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Tag: heartache

when the gentlest, dearest sounds of your day are gone

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some days when i write, it feels like i need a crane to hoist my heart out of the deep-down depths, to vault to the heights where the words deserve to be. this is one of those days….

it’s been five days now. five days without the sound of his front right paw rubbing against the back-door glass, when every morning at dawn, his shadow etched against the fading darkness of night, he’d be waiting for me, waiting for me to let him back in, our night-prowling cat, to let him get back to the business of roaming this creaky old house as if it all belonged to him, his acreage to do as he pleased, to rustle under the covers here, to climb into the laundry basket, the shopping bag, the shoe box we accidentally forgot to put away. to plop himself squarely onto whatever book or newspaper we were reading, whatever keyboard upon which we were trying to type, shoving aside all distraction with his furry insistence, as if to say, forget that, pay attention to me.

it’s been five days since i’ve heard the faintest trot-trot-trot of his little cat paws, descending the stairs, coming round the bend to where he knew he’d find me, letting out one of his signature meows, the ones we’d learned to read as if particular declarations, and so we’d do as he ordered every time: feed him, scoop him into our arms, open the door to let him out into the garden he guarded so well and so long.

tiger boy and his tiger cat

tiger boy and his tiger cat

it’s been five days since we’ve heard the lap-lap-lapping of his tiny sandpaper tongue, scooping up the droplets of cream with which we indulged him (or, truth be told, the water from the bowl of the toilet he considered his own private pond). and it’s been five days since i’ve heard the sound of his four-pawed leap to the hardwood floor from the very high bed of the boy who’s never known a day without him, the old striped cat, the cat who came from the farm, the cat with more adventures than a conquistador or even huck finn. the cat we called “turkey” for short, the cat whose very long name — turkey baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat — won him a contest just this year at a faraway vet school, where the vet students (one of whom used to work at our long-ago animal hospital) were asked to submit the best pet name they’d ever heard — well, sadly, finally, after nearly 19 years, our sweet little cat is no longer.

turkey baby meow-meow etcetera lay down and died on pi day, monday, the 14th of march, 03.14.16. curled up in a ball, face turned to the stars, he quietly softly slipped away, a dignified death for a most dignified fellow.

and it’s the absence of sound — those soft, barely-perceptible sounds, the ones that beg your keenest attention — that is so deafening, that amplifies the ache in all our chests, that defines — at least in small measure — the volume of the hollowed-out hole in each of our hearts.

in the blur that this week has been, here’s what happened: sunday afternoon i found out my dear, dear friend had died, and because i’d been asked to write her obituary, i slipped into that writing zone where i lost focus on nearly everything that wasn’t the words i needed to type to tell the world who she was. i do remember that later that night i scooped up the cat as he meowed at the bottom of the very steep stairs, and i carried him up to the bed of the boy doing homework beside the bedside lamp. as i walked in the room, the boy scooted over, away from the light, clearing a space on the sheets and the pillow. i asked what he was doing, and he matter-of-factly told me, “oh, that’s the side that turkey likes, so i’m getting out of his way.” when i countered that, actually, he — the boy with the hours of homework — was the one who needed the lamplight, he shrugged it off, said, “nope, turkey gets the side he wants.”

that’s the last that anyone remembers.

and then, monday, not long after dinner, when i bent down to scoop up my backpack, to head out the door to drive a carpool to soccer, i eyed the little cat bowl still piled with bits of the food that he crunched whenever he needed a nibble. and that’s when it hit me: i hadn’t seen him all day, or at least i suddenly didn’t think i had, though i couldn’t clearly remember. delaying carpool departure, i zipped through the house, spot-checking each of his usual places, an itinerary i knew by heart: atop the sleeping bag in one bedroom closet, under the bed blankets in the other boy’s bedroom, curled on the heated bathroom floor, snuggled on the bean bag by the back door from which he surveyed his lair. one by one, the spots came up blank. our cat was not in the house. so we took to the alleys, combed them up and down, back and forth till close to midnight. (i managed to squeeze in my carpool duties, worried the whole way, resumed my search with headlights on high beam once back home.)

