A long pause after just writing out your name. I'm sitting here, with paper and pen in hand and thinking that there is so much to say, multiple lifetimes worth of thoughts and feelings. I won't even try to say it all here -- not in one letter or in forty. But I thought writing some letters to you would be a nice way to spend some time visiting with you now. I'm so used to having you right here. I honestly can say that not for one moment did I ever take you for granted; but I'd forgotten what it was like to live in a world without you, a world without you physically present in it. Although there were a few times during our lifetime together when we were physically apart for a stretch of time -- a vacation, a semester -- this is an altogether different experience because of the finality of it, and there's no way I could have ever fully anticipated what your absence would be like and the feelings that I'm now having to endure throughout my waking hours.
I've been looking for you now for over three weeks, since your passing on the morning of February 1st. I've been left completely unsatisfied with any mystical or metaphysical explanation of where you've gone, or how you're still with me. Without dwelling on the obvious depressing aspects, I'm certain that I will, each day for the rest of my days, continue looking... and hoping. As much as I loved your little beagle body (that gave you so much trouble sometimes), I will not need it to recognize you when our day of reunion comes.
I'll try to keep these letters meaningful and brief; my mind is rambling these days, but I'll do my best not to digress on these pages too often. So let me stay specific. I want to share with you something that happened today. I went to mass today at noon because it's Ash Wednesday. You don't have to be particularly religious to appreciate Ash Wednesday: it's simply a reminder that we all are here on the planet, in these bodies, for a finite period of time. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Regardless of one's personal beliefs about life or the hereafter, none of us can argue with the fact that our bodies eventually come to their end. A universal, inescapable part of life. This is the first Ash Wednesday, however, when I'm feeling the full blow of death's reality. Before you, I'd experienced death mostly second-hand -- friends of friends, headlines in the news, or in the guise of characters in a novel or film.
During the mass, I went to reach for the offertory basket being passed around from pew to pew. I reached to a man who was sitting in front of me. I'd noticed this young man when he first came into the church before the service began; he moved awkwardly, evidently suffering from some kind of palsy. But as I reached for the basket, he motioned further down his own pew, where the basket needed to be passed before making its way to our row behind him. I realized my mistake and apologized quietly for so anxiously jumping the gun. I've just started this month attending a weekly service again, and I'm still not quite familiar with the way things work in this particular church. The last time I attended a church on Sundays with some degree of consistency was back in New York, years ago. I'm still feeling a bit like an outsider, which keeps me more watchful and less relaxed than I would be if I were a regular there.
The parishioners in this man's row were a ways down from where we were sitting, so he stood up and walked the basket to within arm's reach of them. As he did this, hardly self-conscious while moving in his slow uneven steps, he smiled at me and then whispered one word: "Patience." And I thought immediately to myself that God or you (or both) was sending me a message. But what exactly about patience? What am I supposed to have patience about? Patience because grief subsides? Because, over time, I will get better at living without you? That, eventually, I'll be able to feel genuine happiness again? Patience to wait for the day, at my own moment of death, when all the mysteries surrounding life and death will be revealed? Patience to wait for the day when you and I will be together again? Patience with myself as I try to make sense of this in a way I can live with until that time comes? I confess that I'm feeling very, very impatient. I don't want to be without you for even one more minute.
Something else: Watching this young man struggling to move his legs reminded me of the times when, in those last few months, you would still want to go for walks even though you were having trouble coordinating your stiff hind legs. I could see you working so hard at it. You loved life so much, despite your illnesses and difficulties; sometimes, I think, your challenges made you all the more adamant about living life and soaking it all up. How many times you stood up and showed up for the day, when I know that a weaker spirit would have given up! I envy you that enthusiasm for life, your absolute love of life -- and I feel almost guilty now as I write this, because I'm thinking the whole time I'm writing I didn't sign up for this. I don't want this. I am, of course, still keenly aware of all the blessings in my life. And your two brothers are my greatest comfort and inspiration now; I know it's my job to keep on loving them and protecting them, and I'm so grateful for that. During this first month, they have been the main reason I've gotten out of bed in the mornings. So I appreciate all that is still good in my life; and yet there are moments when I think to myself what I wouldn't give to be able to transcend all of this and get to wherever you are now.
I can be very patient with others, especially when I'm assuming the role of teacher in one setting or another. That said, my lack of patience -- whether it's with circumstances or with myself, or with someone else who happens in my day -- is definitely something I need to work on in this lifetime. I already knew this about myself before I lost you. Of course, I had no idea that the lesson on patience coming my way would be of such a formidable magnitude. I have enough trouble waiting out the small stuff. Now, through your death, you are teaching me more about patience than all the other life lessons thus far combined. Every moment, every breath I take each day, for the rest of my days -- a test of patience that I have no choice but to endure.
As I keep looking and hoping.