Everyone talks about the correlation between creation and depression as though it's an unfortunate thing, but I think conclusions are best met after a series of emotional contrasts. When I look back at when I wrote most often, I was circling unmet possibilities while I sat unemployed on a fur-covered couch. Here I am again, same couch, but much more going on, therefore, much less writing. I am trying, though. I have a thick band on my left ring finger with two hand-carved birds sharing one bright stone, and I look at it six times every hour. Luke and I went to New Orleans for the weekend to accompany Ashley on her 26.2 mile journey through the city. This man on the plane was also engaged, or so he said, but as it turned out, he hadn't even proposed yet. He just knew he would marry this lady who lived in Slidell, who was also his age, around 60. His former wife had died. His former former wife had divorced him. When Luke asked him about marriage after all those hard years of it and different ones, the man said, looking over the tops of his glasses very seriously, "I took care of my wife until she died, carried her into the bathroom ten times a day, and fed her every meal. I wouldn't trade that for anything. That's why I can't live in the world and love someone and not be married. It's the best thing in the world."
New Orleans this weekend was beautiful--lemon-sunny and in the 60s. Kate was supposed to be in Ohio studying folklore, but she surprised us, fittingly, by jumping out of a bookstore at the airport. We went to Elizabeth's on the river, ate frog legs, blue cheese fried oysters, sweet potato-banana-cinnamon casserole, fried chicken, and collared greens and Ashley pulled a cellophaned Champagne bottle out of her purse to toast our engagement.
The crepe myrtles were in explosive bloom, so I pulled a pink blossom off a tree each day and wore them tucked into my hair until they fell out. I stuck one in Ashley's toothbrush holder until it wilted. This time, I did not walk in on her roommate in that bathroom, instead, I introduced myself to him. This is testament, despite what a lot of people say, that things do improve over time.
Bright flocks of runners passed Luke and I on St. Charles as we nursed our coffees and looked for Ashley. I pounded on my knees for a little bit during the race next to Ashley, who looked, at the end, though a little pale, like she had just run three miles. One woman slipped on the curb and three or four people pulled her up from the asphault to keep running. An old man at mile 12 limped by smiling, and an even older man waltzed by in a Mardi Gras tu-tu half-covered by his race tag. Luke trucked 17 miles next to my friend so she wouldn't quit.
All these strugglers, all covered in different numbers going for the same thing, always almost makes me cry. As I stood at the finish, one out of four people were ready to collapse, or did, or cramped up like angry crabs and teetered over onto the vomit-stained ground. Marathons are gross. The woman standing next to me at the end leaned into me when a delirious runner stumbled over to us and asked if we were Judy. "These people craaazy," my finish-line friend said.
But the solidarity and common goal embedded within tremendous suffering are rare things, and I always feel moved to be an observer at marathons. I couldn't stop saying, "I'm so proud. I'm so proud of all these people." It is true. I am becoming my mother.
While I was in New Orleans, I was reading Naomi Shihab Nye's collection of essays, Never in a Hurry, in which she explores memories from where she grew up (San Antonio, St. Louis, and Jerusalem), and she quotes a Thai proverb:
"Life is so short, we must move very slowly."
I thought about this all weekend, as I spent four hours ambling in and out of small French Quarter book stores and beignet shops. No one ever runs a marathon fast. Maybe that's why I like them so much. Maybe that's why I hate flying--because there is no graduality over pavement, no time to have coffee with a man who's on his third wife and is as giddy as a teenager, no progression, albeit through anguish, toward accomplishment. Whenever someone asked Ashley what her goal time was, she said, "I just want to finish." She did. And I cried.