Mutability and Constancy

Submitted by Virginia Watts on Sun, 06/07/2015 - 17:24

It's February 1973 and we have been in our new-old house in the San Fernando Valley for two and a half months. I don't know it yet, but I am pregnant with our first child. I am a transplant from the Westside of Los Angeles, and the valley is a little rural, a little unfamiliar compared to the more cosmopolitan (if you could call it that in 1973) Westwood, Hollywood, and Santa Monica of my previous world. 

I still work at UCLA, so every weekday I make a roundtrip over the Sepulveda pass or the 405 freeway.

But today is a Saturday, so I am home in my kitchen, making a phone call to my grandmother who lives in West Hollywood. We talk every day. And I talk every day to my other grandmother too, and my mother. We have that generational connection, for good or ill.

I am excited to tell her about the blossoms on my apricot trees in our backyard. I can see them as I look from my kitchen door through to the living room window. A squirrel runs along the fence that separates the trees from the lawn, snatches a lemon, and proceeds to eat it. I don't know what I expected from my grandmother's dour Swedish self, when I tell her about the blossoms, but somehow, I think, it might bring a smile to her voice or at least a pleasant picture to her mind.

"Those will all come off, you know," is her response to my news.

"I know, Nanoo, but they are so beautiful right now."

Had I made the call to my mother, she might have said, "Unh-huh." And then she might rehearse her complaints about my father, or her sister, her mother, or the neighbors.

Some things just don't change, even through the blurry lens of memory.

It took me a long time to learn that there was very little chance of bringing joy, or just relief from depression, to some people, by giving them a piece of news that fed my own soul. I wanted my mother, and her mother, to find happiness, even if just for a moment, by looking outside themselves. 

I realize now that my need went beyond pleasing them. I wanted to be important enough in my own right to matter, and to matter to them especially. To have them take comfort or happiness in my joy, because then I would have felt their approval. I wanted them to see me. I felt invisible in my own journey. I craved their recognition.

It was easy for them to hand out criticism and cynicism, and never easy to give a nod of approval or a word of hope.

But here I am on that Saturday morning in 1973, trying, with more chatter about the squirrel and the lemon, to still pull that magic rabbit out of the black hat.  

Finally I give up and say goodbye. My grandmother simply hangs up without another word. It is her way, she never says goodbye on the phone. I sigh and tell my husband about the apricot blossoms all falling off. He laughs, good naturedly, and says "What did you expect? That's just who she is. If you give her a glass of water she asks you to pour half of it out. Nothing is ever right for her. Let it go, Love."

Of course I do not let it go. Not then. I have so much to give, and I am so sure that if I can figure out the right spell, I will break the code. Giving something of myself was all I knew to do, but it wasn't what they needed or even wanted. What they needed and wanted was far beyond my power to give.

Had I made the call to my OTHER grandmother, she would have said something like, "Isn't that wonderful? I wonder how many apricots you will get this year! We can make pie!"

When I do talk to her later in the day I tell her about the apricots and the squirrel and her delight, even over the phone, is sweet music that resolves the discord, light that dissolves the darkness.

Now, from my perch in 2015, I still marvel at how much of the world is recognized as good or evil, happy or sad, based on the ability to perceive. Happiness, joy, is so hard for some, so easy for others. My heritage gives me an appreciation for the struggle, and a realization that it is rare to find magic for someone else. This means that although I often try to give away what isn't needed or wanted, I no longer feel invisible when it isn't received. Now I understand that no alchemy or encantation can do more than provide a temporal comfort. The real magic has to come from within those who need it. Whatever joy or hope or happiness is available to them must come to them on their own terms, in whatever way fits their own unique life, their own unique circumstance. What we give away may indeed be some of what is needed, but it may not.

The grandmother that imagined apricot pie, instead of how the apricot blossoms will all fall off, gave me the greatest gift. She created a space for my own joy, and she never stepped on my expression of it. 

This morning my daughter called and invited me to tea in her garden. Before I left the house (and yes, it is still the one we moved into in 1972) my eight year old granddaughter called me on the phone. "Gramma can you bring a lemon when you come over?"

Yes. Yes I could.

That is the kind of magic I CAN do.