Christin's Words from Sunshine Hill

If it is to be music
you must be present to it, must offer to it
a profound self-remembering.
-from Altar Music

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bearing Witness

My cousin, Shirley, and her daughter, Jan, visited for a few lively days. Led by talented Jan, the three of us recovered the seats of the piano bench and four chairs that go with the game table in the living room. They all look fabulous! I’d bought the fabric for something else, but one day just before the family reunion I set it on the piano bench I saw how perfectly it fit in that room. Tiny changes are taking place in this house, and they seem integral with the changes taking place in me.

Most of John’s things remain exactly where he put them. Four pair of reading glasses, different strengths, lie on the bedroom dresser. Small tools still decorate the railing by the back door. A pile of US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT gets taller on the end table by his chair. I continue his habit of keeping track of rainfall (we had about 20 drops yesterday but I didn’t put those down. It’s “measurable” rainfall he tracked).

As the time goes on I change only a few things. A large change, even if I consider it, seems a betrayal. I know it isn’t so much a betrayal of John as it is of myself. There’s a specific time, fashioned from external circumstance and internal readiness, that must be observed. Change at the wrong time (too soon/too late) rips tendon from bone---tears at what is deepest, what we often call soul.

Death makes witnesses of those who remain. Death lays time flat out, scatters time with the remnants of those whose essential being has made the passage into timelessness. I’m learning the necessary task of seeing, of recognizing in the remnants a kind of language. “This is who I was in time. This is who you loved.” To bear witness is a task much like prayer. A contemplation. An act of gratitude and praise. An honoring of the wholeness of another person’s life. Each track a person made, each object created and produced, each act of bringing order to what felt chaotic--the way he placed his things inside a drawer--all deserves time and an open heart.

Given time and witness, the remnants yield up their secret truth. The heart translates the language. The remnant, that object of expression, has served as it was meant to serve. The spark of John’s life’s meaning ignites in the witness -- a fire in my own heart. The moment of change arrives. I can give away the jacket, move the picture from this wall to that, go through the stack of papers on his desk, remove his FAA issued sunglasses from the console in the car.

Death frays the weave. Witness binds it up again with new patterns. How will it turn out? Does it matter? Love weaves love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gold Finches In The Sea Glass Tree

I woke this morning to a flock of gold finches decorating the sea-glass tree outside my writing room window. (The tree’s not made of glass. It’s an ancient oak. I’ve hung multi-colored bits of sea-glass from it’s branches to catch the sun’s rays.) I woke from a dream about John, and it took me several seconds to realize that the dream was a dream.

Since those first morning minutes of thinking that he needed me to pop right up out of bed and go to him, I’ve been pondering what the dream means. It had something to do with the Weber family reunion. I flew home from Denver yesterday. But in the dream I was still there. In the dream I was about to go to town with nieces Lisa and Diane when I remembered that I hadn’t called John during the entire three days of the reunion. They continued down a path through the woods while I borrowed nephew Jim’s cell phone. It was very high tech as phones go, and he needed to show me how to use it. (This is pretty humorous--for those of you who don’t know Jim--as he could well be the most high-tech person in the family. I guess I must be impressed by that.) John answered and he needed me. It was his heart. During the reunion something had happened to his heart. I ran up the hill to the car so I could go to him immediately. That was the moment of awakening and springing out of bed to go to him, only slowly realizing that it was a dream.

If you’ve been following this chronicle, then you may remember that John’s brother Dale died almost exactly one year ago. Afterwards his wife, Donna, told me that it was so hard to come back from a trip to the house where Dale had been so vital and present and which now is silent. Maybe there’s a clue to my dream in Donna’s experience.

The family reunion filled me with life and so much love for the Weber’s. Reflecting back on the experience, I think I found John everywhere--little reflections of him in everyone. And I also felt the strength of him inside me--meeting everyone as not simply “me,” but as both of us in one. It’s only in retrospect that I’m interpreting my feelings this way. During the time in Denver I simply felt absorbed in family, happy with family, in love with each family member. There have been many wonderful reunions, but never before have I felt such a strong sense of belonging.

There, in the family, John is alive. He is so alive, it is as though he’d never been sick. Did I forget for three days that he’d been sick and had died? Something in me did forget--as in the dream. For three days I didn’t call up in my mind the illness and pain that can so haunt me. People asked me over and over how I was doing--and what could I say? I felt completely WONDERFUL!

