I used to smile at the idea of becoming old and taking on the wisdom of the “Golden Years.” I was so sure that I would never age, nor did I think wisdom came without great effort; but I was wrong on both counts. Age I did. And wisdom did come as memories on the wings of angels. Pure gift. Pure Grace. And then I remembered a certain look in my parent's eyes when wisdom came to them as a gift. I had mistaken that look for wisdom coming from within them when in fact, for them too, it was a gift.
This is what I think about at Christmas; the real gifts that when bestowed upon us moves us to give to others. A cashmere sweater wrapped up in tissue and red ribbons or a tin of home-made cookies iced with Christmas trees and ringing bells is our attempt, at its finest, to share the light, the beauty, the clarity of what we have received.
Our parents gave us the gift of life, a primal gift that we spend the rest of our lives attempting to return to them in kind, something wholly of our own making as proof or validation of our worth. Sometimes that gift is rebuffed; sometimes it is taken to heart. Either way, it leads us to wisdom, it leads us back through memories to a state of pure Grace.
Both of my parents have passed from their mortal lives and gone on to another realm. One thing they worried about most in leaving me behind was that I would be alone without children to remember me. Just now I realized that was yet another gift they gave me. They had cherished how I loved and “remembered” them while still alive and mourned the fact that I would have no offspring to do the same for me. Parents, it seems, never stop teaching their children. Even after death they continue to give gifts of Grace.
I couldn’t swim, afraid of the water
and even the bream that gasped for air
and were hung from the stringer
on the side of the boat as we fished all day
on the lake curdled with water hyacinths.
You drank from the thermos,
the coffee I was too young to drink.
You cursed the sheared pin and turned to pee
over the side of the boat as I set free the dazed minnows.
From the bucket of bait and watched you row
and pause to rub your tightened chest
as rain pounded the lily pads
like your fingers drumming the edge of the table
when you played Hearts and held me in your lap.
Half a mile to shore where cypress trees
groaned and rubbed against each other
like you and mother outside the doctor’s office
when you couldn’t tell me about angina
but I knew you sickness from the number of times
you opened the aspirin tin, yellow paint worn thin.
Twenty pearly beads that took the grayness
from your face: three to walk our acre yard,
one to eat your diner, ten to argue with my brother
but never enough to keep you from growing thinner.
You taught me long division and how to spell separate
we’d argue if there was a God, quickly trying to communicate
all we had to say to one another without the other knowing why.
Eight nitros left to get us safely to the dock:
we sat in the rain and counted.
My mother walked the ridge of Roaring Creek
in search of trailing arbutus and claimed
that when she knelt down to shell pink petals
hidden under the leaves of winter rubbish,
she felt me quicken in her belly.
She'd tell the story over and over again
when I couldn't sleep or was sick,
of many years of searching and never finding
that perfect fragrance of discovery,
the waxy delicacy of shy native blossoms
said to have greeted the Pilgrims of May.
Before I could read or write
and matched words not by meaning
or understanding but their Braille taste on my tongue,
I would sing myself to sleep with visions
of Indian maidens walking the ledge of Raving Waters
in search of flowers to quicken love in their belly
and braid in the hair of booted Pilgrims
with twinkling quicksilver eyes.
I never walked the edge of Rolling Rivers
in search of what so few have found.
Nothing has ever quickened in my belly,
but once, in a sleepless dream,
there was that unmistakable aroma
of Winter giving way
to the Pilgrims of May.