Mary Beth Writes

Yesterday I walked in the Prairie Home cemetery (which is only a few blocks from here). Cemeteries are beautiful places to walk; green and quiet. Time to reflect if one is feeling reflective. Or if one is feeling uncentered (who, me?) a cemetery can pull one back to the middle of what to think about and care for and pursue.

I saw a tombstone with the names of three daughters who died. Sophronia. What a beautiful name. What would those parents have given for vaccines and antibiotics?

Les Paul is buried in this cemetery. Those dots are guitar picks.

The photo I didn’t take was of an old man sitting in his parked car. The car was shiny clean and he was dressed sharp; navy shirt with a collar, gold watch on his arm resting along his car’s opened window. It seemed as if he was just sitting there thinking about or talking to someone. I said good morning to him, he replied with a cheerful hello.

There are many reasons why a nicely dressed 80ish man might be parked in a cemetery at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. But the obvious reason is the one that broke my heart.

Loneliness is hard. Loneliness takes one’s breath away. It empties out the place where one’s spirit lives. Sometimes it is a headache, a backache, dry eyes that are not looking for anything.

I recently read a review about a graphic book that explores the theme of loneliness. The book is “Seeking You” by Kristin Radtke. I have it on order at the library so if it’s good, I will let you know after I read it.

One of Radtke’s observations is that our culture has themes for loneliness. There’s the powerful, lonely man (John Wayne) who rides alone, take care of everyone else, then goes home to his empty bunk.

For women we have “the lonely princess” stuck in her castle who needs a prince to awaken and rescue her. (Any movie with Julia Roberts, for example)

Manly loneliness is powerful. Female loneliness is powerless. Good Grief. How many widowed women do you know still grieving their loss who keep going, keep contributing to their community, keep hanging out with friends, keep cooking healthy meals for themselves and sometimes for others? (Some of you are that person.)

And then there was Len’s grandfather, who, when long-suffering Helen passed away, immediately stopped eating anything except salted walnuts and stopped drinking anything except no-name bourbon and 36-packs of beer. Good at loneliness?

We recognize these stereotypes and most of us see their emptiness. Well, probably. Len and I started watching Mr. Robot and Lord Love a Duck, it’s about our new American cowboy - the lonely computer genius. Here we go again.

This is the sentence in the interview that really caught my attention. “Stories are how we draw ourselves closer to one another, and how we remember, and sometimes how we reshape.”

Stories versus loneliness. Telling ourselves who we were, who we are now, what happened back then, how we used to interact with our loved ones. Deciding for ourselves how and who and what we choose to remember – and who we intentionally choose to forget. Shaping and reshaping our stories.

“You're both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You're the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You're the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody's something, but you are also your you.” John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

How do you tell your story of being lonely? Are you a victim? Are you a person who fights through the brambles and thickets of loss to share, offer, laugh with, be kind to others? Are you a person in a relationship who often feels lonely? Do you look at your partner or kid or BFF and wonder if they even know who you are?

We are in a new and different quarantine. Until we know who is vulnerable, and how vulnerable, and until our kids are safe – here we mostly are. More alone than we expected to be. Still shaping and reshaping our stories.

...

This is the review.  

Comments

This is very good! Struck a nerve. The old man in the cemetery on an early Sunday morning brought tears to my eyes. Love the sentence about stories. I took a screen shot.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks so very much.

Ah, loneliness. She and I have been come quite familiar with each other. It has been a journey of reshaping, and learning, and coming into one's own; embracing the story of who I was, and moving forward with what is, and who I am. Thank you. Patricia

