It’s 6 in the morning, as I plunge headlong into the chilly June waters of Walden pond, fighting panic and the cramp of cold unstretched muscles. “You must be really hardened,” the woman next to me had said as I waded into the water, trying to forget that all the other swimmers had wet suits while I stood there in my practice suit, arms and legs freezing. ‘No,’ I thought, ‘I’m not hardened; softened rather, after two weeks of family, of obligation, of fighting to hold onto my concept of self.’ As I weave my way across the pond, struggling to keep the lines straight in my head, I fight the fear by singing “It is well with my soul” in my head, two drastically conflicting images filling my consciousness. I flashback to standing at the memorial service for my grandfather, the voices of an entire congregation raised in memory and in honor of him, tears streaming down our faces as we morn the loss of such a kind, good man. My heart is heavy with grief. But I also flash back to sitting in the kitchen with the new man in my life, as he excitedly tells me about his favorite dance camp memory, of the swelling of voices in the early morning all singing “It is well” in perfect harmony, passion in his voice as he recounts the memory and shares that it is his favorite hymn. And now my heart soars!
I hide my face behind a pillow as I sit curled under a blanket on the couch, my roommate telling me that she can see the joy in my eyes any time I mention him in conversation, recalling that her sister had that same look before she was happily married to her husband. “I’m just a few short days of falling,” I tell her, “I know I am. I can feel it.” “Falling can be terrifying, can’t it?” she says. I smile, and instead of the same old terror and panic, I let the feelings of hope and joy wash over me. “Nope,” I say, “It feels fantastic!” And in that moment, I mean it and suddenly I know the answer to questions that have stood like walls in my mind. “Are you over him, M?” I recall my mom asking just a few short hours before. I had paused at the time, staring blankly at my plate full of hash browns, wondering whether it was actually fair to say yes, knowing that I’d thought I was free of him so many times before, but that somehow his memory had always found a way to return and haunt me. This time is different; I am sure of it.
I reach into my purse to pull out a stick of lip gloss, my hand brushing something cold and metallic. “What in the world is that?” I wonder, stopping in my tracks to dig into the chaos to find the mysterious object. I discover that it’s a bullet casing, the discarded blank shell that my uncle reluctantly passed to me after my grandfather’s military funeral service. I’d never been to a funeral, or a military service, so had no idea what to expect. After completing the flag folding ceremony, the honor guard performed a 21 gun salute, guns cocked at a 45 degree angle towards the small open sided pavilion where the family sat. When the first shots were fired, I was so shocked by the noise that I blinked all of the tears out of my eyes.
It’s the middle of the night and you come my place to spend time with me. My mother and grandmother are asleep in my bed, snoring away softly, worn out from a fast-faced graduation weekend. I sneak out of the house to meet you and we stumble through the darkness arm in arm. We come to a cute little park and get drawn in by the play equipment, a large swing and sideways merry-go-round seeming to call our names as we wander under a starry sky. You lay down on the merry-go-round, fighting centrifugal force as you attempt to stay centered while I push it faster and faster. I hop on right above your head, leaning into you to steal a kiss as the world spins around us, the surrounding world blurring together sweetly. ‘If ever there existed a perfect moment,’ I think, ‘it’s this one right here.’
The merry-go-round of life spins ceaselessly,
lives lived in a chaos composed of individual moments,
the web of society connecting generation to generation
and strangers to friends, as we pass on cherished memories,
favorite hymns, spent bullet casings, and family bibles,
worn from use, tattered and torn, but still valued,
like our souls, thrown about in the ebb and flow of life
the waters of experience a bracing medium,
as we pass from love to love, moment to moment,
with only our memories and our lust for life
to keep us company in the darkest of nights.