of his mother, with whom he took a flower arranging class when he was a teenager because he found out that a girl he liked was taking the class too.



We had house guests through the weekend, including the newlyweds, who aren't really guests at all. My niece's husband (ha!) once lamented that he always showed up at our house empty handed. My niece told him, "You don't have to bring anything when you're going home. You just bring you."




Monday, April 22, 2019

They got married!


My niece and her fiancé, with fourteen people who love them in attendance, went down to City Hall on Friday morning bright and early and waited with the throngs of other couples in all manner of attire to say their "I do's." 

 

They'll have the big wedding in Jamaica in December, but they're moving to Dallas in June, and just decided everything would be easier if they were married already. So they picked a day and Friday it was. Some of their key people, including the bride's father, and my son, and most of the bridesmaids couldn't get away from work obligations, but there was a crowd anyway.


The bride's mom came to New York for the weekend for the wedding. It was lovely to have her stay with us again, the way she used to for a part of every summer when our kids were growing up and spending those out-of-school months together at our house in New York and at their grandmother's in St. Lucia.


It took more than two hours for the happy couple's ticket—number 49—to be called. As we waited, we stood around in clusters and passed the time with stories. I have no idea what my husband is telling the groom (right) and our daughter's boyfriend here. 


There is a booming industry on the sidewalk in front of City Hall catering to couples showing up to get married. My niece, who'd scoped out the flower cart when they went to get the license a couple weeks ago, had her bouquet freshly made on the spot, as a long line of other brides-to-be waited in line to choose their blooms. Next to the sidewalk florist a man offered gold bands for sale and photographers offered to take pictures of the couples or serve as witnesses, for a price. 


Two of my niece's six bridesmaids were able to make the Friday morning City Hall nuptials. My daughter (on the right) will be the maid of honor at the formal wedding in December. This was agreed on back when these two were still teenagers.


My girl and I took a picture together because you should always take pictures to commemorate those moments of pure, unalloyed happiness.


After a bit of confusion with the marriage license, we finally were called to the outer chamber of the the circular pink room where the Justice of the Peace would perform the marriage ceremony.


The man and I relived our own fond memories of choosing each other thirty-three years ago come August. My niece and her love have absolutely no idea how fast the years rack up—if you're lucky, and we are, and they will be, too.


The cousins who are really more like sisters, were giddy at times.


So were the bride and groom.


And then, finally, the vows. It took all of a minute. We were in that room for about five minutes in total. As the bride and groom kissed, we cheered.


Then everyone wanted to take pictures with the newlyweds. Here is the happy couple with his dad and stepmom.


And with her mom. Her dad couldn't make it, but he'll walk her down the aisle in December.

With his mom and his two sisters, a very artistic tribe. 


With her bestie from the time they were schoolgirls, and her bestie's love.


With her sister-cousin and aunt-other mother.


Mr. and Ms. Reid, April 19, 2019

May your love grow ever stronger and richer with the years and may your journey together be full of laughter and deep ease. We are so happy for you both. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Stay safe always


The graduation was emotional for us all, to see our boy achieving the dream he's had since he was nine years old, when he watched 343 men and women of the FDNY run into a burning tower to put their lives on the line for people in harm's way. The sheer loss of life on that day has never left him, and he grew into a man who would say to me, "When everything is going to hell, I want to be one of the people who can do something to turn it around." It was his life's call in one simple sentence. And on Thursday, we were moved to tears as we watched him walk across that stage to receive his official appointment to the largest and busiest fire department in the world. 

My son's girlfriend captured our feelings so beautifully in words she wrote late that night after the graduation ceremony. With her permission, I share her post here.














Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Celebrations!


My friend Leslie sent me that picture. She said it reminded her of me, because she knows I love orchids. It's a good, celebratory picture to mark this week in which 1) my son graduates with his dream job and 2) my niece, who is like my third child, is getting married!

The big wedding reception will be in December in Jamaica, but my niece and her fiancé are moving to Dallas in June and they just decided everything would be easier if they were married already. So the civil ceremony will take place this Friday at City Hall, with several of their loved ones fondly looking on. The plan is to go out for a meal together afterward, and raise many toasts. I am so happy for them.

