Whenever he can, the cat next door comes to my house to visit. He cleans up my cats' leftovers before making a quick visit to the TV room to play with the toys scattered there. We have an understanding that when I say "Go" Boris follows me to the door and leaves. In the evening, he often returns to stand on his hind legs and look through the glass door until I bring him a plate of food. This has been going on for years, unbeknownst to his owners. They are fairly indifferent to Boris, at times, leaving him out in the rain and cold. Nevertheless, they do give him a home. I'm taken with the fact that Boris has a secret life and that, despite some hardships, he has found ways to improve his lot.
Lots of us, I think, have secret lives. Things that we do to keep us going, to please ourselves or just drop out. One of my secrets is to stand on the back deck early in the morning and look up at the sky through the trees. It reminds me of times I camped in Maine. When I pay attention, it evokes similar feelings of awe. Another thing I do, less noble, is to stop at a drug store now and then and pick up a candy bar. Choosing is part of the pleasure, just as it was when I was a child.
"Some secret life," you might think, especially if you are busy having, say, an illicit affair. That's a secret but it's shared and it's big and complicated. Quite different from small, private, experiences that enrich life if you don't diminish them by wishing they were more or different. The ability to see and appreciate what's available, be it ever so small, is one of the conditions of a happier life. Boris will likely never have better circumstances but he is making the most of what he has ... living big in small moments.
This poem, in part, is about being present even as the past calls. Altamont is a garden in Ireland.
I spent a summer day
in the vast garden of Altamont,
long past its time of sculptured yews,
herbaceous plots and tended flowers.
Free to roam, roses and azaleas
mixed with daffodils and bluebells
and rhododendron ran wild down the lanes.
A different, fallen beauty.
But, I minded the lake.
Overtaken by lilies,
it could not move in the breeze.
The house, too, was in distress,
enclosed by moss and vines,
its windows shuttered.
On a small side porch
perched upon a parapet,
a peacock stood alone,
waiting, perhaps, for a larger crowd
that did not come.
It spread enormous wings,
opened a wide throat and brayed
an eerie high pitched call.
I fancied it missed its fellow creatures
and the sweep of their tails over cut green fields.
Knowing well the call to better days,
I turned away.
*Liz has a piece in LIES in which she talks about knowing where you spend your time.
LIES: How to Cut a Pie, p.105