Wednesday, June 4, 2014

love that comes in softer forms

And when two people have loved each other see how it is like a scar 
between their bodies, stronger, darker, and proud; 
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or mend. 
--For What Binds Us by Jane Hirshfield


I sat next to my grandmother on the front porch of the Rancho.
We split a beer and watched the flowers blooming in front of the house dance in the drizzle.
The next day, we looked at old black and white pictures of my mother as a baby.
Seeing pictures of your parents when they were not parents is disconcerting. You look at their pictures and wonder what they were thinking, because they certainly weren't thinking about how to get your sister to her ballet recital and your brother to his baseball practice.
And they weren't worrying about how you were doing in your classes, and they weren't concerned about the washing machine that's gone on the fritz.
So what was your mother thinking about, as she sat so jauntily in the chair on her old driveway?
What thoughts were whirling underneath the antique 1960's baby bonnet?
These are the sorts of mysterious that get lost in time, and I think the answers to these questions are among the most interesting discoveries that human beings can find.
I sat on the front porch, sipping half a beer.
I must be losing all my tolerance, because I felt my tongue grow looser and a woozy sort of haze permeated the atmosphere, and I watched the tree branches sway in the stormy wind, while I listened to the sweet cadence of my grandmother's voice as she shared with me her stories.
My grandmother told me of when she and my grandfather went on adventures all around the globe.
Renée, she told me, if you ever find yourself married to a man who does not like to travel, this is what you do: and she told me of her first trip to Europe, to Lisbon, with my grandfather.
I have not been to Lisbon, but now I know I will go.
Then, she told me of when they used to sit out at the Rancho's pond and split a beer together after their day's work was done. And I think you learn what marriage is from hearing your grandmother tell you about splitting a beer together and from watching your mother and dad worry about the washing machine that's gone on the fritz. (Because they don't make washing machines like they used to, and this much-beloved Maytag relic is one of the good ol' boys.)
I thought of them when I listened to our pastor talk about his church. Because a religious community is made up of the people of God and the Eucharist, which are things that no one ever minds tending to. And a family is made up of children and parents (and sometimes animals), all pleasant and beautiful creatures indeed. It is easy to care about people and families and children, because these are beautiful and noble things to care about.
But it is harder to devote oneself to the less-than-glamorous aspects of shepherding one's flock, whether it be ecclesial or domestic.
Parish priests must listen to complaints about their homilies from the donors who give money for the new roof. They have to worry about new chairs for the altar and new prie-dieux for the wedding ceremonies, and making sure that the RCIA program is taken care of and thriving.
And they dream of new pipe organs very similarly to the way my mother advocates for a new sofa for the front living room.
Differently. But similarly.
Because all the boring maintenance of everyday life is a large part of the work of every religious community, whether it be a monastery, a parish, or a family.
Families are mysterious entities.
At their finest, I think they look like my mother doing dishes and me talking to her over the counter, and then realizing that this reminds me very much of talking to my grandmother over a beer.
And I realize that one day, my daughter will sit with my mother on the warm front porch of her sweet retirement home in the South and perhaps my mother will be reminded of talking to me.
The sort of love--ahaba, in Hebrew--that passes between three generations of women.
Families are mysterious entities.

My mother's family is filled with people--the women, mostly--who like to move.
Who follow where life takes them, who embrace the grand adventure.
My grandfather cannot move very far right now.
And so I came to him, to say goodbye.
And the words caught in my throat as I gently touched his arm.
And he said to me: I remember your house. I can see it now.
Yes, Da Bill, I said.
I can see it. I can see the road, and you turn left, and then you take a right, and you cross the--then there, that's a good place.
It's a good place, I agreed. It's a happy place, filled with happy memories.
And I am twenty-two, and all my memories are of places that I will return to.
Right now, I don't see things and know I will not go back.
But he is ninety-two, and he sees places from the past where he will not walk again.
And my eyes got all choked up, clogged with salty water.
Because the people who we love best we sometimes lack the words to tell them just how deeply they have fit into your life, and if they weren't there to fit in that hole, there would undeniably be a hole.
The words: I love you. I love you so much become harder to say the more you mean them.
As I looked at him, I saw him in the park down the road by our house. 
A good place. Full of happy memories of swings and monkey bars and all the delights of summer as a child. And I was glad he reminded me of that park and of summer days with him there.
So I gave my grandfather a hug, and responded that I was so glad I'd gotten to see him too.
Then I sat with my grandmother on the front porch and took a deep breath to calm my tears,
and I laughed with her, because the sort of love--ahaba--that runs through families is best expressed with warm embraces, laughter, and simple words that take a great deal of effort to express.

If we do not encounter love, if we do not experience it and make it our own, and if we do not participate intimately in it, our life is meaningless. Without love we remain incomprehensible to ourselves.
 --John Paul II, Washington D.C., 1979

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