Nothing changes. The bones of the mammoth are still in the earth.
As I was reaching for the sweet potatoes this evening at dinner, I glimpsed my hand and felt an inner stirring, an uneasy jolt of recognition. I saw my mother’s hand in the creased knuckles and bulging veins, the long fingers with squarely clipped nails. She has been gone for a number of years, and though intellectually I understand she is dead I still wonder, where is she? Vanished? Disappeared? Is that all? My grief over her death is mixed with my own inevitable non-existence; someday I’ll be dead and gone for eternity. When is eternity? Is it now, or does it begin after you die? I’m nearing 60 years old and I still ask childish questions.
I think of the scores of innocent people born into the world who are subjected to horrific abuse every single day of their lives. A baby tossed out a third story window. A woman raped with a rifle. A child held by the ankles and slammed against a concrete floor. All true stories…and scores more, day after day in this crazy complicated world. Why? Someone once said there are horrors that surpass religion…and even abolish it.
I experience sudden jolts of non-existence frequently. Logic does not deter me from understanding them in a satisfactory way; neither does faith. Likewise, I also cannot explain the sudden jolts of Transcendence felt in the presence of great art and beauty. Standing before the Raven Glacier or viewing an abstract painting, I’m instantaneously shot out of present time and the world shimmers. Temporarily. And the rest of my waking hours, if I am inclined to think about it…death…nothingness, I still feel separate and afraid.
Time is a great teacher but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.
We scattered my mother’s ashes in Eagle River, just as she had requested. I read “Cabin Poem” by Jim Harrison:
I’ve decided to make up my mind about nothing,
to assume the water mask,
to finish my life disguised as a creek, an eddy,
Joining at night the full sweet flow,
to absorb the sky,
to swallow the heat and cold,
and the stars, to swallow myself
in ceaseless flow.
It was a bright spring day, with Eagle Glacier reflected perfectly off the river like a negative photo image. I thought of the oneness then, and the paradoxical nature of human existence. Again, beauty saved me. Nature gave me comfort.
And I remembered mom telling me, it’s not that you ask the wrong questions, Monica; rather, you ask ones that have no answers. Stop asking and be at peace; but simply, I cannot.
Or I can. Temporarily.
My four siblings and I split up all of her belongings, one by one. We sat on the living room floor and as each object (my mother lived simply) was passed around, a story was told or a memory reflected. After the last piece of furniture was hauled away, we scanned the empty rooms and readied to leave. As I shut the door behind me, my sister turned and clutched my arm. “Wait, where’s mother?” she said.
“She’s in my purse,” I said innocently. Laughter burst forth like popping balloons.
In my purse, my mother was ashes in a box, she was in my purse, and we were laughing. It felt natural and right and so perfect.
And it still does.
The happiness of the drop is to die in the river.