My grandmother was the widow you described. After my grandfather died at age 61(I remember thinking he was old...now I've outlived him by a year and oddly don't feel old myself) my grandmother just kept on keepin' on. She cried every year on the date of his death and often when she spoke of him. She never dated anyone again although by today's standards she was still quite young. The blessed recipients of her need to stay busy and not be alone were my sister and I. Her home cooked meals were phenomenal as were her desserts, mainly cookies. I spent most weekends at her house by choice. Although we did not attend the same church, I often accompanied her to events and potlucks at hers. She wisely took my sister and I separately on vacations to close or faraway destinations so we each had special time with her. My parents were divorced and my mother worked full time plus. She had a boyfriend who took up much of her attention on the weekends. Looking back I can see that my own house felt lonely much of the time. I thank God daily for my grandmother who gave so willingly and lovingly. An end note: I had the blessing of having my grandmother until I was 39 years old.
Mary Beth's picture

This is beautiful and powerful. thank you. We are just back from a surprise (other kid-watching entities fell through for two days) caring for our little grandkids. I thought about your letter, and how powerful accepting grandparents can be in kids' lives.

How wonderful! Grandchildren and grandparents gain so much from their relationships with each other.

I've got Seek You on my nightstand, ready to be my next read. Let's confer after. I'm extremely interested (invested?) in this topic. Side Note: we take our dogs to a nearby cemetery to run around because we can walk to it and it's fenced in. Some neighbors object--but I remember reading that cemeteries were originally designed to be almost like family parks. I think it's sad that the ONLY reason most people visit them is to grieve. We have great fun there and many special memories (our kids ride their bikes there too) despite not having a personal connection to anyone buried within.
Mary Beth's picture

When one of our kids turned four, we did half their birthday party at the cemetery very close to our house then. It had a pond with ducks and geese and the kids ran around like nuts in that pond area. No one was traumatized. One would think folks "resting in their eternal repose" in cemeteries might like to hear kids running around. Also - I have Seek You also! I've read half of it and it is really, really interesting and good!

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Happy Birthday to Len

11/30/2022 

Today is Len’s birthday. I told him this morning I might write about him but I would let him read whatever I said first. He said not to run it past him, he’d like the surprise of reading it when you all do. Let’s see what I come up with.

1. This is cute. Len was born in Chicago’s Passavant Memorial Hospital which was the grandparent hospital to Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital - where two of our grandkids were born.

Stories, Q Club, Us

The photo is not by Len or me, its from I Love Canada on FB. I've seen a sky like that just once. 

11/21/2022

Last week I read two books about young people who left their homes. They experienced some good and too many rough experiences and they couldn’t go back until they figured out how to not be who they used to be. Both novels knocked my socks off.

The People You Keep by Allison Larkin

Covid Diary #979 - Still Paying Attention?

11/17/2022

Yes, it’s been 979 days since Friday the 13th, March 2020, when everything changed.

Last Saturday one of our kids visited for several hours with their kids. It was fun though our kid looked tired. They said they’d taken a Covid test that morning and it was negative. They figured it was the wine and rich foods they’d shared the evening before with friends at the end of a very busy week.

Next Day - What Are You Seeing?

11/9/2022

It was a late night last night, wasn’t it? Len worked at a polling place 6:30 AM until 10:30 PM. He said the actual experience is a lot like working retail (which he has not done since he was 22). Stand up most of the time, pleasantly say the same thing over and over. Wonder if lunch is soon.  

Professional reporters and pundits are talking a lot about “what just happened”, but heck, we are noticing interesting things, too.  Let’s talk about what We The People saw and heard and are watching now.

Here are some things catching my attention.

Election Day

11/8/2022 

So many times I’ve thought things were going to be okay, and then they weren’t. My dad had that heart attack and the kid who was MB back then told herself to not overthink the drama because things always turn out more or less okay. Then the next day he died.

We lost a pregnancy far enough along that we had a name picked out and a crib in which to put that child. For a week I had all the misery and cramps that go with miscarrying and I still thought somehow it was going to work out okay.

That Beep-Beep-Beeping Moment.

In spring Len got a $100 traffic ticket when he turned right at a corner we’ve been turning right at for seven years. However, construction had started and there were orange barrels and cones everywhere – plus a small sign NOT facing the street Len was on, telling drivers to not turn there.

Len went back later that day and took photos. Len called the city to mention that if they posted a sign that actually faced the traffic, the city could save the cost of the cop parked there ticketing drivers.

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