Our town's Memorial Day parade makes a few stops along its short route: at the Veteran's Park to dedicate a wreath, at the graveyard to listen to elderly soldiers graciously mourn the boys left behind so many decades ago. And we sing the national anthem and recite the pledge of allegiance. Our parade, by the end, has swelled way beyond it's beginning numbers; townspeople walk behind the parade proper and gather people faster than polyester gathers lint.
My family fell behind after the cemetery ceremony. It was hot. One of us is three and too stubborn to be carried very far. We sat in the shade, we shared a lollipop. We found this: an oak tree growing out of an oak stump. The initial seed was probably an accident but evidence of tending could be found in the few dead daffodil stalks planted around the wispy trunk, the potting soil heaped into the rotted cavity of the old tree. I'm not a religious person (though spiritual, in a may-the-force-be-with-you kind of way) and I've never read the bible except for a few perusings in hotel rooms, but I know there's that whole rebirth theme running through it, right? And here was rebirth in such an obvious form. Stump, sapling.
“I don't want to die,” moans B at odd moments. His knowledge of death is both limited and vast. I wish I could tell him about a heaven, about meeting those we love who've died before us. I wish I could describe a grandfatherly guy dressed in silver robes who will bake us cookies and pour us milk upon our arrival. I wonder if this is why people sometimes turn to religion after having babies: an immediate set of explanations. My explanations, though, happen in terms of compost. “When we die we turn to dirt,” I tell B. “And then flowers grow out of the dirt.”
At the cemetery, B knocked on the door to a mausoleum. “Only dead people in there,” I told him, before I could consider the implications and slap a hand over my own mouth. But he took it in stride. He probably thought it was some sort of walled, doored garden, all those dead people stacked up, turning to dirt, sprouting fleshy mushrooms and pallid moonflowers.
Maybe this is our religion: everything grows, everything dies, and it's very sad but also very necessary because there isn't much room. Everything has its turn. Sometimes an oak tree grows twice.~a
I’m amazed at the power of sights, sounds and smells to snap you back to the past, instantly. On the stereo this week in heavy rotation is an Elizabeth Mitchell CD. Every time I hear her rendition of “Three is a Magic Number,” a song near and dear to my mommy heart, I am once again a small child in front of the TV watching Schoolhouse Rock. Yet a strange thing happens when she gets to the lines: Faith, Hope and Charity. Somehow my brain starts to supply another set of lyrics and I start singing “Where Charity and Love Prevail.” It’s as if the words to this hymn are lodged in my brain. I can sing what I imagine to be all of the verses, no hymnal required.
Smells too seem to have a transporting effect. If I close my eyes in the presence of lilies, I am seated in my church where I sang in the choir, had my communion and confirmation, and kneeled next to my grandmother for almost every Sunday as a young girl. These memories come to me when I least expect them.
Then there are the moments that bring the Here and Now sharply into focus. There are those serendipitous moments when I stumble onto a quote or phrase that puts my life into perspective, all in just a few simple words. Following some photography links to different websites this week I found this quote by the Dalai Lama: ‘My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.’ Reading those words I drew in my breath, because this truly summed up how I try to live my life. I want to be kind thoughtful and caring, putting other people’s needs before my own. It’s this last bit, though, that often gets me into trouble. When will I learn that too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing anymore. After thinking so much about others-- rearranging my schedule for an unforeseen run to the airport or a last-minute bake sale--I often get depleted, my resources spent and I spiral downwards.
The lesson I’m trying to teach myself, though there are no textbooks, rules or guidelines for this—just like everything in life it seems—is that being open to receiving kindness is just as important as giving. These past few weeks have been particularly challenging as I summon up the courage to see myself as I truly am at this particular age. Yet I have been on the receiving end of so much kindness: An unexpected invitation to a choral concert, seats saved at an evening event, a handwritten letter arriving in the mail just when you need it most, friends making time in their busy schedules to see a movie together, delicious food made for a holiday picnic, thoughtful presents given out of love rather than duty or obligation, a husband doing lawn work after a long hot day so as not to break a promise, time spent in companionable silence on a deck by the lake. I’m trying to give and to be open to receive. It’s not easy. Yet nothing worth having ever is.
Next Week's Word: Whiskey