There are now four eggs in the newspaper mailbox on the road above our house, and a phoebe sitting on top, giving them much needed warmth. I don’t read my mail because the big news is in the adjacent box, where four eggs may soon hatch. Various people tell me they read the sign I posted and stop to look. I do that, too, each time I pass, though I hate to disturb the hard-working parent or cause it to fly away.
“What about chipmunks? What about squirrels?” I worry with Lori, my housemate. “Won’t they go after the eggs?”
We reminisce about the baby rabbit, more dead than alive, that she rescued from the cold, wet grass in the back yard last year, brought up to her office and created a warm and safe crate for it. She started it on milk from a baby dropper and ended up with greens and hay before letting it go outside after a month.
Ahh, new life.
Ahh, new death. Today marked 30 days since my mother died. In Jerusalem the family unveiled the gravestone, said prayers, and then retired to a nearby forest to share stories and talk about her. She wasn’t on my mind much of the day, but now, come evening, I light incense and contemplate a photo of her when she was younger.
Someone said that loving other people involves seeing them as separate from you and at the same time as fully alive as you are. A human being with her own yearnings, her own dreams. Not how we often love, treating the other person as an accessory in our life.
We ask so much from those we love. What does it take for us to finally leave them alone, let them be? Does it take a stroke? Does it take death?
I’ve written before that what characterized my mother most was that she was a survivor, and that is what she taught all of us. It’s a great lesson, but I often feel I need to learn other things, too: How to be less vigilant, less concerned about what will happen, less anxious to manipulate time and energy to get what I want or need. I don’t want to live my life as though I’m constantly at war with somebody, or as if devastation is right around the corner.
Walt Whitman wrote:
Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.
Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again and nod to me and shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.
The headlines in the newspapers, the list of things to do each morning, the old routines, the way I fill my day—is that my holding a plank by the shore? And what happens if I let go?
It’s Sunday morning, 6 am, and I hear something squeaking outside my door. Squeak! Squeak! Squeak! In my sleep I think: Henry has a new toy.
Sure enough, I get up a little later, open the door, and Henry the Chihuahua rushes in holding a blue/gray stuffed animal with a long, thin body and short legs. A Dachshund?
Aussie comes up the stairs and rolls her eyes, as if saying: “We’ve been here before!” Every time Henry gets a new toy he waves it around in the air for hours, showing it off in front of everyone’s faces. Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!
This will go on all day.
Do I get annoyed? After a while, sure, especially when he jumps onto my lap and waves around the squeaky toy right in my face. Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!
The following conversation takes place:
“I have things to do, Henry.”
“I have emails to reply to, Henry.”
“Bills to pay?”
“Mail to open and soup to cook?”
Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!
That little dog has left the shore way behind. He has lost his way in the ocean of joy, in the squeaky kingdom of stuffed toys. The birds chirp outside, Henry answers: Squeak! The woodpecker knocks on the tree hollow. Squeak! He has an ecstatic answer for everything, shaking his new toy at the world and throwing it up in the air, then chasing it down. War in Ukraine? Squeak! School shootings? Squeak! Suffering everywhere? Squeak!
Long ago it annoyed me. Enough already, I’d think, time to get serious. Not anymore. I learned from Bernie’s death that when someone dies, it’s the idiosyncrasies and weirdnesses you miss, not what made them normal.
So, squeak on, Henry! Swim boldly, and squeak on!
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