November 13, 2013
A LOVE STORY (CONTINUED)…
A dog went into the woods to die. Somehow the dog knew his time was up. He found a spot he liked, collapsed on the ground exhausted from his journey, and waited for death to come. It came in a moment and left just as quickly.
Some are chosen by death. And, I believe some choose death. Not the kind of death a suicidal person might choose, but the kind a dog wondering into the woods chooses. To continue to fight – to hold on. Or, to surrender – to let go.
My grandmother’s death was merciful. For her, it brought an end to a terrible disease. For him, it brought an end to life without her – a life not worth living. It left him with a broken heart and a choice. For us, it was unexpected. But, perhaps not for him. A dog can wander into the woods, but a man cannot escape the world around him or the people he will soon leave behind forever. He must die a public death. And he did. He died just nine days after the death of my grandmother in the arms of his fourth child, my mother. It was as long as he could bear without her.
What is so scary about death anyway? Permanency? Forced contemplation? Regret? It is just as much a part of life as anything else. A stream begins as a trickle, becomes a river, and pours into the ocean. Even without the water there is evidence that a stream, a river, and an ocean once existed. But our lives will not be demarcated by thousands of years of eroding stone. Ours will only make an imprint on the lives we have touched. Perhaps that is the scariest part. An acknowledgement of our surface existence. Unable to etch ourselves into stone. Reserved to drawing lines in the sand with a stick. But it is suggestive of something beautiful. We may not all be able to influence history, but we are all capable of influencing those around us. Of writing “SOS”, “I Love You”, “Will You Marry Me”, and “Please Don’t Forget Me” in the sand. Our memories live briefly in the memories of those we touched. As such, without mention of or regard for any religious proclivities, we outlive our natural existence through others.
Though not someone who easily expressed his feelings, my grandfather managed to etch himself into the hearts of many. His wife. His children. His grandchildren. His family and his friends. He did so with letters. He did so with kindness. He did so silently and reservedly. He welcomed people in. He made time for them. He invested in them. Mostly though, he invested in her. Together, they brought people together. It was her final act. A grand gathering of the people she had run through like a river. His final act was as a dutiful and loving husband. But his touch was different. More rough around the edges. Hers was smooth as flowing water. His could be like sandpaper or a scruffy beard against a cheek. But after the sawdust settled there was a beautiful wood sculpture, and at the end of the scruffy beard a soft kiss.
His passing brought an end to their story. It is no longer an open book with pages to be filled. It begins with a leap of faith and ends the same way.
A man went after his wife to die. He had decided his time was up. He found the courage to leave this world, collapsed into the arms of a loved one, exhausted from his journey, and waited for death to come. It came in a moment and left just as quickly. In death, he found what he had abandoned life for. He found her. And behind him, he left a lasting memory.
Rest In Peace – Howard E. Strauss
November 4, 2013
THE MOON SONG
A true-love-story is rarely told in its entirety. Probably because true love is not adverse to the sins of mankind. Lies, adultery, pain, and regret are as much a part of a true true-love-story as kindness, trust, happiness, and commitment. Only the latter is retold, because in the end, it’s all that matters. Forgiveness. Love over all. These are the foundations of true love. And, they are the crucibles of a true-love-story.
This one is told from a distance. A son, inattentive to the details of his parents’ lives, knows little save what is impossible to overlook. He might have heard the story of how his parents met. He may know vaguely what his parents do for a living. Their alma maters. Their political persuasions. Their interests. These details he uses to construct an idea of who his parents are. But, if he is loved and cared for, the rest is trivial.
