Like an echo

Today we rushed out the door again to try and get to school on time. I don’t know, when I get the lunches made okay and everyone’s teeth are brushed, why I end up in the role of flagman, standing at the back door and waving a backpack or a boot, like it’s a square of checkered cloth. Move! Move! Move! Today was one of those mornings.

When we got to school, I stayed to help in the library with my son’s class. It’s a peaceful kind of volunteering. I don’t do much more than listen to the read-aloud, remind people to sit on their bottoms, and assist with shelf markers. Though today I got to read a picture book version of Star Wars, Episode IV to a knot of kids. The light was pretty in the library, as it always is, and perfect for accenting the foil details on each two-page spread; Obi Wan’s silvered lightsaber, a purple approximation of Princess Leia’s flickering holographic figure. That’s as far as we got before the teacher reappeared and everyone needed to be off to line up.

I came home and walked the dog. The sky had stopped raining for awhile so I circled the neighborhood, a travel mug in one hand and the leash in the other. I’m trying to enjoy things like this more, to drop into the moment instead of using the time to plan or worry about the next hour or two. It’s good to distinguish, as one of my professors once put it, between what is urgent and what is important.

By the time we got back to the house, I wasn’t cold anymore. I finished one assignment and started another. The dog fell asleep on his side behind me and, later, curled up in the chair for a long nap.

The other night I went out with a friend and we fell to the subject of grandmothers and -fathers. For a long time I’ve toyed with the idea of a “grandmother project,” an evening when my friends and I can bring pictures and tell stories about the women and men who’ve come before us.

The idea is resurfacing this week. Our family lost a dear friend to cancer on Monday, a man I’ve known since the summer before I entered junior high. He was steady and warm, always, and a person of deep but unaffected spirituality. My mom, my brother, and I spent some of his last days with him over the weekend. When we walked in, the hospital bed set up in the living room was raised so that he could look out at the leaves that were whipping around in a stiff wind, and at the blue and gray sky. It was difficult for him to speak and lucidity came and went like the tide. But he had the trees.

He was to the last what he was all along, a caring man. On Sunday, during a quiet period, my mom and I were sitting on the couch in the room with him, talking and flipping through books. She got up at one point and walked past his bed and cracked her toe, hard, on a chair leg. As she was trying to stifle a loud reaction, we heard, from the bed, where we thought he was sleeping, “Are you okay?”

Later, I thumbed through a book on Aikido from their library and saw this quote by Bruce Lee: “If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.”

As these things go, the loss has me thinking more about how to take care of the people in my life. On Saturday morning I have time blocked out to shred cabbage and pack the crock for a round of winter slaw we can give away as gifts. It will be therapeutic to tie my hair back and get my hands salty. And it will do my loved ones good to eat living, delicious food. I’ll combine green cabbage, onion, and salt, but I’ll also add some red cabbage, so it will be cheerful and celebratory.

11 thoughts on “Like an echo

  1. Thank you for your beautiful article and photographs. We are so thankful that you were here to be with us at this special time.

  2. Your mom is coming for dinner – I’ll hear more. What a time of grief, sorrow and gratitude for the example of a life well-lived.

  3. Lovely, contemplative post. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, but what an example of living well he left for you. Every time I’ve lost someone in my life I try to focus on the lessons they taught me. I hope you find comfort in doing the important things.

  4. Jenny – I loved your post. I had been thinking this week about my Grandfather’s favorite dessert, and how much I wish I could make it for him. Your Grandparents night sounds perfect.

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