and then, the next morning, in an early morning volley of email about wholly other matters, i mentioned to my across-the-street guardian angel of a neighbor that “on top of everything, we can’t find turkey.” and that’s when she shot back the news that felt surely heaven-sent: that reminded her, she wrote, that a friend of hers had mentioned seeing a cat who looked sick the day before, and it was somewhere down our very block. i had hardly finished sweeping my eyes across the words when i was out of my seat, and halfway across the room to the old tin bucket where we kept the cat’s mud towel, the one we’ve used a hundred thousand times to wipe off the rain or the snow or the puddles of goop he padded through, on his way to the door where he waited, always waited.

i ran out the door, and down the sidewalk, eyes trained on the distance, murmuring — almost a prayer — no, no, no! and then the lump i’d passed the night before, the lump that in the dark had appeared to be a pile of leaves, it wasn’t leaves in the early morning light; it was dear sweet turkey, curled in a little cat comma, his paw up and over his eyes, his face pointed up toward the half-moon, still fading against the early morning’s soft sunrise.

a whole 18.5 years after he trotted into our lives, he was gone. i wrapped him, and carried him home. my arms shook the whole way. we all huddled in the front hall, at the foot of the steps, and we cried. the little one’s knees went out, as he crumpled onto the stairs, and his face contorted in grief.

not one of us didn’t cry, and cry hard.

and just like that this old house is missing some of its most essential sounds. and surely an immeasurable chunk of its heart.

i heard the boys shouldering each other’s heartache. i heard one say to the other, “he was like our third brother.” they both said, in unison, as i carried him, stiff, into the house, “he was my best friend.” a cat can do that — a cat can be so loyal, so loving, so there when you need him, everyone thinks he or she is his favorite. DSCF6964

the older one, the one who rode out to the farm with me back in october of 1997, back when we were convinced there’d never be another babe in the family, he’s been around for every one of ol’ turk’s big adventures: the time he got stuck in the drug-dealer’s den just down the alley; the time he leapt and then tumbled from the third-floor skylight, and lived to tell about it, staggering along the gangway, dizzied but unharmed except for a droplet of blood that dribbled down his little cat chin; the time he was missing in action for six unbearable days, and then, minutes before the very-sad firstborn was supposed to shuffle off to his very first day of kindergarten, that old cat came bounding up the back steps like he was the hero in a hollywood western, the sheriff who rides to the crest of the hill, bringing on the cavalry, just in time to kill the villain, just before the credits roll and the sun sets on the five-hanky movie.

the little one — only 14 to turkey’s 18 years, six months and 21 days — he had never known a day without that old cat. when we moved to cambridge, mass., for a year, the little one said he was happy to tag along, but he had one non-negotiable caveat: “i’m not going unless turkey comes too.” and so, we tucked that old cat in a nifty little carrier, slid him under the airplane seat, and made him an apartment cat for one (rather miserable, far as he was concerned) year of his long and storied life.

so here we are: bereft beyond words. the reminders are tucked in a thousand places — the cat toy peeking out from the basket, the stacks of cat-food cans on the shelves of the pantry, the old navy bean bag still streaked with clumps of his fur. bit by slow bit, i’ve been subtracting, cleaning the shelf of the cat food, washing out his bowls one last time. i’m trying to think of these awful days as lessons in grief, and the insolubility of death. no matter how hard you wish, you can’t bring back the pit-a-pat paw sounds. can’t muster his face, with the ears perked just so, there at the glass still streaked with his mud prints.

it’s the valley of mirage and phantom echo, the raw and early hours of grief, as you imagine, make-believe — for an instant — you’ve just caught a glimpse, or just heard the sound.

it’s deafening. and deadening.

and i know that time, the sacred balm of all of life’s deepest heartaches, i know time will bring healing. i know the day will come when the thought of that old cat won’t sting quite so piercingly, the way it does now.

and so, for the second time this week, i am writing an obituary. and while the loss of a most blessed friend and the loss of a furry one are in no way comparable, i’ve realized this week that death is death. and “little deaths,” too, loom large, and they hurt sometimes in ways that riddle each hour with excruciating moments of missing.

and, yes, it’s only a cat, but a cat over time, a cat you’ve known and nuzzled and loved across the arc of your entire childhood — across the days when no one else understood your sorrows, and no one else curled across your chest, or slipped warm against your pjs quite the way your cat did — it makes it achingly hard to catch your breath, to steady your knees, to find your way forward without him.

our garden will be so empty this spring. the whole landscape is so empty right now. and it will take a good dose of time till we’re breathing deeply again.

i was thinking i’d write an “ode to one exemplary cat,” but for now i might simply point you toward posts from the past: in chronological order (he’s been a recurring character here at the chair over the years) the hunter (2007); starting the goodbye (2010); when the cat comes limping home (2011); and “will he make it home?” (2013).

if you’ve a furry or a feathered or a slippery or a hard-shelled friend, give him or her an extra squeeze today. and listen close to those sounds that animate your day. the silence will break your heart when those blessed little friends are no longer…..

