Dead Reckoning

Father's Day 167

Five years have passed since his last night.

Death by the numbers. He has not taken thousands of photographs.  He already has missed a quarter of one daughter’s young life, four college commencements and one high school graduation.

Thirty household birthdays.  Five of them would have been his.

It took two-and-a-half years for me just to manage the transition from the soft, sibilant multi-syllabic “he passed away” to the abrupt “he died.”

Tonight shares with that final Monday a cloudless deep blue sky and a nearly full moon, freshly fallen unseasonal snow, and silence (but for beagle Brady’s snoring) as I press my forehead to a cold glass window  pane.

But the direction differs. From our porch that night was a straight shot east to an enormous orange perigee moon that seemed to swallow acres of pond and forest which were as much a part of our home as the old yellow house in which my husband was dying.

From the space I occupy now, the moon is slightly southeast, small and bright white above the trees, at the same distant elevation as a single bright star.

I know which direction I face only because I finally got myself a compass when I made a first weekend trip by myself not long ago.  He would not have needed a compass.

Jim’s undergraduate thesis research involved whether magnetite enables homing pigeons to navigate home over great distances, without external cues.  I can see him still as I never actually saw him, wearing a dark blue polo shirt with a white pigeon insignia, releasing lavender-tinged gray birds into summer winds far from their Massachusetts home base.

(Apparently some more recent research has pointed to a way to speed up the trip: the “Widowhood Method” places home-bound pigeon spouses in proximity to members of the opposite sex.  Pigeons mate for life, and the company of other pigeons has been suggested to accelerate their mates’ already wondrous ability to find their way home.)

I have never been nearly as sure of my place in this world as Jim always was, and I don’t feel less unmoored than I did five years ago.

Kuuk Thaayorre of Pormpuraaw, in Cape York, Australia, greet each other with “Where are you going?” Professor Lera Boroditsky writes, “the answer should be something like ‘Southsoutheast, in the middle distance.'” This ability to locate oneself by cardinal direction requires staying “oriented at all times,” and “is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like ‘There’s an ant on your southeast leg’ or ‘Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.'” Professor Boroditsky found that after a week in Pormpuraaw she suddenly could orient herself as they did, envisioning herself from above as a dot moving on a map.

It is another form of dead reckoning I don’t possess.

Heavens; I can’t even keep left and right straight.

But I do have a strangely detailed visual memory of the earth beneath my feet.  If I were to be plunked back in Kyoto I could retrace our steps and point out the spot by the canal where three of my children and I saw five ducks.  I could lead you to the part of the Dublin beach where a caramel and cream dog the size of an insubstantial sandwich yapped with hilarious ferocity as he stood guard in the wind.

My map of the world is not likely to ever be like Jim’s, but in addition to bottomless grief it is populated with glorious images I shall keep for both of us…

Just in case he can’t take it all in from his bird’s-eye view.

About Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She also is an adjunct professor at a law school on the banks of the Charles and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2020 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with Wordpress protocol and the numerous other wee buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.
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15 Responses to Dead Reckoning

  1. Pingback: Dead Reckoning | Engineering WordPress 2015

  2. A Martin says:

    Beautifully written and a very special memory. Thank you so much for your writing, pictures, and memories — it is all so special and full of love, loss, renewal, and love again..

  3. Beautiful writing, full of emotions 😒.
    Stay well

  4. scillagrace says:

    Oh, Stephanie. This one made me weep. What a similar jumble of Seasons of Love, 525,600 minutes, compass points and milestones. “As eternity is reckoned, there’s a lifetime in a second.” (Piet Hein) My brain is addicted to reckoning, a sort of scraping at a closed door. It’s quite painful. So much more peaceful to give the brain a rest and explore what’s on this side of that door. *hugs*

  5. Allan G. Smorra says:

    If we don’t know where we are, we stand no chance of getting to where we want to be. Thanks for this touching reminder.

    Your husband sounds like the kind of guy that I would have enjoyed having a conversation, or nine, with.

  6. Denise glennon says:

    Thinking of you

  7. Really beautifully written Stephanie….so poetic and tender and packed with tears….I just love that aboriginal way of looking at the world. thanks for sharing💕😊

    • Stephanie says:

      Thank you–I heard the researcher on a radio program and was so drawn in to her descriptions that I sat there in the driveway while the poor beagles puzzled out why I wasn’t as excited to come inside to see them as they were to see me…..

  8. Marie Keates says:

    We used to keep homing pigeons, or at least my father did. After he died my mother sold them (money was very tight and it was done reluctantly). We could have sold them many times over because they kept coming back.

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