There is a puzzle on the table in the living room. A large one, with tiny pieces and impossible color gradients that make it somewhat uninviting. And yet we drift in and out, sitting before it, trying this piece then that, until we eventually get a match or walk away. Or flop over on the couch.
The wooden floors of Gram’s house echo the goings on: a cluster of great-grandchildren playing a game on the family room rug; the clanging of dishes in the kitchen, George’s mandolin trembles in some unidentifiable place. Ann Marie’s hands roll in and out of the edges of a baby blanket, her fingers guiding her crochet hook. There is a swirl of motion, gentle and uninhibited, so graceful and alive that if you set a camera on slow, slow shutter speed you would have a sort of Spir-o-graph picture of the people we love loving the people we love. We are spokes, swirling around a hub, each of us going in and out from the center. And she is center.
Gram lies in her bed, her soft white hair like a halo on her pillow, her eyes closed and her forehead smooth and calm. Her hands lie gentle on her midriff. We watch them rise and fall, rise and fall. I sit beside her, my brothers and sisters and children taking turns in the circle. No plan. We’ve never been that good at keeping plans. No shifts or schedules, yet she is never alone. Never alone.
I slip my hand under hers and hold it in a sacred grip, her slender fingers interlace with mine. I trace the veins with my thumb.
In and out we go and come, until someone picks up a guitar and starts to sing to Mom. Then, as if the Pied Piper has pursed his lips against his pipe, we gather in her large, gracious bedroom, and the other guitars make their way in, and the mandolin, too. And the voices and the songs. We cluster around her, comforting her with our song… comforting each other…comforting ourselves. Then the comfort turns to joy when the Johns play and we sing full voiced and our hands no longer tickle our guitar strings but pull them full bore and passionately, like she would if she had ever gotten past the two chords I tried to teach her when I was 16.
Too bad it’s not September, when the air has cooled enough for the windows to be left open. What songs our neighbors would hear!
Grandson John pulls the strings of his instrument and begins…They say everything can be replaced…. We join in with harmony at the chorus…I see my light come shining from the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.
Like chicks around a hen, like petals on a flower, like the waters of the Snake River swirl around an outcropping of rock and earth, we are helpless to leave her and will stay here until she leaves us. Just a while. Just a small parting, small, but very, very deep.
Not far from here her mother will call and tell her to come, and we know we must let her go. Until then we will keep this vigil, we who cherish her, and sing her to the gate.