REST!

by Kelly Salasin

Home sickI’ve been called to write for days, but excepting posts on Facebook & Twitter, I’ve rebuked the call. “I don’t feel good and don’t want to write,” I hiss at my muse, but the pressing doesn’t stop.

The truth is that I know I’m on the cusp of recovery because last night I moaned and complained “about” being sick (as opposed to just being sick)—and this morning, I’m ranting and raving about it. “I’m DONE!” every impatience screams.

The older I get, the more I sense that illness is a rehearsal for dying. In fact, I can apply Kubler-Ross’s stages to my simple case of strep:

DISBELIEF-Sore throat? I just got over the flu last week!

DENIAL-I’ll just have an extra big glass of wine.

BARGAINING- I promise to rest tomorrow.

GUILT-Wow, I shouldn’t have gone to that baseball game, gallery walk, the cow parade, that party…

ACCEPTANCE-I WILL stay in bed until I’m better!

DEPRESSION- I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of feeling terrible.

ANGER-Enough already!!!

Actually, the idea of the stages is that they’re supposed to “end” with acceptance and hope—not with anger– which is where I’m stuck. Needing to ‘reorder’ myself brings me to this morning’s reluctant writing as I add another pillow behind my neck as an olive leaf toward  surrender.

Birth is the other metaphor that comes to my mind during illness. And certainly we cycle thru the same stages during labor. I remember that exact moment of despair in the eleventh hour just before my son was born—which itself lends “hope” that there is something ready to be born in this week-long labor too.

There was once a gift born of a single virulent summer flu that I’ll never forget. As the fever burned through me, I came to the realization that I needed to leave my new job. I resigned there right from our plaid couch with great clarity and peace of mind.  In exchange, I finally conceived our second son that fall.

I have no job to resign now—but maybe that, in and of itself, is what requires my resignation.

My dreams this feverish week have been plenty. One found me removing an outgrown child’s sweater from my closet. Woolen and pale, it hung misshapen with moth eaten holes throughout.

Days later, this rich image continues to speak to me. First it tells me of the winding down of my role as mother to young children. At 13, my oldest graduates this week from elementary school and my youngest, at 8, has begun the bittersweet dance of moving both toward and away from me.

In another dream that same fitful night, my chest of belongings is destroyed by fire and all the letters that I was to read for my memoir are gone. The next day, in “real” time, I find out that my great Aunt Sue has died—one of the last vestiges of my magical childhood at the ocean.  This dream of loss continues to burn in my heart.

Perhaps it was Aunt Sue then, who came the night of her death in my most comforting dream of that evening—delivering delicate skeins of just spun yarn in brilliant hues—placing the soft pile of color on the bookshelves that surrounded me.

“Let things come,” is the quote that serves me of late-  which itself “came” on a bag of green tea. Quotes arrive like friends, emissaries of light, and stay—sometimes for days or even weeks, but never as long as this one–which has continued to teach me through the seasons.

“Let things COME,” I breathe deeply, resisting my urge to strive. I have been striving for as long as I can remember. I see myself as a character in one of those war torn films where a scrappy youth survives the odds by her own tenacity.

In The Empire of the Sun, a young boy makes it through bombings, refugee camps, exile and war’s end surviving by the dogged persistence of his spirit and will. As a Social Studies teacher, I used this film every year, and each time I felt the closing scene in my bones.

Finally reunited with his parents (against all odds), the boy-turned young man–falls into his mother’s arms and finally, FINALLY, closes his eyes.

This DEEP need for “rest” is one that screamed out at me just a few years back when I left my roles in education to take a three-month writing sabbatical. A few years before that, I met “Rest”, face-to-face, in the ending of my mother’s life. The deep exhale of her travail permeated the house as she left her wrecked body.

Why do we “work” so hard at living, I wonder? What is that for which we “strive”? Are illness–and ultimately death–the only ways to truly surrender to our deep need for rest?

“When the world is too much with me,” sings Wordsworth and poets through the ages. No matter how enlightened we may be, we are not spared this weariness. Even Jesus on the cross moans, “My God, my God, why hath thou forsaken me!”

My ultimate rest is dreamed inside a mother’s fleshy arms, warm and brown–my head on my husband’s chest–just like it was last night with our boys wrapped around us.

One cannot force a birth–at least not from home–for the hour of telling–is it a boy or a girl–must come of its own accord. And thus, I wait—and hope—to know what it is hath come of this week’s suffering and surrender.

Now knowing, that if nothing else, the scene of my family in my bed–like a renaissance artist’s rendering– is worth this tiny rehearsal of death.

