Sunday, January 23, 2011

All That Love Made Tangible

Ever since I was a little kid, I've had a hard time turning off my brain at night without watching a little television for some much needed alpha wave relief. I still do that, but modern television stories are so mind-numbingly vapid or alarmingly violent, that we rent older TV shows from Netflix, just to be reminded of what good writing is all about. We've gone through all of Six Feet Under, West Wing, and are just about wrapping up the early 90s masterpiece: Northern Exposure. Truly delightful stuff and really quite prescient about global climate change and gay marriage!

A few months ago while we were watching Season 3, there was an episode where Dr. Fleischman is awakened in the night by his windows rattling and a ghostliness swirling around his cabin. He is unnerved by it and learns that a previous tenant many, many years earlier had committed suicide in the house. So, the good and kind people of Cicely, Alaska decide to hold an exorcism, but Fleischman objects. He is reminded though that, without friendship there would be no one to mourn him if he passed away, like the poor soul haunting his house. So, he throws a barbecue for the town in a show of friendship. There were simultaneous storylines, as is the usual fare for Northern Exposure, and the episode ended with many of the town's people in Dr. Fleischman's living room posing for a group portrait. It was a scene of great support and love. This piece of music came on.

It was that scene of support and the music that tugged at me. We have that piece of music on our iPod (I have no idea where we got it). So, the next day, I turned it on to hear it again, and have been listening to it ever since. Bobby McFerrin wrote it as the score for the documentary: Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, which tells the story of the NAMES Project. That generous outpouring of love and remembrance, stitched together into a quilt that covered a fair distance along the Washington Mall. And that sound of Bobby McFerrin's voice singing something to us about those common threads. All those names. It occurred to me that the quilt is about all that love made tangible.
So, I am thinking of quilts, and am suddenly reminded of one of the last cards I sent my father while he was struggling with cancer at the end of his life. I had found it at my favorite hippie card shop (now defunct), Aries Arts, in Capitola. It was late 1991. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the perfect card to send him. That beautifully painted scene of an old man wrapped in a quilt with all those loving scenes and memories patched together to keep him warm and comforted. It was just what I wanted to do, to wrap him in something that would heal and keep him whole. Something like love made tangible.
And then there is this quilt, the one sent to Roger just after his surgery last summer. A quilt made of patches sent from people we know and people we have never met. A wonderful friend, also someone we have never met, put these patches together. Wrapping it around us is like hearing those voices singing about common threads. Our hearts rise to the familiar sound, safe and comforted. We are warmed by this love made tangible.

But here's the really crazy and interesting thing about that Northern Exposure episode, Season 3, episode 17: Lost and Found. It aired on Monday, March 9, 1992, and would have been the last Northern Exposure my father could have ever watched, he died 5 days later. Life's beautiful common threads.


On a very sad and somber note, Roger and I want to bid a farewell to a fellow blogger and Facebook friend, Jim Otterstrom. Jim's blog Earth Home Garden was one of the places Roger and I checked in on a very regular basis. We never met Jim, but we felt in him the deep sympatico of aging hippies and tribal connection. For five years we've held a long-distance conversation that ended on Saturday, January 22 when Jim died. We had a long cry over it and will raise our glasses in his honor. Perhaps we'll listen to Common Threads and know that life is really about love made tangible.


  1. Robin, it's because of posts like this one that I find you and Roger such powerful forces for humanity. I really, truly appreciate you and the connections you've made, and those you've shared with me.

  2. A lovely post, robin. John said it all in his comment. Jim's presence will be missed - his writing on politics, the environment and many other topics was always so sane and right on the mark. He was also a wonderful photographer.

  3. This is a beautiful, thoughtful post Robin, thank you. I've not heard that song before, but it's very haunting and so fitting with the notion of love made tangible. I think one of the nicer ways to show love is to wrap your loved ones in carefully crafted quilts that were made with thoughts of them sewn in between all the seams. Kind of like bakng a cake -only fewer calories, and will last a lot longer!

  4. This gave me goosebumps.

    PS I loved Northern Exposure - it was the only show I'd stay up to watch . . .

