child in a red apron

child in a red apron

Didn’t it – for a time – seem like it might never stop raining?

Someone jokes: “We live in rain now,” and the phrase stays with me, a way to think about one day running through the office parking lot in the downpour and then the next, walking briskly, and then the next, not rushing at all, but letting the cool water run down my face, my hair, soak my work clothes. No longer: It is raining as if it were something that happens, an occurrence that interrupts a state of being, but rather we live in rain, a new state of being.

Eventually, it stops. Blue reasserts itself and a double rainbow arcs across the sky, so vivid, so perfectly rendered, as though it is projected directly from a child’s imagination. This tiny corner of earth gasps and scrambles to take photographs. We gaze skyward, holding our breath, hearts quickening. A collective sigh.

And when the light returns the next day and the sun is high in the patchy blue sky, doesn’t it seem like it has always been thus? A gift and a curse that we can forget darkness. That it can drift past us and through us. Clouds moving across the gray sky, obscuring then revealing the vault of blue.

I have taken to walking, midday, across the river to the museum or to the library, for a bit of quiet solitude amid the meetings and the chatter of my days. There are some students still in town, carrying portfolios and cardboard models wrapped in plastic. Suited men make their way between office building and restaurant. Occasionally, I will see someone I know and we will nod at each other or wave our hands in acknowledgement but we don’t linger. This time – untethered from screen and phone – is rare; we allow each other wide berth.

A protracted end to the school year (to accommodate snow days in one case, an excess of social activity in another) and the odd weather has lent a strange unreal quality to this season of transitions. Work in the garden has been sporadic. There has been some unexpected travel. Meandering through these days, wandering through the museum galleries without pattern or order. From one time period to the next without attention to history or chronology. In the galleries, some people take notes. I sometimes feel like I am floating. I sometimes feel like I am watching myself float.

The people who live next door to us argue in the middle of the night. They are out on the sidewalk in front of the house shouting. Someone has been injured in a fight. They are awaiting help. Somewhere there is a child. A woman’s voice: “Do you see what I am dealing with here? Do you see?”

M. stands by the window, peering through the curtains in the dark. I stay in bed, stare up at the ceiling fan, its blades spinning. The flashing lights of the rescue truck glow red through the curtains. And then it is quiet.

I read about other people’s struggles through mid-life and it makes me feel both less alone and then more. I take fleeting comfort  in knowing that my sadness, my confusion, my frustrations are not unique. There is, after all, relief in recognition. But relief yields then to a kind of shame, blurs into it. How small I am, how insignificant my inarticulate grief. One more voice calling out into the vastness, one cry in the cacophony of this human drama repeated through centuries. One life, finite; the struggle, eternal.

Grief changes nothing. It is wearying. I tell my friend that my heart is tired all the time and he says: “Think instead about all that you are able to give.”

I try to, but cannot. I feel greedy. Stingy and petty. “Think about your capacity to love,” he says, but what I feel is the opposite of capacity. I give nothing without expectation. I am disappointed all the time. All the joys of this life, the love, the light in it will never be sufficient.

“Acceptance is a small, dark room,” I remember reading.

Well ok, I think, I will enter, but you cannot make me stay.

At the museum, there is a painting by Berthe Morisot called Child in a Red Apron. A young girl, the painter’s daughter stands by the window of her home, peering out onto the wintry landscape of Paris. It is a personal painting, a quiet domestic moment, the lines and brush strokes of it suggest haste. It has the quality of a sketch. It is full of motion and light.

I stand in front of it for a while, linger there before I have to leave. There is another woman at the opposite end of the small space. The afternoon light is gentle, illuminating the white-walled room and the painting and both of us standing there.

I think of this painter in her studio. How she happened upon this scene, her young daughter, so beautiful, so still. How she was moved to capture it, to layer it down on canvas. Her urgent, quick strokes. A breathlessness. A gesture toward immortality.

This painter, now gone, and her daughter too. How fragile, how fleeting these lives. Our lives. How we build these tiny monuments to what we have seen here in our time, what we have done, how we have spent our days. Who we have loved and how well we have tried to love them.

All we have tried to do and failed. That we have tried.