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Opinion

Chasing Down The Muse: Tasting the berries among the thorns

“When the dog bites; when the bee stings.”

Autumn has arrived, holding hands with the summertime we never had. I feel my youthful summer vacation self wanting full expression. Joy pulls at my shirttail, tugs at my heart. Remembrances leap to the fore, tingling all of my senses in a rush of jumbled time and place.

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Children’s exuberant voices raised in cool morning hours at a nearby bus stop. Crows caw with the same energetic volume as they circle above the orange grove where I stand. The juice of the navel orange into which I just punched my thumb runs down my arm as the sweet smell reaches my nostrils. Ah, sweet memories.

The screech of a scrub jay as it chases one of the crows causes me to look up with a start. The full moon still drifts across the morning sky off to the west as I make my way to the blackberry vines at the edge of a ravine. Reaching deep into the vines, I search for the summer’s remainder of fruit. As I pull out my reward and pop several berries into my mouth, the scratches on my arms begin to fill with blood. The berries sweet in my mouth, purple juice staining my fingers with deep rich color, I do not heed the sting.

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On this ripening autumn day in the here and now, these memories flood in. What I remember, what I feel, rushes in as if real in this moment. In that orchard at my grandparents’ home I always felt I was in a state of grace. Filled with the joys that childhood explorations held for me, I knew peace. What I now realize is that those moments — those joys — are still with me. The stings and bites that living provides can be erased in a moment’s remembrance.

We can choose to dwell in fear. How easy it can be. Everywhere there are reminders that there is much to fear. Feeling powerless, it can then be a short step to overwhelming depression.

We may choose to hold grudges and to live in past hurts and misunderstandings. We can allow petty grievances and jealousies to cloud our judgment. Well-meaning friends may even encourage some of these. Or … we can grab hold of life’s joys and squeeze every ounce of rich purple juice out of them, licking our fingers to get the very last of it.

Memories can provide our joy when there is none in the present. Others have expressed this before me. We can remember that “ripeness is all,” as Joanne McCarthy says in the poem “Ripening,” and “that warmth within withstands whatever winter howls without.” We can let the dogs bite and the bees sting and remember a few of our favorite things, as the great lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote. Good reminders all.

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This coming weekend as I head out to the desert for another family reunion I will be thinking of the many joys life has brought me. And perhaps more joy-filled memories will be made as all of us — from my nearly 94-year-old mother to my one-year-old niece — spend this time together.

I thank my friend Susan for starting me down this road of remembrance on a recent day when she shared the words from a sign seen in Singapore: “Never forfeit your right to joy due to crime.” I might add that we should never forfeit our right to joy due to any cause. Joy is sustaining. I can smell the orange juice as it drips down my arms even now … and I smile in remembrance.

Cherril Doty is an artist, writer, counselor…always fascinated, inspired, and titillated by the myriad mysteries of life, including the gifts of memory. She can be reached at cherril@cherrildoty.com or by phone at (714) 745-9973.


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