My mother is slowly shutting down. The people at the nursing home said this is normal and natural. Days, weeks: we don’t know. I’m back in L.A. and I probably won’t return. And it’s been hard to think or write of anything else.
Last Friday, my little sister Meredith, my brother Ross, my nephew Allen and I took Mom to the Fuller Rose Gardens in Rye, where we’ve all been going since we were kids. It was all just as I remembered it: the beds of roses, the statue of the naked lady, the wishing well, the Japanese garden with its little wooden bridge. Mom hasn’t eaten, to speak of, for two weeks and though she wanted to go, the trip constituted a heroic effort on her part.
She doesn’t know my name, nor much that I’m her daughter, but when I said, “Mom, I’m going to leave now,” she seemed to understand. “It’s been a wonderful visit,” she quavered. “It’s been a wonderful 60 years,” I told her.
That night I took one last walk around Portsmouth, the old streets around the harbor, the old clapboard houses with their stone slab steps, their windowboxes, their lintels. I ended up where I always seem to end up: on the rise near Livermore Street, a cul-de-sac across the estuary from the old Portsmouth Hospital where I was born.
“It was a hot and sultry night,” my father always said, and I’m thinking 1952 was probably pre-A/C, so my very first whiff of the world was probably the high sweet smell of the marshes, and my very first experience of air the hot heavy feel of a coastal New Hampshire mid-summer night, which I have always loved and, if anything, love even more now.
On the way back to my hotel, I walked up Summer Street and was surprised–it was almost dark–to see the doors of Immaculate Conception wide open. First Friday, maybe. I walked in and the sanctuary was completely empty. Wax, furniture polish, incense, shadows, a few candles flickering to the side behind blue glass.
A quarter mile away a rock band was blaring, folks were eating, shouting, drinking beer. Here, it was very quiet. “Stay and keep watch with me,” Christ said to his disciples in the Garden at Gethsemane, and of course they couldn’t. No-one wanted to sit with him then and no-one much wants to sit with him now. An hour must be a long time when you’re dying. It’s a long time when you’re alive.
“This is my Body, which will be given up for you.” Kneeling in the dark, I thought about how, every time someone dies, Christ gives up his body anew, through and with that person.
On the plane back to L.A. I read this:
I ought to have a parallel life, a sea of time in which I would be able to remake those earlier journeys in the course of my present journey, to Silos to León, to Oveido. As it is, I must distill that reservoir of time from my own memory, but even if the appropriate images are evoked they can never be enough—it is all about proximity, tangibility, running your fingers over a stone, and about the impossible, because what you really want by now is not another life but a longer life, one in which you go round and round in the same circles of leave-taking and revisiting until such time as you feel so sated and tired that you lie down in a nook of one of those chapels, and slip into a dream of stone.
—Cees Nooteboom, Roads to Santiago: Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain
A thousand thanks for your thoughts, reflections, love, support, comments, and prayers.