I'm also happy for my boy, who called us last night to say he'd received his firehouse assignment. It's in Manhattan on the East Side, and a "really good house," he says. He's been assigned to an engine company at a "double house," meaning there is also a ladder company at that location. I've learned that engine companies get the majority of EMS calls, and they also work the water hoses at fires. Ladder companies are the ones climbing onto roofs and rappelling down the sides of buildings and climbing into windows to rescue people on high floors. My son wanted a ladder company but I secretly preferred him to be assigned to an engine company. He is quite happy regardless, as he also loves EMS work, and is a natural in any health emergency.

Stay tuned. There will definitely be pictures of graduation tomorrow, and my niece's nuptials on Friday.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Singing Ave Maria as the Notre Dame burns

I was moved to tears by the response of Parisians as their beloved 800-year-old cathedral burned. They gathered on the banks of the Siene and sang hymns. The sound of the Ave Maria, so sorrowing and yet so beautiful, haunts me. I have listened to it so many times this morning. I'm not sure what it evokes in me, but it is something sad yet also hopeful about the human spirit, maybe also about reverence, about resilience, about love.



Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bravest


We spent the day yesterday watching my son and his squad perform rescue operations. He was so impressive. Last week he took his final exams and completed the Fire Academy boot camp training—18 weeks of hell. He graduates this Thursday and then my boy will be a full fledged firefighter in New York City, where the FDNY gets five thousand calls daily, more than Chicago, Philly and Los Angeles combined. At certain moments during yesterday's demonstrations, my heart was in my throat, especially when the men and women in uniform would swing from the ladder onto the roof of a seven story building, or rappel down the side of a five story building on a plain nylon rope. Other times were pure fun, like when the probie firefighters did the firehose demonstration, and tuned the spray on each other. After, some had their loved ones experience what it's like to manage the firehose, or be rescued from a high window.


That's our boy in the middle at the top of the building, about to rappel down the side.


And there he is, soaking wet at the end of the firehouse exercise. The spray of water must have been a relief in that boiling hot gear. 


We were all so proud. I think he was proud of himself, too.


His dad wanted to know details about the helmet.


There was a lot of walking so I brought my nordic poles.


His buddies from college were there. They were all in a state of wonder that he'd followed through on what he used to talk about doing. "A lot of people dream of becoming a firefighter," one said, "but he actually did it."


This morning on Instagram he posted this. 

He thanked us yesterday, too, when we were back at his house. "I couldn't have done it without you," he said. "At every step you were there, believing in me." I don't have the words to describe how full my heart was. It was a moment. His dad felt it, too. We have watched our son take each determined step to fulfill a dream that tapped his heart when he was ten years old. It's not so easy for a kid with no legacy in the department. Unless you come from generations of firefighters, there are a lot of roadblocks you have to find your way around. As they say in the department, it's the best job in the world and they don't make it easy to get. But  at every stage our boy found the right next door and did the hard work to make it through. And now he is one of those who people will call in their worst moments. And he's ready. He is brave and his heart is true. May he be protected always.





Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What is not yet visible


I'm heading out of town this afternoon, taking the train to Washington, DC for two days of interviews with my new subject. This book, too, begins with a proposal, which will require me to bring into view the whole arc of her story through the chapter summaries, and evoke the voice of the book through the sample chapter. Then of course there are the other lovely proposal elements, the overview, the target audience, comparative titles, marketing and promotion. For some reason, I'm not as anxious as I usually am, which worries me. It's like that Anna Quindlen observation about her mother, who she said believed that by worrying hard enough about a thing, she could ensure it wouldn't happen. I think I might have a touch of that superstition myself.

This time, though, I'm also excited. My cousin Helen, an intuitive life coach and spiritual therapist who I can say from personal experience really knows what she's doing, once told me that excitement can feel a lot like nervousness. I'd wager there's a mix of the two going on in me right now, as I try not to over prepare while simultaneously worrying about not being adequately prepared. I've been reading everything I can find about my subject, but the first interview, I tend to just to let it go wherever it will, because there is still everything to discover. Still, I will need to offer up an entry point, and I often don't know the right entry till I'm sitting across from the person.

