The past few weeks have been exhausting, both physically and mentally. They’ve been exhilarating, too, and inspiring in ways accompanied by fear.
With wife and son I descended a thousand feet through mist-enshrouded redwoods to rocky ocean’s shore, later to return, drenched to the skin by the strenuous climb, to medicinal silence and calm. Every inch was a place I’d been — a question posed in song, answered of its own. There were flowers — you know the ones — that ravished Earth’s bare skin with sensuous lovers’ praise, accounting, perhaps, for the occasional sigh I heard. A kind of pain they were, sustained and satisfied in their desire for more. I tremble now in thought of them, such does their presence endure.
Evenings were spent absorbed by sunsets, while birds fished a restless tide as much color as it was water. Behind us, hotel gulls were content with bread crumbs. But the brown pelicans were a sight to behold. Skimming the water culminating in well-timed dives, they turned somersaults and resurfaced in the opposite direction while gulping down their meal, the very north and south of it part of their joy and game.
Hundreds of miles from home, we noticed how different people looked in their local grocery store, and were pleased at how friendly they were. Survivors of hard times, they knew the stories behind each real estate sign and abandoned storefront. They greeted each other by name. Through it all and between our toes, there was sand, as if the town were an hourglass waiting to be turned.
I am nervous still.
Mile upon mile of coastal peace. We climbed to the top of two historic lighthouses, the keepers of which had gone out on rescues never to return, or to be washed in splinters ashore, their loved ones lamenting on the rocks. Imagine baking two hundred thousand bricks on your very own hillside and teaching your children the alphabet, only to sink like the anchor of your wreck.
Your lungs full of water.
A few days later we were home, or at least in a more familiar part of it. And then we received a call informing us of my mother’s pneumonia. She looked and sounded terrible, tied to land but about to drown. We rushed her to the doctor, who prescribed a powerful antibiotic. A day later, she would have been gone. We prepared for the worst. Instead, she rallied. Even at ninety-one, with almost all her faculties gone, she fought back to live. She cried when she heard my voice. I did not beg her to live. Survival was her choice — and, knowing her, her duty too, as much as her reflex and joy.
And now her lungs are clear. She’s eating and alert, though not in a knowing sense. She nods her head to the music played for her — truth told, like any of us, I guess — while, I, the youngest of her three sons, father of four of her grandchildren, grandfather of two of her great-granchildren, am here to navigate the vast, treacherous sea of memory.
Still, she could be gone tomorrow. A recurrence might convince her to seek her rest. We know that.
Imagine baking two hundred thousand cookies in your very own oven and teaching your children that everything you have is yours only when it is given away. Imagine your life, and love it for what it is.