I know a book, truly, affects me when I start to eat the meals described within its pages; my mind transporting into the scene. Today I ate a toasted croissant and rich, black coffee as I gazed out my kitchen bay window to my yard; but my mind saw a French cafe with people bustling all around. The closest experience I’ve had of this would have to be when I was in New Orleans, traveling alone. I had needed to be amongst people to take my mind off of an interview at Tulane’s medical school so I had browsed the local galleries to calm my nerves.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes was an unexpected read. My girlfriend recommended it but I had balked when I read the summary. I had just finished several heavy books; which normally don’t deter me, but I was trying to relish Cutting for Stone and have several books queued up to read on my Kindle. Fate intervened when my son’s former teacher, literally, handed me the book from her car trunk. I had been avoiding it because of the subject matter. The book’s end was just as I had predicted, (no spoilers here, you’ll have to read it yourself), but brings back many things in my own life that define who I am. If you’ve never heard of Dignitas, GOOGLE it.
So today I have been a bit introspective. This weekend and the reading of this book reminded me of the person I had been before I defined myself as mother. I came from a small, migrant town and always knew I’d leave it for the city. As a young girl, with my head lost in books, I wanted romance and culture. I would pen these ideas, so much so that in fifth grade I was sent to writers’ workshops at UCSB and adults would fill my head with visions of far away places. It’s only in the looking back that I realized my life vision would be forged during those days; aged 10.
I am now a mom of a 12, 10 and 7 y/o. I sat with the red book on my lap and, much to my shock and surprise, memories unlocked of those years. When I get together with my childhood friends I, rarely, recall my childhood memories. The girls will recount story after story, and I will be in them. The memories are so clear to, my girlfriends, but it draws a blank in my own brain. Funny how that is. My mother, a photo aficionado, created album after album of pictures but I cannot open them. They are full of mold and I immediately sneeze if I am anywhere near the albums. They sit on a shelf at the top of my garage. The kids had already gone down to sleep by the time I sat with Me Before You and closed the book on the last page. It took me a while to realize that my kids are at the ages where life made an impression on my own. So I sat in my reading chair for a long time, thinking about this and replayed the events of last weekend. Today while As the Beat Goes On played on my car stereo, images and ideas jumbled and rammed into one another in my mind; as I drove to work. Our family, once again, is going through a life transition as we embark on another adventure; taking over the family business. My kids are resilient. But they are also impressionable. Going to the Getty this weekend unlocked a whole new world that I have sorely missed.
Culture. I did not grow up with it and determined I would expose myself to it. Again, this was shaped by my experience as a child and it now stares at me in the face in the form of a flyer; reminding me there is a meeting tonight at 6:30 PM. At age 7 I was placed in ELP (at that time Extended Learning Program) which then became restructured as GATE (Gifted and Talented Education). My parents had to drive me, each week, the nine miles to the neighboring city where I would join fellow ELP/GATE students in after school enrichment. But I was very attuned to the parents of these children; mostly a different social/ethnic background from my own. They would snidely make comments about my parents and, if I got any special recognition, would attribute it to my poor background. My parents were, blissfully, unaware but as a child I knew and felt this. The teachers would take me under their wing, the quiet child from the small town, which made it more pronounced. I hated it.
These parents were aggressive, constantly comparing: grades, projects. They wore their kids’ accomplishments like it was their own. For every award or A their son/daughter received, they paraded it; letting all the other parents and kids know. Decades later, parents haven’t really changed and my views of them have not either. But as I thought of our Getty trip the word clemency came into my mind. American Heritage Dictionary defines it as: A disposition to show mercy; especially toward an offender or enemy. When I see the word, clemency, I think of what is happening in Rome’s Sistine Chapel as the Catholic Church chooses its next Pope. But I digress. I am wrapping my head around this word to release me from the bitterness and anger I feel towards this four letter acronym that I wish would just go away.
“How does this tie in,” you ask? The trip to the Getty reminded me of my goal to become cultured. I want this for my children. I want to take them to plays, the the philharmonic concerts at the Disney Concert Hall/Hollywood Bowl, to museums such as: The Getty, LACMA, MoCA and the Museum of Tolerance. It used to be that they were too young but I was given exposure to these places at this age. I want this avenue to be open for my own children; to impress upon them that there is a lot of world out there apart from our small microcosm of suburbia. Just as I longed to escape the migrant fields of central California for greener pastures, so I want this for my kids; as well as myself.
But did I find greener pastures? Lately I find myself longing to get back there, to appreciate the rows of grapes in the vineyards, the fog that settles into the valley until noon. There is no greener place than the drive up the 101 North which takes me home. My real home. My parents are both buried there. I’ve realized my favorite views of the hills in my southern California suburb remind me of the central coast. I enjoy having access to the city’s amenities but I do miss the untainted views of water and sky, verdant rolling hills. Life was slower and simpler. Someday…
In remembering my past I have to coalesce my childhood contentions with current sensibilities; to strive forward. The Me Before You book reminded me that, sometimes in the letting go, new opportunities present themselves that weren’t there before. Will I go to the meeting tonight? I have not decided. To be safe, I may send my hubby with his unbiased views. Baby steps for now… clemency.
The art, the history, the vibe, the book all merged into this singular focus for me today; to experience growth in culture with my family. To expand our minds. To forgive and let go of trivialities in the past. Without my after school experiences I would never have imagined other places. The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck is of my childhood home, Hawaii by Michener played in my head as I hiked in Le Perouse Bay; gazing at original huts from earlier settlers of the islands. Just as the protaganist Louisa Clark in Me Before You, my horizons were expanded by the tutelage of those more worldly than myself. I never imagined that I would travel abroad, alone. Nor did my liberal persona imagine myself happily following my military husband; my exact antithesis. I’m supposed to be the tree hugger, organic farmer in flowy, hippie garb; not some navy pilot’s wife. But somehow our paths converged to a balanced medium in our marriage. My boys get to experience both extremes lol.
As we watched the live coverage of the Sistine Chapel I gazed at Michelangelo’s magnificent work. Next travel goal: Rome, Italy; and maybe a side trip to a Parisian cafe and the Louvre.