The Viewing

The Viewing

I didn’t want to see the body. They called it a “viewing” and it made my stomach queasy. I had viewed Grandma too, but that was many years ago. I didn’t understand it as well back then. I didn’t want to view Grandpa, I wanted to remember him as he was when we left back in November, waving to us from the café table as Mom and I headed to the car and back to New York. I didn’t want to remember him dead. But these were his wishes, and I respected him, so I respected them.

I saw the casket in the corner and it made my heart race. I distracted myself with the little table of old photographs, and looking at flowers sent from friends and family. I could see him lying there, stiff, out of the corner of my eye. Mom and Uncle Paul were right up close, while I lagged nervously behind. I finally approached him, my eyes flooding. Nothing confirms death like a body.

But it also calmed me. He looked peaceful and composed, perhaps several years younger. He didn’t have that pained look that I saw when we visited, the look he had when he struggled with his walker or had to gargle saliva as he spoke. No, he looked dignified, suited with his army cap and medals. A flag folded meticulously over the casket. He was a man of honor.

In the casket lid was a large photo of his prized possession, a green Oliver tractor. When guests came later, my mom often joked to the old farmers not to steal it. It was good to see her laugh. People I didn’t know hugged me, and somehow, it still felt good. I think because they knew him, and that was enough. His life-long friend, a beautician, cut his hair before the viewing, as it had grown a bit long. I thought that was beautiful.

None of it got to me quite like the Color Guard, though. The next morning at the funeral, the uniformed old veterans stood in formation at the front of the room. One by one, they solemnly marched to the casket to offer a parting salute. I was sitting close enough to see a number of them fighting back tears, as mine streamed down my face and neck. He was their old friend and comrade. He had been so much more than just my grandfather. I had known this, but it was entirely different to see it.

The one that broke my heart the most was old Hugh. I met him at the viewing, where he shyly approached my mom and me, apologizing for our loss and asking if mom would like his 1940 Annual. He used a walker to get around, and gingerly pulled the old book from a pouch he had fastened to the front of it. He had graduated in 1942, but he happened to have grandpa’s year. “I have nobody else to give it to,” he explained, and thought someone in our family would like to have it.

After the service, we saw Hugh again as we followed the hearse to the cemetery. He was outside on the street, standing propped against a car so he could give one final salute.

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Rainy Season

Rainy Season

The rainy season had started in Ecuador, just as they said it would.

We emerged from our tents to a sopping wet beach.

I was glad I didn’t sleep in the hammock.

After drinking our breakfast of ‘leche caliente’, we trekked off in jean shorts, raincoats and boots, sliding along the muddy trail to our base a mile away.

The sun peeked out at us now, but the damage was done.

Tree limbs slashed across our path as if to say “Just turn around already.”

My boots became caked with mud. I stopped expelling the effort to lift my feet.

I could use a pair of ski poles. But instead I carried a machete.

One that threatened to slice my shins in one bad step.

Such was the nature of things here; clearing the brush that bristled back at us.

We were trying to make room for baby trees.

But Mother Nature was pro-choice.

 

Setting Intentions

Setting Intentions

I’ve been meaning to write more. Several times since my blogging heyday in high school I’ve attempted to return to the words. To corral them like a herd of kittens into the text editor, to tell a witty and comprehensive story of “what the hell I’ve been up to since X months ago when I posted the last blog.” It didn’t go so well.

They behaved like most kittens do. They yawned and flopped onto their backs, kicking their furry legs in the air. They demanded belly-rubs and warm milk and did a whole lot of nothing. They were tired. I had them jumping through hoops called critical analyses and required reading for four years. I bored them close to death. Okay, I don’t want to kill kittens so I think I’ll abandon this analogy. Anyways, the point is that I’ve always loved to blog, but I put my personal writing on the back-burner over the years for school and work and I’ve started to worry that I’m losing my voice. Laryngitis of the keyboard, or something like that.

I’ve learned a lot from writing professionally — and I’m still learning. But one of the most important things I’ve figured out so far is the value of an authentic voice and a good story. Then it clicked. Writing for fun can actually help me be a better writer at work. That should be obvious, but I’ve kept the two separated for so long the idea smacked me in the face. Creativity is good for productivity.

For the record, I’ve never felt like my creativity has been stifled by anyone, except for myself. It’s always been me who’s said I have nothing interesting to blog about. It’s me who’s chosen to scroll through Facebook instead of sitting down to write. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be creative, but I haven’t been taking full advantage of them.

I have written for myself, from time to time, in a notebook or random Word docs, but it’s time to bring the words back to life, and shake the dust off. Blogging is what got me into writing to begin with, so it makes sense to me to return to it here with a clean page. If you’re interested in the old stuff, though, you can find it here.

So this is me, setting intentions to write for myself again. To write without worrying too much if it’s shitty, because my writing represents me. And sometimes I feel shitty, and it comes out in my writing. That’s okay.

I also have to give credit to the writing class I’m taking this month with Cara Benson for helping the creative juices to flow. We literally can write whatever we want (prompts are given) and we can choose to share it, or not. It’s delightful. The class name itself  avoids pressure, “Writing Without Worrying About What To Call It.” It’s been exactly what I needed.

I’ll end this with something I wrote back in November, that had been sitting idly in a file on my laptop for months. Breathe little poem, breathe!

I Lost the Words

I lost the words somewhere.

I left them in essays and analyses

Scattered in old notes and unanswered letters

Scribbled on bathroom walls and paper napkins

Filed in manila icons with obscure names

I abandoned them there, to face the world alone

While I kept on – quietly

Leaving them where they got heavy

Where I couldn’t fit them back in my mouth

Where my pen bled dry and my hand said no more

Where my fingers ached to type

And eyes strained against the screen

I lost the words somewhere

Will they find their way back home?