Over the holidays, Cole and I were pulling the three (yes, three) toddler-size elves out of their storage boxes when one of, Dearly Departed, Joe’s index cards came out of the last elf’s box. The handwritten note card was titled “Silence” and featured a quote by Kafka. I remarked to Cole that his dad must have been thinking of us and Cole responded with his all-too-common yeah, right look. I chose not to answer the look.
He’s right, you know. I can’t prove his dad sent us a sign from the great beyond. The wallet I bought Cole for Christmas was the wrong size, and while we were waiting on the exchange Cole decided to use one of his dad’s wallet, which looked like it had never been used. Adding the bills, bits and sundry that goes with changing wallets, Cole unexpectedly pulled out yet another index card that his dad had folded over and written on. This one included the word joy. I could feel Cole’s pull toward the card and refrained from commenting.
My teen skeptic has no use for God right now in his life. He does not believe in a creator or the great beyond. What is done is done, he feels. You live and you die. And sometimes, like we all do, he wonders, “And what, really is the point? We are all going to die someday.” He speaks matter-of-factly about all the people he loves that will someday die. You can almost hear him sigh as he counts the number of people in his dad’s family that he will more than likely outlive. (Fortunately, my side of the family contributes less to his death toll.) He isn’t looking for me to make him feel better, as he is not particularly sad at the moment.
Naturally, these conversations tear at my heart, but over time I’ve learned to listen and ask questions through the eyes of an inquiring scientist. “Really, you think this is all there is? Seems like a lot of work for only one lifetime.” Or, “Wouldn’t it seem smart to err on the side of believing in a more universal power, or afterlife, just in case?” And, “You don’t feel the presence of your dad in your life at all? Ever?” He would like to say no, but he doesn’t. He’s admits to not being sure. He asks me if perhaps interpretations of signs are not simple consequence, or questions my unwillingness to accept that when we die, it is over.
We don’t argue. We ponder, muse, and weave in out of these conversations late at night, during long car drives, or when we come upon an unexpected note card written by his dad. The value is in the questioning, not in determining an answer.
We wonder if there is a happily ever after.
A friend’s mom dies suddenly, bringing sorrow and fear. I call my mom. I call my dad. I intone silently… Please, just don’t die. Not now, not ever. I struggle with the mere thought of what my son has already faced.
I speak with my friend, and she tells me stories about her mom. Later that day, something comical happens that makes Cole and me remember a funny story about his dad, and a few days later Cole tries on a shirt we both know his dad would have loved. It looks so right on him. I begin to see a connection. Faltering, I wonder aloud to Cole if a “sign” might be explained as a left-behind memory of a departed person that we recall when we need to feel connected to that person. Cole likes that idea and adds that those kinds of signs would not always be happy, or good. Yes, I agree.
We are both quiet for a while. A good quiet.
Then, Cole looks at me and says, “Maybe the point, then, is to make a lot of memories.
Odd Loves Company,
Quote on the index card: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka