“We stood

Steady as the stars in the woods

So happy-hearted

And the warmth rang true inside these bones

As the old pine fell we sang

Just to bless the morning…” 

~Ben Howard, Old Pine

This has been a month of goodbye.

But that has not been everything. As I continue to live I grow ever more certain that life is a balance. We lose, but as we are losing, we also gain. We may not be sure of what we’re gaining, but we have to have faith that some happiness or next beautiful adventure is just around the bend. If we can stand with tears running down our face and look fear in the eye, then we will find that inner strength and hope that carries us through. Anyone who lives long enough on this Earth knows that loss is part of the bargain. We can spend our lives dreading it, or we can make up our minds that we will adapt and try to find the good in those moments of letting go.

Mary Oliver explained in her poem In Blackwater Woods:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Not only people are mortal; every experience and each place and all moments of time in this life are mortal. No phase or place or feeling can last forever. We are mortal creatures subscribed to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Yet we must, as Oliver suggests, press to our very bodies and essences what and who we love when we have them. The act of love preserves their memories. We must live and love fearlessly, knowing that part of the love is to be able to sad goodbye with graciousness of spirit. When the time comes to let go, we have no control over this and I believe we cause ourselves more agony when we struggle. A little struggle is a beautiful and natural thing, and we aren’t human without it, but we are continually invited toward transcendence when faced with loss and the pit in our stomach that comes with loss. We have to believe that love never really can be lost and that we can transform the energy of our grief into something else productive and ongoing.

sadness

Last week my dad’s side of the family said a sad goodbye to the family property in Valley Center. The land was in our family for over forty years; my children represented the 5th generation to play on that land. It was a humble place: a mobile home on several acres that used to produce an avocado crop but which has not since Grandpa Don died in 2008.

I knew this day would come. A day of finally putting more closure on a wound that I had not fully closed. Our journeys always await us, until it is time…don’t they? I lamented the way my children would never have the same memories there that I had. Whole family sleepovers with all of the cousins and aunts and uncles. Hide and seek in the grove. Lemonade and orange juice. A blue moon through the avocado trees. Ghost stories at Grandpa’s Rock.

Last Friday, I took the kiddos out to say a proper farewell. For me, love is watching the process of letting go and standing by with a patient heart as the pain fills up and then ebbs a bit away. Among other rituals of goodbye, I took a walk along a well-worn path, the same walk so many of us would take (sometimes with Grandpa) on New Year’s mornings with a mug of coffee in hand as the light would come up. Grandpa used to watch the birds and eat his chocolate donuts. There was a promise of forever, in a place that was mortal.

I let myself weep, truly weep, with each step of that walk. The walk was a metaphor embraced in a physical act. The path had already irreparably changed (water was turned off to the grove three years ago for financial reasons), but the path I was walking was the one in my head, the path in my memory with my family. The last part of the path goes up a bit of a hill back to the mobile home pad, and when I came back up through the opening where my cousins and I used to sit around the Coleman hearth and talk late into the night, I realized that I was walking into that opening with a faith that we would create new traditions.

Some walks we have to take alone for awhile, but when we come back, it is our family who will see us through: in shared memories, in love that is the closest thing to immortality, passed from generation to generation.

grandpa's rock
With Katie and Eric on Grandpa’s Rock, where their great-grandfather would go with his morning coffee to watch the sunrise, where we would tell ghost stories, and where some of my cousins and I gathered on the first anniversary of Grandpa’s death to pay tribute to him.
last trailer

The last picture of my lineage/generations on the Valley Center land. For one so sentimental, I expected to have some rocky moments, and I have. But I also know that grief is a process that turns out okay in the end.

“We look before and after

And pine for what is not:

Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, To a Skylark

happiness

mary poppins and burt

And this, too. As well as a reminder: “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Truer words…

meeting uncle eric

A few days later, it was the 6th anniversary of my Uncle Eric’s death. This is a picture of us first meeting. I miss him every day, and every day there is pain, yet I see and feel so many reminders of him… Every day I say goodbye, and yet every day he is still with me somehow. Balance.

lauren's shower

And one of my best friends is getting ready for a new hello…to her third child and first boy! Lauren’s shower was so much fun! The ladies who hosted it set up a “little camper” theme, which was just perfect. I love Lauren’s family and her longtime family friends so much. So many of their eyes twinkle with joy when they speak. I wonder if they know that..

stradivarius

And Katie and I had the joy of attending a piano-violin duo at The Merc in Old Town. She has never been to that small venue, needing to be student-aged first to get in. She was the youngest there, but she did well. The violinist had recently competed in a prestigious competition and had won the use of a 1689 Stradivarius violin for three years…so we got to hear the sound of an actual Stradivarius! Maybe I’m just a big music and culture geek, but that was definitely a bucket list item for me and the reason why we went. So, check!

true friend

And who can resist a feeling of mirth deep within when meeting Mater, a true and loyal friend, in Cars Land? So whatever else life is made of, I know that one of its axioms is a balance of joy and sorrow. It’s okay in the end. The larger question is how we go about constructing traditions and narratives that, in the words of Ms. Kara (the kiddos’ music teacher), “transcend a lifetime.” She has said that sharing music is one way to do that, and I agree. We have to keep creating magic moments with those we love, with our children, our friends, our relatives.

We create new traditions for New Year’s…
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The next generation loves one another…

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We share moments of joy with each other…
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Cousins likes brothers and sisters choose to keep the family legacies going…

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Older generations make sure the new generations benefit from the family structure and history…

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We create new moments and keep the energy moving forward…

And parting words from William Blake:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

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