With no intervening silence

The beginning of August marks, for me, a time of resuming. The college returns to normal work week hours, and prospective students awaken and realize that they likely should consider registering for classes before all that remain are the 8 0’clock and 3 o’clock sections. My email inbox starts to fill up again, and both I and my daughter eye the school supply and back to school clothing sales with resigned interest. This summer has been busy for a summer, and the next three weeks promise to continue apace, so our movement into the new academic year is more a smooth glide than a sudden dive.

For my parents, this August marks a time of transition, of ending, and an uncertain beginning. We, their children and children-in-law, have decided that my parents’ current living situation will no longer do. For 17 years, they have lived in the downtown residential area of a small town. When my parents bought their home, the town was not new, but it had energy and purpose, and while terrible events occurred, for years, the town worked to stay strong and lively and focused on the constant renewal of the seasons and celebrated Azaleas and fall harvests. In recent years, though, the town’s energy has dropped off. Its lawns are not as well cared for; too many storms have passed through for business owners, residents, and artisans to rebuild, yet again. In that same time, my parents’ health and spirits have also waned. They could remain there and get through each day, but they are unhappy and alone, so what is the wisdom in remaining? Sorting, reducing, and packing have been my parents’ occupation this summer. Reluctantly and expectantly, they have entrusted their future to their children, to me. As I move forward, they choose which symbols and monuments of their lives are most precious and most necessary, pack them in boxes, and wait for me and my brothers to make decisions for them. I cannot imagine the tumult of emotions, the contradictory responses that must wash over them constantly. How much they certainly want to tell us to go to hell, we children whom they so recently reared, taught, rescued.

Time is so slippery now, in my middle age. I can only imagine it becoming even less precise in later age. If I can still find myself most clearly in the dorm rooms and apartments of 20 years ago, should I expect a more stable sense of the now as more time passes? A song, a photograph, a scent can disorient us, divert our way. Joan Didion calls this “magical thinking.” Eliot is less kind, for he names the harbingers of our diversions into time deceptive (from “Burnt Norton”).

                 Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

I have said before that I find peace in the past, in the re-visions of myself and the world, snapshots of memory filtered and enhanced by nostalgia and desire. These moments are soft-edged. The anger, wonder, sadness, joy are smudged with wear, dogeared from frequent handling. Beloved. All of this should tell you how blessed my life has been. I have felt pain, yes, but bearably. My losses, while at the time painful, have been thus far removed. My heart is whole. All of time is still a welcome friend. I have no hallways I fear to tread, no doors I wish to leave unopened. Blessed beyond measure.

Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

All of life is a treasure, else we wouldn’t struggle so in the keeping of it. Nevertheless, the longer that struggle, the greater the possibility of pain. But must the pain be overwhelming? The thrush is deceptive, but perhaps not by sending us to look for children that are only echoes, that can be seen only when we eat the lotus petals. The thrush deceives:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

The Quartets are mourning poems, I know, but they are not hopeless. Even in the aftermath of a truly horrendous war, humans have the strength to bear it. We are creatures not of forgetting but of remembering.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

As August melts into September, as one chapter of the book of my parents’ lives ends, may we keep both the past and the present mind. Time past and time future, the crunch of autumn leaves and the promise of spring growth.