Saturday, September 14, 2013

Any Port in a Storm

"Were you out there praying?," my grandmother asked me, as we sat at the galley table in the 33-foot cabin cruiser, now docked safely in the marina.

"Nope. Singing," I admitted, making that little head-duck gesture that I still sometimes do when embarrassed. I'd been caught doing what I usually did when I could no longer do anything else to make myself feel better: I was singing through the songbook in my head of every show-tune I knew.  In this case, "out there" was the open-air aft-deck of my family's boat, during a slashing mid-summer rainstorm on Long Island Sound. I'd spent a couple of hours riding out the storm, with its choppy waves that made me painfully seasick, out in the open, wearing a life-vest over my tee-shirt and shorts, with an improvised safety line tethering me to the base of the ladder that led to the fly-bridge.  My parents were concerned that I might wash overboard if a rogue swell hit us.  In a family of avid sailors, for whom weekends and summer vacations meant boat-trips, I was the only one who was regularly prone to seasickness.  Being inside a closed cabin, even on a calm day, would likely have meant spending the trip in the head, or heading outside to lean over the rail and upchuck.

So, on that day of high winds and growing waves, with the sudden rainsquall that overtook us, I chose to be wet, cold, and in the open air, rather than take my chances in the closed cabin with my brothers, my grandmother, and her two adventure-loving sisters, my great-aunts. My parents were on the fly-bridge, piloting us back to port: Dad checking his chart notes, and monitoring various navigational gadgets, and Mom handling the helm on the precise compass heading and speed instructions he gave her.  And to keep me from crying over how nauseated I was, and to keep the deep breaths coming, the ones that help keep me from hurling, I had been sitting on the lower deck, breathing the fresh air, soaked to the skin, with my hair hanging around my face in dripping limp strands; singing.

"You're a girl after my own haht, singing in the stawhm", my grandmother beamed, in her broad north-suburban Boston accent.  Nani was our "fun grandmother", the eternal Pollyanna, the grandma who wore sneakers, shorts and a swimsuit whenever possible, Nani who could throw together a thermos of coffee and a picnic on a moment's notice and head to the beach or the pool, or the zoo, or the mountains in a flash.  She'd been widowed in her late 50's, travelled the world with her sisters, took up photography and began winning prizes in her late 60's.  She also had crippling, painful rheumatoid arthritis that attacked nearly every joint in her body, in the age before NSAIDs and steroid treatments came along.  It was her swimming (sometimes in the icy ocean off the coast of Maine in the summer), her insistence on walking, her picture-taking, her zest for life, and her stubborn Pollyanna optimism that kept the pain at bay. She simply refused to give in to self-pity, or if she did, she took great pains that no one ever found out about it.

There's that "game for anything" smile of Nani's. (maybe a shot of that stuff helped the arthritis too.) 

There are days when I wish I had Nani's die-hard ability to put up a brave front.  Days like today.

Today was Friday the 13th, another narrow gate, (If you haven't been reading the blog very long, see my previous posts on wobbling through narrow gates to know what I'm talking about.), one that caught me by surprise.  I had forgotten to pick some kind of mental "pebble" to draw my attention to the other side of the gate.   I also made the mistake of taking on some interpersonal stuff that I should have left for another day, and that made it even worse.  Today I've been doing more than wobbling.  I've been crashing painfully.  It's been a day of tears and a lost, unproductive state in which I found myself in my exercise clothes all day, but somehow never made it outside to do my run.  I spent hours sitting at my computer, but the final paper for the quarter hasn't been written.  The bills I was supposed to dig up for a bit of accounting somehow never got found.  The dishes piled up.  The laundry never got started.  The dog kept wandering over and putting her tiny front paws on the lap of the zombie in the chair.  She even tried that ultra-cute head-tilt while looking at my face for some sign I was still alive.

But this afternoon, I realized that if I went out to do errands with uncombed hair, no make-up, wearing my sloppy tee-shirt and running pants, I'd feel even worse with every imagined pitying glance I'd be attracting.  Or maybe even worse, I'd be invisible: so frumpy as to be beyond noticing.

So, I shuffled into some decent clothes, tried to make my hair look less like a red-blonde pot-scrubber and more like a coiffure, and even got into the usual quantity of spackle, mascara, and lipstick to complete the look.

 And without thinking about it, from somewhere in my head, the show-tune soundtrack got cued, (thank you, Nani) and I found myself singing:

 "...who cares what they're wearing on Main Street or Saville Row (or Walnut Creek)  It's what you wear from ear-to-ear and not from head-to-toe that matters..."  (Need a little corny pick me up? Click here for the video clip from the musical, Annie.)

I think I may need to see what Broadway collections I can find on iTunes, maybe make myself a CD of stuff to keep my breathing deep and the tears and sick-feeling at bay for a little while longer.  It worked in a different season of storms.  It might be worth a try again.

If you pull up beside me at a red light and I'm belting out those show tunes, just look the other way and pretend you don't know me. I'll be better soon.  Meanwhile, I'll try to remember to stay tethered to the bottom of the ladder 'til the storm passes.

*******  "Have courage, my soul, and let us journey on.  Though the night is dark and I am far from home, thanks be to God, the morning light appears.  The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!"  ***********

Another song in my inner soundtrack is this one.  Definitely NOT Broadway, but a favorite of my choir buddies, and one that my choir family sang for me at Andre's memorial: The Storm is Passing Over.    This performance is by the Detroit Mass Choir and they sing it with a lean, muscular punch,( and a cool Hammond organ part) that few choirs can match.  Enjoy !

No comments:

Post a Comment