One Quiet Morning

November 9, 2013

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

– from “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Last Saturday in the wee hours of the morning I received a text that my cousin had passed away. Honestly, my first reaction was a sense of peace. He had been suffering for 15 years from the effects of cancer treatment. Then I felt the grief of his family—the loss of a husband, a father, a brother, a grandfather. Then I felt the loss of his friends: long time friends, new friends, even those who would never know him.

And then, as tears washed my cheeks I began to think back to a time in our lives when things were magical and innocent. Michael and I were close in age. He was a little older. He had huge brown eyes, thick auburn hair and a smile that outshone the sun. His heart was huge, his kindness and gentleness were effortless.

Some of you may know I often use Gratefulness.org as a source for quotes and information. This morning I found this:

“Even if an experience crushes you, can it not serve as a wine press that releases an unexpected sweetness? Is there some way in which it allows you to reclaim a part of yourself that you’d forgotten? Did it release courage, compassion, a deeper awareness of what matters? Ponder each of these qualities and see if you can find them in your own experience: courage (take a moment for this); compassion (for whom?); a deeper awareness (of what?). And can you name other sweetnesses that can flow out of the grief that crushes you? Pay attention to the faintest taste of sweetness.” (from Gratefulness.org)

And that is what happened to me that morning, and the following week and today. A sadness that seemed to cover me like a soft blanket, yet an awareness of a sense of sweetness. The sweetness Michael brought to my life.

My memories of Michael and I during childhood are full of vibrant emotions and color. Movement and energy. Laughter and tears. Joy and total frustration.

We would spend weeks at our grandmother’s house in what was then rural Ohio. Her house nestled in a quiet corner of land that bordered the Olentangy River. The river at her house was more of a stream, but nonetheless it was a child’s delight. We would run down the softly banked lawn to the slender trees that signaled the river’s edge. The water slipped over rocks and made small, bubbly rapids that sang the song of a child’s freedom and joy. We played for hours in the river. Was there ever any more fun than collecting sticks for no reason? Throwing rocks at nothing just to hear the “plunk” and watch the ripples? Talk wasn’t even required because we could read each other’s mind.

My grandmother never “called” us in. We would play and explore and just be kids until we went back up to the house. If we had fish in hand we were usually sent back outside. If we were wet and muddy we were dried off and warmed up. At night we slept in cherry wood beds with sheets and blankets that smelled like lavender. When the morning sun woke up, so did we and we started all over again.

As we began to grow up, we still could be found together: climbing behind waterfalls in the many gorges of Ithaca, skiing in the crisp white of winter, sailing on the Finger Lakes, swimming in the chilly waters of Cayuga Lake.

And then, adult life happened and we drifted a bit. We married, raised children and put aside the companionship, but never the love. At my uncle’s (Micheal’s dad) birthday, when Michael was in a very painful part of his  recovery and had little strength and energy, my aunt wanted to take a picture of the two of us “because we had always loved each other so much”. I remember those words because, for some reason I didn’t think anyone else knew that……

Michael’s passing is like a press squeezing sweetness from my memory. A  kind of nectar that tastes of joy, and laughter and love, freedom and companionship, innocence and lightness. It does help to reclaim that inner magic that was childhood. It helps remind me to make time and space for those things again.

Thank you for letting me share this.

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