Am I unique?

It’s Tuesday. Up at 5:30, I left the house at 6:15am in the dark. When will the daylight return to guide me down the path to my garage? My declining night vision tends to make the voyage even more of an adventure. Add a couple of steps plus depth-of-field challenging bifocals, and one realizes why there are so many old folks who fall and break into irreparable pieces.

At the athletic club the usual assortment of fitness seekers populated the treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and other means of self-improvement. About equally divided between males and females, all strove to achieve nirvana, or maybe just lose a few pounds.

I admit to enjoying an added benefit of club membership that is conspicuously absent from club brochures. Politely gazing upon lovely women brightens my morning. Looking without leering is an art that requires practice, patience and sensitivity. After seven decades I’m still practicing.

I finished my workout and Robert taped my shoulder hoping to relieve a mild ache. I showered, shaved and went to my next stop, Java and Joe. The coffee shop offers good coffee and mediocre pastries, many of which appear to have been left in the sun too long. I ordered my usual dark roast coffee in a medium cup, put some Splenda and cream in it, and took my usual seat outside the cafe.

It was a bright morning, sharply edged and a bit chilly. One of the outdoor tables housed a half-dozen regulars and their dogs. Five coffee drinkers are attentive listeners while one, as is his custom, occupies the speaker’s rostrum and pontificates loudly and at length. Knowledgeable, he speaks on a wide variety of subjects citing facts and figures to bolster his arguments. I admit to finding it tiresome. Or perhaps, feeling left out, I demean the speaker to assuage my feelings and wonder, do others commit the same sin?

I sit removed from the coffee klatch, checking my email, reading the news and watching passersby. Occasionally someone I know will arrive and we do the usual hello, how are you, and have a nice day. All too infrequently, someone sits with me and we share more than pleasantries. At those times, I am happy and impervious to the emanations of the adjacent table for six.

My next stop was the Livingston bereavement group held at the Help of Ojai west campus. I began attending these sessions shortly after Ila died, more than a year ago. Originally held twice a month, they are now offered every week. It’s a chance to share feelings with others who have lost a loved one. Some participants are regulars. Some start but drop out. Others attend intermittently. I have mixed reactions to the meetings. Some produce glorious highs while others leave me low. All the sessions, both high and low, teach me something.

This week eight participants gathered around the conference room table. Seven women and me. I felt surrounded. Why so many women and so few of me? Perhaps it’s because husbands usually die before their spouses. Or perhaps men are too reluctant to share their feelings. In either event, I felt unique.

The afternoon progressed into evening without incident. Tuesday is yoga night. I’m enrolled in five sessions focused on people like me who have little, if any, exposure to the mysteries of yoga. Originating in Northern India over five thousand years ago, yoga is a secular, multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States.

Thirty-seven million people practice yoga in the U.S., nearly double that of seven years ago. Eighty percent of them are women; why so? Excuses include, yoga isn’t a decent workout; it’s too touchy-feely; you have to be flexible to do it; men’s bodies just aren’t built for pretzel-like poses. This evening, at Ojai Yoga Shala, I was the only man in the company of seven women.

My Tuesday nearly over, I was beginning to feel unique. The last man on earth, surrounded by an Amazon race of women that only needed one man to satisfy its basic need to maintain the species. A herculean task indeed, one which I was prepared to assume…for the good of mankind, of course.

Yoga is fun, so they say

Went to a yoga class last night.

I decided to try it again after some gentle encouragement from Jackie. She is a yoga fanatic. Much like my daily habit of visiting the athletic club gym, Jackie lives and breathes yoga. A day without it affects her much like a coffee addict who has failed to meet her daily quota of caffeine at Java and Joe…only worse, much worse.

Our first date was a private yoga class at Jackie’s house. I struggled to achieve poses that for her were second nature. It was as though my aging ligaments had been replaced with inelastic twelve-gauge wire. My back hurt. My ego was bruised. I was a failure looking for a graceful exit. A tough first date.

