The blog hiatus is over. I’m in a different world now, writing from a desk with a lake view facing west— palm trees list in the wind, two geckos scamper across the floor. It seems this part of southwest Florida was settled by Italianophiles. We’re in Naples; we have family in Venice. But other countries are also reflected. There is Panama City and Riviera Beach. City names reflect what people seek here: Sunrise, Sunny Isles, Winter Garden and Niceville. Yes, you read that correctly. We will definitely have to check that out. But most are Native American names to remind us of who we have displaced—Okeechobee, Opa-Lacha, Tallahassee, Kissimmee. And let’s not forget Plantation. There is no denying history wherever you go.
Feeling at peace, excited about making this winter home ours, we came home on New Year’s Even with a bottle of Proseco, looking forward to a low key celebration. But all was not well on Paradise Coast, the land of pristine beaches, as we were smacked right in the face with life’s chill. A woman stood in our driveway, talking on a cell phone. She finished her call and walked over to us. We don’t yet know most of our neighbors, only the couple next door. I’ll call them Tom and Judy. She was Tom’s mother, barely able to contain her tears.
Tom and Judy’s long awaited baby had come six weeks early but was now thriving and ready to meet extended family. They traveled in tandem. Tom and the baby in an SUV, Judy and her girlfriend in a sedan. A semi crashed into them killing Judy and her friend instantly. Dan only had scratches, but witnessed the horror. The baby was untouched.
This is only the storyboard. We can fill in the truth of it in our own minds, never really approaching the depths of the devastation. What do you do with this knowledge on New Year’s Eve when celebration is all around you and fireworks light up the sky? I couldn’t shake the heaviness in my chest. It seemed hard to breathe. The what ifs. The how could this happen. The bottomless sadness for the motherless baby and the father who will raise her alone. I hardly knew them. But it doesn’t matter. I am a wife and a mother.
I went about doing what we do—cooking for the family. Poet Judith Prest calls that fighting grief with a spatula. It gives us something to do for the family whether or not it lands in the garbage. There is a reprieve in attending to the mundane.
The stories we tell are sometimes too hard to bear. Yet we tell them anyway, look at them straight on, find a way to make them count for something. We all give lip service to the cliché of living in the present. Amidst all the daily to-dos, we certainly don’t have time to ponder the elusive nature of our lives. But we can feel the day wrap us tight; move us from one moment to the next, one day to the next.
Sitting here now, I just saw Tom walking his dog. The tasks that remain when the a cherished life disappears keeps us moving, give us transitory solace. That’s really all we can do.
And perhaps, look for the golden moments in a day to keep sheltered in your memory strongbox.