Tag Archives: life

The Fadings

Mary Jo Egan Kilbourn

November 13, 1939 – April 5, 2017

     Our elders are the past who understood the world we were born into because they lived through it. By the time we understand the world, our elders understand it less, and usually by the time they die, it is as unrecognizable and confusing to them as the world was to us when we were born. And when they die, the past does not die with them. It fades.
     It fades in the slow, chemical decomposition of pigments in photographs. It fades in worn-out things requiring replacement. It fades in the uncountable moments we forgot of eating breakfast with them, shopping with them in grocery stores, phone messages from them we erased, papers from them we threw away and recycled, and the forgotten moments of normal conversations about making plans or just talking together about unremarkable things, because if they were remarkable we’d remember them.
     What remains is the curated distillation of them, but it isn’t really them. It’s the remaining distillations of those that came before them, which you curate further or catalog and file as museum archives, kicking the can down the generations, plus whatever you’ve saved of them because it reminded you of happiness, or comfort, or of the bond you now share with a ghost.
     You can talk to that ghost, but the ghost doesn’t really talk back. It does, but it’s what you think the ghost would say, not the ghost’s words. They’re you’re words. They’re words you tell yourself when you’re sad, or happy, or enraged, or melancholy, or joyous, or angry, or at peace, or terrified, or any of the other feelings that pass through a day like weather systems.
     Some of those words are like sunshine, warm and reassuring. Others fall like branches on your head during a windstorm, leaving you concussed because the sky is falling. Then the words fade, because they always do, and all that’s left are the emotions.
     Fear, anger, sadness, wistfulness, and million other emotions that vibrate in chords with a diminuendoing basso of grief that began as a siren’s ear-splitting wail. It fades sub-sonic and will punch you in the gut when it resonates in harmonic frequencies, boosting a resonant tone to where it bursts out of you in racking laughter or sobs, before fading into the background dirge echoing amongst the works and follies of all ghosts in chorus, indistinct.
     It’s music you chase through deserted cities, canyons, forests, beaches, mountains, fields of sunflowers, at the dentist’s, or anywhere else you find yourself suddenly alone. With the sound seeming to be always around the next corner or bend. But you never locate the source of it because the closer you come to it, the more it fades away until you stop searching for it. Then it blindsides you in the grocery, in the car, in the shower, under the covers, on the couch, while you’re out of for a run, sitting on the toilet, or preparing dinner, making you tremble as it catches you in its net and drags you under before fading and you can struggle up for air.
     Even faded, that past has weight. Each moment a grain of sand, which compresses into a slab of sandstone you carry until it, too, fades by weathering away back into sand and then dust. We carve our lives into these tablets, hoping to avoid fading, hoping some future soul will pick it up and dust it off, hoping we’ll be able to finish our lines in time.
     Over time, the shape of the land changes and what was once an ocean floor becomes a mountain and the mountain becomes the ocean floor, lifted by fire and then run down by water. And the animals and the vegetables and the minerals change and require twenty questions to identify, and one day we may join them in that game, if we’re lucky.
     But that’s okay. Uncountable stars, planets, galaxies, black holes, quasars, and other stuff we don’t know about yet have been born and then been fading away across the universe for billions of years and we don’t even know for certain if there are other creatures out there that have faded or will fade on those rocks or in those oceans. It’s just the nature of things. I have my suspicions though. Until and beyond when we know or never know, our fadings will ring the celestial spheres until none are left to hear.
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The journey

Upon the plane we cross
With nowhere else to go
Helped by icy stares
And cold indifference too
White-hot we travel
Borealis our guide
To find a darkened spot
And rest awhile to wait
For Spring’s faint dawn
And to fight the lights
That beckon us away
To see the ocean orb
From far away up close
And travel the gap’s mighty gulf
To beyond, where stars and beauty slumber
Eternally, until the last grain falls
And naught will be naught
But heaven’s final mote
Right now we hold on tight
And spin upon the Earth
Our time will come
The clock will stop
‘Til then we watch the stars
The cradles of the next
And listen to the joy of children
Happy in their homes

Narcoleptic Dream

Enameled azure sky domes.
Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of now red deathly ocean rain rest in cresting crystal seas of dust.

