Pura Vida

Life in full circle

See, Memories

What was the day the music died? Mourning and memories.

This is the first day that I have really had second thoughts about the Costa Rica experiment.  It was one of those perfect days in the early fall in the Pacific Northwest when the air was totally crisp and clear, the temperature was about 80, and the sky was cloudless.  For the first time since June, I put a saddle on my horse Teddy and rode around and around our meadow, followed by the current pack of 4 dogs.  Teddy has been somewhat lame all summer. He is only 11, and seems to have some diffuse inflammation in all 4 legs which may make it impossible for him to work as a dressage horse or lesson horse anymore.  In the past I would have been impatient with this, because dressage was my daily passion and pursuit, but since my own aging process has accelerated, complete with “degenerative arthritis” severe enough to have had a knee replacement last summer, I can only sympathize with Master Theodore.  Neither one of us has a good bone scan.  But today we were able to wander around the meadow, 5 full loops, and with each loop came the flood of memories of a life lived, children raised, dogs and horses and people who have lived here and died here.  The ghosts just wouldn’t stop. 

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When you have a lot of graves in your backyard, at certain times one sees the beings all arisen and as they used to be.  Maybe the 9/11 anniversary makes this more salient today, because so many people are in mourning.  I mourn the last 10 years as well, mostly because 9/11 empowered the Bush administration to launch wars and domestic policies that have bankrupted the country and turned the political tide to the right.  Bin Laden must have been pleased, before he died, to note his unique success:  he seems to have ushered in the end of the age of the American Empire.  Now we are broke, and an illiterate bunch of crazy elephants threaten to overtake our government.  Certainly, I mourn for the dead and the bereaved of 9/11, but I think I began to mourn for our country back in the late 1960s, when the drugs got bad and the music got worse, as Frank Zappa said.  Vietnam and drugs chewed up my friends and peers.  Something dark touched me deep inside, and the music died long before 9/11, as Don McLean said in American Pie. Maybe it died the day John Lennon was shot. More likely it was the lingering mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But life went on after the Vietnam War, and after Reagan and the Cold War.  I raised my children, and I can see them on their ponies in the meadow and I know where the ponies are buried now. The jumps we set up are mostly gone, but at least one person who practiced here went to the Olympics.   I learned dressage, and I rode over my best teacher’s grave today, a Hanoverian gelding nicknamed Shanti. He died 2 hours before my father in law.  My husband’s parents ashes are in the meadow, overgrown with ripe blackberries today.  They lived with us, in a double wide trailer in the back yard, for 12 summers, and so they wanted to be buried here, with a bottle of Crown Royal for my father-in-law, Nat.  During those 12 summers three generations really knew each other.  I don’t think this will happen again.

I leave for Costa Rica in exactly 6 weeks, when it starts to rain here and the rain stops there.  I can picture the beach and the hummingbirds, the estuary and the spoonbills and the big clumsy vultures.  It will be pleasant to float and swim and speak Spanish and drink beer on ice again, and I look forward to the quiet and isolation of my village.  But this time I think I’ll miss Meadowland, not as much for what it is in the present moment as a repository of my past, probably my best years.  I can now understand Nabokov’s nostalgia for a Russia he never saw again after he left in 1919, and I doubt that my memory is as good as his, to make the past glisten in the sun of my imagination while I’m far away.  How can memory speak, without the triggers of place and the material world? His memory could speak, but mine mostly sees. I don’t know, but for now I’m glad to be astride the two worlds, and not fully committed to either one.  

Judith Eve Lipton, M.D. is a psychiatrist and book author. She and her husband David Barash have written about sex, war, and human nature.

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