Remembrance of Things Past – The School by the Park

I hope everyone is having a merry time visiting family, traveling and relaxing, as we round the turn to the closing of the year. I too have been enjoying this time. Simultaneously, I can’t help but think about all the people I love – family, friends, loves – who are not gathering around my table any longer. I do miss them but I am blessed to have the memory of these exceptional souls.

This feeling was solidified when I was searching The New Yorker website for an article, and accidentally came upon a wonderful piece by Muriel Spark. She was the Scottish writer best known for the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The essay is entitled “The School on the Links,” and it is a non-fiction look back at the girls school and teacher who inspired Spark’s book. Like all her work it is flawlessly executed, beautiful, funny, poignant and wise. It’s definitely worth reading. Spark describes the school and her friends, recalling the thrill of learning new things, and the fascination and speculation of her teachers’ private lives, particularly her exhilarating Miss Kay on whom Jean Brodie is based. 

I went to a small private girls school, eons after Muriel Spark and it wasn’t in Scotland, but here in the States. It also wasn’t on the links, but it did face an exquisite historic park. Even so, there are elements in common that are eternally true: school “chums,” everything and everyone seeming, to us, to have a sex appeal charge. Most importantly, the appreciation, even while young, of the “grown-ups” in our lives and their endearing qualities. I think of what was once my somewhat large family: high-spirited, vital, courageous, trail blazers, smart, funny, and dare I say it – quite glamorous. Of course none were perfect, not by a long shot. But I do know this, the world isn’t as interesting with them not in it. They all added more than a splash of sparkle to the world. I think too of my one true love, the love of my life – my immortal beloved who left this world too soon. One by one they passed over, some way too young, some after long illnesses, and some at a good old age.

A number of years ago, at that point it was just my father and I who remained. I remember we were outside in a parking lot or someplace random. I think we had run into each other (we lived in adjoining towns), and we were chatting about this and that. I think I adored my father most of all – he had such lovely ways about him. As the conversation, which I cannot remember, wound down my father was laughing and shrugging his shoulders, wearing his sweet shy smile that was completely disarming. And then he said, “Let’s face it Clare, you’re the last of the Mohicans.” I thought it was amusing, and now, at this vantage point, those words echo often in my mind and I see how true and how right he was. 

Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I like that. But as I look at the road forward, I can’t help but at times look back. Over the past few years my memories have taken on an appropriate hue, and I can think about all that was and smile, laugh and be so deeply grateful for the knowing of them all. What I owe the ones I love is beyond evaluation.

In The New Yorker article, Spark wraps up her story, “It was sixty years ago. The average age of those high-spirited and intelligent men and woman who taught us were about forty; they were in their prime. I cannot believe that they are all gone, all past and over, gone to their graves, so vivid are they in my memory, one and all.”

Clare Irwin

Holiday Wishes! & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song,”There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

“Go West, Young Man, Go West”

Greeting and Salutations, it’s the Christmas, or holiday, season. Either way you know it the minute you head out on the road, which is traffic jammed and full of people who seem to be in a shopping delirium. After the last impatient person blew their horn at me, I started having unkind thoughts that the herd really needs some thinning.Or, it’s time to move on. Here where I live, which could be any suburb suffering from afflulenza, I find it perplexing that these same horn honkers are usually driving a huge SUV that is almost large enough to require union membership in the Teamsters. The Chevy Suburban, I think it is, reminds me of a hearse. It’s a gloomy and aggressive looking machine. I know, to each his own, but oddly enough I never see more than one person in these vehicles, and often notice that these same people are rabid about separating the plastic from the paper but drive a car that gets 20 feet to a gallon.

I’m digressing. Lately I’ve been spending time with an friend who is working hard at breaking the shackles of suburbia. It’s a fight — more like a prison break than a shedding of mores. I admire him greatly and his journey has been both blessed and arduous. But he’s doing it. Leaving in two months and heading west. Wyoming, to be more precise. I’m a little envious, but at the same time I am grateful that he may be an example that I could follow and speed my own plow to find my “West.” Wyoming is beautiful. I’ve driven cross country twice – something I would strongly recommend – and the summer trip took me to the big country of Wyoming and the Black Hills of the Dakotas — all that purple mountain majesty. But I’m not a winter person, the winters there would kill me. So my west will have to be more southern and warmer. I could do summers up there. I’ve always wanted to see a buffalo wallow. I remember when I was a kid reading a book about a girl growing up in the Dakota territory and she comes upon a buffalo wallow filled with wild violets. It’s a lovely image and it’s on my to-do list.

I’ll get there, it may take me a little longer. Not too long I hope. Living in the hustle and bustle has become too much – I am seeking a quieter more serene daily existence. I have it to a large degree in the way I live my life, for which I am most grateful, but I’m out of sync with everything around me. And that is okay, but it is enervating. When I looked up this old quote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” credited to Horace Greeley in the 19th Century, it was written in the context of America’s expansion westward. Now in the 21st Century, within the context of my friend’s and my own desires, are we longing to escape all that has been built? Are we looking for a new frontier that eschews “opportunity” in exchange for the freedom to live our lives the way we wish? 

I don’t know. This raises a lot more questions than I intended. Not sure where I’m going with all this. I’ve been thinking about my friend and going through all my post ideas that I keep on the WordPress dashboard – 28 pending at last count! Not to mention the ideas on Post-its on the actual dashboard of my car. My 20 year old marketing adviser/whiz kid tells me I have to write more and often. He is absolutely correct and I know it.

So this is what I have after a Sunday of battling the consumer mania.

Happy Delirium!

Clare Irwin