During my sleep last night, lying in our bed where John used to lie--in HIS spot, not my own--my deep mind remembered. Yes, we let the ashes of the three brothers--John, Dale and George--mingle with the wind and the waters and rose petals. We spoke beautiful words. We sang songs. We laughed and loved and cried some. But something in me still thinks I need to go to him, still remembers the suffering. It’s a matter of the heart, the heart’s passion. “Something happened to his heart,” said my dream. A paradox happened. “Death and life in a strange conflict strove,” we used to sing on Easter. “The Prince of Life who died now lives and reigns.” Life does not permit me to forget either side of the paradox. Maybe I do forget for a moment, for three days -- but the love is most whole when the opposites are reconciled.

The gold finches fly past my window and light again on the branches of the sea-glass tree. I do need to go to him, don’t I? Every moment that is where I’m headed. The dream is true. Something has happened to his heart. Something healing, something whole. Nephew, Mark, also had a dream. May I tell it, Mark? It is so beautiful, I must tell it: John came to him--young, smiling, strong. They talked. How are you doing? Mark asked John. “April--that was a hard month.” John said. “But I’m past all that now. I’m feeling fine.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

WINGS OF DAWN

It’s a smoky morning. Air currents are drifting over the southern Siskiyous from Happy Camp in California and bringing the scent of wildfire right to Sunshine Hill. Two firefighters died yesterday fighting one of those conflagrations. It was on the Medford news last night. They were, I think, from the Rogue Valley. I opened my heart to them and to their families and then turned off the TV to read. Suddenly our American authors are writing good literature again. I’ve been absorbing a new book every three days or so, something I’ve not done in years. While John was sick I couldn’t hold my focus on the page--not even on one sentence. Occasionally I’d find an author that could hold me on the pinpoint of his or her thoughts and images, but not often. And as John drifted closer to the end of his earth-life, my mind must have taken up residence inside him to intuit his wants and needs, and nothing could remain of me for books or even for myself.
This is a good sign, Christin; I told myself as I snarfed down the book I’d bought to take with me to the family reunion, and then picked up the alternate. This must be how you heal yourself. There’s wholeness in the beauty and order of a well written sentence. It’s a magic wand, a miracle of a thing. It touches the mind, and voila! I feel the shift of being in me. Annie Dillard wrote THE MAYFAIRS while I wasn’t reading. And Marianne Wiggins gave us THE SHADOW CATCHER. Ron Hanson took on one of my favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poems, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” and came up with the brilliant novel, EXILES. These and several others I thought I might take on the plane all have been consumed. So the other day after my doctor’s appointment during which I was declared healthy and with a clear mammogram, I stopped off at the used book store with a few paperbacks I’ll never read again (none of them among the above which will become a permanent part of my little library). I’d trade those paperbacks for some others that I could read during the flight to Denver. Almost immediately I found a new book by Mary Gordon--new to me, that is: PEARL. And what was this?: Sebastian Barry wrote a new book while I thought the good writers were holing up in their writing rooms with writer’s block: A LONG LONG WAY. Turns out the writers hadn’t stop writing; I’d stopped noticing.
I made my trade and walked out with the two books. They are in my carry on, ready to put under the seat on the small turbo prop out of Medford early tomorrow morning. First stop: Portland. There I have only 30 minutes to find the United flight to Denver. I’ll run. Also in my carry on are some of John’s ashes for our memorial. There’s a large abalone shell to mix his ashes with Dale’s and George’s before we scatter them. The last poem I wrote for him, an album of his pictures, and the words to “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” are packed as well. Weighed down with all that plus camera, iPod, cell phone, journal and personal items, the debaters in my mind have bets on whether I will actually “run” through the terminal! The voice that debated against taking my too heavy notebook computer won.
This trip will be my first alone since -- what is it the Hindus say? -- since John dropped his body. When the plane climbs through the smoke filled sky into the blue, I’ll think of all the flights of joy we had together, the flights towards clarity. I’ll think of the way aviation as a way of life for both my father and my husband has ended by giving wings to my own spirit. And I’ll breathe a thank you to the One who made all of this possible.