[CLICK TITLE TO READ MORE] I made my youngest grandchild a birthday cake for her party today. She is two years old. I also made a 2-year-old quilt, something I also did for each of her cousins. Pink is her favorite color. For now.
The quilt is cotton with a cotton filling and a pieced backing that is partially pink with metallic gold dots. The cake is yellow, some of it tinted pink from the addition of black Oregon huckleberries. I made lemon curd and raspberry jam for the fillings, and a huge batch of blackberry buttercream for the frosting. It is the most incredible pink. I knew this trick with blackberry juice in buttercream from a previous series of cake made to please my oldest grandchild, who turned six last fall. Fresh organic raspberries. Organic everything, because we do not like to take chances with toxins.
Two cake batches, blackberry syrup to flavor and color the double batch of buttercream, and lemon curd. I completely thrashed the kitchen. Powdered sugar everywhere. Crumbs. Gary was cleaning my mess for me as I began typing this.
Gary is good to do this cleaning, but he reminds me that I was in the kitchen all day. He had a hard day himself. We had to make a correction to our taxes, he cleaned the walkway and trimmed shrubs on the north side of the house, and his brother called to complain and then hung up on him. This brother is afraid of all sorts of things that might not worry me in the slightest. That’s because he is mentally ill and unable to step away from himself long enough to think about others. Others are always dangerous to his mind.
Years ago I heard the poet Naomi Shihab Nye say that even as a child she felt this strange homesickness for a place she’d never been. She realized that what she missed was the place where poetry resides. At least, that is what I remember her saying.
Another poet, the marvelous Tracy Smith, recently discussed the terrible hunger she sees for literature: “I have this belief that we are so vulnerable when we open ourselves up to literature. We’re reminded of these real parts of ourselves.” Perhaps it is that willingness to be vulnerable, that we pursue. It is some vestige of glory in our souls—not paychecks or adoring crowds or battlefields, but something more like what e’re inclined to term humanity.
Some see vulnerability as weakness, when it is actually strength. To be open and accepting requires that we have the strength to remain standing under the weight of chance, of betrayal and error. Not everyone can manage that.
The alternative is continual anger and fear. No one is wise while continually angry and fearful.
Ursula K. Le Guin writes: “All old people are nostalgic for certain things they knew that are gone, but I live in the past very little. So why am I feeling like an exile?” No time to lose—yes, that’s it exactly.
I willingly call myself old and I am grateful to Le Guin for reinforcing my sense that aging is inevitable, but has its perks. I will die, but I have lived long enough to know what might be missed if I fail to pay attention.
The past is not my usual space to dwell, though I fret over lost friends and family. I fret over misunderstandings concerning recent history and that my students do not know the parts of speech or how to construct a formal outline. I am nostalgic for my own excellent education. More often, I look ahead to what I might still accomplish. Most often I am here and now, figuring out my life one step forward at a time.
I have thought about my place in time often over the years. Just now, reading Le Guin’s last book, I am thinking a good deal about what I might do with whatever time I have left. I might have as many years as Ursula. She was younger than I am now when I first met her, and her lifespan suggests I might still be living and writing sensibly into my 80s. I hope during this time to find the poetry in myself.
More of us might seek that strength that risks communion, that loves and forgives, that locates the heart of our hearts. I think, at least, that I might have time to do that, to continue looking forward. To open myself. To hear. And to give voice without fear.
And pink cakes.