The Audacious Magpie
A Novel in Real-Time
Chapter 1: Seeing Things
Thursday April 17, 2014
Seeing Things was the subject of Gus's email.
The city misses you around here. I think you knocked it off balance when you left. Spring tripped up this week and fell back into winter for a spell. It was a strange sight to see blossoming trees bowing over snow-covered windshields.
Just before the snow fell on Tuesday night, I was taking the subway home and sat next to a woman and her teenage son. The mother was putting away her umbrella and shaking her head at the freezing rain. "Are we ever going to escape the clutches of this ferocious beast?" she asked him.
Her son, who must have been 16 or so, patted her knee, pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, lay his head on her shoulder and said, "bask in what is, Mom."
She smiled knowingly, as if hearing her own advice recited back to her. She put her arm around him and they sat like that for the rest of the ride, watching the underground world pass by and taking a moment to enjoy each other's company.
His instructions rang in my ears as I emerged from the subway to find freezing rain turned to snow. I tipped my umbrella up to watch the massive flakes fall down and melt in the streets' rivulets. The flakes looked like hundreds of silver coins pouring down, enormous and translucent. A scene that would normally cause a grumble became a shimmering spectacle.
Throughout this week, the phrase keeps coming back to me -- bask in what is. It is like putting on new glasses every time I think it. The world redraws itself in a split second and everything becomes more vibrant and clear.
To be honest, Len, I think your transfer of the Big Ample project to me is what allowed me to even hear that teenager's words and then test them out. In the search to think of gift ideas, I've become more awake to the city. I have you to thank for that.
I've posted this week's gift to the site. In case you haven't had a chance to take a look, it was "thank you notes for familiar strangers" -- a chance to thank the people who are little rest stops in the daily marathon of New York life.
For example, there is the kindest man who sells newspapers at the subway station near my work. He's there every morning with a wide smile that shines bright against his dark skin. He greets various regulars in their native tongue, jumping from one language to another like a game of hopscotch.
Then there is the attendant at my gym. She walks through the locker room stocking towels and wiping counters singing, "Hello, beautiful!" to each woman she passes. These are such welcome words when you're sweaty and red-cheeked after a long run.
I distributed a few others as well, one to my train conductor who always wishes us a "blessed day," another to the Time Out New York distributor who smiles brightly even when I don't accept the free paper and, finally, to the duo in my favorite food truck for their consistently delicious food and consistent kindness.
You were 100% right, Len, delivering the gifts can be nerve-wracking, but in the best possible way. My legs were coursing with adrenaline and shaking slightly after I dropped the conductor's card into his car and slipped away. Along with the shaky legs, though, was a steady smile. Thank you again for the chance to dive into this project.
You know, I just thought of something. Whereas you took developed Big Ample to form a friendship with the city, perhaps I needed it to recognize those friends who've always been everywhere. Still, I think I've moved on from F words for now. It's G words that have taken over -- glasses, gifts, gratitude and grinning.
I hope some H words will start to show up for you soon and that you're beginning to heal. I'm sending all good thoughts your way.
Oh, I almost forgot! I wanted to give you the link to this commercial that's been all over Facebook today. I think you might like it, it is very "Big Ample." During this difficult time, I hope it will give a little massage to your sore heart. Think of me as the lady with the bananas giving you a hug -- well, a younger version of her anyway.
Until next time,
Gus was right. G words had definitely taken over and though I knew H would follow, with happiness and its comrades, it was still proving elusive. Grief had glossed over everything on the farm.
I toggled from Gus's email over to a new tab with songs that matched my mood. If the healing was to be done right, Gran said, we had to welcome in the sadness like a guest from the rain and sit with it until it warmed and dried.
For the seventh time that day, I listened to Adieu, Mon Coeur by My Brightest Diamond. I thought back to the time I'd seen them in concert. They performed the song with puppets. At the end, one of the puppets ascended to the clouds and took up a string of hearts from the others. How many of us had bid farewell to our hearts when Gramps took them as he parted?
Gran came in as the notes twinkled out. She had my running shoes in her hand. "It's almost sunset, Skata," she said kindly. "Go say good night to the cows."
As I ran along the perimeter of the farm, there were as many memories as fence posts. There was Gramps counting my hops over the jump rope he'd fashioned for me. There was the ditch he pulled me out of when I forgot how to use the handbrakes on the new 10-speed. Here was the place we sat to shoot off bottle rockets on the 4th of July. He never wanted us to feel like we were missing out on summers in the US by spending them in Sweden.
I rounded the corner and there he was, leading the horse he'd borrowed for the summer of my 14th year so I could learn to ride. This one brought me to my knees and I let the sobs flow in the spaces between my panting breath, tears mixing with sweat.
After a few moments I wiped my eyes and looked across the fields at the setting sun. It was a massive orange orb leaving behind smears of purple and red and gold.
What had Gus said? Bask in what is. Like a pause button, this thought stopped the stream of memories and I found myself on a brisk spring night infused with the smell of new clover. Birdsong drifted in the cool breeze and a soft quiet hushed the world. I took a few deep breaths and watched the sun continue to sink, its rays stretching their arms before going to sleep.
I felt Gramps reaching out to me then, passing me back my heart on a golden beam of sunshine.