Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sarah and Elaine

I have met and begun interacting with two women in the last several months who fascinate and delight me. As I was gushing over Sarah to Harreld, I said, "Sarah is just like me but older and perfect." I would say this applies to Elaine as well.

Sarah is my yoga instructor. She is in her early 40's, has a tiny yoga-instructor body, long silver hair and piercing blue eyes. I don't use that phrase because it is an easy description of light blue eyes. Looking at Sarah's eyes is a little like looking into a faerie's eyes, you know the cool angular fae court of Celtic mythology? I do not normally notice people's eyes. It's an intellectual exercise to keep that info in my head about the people I love; instead of pulling up an image when I try to remember, I see the word "blue" or "hazel," like a driver's license. Sarah's eyes are such an icy light blue, with a circle of such dark blue around the edge that they have pierced my normally verbal memory with an unforgettable image. Sarah teaches Iyengar (eye-an-gar) yoga, which, to the practitioners of this particular style, is the most pure of the yoga styles. They say this because it emphasizes alignment of the body to a rediculous degree and poses are held for long periods of time once practitioners are indeed in alignment. This kicks my ass every time. However, Iyengar also uses lots of "props" (blocks, straps, folded blankets) to help people get into poses, even when they aren't super-yogis. So, if you're in a stretch and you can't get your hand all the way to your foot, you can use a strap to hold the stretch anyway. If you are trying to fold in half while standing and can't quite touch the floor, a block will bring the floor to you. It's fantastic. I think Sarah's personality melds with the Iyengar practice perfectly. And that makes sense, after all, since the practice of yoga (the bringing together of body and mind) is just practice for living the rest of life. She's not shy about pushing students to go farther but she is also really careful that everyone is safe. She doesn't expect a student to achieve some randomly chosen standard, she allows them to be who they are right now and expects them to achieve from that station.

Aside from her teaching personality, she is the aforementioned "like me but older and perfect." She can be a little abrasive at times, but you always know where you stand with her. Straight-forward. ("I said move your ankle back; those are your toes. Ankle, ankle. There you go.") She laughs often and well. She's confident but looks internally a lot to open the door to the room for improvement. (Since I'm her only regular student - the rest are tourists - she'll ask me about how class went.) The perfect part about her is that she seems to have blended all of these elements of her personality in some magical alchemy that makes her delightful rather than off-putting. I think I can get there, but feel like I'm off-putting more of the time than I'd like to be. I'm hoping it's my age. Brashness seems to be much more acceptable in older women than young women. My mom pulls it off, too.

I tutor Sarah's daughter, Makala. Apparently, when Makala was homeschooled last year, they just never got around to math. Now that she's going back into school for the seventh grade, she needs a little tutoring to get her up to skill level. So, I've been tutoring her. Makala is the kind of kid that I would love to have. She's always smiling, loves interacting with adults (living on their farm, with interns living there every summer, she would be good at it, at least), she's open enough to ask questions when she doesn't know things and to laugh at herself when she makes classic adolescent boners. You can absolutely tell that she's a grumoy teen sometimes, but it's not a way of life for her. She's also very bright, so she's a delight to teach. Math isn't hard for her; she just hasn't done it in awhile. She asks questions and I can tell that she's thinking deeper about math than just the problems I put in front of her because she asks such good questions. Not just "how," but also "why." Also, she doesn't wait for me to tell her she's wrong. She calls my attention to what she's doing as soon as it doesn't feel right. We end up doing a lot of theory, which makes me work. I know that Sarah and Makala fight a lot, in the way my dad and I used to fight. Sarah likes things a certain way. Makala is figuring out which way she likes things. Clash, clash, clash. But lots of love. It's cool to watch the different moods in which they arrive for tutoring sessions. It's also good for me to be teaching. It makes the sum total of my actions here on the island seem a little more vibrant and full to have that element among them.

So, Sarah and her husband have one of the organic farms on the island: Taproot Farm. Another point on the "but perfect" scale. I've already revealed in this space that one of my little fantasies since adolescence was to go back to the land. Sarah lives in a house that she and Thomas built with the help of the community. It is made from straw bales and plaster and it's absolutely gorgeous. Jeff actually helped while they were building. How cool is that? She found a partner that was willing to make the plunge with her and made her life work sustainable and good for the world. Just what I want.

