Each moment in a life, a string of different lengths. Some are rough, unpleasant in our hands. Others are luminescent, soft and warm and we want to hold onto them, shove them in our pocket. Own them. But even they must end. Everything - a beginning and an end. Some longer. Some shorter. All of them into the tapestry of a life.
Up and down, over and under. One string around the other. Nothing symmetrical. Nothing smooth. There are frayed edges, lumps and gaps where some pieces had trouble melding into the others. And if time, or the passion of the weaver’s fingertips, lags, we would see gaps, but in the end there can be no separation. In the end we come to understand. It all comes together.
The threads that compose a life. Strips of embroidered cloth from the hands of an ancient Slovak ancestor. Each flower a prick of a needle in the hand of a woman I will never know. A woman I will always know. Gilded, metallic thread, a rarity, an extravagant devotion.
The stalks of dried wheat, threshed by my uncle, made into a bed by child me. A bed lofted to the heavens so that I could get closer. A bed where prairie birds sang me a lonely lullaby.
A piece of sinew, always there, unravelled from my heart when my father left. Hard now, structure. Reinforcement. Sinew coated in the sap of Mother Pine who held me in her limbs. Up I went, into the very tippy top of her body, crying out for a daddy that never heard me. She held me though. I will never forget her strength under my soft, vulnerable underbelly.
There are pieces too, of umbilical cord from the children that died in me before they could be born. Three rounded curls of hair from baby’s first haircut, each its own shade of brown from black to gold. There are letters from school officials, coiled tight into the rest. Melded. Hard to see now, brittle with age. There are fatigue green strings, burned off before inspection, that found their way in, interwoven all over the place even still. The military that showed a lost girl what she was capable of.
There is the viking steel, stripped down and winnowed to a thread. It runs up the middle and it offers the structure and stability to hold everything together. Wool encircles it. Softness and warmth. The wool from each animal we have known and cared for and been nourished by. Grasses from the land of endless skies. Patches from a thick lumber jacket. The feathers from a fishing lure used on a day I almost died. You’re still here, it reminds me.
In one spring morning our lives ever altered. The death of our daughter. Here, says the world, take this one - this string made of coarse, darkened hemp. There’s no end on that one. A thick cord more than string. Thicker and coarser than anything else. It is endless and it is ours.
Two weeks later, a mother cow births two perfect little heifer twins that she promptly stomps in fury and fear. Those little creatures, surely meant to die, live. They thrive under our care. I milk their mother and give that milk to them. They run to me. I sit in the hay with them in the old barn. Sunbeams pushing through the ancient boards. I cry. I laugh. They push their wet noses into me and there is elation and devastation.
The blackened cord remains, thick and heavy with grief. But I am handed another thread now. A small thread, a whisper of an offering. It’s made of luminescent spider webs woven into a delicate silken thread. It breaks with a breath. Make these fit together, says God. I don’t know how to. I vacillate between the two, holding the rough rope and the filament of web that I have to squint to see. I look at each so quickly, vacillating between the two, that the edges become frayed. The anguish is there. The joy is there. They are each profoundly there.
Time rolls on as time does. People like to say time heals all wounds. That is a lie. Time does no such thing. Wounds are healed with love. Love and sunlight and bird song. Wounds are healed when their threads are wrapped around the others. One needing the other to become what is meant to be. There is no tapestry composed solely of soft pinks and joyful oranges. There needs to be structure, growth. If we leave out the rough and the heavy there is only the aesthetic acrylic softness. Faux warmth. Faux beauty. A facsimile that will never shroud us in meaning on the day they come to wrap you in the tapestry that is your life.
In time, the mother cow came to care for her two little calves. She fed them and wandered the grassy woods with them. In time they came to recognize the language of cows over that of mine. That is how it should be. But weeks ago, one of those heifers, the sweetest one, named Honey for just that reason, had a leg injury. “Unfixable” said the cow vet.
We tried. We waited. We realized.
I went out to her this morning to say goodbye. I fed her alfalfa, her favourite of all and I scratched her tail and her brisket exactly as she liked me to do. I rubbed her spine and she leaned into me. I scratched behind her horns, a spot only a human hand can reach. I suspect that’s why they are domesticated to us. Fingers that fit in the indent behind a horn. I see no other possibility.
I told Honey stories of my gratitude for the miracle of her life. I told her what it was that she brought to my world in a time that was, I thought, an insurmountable grief. An endless ball of black cord that I can now see, upon closer inspection, is composed of many different fibres. Each one braided into the whole. Dragonfly wings, threads from hockey skate laces, long, thick coils of golden hair. And when I listen, I can hear little girl giggles and big girl shrieks of joy. I like to touch it. I touch it every day.
I prayed to God for a true and swift shot from my husband, a man taking on the heavy load because he would rather carry that than the shame of allowing someone else to pull the trigger. And I thanked her for her time in our world. For being the sweetest thing, part of two, that laid in the hay with me, all of us coated in summer’s light. I would weep and trace their hooves still soft and sweet from their mother’s watery womb. They, reminding me of the great, wondrous mystery of this world in a time when I was certain I wasn’t cut out for it.
Her string, made with those braided cobwebs and flecked with auburn tail hairs illuminated with the radiating skies of summer, now ending.
But it’s still there. She’s still there. Not an isolated piece, but part of a whole. I will see it, all of it, in the end. The end - the grand unveiling of it all. Wrap that heavy cloth around my shoulders and bury me in the depths of the earth. My body will hold the weight. I will take it all, every last thread, every last flaw knowing there is no lying in the sunbeam of an old barn with new life if I have numbed the heart that holds it.
What is hardest, coldest, most heavy turns into what is the most dependable to wrap the softer, easier bits around. They need that, those sweet, gauzy parts. Without, they just unravel and slip away without any notice.
I will miss that beautiful beast. She was a friend when I really needed one. I am forever grateful for the tenderness she carried into my darkened world. For her soft hooves. For her joyful excitement when I was near.
Thank you, dear, Honey, keeper of secrets, dryer of tears. Godspeed.
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