Tuesday, January 03, 2012

My Box of Rain

I meant to write this post before Christmas. It was going to be titled: Gifts, Neither Bought nor Wrapped.  I thought I would have time to write it because I was ahead of the Christmas game. But then, ironically so, I guess, I got caught up in the mad pageantry of Christmas and didn't have time after all.

 But then I thought, well okay it will be fine after Christmas. Belated Christmas gifts. 

But then I had to take Christmas down and well, the next thing you know it is 2012.

And so it goes and then it is gone and then time just keeps on marching relentlessly forward.

 I decided today though I wasn't going to let this one go. Not this box of rain, this box of . . .

wind and water -
Believe it if you need it,
if you don't just pass it on
Sun and shower -
Wind and rain -
in and out the window
like a moth before a flame

It's just a box of rain
I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
or leave it if you dare

But it's just a box of rain
--Grateful Dead, Box of Rain

The Thursday before Christmas I headed out for my weekly long run. Usually I do this run on Fridays but I had to do it on Thursday because my kids were out of school Friday and  I had to get my house cleaned up so Christmas could come and wreck it. Everyone knows Santa doesn't visit the messy houses. 

At least this is what I told my kids so they would help me clean. 

I really didn't want to do my long run Thursday. The weather was yucky; warm and rainy. I had even contemplated running for 3 hours on the treadmill because I so very much hate running in the rain. It isn't the water or being wet part that bother me but the wet shoes. I hate it.  I don't hate the treadmill, in fact I rather I like it but not so much for 3 straight hours of running.

 I was in the unhappy of debate of the lesser evil: 3 hours in the rain or 3 hours on the treadmill.  And worse,  I felt pressured that I HAD to do my run that day. I don't like feeling like I ever HAVE to do anything. My instant inclination is toward rebellion. I am immature like that. Apparently I am not going to outgrow it either. It is a character trait. Not a good one either.

Really what it boiled down to was a bad attitude. As my favorite Milton quote goes: The mind in its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, and hell of Heaven. I checked myself and then the weather and it was something like 68 degrees and 99% humidity. I puzzled over what exactly 99% humidity was and decided to suck it up and run outside-- the gym was bound to be warm and humid too I figured. Might as well HTFU!

 And just so you know; 99% humidity is rain. 

So I headed out on my regular 21.25 mile loop. A loop that takes me on a tour of East Cobb. A loop that I have done so many times I have worn a groove in the sidewalk. A loop that is so familiar I could run it with my eyes closed. A loop that takes me past the house I lived in from the time I was 7 until I was 13 and past the middle school I attended and down roads that I have driven and ridden in cars since I was 7 years old. What I am saying is that for me it is familiarly uninspiring. It isn't bucolic scenery, gnarly wooded trail or a divine pristine meadow. It isn't a new place or a perfect place. It isn't ugly but it really isn't interesting. It is so, suburban. But there is, if nothing else, that memory connection-- that running past the familiars of my past, does in fact,  jog the memory--pun, though weak, intended. 

And so it goes, or rather went, as I ran up and down the rolling sidewalk hills,  rain spilling over the brim of my hat as I dodged drivers who for whatever reason never look right when they go right. As I leapt over puddles my mind found a reverie; a story that bled into another story and entertained me for all of the 21 miles until eventually I found myself home-- sopping wet, tired and tingling with happy. Nerve endings of my muscles connecting to memories and feelings. It was a feeling I could really feel.

The story is one that sits somewhere in a frame at my parent's house. I can see the newspaper article- weathered and yellowed behind the glass and dusty frame- but I can't read any of the details. But I know the story.  . .

My great grandfather, Harold Legette, is a young Navy man. He is on a boat in an ocean; probably the Atlantic. I think that would fit his age and the right war best. I can't remember the date either but my mind is determined that it is in December. Possibly it is even  Christmas Eve-- that would make the tale even better. It is night. I remember that detail specifically. My grandfather falls off the boat; swept over the rail by a wave. He thinks no one saw as he was  tossed into the ocean  and is certain  he is as good as lost. Drowned. He floats there in the waters; buoyed up and down by the waves. I am certain it must be cold. He watches as the lights of his ship disappear into the night. He is floating in the wettest and the darkest of darkness. As the last of the ship's lights disappear it takes with it hope. It is replaced by helplessness. Despair and loss settle into his heart. Adrift in immeasurable darkness, he treads water, alone.

As he struggles to stay afloat in the dark expanse of the ocean he sees, in the distance, the light of the ship turning in the night: stretching its beams over the water and breaking up the pitch of black night. He watches as the light returns and finds him in that endless darkness. 

Someone must have seen him fall over board!  He is saved after all! Not lost to the water, the world or that unending darkness and forever forgotten. He is lucky. He is found again.

This is the story that explains some 60 years later why my great grandmother Ebie Legette insists to the 14 year old me that we have take the long way to my Aunt Boo's house. She doesn't want to walk next to the swimming pool that sits in between our  house and Boo's.  She is terrified of water. But the 14 year old me doesn't know that yet. I haven't found the framed article. 

Instead, I think she is being a silly old person and I further shake her soul with my terrifying tales of swimming not only in swimming pools but up and down the brown murky water in the lake behind our house. She pats my arm that is hooked on hers and tells me she loved meeting my friends. My gaggle of friends-- probably Gina, Liz, Carrie, Brent and Sean -- I begrudgingly left behind at my house to walk my great grandmother back to Boo's house where she is staying.

 She tells me I am lucky. 

I am 14. I don't feel lucky. I am 14 and I know nothing of luck, gratefulness, want vs need, love or life for that matter. I am though enjoying my great grandmother's kind attention as we walk through the pre dusk darkness. This is so different than the attention she gave me as a younger child. The attention that alternated between hand swats for my "plundering" or shushing for my motor mouth. 

I don't remember all of our conversation but I know before we reached Boo's back door she told me this: You are a lucky girl to have so many sweet friends. It isn't money that makes you rich. It is your friends and your family that make you rich.

I saw her to the door and ran home and forget those words for the better  part of the next 10 years of my life. I found them again in grad school and was inspired to write a story about them. 

And then I forgot them again.

 I forgot them until I found myself on wet sidewalk in waterlogged running shoes with my mind lost to the deliciousness of a great  run a few days before Christmas. I tried to hold onto those words; words wrapped up in nostalgia and tied tight with an endorphin bow. But I lost them again. This time to the obnoxious side of Christmas. 

This is not to say I don't absolutely love that side of Christmas. I certainly loved seeing my kids giddy and over the moon from their gifts.  And I love my new running clothes, Frye boots and NookColor tablet. I love all my new stuff! I have always been driven to wanting to own stuff. I still, at 40, when I should long know better;  confuse want and need.  I am, if nothing else, a material girl living in a material world. But certainly, as I am oft reminded, that my material wants and desires are often for naught because I am in fact, not rich.  

At least not financially so. 

I am, as my great grandmother said: Lucky. And I am rich--if friends and family and love are a commodity then most certainly, I am rolling in it. They are that "thing with feathers" that lifts me up, the life preservers that keep me afloat in those times of seemingly unending darkness and aloneness, in that vast, vast sea of nothingness.

So as everyone trudges forward into the New Year with their ambitions, their goals and their resolutions I continue with my original quest of why I started this blog in the first place and named it "The Negative Split". Sure, it would be nice to literally run the metaphor.  But alas, I guess, that is the irony. I'm okay with irony. I rather like it. 

Final thought is this though, for certain:  I will never sandbag anything, and that includes life, just so I can do the second half better.