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Family Quartet III: Sometimes We Are Right


For Milo and Eleanor and Avi: Into the New

“We think so then/ We thought so still.”—Edward Lear

“May we stride into that morass, senses left, dreams fevered, and underpants brightly colored.” —G. L., 12/31/2015, personal text

Most of us agree we lived the most intensely in our first hundred years. We thought we knew, by the time we were forty or so, except for those “poets and saints, maybe” who seemed to always know, that there couldn’t be a lot of time left, and that we couldn’t know ahead how long that would be. This sight of time, and of what could come after, drove us all in subtle ways and calamitous ones. And some of us had seen profound catastrophes in the world that made us clamber for a way out, and that lead us to each other.

We had common concerns that boiled down to an indignation at injustice. We all had our occasions to argue, to plead, to organize and collaborate, and we all worked hard and saw changes, as doctors and preachers and teachers and policymakers and entrepreneurs, all pushing to ease others’ lives. Most of us were, at the same time, fighting to keep families afloat and happy, friendships preserved, mortgages paid, our bodies healthy. But we weren’t, in any of these fronts, notable stars of activism or leadership. No, I think what set us apart is that we were also philosophers, still uncertain, and we all somehow came to the conclusion that not only were all the world’s ills unfair, but they all could be elegantly, tragically simplified into one Truth the injustice of which few cared to face: our mortality. Agreeing on the worth of every life, we had to agree that none of us deserved to die.

I was nearing 60 that day I decided to have a glass of wine beside the harbor in Victoria and watch the people walking past, the yachts and passenger ferries from the mainland choosing their placid paths. The late afternoon sun posted gold in my face and in my glass, and I breathed gratefulness for the quiet, beautiful bustle around me, keeping my focus there. I shared smiles with my server as she brought me bread and butter, a second glass. Just a half an hour more to sunset, I knew, and then it would be time to wind my way back to my hotel room and prepare for the next day’s work.

Two men and a woman were seated next to me, and I didn’t look at them at first. They were quiet, too, but merry, and I gradually became aware that they were enjoying this refuge in the day, too. “Ah, it’s just too nice here,” the woman said, almost to herself, “I’ll hate to leave tomorrow.”

So, they were travelers too. I turned my head a bit to see and found a dark and serious face, maybe 35, maybe older, in black-rimmed glasses that caught the sun. Her companions were quite a bit older, one certainly older than I was, and there did not appear to be any romantic alliance: friends then, and comfortable enough with each other for an easiness of posture and silences. I turned back toward the street and the water but found myself listening for what they’d say next.

They briefly discussed coordinating some sort of technical needs for what turned out to be a conference where they would all be presenting. One man—Hal, I learned later—wryly commented that he hoped the margaritas in San Antonio were better than the ones in Rochester, and that sent them all into quiet guffaws and shaking heads, leaning forward and leaning back.. “And the elevators!” added the woman—Karen—and they laughed some more. Their talk turned practical and trivial then, and I turned my attention back to the water, to how the sunlight wove and glanced in its easy peaks. The wind was kicking up a bit, and I had to grab my napkin, exchanging looks as I did so with the third man—William—who was studying me casually and smiled.

My server returned and asked if I was still all right, and I asked for a glass of water, stalling. Time for my sweater, but the air remained light and companionable. A young man in jeans and a bright yellow shirt sauntered by on the walk, seeming to look only at his scuffed blue sneakers, but just past us, he looked up and out and broke into song: “Hey, ho, nobody’s home. Meat nor drink nor money have I none. Still! I will! Be me-e-erry! Hey ho…” His voice was strong and full of yearning, and I smiled and smiled, then found myself laughing with the three. “This really is a special day, isn’t it?” offered Will. We all fell into talking together, and after we’d paid our bills they invited me to walk along the water’s edge with them, under the spell of the moored sailboats gently lapping and clanking as the sky darkened, and this led to that until we found ourselves exchanging addresses and hugging good-bye.

The friendships stuck, and we stayed in touch, learned details of each other’s histories, met and got to know others. Although the day to day moments of my life changed little in the years after we began, these friendships enhanced my sense of the miracle and adventure in each day. And with this I found I was also operating with a new variety of hope, just short of expectation. We sought each other out, largely electronically but with periodic meetings between two or more of us, expanding our circle as we met each other’s friends. With them, I was never uncomfortable talking about good food or God or fears for our children or what car to buy next or how sweet the earth smelled in the rain in the summertime. I was never uncomfortable sitting quietly with them, sipping wine or sweet water, feeling myself breathe.

