Besides the sadness and horror of the most recent school shooting, and the news in general, I’m afraid of a lot things right now. I remember back in my late 20s when I discovered Hemingway for the first time (really). I had moved to a new apartment (which I loved and which was a lot like my house now) and I’d psychologically (if not effectively) ended a hopeless relationship and was a few years out from divorcing an abusive husband. I’d finished my MA. My future had never been so open, but I didn’t know who I was.
Funny, but at the time, I thought finding out who I was would be a permanent thing, a done deal. It’s not.
In this apartment I had no furniture except a dining room table, two chairs, a dresser and a bed. I bought the bed with a loan I had guaranteed by putting up my VW Bug as collateral. “You can always borrow $100 on a VW Bug,” said the loan officer at the bank which was on the first floor of building of the law firm where I worked.
It was a futon bed, a platform, really pretty, spare and elegant, white birch. Anyhoo…
After work the only way I could relax and read was in the bathtub. I’ve never been a person who reads in bed, besides, there was no light in my bedroom (yet). It was a nice old-fashioned bathtub with a nice, slanted back, and it was in the bathtub that I read The Old Man and the Sea, for the second time (the first time was in 9th grade and I thought it could not possibly apply to me).
From Hemingway I learned that courage doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing what has to be done anyway. It’s going out after the fish ANYWAY. It’s risking a return with nothing but bones. I think I read that book in one sitting, frequently heating the water in the tub by turning on the hot water.
Over time, I got furniture, of course. My aunt gave me a beautiful red chair and a friend gave me an awesome day bed. I was set.
But fear. Last night I couldn’t sleep. All the unknowns and dangers currently in my little personal life pressed upon my mind. No one wants surgery, and I haven’t even found my doctor yet. My stationary bike — the Sainted Airdyne — has broken. It works, but it makes a godawful noise. Because of it, I’m able to walk. Without it? Well, no one should ever underestimate the importance of muscle strength and motion on their ability to keep moving. As a doctor said to me recently, “We all tend to move away from pain, so good for you. Keep working out, everything will go better.”
There’s other stuff. At my age, a person looks down the short road toward the end of the ride and when you have physical problems, mobility problems, pain, that location seems closer, sometimes even desirable. You sometimes involuntarily focus on what you can no longer do.
I have friends my age (and older) who haven’t hit any physical plateau in their abilities and they ARE younger than I am. I have too much knowledge. There’s also the fact that what I’ve been able to do physically has defined me to myself, has been the biggest source of my self-esteem. Not being able to climb a hill at all feels to me like failure. Right now, even stuff that would probably seem like good news, exciting and happy news, if I were someone else, scares me.
The message of The Old Man and the Sea is a little more subtle than a trapped fish providing food for sharks. It is that the future is where we live. The real purpose for courage — beyond survival — is happiness. I don’t think Hemingway was much good himself at being happy, but Santiago, the fisherman he created (or observed?) was.
The other day I took the dogs for a short ramble. The first thing I saw was a magpie with a frog in his beak (happy bird!). I heard Sandhill Cranes everywhere, but I didn’t see them. After about 1/2 mile, I saw dozens staring at me from across a finger of the slough. Soon hundreds took flight to the northeast and calling out, flew above the river. Toward the end of the walk, my attention was captured by a raptor. It was a young, male bald eagle, a sign of spring in the San Luis Valley. He flew low and close, then found a perch high in a cottonwood tree.
In the wee morning hours last night, I got up to read. If you can’t sleep, a good stragedy is to give up. Bear told me she needed out, so I put on my jacket and out we went. The night was clear, not terribly cold (19). Small Colorado town silent. In the distance I heard something I love.
Sometimes I feel as if this valley literally reaches out for me. “Here, Martha. I know you’re scared and sad and you can’t sleep. Here’s comfort.”
Here are the cranes. To see them you’ll have to open full screen. ❤