“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies... Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die.
It doesn't matter what you do...so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.”
-ray bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
I define truth as anything you believe to your core. It doesn't matter what evidence or lack thereof is there; if you feel it in your bones, that’s all that matters. Disclaimer: Among all the “i” words I have used to describe myself, “incredulous” is not one of them. Here are some of the truths that have shaped my view of the world and are to blame for how I exist within it:
1) Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. (Something I always believed but that Les Mis was able to so eloquently encapsulate in one succinct phrase for me.)
2) Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
3) Heaven awaits me at the end of my days.
4) A heart that breaks is a heart that is genuine. Adamantine hearts do not reap the joys of susceptible ones.
I learned these truths from a teacher most remarkable. There is something truly magical about the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, and if there was a Truth #5, it would be that there are some lessons only to be learned through that sacred kinship. Though each of those above Truths was learned over the course of a lifetime in her presence, I can think of a very specific moment in which she taught me the value of having a heart that breaks. It was a late summer afternoon and my world as I knew it was over, for Oh Delilah the boy did not love me back. At 23 this is the worst kind of tragedy, you know. The only thing that brought any semblance of comfort that day was her. I called her and let my tears and grievances flow freely. And though she was miles upon miles away, having her on the other end of the line was better than having anyone or anything else in tangible proximity. She listened on as I disbosomed every cardiologic malady ever to plague me, cursing my heart for being so breakable, and wanting things so deeply, and for never being averse to ANYTHING. At that present moment, ambivalence seemed like a decadent indulgence only afforded to a elect breed of beings, of which I was not, of which I wanted to be. After she was sure I was completely depleted of tears, she granted her unrivaled comfort on my desperately despondent, if not positively melodramatic, soul. With a soft breath she bestowed Truth #4: “Someday you will be grateful you have a heart that beats so hard. Because some day you will realize that the world has so many things for you to love. How bleak an existence would life be with an ambivalent heart? My darling, your world will be so much richer, if you can just learn to embrace that ever-loving heart of yours.” And just like that, everything was warm again. She had, once again, painted my world with the a bright hue of hope.
Years have passed since that seemingly tragical afternoon. The wound she stitched up with her words that dark day has since healed and the scar is hardly traceable now. But what remains is the memory of her softness being the only thing that could mend my brokenness. And that is what she has always been for me. I have been blessed with a father who epitomizes the principle of unconditional love. And in his case, my grandmother is the tree that produced the apple which fell hardly far at all. Every little girl needs someone in her life to shepherd her far away from aphotic places like self-doubt and insecurity and instead take her by the hand and guide her to the effulgent pathways of which Impossible is not a destination. She did that for me, and not just that abysmal afternoon, but always. Perhaps it is only a discernment granted to the ever-peering and oh so biased eyes of grandmothers, but she somehow managed to see all the exquisite possibilities of what my life could be. She had this magical way of making anything and everything seem as if it were completely within my grasp, if only I would reach for it.
I lost this sweet paragon of womanhood recently. No one is immune to the lulls of senescence and it had been thieving her away little by little for quite some time until, finally, it ransomed her completely. And now, as Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, “the presence of her absence is felt everywhere.” My thoughts of her are peaceful ones, as my hope in a blessed life after death anchors me. What aches are the memories like that summer day- moments where the orchestral cadences of the universe all seemed to decrescendo and all that existed, all that was heard or felt, was her and her warmth. I think of moments with her and am simultaneously suffused with gratitude and grief, for how blessed I was to be a part of the world when she, too, was part of it, and how foreign the world now seems without her. Admittedly, there have been a few grim moments since her passing where I have questioned the earth’s ability to muster even a little bit of the magic it bore when she was alive. You see, her simply being a part of it made the world a beautiful place to be.
The thought has arisen that my future children will never meet her. As if the task of stewarding human beings wasn't daunting enough, I now must embrace the charge of creating a world for them where they won’t be forsaken the privilege of knowing her- simply because they didn't arrive here sooner. I suspect that when I tickle their arms and sing to them 26 reasons why they are loved (one for every letter of the alphabet), she will be there to soften my touch and sweeten my melody. When we play a raucous game of cards and I let them cheat, as they positively will seeing as how they will be born of me (more arboreal inclinations… Me: tree, Them: apples), I am sure she will be a visitant spectator. When their eyes twinkle with mischief and their laughs restore my hope in humanity, those will be echoes of her. My little ones will never get to comb her alabaster hair or hear her tender voice. But if I am soft, if my touch is gentle, if my words are the avenues by which they find their most remarkable versions of themselves, if I somehow find a way to make them feel that there is no safer place to be than sitting close to me, then they will know her.
How do we fill the aperture that is left by the passing of someone whose life was so instrumental in our own? When you can’t have them back, how do you preserve their existence? There is something that I have learned from trying to elucidate all this penumbra of loss, and that is this: though we can never have our loved one back, we can hold fast to the very best parts of them. Those very portions of their souls that they lent to us every now and again- we remember those and we cultivate them within ourselves, and that is how our loved ones endure long after they are gone. Perhaps the best way for me to honor my grandmother, is to tune my heart- that heart she always believed in so much- to beat the way that hers did. There are so many lessons I have learned from her, and not enough pages in the entire expanse of the universe on which to catalog them all. And I miss her. Oh, how much I miss her. But how deeply grateful I am that I was hers, and for the legacy of womanhood she has left for me. If my walk of womanhood matches even a fraction of hers, well then I will have exceeded the measure of my creation and done her memory a great honor indeed.
My sweet, sweet Grandma Honey, as she was aptly called, was the eidolon example in my life. No one was gentler or more accepting. She radiated kindness in every moment of her existence, her commodious heart ever-bestowing. Her life was not without opposition, but she championed each turn with grace. And I am part of what she has left behind. I am one of those things that she touched and was thus made different- better.
She used to tell each of her grandchildren that she loved us to the sky, and you know, there is something reassuringly, beautifully sacred about thinking about her loving me from that very place now.
peace and love.