The most important lessons he taught were in those moments when he was absolutely silent, the smile across his face shouting across the background din of everyday life, his eyes wide with a sort of childish awe that I had long since given up as adolescent.
The child sees everything for the first time regardless how many times she has gazed at what we adults are certain is the same scene, a pure iteration, hears each call of the cardinal as a never-before-heard song, not the now boring chorus of a too long repeated lyric, its melody now painful.
His lessons too easily slipped away, as he did a few years later, mourning a poor substitute for memories that eased into the damp ground with him, but the smile of my granddaughter at seemingly everything and nothing, her laughter at the squirrel inverted from the crook arm of the bird feeder defying the shield below to stop his constant thefts, the giggles at the clouds filling the sky with characters I could not hope to see, brought him back, and with him the joys of my childhood long suppressed.
As a child, I could never understand why, when I knew that it ws time to go, my parents were never ready, always needed one or two more things; and why en route, we were never quite there even though I had waited the ten minutes more they said it would take.
But I had nothing on my beloved dog Mindy, who would stand by the back door, leash in moth and growl, wondering, no doubt why I always need more time, it wasn’t, she was certain, because shoes were necessary, or a rain jacket, she got by just fine without them, and why my last bathroom stop had to take precedence over hers would always be beyond comprehension.
The hardest age by far is the one where you are stuck in the middle, children below, parents above, and utterly no hope of escape from the vise. Things your mother could do effortlessly now seem impossible for her, and those things now need doing immediately. Your children, ever wise at creating novel approaches to anything they want in life regardless of your opinion, suddenly cannot perform the simple tasks they once could, more so if the task takes them away from whatever is their pleasure of the moment. It is this middle period where you cease to live, at least to live fully, taken with tasks above and below, and only in the rare spare moment can you contemplate the tasks you will no longer be able to do as soon as your children cease to be a burden and can be one
She stares at the menu, her eyes incandesce brighter than an eight year old’s should be able. And I can eat everything on the menu, she says to herself, her smile broadening, as she thinks and they may enjoy it too, and I can move them one more step in the right direction. She has been a vegetarian for six months, since the day she declared to the waiter that she would never again eat a dead animal, and she has held to it without fail since. She says her father is almost a pescatarian, and she whispers in an aside that close to vegetarian and an easy move once you are there. Her four year old brother laughs and says today I’m vegetarian too, and the waitress laughs and thinks in a vegan restaurant, that is a universal truth.
We now live in a strange world where nothing is as it was mere weeks ago. I am blessed to live on a small nature preserve and have been spending my afternoons with camera in hand. So if you want something other than words (which follow) you are welcome to visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/98342503@N00/, my Flickr site, which is updated daily. A sample of what you will find:
It seems odd how often our fathers depart suddenly, our mothers make a slower retreat, slipping away while always still present, a death by 1000 days, the cuts inflicted on our psyche, small wounds that never fully heal, but fade, so the scars are only seen and felt from the inside. My parents never did things as expected, so my mother complained bitterly of the small difficulties of life, until the morning she suddenly departed, at the stroke of 6:15 while my father lingers, still happy in ever shortening increments, both of us knowing he is fading away and I may never know he has departed after he is gone.
My mother was a firm believer In lecturing, offering vast bits of knowledge, culled from here and there. One of her favorites was Edison’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and she leaned toward quantity, “It’s all about hard work, go clean your room, clutter will get you nowhere.” Sitting here today amid what I prefer to think of as eclectically arranged items of potentially great importance, I see her picture, before the chemo took her bottled red hair looking disapprovingly at me, saying, “You are killing your genius, Edison would agree with me.” I want to say to her, “But I’m with Einstein and if a cluttered desk is evidence of a cluttered mind, why was hers always empty.
I have fond memories of a childhood I never lived. Those are the best childhoods from for they reflect life as you meant it to be lived. In this life my father is in his late nineties, still smiles when he sees me, not didn’t clutch his chest sixty-one years ago, didn’t fall to the floor, didn’t leave me half an orphan again, doesn’t live only in the periphery of my dreams.
In this place there is a fatted, sacrificial silence. It is the large Jewish Cemetery nestling the road where Maryland and the District are loosely stitched together. It is a small plot goldenrod dirt outskirting Lisbon.
This ground is sacred not for the blessing of one who has taken the tallit of holiness. The sanctity of this ground leaches from the simple pine boxes that return with the body to the soil.
The stones, mostly simple with neatly incised Hebrew inscriptions are all blank to me, worn smooth by memory denied.
I place my ear carefully to each, wanting to hear a voice, a fractured whisper that will resonate in the hollow spaces.
I pass by those with shared names for if he or she is here each must share the isolation they willed me. I look at the faces of passing mourners — none resemble the morning mirror.
I grow tired of the search, sit in the paltry shade of the ricinus plant knowing we both will be gone by sundown.
First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005