Almost five years after I first met Karen and Hal and Will, we planned a reunion, six days by a tiny lake in the Adirondacks, thirteen of us strong. We came from Brattleboro and Austin and Santa Barbara, Melbourne and London, Tehran and Kyoto. We brought food and wine to share with each other, blankets and pillows to sleep on the floor of the vast barn we’d rented for the week, phones we soon found were useless to link us to the outside world, as the mountains all around held us together with only each other to hear, as if they said, “You know.  It’s time to speak about it.” I had a sense of something important but did not know what exactly held me in expectation. I looked for signs of the vague nervousness I was feeling in the others, but our week progressed as a happy reunion with good, intelligent friends, no hidden motives awaiting. We talked and swam and cooked and ate, drank wine and tea into the wee hours, smiled more than I remember smiling before in so short a span of time.

On the fifth day, it rained, and many of us napped for the afternoon. So when the stars came out

 long after dinner, we made a fire. We fueled it far into the morning hours:

 Spring’s territory, bats aflitter. 

Rain’s smell, even the dirt alive.

The ache, deep and low and then high across the night sky.

The curve of Eva’s cheek, the freckle below her left eye and the gentle crook to her nose, her smile

 breaking into the night 

Will pressing chocolates into our hands, their chew and their earth and sugar.

Hal and Karen laughing until they both snort, slapping their thighs, Karen’s whoops driving Hal into a 

small dance, tears streaming from his eyes. 

My breath. Each breath.

The Earth pressing our backs into the stars, at ease as we reel into them, stretching our hands to touch a

 planet, a star, each other’s hair or shoulders, looking deep and long.

As then we sing, in swelling round, determined and victorious, ”Hey, ho, nobody home…Still I will be

 merry,” and then, as the first trills of red-wing black birds and courting woodcocks intrude, “Row, row,

 row your boat,” together. 

Everyone should have this, and this should last. Never end. Never die.

Until someone actually said it, and then we were quiet, and then we talked as the sun came up, the lawn

 chilly now but each damp tendril of grass and bird’s insistent trill fortifying the words we finally dared

 to speak.

Karen ventured, “But what can we do about it? This is what life is.” We were quiet again, until Will said, “We’re a bunch of pretty smart, thoughtful people here. We can at least put our minds and hearts to it,” and Mary added, “Maybe we won’t be able to find a way in time, but maybe what we do find will help people some day.” “There’s cryogenics,” Teo put in, “Those folks in Moscow are looking into it–we could see what they’ve found out.” We all shuddered a bit at that, but Rolando nodded, “Let’s find out what people know already. We’ll start from there. Really, extending life is the only way to find the sort of justice everybody here believes in.” And we thought about that, and then could see he was right, and there was more to this than just a dreamer’s selfish longing, that gaining time could be the only way to make the world right.

We adopted a mission that night, solemnly offering our hands into the middle of the circle and bowing our heads, and I know I cried a little afterwards as I went to sleep, just before the sun came up, feeling foolish but hopeful but serious with purpose: we deserved to live, every one of us, and we would try to do so.

And then we went on with our lives. Within the year, Kochi was diagnosed with prostate cancer and began treatment; Rolando lost his beloved youngest uncle to an auto crash; and we all lived in a new admission that time was running out, but we had our jobs, children and grandchildren, homes and yards to maintain, holidays to celebrate. So nothing changed much except that we shared articles and research links, finding evidence everywhere that we weren’t the only ones in this pursuit. As we had expected, we found no fountains of youth, but we kept looking for them.

It was I, in fact, who first showed Hal the Herzog film on MacMurdo, I who confided that despite all the film’s compelling beauties. I had been troubled for years by the scene of the helpless penguin who homes in on bleak nothingness instead of its mates at the shoreline. Herzog films its tiny, wistful toddles as it heads resolutely in the wrong direction and intones that there is nothing anyone can do for it: even aimed in the right direction or set among its penguin brethren, it will persist in heading for solitude and doom. We could not, in those days, reasonably expect to save everyone and everything, and I could not blame the residents or filmmakers who let this small one go. I confided in Hal that this small, particular sadness had tugged at me for years, part of me insisting on the tiny creature being saved, that there must have been a way, some righting or comforting, some challenge we must not turn away from. But Hal saw something else, and he decided to go there to find out more. He found a posting at the station for a 6-month stint as medical researcher with an option to renew, invested in some equipment, booked a charter. It took him a few months and some stealth to find what he was looking for, and he renewed his contract twice to confirm, then found funding from an obscure organization, the Rosicrucians of Tomorrow, to continue his research unencumbered. The other residents at McMurdo accepted him as another of their ranks: eccentric, creative, smart, and a little secretive.

