We're standing in George Washington's Headquarters in Valley Forge National Park, looking into the different rooms that have been laid out in such impeccable detail - tables covered in a carefully disordered array of documents, uniform jackets draped over open doorways, shelves with white porcelain dishes, a dining table laid out with potatoes, peas, and ham, small beds neatly made up with checkered blankets - and as we're poking our heads into one room after another he tells me (with his sharp eye for detail and his mischievous sense of humor), that these men really were ahead of their time: look, they had equipped the house with smoke detectors, and who knows how many times those had come in handy saving Washington's life.
We're surprised by a plot of sunflowers. She tells me they seem depressed, and it's true, they're hanging their heads, but the rain diminishes some of their sadness I think. When it's sunny outside, a wilted sunflower really does look downcast, drooping away from the source of its light, as if the sun has failed it. But in the rain, it's a little spot of faded sunshine, and still looks determined to bring some cheer.
Sometimes there's a feeling that the air is made up of more flower-scent than oxygen.
In my daily planner I had written a list of studious, work-related tasks I intended to accomplish that evening, but as it turns out I spend most of the time watching a good sweet movie and eating a good sweet (generous) portion of rum raisin ice cream.
She asks me why I'm afraid to open the envelope - she uses the word afraid, instead of hesitant - and the reason for my hesitation becomes clear soon after as her temper erupts when she reads the contents. She calms down in a short while though, enough to at least deal in a more level-headed way with the problem. And the next day it's possible for her to be in high spirits; during one of the stops in our road trip in the afternoon she makes us laugh so hard our stomachs are convulsed and tears are leaking out of our eyes.
Raindrops tapping on our shoulders and faces; we smile into the rain.
I expect a light-hearted night with dinner and a movie, but at one point the conversation takes an unexpectedly heavy turn. We talk about illness and death, terrible things happening to decent people, and how to explain these things (to children, adults, anyone) - and the people I'm talking to seem to want quick decisive responses (this goes against my plodding, ruminative way of sorting through thoughts, especially on topics like these). Yet there are moments, especially as the conversation progresses and my mind has had more time to consider these matters, when I can put words to some of my convictions and get a point across that I feel is important. Afterwards, as frustrated and humbled as I am by my meager understanding and struggle for eloquence, I'm also glad I have this conversation, not only because I've clarified certain thoughts that had stayed unvoiced in my head, thought of new things too since then, new angles to explore... but also because it's necessary to wrestle with these questions, to never stop asking.