Monday, December 26, 2016

#SOL 16: The Unbanked River

House By the Tracks (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.
                                   Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams

It isn't only the absence that makes the holidays so difficult. It's how memories free flow like a river unbanked. Earlier my son rushed in to tell me he was testing the speed of a new router. Armed with an iPad he plopped down on the sofa and I took a second to study him in that unguarded moment. And as I looked, I glimpsed the toddler who approached most days with a similar curiosity.
I fixed the wall good. 
What wall?    
The one by the steps. I fix it.  
Okay, good.                   
We  had just moved into a newly built home and as we got setttled that first night Devon was nonstop chatter about fixing a wall. We were so tired and excited and we told him how good that was that he fixed the wall and he smiled with a pride I can still recall. After we had put him to sleep, Rob would discover that our then three-year-old had used green and yellow markers to draw all over the stairwell wall. Those were Devon's Bob the Builder days and he was always fixing something. Even now 14 years later, there is a faint staining that remains.

Heart wrenching.

We always meant to repaint, but never found time or money to do so. And now, well now, those slight stains are reminders. What remains is of course of greater interest after a loved one has passed. How different might our lives have been had we known the little time Rob would have here on earth--would have with our son? Better, I imagine to not know such things.


These days I rewrite so many private memories with the new knowledge of how much time Rob had left. 13 years after Devon fixed the wall, 13 years almost to the day, I would answer the house phone early one morning and then pass it to Rob who would learn he had cancer. Nothing would ever be the same again. And yet, nothing ever is.

There is a clarity that sorrow births that reshapes meaning. It's like at the end of Thornton Wilder's Our Town when Emily returns from the dead to glimpse a lived day.
I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back...up the my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.          
Looks left and then out past audience and then to the right 
Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good- by to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. 
And it is this knowledge of the present where we stand and so often look beyond that cuts us. We feel that sharp edge of that understanding borne from failing to notice. It is the seemingly unimportant and ordinary moments of living that best define us--that we miss the most. And when we realize that we have failed to love these moments as we lived, we share Emily's regrets. We share her pain until we forget again.

And we will forget.


Life rushes on and our losses that feel so profound are hardly specks in the cosmos.  I marvel these days at the fierce pulsing of life. A river unbanked.


The Stage Manager closes the Wilder's play by noting:
There are the stars doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven't settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk...or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain's so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.

And perhaps it is this straining that disrupts the sweet ebb and flow of the river. Perhaps it is this straining that reveals the mindlessness that lulls us to forget the necessary unbanking a river will claim, must claim. 

Memory is so fleeting and we forget the rush and spill of water beyond the pathways we have made. We forget how this alters the shape and look of the landscape we carry within.

The river finds what is has always been regardless of the many banks we have built to tame it.


Grief gives us a new geography and a new lexicon of utterances and sighs that allow us to see and hear differently. The unbanked river transforms the familiar. There we hardly know the water--the once steady ebb and flow is now difficult to discern. We have waded far and buoyed by constraints and by absences, we feel a new meter beating through us, rising up. We will give it its way as we must.

When I look back, when I recall the nearly-30 years with Rob, what I see mostly is that we loved fearlessly. 


  1. What a beautiful, thoughtful post! You've crafted it so well--flashbacks, quotes, etc--and overall you've created a wonderful reflection on the essence of life, time and grief. I'll be rereading this.

    1. Thank you Molly for your kind and insightful words.

  2. As you watched your son, watching your memories, I found myself doing the same, both with you, as your reader, and here at home, thinking of our three boys. One is in college, another is in his late high school years, and the baby is now 12. How did that happen? Yet, looking at them in those unguarded moments is like that river you write of, the rush of the past collapsing into the present. It's a powerful current.

    1. It is a powerful current, Kevin. The love of a parent of his or her child(ren) is most powerful.

  3. When I look back, when I recall the nearly-30 years with Rob, what I see mostly is that we loved fearlessly. YES!!!! The most wonderful ending to this very thoughtful piece of writing. Our Town has always had a hold on me and now in this reality I join you. So much to teach us. So good that you can share Rob always with your son.

    1. Thanks Bonnie. Devon is a Godsend. We share so much--so many memories of Rob. Happy holidays to you and may 2017 bring solace and peace.

  4. "There is a clarity that sorrow births that reshapes meaning" The clarity of your writing, your thoughts, well up a sadness and yet a hopefulness in me. I have time to look and notice and be present. This year marks many changes for my family as we add sons. (We have 3 daughters). The traditions of the holiday have changed, and in that change, I find memory and hope. Thanks for your beautiful, real, heart.

    1. Margaret I hope you enjoy those new sons and also watching the changes that happen over the years with your daughters. Peace to you and yours.

  5. Loving fearlessly. The best thing to see. I'm just in awe of you as you continue to share your story. Thanks.

    1. Kendra thanks so much. The writing helps. Helps so much. Happy new year.


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