Hal was worldly enough to know it would be too hard to convince most people of what he had found out, so instead of trying very hard, he merely mentioned his findings occasionally to people he thought might possibly understand, and gradually more and more of us did. When he first sent me the photographs of the ice cave, I saw only an artist’s fantasy of an alternate world, curves and creches that glistened blue around the congregation of penguins standing about in it. In one photo was a dark pool on the cave floor, and Hal’s caption reported, “their link to the sea.” In the brief letter that accompanied the photo, he described what he had found after following another wayward penguin, little commentary beyond his first unprejudiced perceptions. With each letter he said a little more–in one, “There are few babies here, and no corpses,” and in another, “I am speaking with a dolphologist regarding extra-human language development.” It took me quite awhile–4 or 5 years–to understand what he was getting at. It took him nearly a decade to figure out how it had happened: the tiny penguin travelers, their electromagnetic orientation remolded, had not perished but found new life.

And then he began the gentle measurements of his subjects. “Polar,” and the penguins’ abnormal sense of direction, had given him his, and his hunches were born out over and over. Some of us were able to come down and see with him, brought under various guises–provisioning the station, teching in one of the other labs, exotic vacations–and the first time I arrived there I could only gawk and gawk. The ice caves I recognized from Hal’s photos were illuminated from above by what no one could deny were skylights, the ceilings sculpted and shaved thin enough in periodic patches to let the daylight through. There must have been more than a hundred penguins there, all sizes and shapes although all gentoos, some resting, some busy at various tasks, some in small groups facing each other, low noises and gestures exchanged between them. I saw five penguins working together to mold an enclosure out of the snow, shaping with beaks and limbs and taking turns. One of them turned to a penguin fifty yards across the space and gave a small chirping sound that lifted at the end, and the penguin chirped back in a lower tone, scooped up a large fish bone next to it in its wings, and hurried over to the group, transferring its burden to the penguin who had first spoken. Yes, spoken. I sat down, my head whirling, dizzy as in a dream to see the penguin using the bone to carve in the ice, and then I was aware that two other penguins had approached me. One pressed a wing firmly onto my shoulder, and the other dropped a small fish in front of me. I instinctively nodded, and they both nodded too, then moved on. I was seeing penguins who had, with time, developed their natural sociability into undeniable language and community and craftsmanship. Left to evolution, this would have taken tens of millions of years.

By this time, Hal was ready to take the next step, and he corraled Karen and Rolando’s engineering savvy to help him make the first device.  No animal testing for this bunch: they were confident enough to use it on themselves from the beginning, then waited a year, collecting data daily, before they were ready to offer it to the rest of us. Ten of our friends took their turns the following summer back in the Adirondacks, a reunion I had to miss because of a work project, though to be honest, I don’t think I was quite ready then. I trusted my friends more than anyone, but I had to see it work, consider all the risks and the implications, before deciding, okay, this is what I want too. Decision made, I came to see Karen in San Miguel early the following spring, giving myself to the color and spice of bouganvillea, tequila, and all the luxuriant sensual enunciations that came with the sense that some truths defied change.

The process is cheap, the technology simple and safe. No one has ever died from or been disabled by the procedure; in fact, the worst has been a certain sense of fuzziness, like a physical ambiguity, which I suffered myself for almost two weeks but which resolved itself. As Karen recommended, I found that seeking calm before a fire with a cup of tea and a book were like taking my vitamins each day, although for awhile whenever I’d pause to think that I can read all the books I want now, all of them, my head would spin again for a bit. Soon enough I had accepted and adjusted to the new normal, and my energy and excitement seemed boundless. It was a physical change, Hal confirmed, but it was also a new sensibility, one it took me awhile to identify. I was like a child again, one without the burdens of predestination or mortality. I was free, and I was in love with the world again.

