Time doesa number on the body, that’s for sure. Just yesterday, stretching before a workout, the sun shining through the window and onto my forearms, I ask myself, ‘Whose arm is that?’ The skin folded in finely wrinkled lines which I associate with the elder women of my extended family, now long gone. But these were my arms, not Great-Great-Aunt Margaret’s. A sobering realization.
And so I take consolation in Emilie Da’oud’s thoughts on the word, ‘supple‘:
‘If an adult body becomes truly supple, there’s a quality to its movement that the child’s doesn’t have, a texture of experience, a fourth dimension of time. When we watch a seventy-year-old hand move, we feel, ‘Yes, that hand has lived.’ All the bodies it has touched, all the heads it has cradled are present in its movement. It is resonant with experience; the fingers curve with a sense of having been there.’
For thoseof us who are ‘of a certain age,’ may we happily reside in our aging bodies, which are ‘resonant with experience,’ wrinkles and all.
It’s the bestseason for cemetery strolls, so lovely when the leaves are turning, the fall breezes blowing leaves about, carpeting the ground. Union Cemetery, situated along the Olentangy River, is a long-time beloved one, now where John McCullough’s remains reside, catalpa tree branches bending over the grave site.
A distant cousinto Mike, John died in August. He was our mail carrier for many years, a kind and gentle man who often walked his route with Maggie, a neighborhood dog. John, his wife and their twin sons became an important part of our lives, especially after genealogical research revealed John and Mike were cousins, having the same several-greats grandfather. At the funeral, honoring John’s request, Mike read from the McCullough family Bible, discovered on-line during the research project. We are missing John, and will remember his generous spirit.
John Keats suggested this for a tombstone inscription: ‘Here lies one whose name waswrit in water.’ I like that. It captures the ephemeral nature of our brief time on the planet, and somehow makes me grateful to be in a body for the time being. How remarkable, this life, and then gone. But we are here today. Whatever your present endeavors, keep making, keep living, though it be ‘writ in water.’
Leo arrives for the afternoon. His mamma’s due date has come and gone, and she’s seeing the midwives. The two of us play the afternoon away. The three-year-old decides the plastic dinosaurs require a soapy bath, and they receive one. There are card games at the kitchen table, matching shapes and pictures. Wind-up toys everywhere.
Alicia returns. Midwives found her 3 centimeters dilated! Baby will be here soon. As they are leaving for home, Gary arrives. He and Mike walk the garden paths, inspecting the retaining wall construction, then settle into sunroom lounge chairs for a beer. Gary’s phone beeps and he apologizes, checking the message. It’s his wife, out-of-town with her family, keeping vigil at the bedside of her 94-year-old father. He is hours from death.
Daily, I check Julie’s blog, missing her posts, which have been regular as rain for many years. Nothing. Bill, her husband, is living his last days with pancreatic cancer. Two to six months are left. The diagnosis was received mid-December.
Kenzie calls on Sunday with news of her pregnancy. She’s the eldest of the nieces and nephews, the first to marry, and now the first to launch the family’s next generation. Baby is due in October.
And this was the week, the interminable week, 35 years ago, that Morgan was admitted to Children’s Hospital, dying 4 days later with heart failure, complications of pneumonia. Her frail body made it all the way through winter, but compromised with a heart defect often found in babies with Down Syndrome, she was unable to gain weight and thrive, and our daughter died on the first day of spring.
We are, all of us, coming and going. The days come and the days go, due dates, birthdays, baby-on-the-way announcements, death days. Play dates, vigil nights. Be present to this day, no matter what it holds for you. Looking out the window of Morgan’s hospital room the morning she died, the spring sun was brilliant. In the midst of losing her, I did see the sun.
*(The Wheel, a Wendell Berry poetry collection. highly recommend.)
In 1988, my father died suddenly of a heart attack, and having lost my mother 10 years earlier, I was officially orphaned. Often I found myself in a one-sided conversation with my parents, and once in a while, imagined hearing back from them.
One of those times a ditty began to sing itself in my mind’s ear, and although the melody has been lost, I do remember the lyric: Make a little beauty each day….It’s all that’s asked, all that’s required, just make a little beauty each day.
Yes. Making beauty. A roast chicken, a song, an Alexander Technique lesson, a pleasing arrangement of pottery and pictures on the mantle, a linen napkin under the sterling silver at dinner. A kind word, a lavish party. A photograph. A friendship. A marriage. A life you can love. It’s enough.
In this spring season, when the natural world is wild with making, may you be inspired to make a little beauty too. It’s all that’s required——
One month ago, I stood in the kitchen raising a glass to a man whose lively engagement with life ensured us a long evening of laughs and great stories. Of four 1971 Ohio State University freshmen assigned to the same dorm floor, one is now deceased.
Kerry Egan,hospice chaplainand author of the just published, On Living, wrote this about those who know they are near to death:
‘…..it isn’t just healththat they wish they had appreciated. It is embodiment itself. It’s the very experience of being in a body, something you might take for granted until faced with the reality that you won’t have a body soon….so they talk about their favorite memories of their bodies…And dancing. So many stories about dancing.’
And Ted did dance. One of the apocryphal Ted stories is titled, ‘the Russian Vodka Party.’ A raucous house party burst through its doors, where Ted and I and others danced our way down the porch steps and into the grass.
Another dancing-with-Ted memory. My daughter, Morgan, was born with Down Syndrome, and died at nine months of age from pneumonia due to a heart defect. Mike and I grieved and struggled for a very long time. Ted gave us a much needed reprieve when he dragged us out of our sad house and into a bar where we ended up dancing out into the street once again. Did I ever tell him what a gift that was? I can’t remember that I did. It’s one of those regrets that those of us still living cannot escape when we lose someone we love.
Tia Sillers and Mark Sanders wrote “I Hope You Dance” in 2000, a big cross-over country pop hit sung by Lee Ann Womack. One phrase repeats throughout, and it is my wish for you this day:
‘And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…..I hope you dance.’