And remembering too, when in her last weeks in a home re-filled with family, I asked my mother, “Don’t you hate lying here in bed; waiting for someone to get what you want?” To which she responded with the smile of one who has loved 7 siblings, 9 children, 4 dogs and 2 husbands:  “No Kelly, I kind of like it.”

Maybe that’s the whole point of these striving lives we lead… so much are we in need of rest–that whenever our time comes–we’re ready.

in memory of Sue Ramagosa, in her eternal rest & rebirth

Summer at the Jersey Shore

In my hometown of the “Wildwoods,” Memorial Day Weekend KICKS down the door to summer in a single thrust. The population of this barrier island off the southern coast of New Jersey swells from 5,600 to 250,000 in a single weekend as summer homeowners and weekend vacationers literally POUR onto the shore over three waterway bridges.

In the 1950s, Wildwood was a hot spot for entertainment. It was there that Dick Clark broadcasted from the Starlight Ballroom and Chubby Checker performed “The Twist” for the first time!  Other club acts included Louis Prima, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and the Andrew Sisters.

Known for its powdery soft sand and expansive beaches, Wildwood’s esteemed visitors also included Shirley Temple,  the Miss America Pageant, the Hindenburg, and the Mickey Mouse Club!

Wildwood Crest, NJ

My grandfather grew up in nearby Atlantic City and after a tour with the Army, moved his family to the island during its heyday.  My parents worked and fell in love at Lucky’s Soda Shop on Pacific Avenue and twenty years later returned to the Wildwoods with their own family–at about the same time my husband’s family arrived there from New York.

Casey and I were both enrolled at Wildwood Catholic High School in the late seventies, but  didn’t officially meet until a handful of years later when Casey was among a dozen new employees arriving at the Two Mile Crab House to be trained for opening night.  Four years later we celebrated our wedding there on May 19, 1990.

Since relocating to the Green Mountains of Vermont 15 years ago, Memorial Day Weekend has never felt the same for us. For years we were uncomfortable enjoying barbecues at the pond while all the relatives and friends we left in NJ were working their tails off.  With the news of Casey’s father’s passing, we find ourselves returning to our hometown on this particular weekend for the first time since we left.

Born on Valentines Day in 1921, Casey’s father moved to New York City to pursue a career in the music industry.  It was there that he met his young wife and started a family.  They often visited the Jersey shore where they were easily absorbed into the “Russo” clan–a large Italian restaurant family whose circle of friends included my own grandparents.

Casey’s father’s music continues to be recorded to this day. Just a decade ago,Visa/Mastercard used his “The Man in my Little Girl’s Life”, a song that was made popular by Mike Douglass; while “Teardrops Will Fall” has been covered by Wilson Pickett, Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, and most recently by John Mellencamp on his Trouble No More CD and later on his Greatest Hits CD as well live on DVD.

My own physician father called last night to share the news of Casey’s father’s passing. It was 1:45 am. Before deciding to ring my husband, who was in Boston on a school field trip, I woke both boys to give them the news–figuring it was the closest we could get to being near their grandfather at this special time.

Needless to say we were all groggy this morning as we tried to assimilate it all. While my 12 year old son Lloyd and I prepared breakfasts and lunches in the kitchen, I could hear Aidan, my 7 year old, upstairs singing.

“You sound nice, Aidan, but I need you to hurry,” I yelled up to him.

“I was singing Music in My Mother’s House,” he explained when he joined us in the kitchen, “But I changed the words.”

Aidan had been listening to me rehearse that song all month for a Mother’s Day concert with the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus.

“Now I’m singing, Music in My ‘Father’s’ House, for Daddy and Papa,” he explained.

As we stepped outside to the cool temperatures of this Vermont spring morning, Aidan offered something more, something he must have heard at school.  In the sweetness and simplicity of these words, we were comforted in our grief:

Don’t Fear, Summer is Near.”

Summer IS near–because, in fact, we are chasing after it, as we head south to the seaside to bid farewell to a man whose zest for life, I see in my own little sky-eyed guy,  day after day.

“How would you like a Blue Whale, Kelly?” my father-in-law would ask when we’d arrive for dinner.

There was always a new cocktail he’d been exploring; while the smell of garlic and olive oil would lure us to the kitchen where his famous clams and linguini would be simmering on the stove. Some new cd would be playing over the sound system i while a massive collection of vinyl lined the walls.

“I’ve always wondered what Grandma would be like without Papa,” says Lloyd as he ponders Wildwood–and the world–without his grandfather.

Kelly Salasin

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