I still don’t own a cell phone, or whatever they’re called these days. The first time I laid hands on a computer, I was thirty-seven years old. I didn’t venture online until I was forty-five.
All through my growing-up years and well beyond, everyone I knew, I knew in person; and those I didn’t know personally, I knew by sight. When we met on the sidewalk, whether or not words were exchanged we acknowledged each other with a smile or nod. Such was life in my hometown.
Now I am fifty-seven. And while my existence is seldom acknowledged on the sidewalk, I am as ready as ever to look others in the eye, and to let them know that I know they are there. It’s a matter of common courtesy — and I mean that in the profoundest sense, because each day, each opportunity, could be our last.
These thoughts I trace to my mother’s passing — as I can most every other thought I’ve had, and action I’ve taken, these past few days. The day after she died, I was surprised once to realize that it had been only a day — so much I had done, and so many miles I’d traveled in my mind. It felt, without exaggeration, like a month. I had to stop and look at the calendar.
I know this scenario will be familiar to some, while others will grasp it through different avenues of their experience. But I think everyone will understand a dream I had last night, in which I dialed my mother on an old rotary telephone, and heard her laughing on the other end and saying she had company and was wondering what she should cook for them. For some odd reason I said, “Cabbage?” and with that the line went dead. When I was sure our connection was broken, I thought it best to go directly to her. But the way was difficult, through old buildings and along high railings and cliffs. Finally, in an elevator, my eyes opened and there the dream came to an end — except for the part of it where I now say, “Here I am.”
I’ve written her obituary. I’ve written a eulogy. I’ve composed a short ineffective verse for her little service booklet. I’ve made numerous calls, sent countless emails, signed papers, and spoken with helpful strangers. All that remains is a long out-of-state drive and her funeral — except, again, for the part where I look up and say, “Here I am.”
And I am just one of her sons, just one member of the immediate family. Each of us has traversed these last few days alone, together, while giving help and attending to details.
It’s beautiful, very much as it should be and must be. For, as my mother’s dear friend and mine, Kahlil Gibran, once said, The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. And indeed, this has been my experience going back a great many years.
May it also be yours — and I say that with all love and affection, and stand by you whatever your loss, joy, or travail may be.