You and Me

girl buddhaThe city is still gritty and muddy and brown, and we’re mostly still wearing black, and I have a hard, hard pebble lodged under my skin, deeply housed in the muscle that carries me. But we’re waking up after a very long sleep, and we’re outside again, walking on the dusty sidewalks, and the ice on the river is breaking up, and the sky is blue this afternoon. And when I left my student yesterday she leaned out her open window where the wind was whipping her curtains around, and shouted something, and I felt a spark of something I’d almost forgotten.

She and I are working on English language skills, but we’re working on so much more. She asks if my husband is a good man. I tell her he is, and she crosses her arms over her heart in gratitude. When I tell her she’s done an excellent job reading a story we’ve been working on for a while now, she grins suddenly, puts up her hand, and says, “high five!” When she meets a new neighbour in the hallway she shouts his name and embraces him.

She is teaching me about the magnificent size of our spirits, about just how much grief a single person can carry with dignity. She lowers her eyes and tells me a few more bits of her story, and I tell her I’m so sorry for her loss. She can’t look at me. I put my hand on her leg and suggest she misses terribly her husband and the children she has lost. She doesn’t seem to know exactly what I mean by this, and says only that she has become very tired, but I see tears slip down her beautiful cheeks. I feel tired too, just thinking about her losses. Grief does that, I remember as she speaks, it makes us tired.

So we sleep, we sleep, sometimes for months and months at a time. And then the mountains of ice begin to break up, and we feel a little less tired, and I think I may feel inspired enough to try dislodge that other old pebble again.


Pride and Joy

you arrived, beautiful, exuberant, hungry
smiling, laughing, sure of a future
you were my breath, my pulse, my pride and joy

by day you delivered hugs and kisses and laughter,
and wanted to marry me, at least live next door
I smiled, knowing

at night, we picked up the debris:
Cheerios, blocks, balls and shirts and socks,
miniature cars and doll shoes and tea cups
crayons, puzzle pieces, race cars
dress-up clothes and tiaras
bikes and doll strollers and hockey sticks
and later, broken hearts

you slept in forts you built
and when the world was too big, my bed,
and when it fell apart, we railed against the chaos

the winds changed, your dreams revived, adapted
and carried you away

then you left
much as you arrived:
beautiful and determined and hungry
but also altered, holes in your skin
looking for healing salves
and nourishment potent enough
to feed the hope in your hearts

and we all dreamed new dreams
and learned to live with the ache in our bones
and though they say nothing is permanent
it’s all imprinted in our DNA,
enduring and eternal after all

you’re still my breath, my pulse, my pride and joy

The Mercy of the Wind

Though he is 84, he has arm, leg, and abdominal muscles stronger by far than mine. I often envy his commitment to his morning exercise routine, though it does little to strengthen my own. In this moment though, answering an emergency room doctor’s questions about when he was born, where he is at right now, and what he remembers, he is as vulnerable as any of us in the wake of a fresh reminder that we are utterly at the mercy of the wind. He knows his roots, he knows he is loved, he knows his life’s purpose, he knows his God. He knows his humanity too, and is deeply moved by compassion, gentleness, love. His dignity doesn’t miss a beat, and he answers the doctor’s questions with crisp, polite, confident, eager, and perfect accuracy. Our laughter at his tone dissipates the intensity of the moment, and puts him back in touch with his humour. They will give him the appropriate medication; he will be fine; relief washes over all of us. Things will soon be back to normal.

Three days later, he spoke at his little sister’s 80th birthday party, about the day she was born. He made me laugh. Still. How can we bear it, this awareness that we are at the mercy of the wind? This awareness that no matter our strength, or the importance of our plans, or the depth of our love, it can all be rendered void in an instant, a puff of breath?

Outside my window just now, on a wind near -40 degrees, the church bells are clear. I know why they ring. Being at the mercy of the wind begs meaning, comfort. It begs something solid, concrete walls, candles, connection to the cosmos.