Keeps Them Going

I HAD TO LISTEN IN ON THE PHONE CALL HE WAS MAKING

to talk with a woman whose husband had been newly-admitted to hospice. I needed to hear how he did that part of the process because, you know, there are protocols and questions that have to be asked, because of the funding. The only thing is that when someone has been married for 60 years to a person they've known for 70 years, they're not much interested in protocols. They want to tell you about how he was the man who held the fire extinguisher in church every Christmas Eve ... just in case ... just in case one of those candles that everyone is holding ignites something it shouldn't. How this year he couldn't do it and that was really hard. They want to tell you that they don't know how things will be when he's gone, when he dies ... but we'll get through ... somehow, we'll get through. They want to tell you how he took care of the town roads all those years. He gets people out on the road and keeps them going each way, she will say, making you laugh a few seconds after she made you cry by talking about meeting him when she was 15 and he was 17.

You imagine, sitting there in that office situation, what that was like, to love someone for 70 years. What that must be like to know that pretty soon they will be gone.

The funny thing was that I had been thinking about the road crews on my way to work that morning. Because the plows have been everywhere all the time for the past few days, clearing and sanding and clearing again. The roads and the parking lots. In the wee wee hours of the morning they do that, so that the roads will be ready for people like you and me when we have to go somewhere. And I was thinking about writing something about how grateful I am for those people. And then a little while later in my day she said that funny thing about him keeping people going each way.

I mean I guess that's what we do, right, we keep going. She was stoic and resolute. And also teary. She was a classic old time Vermonter, with a great accent and a voice that belied a lifetime of work and devotion to family and church and community. Her neighbors, she said, were taking good care of them; her family was close by.

I don't know. I really don't. This world is very confusing. For some reason Sam thought he needed the iPhone 8 plus and Coco needed a Chance the Rapper hat. I guess I was the same. I needed orange Levis corduroys when I was them. Desperately. These funny things we think we need.

Still, I can't stop thinking about her. And the way it must feel to watch someone you have loved for 70 years inch closer to death. The life they must have had in the small town where they live. It's not nostalgia, I don't think it is. It's reverence that I feel. Yes, I'm worried about all of it: the online crap that makes us all unhappy and fills our hours with nothing. The buying, the discarding, the sleight of hand this life plays, distracting us from what matters.

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I don't want to have to make my own butter or sew a dress from the curtains but I do think it's better, it's a better idea to give the best gift that we have, our time, our attention, to each other.

 

DAD TURNS 79 TODAY

Last night nine of us gathered back together after a long day moving in different directions, grocery shopping and cooking and baking and working and playing, and had some chili together. Then we watched a movie. That's a pretty great thing, a living room full of family watching a movie on a chilly winter night. Today they're going skiing and I'll head back to work and then we'll get back together again, for fish stew. Mom's going to make that. I'm going to pick up a cake, because my sister turns 50 tomorrow and then Quinn turns 19 and then Coco turns 13. More eating, more talking, maybe another movie.

I cannot love them enough while they're here, from Alaska and Oregon and Montana and Nevada. I can't believe who our kids have become. They can make the computers run faster and hook up the blue ray in ten seconds and make cornbread and haul firewood. It's the Wow stage of life. They're in school, on their way to becoming something in the eyes of the world, but in this moment, they're totally Wow to me.

Mom and Dad made four of us. The four of us made nine of them. They will make more, we will die. They will have babies and bury the ones who came before. It will happen, it's not a secret, it's nothing to be ashamed of, we die. But we have babies, too, that's the good news. And in-between ... fish stew, birthdays, candlelight, the road crew, each other. Amen.