Being an only child, you learn early on to pay attention, to forage for details of your family’s past. You know you alone bear the weight of carrying those stories forward. You marvel at a society’s ability to pass down story from person to person, realizing that it is it’s own form of literacy and a deft art at that. As someone who’s taken by the idea of memorization- how do you truly memorize the contours of a face before you blink and the etch-a-sketch brain wipes clean?
Today, my dad would be 67.
When someone dies, you learn to switch verb tenses to a form never before attributed to that person. You fight against the “was” and underscore “is” for as long as it naturally comes out of your mouth. And then mysteriously, the “was” slips out. Simply, distance and time have eaten at your precious verb tenses like moths nibbling at a silk dress.
And the body is mysterious too. It has a special knowledge and tries to communicate outside the mouth, ascribing importance to the joints, digestion, the hips, the jaw… all of them arrows – all of them oracles.
This past week my body has been pointing to today. It has been bracing me for emotional and physical discomfit. My jaw has been clenched. My shoulders squared. Even sleep has been fraught with furrow, only made more tangible by dear Beck who’s been struggling with illness and a visit to the ER last Sunday, setting things in motion.
How do you remember without losing the edges of the thing remembered?
It’s a frightening prospect to think of the silhouette fading over time. It makes you fearful of losing all the other people in your life, makes you hold them a moment longer, talk a few minutes more, keeps them in the front of your mind as you run through your prayer litany. This way of living steeps you in fear so profoundly that you begin to buffet against what you know to be good and true. You plug your ears from listening.
But listening is key.
On Sunday morning, I ambled my way to church. I had signed up to sing, but was in no shape for it. My head, heart and body wanted to be back in bed with my husband who had slept little, tossing and turning in pain. I needed to turn things over like a battery that wouldn’t start. And unsurprisingly, the music pulled me in. It coddled and held me with the tempo and rhythm of Jeff playing the drums, the foundation being built by Adam on piano and Karl on guitar. Wil on the organ and Jason on the bass played on, reverberating something true and sure, something I could fall into willingly.
I don’t read music.
And the why is enrobed in a long story involving a baby grand piano, a teacher with a penchant for snacking whilst her 10 cats freely roamed the house and sometimes the keys I was trying to play. Instead, my way of picking out the musical path is found in listening. Sometimes the only way I feel grace and mercy is through a melody, each syllable and word working its existence out inside of me. Sometimes, the only way I can attempt fearlessness is to hear the possible avenues for harmony and strike out, knowing firm footing is best left to melody, knowing my heart races with adrenaline even when I hit the wrong note because I tried. And yesterday, I soared. And yesterday, I found myself awash in emotion and felt bruised. But I also found myself smiling at the three year old boy in the balcony, flinging his arms with the movement of the music, seeing his grin contagiously spread to the little girl next to him. They were listening with all of themselves.
My dad died 10 years after they expected he would and in my opinion 20 years before he should have. Can I change that- no. Can I accept that… I’m learning. And the tricky thing about listening is that my body is telling me it’s still grieving. It’s telling me to move on. As I get older, I find myself holding the sour and the sweet in tandem because the things which ravage us from within do not abate just because something good is happening. The sweet intersects and regards the sour.
And here’s the thing: I’m listening. Boy, am I listening.
Recently I whipped up a batch of pickled Bing cherries. Their dark red skin and flesh gave way to bursts of sweetness in the mouth. Their time span shortened by the day as the orbs softened to the touch. And I wanted to somehow draw out that goodness. I longed to keep them around just a bit longer, which is what I can relate to and what I hear from people who have lost someone they love. They /(I want):
One more hello. One more goodbye. One more hug. One more cry.