I’m sure you didn’t think I’d be starting my morning reading the email you sent containing your will. But I must say I liked this better than the time we started our family road trip to Colorado by Dad saying to Eric and me, “So I brought a copy of our will for each of you.”
“Dad!!!!” Eric and I retorted, laughing that within our first five minutes of us all being together, you were referencing a time when we would not be.
“Well we all gotta die sometime!” You responded, continuing on with a humorous remark I’ve since forgotten. You never lost your sense of humor, as this updated version of the will says in writing, “You have to have a sense of humor while taking about death, otherwise it is a drag to talk about. This is all to say my own truism: No work, no pay. No die, no money.” You always met life with a sense of humor, and it’s slowly been my coping mechanism to anxiety as I learn to emulate your lightheartedness.
Reading your will was a healthy reality check, although I’m not a late twenty-something who lives in denial of death. The growing lines on my forehead from my days of not using sunscreen as an 18 year old lifeguard remind me, too, that I am getting older and by now, I’ve had a few brush encounters with death’s shadowy presence. A couple serious car accidents, Mom’s ICU hospitalization in 2013, and Grandma’s death in 2003 all remind me that no one, myself included, is exempt from the strange process of leaving this Earth.
So I read this document like a memory book, each line drawing me back to memories of you watching me jump off the diving board for the first time, of volunteering with Special Olympics, of tirelessly raising a child with special needs while your other two children fought over sharing toys and ice cream. Of bike rides, runs, the time you put your hand on my shoulder and pointed up to the Milky Way. The time you drove down to DC and sat down with me one Saturday night, telling me stories of your life “BC” (before children) as you called it.
And now those stories, this document, have me picturing what it must be like to be you. To be reaching the part of your book where there are more pages written on the left than unwritten on the right. And the awkward death thoughts and scenarios too, like which one of you might die first, and how, and suddenly I feel like I’m speaking in a language I do not know; one I’d never willingly choose to learn. I must say this document has made the prospect of learning that language feel like it will be easier to navigate once that time comes. How difficult it must be for those who’ve had to learn this language unguided, siblings gathered around a solemn table asking each other the questions no one wants to talk about- the dishing out of assets that no one wants to touch because to touch is to awkwardly take, receiving out of your afterglow shadows.
I read this as a good story you’ve told with your lives, one of love and generosity. One of family, one in which I get-once again- why people, including some of my friends, choose to do this whole marriage and family thing. Why we fall in like, then love, then tolerance and bearing with, then liking and loving again. Why we see each other through phases of rebellion, of clinging to you tirelessly as infants then trying to keep it cool as teenagers, and love in every stage, even when the other can’t yet comprehend how much you’re giving daily in order to keep that love going. The prospect of doing this myself as a parent makes me overwhelmed, wanting to look the other way most of the time. I suppose I may never know if I too will have kids of my own one day until I find my life partner. But here, reading your pages, I want to create that love, that long-standing bond. I want to write a history penned by the sound of laughter around the dinner table, a story told through hugs, fostered in the creation of safety, giving, sharing, in whatever shape “family” looks like… I don’t yet know.
But I do know this.
That no matter how many fights and arguments stand behind every perfect picture, love endures.
That hope makes dull things brighter, and your one day death will have sunshine poking through a head full of grey clouds, because you have given me much to celebrate and emulate.
That I will not wait until your death to forge tight close-knit relationships with my siblings.
Nor will I wait to think of all the things I should have told you, for I will start by telling them now.
No matter what kind of life I build, you are invited into it.
No matter what state or continent I end up on, your phone will ring, and I will hear your voice, and you will hear mine, and my heart will be glad.
And no matter how long or short I go between visits, home will always be the feeling I get when I am with you.
I love our yesteryears, written in laughter around the dinner table and looking up seeing you in the stands cheering me on from behind the starting block.
I love our todays, told in Skype calls continent apart, as you tell me stories that allow me to discover you as I discover the world. Stories of your low draft card number during the Vietnam War as I lament to you my anger over the Vietnam War from the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh. Stories of my German and English speaking grandmother as I learn German from the 75+ Deutsche speakers I’ve met along my travels.
And I will love our tomorrows because you’ve shown me I have nothing to fear and that if they are but an inkling of our todays and yesteryears, they will surely be filled with goodness and mercy.
I leave you with this. I thought of you a lot today from across the world since I read and re-read your email from this morning. Today was one of those bright, warm, blue sky summer days in which the birds sang gleefully and children’s laughter echoed across the light breeze-blown grass. Tonight I saw young families at the park- taking pictures, chasing the family dog, swinging on the swings. I sat in the grass watching them as the sun slowly sank behind the trees with a lump in my throat, warm tears at the corner of my eyes. Because you’ve reminded me to see the essence of goodness in our daily days. To savor the look of young children because one day, they will become grown minds with deeper voices, and I know it wasn’t long ago that those children I’m looking at right now were once you and me at Miles Park. You’ve reminded me to listen to the tender emotions inside that speak, yet again, of this precious gift of life and time together on this planet. I thank you for this rootedness in the present, for the ways in which you’ve unknowingly helped me to open wide and notice and marvel.
So let’s live out those undetermined days of lifespans with wonder and marvel. With humor and grace. With more stories, more pictures, more memories, more love.
I love you.
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