Thursday, March 22, 2012

I am a keeper of secrets.

People tend to tell me things.

Not just friends.

Even strangers want to show me little glimpses of their lives.

Happy memories.

Bad habits.

The shiny. The sordid.

I am a keeper of secrets.

Oh, if you only knew the things I know.

I think it has something to do with the way I read people.

I’m good at figuring out what it is you need.

If you must be surrounded by loud voices and excitement,

I will go a little crazy with you.

In the throb of the music, in the heat of the moment,

while we are dancing on top of a bar,

you will shout something to me,

something you never told anyone else before.

If you need a dark corner and shady whispers,

I will sit with you, still and silent, for as long as you want.

And I will turn my head so as to not look you in the eye.

If that’s what you need, I’ll do it.

And you will open up like a book. You will.

You will unlock the chambers in your mind,

and you will share things with me.

You will show me the hidden crawlspaces in your heart.

(Writing poems almost-daily has been a big fat FAIL so far. For me. But not for Amy Turn Sharp. She's still going strong. Still writing every day. Check her out on Facebook: A poem a day for a year. And one more linky link: I save all my most favorite things she writes to my Tumblr.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The lasts.

There aren’t many worse things I can think of than getting old, except not having the chance to get old, maybe. But even that sometimes seems like a better alternative once people reach a certain place in their lives. And as I watch my grandparents deteriorate in front of me, I think a lot about the lasts. Because as their minds and bodies fail them, it’s hard and sad to realize that there are so many things that will never be the same again, for them and for me. So I think about the last time they said or did something and I wonder, will we ever experience that again? Or was that it?

I could blame this on the doctors who are always saying “six more months...” and “one last Christmas...” and “this summer is it...” but the truth is, I’ve been around death and the dying my entire life, so I’ve thought about these things always and often. Probably more than would be considered normal. Probably enough to be considered morbid.

I could also blame it on the fact that I work with children. Adults can get so caught up in the firsts, first smiles, first words, first steps, that we don’t think about the lasts often. But I do. I think about the lasts for children. I wonder about the last time they will crawl. And the last time they will drink from a sippy cup. And the last time they will ask for a hug from you because it can fix their world.

I could blame it on all the things in my life that ended so abruptly and left me wide-eyed and in shock. My parents separation when I was five, my father’s unexpected and deadly heart attack, friends that suddenly moved away. You might say that I formed a habit of looking back on the lasts in life. The last Christmas we spent together, all in the same house. The last Duke game I watched with my dad. The last time I snuggled up next to a particularly handsome boy before he left me at the end of the summer for bigger and better things.

I think about the lasts.

The other day, my grandfather told the new caregiver that he didn’t mind her being around as long as she didn’t try to take his keys. He couldn’t stand by as someone told him he couldn’t drive. When he says things like this, it breaks my heart a little bit and makes me laugh at the same time. Because, really grandaddy? You cannot see. You cannot hear. You can barely walk. Sometimes, you think that branch hanging from the tree outside is a goat standing in our yard, and sometimes you see the tall grass at the top of the hill swaying and you swear there are people standing up there, spying on you. Driving a motor vehicle? Out of the question. And I know it’s tough, this loss of independence. And I know the word tough is the biggest understatement of the century.

As I’m having this one-sided conversation in my head, I start wondering. I wonder when the last time he drove was. And I wonder where he went. I’m sure it was somewhere my grandmother ordered him to go. The drug store? Grocery shopping? McDonalds for a chicken sandwich and some apple pies? I wonder how long it took him to get into the car. It takes about three minutes just for him to fall into the passenger seat, so I’m sure getting ready to drive, the folding of legs under the steering column, finding and buckling of the seatbelt, searching for the ignition, it was probably an exhausting length of time. I wonder if he swerved as he drove toward his destination. I wonder if he slid into the wrong lane at some point, causing some other poor soul’s heart to leap a little. I wonder if they yelled at him, cursed at him, shouted gramps-get-off-the-road-you-old-bastard like I sometimes do when I’m behind the anonymous curtain that is my windshield. Did he remember where he was going the entire time, or did he get a little lost, like the time he went out for groceries and I found him driving up and down a new street on the other side of town three hours later? And did he know, somewhere deep inside, that this would be the last time he would sit behind the wheel of a car? Or did he hope for one more chance, even though driving now scared him, did he want one more taste of what life was like before? I wonder.

About all the smallest things, I wonder.

I think about all our trips to the old Hyco house, and I wonder about the last time we took the boat out on the lake. Was it just a short little trip before lunch? Did we have time to pull out the skis and knee board? Did we park near the power plant and jump from the edge of the boat into that warm water, and did he jump in with us? Or was he already too old, too fragile by that point?

When was the last time he made love to my grandmother? I hope they were already creaky and wrinkled, ancient and still wanting each other. I wonder if they were careful not to hurt each other, gentle and aware, like they were young again. I wonder if he held her a little closer, if he kissed her a little more deeply, if it even crossed his mind that this would be their last rendezvous.

The last time he mowed his own yard before my mother took over. The last day he lived without depending on a hundred different little pills to keep him breathing and moving. When was the last time he danced down the hallway like he always used to do? The last time he took a long flight of stairs? The last time he walked any distance at all without stumbling? I wonder what the last coherent and meaningful sentence he said was, or maybe, hopefully, what it will be. I think about the last time he will say my name, the last time he will recognize my face. And I wonder, will I know? Will I recognize the significance of this seemingly mundane occurrence? Will I know to treasure it, to thank God for one last time? Or will it slip by, unnoticed?

Will it leave me wondering, like every single other last did?

Friday, March 2, 2012

How to be alive.

I painted a picture with a four year old girl today. My name is Arianna, she told me, but my friend’s name is Sophia and that sounds prettier so call me that, k?

As Sophia-who-is-Arianna talked about mermaids swimming in a pink sea under a green sun next to an island with a tree, I dipped my brush into the water. And then, as blue and purple swam together across my page, my mind wandered back in time.

Even as a child, the sky at sunset amazed me. I didn’t know much about anything, but I knew that sky, those colors, the way orange turned to red turned to pink turned to purple turned to blue, I knew this was a God gift. I knew enough to appreciate the beauty above.

I knew how to sneak up on a lightning bug, how to cup my hands just right so I could catch one without causing harm. I knew they needed friends, companions and light to comfort them throughout the night, just like me. I knew they needed leaves in their new home, a Duke’s mayonnaise jar, and holes poked through the lid, because they also needed air. Living things must breathe, I knew this much.

And I knew when the sun rose again, I had to release them because freedom, room to fly, space to just be, that is the most necessary of all.

I didn’t know much, but I knew these things.

I like those stars you painted, Sophia-who-is-Arianna told me. I almost corrected her. Almost said no. Almost told her they were lightning bugs. And then I realized she was right. I didn’t know it back then, but those bugs against that perfect sunset sky, they were my stars, guiding me through my childhood. They were teaching me about life before the time would come when I needed those lessons learned. They must’ve known. Known I would lose you, that I would not know how to go on without you. Not until I remembered.

Look up for God. Feel small against the sky. Appreciate beauty. Be gentle, with myself, with others, with this world. Surround myself with friends. Keep a soft place to land and fly when I can. Bring light to others. And make sure I have holes in my jar, moments when I can step away from it all and just breathe. Just. Breathe.

My childhood summertime night lights became my stars, my navigation system for life. This is what you need to survive, they said. This is how to be alive. This is how you live.