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dear turk, we loved you dearly. as sweet will said when he kissed you goodbye, “thank you.” thank you so very very much. xoxox happy hunting wherever you are. love, all of us.

and to louisey who insisted we needed the little striped farm kitten so willie wouldn’t grow up alone, and to dr. jane whom we adored and who tried to convince us a roaming cat wasn’t such a good idea in the bustling big city but fixed him every time he got into a fix, and to all the friends who’ve loved him, and not minded — alicia! — when he ambled in your back door, and made himself quite at home, despite your trembling fear of all things furry, thank you and thank you for ever and ever amen.

crushed.

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crushed. not the bone, the bone is merely broken (likely, two bones in two places). it’s the heart that feels crushed.

the doctor who wrapped that arm in plaster yesterday morn, he said it could be there for a long time. twelve weeks. that’s basic math in our house, because we all know that in just less than three weeks the kid now wearing that cast had his heart set on trying out for a soccer team he’s been dreaming about for, probably, a good two years. the kid whose arm is in plaster is about to start high school, a big high school where it can be plenty hard to find your moorings, but being on a team at least gives you a place to begin.

the kid whose arm is in plaster is a goalie. that means he swats at the ball with all his heart and all his might, and tries to keep the other team from rocket-blasting the soccer ball into the wide expanse of tied-together string otherwise known as “the goal.” i’ve seen that kid leap high into the air, i’ve seen him knock away incoming balls as if mosquitoes that deserved a passing swat. i’ve seen him dissolve in the back seat on the long ride home on the days the games don’t go his way. the kid plays with whole heart. in fact, the kid lives with his whole heart. which is part of why i fall in love with him, day after every single day.

what might have me weepiest here this morning is that the whole day-long yesterday he never let out a peep of complaint. not a single word of self pity. not a single “why me?”

while i spent the day choking back tears, he just swallowed the whole of it, and wondered how he’d brush his teeth or eat pancakes with a thumb and a hand that won’t be holding anything till clear into october.

what you can’t see in the picture up above is that that’s only the half of it. the other half looks like this:DSCF1290

that’s his knee. he’s a matched set. the knee will be in that metal-ribbed brace for the next four weeks. with physical therapy twice a week.

what happened is this: smack dab in the thick of our “staycation” last weekend, we had a torrential rain. for the kid in question this has been The Summer of the Self-Propelled Wheels. he and his phalanx of buddies slap on helmets and ride into the wind. and the rain. they go where they need to go all on the power of their feet pushing round the pedals. not long after last saturday’s rain, after coming home to strip off the soaking clothes and put on dry ones, the kid set back out on his bike, to do a good deed for a friend. (you know where this is going….)

not 15 minutes after he’d pedaled off, the sun by then cracking through sodden gray skies, we heard a faint but frantic knock at the back door. there stood the kid, covered in scrapes and cuts, with a right wrist cocked at a truly odd angle. in that microburst of adrenaline that often comes, he’d pedaled himself home after flying over the handle bars, and smacking hard against the concrete sidewalk. the rain from the earlier deluge was still so deep he couldn’t see the curb, so when his bike tire banged up against it — just a few feet from a street that courses heavy traffic all day and into the night — he went flying. he was alone. (you are beginning to get a picture of the scenes that keep flashing through his ol’ mama’s head.)

long story short: he’s banged up. two fractures in the right wrist, one in a bone that takes forever to heal. banged-up knee besides.

and the truth of it in this summer that has been soaked in sad news — brain tumors and breast cancers, long roads of chemo for people i love, some with unthinkable infusions flushed straight to the chest or into the belly — is that i know this is many notches down on the bad news scale. it’s bones and tendons and all will heal. but beneath it — beneath every single bit of not-good news conveyed in the halls of hospitals and doctors offices — there’s a story, a human heart that strains to absorb, to understand, just what it means, what it all means and how in the world you’ll find your way forward.

