Friday, September 09, 2016

forty days

Begin with this. Forty busy days, days that seem to hold whole different days inside of them, days that are more or less negotiations with myself about how much I can get done. After the children are in bed I climb the stairs to my office to continue work, my mind awash with pieces of seemingly disparate puzzles. I feel like a cup full to the brim, but someone is continuing to pour.

My sister is sifting through the accumulations of my father's life: drawers of string and tape and glue, treasured cuts of exotic wood waiting for a purpose, colored glass, old books with torn cloth and broken bindings, and far far too many small pewter vases. He collected: plastic bags and garden tools, wool and cotton cloth for weaving, seeds, staplers, rocks, dried flowers, pencils, pads of paper with sad little sayings written on them, marbles, meat grinders, dental tools and surgical clamps, peppercorns, coffee pots, jars of honey, bars of soap, corn husks, magnifying glasses, plaid flannel shirts. My father prized that which could be put to use. He gravitated toward items that would be useful for homesteading in the 1800s, or if the electricity went out for a good while. I imagine he saw each busted garden tool restored, the rusted head rubbed shiny with steel wool, then carefully refastened to a newly turned and oiled shaft. As he stashed away plastic bags I suspect he imagined them reused until they turned brittle and torn, then twisted and woven into bath mats.

There is a lump in my throat that doesn't go away. It is a reminder, but of what I am not sure. I went to the doctor, she glanced down my throat and assured me I didn't have strep.

Forty days, and then some. Wednesday night we held a panikhida, a short and beautiful rite of remembrance, to mark forty days since my father's passing. I said a silent prayer asking him to forgive me for having a service for him in the Orthodox Church. My father was a man of religious conviction and theological intransigence. I'm not sure he believed I was truly a Christian once I joined the Orthodox Church. To his mind the Orthodox Church was some lesser and more antiquated version of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Roman church he regarded with grave suspicion. But pray for him we Orthodox did anyway, "with the saints give rest / to the soul of thy servant / where sickness and sorrow are no more / neither sighing but life everlasting."

My eight year old son said afterwards that it was a wonderful service. He wondered if we could also have a panikhida for his beta fish, Thunder, who also recently died. Thunder lies in a decorated box in the freezer alongside his favorite rocks, awaiting burial. "So many people are dying lately," my son said, "Grandpa, Thunder..."

I have not gone back to my father's house since the night he died. I can see the things all piled up there without going over to see them with my eyes. I remember the way he treasured it all. When I was twenty and moving out, I took a stapler from my parents home. Years later, when I'd moved the stapler with me to New York, my father found it in my apartment while visiting me there. He took the stapler with him back to Oregon. Apparently he'd been missing that particular stapler all the eight years it had been in my possession. My sister reports there are any number of similar staplers at the house and I can have one if I want. But honestly, I do not want a stapler.

Nor do I want piles of yarn or small pads of paper or pewter vases. I might be tempted by scissors, or local honey, but I don't need more of anything. Not really.

What I need is time. What I need is time stretched out and softly unfolding in front of me. Time unhindered by crisis or heartbreak or urgent business, just the business of walking and cooking and laundry and applying band-aids and bactine. Time just circling around the weeks like water, like leaves spiraling yellow to the ground.

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