During the last year I have tried to redeem myself. I participated in Robert’s yoga class at the club. Robert is an excellent trainer who teaches yoga to punish people like me who think they can master the art. He takes no prisoners. I spent the better part of his class watching others do things that seemed second nature. Attempting to emulate their contortions left me several minutes behind the thirty more experienced participants. I drew menacing stares from the women on either side of me as I violated their space, awkwardly fumbled with bolsters, blocks and straps, and made impermissible contact with their body parts. I was the poster boy of yoga, reaching out for help and release from a self-imposed sentence. It was the longest hour of my life. I promised myself never again.

Like all other resolutions, events conspire to make a mockery of them. The athletic club houses a bevy of yogis, predominantly women, who enter the facility with their personalized yoga mats tucked under their arms. They are serious about their yoga; especially their lungs.  For them breathing is not just a way to stay alive, it is a religion that puts one in spiritual contact with mind and body. Failure to breathe properly dooms one to eternal purgatory.

Over the last seven decades, I have developed some familiarity with breathing. Never thought about it much. It either happens, or it doesn’t. That laissez-faire attitude began to crumble when Robert became my trainer. Lifting weights on Tuesday and Thursday required a change of thinking. Breathing is no longer a mindless exercise. Lift and breathe in. Relax and breathe out. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Or is it breathe in through the mouth when lifting and out through nose when relaxing? Sorting through these choices occasionally causes me to hold my breath and black out, making further yoga participation highly questionable.

Yet I have ongoing exposure to yoga in every form, necessitated by the coordination of my schedule with Jackie’s. It would be easy if her sessions were limited to one yoga venue. There are a multitude of yoga studios in Ojai. Add Ventura and it multiplies ten-fold. Selection of the studio-of-the-day is further compounded by the choice of yoga instructor within the studio. Evaluations of the various instructors are at times as intense as the awarding of a Nobel Prize. The focus of the chosen instructor’s class is the final ingredient in the selection process. Healthy Joints, Yoga RX, Postural Restoration, Yin Yoga and Chakra Flow (in multiple levels) hardly scratch the surface of the available flavors of the day. A recent arrival, particularly appealing to someone with lizard-like skin, is Hot Yoga. Locked in a room super-heated to 110 degrees, yoga takes on the punishing characteristics heretofore only available on Devil’s Island.

When not doing yoga, one is often seriously absorbed in discussing it. Community newcomers offering their own unique specialties are often the subject du jour. The reasons causing the departure of old studios are often dissected and, at times, lamented. Yoga instructors are microscopically investigated and, at times, discarded as over the hill, out-of-touch and attitudinally defective. Others are embraced on the same order as the messiah.

So, much like the pastor’s wife, I am involved with but not participating in yoga. However, being immersed vicariously tends to wear away my resistance. Always seeking ways for self-improvement, and with Jackie’s continuing search for the holy grail, I found a Start Yoga five session course at Ojai Yoga Shala. Session one was last evening.

I arrived and was welcomed by the instructor, Alana Mitnick. She scanned her attendance sheet and identified me as Fred. Not difficult, as I was the only male in attendance. Four women rounded out the class, none of whom had yoga experience exceeding my own. I was also the oldest participant, giving me a built-in handicap in the event that I messed up. This was going to be my coming out party.

I collected my equipment, mats, bolsters, blocks and straps. So far so good. On to breathing, something I had practiced in anticipation of the class. Moving my hands up and down my body, while erotic, did little to reveal the mysteries that surely lay ahead. Lifting my tailbone, thrusting my pelvis and arching my back seemed all in a day’s work. Feel anything yet, like a revelation?

Leg and arm stretch, bending and kneeling, balancing and rocking. My ability to earn an A+ was only limited by my ability to hear Alana’s instructions. A lovely young lady with Mother Teresa’s warmth, she was blessed with a gentle voice. A voice that limited hearing much of what she was saying. Surreptitiously spying on my neighbors’ poses filled the gaps.

Alana’s long day at the mats revealed itself when she regularly praised the group without opening her eyes to look at us. Despite this chink in the armor, her lithe movements made me yearn for similar results, knowing full well that I probably would not live long enough to emulate her.

The session ended well beyond its advertised time. I did not celebrate its end like someone who can’t wait for a bad movie to be over. I had neither soiled nor disgraced myself. Neither had I found Nirvana. But I had found enough to bring me back next week.

