If you had told me 40 some years ago, when I was sitting in my cousin’s bedroom listening to the 45 of American Pie, that one night, I would drive home from a track meet with my son and his friends, who would turn on their music, and it would be American Pie — I doubt I would have believed you.
But, so it was. The entire night pummeled me with a thick coat of nostalgia with every turn of my head. First, it was the crooked country roads that ribboned the car all the way to the school house, nestled in the hills, surrounded by trees. Much like the roads to my own home town. And when the seniors talked about their favorite “senior moment” when they were paraded across the field to be honored, they were reminiscent of an entirely different world from the city life my children know. These seniors savored the bus rides home from track meets, where they “bonded.” The teacher who allowed them to use their microwave to warm up their food, and the one who said, one day it will be your last practice and your last run, so “savor every moment.” Parents crowded the stadium, bringing in kettles of chili and hot dogs to be sold at the concession stands. You could have pulled a page from my own high school year book, and kept the thread going. This wasn’t a school: it was a home.
This “essence,” the fleeting, transcendent moments, are not so fleeting or fragile after all. You can’t hold them in your hand, like the stones that line our path. You can’t even contrive them. They’re not even real, in a 3-dimentional sense of the world. But they are never lost. They rise up quick when you see a face, long forgotten, a scent, a song — or whatever it is that triggers its appearance. The memories flood in and there you are. In a another time and place.
And so it was with her. A series of strokes have left her blind, helpless and a shell of what she was. The shock of her condition hit me; changed me. All that is left of her now, is really her essence. Her essence makes its way through the smile that touches every word she speaks, despite her constant suffering. And the way she said, without even hesitating, “what can we do to help?” when we told her about the struggles of someone else.
She was definitely there that afternoon when I heard American Pie for the first time. It wasn’t her 45, but she was there.
Stripped down to her core, and she offers, “what can we do to help?” The essence of a thing is the bare bones. It’s like squeezing all the good stuff out of a lemon.
This is what we’re after when we decluttter, minimize and downsize. Joy. A process we cannot earn until we’ve walked this earth for decades.
I am rich to be granted this gift of holding her essence now. It’s small enough for me to carry around in my heart. I have it; regardless of whether she’s here this earth or not. I’ll always be able to say, I know her.