Consider the Second-Best Bed

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Shakespeare famously left his wife, Anne Hathaway, his second best bed. Period. Biographers have explained this. Most of his estate went to his daughter Susanna including the best bed, which would have belonged to the master bedroom, but to quote Anthony Burgess in his book Shakespeare, “She (Anne) had her widow’s dower at common law, and her place in the great house that Susanna and her husband took over, She was content to live with Susanna and she got on well with her son-in-law. The second-best bed was installed in a particular chamber and this chamber was inalienably hers.”

Will was not, after all, expressing his feelings for the older woman he married in a hurry and left asap to pursue a career in London. He wasn’t a miserable tightwad either. Having lost his son Hamnet when the child was 11, and being estranged from his daughter Judith who had married unwisely, he was laying his money on Susanna to produce a male heir. Didn’t work. Susanna had a daughter who married twice but had no children. Judith had three sons but none survived to produce children. Pas de heir!

Whew! Good to get that settled.

We all have experience of the second-best bed – at holiday time, on vacations, in cheap hotels, as children at grandma’s – the deep-valleyed ones, the plastic pull-out couch, the couch itself, the hard-as-cement beds, the mat on the floor. We have stubbed our toes on the metal legs of the pull-out and ruined our backs on the ones with blown springs and woken up aching all over in the hard ones. Our host’s query “How did you sleep” has been met with a bald-faced, not entirely convincing lie.

Or we have found ourselves in the best bed, a comfortable place to be, and discovered in the morning that the host and his wife somehow managed to coil together in a narrow cot. Discovering such a carefully concealed secret is a humbling experience.

These days, we have boxed beds that can be blown up with an all-included foot pump and provide our guests with a waterbed experience, long after the death of waterbeds, which was, as you know, watery and unexpected. Whether these air beds leak with rude noise in the middle of the night, I do not yet know.

My own second-best bed sits in the den, rather awkwardly I must admit, because of feng shui demands. It is narrow, has a metal frame on casters and no headboard. It is prone to surprising trips across the floor. In its defence, it has a good mattress -should be for that price- if somewhat too hard. When I realized that I would be sleeping in it myself, I remedied that by topping it with a feather bed. Odd that we think a night in a semi-comfortable bed won’t hurt a guest, but don’t want to spend one ourselves. Then I decided that the thread count of the sheets had to be upgraded to the best bed’s standards and a requisite number of pillows added. I overdid the duvet and find that it works well in mid-winter but after that, the quilted duvet cover is enough.

And why do I sleep in my second best bed about a third of the time. Neighbours. Thin floors. Don’t ask. There’s only so much I want to know about other people’s personal lives.

I’ve got used to sleeping there and never wake up disoriented, wondering why things are in the wrong place. This is handy since those mandatory trips in the dark would otherwise prove disastrous.

One of the advantages is better brain plasticity. Thanks to Norman Doidge (The Brain That Changes Itself) and others, we now know after years of being told that once brain cells die, it’s game over, that in fact new neural pathways can be established and for example, stroke-damaged limbs can learn to move again. To maintain neural plasticity or brain change, however, we need to be learning constantly. One of my tai chi instructors harps on about moving your kettle to a different burner to avoid rigidity and stagnation. The kettle, in this case, is me and the new burner is the second-best bed.

Twas there “I dreamed the latest dream that ever I did dream”. It wasn’t a police procedural with noir overtones nor was it a lucid dream. (See previous posts.) But it was one of two dreams that have been life-changing. Someday I’ll write about the first one, which I call Etherica and which I had while napping after an exhausting trip to  Los Angeles. The latest one isn’t ready for publication yet, but I can give you the highlights.

It was suffused with love, the kind of love that I felt as a young woman for Blake, my high school sweetheart whom I married, and which I saw reflected in my grandson and his fiancé whose wedding I recently described. This nourishing, accepting and all-encompassing feeling made me not want to wake up, but stayed with me once I did. The dream began with me in my early twenties but looked forward in my dream thoughts many years and actually incorporated someone from my real future. As I pondered over its meaning, I understood the “future” person as I never had before. That was instructive, but more important was a shift that had happened.

Like many people who have had abusive childhoods, I have felt like an orphan, bereft of care, human and divine. As I did the dishes the evening after the dream, I knew that this was over. My heart felt as if it were shattering. Not breaking. I wasn’t sad although I cried. It was opening up. It had to be bigger to accommodate what it would now have to hold – another part of me, repossessed at last.

How can I break the news to Best Bed, the black Hemnes bed from Ikea, so solid, so high, so comfortable, that its second-best Sleep Country cousin has bested it in dreaming?

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Easter/Passover and Journal 108

Every Easter, my mother outfitted me in new clothes, a coat she had made, a new hat, new shoes. Not to do so, in spite of our poverty, would have been shameful. Eventually, this led to a good deal of work as the family expanded. The clothes were to be worn to church of course. Today she would have shuffled us off to Walmart no doubt, but the closest she could get to that bazaar of economic necessity was the catalogue. That’s where the hat and shoes came from.

For Easter breakfast, she would fry up a dozen eggs and my father would tackle the lot.  The hens had started laying again by then, whether Easter was early or late.

Quaint customs that indicate advanced age.

We moved away from that rural community and found ourselves more or less lost in a city. The rest of the family gave church up, but I kept on, partly because they didn’t. I sang in the children’s choir in a long black skirt and a brilliant white surplus that had to be washed and ironed far too often. On Good Friday, I went to the somber morning service and on Easter Sunday, I rejoiced at all three services, Matins at 8 a.m., Eucharist at 11 and Evensong at 7. I found the experience beautiful, calming and comforting. Little by little, I found myself thoroughly assimilating the traditions of the “high” Anglican church I attended.

At a certain point, I stopped attending church. It was shortly after my children were born and baptized. My husband had started tutoring on Sunday morning and could no longer do childcare.

Yet the habits of that background persisted: Good Friday inevitably lead me to self-examination and grief over my shortcomings, while Easter Sunday was filled with light and grace.

Time moved on. The family grew, broke in pieces, reformed, grew again.

Some years, I found myself at a table where we were asked,”How is this night different from all other nights? I listened to the Passover story, which was not entirely new to a Bible reader after all, but now I was seeing it from inside, so to speak. And eating different food.

One year, when I was on my own, I read Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ in which he documents the parallels between Christ and the pagan sun gods to urge us to regard the story in a more metaphorical way. Toward the end of the book, he mused that we will never be more dead than we are now. By that, he meant here in what we call life, we are so thoroughly emersed in the material world that we are deeply alienated from our spiritual selves.

This is a time when we instinctively ponder questions of death and resurrection if only because nature is modeling the latter. (Well, not the poor magnolias here in TO. They got carried away by early March warmth, burst into bud and then got frozen by a cold night. The fruit trees ,however, are setting a blooming example.)

I don’t consider myself an Anglican nor even a Christian at this point, much as I respect the tradition. Buddhism and Taoism also seem to have much to teach, as does Rumi, the great 13th century Sufi poet. But the Easter child lurks within and wants the holiday honored.

This year, oh my goodness, the odd bits of family we can still gather has chosen to gather on Friday. A party on Good Friday! What would Aunt Mae say? Actually, she’d probably say she wouldn’t mind a bit of that brandy and settle down to enjoy herself.

So this leaves me rattling around by myself on the big day. What to do? Last year, journal 108 tells me I went for a walk down through the park to the river and then cooked up a rack of lamb and asparagus. This year, I will take myself out in my best duds to my favorite restaurant for an early dinner.

And eat chocolate.