As he spoke the pain of his wife’s long struggle with seizure medication in and out of nursing homes good and bad, Bud’s face was etched with his long stoic life. His early years in the blazing sun and freezing cold of eastern Washington, the Korean War, and almost 60 years of marriage to the wife he adored and had just buried in a swirl of grief and relief. After his story trailed into the now familiar endgame of self deprecating jokes and sturdy answers to my expression of concern, he went back to tending his flowers in front of his tiny old house, and I continued my slow walk up the hill with the dog.
Life’s chapters hold varied communities for each of us. At each stage we can ask “Who are my people?” The community of now for me is rich, worthy of the savoring I have time to lavish on it, and far from the blizzard of briefs and billables left behind in Washington. It is only missing one crucial part, leaving a huge hole that has the effect of widening my community to thousands, but only for a constant stream of fleeting, painful moments. Come with me for a few more snapshots of now.
In front of a fire, with smiles, good wine and wit, the friends sat and shared the latest ironic moments of their lives. This was one of several such gatherings at this elegant home with some of our people — fabulous hostess-chef and seeker Julia and salt-of-earth, wise fellow travelers Meg and Steve who have adopted us into their huge, warm Seattle family.
My wife addressed Davey the host, who had a magical ability to continuously fill up all wine glasses. “It was sweet running into you this morning at your regular coffee stop and seeing you talk to all the regulars by name, like the old man at the table who looked like a veteran.” Davey chuckled and said that when in town his coffee routine never varies and that he enjoys the regulars but not his fellow Range Rover captains.
I said, “You know guys, in my neighborhood, I am one of those guys who the Daveys say hi to. You know, the one who’s always around, talking to Bud his neighbor or at the coffee shop with his cane and the cute dog.” And we laughed because it’s true. I’m the guy you’ll see lingering over coffee, talking or typing on his cell or having his dog do tricks for people, a piece of the local human furniture.
Another evening, I stood up after a long dinner at a neighbors’ house. Legs felt almost too stiff to walk, a recent downward trend. Sadness and fear rushed in, but they met a determination to walk up the hill with the dog. As the two of us walked up the hill, a dog buddy and the human she was walking appeared across the street. Jubilation for the dogs and a chat between us humans. Alex held onto both dogs as they strained to find a balance between getting up the hill to the park and playing with each other on the way. We talked about our summers, and then he took both dogs on a long walk while I made my way home slowly but with a smile and less stiffness.
Children fill much of my life these days. Wonderful children, growing into young women and men. None of them are in fact my own blood children now. Those are the three children who I can’t reach at all. After so many lost years and moments that will never return, my grief leaves me wondering how it compares to the grief of parents whose children actually die.
Every child I see is one of my own children, at whatever the age of the child in front of me. Not just all amber haired girls around 14. My daughters are also the toddlers in among pumpkins at our local nursery. Not just the young man on his bike riding by. My son is on every field at any age and game.
Not figuratively. Literally. Inside, my whole being lunges toward them as if they have come back somehow. A wave of anxious hope and joy that maybe the breach might all have been a bad dream. And then the fleeting waves of joy, some towering and some tiny, break upon reality’s shore. Here I am, not the least bit alone but wholly and what seems forever without my three.
These are glimpses of part of what makes up my community of now. I am a fortunate man, incredibly fortunate to have my stepchildren close and open, blessed beyond words by an exquisite partner, and surrounded by wonderful friends. On most days I can even feel fortunate to have ever had years with my own children, years no one can take away. Years which in the now mean that my community includes every child, every single one, who is for just one bittersweet moment one of my own that I lost. This ownership of past and bittersweet mixture with all children now keeps the hole from widening.
And compared to my rich warm now of real people who I can see and hear and touch, the hole cannot possibly sink me. I have gone where the love is, the most fortunate of men.
I love now.