I have said my farewells to my eldest daughter and her lovely husband, as well as our German exchange student daughter (from 2011) and their friend from New York, all gone from here yesterday and flying out of SFO today and tomorrow. The house is quiet and empty. It is good to feel I can get to work again, and start to plant my tomatoes and lavender, and hear my own thoughts. I did a yoga routine this morning, first time since my surgery in January. I’m throwing sheets into the wash, filling the dishwasher full with the last of our last supper dishes, making a shopping list, thinking about what to do next. My mind has been so full of the immediate, the moments we were in, and I haven’t looked forward a bit. Time to restretch that muscle and see what I have on my new to-do list.
We took the month of April to brave the rain and the miles of travel and gathered to say farewell, at last, to our late son Austin. M & L came from Australia, F came from Germany, J came from Maryland, C came from New York, E&E came by train from Shasta. We met at the seaside–or rather, bayside, in Alameda, to sprinkle ashes and write Austin’s name in the sand, before the waves washed him away. The following photos are some of how we said farewell.
My youngest daughter Anastasia asks me where Jesus came in the line of human evolution―was he before or after Cro-Magnon Man?
I beg the question for a moment, try not to burst out laughing while I ponder the irony―some people don’t believe that there was a Cro-Magnon Man. But rather than delve into evolution versus creation, I simply answer, “After. Definitely after.”
Other questions are not so easily answered. I overhear her discussing with Simone the issue of whether Jesus had blond hair. One cannot take the queries of childhood too lightly, so I politely intervene and begin a discussion of how Jesus probably looked―long, dark hair, a beard, olive or tan skin.
“But no one really knows what Jesus looked like,” I conclude.
“I know what he looked like,” she says. Of course she does―she went through six years of catechism, has holy cards in her dresser drawer, wore the white Communion dress and veil. How could she not know? But the journalist in me perseveres.
“Well, there are really no pictures of Jesus,” I say.
Now, to get her response just right, you have to practice your most withering, scathing pre-teen tone of voice. Try saying, “You’re a f**cking moron,” over and over. That’s how Ana replies.
“There are pictures of Jesus―I’ve seen them.”
I bite back a laugh and tell her that the camera had yet to be invented for, oh, close to 2,000 years after Jesus departed the planet, and that any pictures she’s seen have been artists’ renderings. She is not convinced. Her mother is a f**cking idiot. She leaves the room in a huff.
I am grateful that there haven’t been harder questions put to me―like trying to explain the existence of God, or why there is hate and hurt in the world. Because inevitably such questions would bring up my own issues of faith, my own faltering belief system, and I would have to say, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
How to explain why I still have the rosary beads hanging from my rearview mirror but no longer use them for prayer, or how we used to say grace at meals but now find it difficult to even get to the same table in the same house at the same time? Why we still light the Advent wreath at Christmas, how we bless ourselves when we get onto the freeway, but rarely darken the doorway of any house of worship?
How can I explain so many things that I don’t know the answer to? Like how to account for the marriage-shaped hole in my heart that took away the greater portion of my faith when it left? I don’t know.
When their father and I were still married, we lived in a house with an orange tree in the backyard. Whenever the weather was nice, we could sit on a blanket in the yard, and my little girls chased butterflies and picked dandelions while I planted flowers, weeded and hung out clothes to dry. We’d play for a while in the sunshine, then pick oranges from the tree and peel and eat them right away. We’d wash away the sticky juice from our fingers with the garden hose.
In those days I was sure of everything―my house, my family, my future, my faith. But how can we be really sure of anything?
The things we thought were set in stone have vanished, and we are flung out into the world on our own.
It is difficult to tell my young daughters that everything will be as they plan, that everything will work out exactly right, when I am no longer convinced, when I can no longer choke out pleasantries about religion, or the family we used to be.
But too much of that kind of pondering makes one rigid with fear.
So I go to my garden, where everything returns again in spring. I plant bulbs like dead lumps in the ground in the fall, and they make an appearance―thin spears of green piercing through the loam, then opening with a bounty of color.
Is there anything more perfect than a daffodil in spring? Than a single white iris? The first rosebud to open, or new leaves on a birch tree unfurling like tiny green flags? Is there a lovelier sight than an apricot tree in full bloom, or the first tiny violets making their sweet way through the dead leaves of winter?
When I can’t explain anything to my daughters about the world, the heavens and life now or if there is one to come, I go to the garden and sink my fingers into the dirt, where everything is simple and real.
The dry bulbs go into the ground, they come up in the spring, they die and are reborn. It is the simplest resurrection. It is the smallest inkling of faith.