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Entries in mortality (2)

Thursday
May292014

The Illusionist and the Thief

Nagging, anxious chatter in my head made it impossible to sit in the house over the holiday weekend. My team was at work, so I should be too. Deadlines. Notes. Doubts. Legos. Mama, will you play with me? Mama, will you play with me? Mama will you play with me? There's a friend in a hospital bed on the Front Range.

This is what shoes are for, so out I go and the air up there is like a Xanax. It unclenches you. For some reason my eyes and ears work better up there than they do in the city. Every bird in the valley sings in its own language, pay attention. It is a relief to do this, to notice what is here right now. Sprays of glacier lilies spring up in the marshy fields fed by the snow melt, a daytime constellation of yellow stars. In a grove of a zillion juvenile aspen trees I find an ant marching through a forest of tiny orange mushrooms on a downed log.

The mountains don't know it's the First Official Weekend of Summer. Here it is only now spring, and the valleys are the tenderest green. Later the sun will bake and harden all of this and the greens will deepen and the lilies will give way to heartier Indian paintbrush but now the colors are like an ache in me, because I know how short-lived this season is. Does the glacier lily think it will live forever?

The news came in fragments and Facebook posts. Hey man, you might want to Clorox down my edit bay. Doctor says I'm out for a few days. Pneumonia. Collapsed lung. Coma. Antibiotics. He'll wake up any time now, he's 43 and healthy, after all. And we are invincible.

Wake up.

Wake up.

(Insert snarky Facebook post here. He'll laugh when he wakes up.)

Wake up.

Back in the office us old-timers started to hug, worried. We grew up together, professionally. We are jarred and confused and scared for his family. And for ourselves.

I am a talented illusionist. I have a trick up my sleeve that involves creating a life that feels solid. Inevitable. Constant. I fall for it every time. We all do this, right? It's a sleight of mind that makes it possible to move through our days with a sense of meaning and purpose. We are durable and so we build things like friendships, families, television shows, careers, and homes.

Is this the delusion of the naive? I can't be the only one shocked when, as substantial as this life feels, it is revealed to be a tissue-thin veil disguising one real thing: we are fragile beings. We only get a short season.

Spoiler alert: He doesn't wake up.

Yesterday the news came. That's a wrap. And with that dark humor it's confirmed once again that he chose the right woman all those years ago. It's something he would have said.

This sensation of losing Mike is familiar. It is the feeling of standing on a high place, looking down. Your logical mind believes you're safe.  There is a solid bridge with hand rails, after all. But your stomach nervously knots up anyway, waiting for the unexpected lurch that throws you. This is why we need the veil, I guess. To settle the stomach. To make it possible to focus enough to use your eyes and ears and hands and build something.

Mike, I will remember you for the long, hard hours we put in together trying to build better stories.  I will remember your humor, your pride in your family and your big dreams. Your determination to take risks to grow stands in my mind as a pointed challenge. You were robbed, and so were we.

 May we all find peace.

Wednesday
Jun192013

Death in Summer

The geese at the lake are aggressive at this time of year.  They hiss and squawk at the dog and me when we run by in the morning, warning us not to come any closer.  Downy little goslings toddle in line behind their fearful mamas.

A June Friday night calls us to the lake on our bikes, three in a row.  Will rides the funny swing bike he just found on Craigslist, the one Ezra giggles at and calls the wiggly bike.  Ezra just proudly sized up to his Big Bike, 16 inches of rolling speed demon, and I ride the beach cruiser gifted to me last year.  Every time I ride it - often this time of year - I think of Jackie in her new life on the West coast, and Dylan, gone too soon.

Freedom hangs in the lake air on Friday evening.  No cars to avoid on the bike path.  The smoke from the nearby wildfires has cleared in the summer breeze.  Swings that go higher on demand, 'til your stomach drops out, your hair blows back, and you squeal.  The weight of another week lifts away in the clear golden light.

On the ride home toward dinner and a date with the DVD player we stop under a tree.  I notice first the several geese nervously shifting their weight back and forth, huddling near their goslings.  One goose honks plaintively, hovering over a baby convulsing on the ground.  Will and I urge Ezra onward, but he can't be pulled away.

Ez, let's go!

Rooted.

I don't want to get a first-hand look at life and death on Friday night at the park, but I guess that's what's happening.  I park my bike and go crouch by him.  From here I can see the baby gosling's intestines in the dirt, the plaintive mother goose and the baby's last twitches.

Why does that baby have a hole in him? Ezra wants to know.

I think an animal got his mouth on him, I say, probably a dog.  You know how animals have predators?  Well I think one hurt that baby goose.

The mama goose honks and squawks.

Why is that big bird doing that?

That's the mama and she's so sad because her baby got hurt, I say and the baby's twitching slows.   That's what mamas do.  If you ever got hurt I would cry and cry and I wouldn't be able to go on, I add, before realizing I don't want him to identify too closely with the disemboweled chick.  But I won't let anything happen to you.  I silently pray that this is true.  Let's extend for a while longer the fiction that mamas have the power to protect our children from pain.

Isn't there a doctor that can fix the hole in him?

Ummm, I don't know of any goose doctor.

Why can't Daddy fix him?

Daddy's really good at a lot of things, but I don't think he knows how to fix that goose, I say.

The goose is still.

Ezra is quiet for a minute and then asks, When it dies, is it dead forever?

Exhale.  Yes.

Why?

Because that's how it works when you die, I say, wondering if this is really true.  I am mystified by this last breath, this single moment that is the fulcrum between being and no longer being, the tipping point from which there is no return.  You can be so alive and then... not, with barely a warning.

Sit down, my friend Chuck said when he called me four years ago.  Dylan died last night.  And suddenly I couldn't breathe.

My brother's friend went dirt biking in the desert last weekend and never came home.  Search crews found his bike, wrecked, and followed his footprints for a mile.  They found his body lying peacefully, hand on his heart, his brilliant blue eyes open to the vast sky.  He was so alive, and then he wasn't, his last breath scoured by the hot desert winds.

Ezra watches the still bird at the foot of the tree carefully.  The honking has died down too.

Do you want to say a little blessing for him?

We are both puzzled about how this works, but I try.

Great Spirit, I offer, please help guide this baby goose through the transition.  Please help him find a place with lots of water and no dogs and no pain, forever.

Somehow it is enough for Ezra and we get back on our bikes.  The evening caresses us on the rest of the ride home.  It is the perfect night to be alive.