  5. Lovely song...I'll be adding it to my music list.

    I'm am so saddened over Jim's death...I, I, I. Just can't fathom it. "Oh NO!" I gasped when I saw your FB post and saw Jim's smiling face. Not fair, not fair. He was one of the good ones, a wise one that should have been with us much longer.


  6. Incredible post, beautiful, humane and very much the reason we check in so often. peace MandT

  7. It is pretty amazing how little things "common threads" tie us all together. Condolences to your lost friend.
    - Sy

  8. i didn't cry the first time through this post, but i wasn't listening to the music then.

    you know how i feel about tangible love. yesterday my husband found some things, cleaning up, and one was an afghan made in 1976 for my best friend's mom, kay, as she was dying of cancer. i loved kay so much, because she loved me, and she was such a strong, smart woman; i swear her love kept me going many times. this afghan was always with me: something of kay's that i carried place to place all those hard years. i saw it being made, that last summer; it is not a piece of art, but was indeed a piece of love.

  9. What Springer said.

    I love Bobby McFerrin and I have the CD that has that song on it.

  10. Just a beautiful post Robin and I am so sorry about your having lost your friend. It is so sad when we lose a blog buddy and know that no longer with just a key click can we connect.
    That song is just beautiful. All I ever knew he had done was "Don't worry, be happy."
    Love the idea of wrapping one in memories. The warmest kind of cover.

  11. I'd not visited Jim's blog for quite a while so it was a shock to read that he was gone. Somehow, when I joined Flickr a few years ago, I lost contact with both my blog and many of the blogs that I had been following. I have tried to get back to blogging and visiting again just lately but I have missed much of the news of old blogger friends. Thanks for putting up the note re Jim. I was able to go over and leave a note for his family.
    Your quilt stories make me think, again, of my partner Fleur-Ange's memory quilt. She used the shirts of her late husband to make a quilt and, having left some of the shirt pockets in the squares, put various photos in the pockets for added memories. It is destined to go to his grandson when he becomes older. Quilts are often special.

  12. Northern Exposure was such a great show. I didn't catch that many episodes when it was airing, so a Netflix feast may be in the offing.

  13. What a sweet post. I'm sorry you lost your blogger friend, but glad the internet exists to make these connections that never could have existed before.

    Roger looks quite cozy in that quilt.
    If there's a draft, it's because I dropped the ball on sending in my swatch.

  14. Robin,

    Your posts are often quite wonderful, like this one...

  15. I enjoyed what little time I spent reading Jim's posts and comments. I'm sorry for all those who loved him.

    Jeff and I watched Northern Exposure 2 x's all the way through. Such great characters. I miss them like buddies. I also LOVED six feet under. It's fun to watch those shows straight through. And no commercials.

    The piece of music was from me I believe. When I visited you in PT. It was in my computer. I used to hum it to Cass and now any kid who is trying to nap. The repetition works.

  16. Northern Exposure was one of our faves back in the day, too! Such a great group of characters, but not a mean or stupid one in the bunch. They were like a big family. I agree there doesn't seem to be alot that appeals on TV (despite the hundred channels)in the realm of drama.
    Re: Bobby McFerrin wuch a talented guy! Saw him at Davenport Cash Store having breakfast 15 years ago.

    I'm sorry about the loss of your blog friend.

  17. Robin, there are few who have created such a tangible connection with their blog community as you have. Though I never knew Jim on line or otherwise, I will go to bed thinking of him tonight, saddened that a family and the world has lost this good man. That is the power of your words.

    *One more thing: LOVE that song.

  18. A beautiful, but sad post. I really enjoyed the card you sent your dad. The quilt that Roger showcased is amazing. I was saddened to hear of Jim's passing.

    I, too, find current television poor fare, so I ordered several of the older westerns. I just received "The Best of Bonanza" in the mail, so am looking forward to enjoying those old episodes.

  19. I was passing through on a blog traipse and lingered. Great post. I love how the internet can stitch us together.

  20. I love the idea of a blog traipse.

  21. late as usual but touched and appreciative. I found Jim's blog though yours, and though I am a very sporadic blog reader these days, I am very saddened by the news of his passing.

    but your beautiful words and photos create a quilt of connections and warmth and intelligence and peace for which I am very grateful.