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.

Look Up

Blood moon over Idaho, 2011. Reuters.

It’s only an hour till the first blood moon in a tetrad of crimson and night. I’ve decided to forsake sleep and let my eyes see something for the first time. Blanket across my legs and a computer on my lap, I feel like I'm a kid again. Waiting for wonder. If my dad walked into the room and told me it was time to go to bed, it would make more sense than the reality of him being dead. Red moons are the stuff of Tolkien and Bradbury. They exist in the world my dad taught me to read out of space and time. It doesn’t seem right that color can spill across the face of the heavens when I can’t talk to the man that taught me to look up.

I guess I still talk to him. He just never talks back.

I listen for his voice everywhere. The seven second voicemails he left every time he called,

“Hey, Megan. This is Dad. Just calling to say I love you. Give me a call back.”

When the moments are quiet I retreat into myself and listen for him in the memories that slip in and out of my heart and head.

I try to hear him in the stories people tell me about him. I love those, the tales I’ve never heard before as well as the ones that have shaped the background of my life.

It’s an odd thing, hearing someone other than myself describe my dad. We all live in such different corners of the same truth. The Dewey Conley they know is different than the one I know. When a person dies, the world is only left with reflections of them cast off of both casual and intimate observers. Everyone’s reality of my dad is different than my own.

Reality.

So often that concept is talked about as a fixed point. But it is fluid, moving both intact and constantly changing from person to person, time to time and perception to perception. The other day my mom told a story about my dad and I thought, I know he was that to you, but I never met that man. I don’t know your Dewey Conley. It was a sad thought. With all our loving and hoping, we still can’t grasp him wholly out of the dripping glass. The stories take his voice from me almost as quickly as they give it to me. But in the moment between the exchange, there is a place where he still exists in time.

And I am thankful.

Today was too long and tomorrow starts too early for me to be up into the morning. But I feel compelled into wakefulness. The blood moon will be red but the cause isn’t anything sinister. Beautifully and amazingly, the reds and coppers come from the reflection of sunrises and sunsets all across the world. My goodness, the color of life across the cold stone that holds down the dark. The promise of tomorrow in the dead of night. The literal wonder of an intricately tooled universe.

For the rest of my life, I will hear my dad’s voice more purely in moments like this than in any recording or remembrance.

Hey, Dad. It’s late and I’m ten years old reading under the covers after you told me to go to bed. And I will, I really will. I just need to look up one more time before I get back to the business of living without you. Did you hear? The moon is going to turn the color of my heart tonight.

I really wish we could talk about it.