Thinking With My Heart

Yesterday my husband Larry and I drove through the winter rain to attend a memorial service for our neighbor, Maria. Her husband had invited us to the service two weeks earlier, striding across our lawn to us, sorrow filling his face.

We sat in a row of chairs next to other neighbors : the Ukrainian-Canadian former hockey player, the airline bursar, the property caretaker. We listened to tributes and stories from Maria’s colleagues, friends, and family, and I wished I had had the chance to know Maria, to have been a friend.

Larry had been lucky to spend a day and evening when I was away in the company of these neighbors, lending our kayaks, sharing a dinner, drinking wine while watching the sunset, listening to Maria and Jose sing together.

We moved here in July to a house on a rangy gravel-road cul-de-sac in northwestern Vermont from the west coast: hopeful, tired-out, a little overwhelmed at the DIY-ness of our new life. The area is about half “camps,” three-season vacation homes for people who live elsewhere, the rest of the homes belonging to “year-rounders” like us. Some houses are old abandoned Canadian camps with holes in the roofs, some are gorgeous windowed lake homes; our new place is in the middle (not gorgeous, not on the lake, but renovated and comfortable). We experienced so much kindness and welcome from everyone. We quickly realized, too, that local connections are essential for any number of needs—you have to know the right people. The interdependence and mutual support of the people around us was (and is) striking and moving. Maybe that seems normal to other people used to living in the country, but we are new to it and we appreciate it.

Our neighbors, Maria and Jose, emigrated to Canada from Argentina in the late 1990s and when it became clear that Maria would not be allowed to practice medicine while living there, they emigrated again, to Vermont with their two children. She took her board exams for a second time in the U.S., completed a medical residency at UVM Medical Center speaking a second language, with two small children. She was famous for her food and their parties. The network of people who loved their family was palpable at the memorial service, lots of songs in Spanish, dancing, tears.

Today the family will be here across the road at their camp to spread Maria’s ashes in Lake Champlain and under the apple tree.

The feelings from this experience hit me hard at this chaotic moment in history, when we are so at odds with each other, when lies and injustice threaten to destroy us, when anti-immigrant propaganda and threats are in mainstream discourse, when people are devastated and displaced by war. For weeks I have wanted to write a post about the plans for my forthcoming book of poetry, but I have not had the mind- or heart-space for it. I’ll write that post soon—for now, I wish you peace and connection and love, wherever and whoever you are.

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