In comparison, a grandson knows far less about the people he grows to learn were the parents of his own. The details of their lives are far more hazy. Their stories are not used to reconstruct the people they were – the lives they led. Their stories spark imagination. Their stories become lore. The details of their lives help in molding an alternate, or, at least, altered history. But their peculiarities allow the mind to run wild. In matters of love, all a grandson might need to reimagine a lifetime romance is a little fodder. A knowing look. A peck on the cheek. Silence in place of condemnation. Hands held together, trembling. Proof of ageless adoration. This is a true-love-story because proof was never hard to come by. This is a true-love-story not because what follows is true, but because love, and nothing else, inspired it to be so. It wrote the ending, inspired the beginning, and endured through it all. This is a true-love-story, and it begins with a leap of faith.
By modern standards, the young soldier’s proposal may have come across as somewhat impulsive. He had only known her, well, most of his life actually. But he hadn’t even given her a second look before now. In fact, he had intended to court another young lady, but as a kind letdown, was redirected towards another. And wasn’t she just fine anyhow. An orphan by the age of twelve, and with the strong spirit of someone forced into maturity before their time. Smitten as he was, but soon to return to his post in the navy, he was quick to drop to his knee and ask for her hand. She said yes, and off he went.
Over the years they were connected only through their letters. Their words were enough to maintain their bond. Things would improve with the wars end. A wedding ceremony. A white picket fence. A tennis court. Five children. A strict, military-minded father. A sweet, kind, courageous, and witty mother. He was the lucky one. He had somehow stumbled into blissful matrimony. A steady job at the university and a resolute military pension provided for the family. Their children grew up and flew the coup. Their children had children who flew the coup. And they were left only with each other. Left with their words again.
It might not have been enough for some. But the care they each provided for one another surmounted the slowing pace of grandparenthood. Card games, letters, and bingo filled their time. Much less so than cleaning diapers, fixing meals, and scolding teenage boys had so long ago. It was different. It was hard. But it was enough. A knowing look. A peck on the cheek. Love that could not be expressed. Love that could never be expressed. Even in death it could not. Especially for that hard, war-beaten, terse old veteran. She began to drift away, and he could only hold her hand, trembling, and cry.
A love torn apart is a tragic thing. It is enough simply to hear of it to know its calamity. It is pain in the place of happiness. It is hate in the place of love. Not hate for having had it, but hate that it’s gone. It’s unbearable to think about. Much worse to be part of. But despite its tragedy, it is an indication of a life of love. A life most are not fortunate enough to live. A life of love in exchange for a moment of agony. So, what is to be said to express ones love for another over a lifetime? Words cannot bear witness. A hand outstretched. Eyes filled with tears. The feeling of a vice gripping your throat and a sword sheathed through your stomach. A broken heart. This is all that can be mustered. It pays tribute to what was. It pays tribute to a woman worth loving for a thousand lifetimes. She is gone but her love has given birth to love anew. It outlives her story – their story. This is a true-love-story. It’s not one I knew very well, but it’s one I can imagine. Forgiveness. Love over all. The details are in the mind of the un-beholder.
Rest In Peace – Harriet Jane Strauss
A loving wife, mother, and grandmother. A loving person. An inspiration.
February 28, 2013
AN INDEPENDENT FILM
He is married, and in love with her.
They are walking home from a night out. They are obviously in love. It is a chilly night. As they approach their home she suggests they take the short cut through the back ally. He doesn’t want to because he is disgusted with its appearance. It is dirty and in shambles. Yet, it is left to be this way – forgotten. Or, more appropriately – ignored. And in such close proximity to their home. A home he had provided. A home he hopes to one day raise his children in. How could this ally be so close to the place they eat and sleep in? He reluctantly agrees and they walk through the back ally. It is exactly what he expected – it always is. Never a surprise. Trash is everywhere. It is almost as if they have to swim through the sea of lost items, seemingly congealed into a single heap of refuse. Stray cats acrobatically maneuver through the shadows. Every once in a while the light overhead flickers on and off, providing an eerie ambiance (more so than just the trash and cats could have provided alone). He complains of the mess as he always does. She stares at him knowingly. Teasing him, she suggests that he stop complaining about it and actually do something about it. He laughs halfheartedly, claiming that this place is “too far gone”. She says something else witty. He loves her sense of humor. He loves her everything. They make love and he tells her how much he loves her.
