This story takes my breath away.
Years ago I spoke at the memorial service for my maternal grandmother. A few days before, I was sitting on a park bench with a yellow legal pad on my lap and a ballpoint pen in my hand trying to write what I would say. At first I was drawing blanks, stuck in what I felt I was “expected” to say. Suddenly, letting go of the “shoulds,” I flashed on the word “spirit.” I had recently learned that the Latin root for spirit was spirare which means “to breathe.” I started writing down all the words I could think of that had “spirit” in them. Among these were “inspire” (to draw in air), “respire” (to inhale and exhale), and “expire” (the last breath).
Another of these words was “conspire.” Up until then I’d always seen this word as negative, used to describe people plotting to do something bad. But it really just means to breathe together. And there is something magical and mysterious about that. When we are in the same place we are conspiring, breathing together. But it’s even more than that. We are sharing air, me breathing in some of what you exhale and you breathing in what I’ve exhaled. We are conspiring, literally. What was once inside you goes inside me and what was once inside me goes inside you. This was a profound realization for me.
When do I stop and you begin?
This became the basis of my memorial to my grandmother, the conspiracies that took place throughout her life and the one taking place right there in the church among those of us who had come together to celebrate and acknowledge her life. A conspiracy. And what a lovely one.
It is a kind of conspiracy that we all read the same story this week. And if you were moved by it in a way similar to me, you found inspiration in it.
That’s all part of our common humanity.
Beautifully written, Andy. Lessens my feelings of sadness about my recent visit to my grandmother’s grave as did sharing it with the class.
aloha…ha in Hawaiian means “breath”…when Hawaiian’s greeted, they shared their breath with one another, literally.
Stories Journal #2: “Paladin of the Lost Hour” by Harlan Ellison
Second kindness story and it deals with death, again, from the very first sentence. Grave matters; matters with graves. Until I was 48, I’d lived a sheltered life until my son died. Each of four of my grandparents had died. A young man I had dated died in a car accident months after our relationship had ended. I did not grieve these passings much.
The closest I had come to death happened when I was 16 years old and on my way to Colima, Mexico as a high school foreign exchange student for the summer. I was in Florida at a American Field Service orientation, held on a college campus, for exchange students. This young man, a bit “nerdy” and quiet, wore glasses and was a part of my group bound south for Mexico. But he never made it. One night, at about sunset, another male member of our Mexico-bound group, Robert, found him at the bottom of the shallow end of an Olympic-size pool during a pool party for the departing students. It was mysterious to us all how in a crowded pool no one noticed that he drowned and it was confusing how he could have drowned in the shallow end of the pool. What I remember still now were my thoughts of how bereft his parents would be upon finding out that they had joyfully sent away their son to have an amazing, once-in-a-life-time experience only to receive news that their precious son, a teen ambassador for intercultural understanding would never have that experience and would never return home. At 16 years old, I contemplated the mother’s grief as I visualized her receiving a phone call every parent fears. Thirty-two years later, I would know exactly how that mother felt upon hearing, over the phone, that her son was dead.
“Responsible.” “I’m responsible.” Gaspar explains to Billy. The first time I became fully aware in a deeply spiritual way that I’m responsible, that I have responsibilities as an adult for “everything” and “everybody,” was at a Survivor’s of Suicide healing conference in November 2011. The conference organizer, in her introductory remarks, spoke of “kuleana,” the Hawaiian word for “responsibility.” The keynote speaker, Judge Kaluhilokalani, who followed elaborated on the theme of kuleana with stories from his life experience. He recognized from a young adult age that it was his kuleana to teach, to be kind, to guide, and to nurture others, especially young people. From that point on, my perspective toward others changed as I accepted this kuleana to care and to give back for all the good I had received in my life.
“Minna…she was a remarkable person.” Tell me…I’ll remember for you.
“Memories in no particular order. Some as strong as ropes that could pull the ocean ashore. Some that shimmered and swayed in the faintest breeze like spiderwebs. The entire person, all the little movements, that dimple that appeared when she was amused at something foolish he had said. Their youth together, their love, the procession of their days toward middle age. The small cheers and the pain of dreams never realized. So much about him, as he spoke of her. His voice soft and warm and filled with a longing so deep and true that he had to stop frequently because the words broke and would not come out till he had thought away some of the passion. He thought of her and was glad. He had gathered her together, all her dowry of love and taking care of him, her clothes and the way she wore them, her favorite knickknacks, a few clever remarks: and he packed it all up and delivered it to a new repository.
The very old man gave Minna to Billy Kinetta for safekeeping.”
This entire passage by Ellison was exquisite. That s exactly what I want to do. Share my son Michael with someone for safekeeping. *tears*
Damn…damn…damn. Is what I want to shout! Why the hell do we send our young men, like Billy, to fight wars of guns and blood?
Haven’t we learned yet that if they survive physically, they go on to fight their secret, private wars within their own minds until they do die. Four days before my son took his life another young man, “fucked up” he said from four tours in Afghanistan, lost his mental battle against PTSD and used his weapons knowledge to end his personal war. I know his mother and father; we saw one another at church and at the grocery store. My husband and I and his mother and father are teachers. We couldn’t save our own sons!
I, like Billy, need to heal… Oh, but for a moment, just one precious moment with my son. Or even less, just an instant, as Gaspar had with Billy, and a message. Just tell me son, “Mom, I’m okay.” That would be enough.
And if we could have the moment, I would like you to know my son that your death was not in vain. That your death has opened eyes that were blind and ears that were deaf, has made the world a kinder and more compassionate and tolerant place, and has changed my heart. But oh to have that moment, yes even an instant…
I hope that your ability to talk here with us will help you begin to heal. We are all here because we want to be kind or kinder and support each other. If talking to us and sharing your feelings might be of help in your process of healing, I for one, would be honored to be a listener. I wish you were a neighbor and I could give you a hug. My heart has been touched by you.
Thank you Linda for your kind, supportive message. 🙂
Very nice. Lou