There was a loss in our family this weekend, a quiet and loving matriarch who, surrounded by her children and their people, softly slipped out of her fleshy body and off to whatever awaits the soul.
I had only met this woman once, but I can tell you that by the style of her departure, she lived right. By right, I mean in such a way that people still tolerated her idiosyncrasies and rigidities, forgave her failings, and bore witness to her vulnerable last breaths with love and tenderness. Those are gifts for all involved, a testament to a kind of compassion we ought hold for each other.
It was a Sunday and on Sundays I try to avoid technology in what may appear a pious commitment to righteous thought, but in reality is just a rule enforced to peel the reflection of a screen off my teenager’s eyeballs. It is fair to say my own orbs are equally plagued, only I proclaim adult responsibilities are at fault (scheduling patients, checking my bank account) and not my pathos about New York Times headlines.
My offspring emerged from their room at an unusually early weekend hour – like before noon – and engaged in actual conversation. Anyone having ever raised a teen will know these are rare occurrences and for years may only take place laced with a tone of deep loathing and resentment. Alternatively, one may be limited to eye rolls and harrumphs, but my kid is a Gemini with a vast vocabulary.
And they brought that vocabulary to my Sunday writing group (which indeed takes place online and that may have been the impetus for joining). The group meets monthly and is formed of mostly geriatrics with brilliant memories, bright sweaters, and shocking use of swear words, only because I never expect to hear cursing over a cup of decaf Earl Grey.
My child wrote a piece of eloquent prose about the confinement of a high school and the way they sigh when released from its heavy clanging doors, free at last to laugh their way down the street with a friend. Free to be themselves: silly, opinionated, self-absorbed, observing their right to it all. For a moment, I see not my child but another human whose struggles and failings don’t belong to me, are not an extension of me.
Some years ago, in a painful rage of fear and misunderstanding, my mother disowned me. As it turns out, my idiosyncrasies are as unforgivable as my story. To deny either is to be, well, not me, and so our stalemate has not found resolution. I come from a stalwart line of facade-keepers, which can serve many purposes but does not lend itself well to self-expression or breaking rank.
In my few years I have learned even fewer things I can speak on with conviction, but the spiritual necessity to be ourselves is among them. Belonging to something (family, a tribe, a wine-of-the-month club) does not have to mean giving up freedom or self. Yet, this experience produced a palpable fear that I might fail to accept my own child (by getting pronouns wrong, for example), husband, friends, family in ways I cannot see. And then die alone.
Which is why on Sundays we silence the external chatter that influences each of us: my neurotic news consumption, my husband’s scrolling of DIY videos, my kid’s soul-sucking addiction to Instagram. We show up just as ourselves, and something beautiful unfolds, unravels into the invisible strands that connect us. We discover one another anew with understanding, wonder and acceptance.
We have conversations about how enamored I am in a book, then discuss the technique B is using to draw hands or the challenge of the modern teen, then explore the design of light fixtures. We cook meals together, hear perspectives, and generally collaborate as cohorts on this strange journey of life. I suspect putting down our phones and turning off our TVs has a fair bit to do with it, but the rest is just love.
Which is what I was trying to understand as I ran that morning, through a maze of moose post-holes and heavy cedars to our new property. My husband wanted to explore the site where we’ll build a new house. He suggested we drive up there. I am, for better or worse, a runner and thus proof there are different ways to the same end. And the truth is, we all meet the same end.
Something tells me the woman who left us last weekend knew the most important things about how to arrive at the end with peace and love and connection.
I ran out the door and told my husband, “I’ll meet you there,” as if our clearing was Rumi’s field between right and wrong. And like this dear woman who parted, surrounded by her children and their blessings, that is where I want to die.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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