I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, diverse and indivisible, created and preserved by the love and labor of indigenous people, slaves and immigrants for their children and their children’s children as one nation with freedom to worship, to love, to marry and to seek the truth and insist on its telling and to preserve this fragile earth with respect, liberty and justice for all.
Nothing says elder like grab bars installed in your shower and tub to keep one from slipping when soapy and dripping and hitting the floor with a thud. Nothing says senior like sneakers worn with any and all sorts of dress to keep one from wobbling ungracefully hobbling though safe, not designed to impress. Nothing says ancient like groaning every time one gets up or bends down and the need for a prop to help pull oneself up lest you’re stuck all day long on the ground. Nothing’s as lovely as living long enough for what’s listed above letting go of the strife and arranging your life with a focus on those whom you love.
She is sixteen when leukemia claims her a girl of nut-brown hair and letter sweaters the brightest star in the local firmament. She outshines her brother even in death. The church overflows onto Route 12 the April afternoon of her funeral. She leaves behind a mother, a brother, a father. Each evening the family sits at her graveside as if awaiting benediction. That summer her friends bring picnics to her grave. The red votive lamp on her headstone is always lit. It shines in easy view of the family’s kitchen window and glows warmly through blizzard, rain and star shine. Deer walk daily through the churchyard years sift down like snow. The son graduates, moves to Bradford. The father works and works and works. The mother sits by the glowing lamp. Deposit Photos Image 124351762_xl_2015.jpg
If I call myself Beloved I cannot trade my life for trinkets. I must not pursue more than my due. I may not treat my body like a dumpster. If I call the stranger Beloved I cannot smash his head with a bat. I must remove my hand from his pocket. I may not force myself on his wife. If I call the earth Beloved I cannot mine her oceans. I must not poison her air. I may not abuse her wildlife. I become one with the moth on the screen, the mouse in its nest, the hawk in the sky.
Why so many rules, Shepherd? Have you no faith your flock will return Wiser and grateful for your fences Glad of food and shelter? Our boundaries are our own Close or far, sharp or smooth Set by instinct, fear or faith Curiosity or passion. Not all live long Some return their bodies early For soil to recycle but Matter abides - ours and theirs. And what of spirit? If the world wastes nothing Do not spirits too persist Awaiting their next vessel?
It’s hard not to love the world. A small boy at Dunkin’ Donuts all blue eyes - tousled hair curls his toes on the rung of his chair waves at me through the glass. Leaving Dunkin’, one dad holds the door for another as his daughter spins in her red skirt and her dark curls fly in a little girl’s flirt. Saturdays with her dad. How can I not love this routine weekend trips with children? Media so rarely features bliss, family outings, courtesy better than a kiss is the kindness and joy that hold us here.
Forty-year old men have grace unseen in younger men, however fine. Their depth of voice and solid stance shivers my spine. With shoulders for children and eyes for business, tortoise shell glasses for slight correction, they give and also take direction. Aware that stamina won’t trump skill they accept the limits of their will. They’re fathers, lovers, friends of substance with minds like rooms, ideas abundant neither peace nor conflict rocks their stride. They step out boldly or move aside. I could watch, enjoy them by the hour, those thickened backs and thighs of power. I love their jaws with new grown stubble their easy way approaching trouble. I sigh remembering a lover - forty years in the making - one afternoon in the taking.
At 72, it takes two tries to get each foot into my jeans. I wobble and catch myself against the closet shelf. At 72, I nap each day enjoy my dreams scary or complex, puzzles to ponder in waking hours. At 72, it seems absurd that I remember a child’s great great grandmother. I'm a walking history text. At 72, my 87-year-old friend says I am young. I should not fret but get to work. I have another 20 years. At 72, I think of poems unwritten, songs unsung and return to my desk. The day is young.
Truth runs thin in homes diluted by pills and alcohol. There’s no hook to hang your hat upon, no rock on which to stand. Mothers park along the driveway at school’s end. Our Buick sits cock-eyed across the curb. I long to be like other kids, but know I’m not. Vodka bottles line the linen closet - a fully-feathered duck rests in the freezer. I show it to my friend. The puppy ate mom’s sleeping pills and will not wake again. School is worse - so many faces whose chatter makes no sense to me. I am not them. Sunday’s comics fill me with dread. There’s no vacation from fear, only blank days that stretch ahead.
The Lord’s Prayer went missing today on my knees no words to say. Often a name, a place evaporates as I reach for it. Whole chunks of books I’ve read when opened, I’ve lost the thread. I used to drive with knowledge sure of roads from today and long ago my sense of place, a source of pride. That map in my brain is gone. This troubles me. It isn’t clear what’s normal. What I should fear. I trust the journey - friends, family, God and if I must – will seek in books, maps, stories, prayers to fill my lips and ease my grip upon this world and what remains – the precious gift of days and hours, I ‘ve yet to claim.