Elaine is one of the old ladies at my church. When I first started attending, she wasn't there as much as Dora, Argene and Gladys, so I didn't know her as well. Also, she didn't fawn over me as the other three did, so I didn't pay much attention to her. She had an oxygen tank with her that clicked distractingly and occasionally yelled at the pastor to speak louder. Once, she interrupted the announcements to complain that she was handed her communion bread from a common plate with all of its germs that it must have accumulated from the other communicants. Pastor John patiently explained that he had transposed the old tradition of purification before administering the sacraments by using waterless hand sanitizer as he was preparing the elements. He explained that if she reached for her own bread, it might infect the rest for everyone else. Since his hands were the cleanest, he wanted to continue handing out the bread. She went back and forth with him and I noticed that he let her take her own bread at communion, then winked at me when he saw that I had noticed. Another time, Mindy was at church with me for the first time and when the time came for communion, she was the first in line. It's always tricky taking communion at a new church. I usually sit near the back so I can watch how everyone else does it. Mindy had no such chance. She walked up to the front and waited at the bottom of the steps up to the alter since that was the only instruction that she had been given. Before I could step in and help, I heard someone in line behind me say, "Somebody push her." I'm fairly certain that was Elaine. She's usually running out of air by the time communion comes around.

So, I think the most appropriate word to describe Elaine is "irrascible." I began loving her around the time John let take her own bread from the plate. Two months ago, as we were praying for each other, John told us that Elaine had some sort of episode and had been in the hospital. The pain-killing drugs that she was now on made her very anxious and generally fragile. (He also said that she was very polite and said good-bye to him on the phone, which was surprising. I think that Pastor John has been a little intimidated by Elaine since he moved to this parish.) He said she would benefit from anyone going by her house, especially in the morning, which would ease her anxiety. God pushed me then. I don't know any other way to describe it. I felt Him push me. I asked after church about how to get to her house and got weird directions and was told just to call and she'd get me there. My humanness then overtook my fledgling godliness and I didn't follow up. After all, I didn't really know her all that well anyway. I thought about her a lot, stuck there in her house. I thought about my own grandma and how so many people visit her, even though she's still active. I thought about how God tells us when we are kind to our widows and children, we are actually being kind to Him. I thought about how awful it is when I'm freaking out and how it is so much easier to calm down when someone talks me through it.

So, when John and I had lunch again, I said that I like to go with him to Elaine's house so that I would know where it was. As I sat and talked with her, I discovered that Elaine is just like me, just older and perfect. Maybe not so perfect as Sarah. She is intimidating in her straight-forwardness. But even in that lack of compromise, she is perfect. She has been herself - and therefore formidable - for 80 years. It's the other direction one can go with our personality than the route Sarah has taken. But she still laughs often and well. And she cries. Since we are both so straight-forward, when she tells me that she was lonesome today (lonesome, always lonesome because she's talking about her state of being; lonely is an adverb and can only describe verbs and other adverbs: her grammar is always accurate) when she tells me that she has been lonesome, I ask her what she does when she's lonesome. She just looks at me and tells me she cries. I don't make cooing noises and I don't rush to hug her. I let her regain herself and tell her that I'm sorry and that sucks. (My syntax is not so correct, even though I wish it was.) When she tells me she has nothing to live for, I don't automatic assure her that it's not true. She knows what's true and what's not. Later, I'll ask about her grandkids, but she's right. Her husband is dead, none of her children live on the island and I would bet she did not make a lot of close friends after she moved here 25 years ago. She seems to be a lot more of a building-family-type, rather than a building-community-type. It must be terrible to spend the entire day trapped in the house, knowing that you probably won't see anyone all day. Of course she feels like she has nothing to live for.

So, now I go and visit Elaine about once a week and it's wonderful. Any time I have an hour or so where I don't really have to be anywhere, I drive up the hill to her house. Usually God has to push me, but I'm starting to schedule her in because it's fun. She makes me laugh. She reads books and talks about them with the same delight that I have for them. She's feisty when we talk politics and mourns for the kids in Iraq. She tells me stories about her Ray (they only knew each other for 3 days before they got married; she knew everything she needed to know: he was a good Lutheran, he was cute and he was going to be a pharmacist, so they would be comfortable) and intrerrupts me even when she tells me to talk while she catches her breath.

It is good to see women that I can be like as I age who aren't my mother. My mother is too close to me for me to aspire to be just like her. I know too much about her: specific foibles and talents, the story of her childhood and her life before I came along. She fascinates me but because I have elements of my father (really just about half; it's uncanny), I will not be just like her. I'll be (and am) a mix them both. However, because of the randomness of the universe, the experiences and foibles of both Sarah and Elaine combine to make them kindred to me on the surface. Like when two species evolve from two totally different roots on two totally different continents but end up with the same adaptations because similar environmental conditions exist, like having a barrel shape to retain heat or water or having large ears to create surface area to shed heat. The three of us have started from different places and had totally different experiences, but our personalities have adapted to those different experiences in the same way. Since I haven't reached their stages, by looking ahead on my path and seeing them beckoning to me, I can actually keep my own evolution from mutating in a way that with get me selected against.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for writing this, thank you for allowing me to call you my daughter and thank you for following God. love, the dad