The Temptations

It was Sunday and I was on my way to Nancy’s house. My daughter and I bought tickets to a series of plays at the Ahmanson Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Enjoying each other’s company as much or more than the plays, we had just ponied up for a second season of six performances. It’s become a father-daughter thing, where conversation often outshines the entertainment at the theater.

The Sunday matinees start at one and are generally populated with a sea of gray-haired attendees.  The early start time lets us get back to Nancy’s Calabasas home, where we can have dinner at a nearby restaurant before I get back on the road for the seventy-five-minute drive to Ojai. Kevin, my faux son-in-law, partners up with us for dinner, sometimes at my favorite Jewish deli, Brent’s in Westlake.

I left home around nine that morning and, as has become my custom, stopped to visit Ila’s grave at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park. It was going to be a beautiful day. The early morning fog had cleared to a bright low hanging sun that challenged my eyes with its high beams. I bought a pretty bouquet of multi-colored flowers at the park office and brought them to the grave site. After placing them in the holder, I stood over her memorial tablet and read what was etched into its simple surface…I love you up to the sky…and beyond. Words that Ila and I had spoken to each other hundreds of times, often part of our bedtime ritual. Sometimes I’d begin the phrase and she would end it. Other times, Ila would start and I’d finish. Simple and loving.

I told Ila about the events of the past month, how much I missed her, and about those life altering events that were slowly changing me. Sometimes uncomfortable for me to say, and maybe for her to hear. I finished and placed a stone on the memorial tablet, a custom used by Jews to announce that someone had visited and remembered her.

Back on the 101, it took about thirty minutes to get to Nancy’s. She and Kevin live in a hillside home that has great views. Grandson Morey, out on his own now, grew up there. Until a few months ago, his voice was on the answering machine with a message that included the home phone number. When he was about six, we went on a family outing where we helped him memorize that phone number. It also became forever etched in my brain. Almost twenty years later, whenever I’d leave a message, Morey’s voice reminded me of that trip.

After an omelet fashioned by Nancy, we got in her car and she drove to the Ahmanson. The theater is in a complex that includes the Ahmanson, the Disney Concert Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper Forum. A formidable group of venues that attracts thousands of visitors to downtown Los Angeles. It also creates mind numbing traffic jams, frayed nerves, much honking and the occasional son of a bitch.

It took forty-five minutes to get to the theater and another forty minutes to get into the parking structure. You’d think that the great minds who built the complex would have made access to it more than just a contest between frustrated drivers; all looking for a way that improves their chances relative to their competition. Parking the car without damage to it or our sanity, we had about five minutes to escalate up six levels in the garage, present our tickets, pee, and get to our seats.

The main seating area seems designed to take full advantage of the mass hysteria that would be caused by a fire or natural disaster. Each row has about fifty seats and there is no center aisle. Getting to our centrally located seats 24 and 25 meant carefully side-stepping down the aisle to avoid crushing the toes, purses and other paraphernalia of those already seated. Excuse me, ooops, sorry, my bad. Thoughts of potentially repeating the process at intermission made my blood run cold.

The play began. I was mightily impressed by the set and, more importantly, the performers. It was as though dancing and singing came as naturally to them as breathing does to me…but with less effort. My god, I thought, there must be thousands of men and women as talented as the ones set before us. Just not as lucky.

At 76, Otis Williams, who formed the Temptations, is the only living member of the original quintet. There have been twenty-three reincarnations of the group since its 1960 origin in Detroit. Its blues music set the gold standard for this genre. The Ahamnson performance featured short clips of songs that included Baby Love, Gloria, My Girl, You Can’t Hurry Love, You’re My Everything, and twenty more.

