“If I am not afraid to die, then you should not be afraid to live,” said my oldest sister Linda. To write my book about Living after Death, I have to face my experience.
Approaching the equator, I am flying over a desert unknown to me, I can not see it from above yet I feel its magnified light radiating upwards. Like a bird in a warm wind funnel, I spread my heart’s wings and rise upward in the pillar of warmth. I call on the spirit of Gaia Sophia below me and send my roots down from the plane to the earth’s core, I call above me “eh Christo” and open the lightening wand that is my spine. Between heaven and earth I rise and balance in the eternal pull of both directions. It is glorious to feel a heavenward hover in my heart at this height near Tamanrassat. After a fear filled day of acknowledging that I am ill-equipped to help my kids further their education, and of feeling the panic of moving from my Spicewood country home to the city of Austin, it is a relief to have peace in the air at least for these moments. I sit on the edge of my airplane seat, an upright nail asking god to hammer me home. Plunge my point back into the earth.
Where am I to land? Where am I to land? I’ve been flying for 10 years now away from a day I never wanted to see. A day I foresaw that branded a mark so deep and searing into my soul that I thought perhaps I shall never recover. I shall never want to recover. I will be stuck in a mighty pain of loss that I can use to define my wretched self-pity as something nobler, as a widow.
To call myself a widow can be to cling to some badge of honor. Look world, I have loved and it was a mighty love. So mighty that I shall never recover. I shall work myself to death raising our four children alone and it will be enough work that I shall build an impenetrable shell around the ashes I call a heart. My love for my children shall smoke from me. I pray it doesn’t choke them as it does me. A phoenix cannot rise from here. I will pull every red plume as it manifests. Plucking the very life that tries to breathe again before it can exhale. No. Only inhales allowed here. Nothing but smoke can come out.
Where am I to land, OH God! I pledged full compliance, surrender and yet I take it back all the time. Surrender. Grab. Surrender. Stab at life like a rock climber. I just want a handhold, a foothold in this precarious, nefarious cliff I must scale. I cannot see the top, and I feel the luxurious resting place waiting for me if I fall. I will not look down. It sickens me. To look up dizzies me. To stare at this rock and search for holes big enough to fit me is my course. My children hang from my waist at different lengths, with different weights. They are beautiful as I see their freedom following us around, illuminating our way. I can imagine their futures as fatherless children. As brave, bewildered beings finding their way, remembering to play and to pray.
Can I have the same? Can’t I play again? Am I too old now with too much responsibility to know the joy of time spent not getting anything done? Can I find playmates? Can I not ruin our fun with my sorrow that grips each joy unlived?
“If I am not afraid to die, then you should not be afraid to live,” said my oldest sister Linda. She has been living through Stage 4 cancer for three years now. She lived longer than they predicted. Her death soon is certain. Daniel, her son who lived with me at age 15 when my husband died, is now beside her. And this early initiation into death’s company is well suited to his present call of duty.
Now a 25 year old soldier, soon to be college student, Daniel is the one entrusted to my beloved sister’s care. His “street smarts” have given way to “heart smarts” that grow from laughing through dying. He grew from his “Uncle Mike’s” sudden death, and then from volunteering for bedside dying care the next year for Servando (our Adopted Apache Elder), as he traveled about and eventually became a national guardsman and his dying mother’s companion. Hospice helper’s have charted Linda’s journey for Daniel to carry out like a mission. He said he is ready and so is my sister. I try to be ready.
Truly I am half a world away from her softly colored bedroom where I hope she has hung the Callalily painting I gave her for Christmas. Her home is in Kansas right now and I am flying to South Africa after a visit to Amsterdam. I departed from this Dutch world with an image of my childhood with Linda. The dutch were previously only known to me (and by “known” I mean “in my fleshy presence seeing and feeling,” different from knowing by studying) by the little Dutch girl painting Linda painted from a quilt I think. There on this present trip, I saw in the old and rusty bicycles sauntering around the canals (with many a child on the back) the dusty road she and I traveled by bike in Laredo. My adult eyes peered into the darkness lit by Rembrandt and into the light colored by Van Gogh’s darkness.
What is the right action to take from here? “LIVE Rosita” Linda would shout. Would a postcard of a penguin make it to her before…well you know… before she can’t open her eyes anymore? Before her earthbound soul opens from dying’s naked dignity to pure majesty. I will pick a penguin postcard and send it . I will take a lot of pictures of them and send them too.
Linda created a wooden penguin for my family to hang as a winter decoration. She painted it with the peaceful, loving detail one can only find in a rare corner of a craftshow. Each painted stitch on it marches along as an unhurried, tiny, orderly ant. Its humorous expression delights me every time I spy it. Because it cheered me so, for many years after Mike died I couldn’t put it away after Christmas, even late in spring it still hung with its painted face smiling at me. She never knew how such a humble, handmade gift could reach into a world made crazy with grief.
Painting would return again as my comforter years later. Linda is my earliest memory when I smell oil paint or turpentine. We both loved it. Precariously, she regularly gave me a pump on a bike to my first oil painting lessons when I was six and she was fourteen back on the air force base in Laredo, Texas. My scabbed knees and her fair, sunburned cheeks kept a steady pace on the bike in the searing heat. It was really too long of a ride to lessons as I remember, yet we ventured on and in my innocence I recall her chiding me to keep still and not knock us off balance like I did two years earlier getting my left foot stuck in the spokes going downhill on another air force base in California --back when I was learning to read and pondered what it could mean to read silently like Linda. I would pretend to read silently with my finger tracing the words. Now in Laredo I felt so special to have permission from the art teacher to join the high school aged class. Linda so graciously allowed and even hauled me along, teaching me to paint by her side, opening my vision to a form to express itself through. Even then I could see and portray light and shadow.
Light and shadow. The edge of one defines the other. To know light is to know shadow.
My ankle still carries the scars of that bike wreck. Her ankle carries the tattoo of the phoenix.
POST NOTE: Linda passed over later that week. I love you Linda!!!!!!