When I was a girl, the women in my life would check out with the bottle. One would drink for an entire weekend at a time. Another would start each afternoon with cocktail hour. Others drank here and there until incrementally, here and there became always.
It’s in my DNA, I suppose, this meeting of grief and anxiety and hopelessness and overwhelm, by turning away.
This may be why assisting a meditation program always gives rise to some measure of terror inside. And why, after pushing a few other envelopes of late, I’ve retracted. With sugar. And caffeine. With Netflix. And late nights.
The rocking of the seasons. Inside and out.
So let it be.
So, let it be.
So, let it, BE.
May I be rocked. May I be soothed. May I be courageous. May I be transformative.
From 7 acres on a backroad in the Green Mountains—north to the great sea of Lake Champlain in the big city of Burlington—south to the Berkshires in a the middle of snowstorm—and finally across the mighty Hudson and down to Exit Zero on the GSP at the southernmost tip of the Garden State where I was born.
So many places, spaces & faces that feel like home.
This time next week she’ll be 92.
There she is coming to meet me at the ferry in Lewes, Delaware, waving as I come down the stairs through the terminal.
When I was a girl, foot passengers walked right across the boat ramp as I did on the inaugural crossing in 1964 (in my grandmother’s arms.)
The Ferry & I turned 50 a handful of years back and now we’re headed toward 55.
I miss the smell of the old wood pilings and the faded hues of the old ships, but some things haven’t changed–like the way the Captain’s horn startles me and how a loved ones wave quickens inside and how the wind on my face at the bow welcomes me home as the world recedes from view.
I’m not one to find a loved one in a cemetery but sometimes my car goes there anyway rembering a well-worn path And once there my heart spills open so that I can love more fiercely again.
I wake before dawn with the full moon of Thanksgiving setting in the West and all my resilience spent with night’s regret.
And still, I rise toward the sea and wait as morning painstakingly breaks over the Atlantic, seeping like lava through a dark bank of clouds that stretches north and south across the horizon.
This is what it is to stand in the center of one’s pain, grieving what has been lost and what has been taken and what may never be.
Will I turn away in the bitter winds or will I remain still until the orange light unfurls beneath the darkness, reaching like a hand across the icy waters toward the shore.
“Stay,” she says, and in so doing, the light now golden, rises above the illusion of a hardened sky meeting all that has been hardened inside.
This morning I noticed that the faucet in the hotel room shower reminded me of those cow skulls you see from places like Arizona.
“I’m afraid of places like that,” I say to myself, as water pours over me. “They’re too dry.”
The more I age, the more I need water nearby.
And then I think about the sea vs. lakes and streams, and I consider where I want to live at the end of my life and where I want to die.
My mind flashes to the space where my Mom lived out her last days–in a hospital bed in her living room, surrounded by windows, a block from the bay.
“I want to die there,” I think, which is absurd because I never lived in that house and my mother’s estranged husband lives there now–with his girlfriend and her kids. (I would call him my stepfather but we went to highschool together. He was my boyfriend’s best friend.)
“Do you mind if I die here, Dan?”
It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen in my family. My father, the surgeon, was the one to pronounce my mother dead in the livingroom of the home she shared with the man with whom she left him.
I left them all a quarter of a century ago for the mountains which is where I now live on a canopied road that runs alongside a brook.
My house sits above a pond belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception where I celebrated my 50th birthday 5 years ago next week.
A good friend from highschool came up from the shore for that weekend; it was her first time in Vermont; and last month, her husband came up with their oldest son to spread some of her ashes on the water here.
If I were to die like my mother, with time to consider such things, I suppose I’d welcome a view of the Atlantic. I was born beside that sea.
Mine was a December arrival, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is funny because my parents got pregnant out of wedlock like Mary and Joseph, and my father was a Jew (His grandfather was anyway) which is why the Catholic Church refused to marry them even though my mother was a Catholic born on Christmas Day.
Hate hides in so many places, fed by fear and superiority as if “All Men Are Created Equal” is not self-evident but something that has to be, in each generation, proven.
The Sisters of Mercy tended my mother’s labor at their hospital across from the beach in Sea Isle City so if not the beach, then maybe I could die in some house of Mary, like the one across the pond from me in the Green Mountains–the summer camp belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Some find my absorption with death maudlin or worse—premature—as if there is the promise of tomorrow for any of us.
My sister died beside a pool. My grandmother on a bridge. My mother beside the bay windows. All in their 50’s. The first two by total surprise; the last with two months warning.
I suppose if I outlive the lot of them, I’ll be reborn. Last week I took the ferry across the Delaware Bay to visit my great-aunt ahead of her 92nd birthday.
Her mother, my great-grandmother lived into her nineties too.
“I’m ready to go,” she’d say when I’d come to sit beside her as she woke from her afternoon nap.
I massaged her legs under the blankets in a hospital near the sea in the days leading up to her death.
Born a Jefferson, my great-grandmother’s people go back to the 1700s in Delaware and Virginia. I imagine she never questioned belonging, though being born female in 1898 meant she wasn’t considered equal in any way–not with regard to property, opportunity, representation or even bodily autonomy.
Some things haven’t changed.
Belonging seems essential to living and dying, doesn’t it?
I suppose no matter where I die, I’ll carry the sea with me inside.