The original Temptations suffered the usual indignities of too much fame, too little family time, and too much temptation. Blues is an understatement of their sad, lonely and loving music. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the performance came when super talented Ephraim Sykes, playing the role of the bespectacled, ego-driven David Ruffin, sang I Wish It Would Rain. A song that chronicles the emotions of a man who has lost his woman…

Sunshine, blue skies, please go away
A girl has found another and gone away
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom
So day after day I stay locked up in my room
I know to you it might sound strange
But I wish it would rain, oh yeah…

The first act was long, prompting an intermission trip to the men’s room. Men are lucky, at least when it comes to peeing in public places. Pee, zip, flush. Wrestle with the decision to wash or not to wash, and we’re done. Women either biologically or due to the fashion of the day, or both, require more time and more space; neither of which is in abundance at the Ahmanson. However, in contrast to the farce at the parking lot, the coming and going of women through the restroom is wonderfully choreographed. Attendants are stationed along the line, monitoring the availability of toilets and preventing overzealous she-devils from crashing the line…no exceptions. Bob Fosse would be impressed.

Fearful that we might do an encore of our earlier feet stomping performance, we returned to our seats quickly. More songs poured forth from the stage adding to our delight. When the show ended, no one needed prompting to stand and applaud.

Exiting the parking lot proved uneventful as did the ride home. We talked about the show and its ability to chronicle life’s happiness and sorrows. With music that makes you smile, relate to and cry. Music that makes you remember what was. And what can be when you’re lucky enough to say You’re My Everything.

When my way was dark, and troubles were near
Your love provided the light so I could see, girl
Just knowing your love was near when times were bad
Kept the world from closing in on me…

I stopped for some borscht

My sweet neighbor, Sue, called me a couple of days ago to tell me that she had just made some beet borscht from local, organically grown beets. Sue does stuff like that and is always sure to call me with an invitation to partake in her latest culinary masterpiece. Borscht is just the half of it. Her other delights include warm, fatty chicken soup, designed to nourish the soul as well as the body.

“Come on by anytime for the borscht” she said. I finished driving the Help of Ojai bus around noon that Friday and, remembering her offer, decided to stop by Sue’s on my way home. I sent her a text message that announced by imminent arrival.

It was warm and sunny when I got to Sue’s. I knocked on the door twice but got no response. It was unlocked. I looked through the glass in the door and noticed a beckoning pint bottle of borscht sitting on the kitchen counter. I opened the door a crack. “Hi Sue, it’s Fred, come by for the borscht.” All quiet. Thinking that Sue had left it for me, I stepped in, snatched up the deep red bottle of cold elixir and drove home. Visions of a dollop of sour cream floating on top of the borscht flew through my mind.

I carried the bottle into my house. The phone rang before I could set it down. “Hello Fred. Did you take the borscht?” I told Sue that I still had it in my hand. Then she said that she had been home, but had been tending to Ralph, her husband. He had fainted and fallen. Now in bed, Ralph couldn’t remember how he got there. Fearful of what might have caused the episode, it prompted a trip to the emergency room. The usual tests, accompanied by the emotional tension of waiting for the results, revealed nothing that rest and chicken soup couldn’t make right.

Ralph is two months older than me. That fact is not lost on me as I consider that there, but for the grace of god, go I. And I’m already well beyond my biblical four score and ten. My friends are aging and experiencing problems similar to the one suffered by Ralph. Although I can logically understand the arrival of these maladies, it’s a shock when it happens.

Minor events, an ache, a pain, a spot on my skin that appears overnight, a stomach that behaves oddly, all give rise to concerns that are overblown and, yet, disturbing. The plethora of TV ads including pills, elixirs, catheters and other medical equipment including walkers, scooters and escalators that ferry one up the staircase were, at one time, of no interest to me. Now I pay a bit more attention, glad that I have no steps in my home.

This flies in the face of how I feel. My endurance has increased as evidenced by schlepping up and down Ojai’s Shelf Road trail. My strength has increased as demonstrated by my newly acquired Charles Atlas biceps. I can, if I wasn’t such a scaredy cat, qualify for the light welterweight boxing division. I have no debilitating chronic illness. And, not to brag, my sexual prowess is legendary…sort of.

A number of years ago while driving the Help of Ojai bus, I delivered a wheelchair passenger to the hospital. As I was putting up the chair lift, a local physician stopped to chat. He commended me for volunteering for this work. And then he reminded me that we all walk down the same path. His admonition has remained with me as a reminder that time is fickle and limited.

I know that today’s good health can become tomorrow’s burden. That my ability to tie my shoes can be delegated to another. That my trips up the Shelf Road trail can be traded in for a scooter trip to Rainbow Bridge. That the Help of Ojai bus may come for me.

