“Be Safe” – A Ritual of Love

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KissOnce many years ago, when I was staying with a friend, she ran outside to kiss her husband goodbye before he drove off to work. “Wait, I have to kiss you!” she said. “We don’t want you to have an accident.” They chuckled together as she kissed him. She explained to me that they had recently read about a research study that indicated that married people who kissed their spouses before they left home each day were less likely to be involved in traffic accidents.

It was not clear from the study whether such a kiss itself was magical, or people who loved each other deeply were more careful drivers, or whether the act of kissing reminded them of all they had to lose and therefore made them more careful right afterward. Whatever the case, my friend was not taking chances. Paying homage to such stories has always been her brand of hilarity. Years before, we had read an article that suggested crime rates go up with changes in air pressure. After that, whenever we were angry with someone we joked about killing them and then using “changes in air pressure” as our legal defense. However, I suspect that her insistence on the fairytale kiss was a very real nod to both science and superstition, because she had lost two sisters to fatal car accidents. If there was a remote chance that true love’s kiss could be a safety precaution, she was willing to try it.

Rituals can be catchy, even by someone who prides herself on logic and practicality, as I do. When I married Dale more than eleven years ago I would not let him leave the house before I kissed him, and vice versa. We’ve since learned to factor that into our schedule, no matter how rushed we are. I would rather risk being 30 seconds later than skip that farewell kiss. Still, it didn’t seem quite enough to me.

I was so happy to be married to someone I felt certain was the best mate for me, and so covetous of the years of bliss I might have missed because this did not happen until I was 39, that I became a bit obsessed about my husband’s safety. Not in a way that interfered with our lives, but maybe in a way that one usually sees in sentimental romance movies and books. So, in addition to the morning kiss, which I was not sure my husband imbued with the significance that seemed requisite to the magic, I threw in a verbal suggestion: “Be safe!”

Superstition set in. Over time, I’ve grown to feel I need to say “Be safe,” to him every day, lest this be the day something happens to him and I spend the rest of my life wondering, “Was it because I didn’t remind him to be safe that he was not alert to danger?” Maybe our family members would be less irritated with those of us who mother-hen them if we reminded them that phrases like, “Take your jacket,” “Be careful crossing the street,” or “Please don’t drive tonight,” are simply other ways of saying “I love you so much that sometimes I fear losing you to something beyond my control.”

For years, whenever I came upon my mom in a deep and silent sleep I would stop to watch her chest rise and fall—just in case. I feared that one day I would come upon her and the rising and falling would have ceased. Ironically, I was sitting with her the day it did stop, so I guess all those years had become practice. When she took her last breath it did not come as a shock, only as an inevitable conclusion.

Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake and watch my husband breathe, as if my watching can keep his chest rising and falling. “Be safe. Be safe,” I think. “Be safe.” It is a mantra that makes me feel close to him, even if it makes me feel no closer to having control over the duration of our life together.

That phrase, “Be safe,” is like wishing before blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. But it is also the sharing of something profound. For me, those two brief words impart the more than two decades of love that have grown between Dale and me. They carry the knowledge of all we’ve shared: the way I’ve lumbered down a public street with my arms swinging like an ape just to make him laugh, and the way he lets me walk ahead when we’re hiking just because he knows I like to be in front; the way I hate cilantro and he loves garlic; the nurse’s hat that a girl brought to show-and-tell and a teacher wrongly accused him of stealing in elementary school, and the boy who slammed my head in the closet door in third grade because someone told him I liked him.

I once told Dale I believed that what keeps people together is “the secrets they share.” I still think that’s a big part of it. I may have revealed a few to outsiders here, but for Dale and me “Be safe” is a shorthand that contains hundreds of secrets. It is our prayer, our confessional, our communion with whatever power holds us to each other. It is not a guarantee of physical safety, but a box that holds safe all that we are to each other.

***

Do you share a simple ritual with someone you love that serves to remind you of the bond between you?

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This Denver Bakery Makes Argentina Taste Like Home

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWe all have favorite local businesses. I believe the best are those where we almost forget that buying and selling have anything to do with it, where we exchange something meaningful and the money that changes hands merely supports that exchange. Sometimes I describe such places with words like atmosphere, service, or quality. But my new favorite, Maria Empanada, reminds me that the key is the inexplicable chemistry of love—not mushy sentiment, but the love we feel when we share with others the simple pleasures that give us joy.

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Finding Beauty Close To Home: Sunset at Barr Lake

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAMy twin passions for travel and stories are no longer about escape. Instead, they have taught me a lot about finding something to appreciate every day, wherever I am. Every place I travel is somebody else’s home, so it stands to reason that my home should have its own wonders. Every story I read or movie I watch carries me into a deeper appreciation of life, so it stands to reason that by more deeply appreciating my daily life I can create my own story. I live in Denver, Colorado, where I don’t have to travel far to enjoy an experience for which others do travel far.

