Our Capacity

Today I repeated a forty-year ritual – it began at 4 a.m.  In 1974 I drove my parents to their retirement in Arizona.    Today I am the age they were then and have begun taking early Social Security.  Rushing down Concourse F to catch a 7 a.m. flight to Phoenix I recognized the change.  I could readily identify the demographic – faded polo shirts ten years out of style, denim pant suits, either a profusion of jewelry or none at all, sensible soft-soled shoes, demeanor suggesting a 4 a.m. wake-up every morning, and all the gray hair …or cocker spaniel blonde.  Even before getting close to the gate I recognize my companions on Delta this morning.  How did we get here? …so soon?

My Dad died in Phoenix more than twenty years ago.  We are now in our fourth generation of Phoenicians.  It’s my first visit since my brother’s funeral in July.  His son took my grand-niece to a father-daughter dance last weekend.  Change imposes its will on all of us. I am staying with my sister who was the fourth sibling to flee the wily Midwest for winter warmth.  In the guest room where I write the flag that draped the casket of a brother-in-law I knew since age nine sits atop a bookcase.  Laughter from my sister and her “new” husband ripples from the living room.   Life changes quickly.

I need this break.  Forecasters anticipate consistency: lows in the upper 50s, highs in the lower 80s.  No chance of precipitation.  Humidity today was 4% — low even by desert standards.   It’s been a harsh winter in MSP with more than just a few storms along the way.  I need the warmth that Arizona family has afforded these many years.  Reflective of the season, I fell on the ice this morning at 4:45 when Jeb the Dog took me out for my morning walk.  Jeb can be left to roll in the anticipated four inches of additional snow by himself.  Some things just can’t end soon enough!

The aridity of a three-hour flight has a way of focusing attention.  Time to reflect.  Remember. Read.  It returned me to an accumulation of unfinished books on Kindle.  Today I found a long neglected biography of Dag Hammarskjold.  A quote from the Secretary General jumped off the screen:  “To remain a recipient – out of humility.  And preserve your flexibility. To remain a recipient – and be grateful. Grateful for being allowed to listen, to observe, to understand.”  Hammarskjold never had the luxury of a long life or the reminiscence proffered by retirement.  He died too soon in a plane crash at age 56.

For those given the gift, a quote from Hammarskjold’s Markings frames our arrival: “Each day a life. Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and give back.  It must be held out empty – for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity.”  Today I arrive empty hoping to remain a recipient, to be grateful, to listen, to carry, to give back.  The gifts of family, companionship, place, years and memory dispose me to trust my emptiness as the markings of capacity.
I highly recommend: Hammarskjold: A Life by Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan Press 2013.

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