Our faces, our bodies, of course ceased their aging, and within a year we had noticed ourselves becoming more youthful. Muscle tone and flexibility and energy ever so slowly rebounded, not to the point where we became like teenagers, but most of us settled back into bodies remarkably like what we had enjoyed at forty or forty-five. Later, when our youngers transformed, they aged in tiny increments, a year for every ten, and the time gave them more youth and more wisdom by the time this concluded. Sexual energy rebloomed or remained for most of us, and when our friend Amy had a child after she’d turned ninety-three and her husband Charles a hundred and five, we teased them—but we also rejoiced at the tiny newborn and helped them give him everything he needed to grow strong and happy. Their baby was rare and precious, since within a few decades the birthrate had fallen by half, and before the second century was out, we were barely replacing those we lost to chosen death or outer space immigration.

Just two years and the thirteen of us past the change, we went public, big and fast, ready to go everywhere to realign others and offer prototypes of the device they could replicate themselves. We knew hasty publicity was essential to equity, or otherwise there would be plenty of people to snatch it all up and use it for their own gain. Remarkably, no matter the culture, location, or society, we always found leaders and philosophers who understood what we were doing. The dissemination became my specialty, in fact, my diplomatic work. After five days of media blitz carefully set in place by Rolando and Eva, Karen, Kochi and I boarded planes in Seattle, Boston, and Singapore and went from there, enlisting others wherever we landed and sending them out as well. In less than 6 months, there was not a place on earth where one could not walk for less than a day and find a realigning clinic. Certainly there were places where neighbors tried to prevent their enemies from going, but before long most of those skirmishes dissolved away. What was their point? With a future at hand for everyone, why prevent another’s?

In a few places, to be sure, the conflicts ran so deep that they needed more time. Land and water and customs of worship were things people had learned to cling to, and learned they must fight for, and so they had to learn something else. So Karen found herself selecting five Israelis and five Palestinians and enclaving them in isolation with instructions not to return home until they had found a way to peace. Knowing they had all the time they needed and plenty to come, they kept the conversations slow, deliberate. They talked every day, usually long into the evening. It took 2,500 days, nearly seven years, but when they emerged they had agreed, and they had spent considerable time cooking and laughing together, too, and after hearing the solutions no mother would tell any child to brook that peace. Kochi initiated the same sort of congress between statesmen from Boston and Dallas, and those agreements did not take quite as long.

Before, uneasy dreamers may have feared that unlimited time would mean complacency and loss of passion. We have found the opposite is true, for although the intensity of desperation is passed, we cultivate our passions, which can be directed and realized, and neither the far reaches of the world nor the workings of our own minds and bodies are ever static but keep offering new mysteries, treasures, adventures. I speak twenty-five languages now and take on a new one every three or four years.I took up dance when I turned a hundred and twenty-five, my little birthday present to myself, and it will be decades before I master the movements I seek, and never ever will I exhaust its possibilities of choreography and expression.  Five years after that I realized it was time to tackle Mathematics, and patiently, steadily I have made my way back up to Calculus, this time with a new appreciation. I have not seen every inch of earth, and once I have, I will start again, as it continues to change, and I have barely begun to see the solar system, much less beyond. I am calmer now, but I am very much alive.

I find philosophers everywhere. In New South Wales a dairy farmer drew diagrams for me showing how the course of humanity has inevitably led to this. In Reykjavik,  a weaver compared the tapestries she had made as a youth to those she made through middle and old age and expounded on the critical differences in what she could design and make now. Long hours over coffee in Istanbul with new friends have brought me new insights into the history of gender, the power of family.

I have made preliminary enquiries in the animal world, as well–Eva as my linguist–and pigeons and apes are all about the change, steadily carrying it out. Cats pounced on the opportunity immediately, with sly, knowing looks at us and each other and few shared thoughts, making us uneasy until we realized all they wanted was more time in the sun. Dogs, however, seem to understand what we’re offering but only ask, “Why?” and remain puzzled at our answers–so only those persuaded by their pleading human companions partake. Some people still choose no, as well. We still don’t know what is after, and some people want to know what that is sooner rather than later. We try to understand. Pope Francis III declared the realignment a personal choice for practicing Catholics but for himself chose no, explaining to me quietly, “My Savior chose no, and I trust Him and have no fear of death.” I was startled and even somewhat chastened, until he laughed with me about all the things I would have time to do, when I was two hundred or three hundred or–“Or what about Methuselah, that old chap,” he chuckled, “What do you suppose he was up to towards the end?”

Nearly eighty years in, we walked into a tiny village near Kuala Lumpur  where they welcomed us with gourd wine and acorn cakes. Yes, of course they knew what they could have, and a few community members had gone into the city to have it. “But we do not need,” their elder patiently explained, and led me to the small river that flowed through their houses. He had me kneel with him, and he grasped my left wrist and held my hand  in the cool water, just held it there and let me feel and hear it. “Because of this. This is why. ” When he let go, I kept my hand there a minute, feeling and trying to understand. When I stood I nodded deeply to him, still uncertain, but he recognized my respect and nodded in return.

