Two seasons after her father died, one of our daughters took this soothing, solemn picture at dawn on the other side of the globe. Banaras, also known as Varanasi, is one of humanity’s oldest living cities. It rises from the holy River Ganga in southeastern Uttar Pradesh.
The same month, when everything remained so dramatically off-kilter in all our lives, one of my sisters-in-law sent me a book of poetry. It was a gift for the birthday my husband Jim–her only brother–had known he wouldn’t live to celebrate.
I contemplated the title–A Thousand Mornings–and my mind lingered briefly on the vastness of the days and years likely still laid out ahead of me. A thousand mornings, and more, teeming with concrete tasks I wasn’t remotely equipped to face. A thousand mornings followed by dwindling sunlight hours in which I alone would be the one to teach a child to drive, to pack up our home and move to another, to move children into schools, to tend to illnesses and injuries and sorrow. And a thousand sleep-disturbed nights. A thousand mournings.
I read the book right away, and turned the page to reveal the title of the very last poem.
My daughter had just given me the gift of being able to visualize this very place:
“Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,
where fires were still smoldering . . . .
A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;
she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it
over her body, slowly and many times,
as if until there came some moment
of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.
Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her
and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,
no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,
for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker
of the world, and this is his river.
I can’t say much more, except that it all happened
in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt
like that bliss of a certainty and a life lived
in accordance with that certainty . . . .
Pray God I remember this.”
In my daughter’s photograph I see a different kind of vastness than the black hole in which I dwelled: a never-ending human homage to faith, to “peaceful simplicity,” to the “bliss of a certainty and a life lived/in accordance that that certainty.”
Jim had such a life. In living it and leaving it, he helped me to see the larger human picture and to try–assuredly not always successfully–to let go of the world’s more rarified worries. Yes, I’m alone to do so many things; but how lucky I am that my children are so like their father, and have moved on to far-flung places where they, in turn, will serve others, whether teaching, researching infectious diseases, or sharing an angelic voice. How lucky I am that we’ve all had found medical care for our assorted crises. How embarassingly lucky we are to possess a home to fill, and a car my little girl can be taught to drive.
Since that November day I’ve lived those thousand mornings, and found moments of peace and satisfaction, of light and love, that somehow still linger in each day.