I’ve had a peaceful few days of solitude and rest, and processing the past week that I’ve been traveling. At times I wish that time could stand still, but I realized this season how much it doesn’t. I believe the absence of Luke has taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life. He’d been getting steadily worse for over a year now. Mainly in ways I thought I could work out, like he peed on stuff around the house, no matter how much he went out during the day—I could clean up. But lately he became worse in ways I couldn’t manage, like when you suddenly can no longer walk, or your foot just isn’t working like it should. So the vet came, and she helped us wallk him into the great unknown. That evening, when she’d gone out to get the stretcher to take him out of the house, I put my head next to his on his bed. I’ve done this countless times before on the couch when we’ve kept each other company, especially after Madison left. I just put my head next to his, put my hand on his chest and said I love you in the only way I could, which is just to be present. Later I picked him up and carried him to the stretcher. He peed on things one last time. I clipped him in and walked him out. Because I am still here. One friend reminded me, when I said, “nobody is here anymore,” that I am still here. He said, with very few words, and no bullshit, “you are still here.”
This week I saw my brother, sister in law and nephew, who was contempating that he hadn’t seen his extended family in a while. I saw my beloved sister, with whom I shared a room growing up, and my nieces, who continue to grow like weeds. I saw my Mom and Dad. Dad is 80. Mom is 71. I tried to be of use to them while I stayed at their home. I admit I sometimes call them whimsical parents, mainly because of how often we moved when we were kids (my mom sited 28 moves during my childhood, when I was visiting). They did their best I think, and also made some hard mistakes, but none of their mistakes had to do with lack of love. And with that I can be short on memory and long on forgiveness.
To go and visit them, I once again took the Greyhound bus, which is both a magical treat and maybe a little not great. Mostly minorities ride the bus in the South, so I’m one of the few white folks taking the Greyhound. I’m always anxious on the bus, but I always experience such generosity from others while I’m traveling On my way home, I had two really wonderful experiences. During the first I saw an Indian mother make sure her children had seats in the Atanta terminal. I was reading a book and not really paying attention. My bags were in the next seat to keep them from getting in people’s way. After a minute I noticed she was standing, and keeping an eye on her children who were directly behind me, so I began to move my things and I said, “Here, why don’t you sit down.” At that moment, several people around me looked at me like I’d sprouted an extra head. People in the Atlanta Greyhound terminal work hard to protect their personal space. She smiled and thanked me. Then the guy next to her moved over so her husband could come and sit as well. A little while later, the Dad mentioned we should all get in our line, even though it was the bus before ours that was lining up, and I was so glad I listened. The bus was double booked, and while another bus was coming, I was able to get on the first bus and get home earlier than if I’d sat on a chair instead of getting in line. But I got in line next to a whole family of people I’m now almost certain were from Haiti (though I may just be making that assumption). Their youngest, a tiny boy who was perhaps two, and full of all the spirit of anyone who has just learned to walk and is doing it with extreme exuberance, started in on a game of peek-a-boo with me, over the top of my book. I would read a little, then he would come around the side of his father and wait for me to look over the edge of my worn novel (I got it in a used bookstore) and then he would laugh this long, loud belly laugh, which for some reason reminded me of Buddha. Like in my heart I believe Buddha had the spirit of a toddler…just as joyful and unencumbered. After he laughed so loud, I would laugh too, and then he would run around the side of his dad again and the game would begin anew. On his last try before we boarded the bus, he reached up and tried to take my book. And it was exactly as if he was asking me to let go of all my shit and just be real and present. His mom yelled a him for being disrespectful, but my heart swelled at this joyful mischief. It was like I was saying, I am trying to read and disconnect but I will acknowledge that you are terrific, and he was saying, “I am trying to meet you. Why won’t you pay attention?”
I boarded the bus and sat next to a young black man in a hoody. We both watched a movie and listened on headphones. But when we stopped unexpectedly in Duncan, NC to pick up a few passengers that had been left behind, and I asked him if we all needed to get off the bus, he smiled and said, “I think you get to choose. You can stay and rest if you want to.”
I know he was coming from, or going to a mom and dad, just as I was. I don’t know what the situation of the very young child who tried to take my book and spoke French with his mother was, but the confidence and joy with which he conducted himself lead me to believe he was loved. However imperfectly.
On this trip I kept going back to the Third Great Lesson from Maria Montessori. The subject of our fantastic holiday performance, “Early Humans.” I keep remembering that as humans we share what we have, and love…not just those we know but even the larger community, and that we bury our dead.
I know that seems somewhat, perhaps, depressing, but the truth is we all die. This morning when I got up, my first though was, “Of course I miss him. He was here for seventeen years. And now he isn’t.” This past week I tried to help and love as best I could, even if I’m flawed, and probably a bit whimsical myself. I also understood that we are all growing older, and will not be here nearly long enough. Not if we’re here for fifty years and not if we’re here for a hundred.
But as I saw the tall buildings of Charlotte come onto the horizon, I understood how much I love coming home. Do you know, this is the longest, by far, I’ve ever lived in one place? Do you know that in Charlotte, I love so many people and love my life so hard that it sometimes makes me cry? I know I’m sensitive. Do you understand that my life is absolutely good and that I feel cared for by my community? Do you know that in spite of some troubles, my overwhelming feeling is gratitude for this life? It’s such a good life, it’s just goes so fast, and it’s so short.
With all that, my 2020 resolution isn’t to lose weight or “be best,” or anything giant, it’s to maybe learn to play the cello, because I love the sound of it, and I want to feel those vibrations running through my body. I don’t have any false hopes of being different (i’m already different enough). I don’t need to be “more grateful,” I’m so grateful every day. But I want to go to Howren music, plop down enough to rent a cello, and learn to play.