And that’s why I have little sympathy for those who wonder why I’m in a rush. Why tomorrow isn’t good enough. Why procrastination is my enemy. Why what I shoulda done is not in my vocabulary. But sometimes I forget and look back on a week that flashed by much too quickly. A week that had no defining moment. And then I’m reminded of Ed Scanlon.

Years ago, when Ed was a passenger on my bus, I had decided to take photos of my clients. One Friday I pulled up at St. Joes where Ed was living. When I asked Ed’s permission to take his picture, he readily agreed and asked me for a copy. I asked about the purpose of the copy and he said it was for his obituary. Strange request, I thought. I took his photo. It sat in my camera for several weeks. I’ll print it for Ed tomorrow, I thought.

One Saturday morning I turned to page two of the Ojai Valley News. The page where they display the obituaries. And there was Ed. His photo was unceremoniously clipped from a group shot and was so awful that, at first, I couldn’t believe it was Ed. But it was. If only I had promptly done what he had asked, Ed would have looked dashing instead of like yesterday’s toast.

I have no more time to procrastinate or worry about when my health will begin to falter. I know it will and I will deal with it then. But now I’ll eat my borscht with a dollop of sour cream. I won’t let it spoil, like some dream.

What year is this?

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, was yesterday. Literally translated, it is the head of the year.

Jewish holidays, the anniversary of a death, and other events are based on the lunar, rather than the solar, or secular, calendar. For someone observing the event based on the lunar calendar, Rosh Hashanah, like all Jewish holidays, falls on a different secular date every year. This date may vary by several weeks at summer’s end. Hence, we Jews say things like “the holiday is early this year” or “goodness, Rosh Hashanah is late this year.”

But, according to Rabbi Mike, it really depends on your point of view. When I tell him that Rosh Hashanah is early this year, he says “No it’s not, it’s on the same day and month that it was last year, the first of Tishrei.” For good measure, he also notes that the year is 5779, not 2018.

There are twelve months including the month of Tishrei in the Jewish year. Each is thirty days long, except for one month. The determination of Jewish years began somewhere in the middle ages. The Torah wasn’t particularly helpful in solving the question of when did the world begin. So the sages used some fancy footwork. Their Ingredients included the Torah-stipulated ages of the patriarchs, the rise and fall of kingdoms, seasonal occurrences, and gut feelings. So here we are in 5779.

The Jewish lunar calendar has been used for hundreds of years, and if it were not occasionally adjusted to match up with the secular or solar calendar, our seasonal events would soon be totally out of whack. The fourth of July would be in December and Hannukah would be in the summer. To address the issue, Jews occasionally add a day or subtract a day from some months. Jewish leap years can have as many as 385 days, or an extra month.

The secular, or Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, has its own, though less complicated, eccentricities.  Gregory’s invention largely replaced the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. The Gregorian calendar has 365 days with an extra day every four years (leap year) except in years divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400. Keep that in mind at your New Year’s Eve party in 2100.

Not everyone has adopted either the Jewish or Gregorian calendar. For example, based on the ancient Coptic calendar, the Ethiopian Calendar is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, due to alternate calculations in determining the date of the birth of Jesus. For those who yearn to be younger, take a trip to Addis Ababa.

In spite of the calendar’s quirks, Jackie and I managed to get to the Temple on the right day and at the right time. This was a special day in many ways. For me, it centers on the friends who gather with us. Friends who may only visit the Temple on Rosh Hashanah and those who are regulars. The day is warmed by the presence of all.

Conversation with the Kaplan grandchildren who are in Temple for the first time since the death of their grandfather. Alan, the Temple president, sweeping the crumbs from the floor during the blessing of bread and wine. Welcoming our new Rabbi who, in an earlier life, was not Jewish. John, who graciously offered me his kipah, or skullcap, that I had admired a few weeks ago. Listening to Phil simply and eloquently read poetry from the prayer-book. Thanking the choir members for their dedication to making the day richer.

And Jackie, who repeatedly practiced the blessings said when you are called to the Torah for an Aliyah, an honor reserved for one who has shown special devotion to serving the Temple and its congregants. In recognition of our special relationship, and especially sweet, was that Jackie and I were asked to offer these blessings together.