what it means here is that a kid whose heart was set on being part of a team, on finding a solid place to belong in a school that sometimes feels like it might swallow you alive, he might not find that mooring. not so swiftly anyway. he might miss the whole-team carbo loads the night before games. he’ll miss the morning-after walk through the halls when kids might have been high-fiving him for some crazy miraculous save. he’ll miss whatever are the mysterious winds that blow among players, that weave them into a whole, weavings that come in looks exchanged on the field or words whispered in locker rooms. he’ll even miss the heartbreak of a ball soaring just beyond his reach.

trust me, as i type these words, i realize it’s all just sports. it’s just cleats and a ball and a shared pursuit. but aren’t these the threads of childhood, of growing up, and finding our way, of stitching together the whole of who we are? and don’t all the moments matter, even the ones we cast aside as not quite life or death?

and one other odd-ball thing i thought about: it didn’t take me long to wonder if just maybe this broken wrist was in fact a silver lining, one i couldn’t and might not ever see. maybe, i thought to myself, some guardian angel had swooped down and saved my kid from some truly awful collision of the head or the eyes in some moment in a game that now won’t happen. maybe, i thought, my kid was saved because he won’t be in some moment that otherwise might have been. i’ve heard tales aplenty of goalies knocked unconscious. and a dear friend of mine, one whose sweet boy also lives and breathes to keep balls from sailing into goals, she and i share horror tales, like the one about the kid blinded when he took a cleat to the eye. or the goalie who died on a soccer field not too many miles from here, not too many years ago. mothers of goalies share these horrors in whispers along the sideline. we pray that someone will please issue a ruling that goalies must wear headgear. or eyewear. because, with all our hearts, we don’t want to be the moms who get up after the fact, after the disaster, and beg the crowds to change the rules. while we head home to teach our kids how to get along without the eyes God gave them.

but really what i set out to write this morning is something about the degrees of sadness, the relativity of broken hearts. how, even in a summer when people you love are having brain tumors radiated to smithereens, and other people you love are wrapping their heads around the fact that they’re facing 18 months of chemo, you can’t help but feel crushed when your kid is broken, and something he loves is taken away — at least for awhile, especially at the very start of what you knew would be an uphill climb, the start of new trier high school.

we struggle our whole lives long to make sense of things that catch us off-guard. we muddle through day after day, trying to figure things out, trying to pull up muscle and courage from deep down inside, to take the wobble out of our knees. so much of life comes careering around corners, unseen, un-imagined. sometimes it feels like our whole life long is one big expansion of the heart as we discover just how much we can wrap that muscle around, and just how tenacious we might be. even on the days we feel gut-punched. and dab away the tears.

forgive a sort of weepy post. just woke up that way. i know i’ll find my way. part of this morning’s fogginess is that we were out late last night at an MRI to peer deep into those bones. and my next few weeks just got a bit more complicated. i’ve only started to try to figure out how that right-handed boy will draw triangles in geometry or tackle physics experiments when school starts the middle of next month…

what silver linings have you found in chapters of your life that you’d not seen coming? 

season of the mournful cry

it gives you goosebumps when, say, you are meandering down the lane, and suddenly through the leafy canopy above, you hear the song of your heart raining down from the heavens.

what i mean is it’s been happening all week, for a string of weeks. i am out attending to the nooks and crannies of my life, my garden, the here-to-there of chores and errands and putting one foot before the other.

i am likely sifting through the shadows of my heart, my ache, my longing, and there it comes, the piercing. the minor key, the dissonance, the trumpet blasts of geese in Vs, far above the trees.

they punctuate the sky, the gray september sky. they punctuate the flight. and with it, my own mournful song.

this is the season of migration, of winged flight, of thousands of miles of flapping wings, and honking siren’s call.

the snow geese, the canadian geese, turn and return, from cold north woods, to far-off warmer climes.

and as they pass on high, they cry out to me. and i in turn return the call–though silent. my mournful song has no melody, and its verse i keep inside. some sorrows, best kept hushed.

i have always, though, found company, found solace, in the geese’s call. it is but one of the dark notes of autumn that draw me in, that take me to a deeper place, the cove of meditation.

and this autumn in particular it is as if my song, my internal cry, is broadcast from the clouds. the geese cry, they call out, and so i listen, i respond. i reply, stopping in my tracks, taking in their celestial signal.

(i wonder if perhaps the cry of the signal goose is why they call it goosebumps. for that is the thing, the spine-tingling, up-and-down-the-arm-tingling, that happens in an instant when that one long note makes its way down, down, spiraling from above to the inner crevice of my heart.)

i hear the lonely goose, and i understand its story. i embrace the mournful cry.

