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Home Planet

Archive for August 2011

Catching a Midnight Train of Thought

 I woke up to feel my heart pounding, beating like a fist against the cage of my ribs, and for a moment I was confused. I realized I’d had a bad dream and just enough traces of the frightening things I’d imagined remained to poison the first moments of the morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to get back to sleep, but the damage was done. I was, for better or worse, awake and up for the day.
    

As I waited for the water to boil so I could press that first cup of coffee, I stared out at the sky watching it change as the sun rose slowly. I heated the milk, poured the coffee into a mug and sat down in my favorite chair by the big window in the living room to gather my thoughts.
   

 Just thinking of the list I’d made the night before of things that needed to be done made my heart pound again so I put it out of my mind and went back to gazing out at the quiet street as I sipped.
   

 Stress is a complex element in even the most ordinary life. It is a natural part of our existence and has been since the beginning when we worried that there would not be enough roots and berries to hunt and gather or that the wooly mammoth would win the fight.  Stress has evolved with us and has found a modern wardrobe in agitation about long delays in traffic or screaming headlines with bad news about the economy and the state of the world. It chases us a we take on complicated jobs, or think about keeping a job in an uncertain market. It settles on us as we fret about our children or a roof that will not last another winter; about cholesterol levels or the number on the scale. It nags us as we push a cart through the grocery story or fold the laundry or sit down to watch a movie.
   

 A certain amount of stress is, the experts say, good for us. It keeps us sharp and competitive. It feeds us the chemical cocktail our bodies need to navigate safely in and out of danger. But too much of anything is toxic. Even chocolate.
    

As I sat there, the dream began to fade as the sky lightened. Morning had broken its hold on me. The list, the more I looked at it and made plans for the day, began to seem more manageable. The coffee was good and hot and ideas began to percolate as I thought about the week’s deadlines.  
   

 Energized, comforted, I poured a second cup - my limit - and shrugged off the vague, nameless, fear that had shaken me out of a sound sleep. I was ready to take on the world again.
    


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The Loss of a Familiar Face

   I was sitting in an airport, somewhere, I don’t even remember which airport it was, watching two women in the row of chairs across from me.


    Like most travelers these days, they were surrounded by all the necessary carry-on items: purses, a takeout bag with sandwiches for later, magazines, inflatable pillows. One of the women was in her late fifties and the other was a good bit older. And they spoke to one another in a way that made it clear they were close. The younger one was deferential to the older, caring for her, making her comfortable, asking if she needed anything.


    I finally realized that the pair were mother and daughter. The daughter had had, as they say, some work done. She’d actually had a lot of work done. Her nose had been shaped and planed, bobbed just a bit. Her face had been lifted, stretched, pulled back into shape in an attempt to erase the effects of gravity and years. Her eyebrows arched upward, giving her a surprised look even as she sat staring off into space, bored, waiting for the call to board the plane. The older woman looked exactly the way you would expect a woman of her age to look. Her face had settled into a pattern of lines and shadows that told the story of a lifetime. Her skin was creased and the corner of her eyes drooped. She was still attractive but there was nothing harsh or artificially youthful about her.  


    Sneaking glances at them from time to time, I couldn’t help but wonder what the older woman thought when she looked at her child, at the dramatic changes in her appearance.  I know when I look at my own children I see the way they’ve changed, the way they’re still changing as they mature. But even as I look at them as they are now, I see the babies they were. I see the familiar tilt of a chin, the combination of features inherited from both of their parents and from relatives they never knew. I see the way each of my children, even as they are distinctly different, bear some indefinable resemblance to one another. And something deep within me reacts, softens and warms as I look at them, responding to the familiar faces of beloved babies even as I take in the faces of young adults.


    I suspect the same is true for my children, that when they look at me they mark the way I am no longer the young woman I was in the photos that hang on the wall or in the scraps of childhood memories they carry, but I am still, even as I grow older, me.


    The women boarded their plane. I got on mine. But they left me wondering about the grace of aging, and how sad it might be to lose a familiar face.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

From the Boy on Top of the World

   It takes some getting used to when your children grow up and leave home. After years of living according to their schedules, from 2 a.m. feedings to a 2 a.m. curfew, even when they’ve been on their own for a while, it still feels odd on occasion to realize days have gone by and you haven’t heard from them.


    I have four children and two are out of the nest and settled into their own lives and homes. The third is only home when she’s not in school and the “baby” is edging closer to the door. I think of each of my children every day. Something - a song, the sound of the back door, the sight of outgrown boots on a shelf in the garage or a glance at the photos hanging on the wall - will bring them to mind. Other times, the best times, are when they reach out to me.


    I heard the chime indicating a text message on my phone the other day and I picked it up expecting to see a note from my husband to pick up cat food on the way home, or a message from the dentist reminding me of an appointment.
    Instead, in the palm of my hand, was the image of my son on top of the world. He was standing in the snow on the summit of Oregon's Mt. Hood at daybreak and the sun was just rising, tinting the sky. A friend had snapped a photo capturing the moment.


    I gazed at it for a long time, trying to reconcile the tall slender man in the photo with the memory of the sturdy toddler I carried on my hip. The boy with a headful of curls and the habit of wrinkling his nose and tipping back his head whenever he laughed.  Where have the years gone?


    Looking at the photo on my phone, imagining him standing at that elevation, exhilarated after the before-dawn climb, I could hear the familiar sound of his voice. I could see the energy in his stance, the pride in his smile. He was there, I am here, but he’d found a way to bridge the distance and include me in his happiness.


    Too often we complain about the way our phones and computers enslave us. They interrupt our thoughts and fracture our ability to concentrate. But there are times the tools that torment us turn about. They soothe and comfort us. They bring us closer to the ones we love.


    I send my son photos of home. He takes me to the top of the mountain. And love, unspoken, travels on invisible waves between the two.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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