Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Of Life, Death and Love
Now that The Wifey and I are both on "teachers' schedules" with our new jobs we got a chance to travel because money magically appears in our checking account every two weeks through the summer. It is the first time in 30+ years I could take a vacation and not have to think about how I was going to cover jobs, pay for it and then make up lost wages because of the "down time" while we were gone.
I've always preferred driving places to flying to them. Long stretches of highway and endlessly retreating horizons have a mystical affect on the soul. The driver's seat is almost like a hermit's cell, it is not very demanding except in short spurts and leaves enough of your mind free to wander into your self.
We were on our way to visit kids and grandkids. Grandkids...
I remembered driving the stretch of I-40 we were on. The last time was in the summer of 1982 in a 1962 VW cargo van with no air conditioning. It would make 50 miles an hour on flat road and drop to 25 at the hint of a hill. It had no seats and I built a crib for my infant son in the open cargo area. We were taking him to see his grandparents in Arkansas. I was young, younger than he is now, with my life a horizon that I would eventually arrive at and settle into. My smooth hand was firmly on the wheel.
Thirty years later the horizon is still in front of me and I know there is more beyond it that the maps, whether Rand Nally fold-ups or GPS cannot define. I still have not yet arrived. My hand is still on the wheel. It is no longer smooth. It has lost its youthful strength, its grip is not as firm nor confident, though certainly more cautious.
We stopped at St. Micheal's Monastery to visit my step-son for a couple days. I think I prayed for the first time in over a year at Vespers. Fr. Andrew looks weaker, a mirror of my own looming mortality as I face sixty years next month.
While talking to the fathers, a visitor about "Orthodoxy", being in the services, and walking around the canyon I realized that, after over 40 years of trying to be a Christan, not only did I still not know how to pray, but I really didn't know how to do much of anything (except paint, which I did at each of our kid's new homes).
We then went to visit the kids and grandkids. We did our best to spoil them as quickly and thoroughly as we could in four days. It is sobering to know you were once holding your own child, once this young, who has now given you this new life to hold.
On the way to the Ozarks we stopped in Tulsa to have dinner with one of my wife's high school best friends that she has not seen in many years. "Holmes and Watson" they called each other. They shared stories of each other, stories that one or the other did not recall but defined some part of their mutual bond for each of them. They caught up on failed marriages, kids, growing old and their respective parents passed that each of them remembered in some fond ways.
We went to the Ozarks to visit the "newlyweds" (nearly) on their first anniversary. We visited Eureka Springs and hiked some beautiful country. We came across an old cemetery, some graves dating back to the Civil War. There were many "Infant Son/Daughter" headstones, some in consecutive years. There were newer graves also, generations of families buried together. There were also graves marked only with a small piece of sandstone, unhewn, set upright with no engravings. This one, a red brick with "Denny" written in Magic Marker was an enigma. We speculated that perhaps it was a family pet laid next to its master, or perhaps a hastily dug grave of a miscarriage with the blessing of a name that will be sunwashed away and known only to the parents in a few seasons.
We hiked a couple miles into the wooded hills past the graveyard. Perhaps this is the blessing of having an old, tired Grandfatherly hand that has no frenetic energy left in it that would frighten young children and animals.
From there we stopped to see my Aunt Jo, my Dad's younger sister, who is in a nursing home because of multiple strokes. Even though it added almost an extra day of driving it was as close as I would be to her before she passes away. She is half of her former self, physically. She moved in and out of reality fluidly, and sometimes would catch herself doing so. We took a picture of us together but I cannot bring myself to show it to anyone, especially my Dad. Death and its spectre is sad. I held her hand while we said goodbye, while she cried thanking us for visiting her. She reached up with her withered hand and pulled my face to her and kissed me on the cheek. "Thank you..."
I don't know how long she will remember that I was there. But I was. Even though things are forgotten they still shape our humanity and our relationships. And when we are facing the autumnal years, like a once vibrant leaf now withering, wrinkled, veined and trembling in the stinging, chill wind of winter, we realize that our distant horizon, now upon us, is to hope we will be remembered, that we shall be remembered in love by those we have loved.