April, sunshine, I let my coffee cool.
It wasn’t intentional, but thoughts the color of early spring began to crawl up the brickwork of my mind, and bloom just outside the glass.
I have only now just begun to put into words this past year.
Grandpa died in late September, on a Wednesday morning, and I missed a week of school to be home and sit with him on his last night, and to be with my grandmother as I saw her cry for the first time, and to be with my mother as she, like Atlas, carried the great burden of her family’s world. And, most importantly, I was there with my father as he and I struggled with the reality that all fathers pass away. We are made of dust, and our ashes are caught on the easterly, and are borne back to the waters we were raised from.
Life never seemed so temporary, or so fragile.
I wish my sister could have been there the night he died. But her Love and Spirit were with that old man to the end, and he knew, and I knew the smile on his face was for more than just the relief of a well lived life ending. It was a smile shaped by the pride he had for us.
We need to remember the spirits of our ancestors, for we gained the great gift of life from them, and we owe them lives that are beautiful, lives that are full of meaning.
So I will try to make my life worthy of memory.
I drank a lot that week. Somewhat to drown the struggle in my bones, and somewhat to give me courage for the path ahead. My best friend picked me up at the train station, the night before grandpa passed, and the static between us was heavy. I had wronged him. The wrong ran deep, and it was something built up for years that neither of us wanted to face. It may have been jealousy on my part, or fear on his part, or a poisonous mixture of the two.
And we knew the river was rising.
And we knew we were too close to her cold fingers to escape it again.
So I drank whiskey and cheap beer and prepared for the task at hand. We surrounded ourselves with smoke and I vomited the dark memory out onto the floor of his attic. We pulled the bits out of the bile and wiped them off on our shirts and scrutinized the wrong I had dealt to him.
And he loved me, and I will be forever in his debt.
True friendship is born through forgiveness, and strengthened with gratitude. I learned that from him.
We buried grandpa’s ashes on a cold, blustery, autumn day. We buried him in Newtown, in the cemetery that my mother played in as a little girl. He wasn’t in the box. I could feel him around us, coaxing us to something, whispering greatness in our ears, expecting our very best. There are days I think we invented God to give a voice to the dead that could be distant from our own waking realities. If we listen, those we loved continue to whisper to us our history, so we always remember where we came from, so we never lose track of where we are going. They have the gift of eternity in their hands, and they want to share it with us in the stories and tasks they conquered.
Stop. Listen. That is all we need to do.
It was hard to come back to Brooklyn after that. It was hard to go to school, to know that I had witnessed death, and would be expected to ignore the physical and focus on the theoretical. It was hard to sit in a classroom, and watch the concrete expand and extend itself into every natural space, to watch it cover up and muffle our dead so that their whispers would be silent, and we would be free to live our own, little, temporary, selfish lives, away from the connectedness that makes us so terribly human.
My grandpa wrote something to my sister. He feared we were losing our ability to communicate and relate to one another. Surrounded by the distractions that have come from our advances in biology, and technology, and increased social awareness, he feared we were losing our identities as a community of human beings, losing our ability to build strong relationships and to truly know one another.
Returning to the city, I knew he was right.