Scarlet Skies

Southwest Harbor, Mt. Desert Island (c) SMG

Yesterday was the eleventh birthday my husband should have had here, with us, in the traditional way.

It has not become more comprehensible that he was not.

Yet somehow he is no more and no less present than he was in our home with us when his heart stopped beating.

If there has been a shift it may only be because I no longer live in that house. I mercifully am no longer viscerally confined within its spaces, and the suffering he endured before he finally came home from an emergency hospitalization for the last time.

On rare occasions, I still need to revisit now distant and still gut-roiling human-forged interior spaces–like the radiology department of his hospital, from which he emerged after weeks of fruitless radiation and spent hours with an equally quixotically hopeful colleague, looking intently at his films for any sign of reduction in a pancreatic tumor that had not even incrementally let go, and had in fact already dispatched is sinister envoys elsewhere. Those rooms and hallways, and even the tissue boxes in the waiting rooms, make the psychic pain of it instantly rise to the surface again.

But outdoor spaces have changed, for the good, without changing at all.

I have stopped desperately searching for signs from him, perhaps because I have settled into the knowledge that I am always surrounded by them when I am outside. I know he is not confined to any space, and does not revisit places of bleak memories, as I have. One never knows where he will appear, or what will call to me or our children, wherever they find themselves.

As much as he loved his work, his soul always needed to be outside. In the same way I picked up the camera from him, once he no longer quietly waited for perfect shots of landscapes and the creatures traveling through them, I have now incorporated into my being the yearning to be outside to see and feel its endless permutations–of weather and sky, of earth and its beings, no matter how small, and especially of water.

Years ago I finally made a trip back to Southwest Harbor, on Mt. Desert Island in Acadia National Park, where, once our family had dwindled to five (not counting beagles, of which I had, clearly not rationally, accrued a third). Already by then my heart had for years hurt too much to walk on the same paths and shores and mountains where all six of us had walked together. This time I had driven by myself, stopping only at a sprinkling of lighthouses along the way. I had hoped to make it to Bass Harbor Light’s scarlet Fresnel lens by sunset.

As it turned out, legions of less solitary others were entirely willing to brave the cold toward that same end. A dispiritingly long line of tourists in very substantial vehicles snaked far beyond my sight as I approached.

A change of plans.

Pre-pandemic, I was limber enough–and well enough shod–to swiftly backtrack toward the Harbor. I huffed and puffed in what I hoped was a West-facing direction. To my surprise, as I rushed to the first pier in sight, not only was the Harbor itself nearly empty, but only a dinner-bound dog and his human were in sight. They soon vanished beyond a gentle hill.

In a startlingly sudden blast brilliant of pink-orange tendrils, like silent fireworks, sunset arrived and I was alone. Then the dropping sun slowed and impossibly lingered, patches of pure white light drifting in waves above reds even more vivid than that lighthouse lens. I could not have been more certain that Jim was there, too, and that he was glad I had made my way to this singular and eternal sight. Still standing, in a a place of heaven and earth and sea not freighted with, but lifted up by our past.

So, yesterday was the eleventh birthday my husband should have had here, with us.

But it was also the first day the still-spinning world welcomed a new baby James, named for him, born on his birthday to the daughter-in-law and son of two beloved doctor friends who had been with us before and as Jim died. They both were at his side to help soothe his tender passage out and away from pain and disease and into the luminous light beyond any doors. Into “the relief of space…outdoors, in the sunshine, under the gigantic sky.” A place, as Kiran Desai described in Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, where even “in the midst of chaos” one may find “an exquisite peace, an absorption in a world other than the one” we and our children “had been born into.”

Fittingly, sweet baby James’ grandparents met their new grandson in an outdoor garden, in a climate where green still grows companionably among the rest of the color spectrum, rendered in flowers and creatures who flit and relentlessly gather pollen, during lives which seem so short only by our own inadequate measures. Where the flowers never stop reaching towards sunlight, while generations of their buzzing and fluttering companions continue to fill the ever-changing skies.

Even in December.

Learning Curve

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December 2012 (c) SMG

Last January one of my daughters shepherded me through the relatively minor technical work needed to begin this blog, giving me a nicely calendared progression of posts upon which to reflect.

Recently I found on my husband’s computer the 500 digital photographs–among tens of thousands he took–that he rated highest.  I studied them to try to discern exactly why these were so special to him.  Some were obvious: pictures of all our children, and other family members, and me (I am a very reluctant subject and he cleverly captured the latter from afar, without my noticing); pictures of nature–from an up-close tiny blue newt on our daughter’s shoe to panoramic mountain ranges–from three continents.

Some–like some of the favorite photographs I am posting here–may require a little bit more interpretation.  One I took at a farmer’s market after depositing a child at school on a gorgeous late August day; another was taken at a wedding, on a boat in Boston Harbor; another, an observer would be unlikely to know, is of flags waving atop a white picket fence in the aftermath of a murderous shooting spree just up the street from our home last spring.  Our little town’s police chief was shot to death, and four other officers grievously wounded.  The town’s lone elementary school’s parking lot had become a staging ground for an armed standoff.

Sometimes the story behind a photograph is nothing like you would imagine.

I decided to take yet another cue from Jim and try to wrap up this year on the blog by finding one photograph and post from each month of this blog’s brief but extremely therapeutic (for me) existence: not necessarily technically the best photograph I took that month, or the best-written post, but the ones which have some special meaning to me.  I may not even know yet why, but I’ll take a stab at it.

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January Sky (c) SMG 2012

January is a close call, because the single poem I would want everyone I know to read, Kindness, is found in another of the month’s first dozen posts (The Other Deepest Thing).  But the post to which I return most frequently is The Things He Carried.   The title is a take on Tim O’Brien’s novel (with the intriguing narrator of self-consciously dubious reliability), and writing this post about the few small things my husband–who was not tied to material goods in the way most people are–carried to the end truly helped me to think about the ways in which an object without any monetary value can be rendered priceless, imbued with stories, with love and friendship and the fondest of memories.

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February 2012 (c) SMG

I had the sense that I wrote nearly constantly in February, although in fact it appears that my roiling winter mind churned out only a few more posts than it had in January.  Again I have a close runner-up (Renewing Rituals), but it was closely followed by Coletanea de Death Cab–the post in which I reflected on being alone–but not entirely–during the long drive back from a memorial service in New Jersey. Continue reading “Learning Curve”

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