October 9, 2009
In the first few hours home I was already consumed with rush, overwhelm, too much to do, not enough time, long and longer to-do lists, and cat spray.
They seemed glad to see me when I stumbled in a 7 am after that glorious red eye flight. Fat and happy they are award-winning beggars; you’d think they hadn’t eaten in days. So I fed them and went to bed.
A few hours later I hear water flowing. It’s not supposed to flow in my bedroom, under my bed.
My favorite cat (but don’t tell the others), Kiki spent a year alone in the Maine woods, August 17, 1998- August 17, 1999, breaking our hearts with his stubborn departure (no amount of entreaty pulled him in from his walkabout before we had to go) and making us deliriously happy with his return. Except that ever since he came back he’s squabbled with the others for territory and the way cats claim it, apparently, is by spraying their urine. Unfortunately they’re all declaring the inside their territory: chair leg by chair leg, curtain by curtain, suitcase by suitcase, pile of clothing by pile of clothing … you get the picture. (Talk about dirty laundry!)
Kiki let loose under my bed. Suddenly my list of to-dos -- returning the VONAGE box, setting up automatic payments for the new mortgage, cancel the phone account at camp, check into college payments, prepare a talk and presentation for Wednesday, figure out where to take Janna for her birthday dinner on Tuesday, wrap her presents, continue writing blogs, and buying mini DV tapes, not to mention calling and seeing a few friends – was immediately re-prioritized. Mission Number One became clean the floor and the bed frame. Which, given the stuff stuffed under the bed, was not a simple venture. Accomplishing this, however, was truly satisfying, smelling all of Murphy’s Oil Soap. So then I took on the cat boxes in the basement.
Sometimes I think it would be lovely to be relieved of these duties and to have my family relieved of these duties; that we could employ others to “do the dirty work.” I think about the many privileged people in the world, many people I know, who don’t scrape paint from their walls or haul furniture up and down the stairs; who don’t rub the copper polish on their pots and vacuum three flights of stairs; people who have neither cats nor cat boxes and neither grow flowers nor need to weed their gardens. And how I wouldn’t, really, want to trade away any of that drudgery forever. There’s immediate gratification; there’s humility; there’s the transformative moment of washing hands and face and changing clothing when it’s done. There’s seeing the miles-long hedge freshly trimmed and saying, “yes, I did that.”
I wouldn’t give that up forever. Only sometimes. Like on mornings when I’ve flown in on the red eye.
Janna turned 18 while I was at Esalen and Peter and Katie at Wadi Mujib. Taking her out to dinner to celebrate was a highlight of my trip to the States. Eighteen! And I remember my water breaking like yesterday. Right there in the Childbirth Center in Englewood, conveniently in the bathroom, where I got into a warm shower to ease the expanding ache in my abdomen, hanging my weight from the shower door as Mary is described in the Qur’an wrapping her arms around the date palm to ease the pangs during the birth of Jesus (Qur’an, Chapter of Mary, XIX, 23-26), and Peter coaching me through the steam: “Groan lower, honey.” Janna was born within an hour and a half of our arrival. A full head of hair on her head that morning now a glistening, bouncing ponytail on the campus of Temple University.
Bill Mueller who used to live in Philly recommended the perfect place: The Rose Tattoo (www.rosetattoocafe.com) in Philadelphia’s museum district is full of green -- plants, vines, an inner courtyard -- and Janna is “missing the green things,” according to her SKYPE ID. We sat on the second floor balcony overlooking an indoor tropical garden. And we talked. Seven hour of talk with my elder daughter that evening: one in the dorm room with her roommate, three at the restaurant and three in the car outside the dorm, neither of us wanting to say goodnight. That’s why to have children.
Wednesday I spoke at Interweave in Chatham, NJ. The talk was called “Women Around the World: Making Change We Can Believe In.” In essence I profiled many of the women I’ve met during my career, ordinary and extraordinary, from Zainah Anwar of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia (www.sistersinislam.org), Penda M’Bow of University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Fatimeh Mousavinejad of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue in Tehran (http://iid.org.ir/newweben), Hafida Benchehida, my translator in Algeria, Dulce Murphy of TRACK II: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy (www.trackii.com), Patricia Gruber who runs the Gruber Prizes, (www.gruberprizes.org), and Bonnie Monte, Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (www.ShakespeareNJ.org), to Mona who waxes my legs in Amman. Everyone has a story.
Time was flying and piles of mail diminished but piles of split wood remained in the back yard; boxes got shipped at the post office, and a new suitcase packed for Jordan. B&H was closed for Succoth so I never bought my Mini DV tapes. I couldn’t make more copies of “Eyes With Pride: A Tribute to the Columbia High School Marching Band” because I didn’t bring my external hard drive where the movie resides so I scrounged up slightly earlier versions to give to the people who’s DVDs didn’t work (don’t worry! The only difference is the credits!). I did see a few friends and that was heavenly and I saw “Hamlet” at The Shakespeare Theatre. If you didn’t see it you missed the most intimate, exquisite and achingly human portrayal of that pouty teenager and his conniving, scared, confused family to hit the east coast, ever.
Heading back to the opportunity to think and create. Wanting to make here a place where that's possible too, when I'm back again. Lots to meditate upon during the long flight home.