A Personal Reflection of Charles Bukowski’s Poem, Bluebird

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My dad. I’m fairly certain he had a bluebird in his heart, so deep down not many knew of its existence.  He passed away 5 years ago, alone, in the bedroom he rented from a minister who ran a “sober” house.  A house in which 4 men, all strangers, each inhabited a bedroom and shared the common spaces.  Like college roommates without any connection to each other whatsoever.  And minimal conversation.

Of course, when I called my sister to join me in saying goodbye to his body, stiffened in an upright, seated position, we noted that his blaring tv was set to a sports channel, and we wondered what he had been watching for his last moments.  He hated sports.  We sent him off, packaged in an awkwardly shaped body bag to the the local medical school, and emptied his room.  There was a backpack tucked deep in his closet, filled with emptied Jim Beam bottles.  He had a couple drawers of clothes, and a laptop.  And, propped on his dresser, a framed photo of us taken during our childhood.

Our mother was forbidden from visiting.  She was, as he claimed all too often, “an asshole.”  Theirs was not a civil divorce.  His girlfriend of 15 years had evicted him a month before he died.  He clung to his cell phone, undoubtedly hoping for her call during his last day.  She never phoned.  I could only imagine the drama they had shared.  God knows, we witnessed 20 years of it in our own house.  The angry silences, the excuses after his late nights, half-concealed bruises on my mother, the slurred rants, plates smashed against walls, the tears.

Clumsily moving aside these images, I choose to focus on others.  The drives to school, windows rolled up, cracked open just a touch, so that the cigarette smoke could meander up and out, but only after leaving us with its stench.  We carried the lunches he prepared for us . . . the mini pizzas accented with added mozzarella and slices of lunch meat.  We didn’t have the heart or courage to tell him that by noon, the cheese and meat would have congealed into a cold mass.

He would sing sometimes, eyes closed, head tilted upward, smiling and feeling every word of Bridge over Troubled Water.  When we scattered his ashes in the ocean, my sister and I anchored our canoe, shared stories, and sang his favorite Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel songs.  We knew song was how he allowed his bluebird to appear.

I wondered how long in the past it was that others could see that bluebird as well.  So many secrets that, like the bluebird, peered out every once in a while.  Secrets that forced my dad to guard that bluebird fiercely from a childhood spent moving from family to family after some hushed abuse, mysterious not-to-be-shared time as a sharpshooter in Vietnam-era Southeast Asia, countless fights, a lackluster attempt at self-employment, and failed relationships.

Somehow, I have a confident knowing that today, my dad’s bluebird is perched next to him, both of them singing wholeheartedly and with so much feeling.

What if I have to eat lunch alone?

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Day two.  The calm, quiet of a mostly empty (my teen son won’t get out of bed for a while still) house soothes my tired mama soul.  Two kids back, one to go. The week leading up to the new school year worked me over a bit.  I’m restoring energy to prepare for the next first day.

Why is it that no one tells you that once you’re a parent, your children’s anxieties flutter even more frantically in your own gut, even as you comfort and feign confidence that all will be well? What if I can’t make any friends?  What if I’m not smart enough for third grade math?  Will my teacher be nice?  What if I’m the slowest running the mile in my P.E. class?  What should I do if my old friends no longer speak to me?  What if I say something stupid in class?  And for the grand finale of worries from out of the blue, Mom, what if you die before I learn how to drive?

It will all work out.  You will have friends.  You might be the slowest, but that would be okay.  You jam on the guitar. Remember?  If your old friends vanish, new ones will fill their places.  You are strong, and always becoming stronger.  You are smart.  You are beautiful, inside and out.  You will succeed. You are loved and supported.  I will eat my greens and exercise regularly.  And, I will drive carefully.

We shape teen brows.  We buy fun shoes.  We draw, we walk and talk, and we make up outrageous responses to hypothetical jerky remarks and questions. We cry. We sing silly songs, and blurt out private part names while in the car. Hilarity ensues. We hope and we worry.  We talk about practicing yoga together and meditating.