God’s world is at one with me.

and how blessed are we, we who live beneath the arc of flight, to take in the sorrowful song of the V that etches ’cross the sky.

how blessed are we, when, at oddest hours, just beyond the dawn, or in the cloak of nightfall, we hear the trumpet blast rain down.

i am not one to run and hide from shadow, from sadness. i say bring it on, the whole orchestra of heart sound, the light, the bright, and, yes, the dark. i find particular company in the darkness. i find much to explore there.

and this september, as my heart is stretched and pulled, and i redefine the rhythm, the verse of my everyday, i am at one with the crying goose who flaps across my frame of sky.

i turn and crane my neck. i scan in search of all the pitch-black Vs. i hear before i see.

and when at last i catch the flapping geometry, when i match song to sight, i lock my eyes. i follow that acute angle till the dull edge of my horizon.

it is a call to prayer for me, this mystical stirring from beyond the beyond.

and so i send up holy whispers, and so i wrap myself in the sacred folds of their heavensong.

be safe, mournful geese, as you cross the globe. bless your brave determined flight.

i hear you, papa goose, as you and i together sing in minor key, the sound of love trying to find its way.

a short bit of musing on this crisp cool day, when pumpkins tug on the vine, and cinnamon bubbles on my stove. i am haunted in the best way by the cry of the geese. i find such comfort in their mournful melody. who else has heard their flight song? who else is stirred by the power of migration? who else finds full glory in all the colors of the rainbow, the light, the dark, and shadows in between? who else is trying to find the way, this september?

suddenly, one

and thus began a new chapter. one boy stayed behind. one boy climbed in the back seat of the car, buried his head in my lap, and silently sobbed.

off and on for 20 minutes.

till the big basketball rose into the sky.

yes, just off the highway, midway between that college goodbye and the airport that would launch three of us home, there stands what might as well have been a holy mirage in the driest desert: the basketball hall of fame, for cryin’ out loud. a shrine with every michael jordan shoe ever worn by that almighty hoopster. a three-layer cake of hoops and balls and courts and baskets.

if you ever need to salve the broken oozing heart of a young boy who lives to romp the courts, be sure to send your other kid to college just down the lane from the b’ball hall of fame.

indeed, the tears dried, the smile slowly crept across his face, not less than 10 minutes after stepping in the sky-high dome. basketball can do that. so too can video clips of MJ turning every imaginable basketball gymnastic impossibility known to man or gods.

but beyond all the baskets and balls, there was something else that stirred. and right away.

it was sudden, the shift i felt deep down inside, once the four of us, became the three of us. once the car door slammed, and it was just the three of us inside, while the fourth — the blessed fourth — ambled off to inhale his college life.

and ever since, all week, i’ve been washed over — again and again — with the knowing that it’s there, this certain something: it’s as if the little one, the one who could not imagine a world without his brother, it’s as if he got a long deep drink of water, and he is now a sturdy-stemmed flower, basking in the garden of his parents’ pure undivided attentions.

i could almost feel the vacuum seal, the way his heart slid deeper into ours. all week, i’ve watched him move with purpose. he has risen, grown, become the big brother in ways i’d not have guessed. he is taking out the trash, putting plates in sinks. he is 10 minutes early for the school bus. he is sitting down and working hard on homework. he is leading prayers at dinner, holding forth at dinner table conversation.

he’s unfurling right before our eyes.

and we, at last, are undivided. for the first time in this child’s life, he is getting us all to himself. and i have suddenly remembered how it is to be the parent of an only child. we had practice.

for eight long years we were once the parents of just one boy. and early on we figured out how to do that geometry. we did it wholeheartedly, with eye toward making our firstborn’s a family that expanded beyond just our walls. but within our walls we paid deep and pure attention to that child’s heart, his mind, his soul.

rather swiftly this week, i was struck: we might be better parents when we are tending only one. we tend to do it rather intensely, rather purposefully, and this was, after all, the paradigm that we first forged. it’s what we once knew by heart. and maybe it’s never lost.

oh, lord, that’s not to say in any way that we’ve left boy no. 1 stranded on the roadside, there in collegeville.