This woman has a fascinating life, especially the early part—the narrative potential is in already in plain view. But I will have to find the personal stories behind the public view of her later life. That part isn't obvious yet. We're meeting in a restaurant tomorrow, which isn't always ideal for taping or for wading into emotional terrain. But for the first meeting, I prefer to let the subject choose the venue. I try to go with the flow, help establish comfort and trust in what is really a very intrusive process. Then maybe we can go from there to figure out better venues for delving deeper and excavating a life.

Yeah, I think I'm definitely excited. But now I have to go and pack, which is always so stressful, I'm not exactly sure why.




Thursday, April 4, 2019

If a tree falls in a ghost forest does it make a sound?

If no one knows you've posted, is it worth posting? If no one reads what you write, should you stop writing? I had no idea how much the desire to keep blogging was fueled by the opportunity to have continuing conversations about our lives with people I have connected with here, people I can truly say I have come to love. I can still comment on their posts of course, which I appreciate, but now the conversation feels a little one sided, no longer a sharing so much as a responding. But I don't know what to do about that as it became clear to me that, because of my collaborative work crafting memoirs for people who have a certain profile in the world, I need to be a ghost. Which meant making my blog private. I don't like it one bit. It feels lonely around here now. Perhaps it is just a matter of rethinking my reasons for maintaining this blog. Perhaps it has to now truly become a record primarily for myself, and no longer a way of courting the abundant rewards of daring to be known to strangers, who over time become dear friends.

There are so many people I still miss, because they stopped blogging. Many of them I meet in other places, now—on Instagram, where our dear Tearful Dishwasher still posts his deep reflections on the nature of being human, and on Twitter, where beloved Brittany shares what's true for her in 280 characters or less. I am grateful not to have lost these friends, the way I lost Deirdre, for example, and so many others. When my friend Steve Reed stopped blogging for more than a year, I was surprised at how bereft I felt. Steve was one of my first blogging friends, and my first clue of how real the connections we make here can be. Steve returned to blogging at a moment when he was completely uprooting his life, moving with his love to London, leaving behind a former life as a reporter in New York City, to work as a librarian at an international school. I jumped right back on the bandwagon, thrilled to find him again.

Yet I wonder, if I were stop posting for a while, would I lose all my friendships here? Are many of them already withering as we speak, or are our bonds made of studier stuff? I likely won't stop posting, though, because this space is still an outlet for me. And so I will continue to blog, trying to think of it as I did in the early days, a place to write without restraint, to keep fresh the practice of putting words together, to tell my story for my own record, to breathe into the void and find worth in this endeavor simply for itself. Of course, I will welcome those who happen by with arms spread wide, and love them for being here. But I can also see this as an opportunity of sorts. Nothing has to make objective sense, like the photo I'm posting here, of me at the hair salon under the space ship dryer after getting my hair cut, with my messenger bag on my lap under the super cape. Like really, why? Just because.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Nipsey Hussle


I hadn't really tuned in to rap artist Nipsey Hussle's greatness, not until he was shot to death two days ago outside his clothing store in South Central Los Angeles and my social media feed was suddenly full of people expressing overwhelming grief at his loss. The man was beloved. Raised by his grandma, he made it through violent teenage gang years, taught himself to code, and built his own computer so he could record his own music because he couldn't afford studio fees. He manufactured and marketed his mixtapes on a brilliant scarcity model that had people buying them for up to a thousand dollars a pop, and when he started to make money, he didn't move out of the hood, but instead reinvested in it, opening STEM centers where youth could learn science and tech skills, and opening businesses to employ and uplift his community.


He also underwrote a huge outdoor art installation in South LA to showcase artists from his community. I saw some of the pieces when I was in LA in February, but didn't know whose brainchild the show was. Nipsey was on the rise, nominated for a Grammy this year for his album Victory Lap, and newly married to his longtime love, actress Lauren London, with whom he was featured in a GQ spread in March. An hour before he was shot, he tweeted "Having strong enemies is a blessing." Now everyone from big name stars to community activists to everyday folk who knew him, or knew of him, is singing his praise and mourning his loss. It just seemed that I should pause for a moment and note that Nipsey Hussle, an Eritrean American who was born Ermias Joseph Asghedom 33 years ago, was here, and he used his brief life to do all the good he could, for all the people he could, and now he is gone. Rest in power, brother.