12 Epiphanies

viii. We have an impulse to share with others.

Kate still faced the question of what to do for actual Christmas, the day itself. With the apartment feeling more cheerful, she didn’t want to spend it alone.

Perhaps she could volunteer. She imagined herself, wearing her bright green sweater and the cap with the pom-pom, serving in the line of a soup kitchen, which, of course, on that day would be offering a savory feast. “Have seconds,” she’d say, with a smile, and the old person (always, in her imagination, it was a grizzled old man that she served) would smile back, his eyes twinkling. She could feel the spread of warmth.

But when she called the Salvation Army, they had no slots for volunteers that day. Neither did Four Corners. Nor United Way. Nor Kitchens Not Borders.

“It’s this way all over,” said the director of Our Home. “We see plenty of volunteers over the holidays. It’s nice, of course. Not complaining. But it’s after the holidays we need help. You really want to contribute? Come back some dreary Friday in February when everyone’s forgotten about us.”

Kate promised she would, and she marked down her calendar on January 25 to call the director back so she could schedule some times to help there.

But that still left her with this Christmas Day without a plan.

One of the cooking channels broadcast “A Very Holiday Feast,” and she thought it would be fun to cook a spread, with cranberries, wild rice, roast veggies–the works.

Her apartment building was bound to have other lonely souls–Bertha, for example, if she wasn’t spending it with her son. Or what about that nice anonymous person who’d left the boxes of ornaments?

She could do something similar.

What if she put out notices on the bulletin boards on every landing, inviting neighbors to her feast?

First she wrote a thank you note to post for the kind person who’d left the decorations. Then, she drew up six colorful invitations, with pictures of dancing butternut squashes, singing cranberries, smiling onions, and frolicking heads of garlic.

“Come to a Feast!”

When she checked the next morning, she found a note scrawled in blue felt-point pen beneath her thank you note.

“You’re welcome,” it said.

In the same hand-writing, with the same pen, on a different scrap of paper, were the words:

Take a moment to breathe. You will only have this breath once. But the moment in which you experience this breath will connect you to every moment of breathing in and breathing out. Breathe. It is all you need to do.

And the same blue pen also wrote “I’ll be there!” on her feast-invitation. Underneath that, in red pen, someone else had written, “So will I!”

It looked like Kate was going to be cooking a feast for her neighbors. This Christmas, she wouldn’t spend alone.

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12 Epiphanies

iii. Moments aren’t repeatable.

The next day, at the end of her jog along the wharf, Kate stopped at the square. Another musician played, and she anticipated experiencing transcendence again.

She’d woken up happy, hopeful that, even if painful emotions arose, she could face them, “turn towards” them, and then it would be OK. Maybe she would even get through the Christmas season and the week after, before New Years.

She drank deeply from her runner’s high, relishing the tickle of sweat thick with dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, down the small of her back. She was primed for a repeat of yesterday’s performance.

But this violinist presented an entirely different experience.

The tones his instrument produced were choked, strangled, stretched tight until they veered off the harmonic and into unsettling dissonance.

He didn’t turn towards; he turned away, and Kate had to pace the courtyard to try to find that sense of peace again.

They’d strung up lights in the courtyard–pink, this year, for some reason. Pink was the new white. When she’d been a child, her father brought her to the city for a performance of “The Nutcracker,” and afterwards, they came to this very courtyard where a 30-foot Douglas fir stood, strung with white lights and thousands and thousands of paper cranes.

“You see, Kate,” said her father, “it’s a peace tree. Even at Christmas, which to you is all about candy, fancy dances, sugar-plum trees, and gifts, we think of peace. That’s all it is, really, though to you, it is all about excitement.”

There was no tree in the courtyard this year, and the lights were pink, and the fallen leaves still dotted the cement, and the violinist grimaced and screeched out soured tunes, and it was nothing like it had been when she was a child, or even yesterday, when she had tasted the peace of the clouds, the wind, and all-that-is.

But maybe, it was OK, for it was a moment, too, even if a moment unlike others, and even if it was filled with noise. It was filled with something else, too, though Kate, on that morning, could not identify what that something-else was, a something that was both familiar and foreign simultaneously.

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Eight Pieces: Patterns

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Kristal woke in the gray before dawn.

The room felt chilled, and the cold reach behind her eyes, behind her heart, settling into her lungs.

It wasn’t cold, she realized, when she sat up. It was pain. The room wasn’t cold–she was.

Clouds rolled in from the coast, settling over the mountains, bringing the scent of sea and rain.

This was the feeling of pain.

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Healing didn’t happen in a straight line, she realized. It doesn’t resolve in a day, a few weeks, a month. You can’t wipe it away, no matter how much paint you apply to a canvas.

Or can you?

She took a quick tally of how many canvases she’d painted so far. Seven. That was nothing.

What had she done before, in college, when that long-haired boy with a slanted smile and eyes that hid when he laughed–what had she done when he left her? How had she buried those dreams she’d made with him?

This wasn’t the first time she’d felt this cold inside.

She’d written poems, she remembered, about rain boots caked in mud; vines in winter, spiked with thorns.

She remembered a line about her heart, a blackberry left, shriveled and molding, on the vine.

After twenty poems, warmth returned. And there had been happy moments during the nights of twenty poems.

One evening, unable to sleep, incapable of focusing on translating an assigned passage from The Iliad,  she took her moleskin notebook and a black pen that splattered ink like a monk’s quill to the campus coffee shop.

Peter Beagle was there, singing and playing his guitar, stopping now and then to recite a passage from The Last Unicorn.

She fell in love with him, for that evening only, and while his voice wound through her, and now and then he caught her eye, where she sat in her solitary corner and smiled, she realized, yes. She could love again.

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Behind her stood the paintings of the yellow bike and the single tree.

She wasn’t meant to heal in an instant.

She was meant to discover the patterns deep within her, those that led her towards others, and those that drove her away.

Her stay was a little more than half over. She still had weeks to find her way back.

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She took the day off from painting to explore.

Parrots filled the jungle canopy with splashes of red and blue, as bright as their voices were loud.

In the plaza, a speckled gecko hunted crickets near the planters.

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A rainbow arced over the falls.

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In a moment of awe, she felt that the air within her was the same as the air without. She lifted her head, spread her arms–this was the joy she’d known as a child when the broad oaks called and hawks circled on thermals overhead.

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She played her violin against the percussion of the cascades, a large iguana her only audience.

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When she set down her instrument, the stillness of the pool spread out, beckoning towards the coast, sixty miles away.

A single lantern shone, suspended from a pole on the dock. Though it was day, the lantern’s light was brighter even than the sparkles of sun on the green pool.

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This is a moment of happiness, she realized. The music of her violin still resonated within, and she watched the quiet water until the notes faded. Soak in it. Happiness is here.

In the evening, she tried to capture the patterns of light and dark at the edge of the clearing.

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The next day, under a cloudless sky, she layered blue, and black, and green over the empty canvas.

His life goes on, like this twisting black line. Her life spreads, like the sky.  There is no merging, but the context of everything, of life, of the green breath of living, offers moments. And that is all we need. No more. No less.

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Author’s note: For a poem about this painting, see Kristal, Day 2 of my GloPoWriMo project.