This isn’t a Halloween post, though it falls on Halloween. I have a difficult relationship with Halloween. It seems a strange holiday, making light of death and darkness. Maybe I should just accept it as being another way we humans try to make sense of mortality.
It’s been four years since my father-in-law passed away. He died on Halloween, and Kevin’s mother telephoned late that afternoon, twice, first to tell him to hurry and come home, and then, not long after, to tell him, yes, please come home, but it’s too late to make it in time. But we felt fortunate. We’d been to visit just two days earlier, and knew that goodbye was coming. Still, we wondered what to do. The kids were dressed up and excited about trick-or-treating. How to give them this news? “Take them out,” I said, “and I’ll stay home and pack.” And so that’s how we told them, after trick-or-tricking: when they arrived home with bags full of candy, our bags were packed. There were wrenching sobs, and we changed them into pajamas, hopped into the van, and drove away, letting them eat all the candy they wanted. I don’t suppose we’ll ever forget that night, or that drive. It felt like an adventure, momentous and sad all at once.
A year ago, my grandma passed away on Remembrance Day. Last week, my grandpa, her husband, also passed away, and our family travelled across the border for another funeral, on another autumn day. As we drove to the graveyard for the burial, it was raining and the sun was shining. From our angle, the rainbow that emerged looked like a column of magic dust rising out of the earth, colour, shimmering. We all saw it.
I don’t know what everyone else thought. I don’t even know what I thought, exactly. Just that it was a rare and ephemeral sight, and I was glad for it.
Today is a perfect fall day, crisp, pale blue sky threaded with grey clouds.
Today, I will sit at my desk and write.
Today, I will enjoy this cup of coffee and wish for a second one.
Today, I did not get up early for yoga. When the alarm sounded, I turned it off and crawled back into dreamland.
Today, I ate porridge for breakfast, plus an egg with toast.
Today, I kissed and hugged four children, reminded them repeatedly to get ready for school, listened to them play the piano, and bribed one of them to go to math club once a week.
Today, the builders arrived to continue their work.
Today, I will sit at my desk and make up stories about characters I’ll never get to meet in real life.
Today, I pause to remember my Gramps. Once, he took me to see wild horses. Mustangs. It was sadder than I thought it would be. I was ten or eleven. The mustangs were corralled for sale on a ranch, of sorts. I remember dust. I don’t know what my Gramps thought of it all. What the wild horses meant to him. I think he appreciated the atmosphere of wheeling and dealing. But I know he loved horses, too, like I did. When I think of him, I think of horses.
Today is a perfect fall day, yellow leaves on green grass, and the frost lifted by the sun.
Today, I will write something for Gramps.
This is not my favourite time of year, nor my favourite season. We are nearing November, a month that gets me every pass around the sun. I miss the sun. Winter solstice marks the movement toward light, and every year I look forward to it. Yes, it also marks the start of a long, cold, snowy winter, but the light is returning, and that’s what matters to me.
I went outside this morning to take a photo to illustrate this post, looking for a little pathetic fallacy. I was thinking dead leaves in pools of last night’s rain. But instead, I found purple flowers, green leaves on plants, pale sky, rich oranges, shining rocks and dark wood. I was looking for signs of darkness, but beauty found me.
Mary Oliver would be pleased.
I really should not be blogging right now. I should be in bed. But we arrived home late this afternoon, after a week’s holiday, and I want to write. Need to write. There are many things on my mind, but I haven’t got the capacity to synthesize them all, just now, even if they belonged together, which I suspect they do not.
So here they are, in no particular order.
We uglified the backyard, but it’s nothing compared to what happened to the front today: our falling-down porch got ripped off, with a little bit left, stairs and such, so we can get to the door. As we drove up to the house, I got a glance, no more, and I just felt sick. The house looked so strange, so faceless. I couldn’t take another look. But after a few hours, and before it got dark, I went out on my own with my camera and it looked … okay, really. I could imagine what would be there in the future. Even a little office for me, out that side door.
So, we just went a week without doing laundry … I can’t even describe the pile in the basement. Being obsessive compulsive about tasks, I’ve been running the machine non-stop.
Oh, and on the drive home, we stopped for a bathroom break and discovered an awesome farmer’s market. So Kevin made room in our already packed truck for a bushel of romas and a bushel of red peppers. The red peppers are already roasted and in our freezer. The canner is ready to go tomorrow.
But I am overwhelmed and exhausted and daunted by the tasks ahead this week. There seems too much. This is VBS week, assuming the children agree to go (CJ is the wild card; he spent large portions of today in fits over non-existent catastrophes … nothing like a good half hour of crying in the car to make you feel like a holiday is really and truly over; even better if no good reason for crying can be identified by cry-er or his attentive family).
Lessons, schedules, organizing. Confirming manuscript ready to send, and sending. That’s the week ahead.
But the thing on my mind most of all tonight is the passing of Jack Layton. What to say? There’s no one like him in Canadian politics. And it seemed his optimism might carry him over yet another obstacle; after all, he made all kinds of seemingly impossible things happen. Cancer. The language we use to talk about it is the language of battle; but I’ve never liked that language because it implies that those who cannot fight it off somehow didn’t fight hard enough, weren’t strong enough, succumbed. A word that implies defeat. I really hate that. I don’t know how to talk about it differently, though. Anyone’s who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows that it feels like they’ve been stolen, sometimes slowly, and sometimes suddenly, by an opponent. I don’t know why we personify cancer like that. I’m trying to think if we personify other diseases in the same way, and it doesn’t seem like it. Cancer seems personal. It seems crafty and sneaky and it doesn’t fight fair. And this morning, it stole from Canada a real fighter, a tough and bright and incredibly energetic person who can’t be replaced. Goodbye from us. We’ll miss you, Jack.
No summing this mess of a post up, I’m afraid. Photos from holiday to come at some later time. Maybe when the tomatoes are good and canned.
A few entries ago, I wrote briefly about reading Mary Oliver’s Winter Hours. I would love to type out an entire poem here, but without having permission to reproduce it in full, will give you a link instead (and do read it in full), and quote the final four lines of what is probably her most well-known poem: The Summer Day.
She is writing about prayer. She says she does not know what a prayer is, but she does know how to pay attention: “how to be idle and blessed.” She has spent the day in what might appear to be idleness, strolling through fields, kneeling in the grass, examining the grasshopper. She asks:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everyone die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Yesterday started with unexpected news from my mother’s family: the sudden death of one of my cousins’s spouses, mother of two, only 43. They live in another country, and I can’t say we’ve seen them more than every other year or so. But the day was nevertheless altered by the knowledge of this family, not far removed from my own, suffering an unimaginable shock and loss. What comfort can there be for her boys? Her youngest son is the age of my eldest. There was no preparation, no advance knowledge, just in an instant, one precious life gone. She is no longer in this world with her family.
What waits around the corner? What secret end is hidden inside the body, waiting to reveal itself in time? Nobody knows.
And so, Mary Oliver’s wise and bright words came again to me. No wonder they are quoted so widely. No wonder. Because, yes, everyone dies at last and too soon. And we are all alive, right now. If you are reading this, you are alive. Life is wild. It can’t be tamed, or made safe. It’s all any of us has really got. What are we to do with it? What a question.
Here’s what I did yesterday: hung laundry on the line, made yogurt, smelled my children’s hair, jumped on a trampoline, ran through the woods, cheered from the sidelines of a soccer game, drifted, fought impatience, struggled with my children arguing with each other, and wondered … what more? Or even, what less? What do I plan to do with this one precious life?