Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Crossing Over

The girls and I are sleeping at my parents' house tonight; the bridge to the mainland is closed. Four hours ago, a young man no older than 18 by eyewitness accounts skateboarded up the bridge and sat atop its westbound edge. We were sailing underneath in the Beer Can Races when it became clear traffic on the bridge was halted. Harbor Police boats began patrolling the waters below him; helicopters circled overhead.

I couldn't believe it at first, assuming it was an accident up there causing the delay. After over 20 years of living and/or working on the island-peninsula, it wasn't until this year that I knew someone who'd leapt from the bridge. And now, I know two.

I crossed the bridge last night right after a woman abandoned her car and jumped; that morning the bridge was closed for hours until a man was successfully talked down. This morning I cried in my car as I crossed over; the bridge is part of my daily commute and the view from its span can lift my spirits, but our relationship is strained.

Tonight I cringed, fearing what the boater's perspective would yield. I type and hope a conflicted young man surrenders.

On the way to work the day before yesterday I noticed a dead possum in the road on the hill, almost to the shoulder, as if the journey across from one hospitable habitat to the other were just a little too long, or maybe a long shot from the start. I knew I'd watch the evolution of that carcass each day thereafter, like Richard Eberhart's "Groundhog," wondering why the possum left the comfort of the canyon in the first place.

By 10:00 AM that day we learned about the surgery of Auntie R, my husband's sister, whose brain tumor was malignant and aggressive and whose doctors' prognoses were grim.  I visited Husband at work to break the news.  His sister had always taken care of him when he needed her, he shared.  Now he would help her.

In the afternoon I picked up the girls and we drove home up the hill past the possum, admiring hawks orbiting in sweeping ovals above. We parked beneath our giant Aleppo Pine tree, as a flurry of feathers floated down on our car. Big Sis was the first to notice.

"Mommy, look up! Feathers! Lots of them!"

At first the downy wisps looked like ashes we'd seen during wildfires. And then I noticed a hawk perched high in our tree with a smaller bird clutched in its talons. Our attention and exclamations sent the hawk flying off, victim in its beak.

"I don't like that bird," scowled Little Sis. I explained that the hawk was feeding itself, as we need to do (and remember, kiddo? We even eat the occasional cow and chicken?).

She wasn't having any of it, though, pointing out that she, in fact, wasn't directly responsible for her food's demise.  I bit my tongue, recognizing that my daughter was simply doing what I was attempting to:  categorize and rationalize and harvest distinctions between signs of mortality and death, all around us.

The running dialogue in my head reminds me of Pablo Neruda's Book of Questions:

What is the meaning of one possum's life?  

How do I reconcile someone taking her own life with my sister-in-law's valiant quest to save hers?

Are some depressions as terminal as some cancers?

Is the hawk a callous killer?  Are we, human carnivores?

If I were Syrian today, how would I talk about death?

How do we know which deaths are welcome?

What does it mean that we close a bridge for six hours to save a life?  

How many lives are we forgetting or choosing not to save?

Does the value of our lives diminish with age?  Are our lives more precious when we're young?

How do I talk honestly with my (already anxious) children about life and death?

For tonight, the inconvenience of a closed bridge necessitates a slumber party.  I tuck my daughters in bed together at their grandparents' house.  In turn, my mother bids me goodnight, with a sigh of satisfaction that her "eldest bird" is in her nest for the night.  

Husband has flown across the country to be with his sister and his dad and our courageous niece.

The possum is decomposing; the hawk is hunting; the cancer threatens; the bridge is still closed.

But, I feel hopeful.

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all"
--Emily Dickinson


Marisa Reichardt said...

What a week you have had. My heart aches for you, my friend. This is a beautiful piece on a subject that's difficult to reason out. You did it justice. This resonates.

Unknown said...

You use your words so beautifully to convey such heartfelt emotion while trying to make sense of the tragedies that seemingly surround you. I'm sorry that you've had such difficult moments this past week. Thank you for finding hope at the end. Maybe all that matters is a renewed sense of how important life is and how we need to use ours wisely.

Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator said...

Oh, Jenny, thank you for sharing this. My thoughts are with you all.