Saturday, April 28, 2012

What is Essential - A View From a Sherpa

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye
 - Antoine de Saint Exupery

At first there was nothing, just a haze of blue sky, to our West, a cold, faint rain draped around the mountains like a shawl. We were flying over high desert, the sky so devoid of cloud, the land so flat and colorless, that there was no sense of movement forward.  It was one of those lazy days of flying, when you aren't on a time table and no one's shooting at you, you simply hang suspended in a state that is neither distance nor time, as though the simple act of flying was not intended to cover ground, but simply to watch your life unfold aloft.  We didn't speak, simply scanning the gauges, scanning the sky.

Then we saw it, a dot, then two, glimpsed and then gone, like that deer that has already seen you and then is a ghost, gone before your eyes had even captured what it was you were looking at.

This was some years back. I was still a pup, wet behind the ears, bobbing around the skies in the left seat of a Sherpa, hoping soon to go back and be trained on something a little faster and more technologically advanced than this. Girls I know dreamed of wedding dresses and babies, I dreamed to the smell of jet fuel, of  EPR's and whether there were really dragons lying there beyond the speed of sound.

We were on a course that was a military training route, talking to ATC when up on my copilots right the two dots coalesced, becoming aircraft.  Fighter aircraft.  Out of the NAS. My copilot had been working the radios but when I saw them, moving in close to us.I broke in and said

"Acme 89 (or whatever our call sign was).  "Are you working a couple of Tomcats (F-14's)". 

The controller said.  "Affirmative, Ma'am".

There comes a long held breath, and then I asked.  "uhh, do you know what they're doing up here?

Long pause (chuckle)  "looking for something slow and square to shoot at. . .  . Ma'am".

Sometimes though, being slow is good.  Stopping to just look around you and savoring all that you have.

I don't feel this in the city  The city has its own excitement, of lights, noise, fine dining and theater.  But after a day in a strange city, I somehow feel like I've spend the day in the company of a hyperactive 3 year old.  I'm ready to get home, to hardwood floors, to crown molding, and plaster dust, tools and the deep sleep of being loved and happy in my own element.

Growing up in a small town left something with me that remained, despite the urgent need as a teen to get away from it.   Nothing much happened there.  Certainly, nothing happened fast.  A parade could last two days it seemed, and if you wanted some work done on your place someone would be there, but not right away, dashing into your drive with their tools and a credit card reader.

Behind the house of our Sixties ranch home was open land and a small rural highway.  There were no "Coming Soon! Starbucks" signs. There were cows, nothing on the horizon but the shifting of rumps, the clang of metal as they swung their heads, checking to see if you were bringing cow chow.  That was  years before the escape to the big city, when mornings dawned early, chickens haunting the rafters. 

As a child, all of this seemed larger than life, just as it was familiar and unchanging.  Days dawned slow and time rose and swelled like the curve of a woman's breast.

My Dad went to work every day week day, was home every night at the same time.  Friday was steak and Westerns, eating on TV trays, Saturday was chores and grilled burgers.  During the afternoon we explored, cheered on by the sawmill buzz of a lawn mower, the sound of the ice cream truck.  Sunday was church, sports for my Dad, and more outside play for us while Mom curled up with her books or the the ceramics she liked to make and fire.

On those days of play it seemed as if time itself was suspended, hanging in the air like a curtain, waiting to be opened, laying on the ground to be picked up and put in our pockets, with that piece of string and the little bazooka army guy. We'd play hard all afternoon, there in time's motionless shadow. It was only with the call of Mom's voice for dinner, that we realized we'd been outside 7 hours, drinking from the hose, dashing in from the gunpowder dust of August to grab a homemade cookie, in furtive raids. Mom always pretended to be surprised by the spies and soldiers that infiltrated her house and made off with the Toll House rations.


Now I wake, the city near, headed to work in a couple of hours.  My body wakes in its own time zone, whatever country I'm in.  The days are filled with rushed deliberation, deadlines and demands, everyone expecting the answers to come within an hour, the time we've  come to expect ANY problem to be solved, thanks to TV.  It's food on the run, and conversations stammered like an old type typewriter, noise and air, sweat and motion. I usually don't rush to get there, the first responders have done their business, what waits me for isn't going anywhere, nothing left but the tragic, unspoken  bones that will wait for me forever.  But once I'm there, time is a blur of heat and sweat and thought. The sun falls, the night grows cold, lights are brought in and I realize I've not been out here one hour I've been out there for ten.


I think it's time to go back home and see my Dad, to walk into that home that's unchanged since I was a child, to simply work in the garden with him.  There we will lean over a garden rake and talk softly about everything that will matter in the rest of his life, which is so very short, while all around us ceases to be sound, except our words and the faint, free running roar that is blade upon grass.

He would like me  to live close by, but my  heart is in the Midwest and he knows that, only wanting me to be happy, and safe.  So we talk every couple of days, those chats filled with bursts of words of "we saw THAT!" or "I found THIS!"  spoken in the same voice as we did as children coming in from school or play.

I remember a moment  on a previous visit, walking into the home of my childhood, carrying groceries and seeing my Dad so still on the couch, it appeared he wasn't breathing. For just an instant, everything went into high relief, like a scene in a 3-D movie, the Safeway bag dead weight in my arm, the sun glinting off my old piano against the wall, Dad's slippers on the floor. My whole life suspended, bathed in bright sunlight.

In the short terrible space between that moment and the next, when he opened his eyes and smiled, I got a glimpse of grief as it would look in this new incarnation. And perhaps, for those of us who have had that glimpse, it is partly the encroaching darkness that makes the light so vivid.


