Last week started with a business trip to meet my new team in Europe, and ended with a weekend spent with my Morris team and five others. Busy doesn’t begin to describe it.
Work looks like it’s going to be interesting, exciting, and more than a little bit frantic going forward. We got along really well with the team, and that is a huge thing. While we were over there my partner remarked “Dave’s back!”. It sure felt that way, at least on the work side of the fence. I finally felt fully engaged in something.
When I returned, I was met by a voice-mail informing me that the buyers for the house had backed out. Peachy. Luckily, I had a backup offer ready to put into place. I allowed myself the luxury of considering what might happen if the second offer fell through: would I keep the house now that my financial situation had improved? I knew I could afford to do it, and now I was free to revisit my earlier decision without the external pressure to sell. I spent the day Friday while I worked at home trying out the idea, but by the end of the day I realized that although the selling process was tearing me up a bit, staying was increasingly becoming worse. The house has indeed become the museum I said I would not live in. If I need to wait and re-list it in the spring, I will have to do something about that feeling.
Friday evening, I packed my tent and Morris kit into the car and headed up to the Harvest Ale. Every year, our team joins with a local women’s side and invites several other teams to join us for Columbus Day weekend, touring our beautiful New England valley and hill-towns during the day, and feasting and singing into the wee hours of the night back at camp. I was a little wound up from work, but the abundance of food, good company, and assorted libations settled me in a way I hadn’t felt at the previous Ales I had attended. These people were becoming family. Despite the fact I had to rise early for kitchen duty, I stayed up well past one singing in the lodge.
I dragged myself out of my tent before six am Saturday to get the coffee on and do my part getting breakfast ready for six teams of Morris dancers, musicians, families, and yes, groupies. Our first stand that morning was at Mt Sugarloaf, where we were greeted by unexpectedly clear skies and a beautiful view of the valley as the fall colors started to kick in. Juggler Meadow danced the first few stands that day with the preposterously good local teen team, And Sometimes Y, and our friends from New Hampshire, Jack In the Green.
When our side’s turn came up, we danced a Queen’s Delight, something the guys have been breaking down specifically with me over the last few weeks of practice. My goal for this first season was to get one dance solid, and I finally got that one figured out. At least on one dance I am no longer an embarrassment.
After we finished dancing at the first stand, we gathered up in viewing deck to sing a few songs, including ‘Bright Shining Morning’, a title which perfectly fit the day. The chorus for that one goes:And the merry, merry, merry horn cries come, come away
And the merry, merry, merry horn cries come, come away
Awake from your slumbers and hail the new day
Awake from your slumbers and hail the new day
As I listened to that chorus, and looked at that bright shining day, I decided that I was going to do exactly that, awake from my long slumber and greet the new day before me. My grief may not be over, it may never be fully over, but my season of grief has changed. It is a new day, the sun is shining, and I am awake for it all. If the weekend had ended right then and there, it would have been a roaring success for me.
The weather did not cooperate quite so well for the rest of the day, but we had three more stands, including one at the Ashfield Fall Festival with all six teams that had come for the Ale. Most of our team showed up for the Festival, even the ones who couldn’t make the rest of the weekend, so we put up a double side for Queen’s Delight as one of our dances, and the crowd loved it.
That night we had a full feast of turkey and all the goodies, and lots of pie. After that there was a contra-dance inside, and singing first out by the fire circle and then inside after the dance ended until the wee hours again.
I thankfully hadn’t signed up for Sunday breakfast chores, so I got a little sleep before heading out on the second day’s tour. The whole day Sunday was wonderfully sunny after Saturday’s dull cloudy afternoon. We started with a stand at a fruit farm, where we had a great stand with a good crowd in a beautiful setting. After dancing by the glacial potholes, we had a nice picnic lunch at a trolley museum. I managed to put in a respectable John Barleycorn at the last stand, on a beautiful smaller farm.
Sunday we toured with Foggy Bottom from DC, and Newtowne from Boston. I had good conversations with folks from both teams, including one with another dancer who had lost his first wife to breast cancer. I wanted to talk with the Newtowne Men in particular to see how I might fit in with their team since I was moving closer to them. After all was said and done, though, I think I will dance with the ones who brought me to this world, at least for one more season.
Sunday night was a thinner crowd, as some folks headed home, but we still had a decent group in the hall singing late into the night. Being the last night, there were more than a few parting songs. Our group has seen it’s share of loss over that past few years, especially last year. One by one we hit our triggers, and as somebody’s voice would fade and break, their friends would prop them up and share their pain. My turn came when we sang the setting of “Psalm of Life” and again when we got to “The Parting Glass” for not the first time in the weekend. Most were singing that one for Roger or Dave, founders of the team who had been lost in the past few years, but I wasn’t the only one thinking of Barbara.
It occurred to me as we were singing that something has changed in the terrain I am traveling on this journey. It has been long and hard, but now there is room beside me for company much of the time, and company there to travel beside me as I go. Some of them were there all along, and I just wasn’t paying enough attention, others join for a little while, still others may join and linger. I know their company is what has made this trek bearable.
Something has changed in me, too. This weekend I felt like I was connecting with people better than I had in longer than I can remember. I have had a limited capacity for company up until just very recently, and that seems to be lifting.
Monday morning we got up, broke camp, and cleaned the lodge out. When we were almost done, we gathered for a closing circle, and “The Parting Glass” was sung one more time. But this time, in the clear daylight, we weren’t singing it to the ghosts, the forever lost. This time it was to each other, a parting of company that next year would gather in the same place again.
A year ago as Barbara started slipping away, Pandora’s Box opened up and all the evils in the world spilled out, draining the world of color, sense, and meaning. Seven and a half months ago, I wrote this:
“I want to look somebody in they eye and have them return a look that isn’t concern, or sympathy, or empathy, or some other reaction to the grief they see there.”
In the intervening months, things have slowly come back to me. I have seen concern, empathy, compassion for sure. I have seen the acknowledgement of shared pain from other survivors. I have seen laughter, and friendship.
Monday, as we left Poet’s Seat, and headed back to our ordinary lives, I finally saw the thing I had been looking for and not really known what it was.
On Monday I looked into a friend’s eyes and saw hope.