Starting Today


The Novel of My Healing

Chapter 1: Bits of Light

There is nothing quite as enticing to a writer as a blank page. To THIS writer, in any case. There, in the space, is infinite possibility. And the space, after all, is one’s life. That is a Truth.

This writer’s name was Mary, and she was writing her life, from that point on.

And so she awoke, on this first day of many days and years, with bleary eyes and aching bones, and thought about becoming a Christian Scientist. Seriously. She was severely disappointed in allopathy and its slap-on cures, and almost equally so in the alternatives, with their regimented diets and their litanies of herbs for this and minerals for that.

Her bed, in the cherished apartment she must soon leave behind, was tucked into a corner of a spacious, high-ceilinged bedroom. Three windows, wide and tall, formed a sort of arc on the south side of the Victorian house, and her bed angled out from the easternmost of these, so that she got the morning sun. She’d awakened late, so the sun was full on her back. It was early May, and the sun was warm and soporific, so she lay there and meditated on it, on sunlight, on how it contained bits, photons or whatever, and on how Divine Light contained the spirits of us all, and they are wholly love, which heals.

She found herself analyzing this string of thoughts and went back to her breathing. She had always enjoyed Jack Kornfield’s particular instruction about how to lead oneself back to meditation when one is led away — “like a puppy,” he explained in his sweet, kind voice, “gently, not scolding or berating.” She wasn’t sure those were the precise words, but that was the concept, certainly.

She inhaled sunlight or Divine Light — light, anyway — and found herself not quite ever finding the rhythm of it, so she quit after ten minutes; more accurately, she set meditation into the background and thought about the day, the blank page upon which she would write. Mentally she wrote, in fanciful handwriting, “I Am Magnificent.”

Magnificently she climbed over the detritus that was her corner of the bedroom. Magnificently, and almost upright, she creaked into the kitchen to make coffee. Magnificently she stood a little taller with the intention of washing every single dish as the water boiled — not merely, however, washing dishes but creating something beautiful, as only a sunny, tidy kitchen can be beautiful. Magnificently she chanted, silently, “Creating beauty. Creating beauty….”

Bam! The earthly elements would kick at her just then, at the very moment she remembered that she had no coffee to pour into the basket. Her fingers ached, her back cramped, her eyes burned. It took less than thirty seconds to stir Crystal Light into a quart of water, slice half a lime and plop it into the drink — to prove to herself that she was still magnificent — and carry it back to bed. She punched in Elaine’s phone number, reminded Elaine’s answering machine about the check from Susie and the need for cigarettes and coffee, and hung up the phone, which rang not five minutes later. It was Elaine calling back with the offer of a twenty-dollar loan, which Mary pounced on, and within fifteen minutes she was on her way to Avanza. Cigarettes were a powerful motivator.

The ten-minute walk was always an adventure in multiculturalism. On any given day she might encounter Hispanics, Somalis, Pakistanis, and hybrid Americans; people obviously poor, people less obviously poor, and the odd not-poor person, going by appearances; and people of all ages except the very elderly. At 63, Mary seldom saw anyone older than she was, on the way to Avanza or in the store itself, which was more nearly monocultural than the surrounding neighborhood inasmuch as it advertised itself as a Mexican grocery store.

Its being a moderate-pain-and-fatigue day, she didn’t tarry at the store, expeditiously using her EBT card to pick up necessary groceries and employing Elaine’s cash for cigarettes and dish soap. She ended up with three bags that were heavier than the optimal burden but that didn’t bang against her knees. Once, in the winter, the day after a snowstorm, she had been walking home from Avanza seriously overloaded with kneebanging bright yellow plastic bags, and about halfway home she’d simply sunken into the snow. From fatigue, discouragement, and the inability to gain any purchase on the slippery sidewalk, she’d stayed there, prepared to die a block and a half from home, until she felt one of the bags being pulled gently out of her grasp. A woman about her age was helping her up, gesturing in the direction of her house and saying something in Spanish.

Mary said something back in Spanish that, she hoped, indicated that she’d be willing to buy some of the tamales the woman was carrying, but for all she knew she had offered to adopt the woman’s seven grandchildren and train them to be elephant-handlers, that’s how tentative was her command of the Spanish language. In any case, she made it home with the woman’s help, gave the woman ten dollars, accepted a bag half-full of tamales, dragged herself and groceries and tamales upstairs, and thanked God for the sidewalk tamale trade.

But this was May, the weather was perfect, and the burden was manageable. The next-door neighbors had a young cottonwood in full leaf, though the leaves were small yet, lighter and brighter than they would become. Mary stopped to watch them. She loved the cottonwood as perhaps no other green, growing thing, because of the dancing leaves. In a breeze, however light, they fluttered gracefully, shiny and green on top and silver on the bottom, and the effect had always delighted her, especially in the house on Fontenelle Boulevard, where the mature cottonwood had been just outside her bedroom window.

Sighing, she walked the remaining way to her own house, turned into the yard, climbed the steps to the front porch, retrieved the circulars from her mailbox, set the bags down, unlocked the front door, shoved it open, struggled to pull all the bags in before the door slammed back, returned Patrick’s breezy hello as he steamed through, outbound, “to the slave pits,” whatever that meant, and heaved mail, bags, and purse up a final flight of stairs and through her own apartment door. Not a bad outing, she thought as she took to her bed with fresh coffee and a book, but she would pay for it later that day.

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