The Listening Place

christinas-world-2

christina's world - wyeth

I was at my aunt's house the day she died. Everyone had gathered there to be with her on her last day here. Margaret was just a few months old and I didn't feel much older. I hated to go to that leaving-place empty handed and so spent our grocery money on buckets of fried chicken. The atmosphere in the house was solemn and loving and laughter. I took Margaret to my aunt and that sweet woman held her just hours before she left this world to be born into another.

I was in the kitchen with a few family members when her death began in earnest. I tried to stay light and bright. Laughing and lifting. Suddenly,  I felt a change run through the room. A crashing, enveloping thing. I felt disturbed by it and talked louder through its ripples. A moment later my cousin hurried into the room,

"She's gone."

My thoughts on our  literal spiritual connections to one another are still evolving. I don't know much, but I do know that something told me she'd just left. I talked through that sacred communication because I always seem to think it's my job to talk everyone through everything...including myself. I made a promise that day to never be louder than the things I am meant to hear.

A little less than five years later, I sat in a hospital waiting room with my brother and sisters. My mom was in the hospital room with my dad. I was talking loudly and smiling and teasing. I doubt it did much to help those around me...but I think I was trying to laugh and lift. A nurse walked in and told us my dad had a heart episode - the medical team was working on him. I stopped talking and walked out into the hall by myself...quiet and waiting for the communication I felt certain was moments away. I could nearly feel it...the pull back before an oncoming wave. The nurse came back and met me in the hall.

"He's stabilized."

I went back into the waiting room and told the people that loved him. I tried to talk loudly again, to shout down the ebb I still felt pulling through my veins. A few more minutes and my mom was there in the doorway. It hadn't worked. He was leaving.  As I ran through the hallway to that damn room and that damn goodbye, I tried to keep my footsteps light so that I could hear what I knew was coming.

A few minutes with him in that black wired room and the wave came crashing down.

On Sunday, he had been gone for a year. It was a busy day. Family and obligations and dinner to be made. We went to his grave and left flowers. The girls talked about heaven and Papa's favorite pinto beans. I spent a lot of time giving more volume to my words than they deserved.

But somewhere between loudly talking about how it was "a sacred day, not a bad day" and declarations of peace, I stood still in the center of everything that moves. I breathed deeply and listened closely for the things I'd been too loud to hear.

And they were many. And they were gracious. And they did not stay long enough.

Set in Stone

Tourists peer over the Grand Canyon's rim in 1947

Tourists looking down into the grand canyon in 1947. We've always been fascinated by the places time carved out before us.

It was still cool outside. The kind of spring day that gives you a summer sun wrapped with winter’s last chilled breath. On our way home from California, the radio was low and the girls slept in the backseat. Riley held my hand and I stared ahead. The window framed the Utah desert - a painting that’s faded in the sun. I’ve made that drive a hundred times since I was a little girl. I know the high and low places, the breaks in the road, the emptied gas stations and broken down cafes. I could trace it out for you in the desert sand. Familiarity doesn’t always mean certainty, of course.

There’s a canyon. A few miles long and a few hundred feet tall. It curves and shadows and slows and rolls. I’m always afraid when we drive through there. It is too fast, or too slow. Too twisted or too sloped. Riley always teases while I suck the breath through my teeth and clench my eyes as the car speeds past rock that has stood since before our hopes were born. It isn’t just the speed or the car. I feel small there. Mortal. One of millions that will pass by those stones without asking what they’ve seen. I used to think they felt my silence, but now I’ve begun to think I am the one being ignored. That canyon holds time I’ll never touch and as we curve through it to return to our home and chores and worries, I sometimes wonder what we’ve left behind.

The drive that day wasn’t so different. Going into the canyon felt the same. An intake of air and then fast talking to act like I wasn’t afraid. Riley smiled knowingly and so I put my words away and looked out the window.

A car and then yellow lines and then a tree and a stream and then briefly, so briefly my heart recorded it before my eyes - a father and daughter on the side of the road, looking over the red clay expanse. She held a camera and he held her shoulders. A guide to the art of vision and focus. And for just an instant, amid those sentinels that hold time, I could feel the weight of my father’s hands on my shoulders. His words of encouragement as I chose the focus and filter for my world. The beauty of the moments I had once, the ones that exist somewhere in the places I’ve lived through till they’re worn with the breathing and leaving. I was a girl that still had a dad and a heart that beat without the patchwork of hope and faith and sanctified sorrow. Another moment and then the scene was gone, hidden by our progress and the jutting earth.

The road flattened and the horizon grew. The canyon fell behind us. I cried as it I felt it collapse on the time it held and the person I used to be.

Riley looked over at me, his eyes still knowing and I remembered his hand on mine. I squeezed it once and then wiped away the wetness from my face.

“Ready to get home?”

“Ready.”

And we drove on.