(of course, he couldn’t have seemed more eager to shake us off, to get to the business of making friends, of immersing himself in college life. he even apologized if it seemed he was in a hurry to say goodbye, “it’s just that i’ve waited my whole life to get here,” he told me, and i wholly understood. and never mind that all week, while friends regale me with tales of kids who text, oh, 100 times a day, we’ve received ONE phone call — and that was “mom, do you know where you put the sewing kit? i just popped a button on my shirt and i need to meet my academic adviser in EIGHT minutes?”)

it’s just that the shift here on the homefront is wholly unexpected, wholly rich, and i can think of no greater calling than to reach deep down inside a little someone’s soul and breathe holy purpose into it.

which is how it feels to once again be tending to a blessed child who has long dwelled on the shadowed edges of his big brother’s size 12 footprint.

so while the realization that the older one is gone sinks down deeper, while each and every dawn the missing him grows more, as i awake and count the days since i’ve seen him, i am at the same time finding my way in the hunger i am here to sate in his little brother.

they say God closes one door and opens a window.

my job as mother to a college boy has barely just begun, and i am certain it will fill whatever crate or carton we must fill, but for now, i am discovering the open window that is my blessed little boy. one who will need his mama at his side for, oh, eight sweet years to come.

we never know, no matter how hard we try to imagine, what’s around the holy bend of this blessing we call life.

and around my bend, i’ve wrapped my arms ‘round a little traveler who’s cuddled up close beside me.

bless us all on this journey….

i know there are other mamas and papas out there finding their way along this unknown path. i know there are mamas and papas who are taking their last child off to college, and as one of those mamas said to me this week: “you think it’s hard taking your first to college, try taking your last.”
i can’t imagine.
but the point of this meander, i suppose, is the wholly unexpected gift of deeper purpose i’ve already discovered in mothering my little one. anyone else ever step into the impossible-to-imagine and discover within something wholly blessed?

any hour now…

it is, like so many of the lines we draw inside our lives, invisible, undetected from the outside. and yet, for years now, it has loomed, larger and larger. defined me, in many ways.

especially in these last two weeks, i’ve noticed.

if there is a lull in the whirl around me, there it creeps. the voice that whispers, “this is how it looked for him, the parting frames. these were his final days.”

and, now, it’s down to hours.

my papa is the one whose eyes i see the world through right now. especially as i look upon the ones i love so dearly. the ones whose face i study. whose voice, whose laugh, whose footsteps i could pick out of a crowd of hundreds of thousands. the ones whose rhythms, rise and fall, thrum within me.

my little one especially. the one who holds my hand still, as we walk to camp most mornings. the one who, as i tuck him into bed, lets it all spill out in whispers, stored up, saved for that blessed hour at the edge of day and night when the stirrings simmer over. he is young enough, baby enough, to still climb into my lap, to still reach out while getting water from the fridge, and wrap me in a squeeze, unannounced.

i’ve done the math. done it over and over, for years and years. and now it’s come.

my papa died when he was 52 and six months and eight days.

that’s how old i’ll be tomorrow.

and as the hour comes, so too does the drumbeat in my heart. i am, in some ways, coaxing it over the line. don’t give out now, i tell it. don’t take me now.

and as i say those words, i imagine he did too. never would have thought his time was up. shouldn’t have been, damn that it was.

it is the oddest slipping of my self into his self. as if the two of us have, for these shadowed days, blurred, become the oddest form of one. i cannot not see the world through the lens of what must have been his. cannot not count the days, the hours.

i’d think it odd–might be too shy to mention it–if i’d not found out that i am hardly alone.

but months ago, i wrote about how it is to become the age your parent was when he or she died. and by the hundreds, i got letters. i am not the first, nor the last, certainly not the only one who’s done the final calculation. who knows, to the hour, when the line is crossed.

when, God willing, my life’s hours extend beyond the hours that were his.

and so there is a holiness like no other draped across these days. today especially, perhaps. the day ticking toward the last.

if you were told you’d one day left to live, how would you live it?

a cocktail party question, perhaps.

except when it’s not.

and i’d think this might be the closest i could come to taking a pass at that question in real time.

and so, this holy blessed day, i am entering into the hours as if a bride. i am paying supreme attention.

i’ve been in the garden, squished my toes in mud, as the hose rained down. as my delphinium and roses drank their morning’s rejuvenation.

i watched the sun play peek-a-boo with clouds.

i cuddled with the cat.

i let my little one sleep in. no camp today.

today, he and i are playing, the way it should always be. except most days it can’t be. we don’t let it be. most days we let life get in the way of living.

