Margaret’s Brain on Ice

One year ago today it was standing room only in Emancipation Hall on the lower floor of our nation’s capital. I was there, with most of Margaret’s family, to see her receive her Congressional Gold Medal for service as a civilian WASP pilot during World War II. Twelve months later, Margaret and I still meet every other Thursday at 10:00 in the morning for a yoga lesson.   Her body doesn’t move as easily as it did last spring. Her joints ache, especially her shoulders.  Her mind, however, is as sharp and sassy as ever.

Today I suggested icing her shoulder after our workouts.

“But I can’t be fiddling with that stuff – it leaves no time for poetry.”

Her voice was a layered mix of smoke from the ten cigarettes she treats herself to each day and 87-year-old ornery mischief.


“If I’m messing around with those damn ice bags, Mimm, I can’t think of the lines of poetry.”

“You mean having a bag of ice on your shoulder…”

“It muddles my brain, Mimm.”  She laughed and cleared her throat.  “If I’m doing all that ice and heat stuff to keep things moving, well, it’ll move those lines right out of my brain.”

I shook my head in disbelief and began to pack up my equipment.  That’s when she began:

She is as in a field a silken tent

At midday when the sunny summer breeze

Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,

So that in guise it gently sways at ease,

And its supporting central cedar pole,

That is its pinnacle to heavenward

And signifies the sureness of the soul,

Seems to owe naught to any single cord,

But strictly held by none, is loosely bound

By countless silken ties of love and thought

To every thing on earth the compass round,

And only by one’s going slightly taut

In the capriciousness of summer air

Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

“That’s Robert Frost.”

“That’s beautiful, Margaret.”

“How am I supposed to remember that with a bag of ice on my shoulder?”

“I don’t know, Margaret.”

I was all packed but I didn’t want to leave.  I love Margaret.  Sometimes when I arrive and she opens the door she’ll stand for a moment.  Her nearly sightless eyes will look me up and down and she’ll ask,

“What fresh hell is this?”

How could I not love her?

We laugh together.  We solve the world’s problems.  We work on solving mine, too. She does not give me a single inch of leeway.

Today we talked about death.

Margaret taking a look at her Congressional Gold Medal with her magnifier.

“I’m not ready to go yet,” she said.  “I like what’s here, and I don’t know what’s there.”  And then she began to recite Emily Dickinson.

In 1944 this tiny, pixie haired woman flew military aircraft so large she needed two pillows and a packed parachute to reach the rudder.

If Margaret doesn’t want to ice her shoulder because it muddles her brain, she doesn’t have to.

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