In a way it started with loneliness. But in another, more practical way, it started with my daughter asking if she and her beloved could have their small wedding in my back yard. I said Yes, of course! What else would I say? I love my daughter more than all the stars in a cloudless and moonless night sky. I am lucky to have a beautiful back yard, and I’m also lucky to live in San Francisco (a smart choice on my part — I think — made 50 years ago). But I’m not so lucky to have the kind of weather San Francisco has which keeps most of us indoors and not enjoying back yards as much as other people in other places enjoy them. Lack of use is why my front and back yard tend to be a little wild (read — neglected).
But, the prospect of hosting a wedding gave me the impetus I needed to spiffy things up — to expand the brick patio in back, and to create a space that was functional for gatherings, as well as more low maintenance. In other words it could be neglected and still not look so bad.
The front yard needed work too. My home is modest, which is fine. But I still like the idea of having a garden in front that is pleasing to the eye (and perhaps to the nose, as well), and welcoming. It’s a small patch of flat land I’d tried to work with for 18 years. It was just ok, not really happening. So I hired a “landscape artist” to help me design it. We recycled some stone pavers to put in a small curved path, and a few new plants, mostly drought resistant succulents… Nothing major, but the curved stone path changed everything. She told me another client of hers had an old wooden bench that she wanted to get rid of and since I had a nice little square patch of brick patio (from an earlier garden project), would I like to have it? Yes, definitely. For years I had two old plastic patio chairs out there, functional, but not appealing. I decided to paint the wood bench Brazilian blue. I liked the name and the color. Like the stone path, the blue bench added an interesting new element.
Though well within the city limits of San Francisco proper, where I live is purely residential. One has to walk quite a few uphill blocks to get to anything resembling a cafe. I also live a few blocks down the street from San Francisco City College and Riordan High School, so during the school year I often enough see young people, mostly teens, walking by, to or from school. But it’s a rare day when one glances my way and shoots me a Hello.
I also have wonderful neighbors. Most of them work or are busy with one thing and another. I rarely see them, though now that my friend — and neighbor — Fern has retired, I often get to see her and her magnificent granddaughter Gigi. The thing is, even though I have a lot of friends and a variety of activities that interest me, in my day to day life, I am often alone. Part of that day sometimes involves loneliness. Sometimes I think the poet Elizabeth Bishop and I are the only two willing to admit to loneliness. Look! I’m not looking for pity. Or advice. If you want to talk about the fascinating subject of loneliness as one human to another, fine, just, no pity or advice, please.
Choosing to read outside with my feet up on the blue bench on a sunny day, getting some Vitamin D.
Look! The problem is big, and hidden. In fact, it’s huge. People just don’t talk about it. There is shame; I’m pretty sure everyone thinks they’re the only one. So NOT! And like it’s a personal failure. Not, again. Our society, our culture is so busy. Some might feel anxious about their own present or potential loneliness. Some might even feel jealous that you have any “down” time at all, rushed and stressed and spread thin as so many are. I’m doing better these days, for a variety of reasons, but last night I was talking on the phone with Mom, who sounded so confused and lost, I wanted to cry. I mean wail. Knowing the terrible care she is receiving at the Skilled Nursing Facility, I wanted to rage, filled with tears of despair. I so badly wanted a shoulder to cry on. But there was none, and that is the breaks for those of us not living in community or in partnership. I have friends who would for sure let me cry on their shoulder, but I would have to call and make a date. Sometimes I need not to have to call and make a date. Sometimes I am just confronted with the truth that I feel lonely. Mindfully, I feel it, then move on.
The front yard after its make-over for the wedding.
Anyway, the front garden. I wanted there to be a place, a public space of sorts where a long or short conversation could happen. A place where I could sit outside and read or simply rest, admire the plants, watch the hard work of the bees, see the occasional butterfly, the more frequent hummingbird, and listen to the chatter of the crows. And.. make a space for the potential and possibility of spontaneous human interaction. No phone calls to make a date.
My next door neighbor, Karen.
Eventually people started visiting a bit. My dear neighbor Karen, I think it was, coined the term blue bench therapy (or was it me who coined that phrase?) Then because I can’t resist taking pictures, I started taking them. In this way, blue bench therapy (which still exists) became blue bench photography. I’m lucky to know a lot of wonderful and interesting people who will sometimes stop by and chat, and maybe agree to get their picture taken. My blue bench has definitely somewhat lessened my sense of isolation.
Fern and me.
My friend, Andrea.
Sandy and Muppet.
Next door neighbors Bina and Sandeep.
James and Maxe.
Sasha and his sweet pup, Harpo!
Neighbors! Raul from across the street, Matt from up the street. Meeting up on the blue bench.
Maybe there should be a lot more blue benches about. Also, we should definitely vote out the GOPTRUMPNRAFOXSINCLAIR organized crime ring in November, and return the Congress to Blue — you know, Blue, like a blue bench, like sanity, like problem-solving, like compassion.