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When Cross-Cultural Marriage Can’t Find a Home – By Guest Blogger Susan Blumberg-Kason

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CoverPlease welcome author Susan Blumberg-Kason as she joins me on the blog book tour for her new memoir, Good Chinese Wife (Sourcebooks, July 29, 2014), which is already receiving rave reviews. Susan grew up in Chicago dreaming of the neon signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. When she moved there, she thought she met the man of her dreams, until her cross-cultural romance turned into a nightmare. Good Chinese Wife recounts her years in a Chinese family as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. Today she shares with us the importance of place in a cross-cultural marriage:

When Cross-Cultural Marriage Can’t Find a Home By Susan Blumberg-Kason

When I first met Baba, my former father-in-law, he told me a Chinese proverb—ai wu ji wu. It took me a few minutes to understand the English translation relayed by my then-husband, Cai. After discussing it between ourselves for a bit, I figured this saying was basically the Chinese version of “love me, love my dog.”

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Death Practice

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Duck-Soup-poster-marx-brothers-9268877-341-475I think about death a lot. That’s not to say I’m obsessed or depressed. It’s just one of the two weirdest things I’ve ever been aware of: the inevitability of my demise, of the demise of all of us. The other weirdest thing: that I’m here in the first place, that we’re all here. As a storyteller, how can I not be attracted to questions of existence and oblivion? Sure, I believe in a God, a spiritual universe, and an afterlife. But that’s faith. I have no scientific proof. The only things I’m sure of are the same things all living humans are sure of: there was a time I was not alive, now I am, someday I won’t be again.

I recently heard an interview on Colorado Public Radio with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and author Sara Davidson, about The December Project, her book about the aging Rabbi’s preparations for death. We’re talking some intense preparations. Let’s call them “death practice.” He practiced drawing his last breath, practiced choosing his final moment, even got into a coffin so he could practice being dead. He also did some things you might typically expect: reviewed his life, forgave others, forgave himself. His purpose was to prepare mindfully for the end of life, or as he put it: “to not freak out about death.”

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Water From the Bathroom Faucet

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FaucetWhy does the coldest water in the house always come out of the bathroom sink, never the kitchen faucet? It makes sense to me that water seems colder coming from the garden hose, because I only drink from the hose when I’m outside on a hot summer day. It’s cold by comparison of course. But what is the allure of the water in the bathroom, even when that room is not hot and steamy?

Is it because the water in that private little room seems forbidden, because that’s a place meant only for washing up, or taking care of business, or sneaking in some shower sex—not for the simple pleasure of drinking water with naked hands, not so much as a glass in sight? Or is it only my bathroom that has such delicious, icy-cold water, while yours delivers the stuff at ordinary room temperature?

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When We Have No Time to Hike

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhen life gets so busy, whether with necessary tasks or the pursuit of our dreams, that it feels as if we have no time, I believe it’s even more critical to carve out moments to connect with nature. I’m sometimes tempted to ignore the call of the outdoors and keep writing about whatever inspiring idea has me in its grip, or to keep doing all the things others expect of me until I’m depleted, or to crash in front of the TV because its easier to passively take in someone else’s story after a hard day. Mostly those things tempt me because I convince myself that enjoying nature will require me to spend a lot of time planning or preparing, or to spend all day far from the city. Not true.

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Meets Expectations

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imagesI was riding my bike past my neighborhood middle school when I saw a banner near the entry proclaiming, “Meets Expectations!” and now I can’t stop wondering what they’re so excited about. I find it sad that our country’s well-intentioned push for accountability and inclusion has somehow led to a celebration of mediocrity. Some part of me would rather fail than meet expectations, because at least it might mean the chance for someone to show up and demand sweeping change. Better yet, it might mean that someone simply decided to rage against the machine and do what they were told not to do – which requires imagination.

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The Three-Moon Party

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sharing some flash fiction with you today. This story is just under 500 words. Enjoy:

I hate these three-moon parties. The forced laughter, its stabbing awkwardness rising like painful rocks from the subtle surf of Tantalon Island. Someone always telling the same stale joke about how our planet’s three moons must be female because three men could never stand together for so long. Cortenya’s parties prove that old adage is not true. We stand on the beach in trios: two men and a woman, or two women and a man, and sometimes three men.

However we stand, each group sows suspicion of what goes on in that group over there. What are they saying about us?

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Playing In The Dirt

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Cara Asparagus 2I planted veggies, fruits, and flowers today, and though it was tiring work, I found myself grinning as I recalled the feeling of playing in the dirt as a child. There is a primitive satisfaction in the idea of plunging my hands into mud, clay, or sand. The cool, dark, fecund dampness feels like a return to beginnings.

I dug up soil, dropped in columbine roots surrounded by more soil, and then topped it with yet more soil. As I did so, I remembered the zinnia seeds I planted in a small pot when I was seven. I watered the soil and waited for the multi-colored blooms pictured on the seed packet to sprout. I felt such failure and loss when the picture never emerged. Did I water them too much or not enough? Should I have talked to them more? Were they duds? It was my first lesson that even a seed given water, soil, and sun might not meet all the conditions to survive. I had suspected that life was not easy, but this was nature’s own proof.

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