Did I ever tell you how much I hate this time of year? Yeah? All the time? You’d be smiling in anticipation, bopping around the house tossing a football, wearing that Marino jersey. Miami Dolphins. Number 13. Hmmm. And you’ve been gone almost thirteen years now. How apropos. Wow.
Hate to break it to you, but your team really sucks. Their best season since you left was in 2008 when they won the AFC, then lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card playoffs. Out of ten games, they’ve only won four so far this year. Smelly, smelly fish.
Maybe football is a sport invented to insure all men love fall? These days it’s my husband B smiling in anticipation, bopping around the house tossing a football, wearing a black and gold Iowa Hawkeyes sweat shirt. If I want to upset him, I say, “Go Budgies Go!” His team has the cutest little bird face symbol that truly resembles a budgie, but B and all of his college buddies insist it’s a fierce tigerhawk, which isn’t even a real bird. Come to think of it, a dolphin isn’t that fierce of a symbol either.
November 29. You chose it, or it chose you. Who knows how that works? Maybe you do now? Probably doesn’t even matter? Birthday? Death day? Why isn’t it smushed together like birthday? Deathday? Maybe we should pick a nicer-sounding word for “death”, like “departure”, “gone” or “bye-bye”. Bye-byeday? See-ya-laterday? On-the-flipday? Ciaoday?
My hairdresser uses “ciao” all the time for “good-bye”. Adam, your son-in-law, does too. It’s appropriate (and cool), if you’re Italian, to use “ciao”. Our kids would say “peace-out” while flipping a peace sign. It’s cool, but maybe it’s over, that ship has sailed? Sayonara to peace-out? Elizabeth Gilbert, who I greatly admire – you probably missed it, but she’s the author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic – signs-off with “onward”. Encouraging. And eternal-sounding.
A while back, I started looking for my own cool way to sign off on emails. Being plain-old-English-is-my-only-language-WASP, just like you, it’s been challenging. I tried “bye nzuri” once. It’s Swahili, the language of Tanzania, where Mt. Kilimanjaro is. That mountain you wanted to climb and didn’t get a chance to? I did that for you. But, I guess, really, for me, my future. So, I thought “bye nzuri” was appropriate. Except for the “bye” part though, the meaning’s not obvious. And no one knows how to say it. So my sign-off right now is “salaam”. It’s Arabic. Means “peace”. Sounds exotic, right? And a positive message, huh? I was just on a girls’ trip to Arizona and one of them thought my name was “Rita Salaam”. Ha. Maybe it’s too confusing? Maybe I’m not cool? We’ll see if it sticks.
But how about “salaam” or “peace” instead of ice-cold-dark-black-scary-sounding “death”? Salaamday? Peaceday?
Taken so suddenly and unexpectedly, could you possibly have been ready? At peace? Surely you are now?
I’m comforted by what Jessica said in They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson: “Everybody’s born knowing how to die.” You were born, so surely you knew how to die? As I will too when my time comes around?
I don’t like fall because of what it represents. Impending death. Ah, but if we use one of our new words, fall could represent something else? Impending peace?
Sure, fall gives you guys football, but the way your teams often play? Anything but peace, right? Lol. (Texting has prompted all of these short forms. That means “laugh out loud” and if I was texting you I’d add an emoji, which is a variation on the happy face, in this case with tears of laughter streaming down its face. I’m so used to emojis now, I think in them, happy face with gritted teeth.) Admit it. Fall is a thief, snatching leaves from trees, blue skies, daylight, warmth.
It stole you Hugh. Perhaps a loss in fall is harder because of all the other losses going on?
And fall, falling, dying, can make one contemplate breath. The potential unexpectedness of one’s last breath. Try meditating – the healthiest thing you can do when the mind and the heart are in turmoil – knowing that this breath, or this one, or this one, could be the last. Following the breath is so simple and reassuring, but it took me a long while to trust in that journey knowing how things went down for you.
Here is a poem I recently wrote about my realization of breath’s eternal nature:
There is breath
It feels like mine
Yet when I follow the thread
I see it stitching back and forth
Up, down, in, out
Connecting me to generations of my people
Sometimes as shy as a sigh in calm waters
Other times as loud and proud as a roaring fire
Born of desire
A sweet perpetual gift
The first not first
Last not last