Sunday in the Park
June 22, 2012
Even the sunset lingers in the clouds this time of year. Stretches out in lavenders and blood oranges. The backdrop is dramatic. It gives one pause from the conversations taking place in the confluence of driveways and front yards.
In our neighborhood, we stand in the street to converse now. It is a rare car that turns down the cul-de-sac and we are in the months between snowplows. Kids push fearlessly on scooters under watchful parents’ eyes. There are hugs and beverages in hand as greetings take place. There is time to hear about (harmless) vacation disasters and plans for trips to come. With enough time, stories about family members start to unravel and we are reminded that all families are messy, or whatever it was Chekhov said.
The windows and doors are open all the time and so we become respectful of late-night music or television watching. We all seem to value the quiet more than the distraction. There are places in the lawns, trodden down, where the deer come to eat from the bird feeders and rest a while.
My bleeding hearts are fully flowered and I never miss a chance to show a small child how you can open them, turn them upside down and "find" a lady in the bathtub. The strawberries have flowered and the anticipation builds for the yield maybe three dozen perfect berries after the magpies eat their share.
The handy (and dependable) man I have relied on for so very many years tells me I need to paint the sun-baked, weather-beaten side of my house and I know he is right. He points to the shingles that have slipped from the roof during the winter and we try to remember when I replaced the roof last. Five years, seven? We can’t remember.
In the garage, we tick off projects and add new ones in some strange algorithm that always manages to keep an equal number of projects on the To Do list.
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Inside, the cupboards and pantry and spaces under the sink that have been ignored seem to rattle for attention. And you notice those chores to be done, you do. But when the call comes to sit a spell on a friend’s perfect porch, you leave all that without a thought.
Soon the conversation bubbles up around sports and health issues and then back to planned trips on the horizon. But I don’t mention my recent trip to California for a long weekend. It could sound confusing. Staying on the coast, taking long walks on the beach when I wasn’t driving over the hill and setting up hospice care for my mother at her four-year-long home for dementia. It is too much to explain, the mixed emotions that end-of-life issues create for us with loved ones, or at least those we are related to.
It forces you to consider what kind of last chapter you would write for yourself, if you could. A final cocktail with friends and family while you still had your wits about you, and then a self-directed ride into the sunset, sounds lovely. Lingering just long enough for sticky kisses from toddlers and hands squeezed by tender folks and butterflies fluttering on your sun-warmed cheeks.
But it is rare that a well-adjusted person chooses an exit strategy. And even those who think they can, will, rarely have the ability to cut short their stay, even if they have the tools to do so. Life is so beautiful and precious and frustrating and juicy and joyful and the need to linger is just too great for us. So we watch dying friends and relatives fight to stay here when their bodies have long left the building. And we want them to go gentle into that good night, and they have wanted the very same at one time, but at the end, the will to live is fierce.
In the past four years I have lost six people in my life. Only one was "old enough" to die. Each time I have looked for messages written in sand or smoke and tried to make meaning out of sadness and I can conclude just one thing. Love like crazy while you can. Your family, your friends, your life, your neighborhood, your sky on the longest day of the year. What is precious to you is whatever you deem to be precious, and you need to spend your time and your money and your energy being very clear about what matters. And showing up for it all.
Because while you are lingering, the sands of time are slipping away and one day, when you beg for one more chance to tip the hourglass, you must be clear, abundantly clear, on how you will make each grain matter. If you have not lived an authentic life, then one more tip of the glass will be pointless; there is nowhere enough grains to make up for those kinds of lost chances.
But if you have been true and I have seen this the universe will guide you with a gentle hand to the edge of the lingering sunset and you join those clouds as they spread across the changing sky. And before you know it there are more twinkling stars in the night sky than you can count. And each one brings you peace. Any day of the week, even the first official summer Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.