Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sunset Over Ralph's



dedicated to Robert as he recovers and Jeneva as she forges on


When I moved to Los Angeles sixteen years ago, I thought the name Ralph's for a grocery store chain was ridiculous, and I guess I still do. Yesterday -- or maybe it was a couple of days ago, I snapped yet another photo of the sky over Ralph's parking lot, and as I scrolled through those photos in my phone, I thought about how the ordinary and the extraordinary are right here, right now, nearly every moment of every day. Then I thought about the ability to hold contrary thoughts and feelings, how that ability is honed over the years when your life experiences dictate it, and how that ability is so difficult to articulate. I spoke at length this afternoon with a friend who is helping me to get my "book" up and off the shelf where it's languished for years. Our conversation ranged from the intensely personal to pure editorial business, but at some point in it, I tried to convey how my life is at once horrible and perfectly all right. I meant -- or mean -- to say that it's not horrible. It's fine. It's fine even being horrible. When Sophie was a tiny baby, newly diagnosed with her hideous seizure disorder, when we were just stepping onto the path of a very different world, I was taken to an Orthodox Jewish holy man somewhere in the Bronx. I rode in a limo up to the hospital where this holy man was convalescing after suffering a stroke. I walked down a hallway, clutching Sophie to me (she was not even three months old), escorted by a few bearded men and led into a room where a man sat in a wheelchair, his head resting on his shoulder. He had the most piercing eyes I had ever seen, and I had to almost look away. He said a few things to me in Hebrew, and the men who had escorted me translated them to me, words that made me stop cold as they were things that no one, no one at all, should have known in that room. He lay his hand on the baby for a blessing or something, and he looked up at me with his eyes (his head on his shoulder) and he said, She will be all right. Your baby is all right. He gave me an ordinary little medal with a Hebrew symbol on it and told me to pin it to her clothes, near her skin. I did that every day for years, I think, and now I don't remember when I took it off or what I did with it. It doesn't matter, though, because despite everything, Sophie was going to be, she was all right. She is all right, and so am I. Ralph's is a ridiculous name for a grocery store chain, but damn, sunsets sure look as good over Ralph's as they do anywhere else.

17 comments:

  1. The best sky in Tallahassee is often over the Costco.
    The best writing going on in the world is often right here.

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  2. Holding contrary thoughts - that's what I've been thinking about you as I hold your last few posts in my palms like smooth little rocks - turning them over and over. You write your life, in it's beautiful, horrible humanness, with such grace. I LOVE reading you and can't wait for the book!!!

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  3. Oh yes. And that sunset absolutely captures the sublime in the mundane. You are so wise Elizabeth. And your writing, your book, I can't wait!

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  4. This post make me think of the lyrics of Wonder by natalie Merchant. And Wonder by Natalie Merchant alwasy makes me think of maggie. ....She'll make her way It's even better when Natalie Merchant sings it.

    Wonder
    Doctors have come from distants cities, just to see me
    Stand over my bed, disbelieving what they're seeing

    1-They say I must be one of the wonders
    Of God's own creation
    And as far as they see, they can offer
    No explanation

    Newspapers ask intimate questions, want confessions
    They reach into my head to steal, the glory of my story
    (repeat 1)

    Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled
    And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle
    Know this child will be able
    Laughed as my body she lifted
    Know this child will be gifted
    With love, with patience, and with faith
    She'll make her way, she'll make her way

    People see me I'm a challenge to your balance
    I'm over your heads how I confound you
    And astound you
    To know I must be one of the wonders
    (rpt...1)

    Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled
    And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle
    Know this child will be able
    Laughed as she came to my mother
    Know this child will not suffer
    Laughed as my body she lifted
    Know this child will be gifted
    With love, with patience and with faith
    She'll make her way, she'll make her way

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    Replies
    1. This is one of my very favorite songs.

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  5. When I first got into photography, that's what I was intent on capturing -- the sublime in the mundane. You've captured it here beautifully in both photography AND words. As for Sophie, she's all right because she has YOU as a mother, which is probably how that old man assessed the situation.

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  6. I just love you. And you know, Ralph's does have good prices.

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  7. This is a beautiful post, a post of truth. Reading it made me smile while also feeling very sad. Paradox is truth.

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  8. That is my favorite thing, always, about your writing. How you balance those contrary thoughts, how you hold a space for it all.

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  9. So beautiful. And what a story. Book - yes!

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  10. Oh God. When I had a scary diagnosis hovering over me, I called my friend who is a doctor, crying and saying, "But I just want to know if I'm going to be all right!" And she said, "You're going to be all right, but you may need to revise your notion of what 'all right' is." And I didn't want to—one never does—but she was right.

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  11. Beautiful. This is all beautiful. You are beautiful.

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  12. "...but at some point in it, I tried to convey how my life is at once horrible and perfectly all right." Such good words. And your story is such a beautiful illustration of them.

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  13. There are so many things I would like to say, but the above comments have covered all but one. While living in So. Cal from 1978 - 1989 I too had similar feelings about the name "Ralph's". It was hard to take my grocery store seriously based on the name. I was in my 20's and did a volunteer stint at an orphanage in TJ. The main benefactor to this particular orphanage was Tony Ralphs -- of the grocery store fame. He was such a cool guy...I met him and saw him several times as he was very hands on at the orphanage (still is). Everytime I visit CA I make it a point to go to Ralph's because at least one of the Ralph's family has made a difference.

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  14. Perfect. So perfect. The yin and the yang, the unbearably beautiful nestled right up against the unbearably awful. And all we have to do is open ourselves to it. Thank you for this. Given what I posted today, it is absolutely perfect, because it does all exist simultaneously, the love that is so wonderful and painful at the same time, and the hatred that is so awful but feels so energizing. Thank you.

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