Go

The hardest part of that horrible day was leaving the hospital. It was late at night by the time we left and the lobby was deserted, hallways darkened, elevators silent. As we stepped through the doors, the hot sticky air of a summer’s night in Carolina hit us hard in the face. The world beyond these doors was not the same as when we had entered hours before. It had started with waffles and the promise of coming home, and ended in emptiness. This world had been transformed in a matter of hours and the future seemed as dark as the night we were stepping out into.

We processed silently towards the parking deck, the longest walk of my life. Concentrating all our energy and willpower on putting one foot in front of the other, each of us feeling the weight of leaving one of our own behind. No one said a word. This was our lowest moment, our bleakest hour. As we crossed the foot bridge connecting the hospital to the parking deck, I stopped in the middle and looked back up towards the hospital. My mother’s hospital room looked out onto the street, visible from this bridge. The second to last window on the right on the fourth floor of the cancer hospital. A soft light still glowed from her window.

Any ounce of composure I had managed to muster disappeared as the tightness in my chest was released in the form of a wail. I could not continue forward. We were leaving her behind. Our light.

“I know,” my dad whispered. The three of us stood there, broken and defeated, looking up at the light and feeling like this was the end. But we had to go home, we had to let go of that light. It was not a question of being strong. We had no choice but to carry on. That was the hardest part.

It’s been four years since we stood on that bridge together and bid our light goodbye. It feels like four thousand years ago and four minutes at the same time. It’s the first number that seems too big, too far away; you can earn a diploma in four years, elect a new president, cheer on a new cycle of athletes at the Olympics. I am different and yet, the same. I feel at peace with today. I’m not worried about what the next year without her will be like. I know that I’ll be alright. But she will be farther and farther away.

As for that bridge, I’ve visited it many times in my mind, though I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of actually going there again. In dreams, on hazy mornings while sipping my coffee, looking out the train window, while swimming laps at the pool, or when I’m feeling very lost. Sometimes the ending is different. But the light is always there. It used to be a place of regret, where everything I should have said and done would come crashing down on me. But now it has become my crossroads, a physical marker between my past and my present, and the future that lies ahead. It is a place of ending and beginnings. A place where I can stand from within the deepest recesses of my mind from any place in the world and know that if I look up, I will be reminded to go forward.

There will be other bridges to cross.

relay for life 2011

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The Other Side

The Other Side

This week I’ve been staying at my aunt and uncle’s farmhouse in the center of France, a rural region tucked in between the castles of the Loire Valley and a mountain range of dormant volcanoes. Aside from one town of about 15,000, the rest of the population is spread out in little communes nestled in the rolling hills and forests of this plateau that spans for miles and miles. Brooks run through the valleys that are older than time itself, mossy stone walls crumbling along the banks. Narrow country roads wind their way past farms, pastures filled with cattle, sheep, and donkeys. This is the side of France that people don’t know or think about, far away from sparkling lights and glamour of Paris.

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As I stand on the hillside behind the house at dusk, the clouds rush past above me. Everything around is still except for the trees blowing in the tree branches. The beauty of the untouched landscape, the force of the elements, it feels like I’m looking right into the heart of Earth’s creation. I feel like I am a very small part of something much bigger than myself and, therefore, the weight of my hopes, dreams and worries as well. For the first time in what feels like a very long time, I am surrounded by dandelions and wildflowers instead of people rushing and stumbling over one another in some race we’ve created for ourselves. I love the city but places like this remind me of where I come from: a house in the middle of the woods at the end of a dirt road that sometimes felt like a world away from the short three miles to town. My days here have been filled with gardening, hiking, reading by a roaring fire, and introducing American baked goods such as banana bread to my French family (it received mixed reviews). As I figure out what my next step is, it’s been nice to unplug and catch my breath.

Planting potatoes.
Planting potatoes.

But there’s something even more special about this place. When I am here, I feel connected to my mom in a way that I rarely feel anywhere else. Even in the house where I grew up. At first, it took me off guard because there aren’t that many memories of her attached to this place; we only came here together once. But her presence is undeniable. Fluttering above the herbs in the garden, wandering through the fields, disrupting the colonies of raindrops that have gathered on the stalks of grass. Her footprints are almost visible. Digging my hands into the soil is like holding her hand again. A sense of calm that comes with knowing you are safe in your mother’s arms. And for a moment, I am. Convenient tricks of the imagination, some might say. But I know. After so long, I have found her, she is here. What an extraordinary thing.

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