I know that some of you are sick and tired of hearing about Intestinal Health. (In fact, Athena says that my continual use of the word “Gut” has turned the term into a complete turnoff for her in every possible way. I'm sorry, Sister-Mine--it really would be nicer if instead of discussing our colon or esophagus or anus, we could refer to our “Dulcinea” or “Chatoyant” or “Propinquity.” However, I am just not ready to take on the lexicographers at this present time.)
For now, please humor my continued discussion of human digestion and check out this article:
“Think Twice: How the Gut's 'Second Brain' Influences Mood and Well-Being.”
Summary: “The emerging and surprising view of how the enteric nervous system in our bellies goes far beyond just processing the food we eat.”
Did you know that 95 percent of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels? Or that “an often-overlooked network of neurons lining our guts...is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our 'second brain'”??
“A deeper understanding of this mass of neural tissue, filled with important neurotransmitters, is revealing that it does much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body...”
Okay, I'm done talking about digestion until the end of this letter.
Last Thursday, I cooked All Day. I washed three tremendous, greasy piles of dishes and pots, and Jeff washed at least one load more. I spent a terribly horribly frustrating hour and a half, digging through a half-blenderized pot of thick meat stew, trying to find three very tiny (but definitely un-blendable) lamb bones so that I could finish making a double-batch of Egg Things http://www.lifeisapalindrome.com/recipes/gaps-egg-things .
While I was busy cursing at the horrible hidden lamb bones, Jem was getting steadily more ready for napping, until he was entirely Past Due, at which point he and Ben started fighting and then screaming, and by the time I had accumulated another sinkful of dishes and located all the bone fragments, I couldn't figure it out: _is_ there a purpose or a meaning in this life? As I lay down to put Jem to sleep, he spontaneously developed a gory bloody nose all over me and the bed, and snuffled sadly off to nap.
And yet, somehow, all the groceries got purchased, all the food got made, all the juicing got done--enough for everyone in the family, for four days. And there were my boys, hugging me goodbye. And there was Jeff, kissing me and--in the sweetest possible gesture of love and support--prepared to hold down the fort for four days as a single dad.
And then, I left. I drove off in the car, on a sunny Friday morning, and I didn't come back until dinnertime three days later...
I immediately switched songs if I didn't personally want to listen to them. I contemplated only my own navel. I experimented with the sensation of delicious, non-explanatory decision making (for example: absolutely no one else needed to know when I had\to urinate). I noted that when the universe threw me an annoyance or two (a pile of dog crap that I stepped in right next to a sign in the rest area that read,”Dogs Prohibited”), I was responsible only and exclusively for cleaning my own shoes.
I Noticed Stuff: huge trees, Upscale Rural mansions, all the clouds in the sky, the way music pulled at my heartstrings uninterruptedly while I imagined kissing Jeff (and during this last pleasant diversion, _no one_ yelled “...Mama! _I_ want the racecar truck, RIGHT NOW!!” from the backseat at exactly the most heartstringy moments).
I noticed that the road noise was so loud when I opened the windows that the stereo emitted just a suggestion of music.
I pondered the miracle of maps and directions: how you follow them, and watch new landscapes come alive, and then actually show up someplace new.
I made a list of road signs:
---“Raised Structure Ahead.” (There was nothing raised or structure-like. I wonder if someone stole it?)
---“Sidewalk Closed to Pedestrians.” (Except that the sidewalk was solid and concrete-y, and _not_ closed or blocked off in any way.)
---“Bump.” (This was ironic because while the road had been _full_ of potholes up till this point, the sign was positioned at a spot where the asphalt was relatively smooth.)
---“Single Lane.” (I noticed this sign while driving in one of two northbound lanes.)
--“Thickly Settled.” (What does this _mean,_ and how does it impact me as a driver?)
In case you're one of my rare acquaintances who hasn't experienced my phobia surrounding automobiles, I'll explain that I strive _always_ to obey posted speed limits. This means that 1). I had to pass a few pesky slow drivers in NY on Rt. 88; and 2). When I crossed the state line into Massachusetts, I began collecting tailgaters on my bumper like they were maggots attracted to my rotting car. In Massachusetts, there's also an inverse correlation whereby the shittier the road surface is, the faster the tailgaters want you to drive.
Somewhere west of Worcester, I was driving along happily when an oncoming car headed by in the opposite direction. At this precise second, the Happy Asshole behind me decided to _pass_--and suddenly three of us were cozily inhabiting two narrow lanes.
A moment later, we were all still alive. “I HAVE TWO SMALL CHILDREN AT HOME!” I yelled uselessly. “AND A HUSBAND, TOO!” The total irony is that I drove behind this person for the next _twenty minutes,_ and at every traffic light and stop sign I waved happily and mouthed things like “ARE YOU HAVING A REALLY BAD DAY, OR DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER EXCUSE?” and “I HOPE YOU ARE REALLY HAPPY YOU MADE THAT EFFICIENT, TIME-SAVING MANEUVER!” until finally the driver gesticulated wildly, and turned onto a different road.
When I went to sleep-away camp for the first time, the counselors there were practically the Coolest People on earth. They wore hiking boots, and went running in the dark and canoeing in white water; they laughed about eating camp food all year, as well as their austere communal living quarters overrun by mice. It was all Totally adventurous and awesome. I wanted to be one of them someday.
