I took some time away from writing last week. Usually, writing helps me to figure out what’s going on, but even my loyal friends - paper and ink, were of no use to me over the last few days. Usually, my writing acts like a net, catching my thoughts and observations in a churning sea of blurry movement, but not so this week. There was just too much for one feeble little net to hold.
We went to Montreal and ate in our favourite restaurant a few days ago. More accurately, it’s the only restaurant we’ve eaten in over the last few years, but not since the great pandemic hit. It felt a little surreal and a little welcomed-normal to be amongst others in a convivial setting. We feasted on duck and lamb, a mammoth ribeye steak, oysters and buttery escargots. We met our oldest daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, delighting in his slow Virginia drawl and the ease and affection they shared. We went to Notre Dame Cathedral at night and watched a light show that transformed the stone building that held us into a glass ceilinged boat in a torrential storm. Magically relatable. The next morning, my husband and I woke up early and walked around the abandoned, cobble lined streets of Old Montreal until we found a tiny, old coffee shop built of limestone. We savoured two wondrous cups of that beautiful elixir called coffee. Each sip made all the better because we gave up our coffee habit. But, surely, we must still be able to delight in such things on such a morning. Otherwise, what is life at all?
And all the while…
In the restaurant came the memories of when we last ate there, three years ago in the ‘before’ of our lives. In the darkness of the cathedral, electric lights and surrounding speakers mimicked the torrential downpour of rain and the cracking of stone pillars. Technology driven waves crashed above us, hurtling us to the bottom of the sea. “Me, too,” I thought, “Just like that.” And yet, I remained in my spot. Somehow sitting in a church pew, watching. Breathing. Carrying on. At the dinner with the thought, “She would have loved this.” On the quiet morning, with the world still asleep, our footsteps the only sound in the whole city, “She would tell us stories, her voice bouncing off of concrete walls.” Everywhere we go, every version of us in every scenario, our daughter is there with us. It is empty of the physical, bountiful in the immeasurable.
Life demands life. Life asks for us in the very moment it offers. The seconds given on an outstretched hand. “I’m leaving in the blink of an eye. Join me now?” What am I to do? Do I reject the laughter because of the pain? Do I reject the pain and mask it with laughter? There’s nothing to do, we can all see it as it’s written. Nothing to do but surrender. We can only extend compassion. To ourselves. To each other. It is much to ask of a human heart - to bend and stretch, to expand and contract, all while insisting it keep loving despite it all.
What else in this world can be so profoundly shattered and still operate like that of the human heart? Nothing at all.
We came home from Montreal and prepared for the burial of our daughter’s ashes the very next day. The burial on the day of her death one year ago. What does one think of on such a day? Is there something I should be thinking? Does one think of what was said in their last moments together? Will that bring me something useful? Does one think of what needs to be prepared for the guests after the ceremony? Will they understand if I just disappear into the forest? Does one think of their other daughters and what this day means for them? Always, but they are grown and different than me. Their journey is not mine. Does one think of their oldest daughter, who will leave the next morning to live in a different country? Yes. With delight and sadness, excitement for the unfolding of her life and understanding for my aching heart. Does one think of their husband whose fatigue is only matched by his dedication to his family? Relentlessly.
Into the earth, we laid the ashes of our daughter’s body. Her father built the box and he lowered it into a hole carved by a shovel.
Next to me, our daughter with her boyfriend’s arm around her waist. Inside her a small life growing.
What a juxtaposition.
“There is no difference.”
There is no difference. That is what came to me as these things do. Clear and confident. A message received.
It is love. It is all love. It is love at the core and it is love that is life and it is love that assures the eternal. Love.
The love of our youngest daughter, whose body is no longer needed. She, no longer contained. But we remain. We’re contained and limited by this physical life and we will ache for her on this plane until we meet again in lands I do not know.
The love of our oldest daughter, whose body nurtures the life of another. She is contained and contains. The mystery of the cosmos unfolding silently in her womb. She is here, but she is off, to lands I do not know.
But all of it is love. There is no difference. Look close enough, squint your eyes to shield them from the peripheral fray and you will see it, too. The pain and circumstance are always there and they can be the things to hone in on. Sometimes they are so loud that we can’t help but let them overrun us for a time. But sit with them in stillness, surrender and observe, and you will see it too - love. Even in the most wretched and vile of agony, there is love.
All of life into life and death into life and life into death and around and around until the blurring of the lines brings the clarity of truth.
There is no difference. There is no difference when the measure is what matters. It is only, and can only ever be, love.
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