“Huh?” I said, looking up. I didn’t hear the question… and by now Marquita was growing frustrated with me.
But that was it. Focus.
I think of life.
And I think of life… the part of life that is like huge wheels and cams and gears… that part that is machine of concrete and steel and rust and steam and grease… Pounding, ringing, buzzing… that part that sends you bills and eats you up… that rips off your arms and charges you for bleeding on the floor. It is noise and it isn’t personal. And you know even on the good days, it is working on the list, working down the row. Life is hard and unforgiving, and not on any kind of human scale… It drones on with some unrhythmic tapping and creaking like screams and falling drums… Relentless. Persistent.
And I look at this canvas… filling the white on white, with some yellow ochre, and a wet brush… It is a background for another animal and I get lost as I spatter on some red… watching the drop run, watching the color spread– and I could be happy just leaving it all just like that. And I think about the eyes of the cat… the one that is supposed to go on the canvas… and I am excited to fit it all in… and keep some of that.
There was this guy… on Facebook messaging… he usually comes of kind of harsh- hates Obama, hates liberals… and can’t spell. He’s never really all that nice to me… And now he is talking about killing himself. And I don’t think of anything “Christian” to say… just, “don’t do that right now.” I’m not sure why he is talking to me. I think about the pictures in his profile with guns and guns…But he is telling me about these turns in his life… about some traumatic brain injury, and a back injury, and surgeries and pills and losing his job… and I tell him that my son took his own life a year and a half ago. And that is all I can say. Just don’t do it… not today.
Then the next day, he is still posting. So he didn’t go through with it.
And I’m listening to “Boys of Summer”… and tearing up. Even though that is not really what the song is about… but I’m thinking back… and listening to the drums and missing Ethan.
And there is life… that part of life that is a foot of leaf litter, decaying on the forest floor. Far above the canopy catches the clouds… and the drops fall to the mess that covers the roots. The fecundity of bugs and mold and worms… and dark rich soil that speaks of life. It is that part of life that is a cycle. Animals in the shadows… and this complex biology… It is blood and water and dirt and the sound of birds… and that yellow fungus growing on the bark of a dead tree. Ageless and eternal. Sunlight through leaves… where there is even beauty in what seems dead and rotting.
Every parent of grown children has moment when they “mourn” their children. When you miss the younger versions of them. The baby… the toddler… the child… And I miss boy Justin, just as I miss the boy Ethan. But the man Ethan… the future Ethan… he is also gone. I can still hold memories of school events… of parades and music… meals and vacations, and birthdays… and road trips… of learning how to ride a bike… of reading books… of standing at the door of his bedroom when he slept just to hear him breathe.
And there is life… that part of life that is people. That is my mother turning 89. This huge circle of friends. Family and everything that goes with it. And then a new person and a new relationship, and the strangers that fix your coffee. It is the kind words, and the people too busy to care. It is your network of coworkers… and the thousands of small interactions… the hand on the other side of the ocean that put your screen on your phone…
And some days are really hard. Even now. It is a journey… I think of Faith and Cameron and our hike up Half Dome. You don’t quit now. One more step and one more mile. And that hike is a metaphor for my life. You don’t give up. I can’t give up. Hold my head up. Lift my head up. The goal is still in front of us. And we can make it together.
And there is life… that part of life that is jobs and car repairs… and you get an education and pay bills, and buy groceries and there is a cell phone and internet and I don’t even know what is supposed to happen, because part of life is companies and banks, loans and interest, insurance, doctors, glasses… clocks and alarms. And the latest broken appliance. And there are rules that you follow. Get up in the morning. Go to work every day. And pay your bills.