It was after that trip that I made some time to walk alone near home. Traffic lights and an auto charging station and even a pizza shop had come into my tiny town, but the road by my house was still quiet for most of the day, and the woods up behind that dear old yellow house had never been developed. I made my way up into the wetlands once or twice a year to see what the beavers had been up to and spy on the deer,  watching and listening to the rivulets and small  torrents tumbling into each other and down the long hill. Seeds and blooms and pendulous leaves, reaching stems, confident trunks, with every sort of chirrup and lilt between them, busied the place no matter what time of year. Now it was fall, and time to go again. 

After Aaron died, I had gone back and forth for nearly two years deciding: how can I stay? How can I go? How can I stay? In the end, I kept the house but traveled often, and when I was home I rarely entered the barn, steeling myself when I did. Once a year, at least, I made myself. Sometimes I would enact a ritual—a  lighted candle, a bow in four directions—but usually I would only feel my breath, hold and exhale it in all its holiness, knowing some atoms of dust were bound to remain from those old times, letting it in and out but too rigid to let myself yield to full feeling, not yet. 

The barn had been the clincher when we first saw the house. The whole place needed work, floors to be sanded, wallpaper stripped, the garden gone to gout weed. The barn was not much better, but it was sound, and as we poked in the corners beside the area converted into a garage, we found two mangers, and upstairs, the sunlight found its way through the spaces between the boards, illuminating the dust and the worn wooden edges and flashing on our faces as we moved about. After we moved in, we kept tires and skis and an old canoe up there, and as Aaron grew older, he used it as his fort, making believe kingdoms and grand adventures he preferred not to share with us. One summer his dad set up his easel in the loft, and in the evening he’d proudly produce the day’s work for our inspection, muddles of blended colors and light rays of primaries and smiling simple people and cats. Years later we found the scribbles and signs he’d also bestowed on the barn wood at hand. 

When he was twelve, on the precipice of manhood yet still with a child’s heart, he found a tiny nest of newborn field mice in the ragged primrose quilt I’d let him take up to use in one of his forts. He’d begun acting secretive, slipping in and out of the house and barn and barking at the cats  when they wanted out. Finally, when we pressed him, he sighed deeply and brought us out to see. Proudly and protectively he ushered us up to the mice’s fluffy home, holding out his arms so we wouldn’t get too close. “Shh! They’re sleeping!” he cautioned, then boasted, “Their mother lets me come up to them now. I brought her oats.” We gazed and gazed at their huddled fur and their wild, wide eyes as the afternoon sun played on Aaron’t blissful smile. He kept guard whenever he could for weeks, until the mice grew and scattered, out into the world. 

That refuge and ours could not last for our boy either. His father and I divorced, but we remained close, trading weekends and holidays with Aaron, and when my ex had to move two states away for work, he called Aaron every night. But with each year the problems mounted: the anxiety, the depression, the catastrophes at school, the long days when even brilliant sunlight gave him no peace, no hope. We tried so hard—and for years I had to keep telling myself, yes, we did, we tried with all our hearts, the doctors and therapists, the drugs and retreats, meditation and admonishments and camping and kindness and travel and shouts of anguish and songs of love, and we could not help—or, we could not help enough.

It was one day in his twentieth year, after the fourth or fifth hospitalization and a dozen regimens of pharmaceuticals, that I could not find him until I raced, with sudden clarity and dread, up the barn steps and found him there hanging. My hands are scarred forever from the way I tore them as I tried to tear him down. He was still warm, maybe still alive. I began rescue breathing and had the shock or the presence of mind to stifle my screams and, remembering that hearing is thought to be the last sense to go, telling him over and over, with each breath, we love you, Aaron, we love you, we love you. But I couldn’t bring him back.

The next few months are a strange combination of clarity and blurs, time racing and slowing with no regard to the turn of the sun. After we scattered Aaron’s ashes, I went home to my parents’ house, where I lived for almost six months. Many days I would weep in my mother’s arms before I slept, which is when she would go to weep in my father’s, all this at a time when they were in their eighties and I should have been assuming more care for them. My brother and cousins and friends old and new also reached out to me and kept me from falling. Aaron’s dad and I phoned each other weekly for tentative, gentle conversations that boiled down to, “Are you still here? And will you stay?”

