To Two Friends.
Life would be sweet, were it not for the nagging death-thingy.
That inevitable; the punctuation mark at the end of the line.Which could be an exclamation point, question mark, period, semi-colon ...an ellipses (my personal choice) -- who knows.
As a child, because we lived oceans apart from our nearest relatives and grandparents, death wasn't a person, it was an object. Something shipped from overseas, in a box stuffed with peanut packaging and sawdust. A painting, a grandfather's clock, a clutch of letters written in a hand I didn't recognize, in a language I couldn't understand.
Mostly, death was over there, and kindly kept its distance for three decades.
Eventually, of course, death made its way to my side of the universe. As I was ill-prepared, death brought a tsunami of denial, more so than sadness and depression. And I found the experience completely and utterly exhausting.
What I didn't realize until that time: death cuts the major cord, but leaves so many significant minor ones -- responsibility, things we've done, things we wish we hadn't, devotion, care -- flailing around in space, attached to nothing in particular. And it's ever so tiring to follow these cords, trace their source, find where they can possibly end and anchor.
At the turn of this last century, I was in my office, waiting for a lunch date, when I got a kick in the chest. Not an ordinary kick, not that I've ever had an ordinary or any other sort of kick in the chest, but I got a kick that crashed into my chest like a 747 . "Oh God," I thought, "is this a heart attack? Should I call an ambulance?"
I locked my office door, and for the rest of the day, just laid with my head on the desk, waiting to see if I would die.
When I got home, the call on my answering machine said Dad had suffered a stroke around noon. My dad was dead.
When I flew to Seattle, his three kids organized the events to suit our abilities -- one would take care of the funeral and wake, the other pack and dispose of his lifetime of things. Mostly, I wrote, worked on my eulogy.
We each wrote three very different remembrances. I was staying at his house, and my eulogy started with what it felt like to open his sock drawers. He had three sock drawers. Each so orderly, arranged according to the socks' color, texture, and purpose -- socks for skiing, hiking, running; casual socks, and socks for fancy dress. Every pair in perfect condition, some older than I was, and exquisitely darned.
My dad believed in a lifetime of use, and beyond; he could repurpose anything. I must have spent an hour or two just admiring his socks.
Anyway, I think my sister's eulogy covered his life in Norway, and accomplishments here in the U.S. My brother praised his career, and art, and courage. And I basically talked about socks.
What I didn't include was that when my dad left earth, he sent a 747 to my chest to say good-bye.
So I think there is something beyond the biological that binds us to those we love.
And I think our job, once they die, is to grant them safe passage. An enormous act of will, concentration, and of course, leap of faith.
Safe passage to where?
Don't ask me -- don't ask a person who can't roll up one single pair of socks and find a drawer to put them in.
But safe passage somewhere. Somewhere without a map or name. A place where we can see the ones we've lost, sense the things we dream, find the words we need.