A few weeks ago I found an overnight summer camp that would take both kids and immediately searched for nearby escapes for myself for next summer. A cabin in the woods where I can read, walk, write? Sounds private…maybe too private. So how about an old-fashioned inn in the mountains, where I can sit on the porch, and chat with other guests as in an Agatha Christie mystery? I searched and found, “Click here for romance getaway packages!” Um, how about a yoga/new age retreat, instead? Clean and sparse and serene and amenable to solo travelers. As I began to appreciate the merits of a yoga resort, I looked at the prices. Goodness. Not cheap. I might as well stay at one of those spa resorts and get pampered. So I upgraded my search to a spa resort. Sticker shock set in. I set this project aside.
All that putting-these-ideas-out-into-the-universe worked, oddly enough. Two weekends ago I found myself in a cottage, alone. But, be careful what you wish for. I was in a little cottage behind my niece’s house in New Jersey to see my mom, who has metastasized colon cancer. Complications during surgery warranted an emergency visit. I got the word Thursday afternoon, called a few friends for help and advice, left the kids in the hands of these trusted friends and hopped in the car the next morning for a 9-hour trip. I got my alone time in a little cottage, all right, like some kind of curse. When my mom was stable I returned home, where the kids were consumed with play rehearsals, a science fair project, big AP Bio and Math exams, and a conceptual art project for AP English. When they were through, I packed them up in the car and returned to NJ for Thanksgiving. We sat in my mom’s room in the rehabilitation center, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, not talking about next steps.
It was scary, and it was sad. Brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews were holding up and falling apart, in little ways, everyone in their own particular way at their own stage of grief. I felt so bad for everyone. There was some tension, and there was a lot of love, too, and laughter. I was glad I was there. Driving there and back and there and back again was exhausting, but I was capable of it, and I was grateful for that.
We’d planned to be there Thanksgiving weekend, anyway. The great British stage actor, Mark Rylance, has brought his all-male productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III to Broadway for a limited run. We bought our tickets way back in in July for Thanksgiving weekend. Good thing, too. These plays are a hit, and it’s hard to score tickets now. Twelfth Night, especially, was utterly entertaining, and we laughed heartily. I’ve never seen an actor like Mark Rylance. What a privilege it was to be there.
One of the neat things about these Shakespeare productions is their authenticity–the all-male cast, first of all, and the costumes, which had period fixtures even in their under layers. (We know this because the actors got costumed on stage pre-show, and we peered at them carefully with our binoculars from our cheap seats.) The music and instruments were faithful to the period, too. But the dialogue sounded utterly modern, not the caricature pompous Shakespearian voice but a clear, funny conversational dialogue that was so easy to follow along, and laugh to, and be moved by. It was some kind of radical move, in which the move toward the past made the plays fully present, and made us present in the past.
This post looks odd, with chatty references to science fairs and Shakespeare alongside my mother’s pain and our deep sorrow and fear. Illness and sorrow and disappointment exist alongside plays and exams and cottages and laughter. Gifts can be curses and curses can be gifts.