Life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line — you have your own interior world, and it’s not neat.
~ Patti Smith
Beginnings and endings are rarely tidy as this New Year’s Eve reminds me. Again, I ponder how best to pack up the stuff of the past twelve months before stepping into the new year. Just begin. Pluck out a memory, wrap it up, put it in the box, and move on to the next. Handle with care. It’s the perfect day for it, New Year‘s Eve, a day designated for wrapping things up, for reminiscing and resolving; for Auld Lang Syne and kissing strangers; for holding on and letting go. For loose ends. For fireworks.
It’s not tidy. I find myself returning to 2013, the last year we spent as a family, to a certain sure time when we were three instead of two. Like lightning bugs, the memories flash. Ken tapping his feet at a Fleetwood Mac concert, marveling at the genius of Lindsey Buckingham, wondering what Lindsey must be on and if he could get his hands on some of it. Then my fiftieth birthday and my bare feet on the wood floors that had finally been installed and Ken hoping it would be enough if our little house in the desert could at least feel like my mother’s Castledawson living room underfoot. Paints and an easel, an artist’s supplies for Sophie’s summer college class. Binge-watching Breaking Bad to escape the heat of late summer in Phoenix. A September Sunday and the three of us watching on my computer screen an animated film in which a frail yet fervent 83-year old Maurice Sendak gives his final interview, each of us in tears when Sendak tells the interviewer,
Almost certainly I’ll go before you go, so I won’t have to miss you . . . Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.
Ken squeezed my hand at that part. If I try really hard, I can almost feel his fingers intertwined with mine. I wonder now if he maybe thought Mr. Sendak was speaking for him too? Now the tears come. But wait. Another memory and a smile. He with a wink, “So, baby. Are you ready for Tony and the boys?” every night at 8PM when HBO re-aired the entire series of The Sopranos.
In an instant – unthinkably – big, invincible James Gandolfini was gone. And then Seamus Heaney. And then Lou Reed. Lou Reed. Ken didn’t want to talk about Lou Reed dying. My darling man must have forgotten what Lou knew – that we cannot have the magic without the loss. Two weeks later, Ken would be gone too. And, if I could have just one more conversation, I would tell him that it is all going to be alright, because losing him and the pain of it will never trump the magic. Never.
Tomorrow, our girl and I will step into our third year without him. I find myself holding my breath, a tiny bit afraid of what might be around the corner. The roller-coaster cliche still does the job.
Barrys Big Dipper~ Photo by Adam Shaw
Remembering my first time on The Big Dipper roller-coaster at Barry’s in Portrush, I close my eyes to better see myself once more hurtling through the North Atlantic air. Young and carefree, curls wild in the wind, mouth agape, eyes squeezed to block out light and noise and fear, I am half-hoping to stay aloft forever. At the top, breath suspended, I wait for the world to fall out beneath me. A sudden plunge at shocking speed has me thinking I am surely plummeting to my own death. But not yet. There will be more twists and turns, above and below. White-knuckled, I am clinging to the bar, only half-believing there is enough life in the clickety-clacking, old machinery to set me down again on solid ground. When it’s all over, I’m ready to go back to the way I was, albeit a little green around the gills, unsteady on my feet. As he helps me out of the car, I hope no one but the weather-beaten carnie can tell I am not as confident as once I was.
This New Year’s Eve finds me settling – at last. I am somewhere between Tom Petty’s”Learning to Fly” and Robert Frost’s lovely “Birches.”
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
Neither do I. Nowhere would it go better than a place where I can find myself held up, daily, by the kindness of people who have and haven’t walked in my shoes, who acknowledge my pain, who abide. People who know a thing or two; people I may never meet but who hold me in their thoughts and prayers, who light candles for me in faraway places, who say something even when they know not what to say.
Writer, Ted Kooser, says that life is “. . . a long walk forward through the crowded cars of a passenger train, the bright world racing past beyond the windows, people on either side of the aisle, strangers whose stories we never learn, dear friends whose names we long remember and passing acquaintances whose names and faces we take in like a breath and soon breathe away …”
Ready to step into 2016, I find myself in between two cars, aware that I still have some distance to travel. Forward. And I am ready for it.
But there are still so many cars ahead, and the next and the next and the next clatter to clatter to clatter. And we close the door against the wind and find a new year, a club car brightly lit, fresh flowers in vases on the tables, green meadows beyond the windows and lots of people who together — stranger, acquaintance and friend — turn toward you and, smiling broadly, lift their glasses.
For reading, for remarking, for taking a step or two on the hard road with me. Thank you. We are forever bound in a human chain.
May 2016 shimmer for you and yours.