we are holding hands today. walking down the street to a place where the screen door slaps, and the kitchen cloud of frying bacon and coffee perked and pancakes sizzling on the grill wafts out onto the sidewalk.

we aren’t walking by today. we are asking for a table for two, please. three, if his big brother will join us. will make a holy celebration of this day.

they’ll not know why it is their mama seems full to bursting all day long. they’ll not hear the unspooling dialogue inside, the vespers of deep thanksgiving, the holy pleas and promises.

they’ll not know how very merged is the consciousness of their mama and their grandpa geno, as she and he criss-cross the holy line of what was his, and what is hers. and she holds up his final hours, once again, in a sacramental lifting, one last time, of a holiness that for so long has defined her.

her papa’s life cut short. too short. and a long-held prayer that she’d do right by whatever hours came to her.
dear God, be with us all. this most holy day, and every other.

an odd sort of meandering today, perhaps. more like the whispering of my soul. in white-on-black. like trying to catch a cut-glass rainbow, splattered on the wall. trying to wrap in words this inescapable line in the landscape of my soul. it’s an odd, sad mix of fear and hope, of chest-expanding promise and crushing loss. i’ve no choice, really, but to go on a prayer, and plan on being here tomorrow. not just for me, but, especially, for that little one i so love, who still so deeply needs me. as did my brothers need their papa, as did my mother. as did i.
how would you spend your hours if you had some inkling they might be among your last?

when baseballs break a heart: a lesson you wish a kid didn’t need to learn

the night before, we laid out the uniform. the spic ‘n’ span white pants, the socks and shirt and hat the color of a rubber ducky.

the mitt, nearly sacramental, was laid on top. the final offering, it seemed, to the gods of baseball. or maybe merely to the patron saints, the ones whose job it was, you’d think, to look down on little diamonds dotted all across america, make sure no hearts were broken. not needlessly anyway.

when it comes to baseball and hearts, the sound of cracking hardly comes from bats alone, biting into balls. plenty of chambers, too, are splintered, emptied out of blood and hopes and dreams.

that’s pretty much the way it went last sunday, when the plumbers took the field. and walked off five innings later thoroughly, well, tanked.

but that’s getting ahead of the ball here.

what happened the other day was, like so much of life, teeter-tottered. one team was made up of little squirts, second graders new at baseball and pitching and hitting without a tee, and the other team was, well, old hands. and huge, by the way. third graders who’d been around the bases plenty of times.

it was the opening game of the pinto season, the league the little kids look up to, the first one where you get to don the catcher’s garb–the caged helmet, the strap between the legs, the padded shield, oh my–and kids, not coaches, get to pitch.

it’s the league of little players’ dreams. and just the day before they’d gathered for as old-fashioned a welcoming ceremony as you could imagine, complete with red-white-and-blue bunting on the outfield fence, 50-cent donut holes, dugouts, and a pledge to “make it fun; above all, make it fun.”

well, before the teams took to the grass and sand-strewn mounds, even a mope like me could tell that somehow something was off-kilter. felt a bit like goldilocks, one team too little, the other too, too big.

but it wasn’t the kids so much as the coaches, who quickly emerged as big bad bears.

there were two, in particular, on the other team. one a beefy guy who wore his Big Ten football jersey beneath his little league t-shirt. the other: lean, in khaki trousers, not smiling.

those two coaches took on this game as if it was some sort of season-ending series, and their life and lungs depended on a win.

from the get-go they were whoopin’ and bellowing. tellin’ one player or another to knock it off. hustle. hustle. CHASE THE BALL, KID, WHAT ARE YA THINKIN’?!?

right off, they encouraged stealing bases. a kid would hit, the little plumbers out in the far-out field would fumble for the ball, chase it half a mile, and all the while the coaches would be spinning round their arm, like some cockeyed windmill, fanning in another run.

didn’t take long for the little ones to take on a dazed sort of expression. reminded me of what cake batter must feel like when the metal whirring beaters are dropped into its midst. poor soupy batter just stands back and takes it, till at last the instructions on the back of the box say to stop, two minutes, up.

inning after inning it went like this: kids from the other team stepped up to the plate, hit, ran, stole, scored. ran through the lineup nearly every time.

scored run after run after run. after run. and that was just the first inning.

then the little guys got a turn. three up, three down. boom, boom, boom. three strikes, yer out. three outs, yer on the field.

pretty soon the score was 20 to nothing.

after an inning or three, we lost count. but the coaches on the other team never let up. they were calling out the batters’ names, four or five at a time, assuming i suppose that they’d bat forever, without a single out.

wasn’t long before the kids on the Big Ten coach’s team picked up on this knuckle-thumping bravado. they’d bellow out the score from time to time, a pathetic count that rose–on one side only, thank you–like mercury on a steamy august day.

alas, inning after inning, the little plumbers stayed stuck at the hollowest of numbers.