I wasn't quite clear on what it would _mean_ to Be Them: would I simply have to acquire hiking boots? Attend Outward Bound? Eat bland, starchy food every day? Facilitate ropes' courses for kids? It didn't really matter, because I was just at the beginning of my Double Digits and I was an Impressionable Youth. And when I met Betsy Miller, with her hiking boots and deep laugh, who looked like Kate Winslet (but prettier)...well, I was just consumed with the kind of breathless admiration that Dar Williams captures so perfectly in “The Babysitter's Here.” http://www.google.com/url?url=http://s0.ilike.com/play%23Dar%2BWilliams…
I went on Betsy's fabulous night hike, and attended some crafts workshop she led, cried bitterly on the last day of camp, and wrote her letters immediately afterward. Betsy actually wrote back, with gorgeously illustrated ones of her own, which included poetry and glamorous details of backwoods adventures. Whenever she drove somewhere new and long-distance, she told me, she always stopped along the way to go for a quick run.
Even after I grew too old for camp, Betsy and I still visited. These visits generally involved impossibly challenging logistics that just _shouldn't_ be possible...but happened anyway. (Like the time I was riding my bike through the Rockies, and Betsy was scheduled to meet me on her own cross-country trip, except her car broke down, and I didn't have a cell phone...and then she caught up with me on the top of a mountain pass just over the border into Idaho.)
And then...years went by, with letters, and more visits. And I grew up. I learned to appreciate, after awhile, that Betsy is the rare adult who takes a young person seriously – and who, once that young person becomes an adult, is not afraid to be friends.
It was this treasure of a friendship that catapulted me out of my usual life last week, into the car for six hours, and deep into the oak forests of western Massachusetts, to attend a very special wedding.
Betsy and Jonathan met, improbably and romantically, while respectively fulfilling Yearly Family Churchgoing Duty last Christmas Eve. They caught each others' eyes as they sat down in the same pew.
It turned out that Jonathon was (is) a boat builder. It also turned out that they both lived in Maine. And so, back home on January 2nd, they met up to go canoeing in the wintry waters of one of those extremely super-cold spots that they have up there in Maine. And thereafter, the spark that was kindled on Christmas Eve became a full-fledged romantic campfire...
The marriage celebration started days ahead. I got there on Friday, to orchestrate the feast-cooking - and, it turned out, to meet people: Sister Sarah, up to her elbows with me in the giant vat of pasta salad; Friend Lucy, with her devastating British accent, visiting America for the first time; Parents, and more relatives, and more friends, all arriving early to decorate and contribute and celebrate.
The wedding itself was at an old Girl Scout Camp, and the pavilion where the ceremony took place was in the woods, up on a hill above the lake. And then there was Betsy, her long hair flowing loose, radiant in a shimmering blue silk dress. Jonathon's face said enough - along the lines of, “I am _so lucky_”--which is exactly the expression that one wants to see on the face of the man who is about to marry a really great friend.
The minister reminded everybody: Growing a marriage is a lot like growing a garden. Marriage, like gardening, requires preparation, and learning lessons from our mistakes, as well as from what has worked in the past...It's important to pull weeds before they crowd out new growth. One must tend our gardens and partnerships everyday...but not obsessively. And no matter what happens, marriage means you never stop tending. You are making an agreement to witness each others' lives...to be interested...to care how things turn out for each other.
“Do you...” begins the question.
“I do,” said Jonathan.
“With all my heart!” said Betsy. And just like that, my friend and her new husband kissed (and kissed) and walked out of the pavilion, into the glorious autumn day, their partnership blessing us all for this moment, as we blessed them.
It was so super sweet that I sat next to Lucy and alternately laughed and cried.
And then I drove home, by way of a quick visit to see more dear friends. It was just like being seventeen again, sleeping in Susannah and Aaron's spare room--which is to say, it was hugely great to see them.
I went with Susannah for a quick visit to North Star http://northstarteens.org/ on Monday. I have wanted to work at North Star for _years,_ and now that they have a gorgeous new space, I want to work there even more.
Imagine a sunny, bright community center for 58 really happy teenagers who like to play ping-pong and study capoira and math and current events and circus arts and gaming and travel and writing and painting and play, and where there are comics on the bathroom walls, and where people are happy about Being Alive at 10 o'clock on Monday mornings, and where there are tons of awesome mentors hanging around...and you'll get a tiny taste of how cool North Star is. (It's like Not Back to School Camp, but four days per week!)
Imagine a Morning Meeting where the adult in front of the room says, ….Hi guys! Remember that tomorrow is parents' night. You all can't come, because this is where we talk about all of you. And you should definitely send your parents, because this is where we tell them how great you are, and how great homeschooling is, and calm them down and stuff. And if you're parents _aren't_ freaked out about homeschooling, you should send them tomorrow anyway, to help calm the other parents down...”
Okay, I can't stop wishing it. I want to take an unschooling sabbatical and go work there for a year. This won't be happening just yet, but meanwhile, I have a new goal for 2010/2011: I want to help a currently miserable high schooler to rise out of school: http://www.lifeisapalindrome.com/content/seeking-mentor-teenage-highsch… . Please let me know if you hear about one!
(This post continued here: http://www.lifeisapalindrome.com/content/cultivation-something-acceptan… )