The next morning he is doing some work in the yard and goes behind the house to grab some tools from his shed. He looks to the ally. He stares at it. Something piques his interest and he strolls over to the flowing river of trash and decay. There he sees broken light bulbs, stray car parts, and dirty fabric pieces caked in street gunge.
Life goes on like it had for the last 6 years of their marriage. They are happy and continually express their love for one another, each in their own way. Him: always overly affectionate. Her: always smiling, never offering an “I love you too”, never speaking of her love for him at all, yet it is so apparent. And he never needs anything more from her than that knowing smile.
He is staring again. It’s like before, but it isn’t. There he sees broken light bulbs, stray car parts….blood. It isn’t the ally. It is the bridge highway. He is standing there, numb. She is there, in the car…broken, dirty, and bleeding. The only semblance of order is the bright yellow “do not enter” hazard tape strewn haphazardly around the scene of the…accident. Yet it seems out of place – trashy. She is dead. He is shattered.
His life is broken, as is her body – now buried beneath the soil. He is woken by the grounds keeper, still half drunk at her grave site. It is morning.
Dazed. He can’t seem to process anything. He is stuck in a moment already past.
Life goes on like this for him.
He had left his tools out. Since he had always been so regimented with keeping his space clean and his tools in place, it was almost automatic as he returned them to the shed. He looks out at the ally. He stares at it. He walks over. He stares at it. Seemingly for no other reason than to do something, he picks up a piece of trash and walks it over to the nearby dumpster. Had there always been a dumpster there? How could so much trash have made it on the street if there had always been a place to put it? A disposal. In this, trash was no longer at odds with the world but seemed in its rightful place. He pauses and takes a look around. He picks up another piece of trash, and another.
The flickering light comes on. It’s dark. He is sweaty and dirty, but not tired. It was time for dinner. She would have wanted him to clean up.
The next day he woke up and went to the store. He returns to the ally fully equipped to finally actually do something about it. His work yesterday hadn’t even made a dent. But he wasn’t discouraged. He wasn’t anything really. He was just a man with gloves and a trash bag. A few of the neighbors peered out at him as the day progressed. They knew what had happened to him…to her. A few had even visited him. But it had made no difference. Once, one of the kids from the next block over rode a bicycle into the ally. Not expecting to see him there and being somewhat startled, the boy accidentally dropped a soda can, but was too nervous to pick it up and rode away, leaving the can – leaving it.
On the third day, one of the more concerned neighbors came to him and asked him if anything was the matter. It was a stupid question. The neighbor returned to his home – to his wife.
The day after, the same neighbor returned to the ally, this time with his wife and the neighbor from next door. They didn’t say a word to him. They just started, as he had, to clean the collective space they now occupied.
On the fifth day, he spoke. He told his neighbor that he had personally picked up 1,978 pieces of trash from the street. He estimated that with the help of his neighbors, they had collectively picked up roughly 3,750 pieces of trash. He then asked his neighbor if he knew how many houses lined the ally. The neighbor didn’t seem to know. It was 156 houses. He went on to explain that if just one person from every household had agreed to pick up at least 5 pieces of trash from the ally every day, there would not have been a single piece of trash in the ally on the fifth day. But this didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to.
Everyone went home that night satisfied with their work. It had first been to support him. It was now something more. They were happy to have cleaned up the ally. And it was clean – cleaner. But he was not satisfied. He was not anything. Without her, how could he be? He looked at the ally. He stared at it. The light flickered. The last piece of trash was there, right in front of his feet. It was the boy’s soda can. He barely kicked it. There would be more trash. But this last piece seemed to him full of significance. He had actually done something about it. Why hadn’t he ever believed he could before? What had been so profoundly unimaginable those not so many nights ago? He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything. He picked up the can and put it in the now nearly overflowing dumpster. All was in its place in the ally. He wept. The light went out.