Shambolic indeed, but things are starting to settle down

Ella up in the mountains with her prominent tongue

shambolic: Word of the Day from Dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-day/shambolic-2020-06-05/

I’ve been meaning to get back to the blog, and now’s as good a time as any.

Miriam’s mom passed last summer right after we had a scare and thought our 14-year-old Ella would die while we were in Italy.

The old girl couldn’t make it up the stairs and out of our little flat where Miriam had lived when we met. It’s actually a curious place that you enter by way of really steep steps, so we’ve gone back and forth on perhaps finding something more suitable for a small child.

Although we’d planned to be down there for the month of August last year, the turmoil of losing Oma Margarete and helping Opa Günter get settled into his new life meant we had to decide where we needed to be.

Alas, it wasn’t in Liguria as we’d hoped. We stayed home in Bavaria and went back and forth to Franconia as often as we could manage. Timing our trips to avoid the Stau (traffic jams) on the Autobahn towards Nuremberg, we were there for Miriam’s papa and it gave the baby lots of time to be surrounded by her remaining maternal grandparent and assorted extended family up there.

Then in October, we ultimately lost the dog. She’d been by my side pretty much constantly, aside from travel where I couldn’t take her, along with her brother, and if you know anything about me, those dogs had been a central part of my life for many seasons.

I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I’m thrilled Ella could be the progeny’s first dog. She was just the right amount of tolerant with a small child. When she’d had enough, she’d simply move away and wait for the next baby intrusion, which was bound to happen.

So there we were without Miriam’s mom and that dog I’d loved so madly. It was a rough 2019, but we were happy to have gotten through it with as much dignity as we could muster.

Back to the word shambolic. The change of year didn’t stop the life altering events, because in February we lost my mom. It certainly wasn’t unexpected, but even when you know its coming?

You never know how something’s going to affect you, and this was no different. The shambolic nature of our life just seemed to shift into a higher gear. It was almost surreal.

Now with a bit of distance from those shocking events, we’re starting to settle down again. We talk about Oma Martha all the time, and how she and the progeny’s other grandmother would love to see how this child is growing and learning.

The deeper grief starts to work its way through our systems, though. Miriam going through her mother’s winter coats a few days ago. Me packing up as much of my mom’s stuff as I could manage. It’s all just too much crap, which makes me now want to accumulate fewer things.

We grabbed what we could back in Texas, crammed it in our overweight bags and got on the plane grateful that we were allowed to go back home to Germany.

What next? Hopefully this year gets less shambolic, but the world outside and the drama surrounding how people deal with this Covid19 virus seems to have other plans.

Perhaps because I’m my mother’s son, I’m always looking for the best in difficult situations. It has been nice to stay home, work online and reassess the things that matter.

Shambolic or not, I’m hoping we keep finding the silver lining in the dark clouds swirling round us and everybody.

Here’s a photo of the progeny and one of my mom’s best friends Kaye’s cat Fred:

Hope you’re all making the best of these weird times. I’ll certainly keep writing about our adventures here. Hope to see some of you along the way. Virtually or face-to-face, whichever the case may be.

Oliver Sacks has died and I can’t get Rilke’s Der Panther out of my head

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Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.’

I can’t help it. Oliver Sacks is dead, and there are a myriad of thoughts shooting through my brain. I want to write about all of them.

Actually, I’d rather brew a pot of coffee and settle in to watch each of said thoughts explode into the room. The same way I did with a percussionist friend I knew in college who turned me on to a particular man who mistook his wife for a hat. That’s not even the best Oliver Sacks connection – just the first one I knew.

Later I read his ponderings on music and the ways it impacts our brains – fascinating stuff. Stuff with which to brew another pot of coffee, I assure you.

I’ve read so many obituaries and essays today about how important he was to this or that writer or thinker or scientist, and I want to link to every last one of them. I wish I could take you on a tour through my obsessive day of Oliver Sacks devotion, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do his memory justice. Having said that, I think he might’ve moderately appreciated the attempt to tie in all these disparate ideas that’re still overloading my brain.

Instead, I’m just going to get a tad bit obsessive about Der Panther, which is the German poem I’ve included above. Although I was well aware of his poetry before I saw the film Awakenings, Rilke’s words grabbed me and shook me out of a weird slumber. In the hands of Robin Williams’ character, I was thoroughly jostled by the image of the big cat pacing back and forth in his cramped cage.

This isn’t normally a place where I allow myself to analyse poetry, so I’m loath to go down that road. Although it’s tempting, I’m more inclined to provide a few links and let you go there if you’re so inclined.

First of all, quite an impressive selection of translations can be found at Alternate Translations of The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke, and if you’d rather have a ‘Best Of’, here’s Der Panther: Six Ways of Looking at a German Poem. There’s a nice article by John Banville in The New York Review of Books called Study The Panther!

As he says there, ‘…Rilke had no illusions about the solitariness of the artistic project, or its difficulty…‘, and that’s where my thoughts finally settle in the darkest corner of the night as I continue to consider Oliver Sacks.

I could wax philosophic about how he faced his death and expressed himself so exquisitely in the process. Were I to do so, I’d certainly focus on that last stanza and how he recently announced his illness so publicly and fearlessly. Instead, I’ll just wrap this up with the Stephen Mitchell translation of the poem:

‘His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. 
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides 
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–. 
An image enters in, 
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.’