Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Comfort and Joy

This really happened (as Cody used to say every time he told a story about his childhood, in Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant).

This is the end-of-dinner conversation at my house on a wintry Tuesday night:
Ron comes out of the kitchen, where he has been making tea, scoops the cat (Sammy) up because he's been following him around squeaking insistently, and holds him near Eleanor's face, as she eats her doughnut. I say don't hold the cat up to peoples' faces when they're eating. Ron says that Sammy wants attention and kisses him. Walker and I tell him to take the cat in the bedroom. "Forbidden love," the kids say and then we all chorus "the love that dare not squeak its name."
“I’m laughing too hard to eat my doughnut” I choke.
“That’s the ultimate sign that your life is good” Eleanor declares.

Gradually, I recover from my laughing fit. The parakeets in the corner of the dining room adjust their volume down a notch as I do. Ron goes back to telling Eleanor what she should say to the teacher who told her she had a red face today in the cafeteria. "That's racist," he insists. "She'll give me detention for being a smartass," Eleanor replies.
We continue discussing the school dress code and wondering why it's not allowed to wear a t-shirt with a heart on it if the heart has spikes through it.

After dinner, we watch a heart-warming Christmas special in which Santa and Jesus do a nightclub medley of Christmas songs and Satan sings "It's Christmastime in Hell." Later I have to drive to work in the freezing drizzle, but Ron is reading to both kids and what I have to do ends up taking only a few minutes, so I'm back in time to say goodnight.

Eleanor's declaration has colored the whole evening, for me. It's like this Wallace Stevens poem, Anything Is Beautiful If You Say It Is:

Under the eglantine
The fretful concubine
Said, "Phooey, Phoo!"
She whispered, "Pfui!"

The demi-monde
On the mezzanine
Said "Phoeey!" too,
And a Hey-de-i-do!"

The bee may have all sweet
For his honey-hive-o,
From the eglantine-o.

And the chandeliers are neat...
But their mignon, marblish glare!
We are cold, the parrots cried,
In a place so debonair.

The Johannisberger, Hans.
I love the metal grapes,
The rusty, battered shapes
Of the pears and of the cheese

And the window's lemon light,
The very will of the nerves,
The crack across the pane,
The dirt along the sill.

Sometimes you take a step back to be able to see something you've missed from day to day, like the dirt along the sill, in order to clean it up before you invite guests for dinner. And then sometimes you are spurred to take a giant step back ("mother may I?" "Yes, you may") and you can see everything, even the dirt, as part of the particular joy of that moment.

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