My sneakers, Their shoes, all echo in the empty corridors as we walk the mile. Take the elevator. Ride the lift. We see her then, slumped over on her tray and sleeping. Her wordless daughter sitting next to her in the bulky wheel chair. Neither indicating so much as a wave, by way of recognition as we approach.
“Hello Grammie,” I whisper. Then louder, “Grammie, it’s Lori.”
Nothing. She is figuratively dead to the world, locked in a dreamless sleep.
My Aunt watches us through dark sunglasses, twisted fingers ever pinching and pulling at her bothersome eye. She winces as I place my hand on her shoulder. There is something there that still causes her pain, even after all these years.
My mind goes back to another time, another place. When she was young and beautiful and life was full of promises. And all these, these promises. Abrupted by a man driving a truck with a snow plow attached one stormy evening. Leaving her here, in this place. In this desolate, helpless place.
I survey the others watching me carefully. One looks to have literally gone through the war. There are parts of her face missing, a huge patch over her eye. I conjure up images of a war, the Korean war coming first to mind. I don’t know why. Others have empty listless expressions. Staring off into space, or staring right through me. All looking lonely, lost and forgotten. Waiting for the time to come when this room and these sad faces will all be but a distant memory.
Waiting for forever to start.
And I wonder how many stories, like my Aunt’s there are here in this room. How much heartache, how much sadness? How many have truly lived their life without regret? And if so, why this place? This now? This reality? This forsaken place, their final destiny?
Was their life wonderful? Was it all it was meant to be? Was it full and beautiful? Was it lived to the limit? Passionate? Was it lived by faith through a careful recognition of their fragile humanity? Did their life example Grace? Mercy? Compassion? Did they live the life they were made for?
And it gives me pause to consider that life is about three parts which make the whole: the past, the present and it is about the future.
The past…was it painful? Pleasant?
Have painful memories of the past scarred, leaving behind wounds that never healed over? Marked by hurtful words, broken promises. We can let them beat us. Those unrealistic expectations others had for us. The bar raised always just above our head. We could let all these take us down. Knock the wind out of us. We could let them win over our own relentless passion. Our constant search for something more.
We could let pain own us. Or not. I won’t live my life like that. And I will fight to the end for what I believe is the better way.
We could continue running ourselves ragged, wearing out to the bone. We could let the programs, the committees, the constant running in circles take its toll. We could just keep this frantic pace, never stopping for a breath. To smell the roses, to touch the grass, to feel the coldness of an icicle. We could forget what it feels like to be real, honest, vulnerable. We could live anywhere but in the here and now.
We could always be looking toward the future. To what lies next around the bend, to tomorrow. To what we will do or see or say or feel. To the promise of a brighter day, of greener grass over the fence. To the hope that life will not be the drudgery of the relentless here and now. We could live for tomorrow.
But what does that bring? One is never fully in the present when they allow the past and future to be the stronger influence. Life is too short to let days slip away unnoticed. The past is gone and the future lies ahead, less enticing than it seems. All we have for sure, all we really know is today.
I kiss her softly on the forehead, tell her I love her. Then walk away while feeling the urge to pause, look back one more time. There are no words to use when describing heartache. No words to properly explain how something beautiful has been broken. Some things are better left unspoken. And better understood through accepting childlike faith.
And some life experiences are better understood when they are viewed through the lens of perspective. Because there is always an exception to the rule that interrupts the melancholy of the here and now. And there is always a way out. Because this is not the end of the road for her nor is it for them. There is eternity awaiting.
And some sweet day, there will be dancing in those feet again.