It is a fairly normal occurrence for me to walk from my car to the door of my apartment transporting more bags than any human being should ever attempt to carry. Two on my right shoulder, one on my left, both hands full, and sometimes one more held in the fold of my right arm. Occasionally I’ll have a box too. And then inevitably I will drop my keys. I’ve often thought of how ridiculous I must look. Not long ago, I was trudging along in this typical fashion when a man walking towards me dropped his own bag on the ground and rushed over to me. “You look like someone who could use a hand.” I was so shocked that I didn’t even know how to answer, and since he was dressed all in black with a strange hat on his head, I almost thought he was some sort of an otherworldly apparition. I hesitated for just a moment, but then I allowed him to help me, I thanked him profusely, and we parted ways. I’ve thought about him a lot since that day, mainly because in the million and one trips that I’ve made from my car to my door, he is the only person who has ever offered to help me in any way. I guess it’s fair to say that I was officially the recipient of a random act of kindness, a fact that interests me differently right now because I just finished a book entitled Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. In it, a group of strangers find themselves thrown together in a way that could never be anticipated, and the acts of kindness they show to one another deeply affect each of them. They begin their day knowing nothing about anyone else in the room, but end it as profoundly connected as family or friends.
As so many of you know, I spend quite a bit of time with my grandchildren. One of our favorite things to do involves discovering fabulous new movies that have just arrived on Netflix or Disney Plus. I am always amazed at the amount of wisdom that can be gleaned from characters that are 100% animated. Sometimes it’s even more than what we get from their live counterparts. One afternoon a few weeks ago we watched The Magician’s Elephant, a new Netflix release that was absolutely wonderful and had me reduced to a weepy mess by the end of it. Nora patted my knee knowingly. “It’s okay Freezie. You’re crying because you’re happy.” Indeed. The premise is complicated, but simple. A boy conjures up an elephant by wishing for a way to find his long lost sister. The town is terrified of the elephant, but the boy knows that she holds the answer he has been searching for throughout the entirety of his life. He needs the elephant desperately and wants to hold on to her, but he realizes along the way that the elephant can never really be his. She has a home to return to, a place where “she is known, and therefore she is loved.” Oh boy. That’s the line that got to me early on. As I began a bit of research for this post, I learned that the movie is based on a book by Kate DiCamillo, and the quote that I loved so much is actually even richer and more poignant in its written form. “She was working to remind herself of who she was. She was working to remember that somewhere in another place entirely, she was known and loved.”
One night last week I had a dream that I found a large yellow and green turtle in the bathtub, which immediately sent me running to some of my favorite dream interpretation websites like AuntFlo.com and The Dream Encyclopedia. And what words of wisdom did I find?? A few meanings were obvious. Someone or something in my life needs protection. I am a pillar of strength and stability in the face of destruction. I’m going to need lots of patience to get through the next few months. While these were good, especially that second one, I found myself looking for a bit more, so I kept digging. As it turns out, the fact that my turtle was yellow is rather important, since golden turtles symbolize wealth, prosperity, and abundance. Well now. This sounded far more promising. Wealth and prosperity are both measurable things that we spend a lifetime seeking to some degree, but very few of us will have them at any kind of extraordinary level. For the majority of us, an excessive amount of material wealth remains out of reach. Abundance of things that are unrelated to finances or possessions, on the other hand, is far more subjective, far less measurable, and far more attainable, making it a totally different matter. People may say that they have an abundance of wealth or prosperity, but the term seems more appropriately applied to things like an abundance of friends, or happiness, or tomatoes in the garden. And while it would be grammatically correct to also say that someone has had an abundance of misfortune or grief in their lives, the connotation seems to be off. Abundance is simply not a word often used to describe negative situations.
People often ask me how I come up with ideas for cocktails, especially those that I create for my job at Recklesstown. I tell them honestly that I really don’t know the answer, and that I’ve allowed it to become a matter of intuition. Because I make that statement quite frequently, I’ve come to wonder exactly what it is that I’m talking about. Let me give you an example. The other night, my son Zachary texted me to ask if there was a way to make an elevated version of a Jack and Coke. I suggested that he use a better whiskey and then learned that I’d misunderstood the question. He wanted to know if we could make a fancier riff on a Jack and Coke that we could serve for his son Jack’s birthday dinner, which happens to be tonight. Ahhhh. Well sure. Let me think on it. And so I considered the idea of taking the cocktail apart and reassembling it in a new way by adding a few ingredients to a syrup I’d recently created for work, along with a citrus cordial and the Jack Daniels. The cocktail materialized in my mind in a relatively short period of time, yet I’m inclined to say that the steps I’ve just described were not a product of intuition. I think, to the contrary, that they are more related to the accelerated logical thinking that comes from doing something over and over again until it becomes a refined process. Still, it seems as though intuition has to be involved in some way, right? Otherwise, without tediously tasting the addition of every new ingredient, I’d never have been able to say with certainty that I thought the drink would work. And yet I knew, without a doubt, that it would. Is this because I’ve developed a certain level of confidence in what I do? Of course. It has become a matter of trust. The question is whether or not that’s the same as it being a matter of intuition.
On the 18th of February, I wrote a post called Interwoven for my wonderful friend and work colleague Matt Kelley who was grieving the sudden loss of his dad. I offered up some thoughts from the eulogy I’d written for my mom thinking that they might give him a different perspective and a certain measure of comfort. I will admit to you that I poured my heart into that post. I wanted so much to be helpful, and I do think that I was, even if only in a small way. In what feels like a very cruel twist of circumstances, I learned last Friday that Matt had died in the same sudden way as his dad. The post that I’d written for him now became a post that could just as easily have been written about him, and I found myself in need of the same comfort that I tried to provide on that February morning. It seems unbelievable. It seems inexplicable. It seems wildly unfair. I use these words to describe my experience of losing him as my friend, and I know that I am echoing the sentiments of everyone who stood on either side of the bar with him at Recklesstown. What I cannot imagine are the words that describe what his wife and family are experiencing. If those words exist, I do not claim to know what they are. One of the main things that Matt and I had talked about and that I tried to capture in Interwoven, was the idea that death, in one single instant, takes all the deeply loved details of a person’s physical presence away from us. Yes, their spirit remains, but there is an undeniable hole left behind, and we struggle to find a place for all the love we still actively feel. In the case of losing a friend, this same difficulty still applies, but there are also questions for which we seek answers. Because we’re not held together by family ties, is the bond we formed broken, or does the friendship still remain? In what places do we look for it and, when we find it, how do we hold it close to us and continue to honor the memory of the friend we’ve lost?