RBG and the Bugs

I walk to the law school library to see if the Ruth Bader Ginsburg memorial is still there. It isn’t. Only a few bouquets of fresh flowers where all the photos, notes, drawings, flowers and candles had been.

I sit at a picnic table and wait for something to happen—a scene of some sort. Big drops of rain begin to fall. Not many, but enough to make the ink run on the page. Not enough to make me run for cover. Not yet. Continue reading RBG and the Bugs

Stalking the Present Moment

I am trying to learn from the cat. We’re outside, on the second-floor porch. It’s a late summer morning. I’m reading, book in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. I look up and see Lula watching the birds in the neighbors’ yard below.

Why can’t I be more like her—more here, more now—engaged with what’s actually happening rather than the thoughts in my head? Continue reading Stalking the Present Moment

Do Selfies Spoil the Present Moment?

When we got to the top of the mountain, I didn’t take my phone out of my knapsack. But my hiking companion did. To document our being there, at the modest summit, on a late August afternoon.

She asked me to sit on a rock ledge; I complied; she took my photo. I complied again when she turned the phone’s camera inwards and photographed us with our heads together. I politely offered to take her picture, then centered my friend in her phone’s video display with the surrounding valley as background. I tried to keep the four radio towers out of the frame.

The whole process took five minutes at most, minutes more concerned with remembering the present moment than being in it. Continue reading Do Selfies Spoil the Present Moment?

The Diagnosis and the Present Moment

Karen outside at picnic table
Karen, October 2019

Karen, one of my best friends, was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer in September 2019. At the time, she was working as a consultant in a small town in Utah. In early March 2020, before COVID took over the world, we talked at her house in New Hampshire about how getting a difficult diagnosis has changed the way she views the present moment.

Martha Henry: How did you end up in a hospital in Salt Lake City on Labor Day weekend?

Karen: I’d been experiencing some physical discomfort for several months and then had a bowel blockage. Joe, my husband, took me to the emergency room on a Saturday night.

How did you know you had a bowel blockage?

I didn’t until they told me. It was very different from food poisoning. The vomit had different smells.

The emergency room doctor gave me a CT scan. They pumped my stomach and got me stabilized. The doctor was looking at the scans with a flummoxed face. We heard him say something about, There’s more going on here than just the bowel blockage. He was consulting with doctors from Salt Lake who said, Get her up here.

They put me in an ambulance. I had nothing with me. We didn’t pack a bag. It was the middle of the night, driving miles and miles and miles. We didn’t know what was happening. Everything was surreal,  like we knew we were in an alternate universe. Continue reading The Diagnosis and the Present Moment

Why is it so difficult to be in the present moment?

Morning. Coast of Maine. Clear after three days of fog. The horizon visible for the first time since we’ve been here. Blue water, blue sky.

I drink coffee on the shale ledge, watch the tide go out, and wait for the heron to come and catch minnows in the shallows. The milk snake that slithers across the rocks on hot mornings is nowhere to be seen. Offshore, the lobsterman pulls traps from the back of his white boat.

When I think of a perfect morning, this is what I imagine. Here is where I’ve been wanting to be for weeks. Now here, the coffee half gone, the sound of breaking waves, the smell of beach roses and seaweed. The lone gull floating in the inlet takes flight, circles, and with a gentle splash returns to the water.

Always seeing the world through words. Can I write and be present to my surroundings at the same time? Where are you as you read this? Continue reading Why is it so difficult to be in the present moment?

Concert for One

Though it was the first day of fall, the lunchtime sun in the plaza pushed the temperature over 90. Luckily, the shipping container was air-conditioned.

I’d come for a Concert for One, not knowing what to expect. The concerts were the brainchild of Rayna Yun Chou, a violist who, along with many of her fellow classical musicians, felt isolated from the audiences for whom she played. To remedy the situation, she created one-on-one concerts at which one musician plays for one person for one minute. Chou staged the first concerts in her native Taiwan. Now she was collaborating with Celebrity Series of Boston.

The shipping container, painted an impossible-to-miss yellow, was next to a tandoori food truck and across from two pro-gun activists, who sat at a table with a sign that read “I’M PRO CHOICE. PICK YOUR GUN.” above drawings of a handgun, an automatic rifle, and a shotgun. Continue reading Concert for One

The Old Woman on the Steps

I didn’t know the old woman, and, because it was years ago, she’s likely dead by now.

I’d seen her a number of times, sitting alone on the steps in front of her house in our run-down section of Cambridge. She scowled constantly, as if she disapproved of everyone walking by on the sidewalk.

Portuguese and Italian immigrants once occupied most of the neighborhood. Statues of the Virgin Mary still blessed a few concrete yards. The houses, mostly one and two-families with vinyl siding, were close together, nearly touching. Continue reading The Old Woman on the Steps