A friend sends music from our past, and for days I am swimming, tossed, turned, undone. And now, I keep singing, uncertain emotions force an uncertain smile.
They say smell, with its ability to jolt your past to the present, is the most powerful sense. But music ranks right up there too — its power to set a mood, strike a set, dismantle and mantle me. All week I'm seeing myself in reverse.
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends,” wrote Joan Didion, in the essay On Keeping a Notebook in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
We’re preparing for another funeral. We’re always preparing, we are never prepared.
At the last funeral, the pastor read from Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . ."
This is the same verse that was read at our wedding. And turned into a great song. And even the Academy of American Poets recognizes it as a poem (yes!). We’re always celebrating and mourning. Life, of course, is a series of small daily deaths. But you can't stitch that on a pillow, or put it in a pill. And so we make poems.
When we are together doing something ordinary, eating dinner, riding bikes, my tears are sudden and unexpected. The mind is busy cataloguing the album of life, filing all the firsts and lasts.
I know grief. I've sat with death. I work among the old and ill. But this feels as if I’ve known nothing at all, so individual and unknown, and these tears so fresh and strong.
At work, Betty doesn’t speak.*
She warbles, bringing her hands to her mouth and letting out what I imagine are musical scales. I’ve tried to talk with her, and to play piano together but she doesn’t respond, just looks to me from deep-set eyes. I pretend she can see me, can see through me to some unsaid truth or intention. And so I do the talking.
Today she places her wheelchair in the center of the hall, and when I kneel to visit she offers a slight smile as if maybe she recalls me just a bit, and lets me place my hand upon hers.
How are you today? I ask. Her response is silence.
Will you sing for me? Silence.
And so we just look at each other.
I smile because just looking is difficult. Try it. Talk to someone you don’t know and you have no history and you’re not sure they can hear you or see you or understand you. All you know is this busy hallway, this quiet moment.
So we just look at each other and she murmurs a note or two. And then, she leans in and slowly moves a strand of hair from my face. The gentlest of gestures, both tender and kind. And this is the happiest I’ve been all week.
It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. Life contracts and expands in relation to our gratitude. What are you thankful for today?
* as always, names have been changed