I’m seated in the sun with my feet propped up and casually crossed on a stylish thatched patio chair. I’m just as aware of the spreading warmth of morning against my skin as I am the feeling of the soft over-sized grey sweater draping from my exposed shoulder. My toes feel each breeze first, as a half second warning to my neckline: Prepare to be touched softly by a flirtatious chill. I hear a bird sing its love, lust, or loneliness, and think suddenly, “I should buy that bird book, and learn more.”
Lily is laying next to me in her best imitations of a Sphinx as Corky casually licks his paw. A large clump of leaves plunges to the spongy earth from the towering oak tree behind me. The clouds in the distance are varying shades of white and grey, all happy, all fluffy, and all accented by brilliant splashes of yellow, green, and burgundy rising from the earth; Mother Nature greeting fall with splendor.
It is from this place that I will share with you this experience.
This morning I woke slowly, feeling the puffiness of my eyelids in the strain involved in opening them. In that moment, what I had blissfully forgotten in thankfulness for my first conscious thought of the day, was remembered. Glimpses of last night returned, making the long bouts of silence, the audible cries, the hurting of my heart, sadness of my soul, and momentary dimming of my spirit suddenly a reality again.
I sat up suddenly, with my back straight and head high. I sat there for a moment, completely still, then broke. The lines crumbled, and I slumped back down helplessly to the purple comforter, and buried my face. No tears came. My eyes were tired. Too tired to be anything but sandpaper.
I walked directly from the bed to the hot tub, stripped off the same sweater and tights I’m wearing now, and climbed in. The heat enveloped my hurting body, and as the steam sat quietly above the still water, I looked over the fence, towards the trees and open sky for countless minutes. The trees stretched, with branches long, reaching towards the clear skies; I imagine, in celebration of the beauty of all things natural.
It was a pristine morning. Absolutely beautiful. The sun hadn’t strayed or lost its way in sadness. The clouds still bumped and played lazily, the birds still sang songs unmistakably open to interpretation, and life continued. It continues, although he’s gone, and my heart has found no relief from the tightening grip as my body did from the steaming water. I thought of this, and realized suddenly that while years ago I could easily have seen this day and considered it an ironic mockery of my position, as just another of Mother Nature’s blatant insults to my mourning, I couldn’t see it that way today.
Today it was Mother Nature’s kind but blatant reminder that each moment is a blessing to exist, and (dammit) I need to never forget that. Life is fleeting. That each moment could be my last and to continue to keep my heart and mind open no matter the injustice they have endured. I turned this idea in my mind upside down, downside up, sideways, over and under, and found no flaws.
I must have been lost in these thoughts, and only barely connected to the reality of the hot tub in Portland, because Klover startled me when she asked in her funny little way, “Rita, what you is thinkin’ of?”
I met her large, questioning blue eyes. She is the most transparent child I’ve ever met.
A four year old, searching for an answer in my vacant gaze. How could I tell a four year old what I’m thinking?
I mean…He’s gone!
I had a million thoughts in that moment. I must have…but the only one that came to mind was this one:
Yesterday a human being with a heart full of love for their son in Afghanistan was at the place they call home. Maybe they were cooking, watching football, gardening, or stuck inside in the snow, doing something exciting or mundane…it matters not. What’s next will happen regardless.
A vehicle rolls to a stop and this person goes to the window just in time to see the doors open and two somber men clad in olive Class A uniforms step out, their black and silver shoulder boards reflecting the sun high in the cloudless sky.
Just in time to see their worst nightmare begin to come true.
How can I explain to a four year old that I was thinking of the internal immobility towards reality betrayed externally by locked knees and the sudden intense need to scream to drown out the truth of what’s to come. That I was thinking I could feel their energy panicking, struggling to make the truth unreal. “Tell me I didn’t outlive my son! Tell me he’s still alive! Tell me I’m asleep! It’s a dream!”
It’s not a dream. He’s gone.
How can I explain to her that he’s not coming back, he was alive yesterday, dead today…and for what? Money. Hatred. Judgement. Cruelty.
I thought these things, and in an effort to be authentic, simply said, “I was thinking about my friend who…went away.” I watched her process this in her naturally transparent Klover way. She crawled up the sides of the hot tub and sat on the edge, drawing her little pale legs towards her chest and wrapping her tiny arms around them as if chilled by the autumn morning, though I knew it wasn’t the breeze that chilled her.
She looked up at me under a worried brow and said softly with a slight pout, “I miss my friends too. Them home and I miss them.”
I looked at her, fully aware of her innocence of age, and thought suddenly how simply it could be in this moment to send her down a path towards peace instead of war. How easily we could guide most children down that path by simply planting a seed of love and tolerance. My second thought was focused on her energy shift. How contagious was my sadness? This little girl went from happily splashing in a hot tub to hugging her knees with a pouty lip in a matter of seconds, as a direct response to my energy.
I appreciated her transparency.
I immediately moved to make things right in the Universe again for this little girl. Pointing out all the great friends she had here, and the nice weather. She smiled again, slid off the side of the tub and went inside with a smile on her face. I stayed in the tub a while longer and embraced the pain in silence while appreciating every single sensation my mind and body offered.
And. I. Hurt. Bad.
That means I’m alive and in tune, and for that, I’m grateful beyond words.
Dedicated to you, SGT Cullers, gone but never forgotten.