All of these events occurred in my head. Some of them occurred in real life as well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

topeka: on my grandmother (part II)

One month after I finished writing the first part of this piece I called my grandfather and wished him a happy Easter. My grandfather was born on Easter Sunday and so I always think of him even if Easter doesn’t happen to fall on his birthday and this year it fell eight days short of his birthday. I asked him how my grandmother was and he told me that she had deteriorated severely and I already knew that because my parents had told me the same thing the night before. I had no words to say to him and so I asked him to tell my grandmother that I loved her and he responded that he would.

One hour after our conversation he received a phone call while sitting down to Easter lunch at my parents’ house to say that my grandmother had passed away.

At the time, brilliant and billowy white clouds were dancing underneath the inimitable California sun while I ate and drank and admired a stunning view over San Diego. My telephone was inside so that I could properly embrace my daydream but bad news has a certain persistence and grey clouds rolled in as my Easter respite succumbed to the inevitable. Four missed calls were all that I needed and it took me a while before I felt that I had the strength to return them and it really was only a feeling because I broke down before my mother’s phone even rang once.

Two weeks prior to Easter Sunday I was in possession of a plane ticket that would bring me home on a trip expressly purposed to share a final moment with my grandmother and I postponed the trip in favor of a date two days after that beautiful Easter Sunday. I was behind on work and preparing to move and I could not have foreseen the coming circumstance and I had all of the excuses in the world but, ultimately, a decision that seemed so reasonable in the moment turned out to be a gamble the stakes of which far surpassed my understanding and the repercussions of which I have not yet had the strength to even consider.

This isn’t meant to be a shameless plea for sympathy like it seems but it is a confession and it is an acceptance and a resignation to the fact that life can be cruel and the hardest person to forgive will always be yourself. My grandmother was harsh but her forgiveness was infinite and that always confused me but I thank God for it because I know now that she might be the first person to acknowledge my mistake but she would also be the first person to forgive me for it and the last person to ever hold it against me.

That evening, I walked home and I stopped to admire a row of palm trees as tall as the clouds. They climbed the sky and the palm branches spread across the constellations, aglow with the fire of the moon and it reminded me of my grandmother because everything that day reminded me of my grandmother because she was all that I could think about.

The stars that night were burning in timeless mystery and they alone deserved my admiration but I stood enchanted by the branches of a particularly tall palm and I thought of how great a tragedy it would be if the stars fell from the sky and I missed them for the palms. My grandmother understood scale and she had a singular perception of value and her priorities had scientific precision and she admired palms all of her life but never in the presence of the stars. What is more, my grandmother never saw value as something that she transferred to an object but something inherent that she delighted in about an object.

As my grandmother’s memory came rushing back that evening, at last I understood that it will be a tragedy when the stars fall from the sky whether or not I miss them for the palms. It’s a tempting thing to say because it’s what I want so desperately to hear but I think it’s also the truth because none of her tragedy has to do with me. Her death will always be a tragedy because the earth can’t stand to lose people like her and because it exposes how fragile and fleeting life is and because the most interesting and beautiful things about life are the people who stand truly inspired by it and she was and now she’s gone and I missed her and I miss her.

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