As proof of her penchant for leaving nothing to chance, Jackie had printed the blessings and downloaded an audio recording. I was also drafted in the preparations and practiced the blessings with her at home, in the car and while we walked the streets of Ojai.

On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, Jackie donned a black, sleeveless dress. Tempting but appropriate, she shone. Topping it off with daughter Sammy’s bat mitzvah tallit, or prayer shawl, she was immaculate, lovely and ready.

At Temple, Jackie sat anxiously next to me and awaited our Aliyah. Forsaking the laminated blessing  sheet available to us in front of the ark, she tightly clutched her now wrinkled, printed blessings, as though someone was going to snatch them from her. I could hear her heart beat.

Third in a line of those with an Aliyah, we were at last called to the pulpit. The congregation quieted. Jackie touched the corner of her tallit to the Torah portion being read. And then took the same corner to her lips. We chanted the first blessing. The Torah portion was read by Rabbi Mike. We chanted the final blessing…We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who has given us a Torah of truth, implanting within us eternal life. We praise You, O God, Giver of the Torah.

We went back to our seats. I smiled. She smiled. It didn’t matter whether Rosh Hashanah was early this year.

Home for sale

My home has been for sale for almost four months.

I had an offer two days after it was listed. But it fell through and left me disappointed. Then someone from Los Angeles made a sight-unseen offer that was contingent on getting a County permit to keep a rhinoceros on the property. I should have known right then that selling this house was going to be long,  tough and occasionally crazy.

I have mixed emotions about selling. Ila and I built the house almost twenty years ago. The grandkids grew up loving it.  Granddaughter Bella, now twenty and statuesque, was four when she swam in the decorative fountain. A mean feat considering it’s only eighteen inches deep and four feet in diameter. Grandson Isaac, now completing his senior year in college, became a champion bocce ball player on what was once an expanse of cool, green lawn. Grandson Morey, born prematurely around the time of the Northridge earthquake, became a capable photographer using the surrounding mountains as a majestic backdrop.

Holidays were celebrated at the house. Our friends and relatives made full use of the spare bedrooms. The kids, in turn, began inviting their friends to spend long weekends. We became de facto bed and breakfast providers, enjoying every minute of it. Smiles on the faces of our guests were payment in full. Navigating the winding, narrow road up the mountain to a place of natural beauty was never a problem for young hearts and bodies.

When we built the house, some eight miles from the center of Ojai, we thought that our trips to town would be limited to once a week. We thought that the seclusion and serenity of the house would more than compensate for the loss of daily exposure to people and city sounds. But we soon found that we missed the hustle bustle, and our visits to town turned from weekly to daily. We enjoyed the trips, filled with companionship and the beauty of what nature had set before us as we traveled through the Upper Ojai, down the winding Dennison Grade, through the East End and, finally, Ojai itself.

Aging was inevitable and limiting. The kids had busy lives to lead. The grandkids grew into young men and women. Our friends found it increasingly difficult to make the long trip from distant points. Painfully, Ila became ill and entertaining became a thing of the past.

Then Ila died and I was alone. What once had been a home with living sounds was now a place where my companions were the intermittent gardeners and housekeepers. The UPS man was a welcome visitor. Any human face was a welcome sight. Music streamed as my constant companion. I invented reasons to drive to town, sometimes two or three times a day. Even though I had exercise equipment in the house, I joined the athletic club where my 7am visits to the treadmill became a daily event; no exceptions for weekends. Familiar faces and bodies brightened my day. I was loath to drive home and confront the sounds of silence.

I met Jackie who lived in a pretty, oak shaded home in the Arbolada, not three minutes from Java and Joe, Rainbow Bridge and the other sights that make a town what it is. Her home, like her, was petite and well organized. Instead of three bathrooms, it had but one that we somehow managed to navigate without bumping into each other. My time there was in sharp, welcome contrast to what I had known during the last twenty years.

Jackie’s visits to my home increased. She loved the house with its spacious surroundings. Her face beamed from the pillow on the king size bed. Her smallness under the covers was beautiful and she was immersed in the pleasures of the big room and the views of the grand Topa Topas.

