Friday, September 21, 2012

Autumn ~A True Story

As they moved between the rows of gravestones, he asked his daughter if she knew what they meant.

“They are there so families can find their relatives?” she answered with uncertainty in her voice.

“True, true” her dad responded, chuckling. “But it’s more than that. It’s because these people once lived. Even though there are names and dates and sayings on the gravestones, after a while no one alive will remember any of the people buried here. But we show respect for them because they lived. And these granite monuments last a very, very, long time and represent eternity. But even they will crumble into dirt. Everything must finally die,” he finished, a sadness in his voice.

She leaned in and put her arms around his waist. “But you won’t die, soon, will you?” she asked, sincerely, looking up into his, now reddened eyes.

“I have no plans to! But I’m not in charge of that,” he said, returning her embrace.

For a minute they were silent, looking around at the stones and trees whose leaves hung on defiantly in the face of those early days in October.

Her dad broke the silence. “You know...” he said smiling, “I can’t really die, anyway.”

“What do you mean, daddy?”

“Well, there’s something bigger than death, something stronger, still. Do you know what that is?” he asked.

“God?” she answered.

“Yes. But remember, the..."

“…It’s love! It’s love, isn’t it?" she interrupted, excitedly. "Love is more than this. I remember! God is Love and nothing can separate us from God’s love."

“Yes! You are so smart!”

“Think about it…” he said, moving one arm in a sweeping motion as if to collect all the names and dates around them. “Every one of these people was once loved by someone. There was a day when their loved ones gathered around these spots to bury their grandparents, friends, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They would have cried and cried, knowing they would never again hold them again in this life. But even though most of these people are now forgotten by us, they are still loved by God and because of that, they can never truly be forgotten.”

“They can never really die,” she whispered, as if trying to keep this one, big secret just between the two of them.

In the quiet, he gently held her head close to his side, occasionally swallowing up her unbroken hair in his large hands while she kept her arms locked around his waist, this father and daughter, alone and keeping vigil for the remembered dead. Soon, a strong wind, rude and proud and blustering, arrived to shake loose a cluster of leaves from a nearby tree. Unyielding, these first fruits of autumn shot upward in an attempted escape before gravity arrested them and so began a reluctant, but inevitable waltz downward, toward the earth.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

When Dogs Die

Last month, Agnes died. They got her as a pup over 15 years ago and just a few days after a neighbor shot dead their beloved malamutes for "bothering" his sheep.

Agnes was gloriously red, energetic and fully devoted to her mom and dad, who also happen to be my parents. I guess that makes her my sister. But she was also very old, blind, and could no longer get around and it was clear that her time had come. On that August day, the vet came to the house and, with the ones she loved most in the world by her side, for one last time, Agnes fell happily asleep. Afterward, my father buried her in a deep hole he'd dug out back. They put a huge rock on top of the spot which will, no doubt, become a favorite jumping off place for the grandkids. I think Agnes would have liked that.

She had a good life and was spoiled in every way, but I know my mom's heart is broken so I wrote a little poem for her, and for Agnes.

"For Agnes"
I have never been a dog person
they take up my time
they need to be walked
my heart has chosen smallness
before such expansive giving
Someone will ask, "Do dogs go to heaven?"
"Can animals live forever?"
Foolish humans with their questions!
Heaven is Love
Dogs love.
that's what they do
that's who they are
(cats endure us! but dogs adore us)
why? why? when our rising is at best beneath them!
Certain lucky ones, somehow in the mystery
become the objects of their adoration
and the feeling bends to mutuality
which is evidence of divinity
look at my mother and her dogs
I have never been a dog person
but I may yet be!
my heart seems softer, larger now
on this saddest of days
because of Agnes
Agnes of the Lake