Last week it seemed the universe was not in alignment. A week ago, we memorialized our fallen academic and theatrical comrade, Paul Backer. There were, it seemed, few things to be grateful for, aside from the epiphanic reminder that when our students graduate, they don’t disappear, but blend into a larger fabric that USC marketers call the “Trojan Family.” Until last Friday, that wasn’t tangible to me, but now it is. For that I am grateful.
This week, the universe seemed aligned to bring me karmic gifts every day. Here’s what the week has brought me and what I’m grateful for:
Sunday – Dear friends, Marykate and David, for coming to dinner and bringing beautiful vegetables from the community garden that Marykate cultivates in North Hollywood, as well as a beautiful bouquet of bright yellow lillies, which I’ve been spaying all week as their luscious petals unfold to reveal their stamens. I’m so grateful for them. Our friends, not the spayed stamens.
Monday – The beginning of a week nurturing the creative rumblings of our new fall Directors, each bringing the excitement of investigative researchers into our school, each challenging me with questions that exercise my budgetary brain, the ‘no’ spasms that my budgetary brain sends while my creative center is shouting, ‘YES! YES! YES!’ I know that there is a happy medium and I am grateful for the challenge to find it.
Tuesday – The bully hummingbirds on our balcony who have, by their fervor in guarding the two feeders, reduced my time cooking Hbird syrup by 90%. A less positive person might be angry to see that they have also reduced the number of birds that visit in a day, but I am impressed by their determination to not let anyone else get to the water fountain.
Wednesday – The arrival of a surprise gift – a book called Grit by Angela Duckworth, which my friend and colleague, Jeff sent me after telling me about the book last week. I dove in and read about 10 pages and it’s excellent. I highly recommend it. Grit’s premise is that success is not based on intelligence, or wealth, or education, or genes, but on that elusive thing we call ‘grit,’ or ‘sticktoitiveness’ or ‘gumption’ or ‘spine.’ Ms. Duckworth should know. She was one of the first female cadets at West Point, and in addition to her 5 terminal degrees (I’d have to go look them up and I don’t have the gumption to right now) she is a good writer. This book came out of the blue, completely unexpected. It made me aware that gifts from our friends are like that. They come unasked for and joyful as a result. I’m grateful for Jeff and our friendship.
Thursday – This day was so rich with gifts it is almost an embarrassment. It started off not looking so great. My trip to the gym in the morning was a downer. To get up at 4:45 is a testament of faith, but I chose the bike in the front row where when you “tap it up” even a quarter turn, it goes to the hill setting. As my friend Sophie said,
“Oh, yeah, that bike is like dragging a dead body up a hill.”
So I was puffing and sweating more than Jane Curtain and Chevy Chase in that famous SNL sweaty anchor sketch, for the entire half hour in spin, and falling over out of balance the entire half hour of yoga. All I could think of was the fact that I lacked Grit. I’m grateful for the reminder that some days aren’t as possible as others. The second gift of the day was a pop in visit from former student Liza Jane, who happened to be downtown to buy fabric, and returned to campus to say hi. What a pick me up! She updated me on her life; she lives in SF and teaches at a private school. She has the most adorable first graders, which she proudly showed me pictures of on her phone at their science fair. Amazing. I’m so grateful for her and alumni like her. The third gift was a late afternoon cookie break with my friend and colleague Mary Joan, who stopped by my office at 4pm and we solved the problems of the world. Mary Joan and I used to be on the opposite ends of a hallway in the CWT building, which suffered a horrible death as many USC bungalows are wont to do. We have missed our opportunities to dash down the hall to share ideas and yesterday’s mind meld was long overdue. Talk about grit – Mary Joan has more of it than almost anyone I know. She instills it in her students, too. I am grateful for her. When I got home, I was exhausted from so many gifts, and picked up Jimmie and went out to dinner at Public School. Brilliant concept, good food, too loud. Enough said. I’m grateful for Jimmie’s ability to laugh about his hearing loss. We observed a couple there who had a similar age difference to us. They were on the beginning of their journey. We laughed as we exited the restaurant, my getting Jimmie his walker, that they must have looked horrified as we retreated from view. I’m grateful for my best friend and partner in life, Jimmie. When we got home, we had received the fourth gift of Thursday, a mysterious box from my Talented Aunt Irene. It was one of her ink paintings, rolled up, and we were overwhelmed with gratitude. Entitled “Lip Sync, 22″x 28″, 2011”, it was inscribed on the back in pencil:
For Darling Elsbeth and Jimmie, just because you both are so dear to me! xooo, Renie
Friday – I received two gifts today. The first, frankly, I’d been asking for all week, but finally got it late in the afternoon yesterday, but there was too many gifts to report that day. My friend and colleague Phil has this charming gesture which he does with great humor when he can’t believe the rest of the world isn’t as adept at adapting as he is. Sounds obnoxious, but it’s really not. He slaps his head with mock exasperation as if to say, “Will you people never get this?” It had happened a few weeks before in a meeting and at the time, I thought, “This would make an amazing GIF. Phil’s slapping his head over and over.
I could play it for myself to amuse myself when the world and it’s inhabitants disappoint me. Which would be almost always at least until November. In fact, I could leave it running in the corner of my desktop to amuse myself!
So yesterday, as I was talking with my friend and colleague Duncan, Phil requested a face time session, and during that, I was able to convince him to do the gesture so I could at least get a picture. I don’t know how to make a GIF, but I do know now that it’s pronounced with a soft G. Thank you, Phil. I’m grateful for your ability to always be ahead of the curve. Today’s second gift, and friends, it’s really early in the day, so I am well aware that much more is possible, was my spin class led by Hector, with his usual Fiesta Friday theme. I was able to join my pals Sophie and Christina in the front row, and they got me going so that I did not have a Jane Curtain moment, but triumphed during the 45 minute ride. Sophie, I’m grateful for your encouragement of my exercise and diet regime, your gifts of face masks and your jumps on the bike – they are all so helpful in keeping me going. I have lunch with a former student today, Sarah, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m so grateful for the riches in my life.