I finally went home, my brother accompanying me for the first week, and although I had nothing in the way of desire, some native instinct Aaron had lost kept me taking steps each day. I ate. I slept. I washed my dishes and brushed my teeth; when Spring came I mowed my lawn, even though that is the time the simplest memories of my old life, of my husband in the kitchen or at his desk, of Aaron in the barn, of plans for dinner, would force me, or allow me, to cry for the 45 minutes it took to go around and around each foot of yard on the trusty red Honda. 

I went back to work after a year, still fighting demons of the horrible world we live in, but I was calmer, with more patience for my co-workers and myself. The terrible hole in my life did not go away and never has, but I would not have that wound cut out and stitched up. I honor him with my pain. What’s grown and healed beside it, though, has been healthy, joy and hope and laughter slowly becoming as strong as the loss. Slowly, so slowly, I learned to take breaths without sorrow,  to allow myself a future. I treasured my time at home and I treasured my time away. It was during this time in my life that I met Karen, Will, and Hal at the cafe in Victoria and began to allow myself happiness.

Now, as I walked near home and considered how all had changed, my thoughts were drawn back to my boy and to all the possibilities that ever had been. I had happiness every day; I was undeniably grateful for each day; and yet other thoughts now came troubling out. We had found what we wanted: immortality. With that came hope for every single living thing. But I still ached and brooded, incomplete despite the endless possibilities ahead of me. We’d seen so many advances since we’d bought ourselves time: in safety, in disease prevention and cures, in peaceful wealth distribution, a permanent flourishing of the Arts, protection of our earth, exploration of the solar system and beyond. And I knew of the technique, developed after thirty years of studies based on a minute alteration in Hal’s reorientation technique, that had stamped out forever the sort of depression Aaron had suffered. 

That’s the problem. Injustice remains; we still remember it and cry for it. Some of us, five of our original thirteen, see this, while the others argue leave well enough alone. I’ve talked to Hal and Rolando about it. I know they’ll be able to work out the engineering. But we’ll bring in Mary, our philosopher and musician, to keep them focused, to remind them of other considerations, like the power of a song danced and sung at age fifteen, like the truth of the scent of blooming lilacs. And we know why we are still seeking: Rolando, who as a teen, more than a century  ago, killed a mother and her toddling girl through a moment of inattention at the wheel. Hal saw his father die of dementia, losing all he was years before death, the sharp mind, the laughter. Eva fought with sly expertise and abandoned passion in Chechnya, defending her homeland and her family, and knows, knows for certain, of twenty souls only doing the same who she brought down. Young, sweet Mary aches for her beloved pup she saw carried away by Indiana floodwaters when she was only ten, his eyes beseeching and trusting until the end, as her mother desperately pulled her back from trying to save him. Marcus is haunted by the refugees he cared and found homes for, young people whose lives could not be mended from the agonies they’d seen, parents cruelly murdered, tiny siblings snatched away. They know of my loss, too, and we know so many others whose grief and guilt has not eased with time but sharpened: now, we can say those we were responsible for have lost even more, centuries, maybe eons. I know Aaron’s life is even brighter to me now than it was in that old time, and that is because of what I know, not because of what I’ve forgotten.

This one may take longer, a century or two, but we are patient now. Yes, we have all read enough books, seen enough films, to know the ouroboros we will encounter if we mess with time, turning all in on itself. We know if we do this we will surely veer out and become one with those stars, start it all again. Still, in the moment before, we could go back,  this time knowing more of what it all means. In that fraction of a moment, awashed in all the beauty and the grief, that moment poised in the turning to the new,  I could grasp the rope in Aaron’s hands and pull it to the floor. I could hold his face in my hands and see him, and he would see me and all the times before, right down to that sheer, unquestioning child’s joy as the light streamed onto his face and brimmed forth from his eyes. This time I would know which words to choose to make him want to stay.

But I am torn. Soon I will have seen two centuries of revolutions around the sun. They say the sun will last five billion years more, and who knows but that we could live them all?  Some things that gash us open will not heal, yet what’s good is still good; what’s true is still true. I walk behind my home, feeling a mild autumn air on my face and arms, smelling earth and pine.The sun still fills my eyes, still finding its way past the old barn’s parched and stubborn boards. Crickets warn us with the same song I heard when I was a child, and I see the monarchs’ casual purpose at the milkweed beside my garden, just as I did when I was young.  Above, two red-wing blackbirds converse as they fly over. I can almost make out what they are saying. 

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