Artists in the 17th century understood this so well, depicting it in paintings of still life and fox hunts,  the fox so carefully wrought that a single drop of blood can be seen along a fine whisker. In studies of faces that bloom in layers of ancient varnish, a light shines on a Coat of Arms, on the curve of a woman's breast hinted at only gradually, the promising, secret gleam in her eye that belies the fact that she is hundreds of years gone. In those views, in those moments, the immutable chasm between all life and all that's left us, vanishes.

But Dad will be 92 in a few weeks.  He knew, adopting me in middle age, that he would be leaving me when I was still relatively young, but it does not make it any easier. 

I need to get away from the city, get away from the rush if only for a few hours, give my Dad a call, plan a trip to see him, laugh about silly things, and then watch the stars of my childhood erupt in the sky.  We spend what time we can, even as he gives me the freedom to follow my heart, to live where I am happy.


Yet, I am aware more every day,  that time no longer parts like a curtain for him, for any of us.  It looms as a room nearly, its door one of finality, yet hope.

We never speak of it, but both are thankful for every day we have together, because we know there is another one coming, where time again will lay suspended, as the heavens open up.. That day where 90 some years is crowded into an instant of time, with no space left for air to breathe, only that step inside, into the glory.

- Brigid

15 comments:

  1. One thought... Go see you dad...

    Dann in Ohio

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  2. Thanks again, brigid, for putting into words that which is so hard to express. My parents, both alive, live but an hour away, and while Mom's memory is failing, Dad is sharp as a tack at 84. We disagree on most everything, whether politics or purchases; i come from a family of 6, and i'm the odd man out-- heavy on the odd. He doesn't say much about my youth, but I celebrated 32 years of sobriety this week, and he's still not quite sure why I can't have a glass with him now and then. No, I've never even seen him tipsy; it's just something, again, that can't be explained. But the love I have for both my parents, especially as I see so many of those my age dying themselves, much less their parents, makes it so much more poingant. We'll lose another aunt this week; her body can go on no more. My cousins were close when we were 5; not so much at 55. Pensive today; but so proud of our own kids; the baritone with a Grammy, the 2nd Class Gunners' Mate that just got back from a nasty, the 19-year old more driven than anyone I've known-- and a conservative, too! So there's the grey, the dark, and the light of it; you help me put more light in it, and for that I thank you.

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  3. Dann beat me to it.
    And give him a hug for me.....

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  4. Your heart is a baobab. Large. Long lived. A fixture on the landscape.

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  5. Very nice story, and yes go see your dad. I would love to hear more of your work adventures.

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  6. Yes go see yer dad the comfort you bring him will be repaid when you time comes. Both of my parents have passed and I'm now an orphin. So at his age try and see him as often as possible,

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  7. Dann - I'll see him for his birthday in a month, just a quiet weekend. I use almost all of my vacation days seeing him, the spike in airfare hasn't helped, (with my schedule it's about impossible to buy tickets much ahead of time for cheap) plus he can't pick me up at the airport an hour or so away, so there's a rental car each time - but I get there every chance I can, and see him every two or three months.

    Mick - it sounds like you have a wonderful family, of all shades of personality and drive, which always makes it interesting. My Dad's sister, married my Mom' brothers (yes, that's legal haha) and they weren't able to have children. I do have a female cousin that lives up in the Sierras on a small ranch and raises horses. Single for a long time like myself, she's good people.

    drjim - I will, if you and the wife are ever up his way, drop me a line and I'll give you an addy, he's always happy to have friends of mine over for a cold one and conversation.

    Rob - I can't ethicailly discuss the specifics of my day on line, maybe a book after retirement.

    Borepatch - ditto my friend.

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  8. mikelaforge - thank you!

    Sarge - I'm sorry for your losses. Hold fast to the memories.

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  9. "Slow and square to shoot at..." That's what you get with Navy guys, always looking for easy adversaries.

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  10. Go see your Pappy, times a waste'n. Mine will be 89 this year, and I hug on that ol flyer every chance I get...

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  11. Brigid,

    I, like many others who have commented, thank you for this post. Both my parents are still alive. But, their health is failing. And, now they take more and more of time time. They are still fiercly independent and don't like to ask. But, I can see it. Fortunately, I am near them and can help.

    Your father is a very lucky man to have such a daughter. And we are lucky to have such a writer in our midst.

    JP

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  12. (long pause to catch breath)

    Nope. No words. Just gratitude for being able to visit HOTR.

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  13. Oh your words, they always make me think, sometimes make me cry, always leave me stronger...

    "it is partly the encroaching darkness that makes the light so vivid."

    Glad to read that you will be seeing your Dad soon. My beloved aged parents will be visiting me at the end of this week (and incidentally will be able to meet my other beloved, G)

    I try to visit them as often as I can, difficult because of the distance, but so very vital, and we talk several times a week. I feel very lucky to have them both still here, and both lucid and lively, though bodily slowing down (my Dad is 80, my Mom 77)

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  14. Im catching up on reading your words, I know you are planning, making your way there to see dad. I can only tell you that time moves faster the older we get. My parents lived 8 hours from me down in Kentucky just over the IL border. I went as often as I could, my dad suffering from Breast Cancer. When I arrived he was lucid.. for 12 hours. Then slipped into oblivion and I lost him, only able to do what I could to ease his way, working with hospice. He died after I drove 8 more hours home after watching him go for two weeks, waiting until I passed into my own town.. Now mom is moving back up here, closer is better I think but we all do what we can. You already know how hard it is when they are farther than you can manage at times. Just enjoy each moment you get, as I know you do. Give him a hug when you see him, tell him you're sharing from Rainy. :)

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I started this blog for family that lives far away. Now that they are gone, it continues on to share those memories.

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