I woke up Monday morning, the Fourth of July, and immediately thought: If Bernie was here, he’d ask me in mid-morning: “So, what do you want to do today?” Of course, he would have been up around 4, as he was every morning till his stroke, taken his bath at 6, and gone out with the dogs for a “cigar drive,” maybe filling his car with gas, maybe buying a donut, trying to come up with an errand. And at some point, maybe over coffee in the kitchen, he’d say: “So, what do you want to do today?”
I would probably mumble something like: “Nothing special, do some work,” and he’d say: “Today? On the Fourth of July?”
And if he was around, still healthy and unstruck, I might say: “Let’s see the Tom Cruise movie, you know, Top Gun 2.” And he’d say: “Good idea.”
In that spirit, I went to see Top Gun: Maverick. Every once in a while, I like to get up to speed with American popular culture, want to see what all the fuss is about. But mainly, I went because I knew Bernie and I would have gone to see it. He loved action movies, big car chases, and lots of shooting and killing. I imagined us going to the movie theater, me grabbing a bag of popcorn, he something chocolate or ice cream. I’d make sure to come early enough to see coming attractions, which is often my favorite part of the movies, and when the movie finally began he might put an arm around me for a few minutes, and we’d stay perfectly still for the entire movie till the very end, when he’d say: “So what’d you think?” And I’d tell him in many words, he’d respond in a few words, and we’d leave the theater.
That’s why I went to see Top Gun: Maverick. I loved it. Not the macho pilots or the sexy military hardware, just the terrific flying and fighting scenes against very dramatic landscapes. And even as the pilots were so young (other than Cruise), and even as Cruise himself looks better than ever at the age of 60, there was clearly a generational shift going on. I appreciated the earnest, innocent patriotism and the many American flags that pepper the film because cynicism, about anything, is not for me.
After his stroke Bernie had a hard time with action films that had a lot of bloodshed. That had never bothered him before. We’d see a film he used to like, and if there was too much blood he’d look at me at the end and demand: “Why are we seeing this?” I would respond in surprise: “You always liked these movies, that’s why.” And he’d say: “I don’t like them anymore.”
My husband became so sensitive after his stroke. He wanted to love everyone; almost nothing else mattered much anymore. If I’m happy about anything in that difficult period, it was to know that caring for him enabled those changes to take place and be witnessed by many people.
But yesterday there was no Bernie to say: “So what do you want to do today?” when I came down; I’m still figuring out how to pose these questions to myself. I’ve been a slow learner all my life, now more than ever.
With my housemate gone for the long weekend, there were only the two dogs and me, so we went out mid-morning, following a path we hadn’t been on for a long time. Turned off it to the right, then made another right and climbed, and suddenly, in the middle of a clearing, was a tepee made of canvas and stretched on wooden poles. The door opening faced east.
Instantly I thought of the Zen Peacemakers’ Native American Bearing Witness retreat that’s taking place this week in South Dakota. I looked up at the tepee and wished them well, then thought how wonderful it was to come across this, in a clearing in the middle of the forest, on the Fourth. If not for the canvas covering, I might have thought it had been here since those early centuries, before the Fourth meant anything. Then I remembered that tepees were mostly made of buffalo skins and used by the tribes in the Plains, not in New England woods.
Henry was there with me, but Aussie was gone, dashing back and forth, chasing deer. And I wondered if that’s what the Fourth means for many people, what America is about: Run run run, go where your heart takes you, beyond the frontier, reach for the heavens and chase the stars (or deer, in Aussie’s case). There is something very exciting about that vision and we evoke the great individuals who did just that, be they explorers of this continent or founders of high-tech industries who left college to start a whole new computer age in their parents’ garages.
That was Aussie’s version of the Fourth, while Henry stayed by my side, sniffing the wildflowers and the roots of spruce trees, content to be dwarfed by the pines and massive boulders lining up the sides of the gorge while I gazed up in awe. And in that spirit, I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the money you sent to help the immigrant family whose father was deported and to send six children for 3 weeks to day camp this summer. With the money we got, I texted Jimena that we could send a few more if needed, and I will let you know.
“This is the Fourth for me,” I told Henry. “Big big hearts.”
“Just not big fireworks,” the little dog said.
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