It Could Mean Everything

Hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark. Unknown

Sometimes, late at night, I stand stone-still at an open window and listen … to the high pitched cries of the coyotes, tracking deer and other prey beyond the fence … to the hoot of an owl perched in the dry, leafless branches of the oak tree … to the winter wind howling in the trees .. to the steady beat of the pouring rain. Buster listens, too, with his paws on the window sill if he can reach. It’s as if he knows not to bark and instead to listen intently for whatever is out there, instead of reacting to what bothers him, what frightens him, what makes him mad. We are cocooned in the house, he and I, holding down the fort when Dan is out of town and Molly is away at school, missing the one who should be here.

On those late nights, my mind spins back to an earlier place. To a time when I roamed the house in the dark, awakened by a cry of “Mom!” or “Margo!” in the middle of the night and then then found myself searching for sleep after Jimmy or Mom drifted off. A time when my heart knew what was coming, but my brain hadn’t caught up, still in denial, pretending it wasn’t true, refusing to accept what was. But the truth wasn’t going anywhere, and no matter how strenuously I fought, time marched on, hand in hand with the cancer or the rapidly thickening blood. The inevitable stood in front of me, and then, like now, I looked away, out the window, into the darkness, hoping to see a hidden tunnel, different path, a way out.

Jimmy taught me to be patient with the struggle. To focus on what was still there instead of wasting time mourning all that had been lost. That being together, laughing, was enough. That every moment in those final days and weeks was a gemstone to be treasured, remembered and pulled out of my pocket on the days when life was hard. Proof of how spectacularly beautiful that time was. Those brave young men who flew in to play Mario Bros, watch movies, tell funny stories and sit with Jimmy in the dark so he could tell each one in turn how much they meant to him and how dearly he loved them. The others who came, family and friends from all over to talk and laugh and bear witness and walk into the darkness. What courage it takes to be fully present with a young man who’s dying. To balance yourself on the razor’s edge of life — enjoying every minute of your time together as if the days are endless while acknowledging that death is lurking outside, and that you can’t waste a moment before telling your friend, your nephew, your grandson, your child all that he has meant to you.

I will never forget those final weeks of my son’s life when I had a front row seat to all that’s good and fine and true and beautiful in us. There was ugliness mixed in there, too but I have learned to let go of that. The ones who chose not to be present missed it all, and the loss is theirs alone. I think of Maya Angelou’s wise advice about believing people when they show you who they are, and Jimmy’s clarity about what and who mattered, which gave me permission after he was gone to let go of what and who no longer served me or treated me well.

It is serious business to be alive in this broken world. To pause and see what is real. To consider whether it means something or whether it means everything. To face the truth, knowing it will change your life. To grab hold of what matters most and let the rest fall away.

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