Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Stolen Moments

We can’t always control our moods. Sometimes we head out with every good intention to have some fun, but the mind turns to melancholy thoughts instead.

I knew today wasn’t going to be very productive from the start. Most of the morning was committed to taking my wife for a routine medical checkup that requires a companion to drive the patient home. (Most of you 50-somethings may know what I’m talking about!) The late afternoon was promised to my son for the continuing search for his first car. So, I figured there would be no harm in stealing a few minutes to stop on Moose Hill for some exploration and bird watching as I drove through on my way back from a small item of business.

Sometimes, thoughts have a way of sneaking up, assembling and attacking when we least expect it. I guess it started in the doctor’s waiting room. The exam took an especially long time. For the first hour or so, I was enjoying the chance to sit quietly and read. I had my new copy of John McPhee’s Founding Fish. After a while, as I saw the nurses calling the other companions into the back for reports, it began to sink in that, although these procedures are considered routine, for some people they do present bad news. Just a few weeks ago, our good friend and neighbor passed away, at the age of 56, only 69 days after diagnosis. Only a few months before that, another friend, in her early 50’s, died of breast cancer. Another neighbor up the street is ill. When my turn finally came to go into the back to see my wife, I didn’t take it for granted that everything would be fine and was very happy to learn that everything was.

At some point during the day, I remembered that next week, June 19th, marks the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing. Perhaps it was a blog entry I read just yesterday about a recently-departed father enjoying one of his favorite beers for the last time that had me thinking about my parents and the way simple things could bring them happiness. Just before I headed out on my errand, I read an e-mail notification that another acquaintance of ours, not much older than us, had also succumbed not long after receiving a bone marrow transplant that was meant to give new hope.

Considering the thoughts that snuck into my mind, perhaps I can be forgiven if, as I approached Moose Hill, I stopped at what looks like a small family burial plot along the edge of the street. There are about five marked graves and all of the headstones are damaged. Perhaps time has taken its toll since the two dates I could read were from the 1820’s and 1830’s, but some of the damage looked like vandalism. The one name I could see was a prominent name in our old town and a few fresh flowers marked the graves, so I know these graves, while looking rather forlorn, are not totally forgotten.

After driving slowly up the hill to the sanctuary parking lot, I decided to visit a pine grove that is nearby. I remember watching a flock of turkeys scratching through a light snow under these pines while pausing during a winter jog, but this mid-afternoon in June it was sunny, warm and still. High in the trees, a tiger swallowtail butterfly flitted through the sunbeams and a few small birds worked quietly among the soft white pine foliage. The tall trees and soft, brown forest floor reminded me of a place called “Cathedral Pines” along the Appalachian Trail that I hiked though many years ago. I wasn’t standing in a cathedral, but I could imagine a chapel; a place suited to quiet contemplation about those who are gone and those we would leave behind.

I have respect for traditional customs surrounding death and burial. I figure most of them have evolved because they work for the societies that embrace them. I am also increasingly aware that new approaches are taking root. Last year, I heard a piece on the radio about burial grounds where the natural beauty of the cemetery is maintained and disturbance is minimized. Graves might be dug by hand by family members. Headstones might be made from native rocks, or burial locations marked only by GPS coordinates.

Standing in the quiet forest today, alone with my mood, I hoped I would have many happy healthy and productive years left. I hope I can do some good things in this world, and when my time comes, I hope I’m placed in a quiet natural place where those who knew me can sit and enjoy the breeze through the pines.

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At 12:50 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

This is such a thoughtful and contemplative post. When the anniversary of my father's death arrives, I make an altar for him. I put out his favorite photographs and books, his favorite foods and mementos. I light a candle that burns for 24 hours. I remember him and all the things that I loved about him. Because one of his favorite foods was potatoes, I plant potatoes the next day in his honor. I've been doing this for 14 years. We are so much a culture without ritual that I've made up my own. I hope you find some way to mark the day of your mother's passing with a remembrance that matches your love.

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Wenda said...


At 2:53 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Thanks to Robin Andrea and Wenda for the nices comments.

In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to light a 'yahrzeit' candle every year to mark the passing of a loved one. I suspect the potatoes and other mementos are uniquely Robin Andrea's! You've got me thinking. Since the solstice and the anniversary of my mother's passing are so close, there might be some connection to be made.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Wildside Musing said...

Happy to hear your wife's tests were ok...

At 1:36 AM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

I've been to a lot of funerals lately - I'm at that age, I guess, where our parents are passing away. Not ready, yet, to see my friends go.

Peaceful rememberances to you on the anniversary of your mother's passing.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Wow, thanks for remembering, Laura. You prompted me to post something for my mother.


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