Sunday, April 1, 2018
For Easter - A Chapter From the Book of Barkley - Learning to Walk on Broken Glass
"One day some people came to the master and asked 'How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness, and death?' The master held up a glass and said 'Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly.'" - Achaan Chah Subato - Theravadan meditation master
As children, we view the world as if it will always be as it is that day. Mom and Dad will always be there; the dog will live forever. There is little that cannot be fixed by glue, a bandage and Mom's chocolate chip cookies. As we get older, those perceptions sometimes still remain, that we will live happily ever after; we will have children, who will have children, who will have children, the family living forever, in defined order of aging and passing. We go into adulthood believing what is useful for us to believe, or rather what is intolerable for us not to believe.
After the death of Barkley, we went out to see my Dad, to laugh and remember, much more than the life of a dog. While I was there, I took Dad and my new husband one day up to the cemetery on top of a hill, where we could watch our shadows upon two small graves. Big Bro did not go; still weary from both chemo and radiation, but helping us prepare flowers to take to those graves. I remember standing there, shafts of sun hitting that small stone, listening to the short song of a bird hidden, who sang four short notes then ceased, as from a distance came the incurious, calm sound of bells.
As my Dad did, I realized long ago, that one must sometimes don that shirt of flame, which we do not have the power to remove but only to bear, without being devoured by the blaze. There is no perfect order, there is no guarantee, but there still is, and always will be, beauty. If we didn't learn that, we'd only move without living and grieve without weeping, neither worth the toll they take on that which remains. For myself, I chose now to weep, and, with that, remember. I think again to those beliefs peculiar to childhood, namely those things we believe, simply because we are yet too young not to believe.
The first was Santa Claus. I had my doubts that first year I sat on Santa's lap at the hardware store and he had on black geek glasses. Santa should look like Santa, not a 30-year-old CPA. Still I kept it quiet, buying Mom's explanation that he was just Santa's stunt double, Santa being busy that day. Certainly Santa was real, he had to be real. Then there was the Tooth Fairy. Dad still has this little note, written in my handwriting, an affidavit to the Tooth Fairy attesting that indeed I did lose my tooth, but I swallowed it with the piece of apple that pried it loose. It's wrapped around a little plastic box filled with baby teeth. Big Bro was a little less subtle. One night, long after I was asleep, Dad was alerted from the bathroom where he was preparing for bed with a "Dad, I caught the Tooth Fairy," and he had Mom by the arm and was tickling her and they were both laughing.
I think deep down we had known for some time the Easter Bunny was our Mom and Dad. But we were not yet openly willing to admit to another fractured fairy tale. Still though, our parents let us hold on to the perception that the world was unbroken as long as they could. Some things, though, could not wait until adulthood. One was finding out we were adopted. So many people, then, and even now, ask me about biological parents, and I have no answers for them. But for the reason of the severing of that tie, which is not the concern of the world, neither of us sought to find them, outside the scope of our hurt or their harm, even if we refused to pass judgment for the reasons we ended up where we did. Or perhaps we did pass judgment, but were simply unwilling to pronounce sentence.
This was the beauty of family, simultaneously fragmented and undefeated, emboldened and afraid, yet still seeing the good in the world around us. So we carry on, my brother and I, as we tell our stories. "Remember when Dad was told to give me the ‘birds and the bees, boys and girls are different talk’ because Mom was sick? It consisted of a photo of a boy from the Sears catalog in his underwear, a finger pointed to a critical area and the admonishment ‘Don't kick your brother there!’" He would then laugh and remind me of something silly I had done in school, memories that shone in the sunlight on the telling, his laughter still ringing like a touch on glass.
For Barkley was indeed my family, his story, joining these others, each entwined into a family history of black sheep, white knights, the victors, the vanquished, each carrying with them loves and burdens and more than one four-legged companion with which they shared the journey. Each name, name by name and page by page, will be laid down until inevitably, only one name will remain, for that glass is indeed, inevitably broken. That person will, I hope, capture the names, and whisper the stories that haunt the winds, even if no one is left to hear, but ghosts on the page, with no earthly house in which they wait for us. As I start to weep my brother touches my face, in benediction, in blessing. That is the true beauty which sustains us; that His sacrifice through which the world was saved is re-enacted here in this world every day, in the saving grace of a small imperfect family and the memory of a dog.