Today the sky here is gray. There has been no sun. Although I grimace when the forecast calls for soaring high temperatures, I am a Colorado girl and expect my sunshine. But clouds always do make me think, as if they alone can ease the pace of a day. The verb here is beautiful: slow.
This is a year I will always remember. It is pinned: orphan. But it is also pinned: care. I have seen more friends and family in this most memorable year than I have for a long time. I have enjoyed the company of cousins, of childhood playmates I’ve known my entire life, of my godparents and my brother and dear friends from all eras. I’ve been warmly welcomed into backyards, shared meals, received kind messages and laughed. Even this last week of the year, I have been lavished with time with friends, and this morning a truck arrived to deliver a bouquet of flowers from two friends I have known since elementary school.
Two weeks ago in Denver I stood alone on a hill beside my beloved natural history museum. My parents took me to that museum often. We went to the big traveling Ramses exhibit and to planetarium shows and stood in a tedious long line to see gem carvings one year. I volunteered there as a teenager and wrote about my experiences on college application essays. My mom and I took my two eldest children there when they were wee people with chirpy high voices, and we stood chatting as my babies pretended to be astronauts.
When I was a child the museum had a sculpture of the head of a saber tooth tiger, mouth wide open, where one could drop a coin and make the tiger growl. I was a little afraid of dropping a coin in, just like I was a little afraid of the creepy elevators amid the animal dioramas, but I could do it. I was brave enough to make a saber tooth tiger growl.
The museum still has that saber tooth tiger. I walked into the lobby this month and I could hear that sound again, imprinted as it is, as if it came from some stalwart neuron devoted to only it. There must have been an eager child that December day with a cupped hand full of coins, because the growls continued. I took it all in, slow that day too, playing another track in my life’s soundtrack. Then I walked outside to the old familiar hill.
There are always geese in Denver’s City Park. My mother loved birds. On my wall, I display one of my father’s paintings, depicting the ash tree in their backyard of 33 years. Within the tree is a birdhouse I decorated for my mom one year: “Barb’s Birds.”
The sound of my mom’s longtime friend drawing a bath for her granddaughter in July was a visceral and sensory reminder of my mom doing the same for my child ten years earlier. The way my college friend’s husband spoke for a puppet in December was gut-punch similar to what my dad would do. So I stood outside that museum in City Park, the saber tooth growl renewed in mind, and I forgave the wild geese I found there.
I forgave them for giving and then for taking away. I forgave them for the goodbyes after the goodbyes, the many reminders, the over and over work it takes to let go.
They are sorry, the wild geese. And I’m sorry too. I am not without gratitude: thank you to Mother Earth and to God and chance and the wild geese for conspiring to give me this life that I wanted more of. Thank you for my belief that it wasn’t enough time.
The year is over. When I look up from it I realize that I am within a circle of my parents’ making. I turn, and turn, and turn, and the circle is unbroken. It was both the year of orphanhood and the year of the most abundant and tender care.
I was too young for this. I wasn’t ready. But standing in my parents’ circle, the year they died now ending, I am certain of something only the snow in City Park knew before me: I am brave enough for forward. I am brave enough to make a saber tooth tiger growl. I am encircled by mighty things.