The last two weeks might have made a good movie. I celebrated two graduations, a wedding, a funeral, a birthday party, and Memorial Day. You’d think a title like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL would have come to mind, but instead, I found myself stuck in THE SIXTH SENSE movie, brooding, “I see dead people.”
I guess I need to cut myself some slack. I’d hit a physical brick wall, driving 2,670 miles in ten days through Minnesota rain, South Dakota hail, Wyoming wind, and Montana snow — then back again. That coupled with the emotional fatigue of saying “good-bye” (for now) to my sister made me see the world temporarily shadowed by the dark cloud of negativity inside me. I was hypersensitive to:
- flat-emotioned parents watching their kids at the motel swimming pool,
- zombie-looking youth shuffling down the sidewalk,
- cranky waitresses watching the clock.
I wanted to shake these dead people to say, “Wake up!”, but I didn’t have the strength.
Behind this urge, I really wanted to shake my sister. I wanted her to wake up.
As I analyze this cloud, I can shoo it away and recognize the dead person in the mirror — nose out of joint from that brick wall — too fatigued to interact — too jet lagged or self-absorbed to really “be there”. Without the despair and self-pity of my dark cloud, I have the wherewithal to look outside of myself. When I move my gaze from self to others, I see how positive conversation, a smile, or a big tip can bring the dead to life – in the giver and the receiver.
I can also reflect upon and appreciate the hospitality, love, and humor of my family and others. There were so many shining examples of life lived well during this adventure:
- My niece, “the cheerleader”, shared grief, love,and loss with me and her siblings over the telephone. Then she urged us to move forward and celebrate each other. Ta-Wanda!
- A graduate’s father’s blue eyes twinkled in response to a compliment. “Clean livin’ — that’s why I look so good. Clean livin’.” Liars can be so charming.
- A mourning Coast Guard master chief stepped out of his comfort zone to memorialize his mother/my deceased sister with the bronze star of motherhood. Aww. How she must cherish the honor.
In the sunshine of hope, I can hold to the promise of life after death. My sister doesn’t need to be shook out of that urn full of dust. She’s awake and more alive and beautiful than ever.
When I lower memory’s gaze I see life lived extravagantly — in the joy, abandon, love, curiosity, and hope of children. They’ve mastered the present — in freely given smiles, all-out tackling welcomes, birthday candles, garden tractor rides, messy bowls of salsa, and red fishing poles.
In the shiny, tan walls of a fiberglass water slide my own life-filled reflection pleasantly startled me — urged up winding stairs by the exuberant, shorter reflection of my grandson. He showed me I could love better with green chlorine hair. The pleasure of holding him close through the twists and turns of each exhilarating plunge far overshadowed my anxiety over racoon/mascara eyes.
This is why I find so much satisfaction in writing and reading children’s books. The characters teach us how to look outside of ourselves and live.
If you see dead people today; give them your smile, an all-out tackling welcome, or a big tip. If those methods don’t bring life to them and you — I know of an invigorating water slide…