All of It

I stepped out of the hotel we were staying in and onto the city sidewalk that was already filled with people, even though it wasn’t yet ten in the morning. But it was Saturday, and the sun was out again, and the temperature was nearing what felt like “my kind of perfect” and so immediately my spirit was buoyed as I set off in the opposite direction than the one I had taken the day before, eager to discover new sights and experiences in the cosmopolitan city we were visiting, and today it would be without dodging raindrops and a cold wind.

Only a few minutes from our hotel, I turned right, following the concierge’s directions and it was as if I had entered a new city altogether:  I was standing in a wide, cobblestoned street with quaint shops on either side as far as the eye could see, and everything was alive with early morning sunlight. The cold sidewalks shaded by skyscrapers, and the noise of the taxis and buses and cars, and the pinched faces and vacant eyes of people used to surviving in a big city disappeared as I entered the spacious promenade.

There were couples strolling, and people reading newspapers while relaxing on benches, or leaning contentedly against a storefront as the sun warmed them. There were young parents, one managing lattes and pastries, the other pushing a stroller and holding a small hand. Pairs of teenage girls giggled and walked arm in arm and older couples moved briskly along in athletic clothing, or sat, sharing a small meal at an outside restaurant. It was beautiful, and it was just what I needed.

Soon, I became aware of music coming from somewhere farther down the walk and so I slowly made my way to where it was and found myself standing in an open space where a middle-aged man dressed in a classy tuxedo and red bow tie was playing a cello. The music swelled, coursing through those of us who had come to a pause to listen, drawing us all together for a few moments in time.

Turning my face toward the sun, I stood for many minutes with eyes closed, listening, and soon warm, full tears were brimming my lashes, making their way quietly down my cheeks.

It had been a rough trip. We had taken my mother and father with us on the road to enjoy a few weeks together while we worked, as well as having planned in time for play. But my father’s Dementia had progressed much faster than any of us had expected, and to make matters worse, we were mostly in denial that he even had something really going on, because he hadn’t yet been diagnosed and, having never been there before, none of us could recognize the territory we were in.

But the trip had been harrowing. Each day, my parents looked more stressed, more strained, and my father more disoriented and anxious. My heart felt as if it had been broken into a million pieces, and strewn across the universe, and as if it would take a hundred years or more to gather it together again. And so I wept, finally. Soothed for just a few moments by what felt like Goodness, I didn’t care that I stood in a sea of strangers and I didn’t lift a hand to wipe tears away…

When I opened my eyes again I noticed a few smiling, or appreciative faces on the other side of the open space, and followed a bystander’s gaze.

It was an older man, dressed in a very worn, and outdated suit. It was yellowed and tarnished, having perhaps once been a minty-gold with light plaid, and on his head he wore a hat from the same era. He must have been eighty years old, and as the middle-aged man played the cello and the notes rose and fell, the older man danced.

He danced by himself, swaying this way and that, making his way across the expanse of cobblestones without a partner, but as gracefully as the memory he still held, his fingers knotted with arthritis, and knees that didn’t any longer allow him to totally straighten them. And at the end of the music, the older man would lay his hat out for tourists to drop coins into, and as tourists, we were faced with the reality that we were his livelihood. He didn’t spend his mornings out here dancing merely for the joy of it, and to make us smile, but to survive. And neither did the Asian man, playing the cello while his wife and small son helped to sell CDs during his breaks. My heart began to sink, as I took it all in.

Just then, a loud clapping and banging sound began to happen about fifty feet away. I looked up to see a boy about the age of ten on a skateboard. He was performing skate boarding tricks with his friends and would use his feet to make one, and then the other end of the board rise up into the air and then would bring both feet down on top of it as it hit the ground, over and over again, the loud clap and bang, carried through the air to our ears, shattering the soft of the music and the warmth of the sun and the ease and the grace of what felt like harmony for just one moment in time.

Anger rose in my throat and I wanted to shout; I wanted to plead; I wanted to bargain with the boy and with Life itself to make everything Good again—make suffering non-existent for All of us. For my father and my mother and my family; for the 80-year old man who danced for mere coins and for the accomplished musician who played the cello on a Saturday to keep his family safe and dry.

But then I got it. I understood.

It’s All of It. You can’t keep Bad out and you can’t keep Good in, and in fact there’s no such thing as either one, ultimately. There’s just Life. And without Dad’s dementia, maybe I wouldn’t have heard the music that morning, but would have hurried on by, eager to see what else was around the next corner…

And so I put money in the old man’s hat, and I bought two CDs from the musician’s wife and son, and I walked on. Smiling. Grateful. Heartbroken. Heartopened.




Life is Mostly Quiet

Believe me, you don’t have to know.

Not so much that you render yourself helpless.

Helpless in the face of what Life brings next.

So make peace with knowing very little.

About Love.

About Others.

About how life should be.

Make amends with how things are.

Not knowing a thing,

walk with gentle knees,

ready to drop to them, at any moment

that Life dictates it.

Keep an empty hand

so that it can be brought to your heart

when a grief arrives.

Make up a bed that you can fall into

as your own, comforting arms.


We come to find that Life is mostly quiet.

It asks us to live by our Knowing, while

surrendering that very same thing.

It vibrates easily around us,

candid and benevolent.

You see, it’s only

when we root ourselves solid in some Knowing again,

that Life seems to have to shout –



from Its whisper.

“Life Is Mostly Quiet”em claire
©2008 All Rights Reserved

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