It got into the 90s back home the other day and friends complained to me over the phone though guiltily because they knew I’d spent a day in the ER in New York which, honestly, had been a beautiful illuminatory experience and not miserable at all, but they felt sheepish about complaining of a heat wave and the raccoons devouring their strawberries despite the netting and apologized for talking about it, feeling that a brain seizure trumps a heat wave and rapacious raccoons. Not true.
I came through the valley of the shadow of death and the Lord prepared a table before me in the ER and poured oil on my head and I came out feeling like Emily in “Our Town” — “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” I can’t help it that I have a Grover’s Corners side to my personality that emerges during big thunderstorms and at night on the bow of a ship in the mid-Atlantic and once hiking into the Grand Canyon and once during Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and also that time in the ER. Is there such a word as “enraptured”? If there is, that’s what I was.
I expected to be grumpy in old age and of course there’s still time, but instead I’m awestruck. As Emily says, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” No, Emily, but I’ve realized life for about 245 minutes since a week ago, and it’s delicious. I was released on Saturday and went to church on Sunday and the choir was glorious and I wrote in the bulletin:
The words come in with a whistle
Like the sound of an incoming missile.
It’s so good to hear it,
“Let us live in the Spirit,”
From Romans, St. Paul’s epistle.
When you’re in the Spirit, it’s a sort of weight loss. I became 165 pounds, walking down Amsterdam Avenue to lunch with a friend whose granddaughter got married recently, the wedding dress refitted to accommodate the little boy in the bride’s belly, and in her great happiness, the grandma is setting out to write a memoir. I told her to avoid modesty. “No problem,” she said. She is 88, a decade ahead of me, and she is funny and sassy and when she goes after the high and the mighty, she can be devastating. She’s a scout riding ahead on the trail and the report is inspiring.
As for raccoons, I take this seriously. My dad grew up on a farm and he loved fresh strawberries, sweet corn, and tomatoes, and that’s why we were landowners, not apartment dwellers. He knew the difference between fresh strawberries and store-bought and fresh was a pleasure he cherished. He didn’t drink whiskey or chew tobacco or dance the tango, but he loved stuff from his garden. I had artistic ambitions and felt superior to gardeners; I was a songwriter and my best song was the one with the verse in the middle:
I love you, darling,
Waiting for you to show,
Wishing you’d call me though
I don’t have a phone.
But now I don’t see it as superior to strawberries. The wonders of the world all join in praise of the Creator. Minneapolis made a political decision to require dogs to be leashed because loose dogs can be frightening to children. Dogs running loose also defend the garden against raccoons. And so, Rocky Raccoon devours the good strawberries and people have to buy a pint at the grocery for $6, unfresh from California, and so a growing minority believes that a conspiracy of Satanists is running the country.
I do not. A man who goes into the ER amid the dying and distressed and comes out and goes to church is like Emily, a ghost walking among the living, telling them to love this life and all the ordinary things in it, clocks ticking and coffee and the walnut baklava with gelato and the couples walking along Amsterdam and the long-legged woman in denim shorts and the cops having a smoke and the smile on the waiter’s face as she sets down the bill, which moves me to tip her 40%, that smile that says, “Oh, earth, you are too wonderful,” and I say goodbye to my friend and come home. I have ten more years. What a gift. Life is good and one visit to the ER confirms it so let us drive upstate, darling, and look for a sign, “Pick Your Own Strawberries,” and be ecstatic.
Just a suggestion for a family outing on July 4th — start your day with a bike ride or hike on the Lake Wobegon Trail and then attend the July 4th concert in St. Michael (50 miles from Avon and 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis)
The Lake Wobegon Trail
When the storms of life assail you
And you hit a stretch of bumps
And your children chew your arms and legs to little bleeding stumps
And you’re feeling so depressed
And weird thoughts cross your mind
And you dare not take a Rorschach test
For fear of what they’d find—
Before insanity strikes
Let us go and ride our bikes
On the Lake Wobegon Trail
With the wind at our backs we will sail
Straight on ahead
Down the old railbed
Past the pond and field and peaceful homestead
Through St. Joe and Avon it goes
Albany, Freeport, Melrose—
Past hog farms and dairy
Across the wide prairie
Along the Wobegon trail.
When you want to leave the hustle
And get out of your car
And go where there’s no cruelty, no cares, no Kenneth Starr—
And you’re tired of the blather,
The rat race and the grind
And you keep getting farther and farther behind,
Let us preserve our faculties
And ride as slowly as we please
On the Lake Wobegon Trail
Through farm and valley and dale
In the sunshine
Oh what is so fine
As a ride with your pals on the Great Northern line
In downtown Avon we will enter
And go all the way to Sauk Centre
Get your bike and let’s ride
Twenty miles side by side
On the Lake Wobegon Trail.