I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A visit from my mom

My beautiful mama with her firstborn (me)
Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time thinking about today's Eye on the Edge post. I had already decided I would write about the dear friends I no longer see on my hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. All one needs to do is visit a photograph taken five years ago to see how much our makeup has changed in that period of time. It's because when you hang out with old people, infirmities inevitably surface that keep us home now and then. And then one day the "now and then" becomes "never again."

It's the way the world works, the direction we all travel from birth to death. Last week I mentioned how comforting I find it to think of one's life as a series of chapters, from our earliest memories to the present day. Few of us really know how many chapters we have in our Book of Life, and I hope I have many more Thursdays to hike with the Trailblazers, enjoy the company of the others, and to push myself in order to come home tired and content after having spent a day outdoors exercising. When I was a kid it happened naturally, but now I make an appointment every Thursday to go out and play.

That is what I was going to write about today. And then, that visit from my mom. She's been gone from the planet for more than twenty years, having died in 1993, but yesterday my brother Buz sent all of his siblings a copy of a poem that our mother wrote. He ran across it while going through some old papers; it had been sent to him after it was found between the pages of one of the books that were donated to the Mansfield library, where she was a frequent visitor. As usual, Mama made friends with everybody she came in contact with, and one of the librarians thought that Buz might appreciate having it. It was written in her handwriting, and I was fascinated to learn that she spent a fair amount of time thinking about her life after she had died. Here's an excerpt:

In this excerpt, her spirit senses, sees, and hears the beauty of the natural world. I love the "tangerine and rustic red" line especially. My mom loved the written word: the reason she was so well known at the library is that she probably read more than half the books in it. I know that sounds like an exaggeration; maybe it is, but I remember her coming home from a visit to the library with boxes of books to read. And read them she did.

I didn't know she was a poet. I didn't know she thought about things like this, because she certainly didn't discuss it with me. She told me many times that she was not afraid of death, not afraid to cross over to the other side, and in her poem she is still here, still sensing and seeing and hearing it all. It's such a comforting thing to know about my mom, that (in her own words) she would "fly and soar and dip" in the sky long after she had drawn her last breath.

Mama died at the age of 69, the same as David Bowie and Alan Rickman this past week. I tend to think of it as being premature, but it's not, really, is it? The Bible gives us a span of three-score and ten (70) as representing a full lifespan, and also reminds us that if we manage to keep going after that, it's not going to be without travail. Things are changing, moving toward stasis, toward the inevitable demise of our physical selves. But yesterday, I received a missive from that still-extant spirit of my mom, one that fills me with so much joy and love that I woke several times during the night to realize I was smiling in my sleep. She reminded me, once again, that there is nothing to be afraid of, and nowhere to go.
I'll wait content, to stir in sleep
The hour the earliest violets peep.
For with them all the wood will rustle
Under the west-wind's old-maid bustle,
Lifting perhaps, a speck of me,
And bearing it, due south, to sea. 
(P.S. I was informed by one of my commenters that Mama did NOT compose this poem. She copied it, almost word for word, from the book Diana by R.D. Delderfields. You can see the poem in its entirety here. Mama didn't sign it, so she must have been very moved by it to copy it. I'm glad to know she wasn't a poet and I didn't know it!)


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wow! Her poem is beautiful! And I love the photo of her holding you.

Marie Smith said...

Such a beautiful poem and so hopeful! I shed tears over this one. Thank you for sharing the essence of your Mom, her spirit really. She is living on and the picture is precious!

Linda Reeder said...

I'm just enjoying the essence of this post. My mind is leaping about, over the poem, over your mother, over my mother, over relationships.
May you find more beauty this week.

Far Side of Fifty said...

You had a really good relationship with your Mom...you are so lucky! How wonderful that she read so much! 69 used to sound old to me, now not so much. We just have to take it all one day at a time:) I Hope you have a wonderful week full of all the things you enjoy!

amanda | wildly simple said...

Beautiful picture. Beautiful words. What a gift to have treasures like your mother's handwritten words surface.. I'm so glad it made its way to your family.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Your story today is one of good news ... the kind of story that seems to be so infrequent in today's media. That one of the librarians in Mansfield would find your mom's writing and then go to the effort to send it to your brother ... wow, that is great. And then, for him to send it to you and for it to make your day ... very neat indeed. Thanks for sharing this post! Wishing you a fine week ahead!

Rian said...

DJan, I think your mom had a very good grasp on life and death. I too would like to think that I will become part of the cosmic consciousness (for lack of a better term) and oversee it all one day. I believe that love never dies... just changes form. Your mom's poem is very insightful. And how wonderful that she can still speak to you after all these years.

Arkansas Patti said...

Loved the sweet picture of you and your beautiful Mom. What a treat to be able to view her thoughts so many years later. Special kudos to the persons who made sure that poem got back to her family.

Gigi said...

What an incredible and beautiful gift to have received! Love the picture of you and your mom.

Have a wonderful week, my friend.

Cynthia said...

DJan, it's a beautiful poem, but I recognize it from a book by R F Delderfield. You can see a reference here:

I am sure your mother was deeply moved by it and copied it because she wanted to remember the sentiments because she agreed with them. I hope it will still give you pleasure to think of the words in her hand and her heart.

Tabor said...

Coming to the peace of an inevitable passage from life to mortality is a gift. Some of us carry it deep inside (as I do) and accept it. Some push and turn away and hate that time races by so rapidly as does my husband. We all get to the same place, but with a different stride.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful writer she was. You seem to have inherited that gift.

Jackie said...

To know that you woke up smiling in your sleep as you thought of your Mom touches me.
What a lovely photograph of the two of you! I look at it and think that she is holding such a precious gift and blessing....her baby girl.
Beautiful blog, Jan.
Simply beautiful....

Red said...

To find something like this poem from your Mom will make you stop and consider her life . The first part of your post reminds me of a similar situation with my skating group. I've been skating with them for 18 years ,many people have disappeared in one way or another.

Glenda Council Beall said...

Such a beautiful poem about life after death. We never stop remembering our mothers, I think, especially when they represent so much good in our lives. That photograph is telling. She is beautiful, you were a beautiful baby and you are still a beautiful person - inside and out.
Thanks for sharing this post.

The Furry Gnome said...

What beautiful words!

Rita said...

Precious picture! What lovely words she left you...and all of us.
You are a lot like her. :)

Barb said...

I think of my mother as I read about yours. Last night, I called out for her in my sleep. (She's been dead for over half my life now.) As Bob put his hand on my shoulder to wake me and began saying my name, I was at an in-between place. I wasn't sure I wanted to come back, but I did. I fell asleep again, but she didn't visit. My mother didn't fear death, but she kept living a full life as long as possible. I'd like to emulate her.

Rhapsody said...

I loved the rhythm of this post. Perhaps your mother's spirit is intertwined. It was soothing and warm.

thank you for sharing her words of not fearing death. I think most of us move toward it reluctantly in fear of the unknown known.

have a blessed day.