Recapturing a state of grace
by David Weinshilboum
I was on autopilot.
I was strolling my then 18-month-old son, Merret, along a bicycle path. It was a lazy summer day around 4 p.m. It was hot, and the sun’s rays angled across our path. While I continued to talk to the boy —pointing out the pinecones on the ground, mentioning the sound of trucks emanating from the nearby road — my mind was elsewhere. I was tired. It was warm. I had stopped paying attention. I was there, but I wasn’t.
Then I saw it.
A flash of fluffy white darted across the path, no more than 20 yards ahead of us. My mind, curious, snapped back to the moment. Did I really just see that? I froze. Sure enough, the fluffy white rodent meandered back onto the path.
“Holy Cow, Merret.” I whispered close to the boy’s ear. “That’s a white squirrel — an albino!” My son, perhaps sensing the majesty of the moment, whispered back. “Bine-oh.”
The little critter skittered about on the path for a few minutes more. Merret and I stood in awe, motionless. Then the squirrel was gone.
A white squirrel! We had seen it. Together!
The experience served as a springboard to many future walks. We would go on a walk and “search” for our pigment-challenged friend. I would often discuss this unique critter with Merret before he went to bed.
Alas, from time to time, I need an albino squirrel to wake me up, rouse me from a state of indifference. I’d like to think that, for the most part, I am alive, aware, cognizant. But I think all people can fall into malaise; a state of disgrace. When I look back at my autopilot moments — moments when I take the world’s beauty for granted — it scares me. How could I possibly look up at a starry night and dismiss a firmament of shimmering brilliance? How could I do anything but savor my son’s hand wrapped tightly around my sleeve?
Luckily, I’ve been provided more than mere white squirrels to ensure that I remain appreciative of the marvels around me. Several years ago, a “white dog” helped keep those dreaded autopilot moments at bay.
About six years ago, my wife and I stumbled upon a musical duo of Duval Speck — the folksy, upbeat, whimsical pair of Linda Duval and Cathy Speck. They played regularly at a coffee shop by our home. Their songs — fun, energetic and catchy — made it impossible for my son Alex, who was about 4 at the time, to do anything but dance like a madman. Linda and Cathy were magnificent.
They were vital.
Even better, Cathy and Linda were so generous with their time before and after their performances. They would interact with Alex, inquire about which songs he wanted to hear. He would always, ALWAYS request the song “White Dog.”
For several years, Linda and Cathy provided my family with several “albino squirrel” moments, moments when I was fully aware of the beauty and splendor of the world. I remember Alex wearing a look of fierce pride when Linda and Cathy performed at a July 4th concert. I remember a sense of anticipation that permeated our household as we would get ready to attend a Duval Speck performance. And how can I forget the rousing audience response to Linda and Cathy’s song “Kiss me in public,” an anthem for gay rights.
Despite my family’s love and admiration for Duval Speck, the beasts of lethargy and time restrictions reduced the amount of concerts we attended. Our interaction with Cathy and Linda waned.
We lost touch.
Then, in early 2009, we heard that Cathy had Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating and terminal disease that causes one to lose muscle function. Ultimately, I knew that ALS would rob Cathy of her music. But I was more worried about the Cathy and Linda that I knew, the energetic pair that could prep for a concert, interact with dozens of friends and fans, and resolve an electrical issue with incredible equanimity — and without a single Xanax.
Since we were more community friends than friend friends, our family never managed to talk to Duval Speck for long. Sure, my family ran into Linda and Cathy around town from time to time and wished them well. But we never got to see them as we did before.
Luckily, happenstance combined with a tad bit of cyberstalking helped generate a Weinshilboum/Duval Speck reunion. When Cathy joined iPinion, the writing syndicate comprised of various writers, it gave me an excuse to befriend her on Facebook. When she posted about her birthday party, I assumed, being the semi-stalker that I am, that it was an invite.
It was great to see Cathy and Linda. The party was, in many ways, akin to one of their concerts. They were gracious, enthusiastic and engaging. Linda sat down with Alex and treated him as if it was his birthday. Cathy joked with the crowd and made everyone feel comfortable.
Cathy has gracefully and eloquently written about her experiences with ALS, and some of her writing discusses what she’s lost as a result of her disease. But after seeing her at the birthday party, I can assure you that ALS has not and will never rob her of her inner spirit.
David Weinshilboum, who has proof of the albino squirrel, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org