And so here I am, on his death day, the small town parade of people and cars having just passed by, the wind showering me with backporch helicopter rain, the boy and man nested on the couch, the dog gently nudging me from time to time, for pet, for play, for comfort.
Last week, after many years of pondering, I went to the local tattoo shop, Pincushn's, to get inked with two tattoos I'd designed. Between the two, there are many personal meanings, which I'm finding are too lengthy to divulge over a beer in a loud bar in a way that actually conveys their importance to me. And so here I am, again.
The eight points of the left forearm represent the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, meant to lead to the cessation of suffering. If I were to label myself with an ideology, it would be that of the agnostic atheist: I do not hold a belief in a deity, but readily admit that the universe is full of mystery - I don't claim to be trying to figure things out for anyone but myself and if God or many gods work for you, that's great. I am not Buddhist, but in my personal journey, the study and practice of Buddhism has been important in to me being the type of human I want to be in the world.
The two lines within the circle are symbolic of a story that holds meaning for me, though I can not recall from whence the story came. A tiger sits in the tall grass. An antelope passes by. If the tiger is hungry, it will chase the antelope. If the tiger is sated, it will continue to sit. But either way, action or inaction, a choice is made. I do not want to forget my ability to choose, that inaction is also a choice.
The small point on the right forearm represents a Buddhist proverb: If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking. It is a daily reminder, a daily practice, to reorient myself in the direction in which I wish to move. Reminds me of a bit Neil Gaiman shared during a commencement speech, about viewing your goal as a mountain, and no matter how far away you are, with every decision you make, you are either moving closer to the mountain or further from it.
And this brings us to the swirl on the right forearm, which holds multiple meanings. On one level, it represents the importance, to me, of living life as an exuberant animal, valuing health, play and joyful movement. On a second level, it serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life. And at the most personal level, at the same time that Isaiah was releasing his last breaths, a very close friend was sending me the following Kahlil Gibran poem:
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
It is a gift to myself, to remember this poem, to remember my boy, to honor his joy, his life and his death, to imagine that his last breath ending allowed him freedom from the confines of his broken body, freedom to join wind and sun in playful ways.
A new friend recently asked if days like the Hospice of Michigan Walk and Remember were difficult, if it bothered me when people ask questions about our experiences with Isaiah. My moments of sadness, of melancholy, tend to be smaller these days. I miss him quietly, here and there, but most of my moments are filled with joy and fond remembering. I am thankful to be caught at a train crossing, that I remember his joy in counting the cars aloud. I am thankful for Cutter's questions, imagining himself so young, recognizing his brother as small for his age, asking how Isaiah died. I am thankful to share our journey in ways that may benefit others.
The only question I continue to struggle with is that which comes from strangers:
So, just one? Oh, you only have one child?
In responding, I am still a work in progress. It is a daily practice, this living. I am grateful.