And I haven’t even started with my rising high school junior, switching schools for the first time since kindergarten.

How I wish I could install like software the wisdom I have gathered after surviving the downfall of friendships, falling down a flight of stairs as the cool kids sat on the sides laughing, the heartbreaks, being shoved into the lily pond, the mistakes.  It all passes.  It hurts for a bit, and fades away, leaving us more resilient, better able to discern who and what to make important in our lives.  To focus on each beautiful moment and let the ugly ones teach us and then, wash away.

We parents must be warriors of love.  Ready to face the ugliest, scariest, saddest scenes, and administer warm, soft, gushy love that will fill in the cracks left by worry, fear, and hurt.  We must remember to refill our own supply by loving ourselves just as ferociously.  Making space for quiet connection, dancing away the anxieties, running off the frustration, walking in nature, and dosing ourselves with whatever it is that provides the most joy.

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Perhaps, watching us plug into our own ever-flowing source of wellness will inspire our littles to do the same.  Eating lunch alone is actually not so bad.

Really, Einstein? Ditch my People?

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If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”   – Albert Einstein

I’ve never really connected with this quote.  It seems like such a pessimistic point of view.  Like the way to be happy is to create distance from our people and favorite things and attach to achievement.  Goodbye, whiskers on kittens.

Today, I ran into it again and it took on a whole different flavor.  It made sense.  Either I’ve become more Einstein-like (very likely), or perhaps I’ve evolved emotionally another notch (I’ll take this option as well).  You might be thinking that I’ve barricaded myself away from my family and have donated my favorite pillow to a good cause, but I’ve done neither.  I’m actually living quite happily surrounded by both.

The past month has been a bit funky.  Not George Clinton, good funky, but funky in a disturbing way.  My roof surrendered to the rain.  My garbage disposal quit, and my pipes clogged.  Water rerouted to all the wrong places.  A passing ruffian removed my super-cute, berry-colored Kate Spade purse gifted to me by my family from my possession.  He took it from my car through the passenger side door and made a run for it.  I happened to be sitting in the driver’s seat at the time.  One of my children, who shall remain unnamed, created a bit of drama.  Nothing major, but enough to make waves in the household for a couple of days.  There is a chance my husband and I had different ideas about how to manage this disruption.  Funky.  Funky, but fine.

But guess what?  All is well.  Great, even.  We have a shiny new roof on the way.  I’ll be sure to have friends over for a glass of wine and some roof viewing when it’s ready.  What fun!  The water is all running appropriately now.  I’ve pulled an oldie but goodie of a bag out of retirement.  It’s dotted with memories.  A formerly beautiful leather tote spattered with spit-up, spills, and wear to boast a fine patina.  A kind woman discovered my pink purse in the bushes and returned it to me, noting that we ladies need to stick together.  She filled me with soul-felt appreciation.  It was drenched with rainwater, but also contained my keychain from my first day at Barnard College and some photos that miraculously survived the water.

My anonymous child created an opportunity for renewed communication in the family.  “How was your day?” “Good.” “Fine.” “Okay.” was momentarily replaced with talk about expectations, love, emotions, and the stuff of self-help books.  We, too, became shiny for a while.  I’m pretty sure we’ve upgraded and are all a bit closer now, too.

So, Einstein, I see your point.  My most important goal is to appreciate the good in life, to keep happy memories close to my heart, and roll with the adventures we face with grace and to learn the lessons they hurl our way.  Possessions are ruined, stolen, and lost.  People make mistakes and may disappoint.  Life’s funky foibles can serve to expose what really matters and wash away the cluttering debris.  Beneath the stained, aged, and sometimes battered exterior of our lives lies an intricately woven web of memories, connections, feelings, and growth.  My take on this quote?  Stockpile in your memory those experiences that have set your soul aglow, love deeply, ride out the bumps, and you will develop a fine patina of happiness.