The best apartment I ever lived in as a single person was on Debarr Street in Norman, Oklahoma, when I was a college student at OU. It was a clunky two-story brick building, the front porch held up by square black columns, two apartments on each floor. I lived on the second floor where I had a two-bedroom apartment with a big living room, fire place, and small kitchen, for $80 a month all bills paid. I rented out the second bedroom to a young woman who needed an address so her parents wouldn't know she was living with her boyfriend, and lived there in splendor, for $40 a month. You could step out of the kitchen window on to a flat roof, where I kept plants and a couple of lawn chairs.
Football Saturdays were the best. Fans, big fat guys in red three-piece suits and red cowboy hats, with wives in red dresses, would flock into town. Me and my friends would be running up and down the street selling parking places we didn't own for $5 a piece. Then we would take our ill-gotten gains and buy a bag of pot for ten dollars and a whole bunch of junk food and lie out on my roof garden. None of us cared a rat's rear end about football but we deeply relished the prayer - a nasal intonation - broad cast for miles - asking the Lord to look out for our brave boys on the field and bring them victory. At some point there would be the best moment of all - still one of the musical highlights of my life - ten thousand people all singing "The Nose of Oklahoma Smells You, All the Livelong Day." Boy howdy, it just doesn't get any better than that. We ate and smoked and giggled our way through many a long fall afternoon.
When did I lose all that - when did I turn into a workaholic who feels guilty if she is not always doing something useful - whether it be cleaning the refrigerator or meditating, writing a poem or weeding the garden - when did I decide that I needed to move my life forward 18 hours a day seven days a week? I think it happened somewhere along the 25-year trail of raising two teenagers, caring for an aging parent, earning a living, running a community theater and, for the past nine years, managing a mobile soup kitchen - all while trying to redeem my soul and achieve self-actualization. What a load of baloney!
Maybe its also my Vermont childhood still haunting me. Every Saturday I had to memorize a psalm or a poem, chosen by my grandmother, and then declaim it for her Ladies Aid Society. This, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was her favorite:
TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o'erhead !
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
I spent today on the couch reading Huckleberry Finn and listening to old Irish music and eating raisin toast and grapes. There is hope for me!