A terminal parabola falls, talons poised.
Life turns to death turns to life turns to shit falling in writhing, turbulent, splattering globules to nurture cloying, purple, nighttime cactus blooms.

Between the Plancks

Loudest at our silences
Amidst the lace of life
Fairies flit and caper
Exhorting us to join

The Measure

We have a measure of time that we beat to. When young, hearts pump faster to support hyperkinetic growth of the body. As we age, the metronome slows down, leaving us wondering where that tireless drummer went.

That tick-tock drives our subjective experience of time. It slows when we’re ramped up. It drags. Things never seem to end. But they do.

Then suddenly you notice it’s rushing by, the years smearing together and you become physically aware in your gut that you’re looking back over more than you’re looking forward to.

Unknowable is the fraction that is left, but I recently began to wonder when I passed half. Was it yesterday or decades ago? Has so-and-so’s laughter now really been gone longer than they were alive? When did they start playing bands softly in the background at the grocery store that I saw in loud concerts as a kid?

For the thousands of futures I tried on and discarded as a youth over the years, I try to live a new one each day. Unbounded by the silly ideas of what the broader future would be today of back then, a fuzzy future is the best gift I can give myself. It frees me from the sirens of the past that threaten to founder me in thought and feeling.

I can do anything. I can become the person I decide to be. Today. Now. Every moment that I’m paying attention is another opportunity to choose to listen to the present and to a future.

Some symphonies will remain unfinished, but their power is undiminished by lacking a coda. Our measures are wont to end mid-beat, so carefully work on each note because you never know when you’ll skip your final one.

Enduring Memories

My sister-in-law’s husband’s mother died last night, not unexpectedly.

I only met her once at a wedding, but I’ll likely never forget the day. It was one of those crystal-blue days last summer when the mountains were out and I had the honor of marrying my sister-in-law to this woman’s son on the shores of a sparkling Puget Sound. It also happened to be my birthday and my two-year-old son fell out of a beached rowboat onto rocks near the waterline at some distance from me and began screaming, prompting me to race across the cantelope-sized, slick, green, round seaweed-covered stones deposited in the last ice age. In my haste, I slipped, painfully jamming  a toe between rocks and began to arc downward. Fearing having my face smashed in by the combination of gravity and polished, slimy glacial till, I semi-consciously performed a somersault at the cost of a fractured rib, bruised shoulder and skinned right shin. My heart pumping with adrenaline,  I come upon my sandy, damp, and shaken son, none too worse for wear.

She was a sweet, kindly lady generally experiencing one of the cruelest ravages of old age but was apparently having a more lucid day, and I chatted with her briefly about her family and the Northwest after the service over fruit. I spied her husband at one point watching her with one of those longing looks that only those truly in love have. I last saw her sitting in her chair overlooking the Sound, talking with family.

It was a good day.

The news of her death made me think of my maternal grandfather’s death. I was working a contract job at Starbucks headquarters, sitting in an open cube eating my homemade bean and cheese burrito with sour cream when I got the call from my mother. I sat at the end of the aisle towards the interior of the building next to a busy hallway almost constantly populated with highly caffeinated, generally chirpy people. It wasn’t exactly the place you’d want to be with tears running down your face into your lunch.

I was mourning, but I was also angry and relieved. I was angry at death in general and my mother in specific, and relieved that a once-vibrant man whose light had dimmed significantly in the past year or two was now beyond worrying about his impending end. But I was mostly angry.

Angry that I wasn’t there for him. Angry that I wasn’t told he was that close to death. Angry that he left in the company of strangers instead of with family.

Angrily hanging up the phone, I took my leave and raced north on Interstate 5 to Lynnwood, risking a speeding ticket, hoping to see him before he was collected.

I was five minutes too late. His room was empty.

Chasing down a nurse, I learned the staff of the funeral parlor hadn’t yet left and I briefly considered finding them and asking to see him, but I felt that would be too maudlin and in the end, pointless. He was already gone before I ever left to see him.

It was a bad day.