“it’s 35 to zero,” one kid from the other team called out, in case anyone was listening. yelled it so loud, made me fairly certain he was making sure kids two towns away would know the score.

the coach said nothing; i couldn’t help myself. i’d been muttering in whispers long enough. it was time to politely make a point.

“how ‘bout some humility,” i mentioned–softly–to no one in particular, in case anyone was listening. i got poked in the ribs by the chap sitting next to me. told me to cool it, he did. and i guess, because he’s the man i married, he was just tryin’ to keep me safe. from coaches and their trounce-announcing players.

oh, it’s a happy place, this sandlot baseball.

worst part, though, was hours later. at bedtime. of course, when all the muddy waters of the day come rushing out, and rinsing needs be done.

the little one, no surprise, couldn’t fall asleep, and soon had called for help.

“i can’t sleep,” he yelled in apt description.

seems the whole darn game, inning after inning, was playing in his head: the fly ball he’d missed, the one that let the batter earn a triple; the strike-out the only time he got to bat; the foul tip that got away.

wasn’t long before the tears came too.

“we lost by 43,” he said, demonstrating second-grade subtraction skills. “that’s half of a hundred,” he said, demonstrating wide-eyed approximation.

demonstrating, too, just how bad it hurt, to be a little kid with giant baseball dreams who’d had them thoroughly, undeniably trampled. rubbed-in like grass stains on his once-white knees.

just the night before, this would-be catcher-slash-center-fielder had had trouble falling asleep with all the home-run pictures in his head. heard the crowd roaring, he did. imagined the coach handing him the little plunger that, each game, goes to the plumbers’ player-of-the-game.

and now, one game later, he’d seen the way it really was: coaches past their prime taking on the task as if a win, at any cost, was all that mattered. paying no mind to pint-sized kids and their first outing on the field. waving in runners twice the size of the little ones fumbling under bushes, trying to throw the ball anywhere in the vicinity of a base.

it hurt, the poor kid said.

he was mad and sad and thoroughly confused: baseball was a game he loved. a game he watched at night, lying beside his papa. a game he read about every morning, slurping statistics along with frosted flakes.

and now, because of baseball, he felt, he said, like someone put their baseball cleat right where his heart goes thump, and then, with all their weight, they’d pushed down that cleated sole.

it hurt, he said.

and then, at last, he fell asleep.

his mitt, that night, was nowhere near his bed. he’d dumped it, soon as he came in the door. his yellow hat, though, hung on the post of his bed; he wasn’t giving up.

just poring over pages in the play book, trying to figure out the game.

when i walked in a little later on, to kiss him one last time, his cheek was soggy still. he’d cried himself to sleep.

some lesson learned on the ballfield that sorry sunday: you can give it all you’ve got and then some, but some beefy guys will run you bloody. and hoot and holler all the way to home.

not why i signed up the kid for baseball.

do you think, perhaps, i could get my money back?

the questions are these: what lessons have you learned on some ball field somewhere, lessons you still don’t think you needed to know? or, conversely, if you’ve found yourself sitting in the stands, or drying tears at bedtime, how did you patch a player’s broken heart?

housekeeping: this is my first friday meander on the new rhythm, and while i ached to write on wednesday, it is something of a treat to wrap up my writing week here, where i can meander to my heart’s content. welcome to the new world, i suppose. maybe fridays will be all right. maybe it makes sense to emphatically end my week, and start the blessed weekend. thanks for adjusting.

and finally, a huge and hearty welcome to a few fine souls who’ve just recently told me that they’ve found the chair. the mama of a boy who long long ago was my patient, a boy with cancer who i, along with a few other heavenly nurses, cared for, and quickly came to love. jeffrey died, but his mama comes here now, one of the miracles of the chair and life. and a lovely writer named julia, who is in 7th grade, and who is going to grow up to knock your socks off with what she writes and the questions she asks. it is the most blushing thing, thoroughly a blessing, to find out that extraordinary souls have tiptoed here and quietly pulled out a chair. it gives me goosebumps every time. bless you each and every one. and welcome.