Like a Root and a Rock
Is it a coincidence that I have walked down the same path nearly every day for fifteen years or so, and have never seen the root holding the big rock, bigger than a bowling ball, skyward, just a few feet off the trail, until two days ago, and now I cannot miss it? And even odder-- my dog walking friend also noticed it the same day-- and we even wondered if high tides could have tossed the log up, or the wind or a bear-- but when we investigated, it clearly has been on that spot a long, long time.
There's that-- and then there's the news about George Edwards, who died yesterday, apparently by his own hands. He lived a hard-scrabble kind of life, very close to the bone, and was crippled from what, I don't know, but will learn writing his obituary. He was always so upbeat, he waved and said hello. He was small and hunched over and walked dragging feet, with two aluminum crutches gripping his forearms, and he had those thick glasses and the dark boyish hair and a smile. He was often tinkering with a car amidst all the old parts and spares and more in his yard when I jogged by his place. The last time we spoke was at the clinic about two weeks ago. George was coming out of the physical therapy office as Chip and I were going in. He stopped and told Chip how sorry he was to hear of his accident, and encouraged him, saying he was sure he'd be better in no time, then he hobbled off. Chip was moved-- shaken even-- more by George's kindness and courage than anything else that had happened during his whole accident and recovery time, I could see it on his face, and he said later out of the blue, and has repeated it since-- "That George Edwards is such a sweet, sweet guy." -- and Chip is not usually sentimental. George had a way of doing that to people who paid attention to him. He helped them see the good. This morning walking on the beach we talked about George, and all the people who did pay attention and who cared for him, and wondered what had happened, what we may have missed. Dr. Feldman hadn't heard, and we told him, as he and his dog joined in, and he too paused, in shock and sorrow. Which brings me back to that rock, sometimes we don't see what's right in front of us. Sometimes we miss stuff that's been there a long time. But I don't think it is a coincidence that I noticed it right now, or that the rock is not pulling the roots down into the earth, rather the roots are holding it up, tightly, like hands, almost. Also, I don't think it is a coincidence that I have been re-reading Richard Daunhauer's poems this week and that he too died yesterday. (Benchmarks, New and Selected Poems 1963-2013 University of Alaska Press.) I read Chip a funny one about how not even bi-foculs could help him see the centerfold anymore, and how glad he was to be married to the same woman all those years now that love really is blind-- that would be Nora, the current Alaska Writer Laureate, he was a former one-- Richard often called himself "Mr. Nora"-- anyway, in the poem I opened at random this morning to read with my coffee, Richard had translated from a medieval poet-- he was a true scholar-- "Oh where have all my years of lifetime disappeared? Was all my life dreamed up for me... or is it really true?" I think the best lives, like George's and Richard's are both dreamed up and really true, don't you? The priest at my mother's funeral said each death should shake us-- and in a way, waken us. I think that's true, but I also need to pay more attention to each life-- you know? Life should shake us awake more than death should, don't you think? In a good way, I mean, with encouraging words, and attentiveness and gratitude, like George did and like Richard did-- an unlikely pair to share a death day-- and I don't think that's a coincidence either now, do you? -- I aim to do a better job of holding on tight to the heart of the matter, like they did, and that root and the rock will remind me to everyday.