Friday, February 19, 2010

Gone From My Sight

I flew to visit my grandmother Monday; I caught the last flight out of JFK before the snows swept in and put the city on hold. I knew that it would be my last chance to see her, and I worried that I might arrive too late. My father and I woke early to hit the road to Alabama; our car cut through the chilly morning air past grass the faded tan of winter.

When we arrived, my Uncle was waiting to usher us along the corridors and into the small room where my grandmother lay. Suspended in a half-life of oxygen tubes and painkillers, she was not able to speak or greet us. She seemed hollowed out, breaking and broken.

So I did what she would have done for me, what she had done for me since I was a child: I told her stories. I told her about my winter in the north, about making haggis, about the farms where I have worked and where I will work next year. I reminded her of the fourth of July when she let me dye the applesauce blue (I was alone in my patriotic zeal, judging from the leftovers). I thanked her for the gingerbread houses that we made together every Christmas. When I had run out of stories, we sat quietly for a while. She didn't need any more stories distracting her from the work at hand. She needed all of us to let go, to relinquish the ties that were binding her to that room. As I struggled to find the words to release her, I was suddenly reminded of the owl we had caught one fall morning at Serenbe more than a year ago.

When we found him, the owl could only blink at us, his yellow eyes fierce and frightened: Samson shorn of his locks and chained to the temple pillars. In the night he had hunted our chickens, swooping low and soundless. He had found our fence instead—a lightly electrified net surrounding the chicken pen, erected against just such intruders. The nighttime struggle could only have been epic, we surmised, for the owl lay mute and utterly still, swaddled tightly in a straighjacket of his own devising. Upon our approach, he flexed his talons, tight across his chest, and opened and closed his beak soundlessly.

Realistically, we should not have helped this creature to get free. He was a predator, as likely as not to come back for a second helping. But we couldn't imagine any other action than to let him go. We carefully untangled the lines which pinned his wings at odd angles. We unwrapped the cords from his neck and legs. The final few knots wouldn't give to our ministrations, so against all better judgement, we cut the fence. By that point, it took two of us to hold the bird still. We could feel him gathering strength, straining for release. He seemed sound and unharmed despite his night in captivity, so we threw him into the air, watched his wings spread wide and catch against the air. He rose silently, purposefully, without hesitation.

My grandmother died Wednesday morning, some time between the last darkness of night and the first light of a clear day. I will miss her dearly, but I am glad to see her go.

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, MK.