Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life is a carnival

As we race toward the end of the year, we're racing also toward the end of the decade.

What were you doing when the calendar rolled over to 2000? How much has your life changed in the ensuing 10 years? (I'm really asking, by the way.)

I rang in the year 2000 with my husband, daughter, parents and Wally Reinhardt, a good family friend, on beaches of the Mexican Riviera - dancing on the sand to live music and watching a "torito" of fireworks burn the first few minutes of the 21st century away. There seemed nothing, nothing at all, that would make a better beginning.

A week or so later, my family would troop to Mexico City for my daughter's belated baptism and the subsequent party - notable for its food and the canary who picked my daughter's fortune from a basket. "You will be happy," my daughter's fortune read. "And although destiny has made you pretty, do not be conceited. Work to keep a noble heart." We were all happy. I remember it on our faces. And around the table, some very noble hearts.

My husband, daughter and I returned from Mexico to our snowy cabin in the woods outside of Hamilton, N.Y. It was - and still is - the little corner of the world best loved by my heart. Coy-dogs and wild turkeys and deer were our closest neighbors. We awaited the yearly crop morel mushrooms, gem-studded puffballs, mayapples and trout lilies on the ground; the crayfish, little jeweled frogs and brown trout in the stream; and the tiny hummingbird nests hidden halfway to the sky.

We settled back into our routines, the day-to-day lives that now, in retrospect, stand as the best of times. Then, little more than a month into 2000, my mother died.

It was the opening salvo of a decade that when it comes to an end on Dec. 31, will have included more sorrows than joys, more destruction than creation, more heartache than heart's ease.

I miscarried a child. And then another and another. We moved away from our beloved woods. My father got sick, suffered, died. Friends I thought I'd never lose, I did. My husband was unemployed for half the decade. We went from poor but solvent to poor and insolvent and worried about just making it from week to week. Depression, PTSD-like effects of childhood sexual abuse, health concerns, surgeries. It seems like the litany of darkness might go on until the end of time.

And yet.

My brothers both married in this decade, as did one of my brothers in law. I have six nieces and nephews now - all amazing little beings as distinct from one another as the leaves I see changing outside the window today. My daughter has grown from an amazing 5-year-old to an amazing 15-year-old and guess what? She's survived my parenting just fine. My husband is employed at a job he loves. Friends I never thought to seek have made their way into my life. I've discovered social media in this decade, and rediscovered every kind of writing I ever loved and had set aside - from journalism to poetry.I also rediscovered the peculiar joy of seeing my words paid, and in print.

Rediscovery has, in fact, been the hallmark of this decade for me.

The social justice activism I set aside after college has re-emerged in advocacy for immigrants. The religion I also wholly set aside is now part of my everyday life. The assimilated Latina gave way to something just a little different - a woman in community. A mucha honra.

I don't think my ups and downs are unique to my decade. We need only look at the highs and lows of the economy; the ways both the best of the American Dream and the worst have taken center stage in our collective lives; the ways we have lived, in Dickens' words, the best and worst of times.

Not too many months ago my family attended the carnival at St. Joe's Parish in Downingtown. Yes, the ferris wheel photo at the top of this post is from that outing. I have always been an adrenaline junkie - no person in news business can be otherwise - and have done my share of facing down fears. Scared of snakes? Then, let me drape myself in them while on a trip to Thailand. Scared of heights? Let me jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet with nothing but a thin tissue of nylon to stop my fall. And still, at the parish carnival, I refused to go on the ferris wheel.(My husband went on it with my daughter.) I had to be coerced, in fact, to go on a horrid pirate ship ride that pitched me forward and backward, with my eyes firmly shut. I'm told the child in the seat in front of me laughed through the whole ride. So, the question is, has this decade birthed fear in me?

The answer is undeniably, yes.

And yet.

I was working on my novel a few days ago (I'll post some other time about how this decade also swallowed whole my last novel). One of the characters is like I was before the calendar page turned in 2000 - seemingly fearless. She climbs as high as she can to get close as she can to the stars. Her explanation? The stars cast their light on us without regard for whether we deserve the illumination or not. Without regard for our fears, or our small, brave stands. Without regard for whether we have become what we imagined, oh say, a decade ago.

This decade has also birthed a sort of awareness of the significant synchronicities in life. The way, if you want (and I do), God sheds light on us. The way, for example, as I'm writing this, my eyes fall on the words of one of columnists in our Catholic newspaper this week:
You know the number of the stars and call each of them by name.

It is a line from the psalms intoned in Morning Prayer - the Divine Office prayed across the globe, every day. I like the rest of the psalm, too. The way it speaks, the way it illuminates the step that bridges closure and beginning:
Heal hearts that are broken, gather together those who have been scattered....
No canary could pick a better wish for a new decade than this. No person could pray for better.


  1. THE DECADE ENDED IN 2009 :)

  2. Only if 0 serves as your one.;-)
    And, no need to scream it, dude.

  3. What an absolutely beautiful, heartfelt essay, Sabrina. I have many wishes for the New Year, and you know what one of them is? That we can get together! After all - it's been almost three decades... Love, Beth

  4. Beth,

    It would be a joy to see you again. Has it really been three decades? How is that possible?


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