She often spoke of her comfort in the larger home. How she felt relaxed, unhurried, without a care in the world. How we might have yoga retreats in the great room and entertain in the oversized kitchen. We would open the home to those who might need a bit of help as they looked for more permanent space. Others would come just to see the place, stay overnight, and bond in the atmosphere created by the mountain views, hundreds of oak trees and the sounds unavailable in town.

During these musings I often considered cancelling the sale of the property. Make it a home again, with a lovely, vibrant woman as my partner. Creating a new purpose for the home and for us. And then, sadly, reality would end these fanciful dreams. The attraction of in-town living, her own home that she loved so much, and a distance too far were too strong. We repeated this stage play often, with the same results. And perhaps it was meant to be. An episode of my life coming to an end. A new beginning. And a treasure named Jackie.

My home is for sale. Come see it. It’s perfect for you…if you have a poodle instead of a rhino.

Just a little guilt

I went to my bereavement group this morning. We meet the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Help of Ojai’s West Campus. It had been months since I had attended a meeting and I thought it was time to renew acquaintances.

I arrived a few minutes early and found a stranger, Vivian, who was relatively new to the group. A nice woman who seemed quiet and a bit distant. We exchanged pleasantries and then fell silent.

Kathy, a strong, determined, yet warm woman of about fifty, leads the group.  She is quite good at it, knowing when to talk and when to be silent. Saying the right things also helps. Kathy has been there and back many times. We spent a few minutes focused on small talk.

Marsha and Joyce arrived. Old-timers whose attendance predated mine. Both women had lost their husbands; each was at a different stage of bereavement. Not everyone takes the same path. The process and elapsed time vary for each person.

The ninety-minute session began with a description of how we each were feeling. Some participants took pains to describe their feelings in detail, while others spoke more generally. Listening, it seemed that I had not missed much in my two or three months of absence from the group. But progress isn’t necessarily why people attend. Being among others in similar circumstances is often enough to warrant continued attendance. It’s good to know that other people have many of the same feelings that I do.

I had a special reason for coming at this time, since it was the one-year anniversary of Ila’s passing. I felt almost bidden to attend, as though it was part of the rite of passage. A pilgrimage to the place where I had spent many hours listening to others while sharing my feelings without restraint. Sharing thoughts with others who had similar reasons for being there and who felt safe enough to be frank, honest and human.

My turn to speak was rapidly approaching. I quickly sorted through the events of the last few months. I tried to organize my thoughts into a cogent verbal expression of my feelings. When I finally began to speak it all seemed to fall into place without significant effort.

I spoke of my continuing dedication to zealously working out at the gym. How it not only strengthened my body but how it also nurtured my psyche by regularly socializing with other people, many of whom I now call friends.

How I had slowly returned to photography. Taking photos for the Music Festival, contributing two dozen of my photos to the walls of the newly reconstructed hospital in Ventura, and a greater willingness to just take pictures regardless of subject.

How I had resumed driving the Help of Ojai bus. For appreciative riders who have no other way of getting to the grocery, the doctor or, bless their hearts…the hair salon.

How I had joined with some talented people in a creative writing group. How I had restarted my blog with full credit to the writing group for giving me a weekly incentive to put my thoughts on the web.

And my family and Jackie, all of whom I treasure beyond words.

Overall, I felt a bit guilty because of my good health and rebounding happiness. Guilty that I was happy even though my loved one was gone. And then I remembered what happened a week ago. And I told this story to those sitting around me.

It was the day before the one-year anniversary of Ila’s passing. It had been a busy day for me with several trips into town, work on several projects and little time to just relax. Around four o’clock I felt tired and decided to sit on the soft couch in the living room and attack a NY Times crossword puzzle. And, of course, I quickly fell asleep.

My nap couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes. Awakening, I looked to my left and saw sweet Ila standing there, her hand resting lightly on my left shoulder. It lasted no more than five seconds. Just enough time to see a broad smile on her lovely face. A smile that seemed to say, “It’s OK.” And I felt refreshed and happy.

It didn’t matter whether it was fact or fiction. All that mattered was that it happened.


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