November's bright colors & glowing light are wasted on my family right now. My sweet 39-year-old nephew is in ICU, on life support, with the tiniest inch of a chance at sticking around here with the rest of us. And none of us knows what to do exactly. When my sister & I try to talk about it we get all broken-up & teary & can't form words. We take deep breaths. Being all accepting & realistic is beyond our capabilities.
When our mom died nearly two years ago, the nice hospice ladies gave me a little card with a picture of Jesus. Latino Jesus, I think, with dark eyes & dark hair & light radiating from the center of his chest. "Jesus, I trust in you," it says on the card. I taped the card to my desk. Every day I turn to the card all teary-eyed & plead for my nephew. I sit outside in the dirt & meditate positive energy. I stretch my arms up to the sky, I lean down to the earth. I bargain a little. I make promises. I read poems aloud. I resort to every healing trick in my bag of hope.
We've been taking shifts at the hospital. It's a 2-1/2 hour drive for me to get there, the first half through farmland. Sometimes I get lucky & catch a glimpse of calves running full-out in a field, like they're getting it all in before they become big ungainly cows. It is the most joyful thing, calves running! In another field I see longhorn cattle, a zebra, water buffalo, llamas. I think it must be an animal rescue operation. I don't think anyone eats zebra meat.
I pass orchards, & developments that used to be orchards. A river. Canals.
And then onto beat-up Highway 99, the neglected child of the California Highway System. The troubled, meth-addicted white trash child, all narrow & rough & non-scenic. No wide & clean & shiny Highway 5, or Favored Child Highway 1 with the gorgeous-ocean-views-&-craggy-cliffs. Highway 99 holds the sickening smell of butchered chickens as you pass the Foster Farms factory. Insecticides poison the soil, & Valley Fever spores lay hidden in the earth. When the fog lays in, you can't see the car in front of you.
My sister lost a son to cancer in 1978. Todd was just a baby. I was pregnant at the time, & when I gave birth to my daughter, Joey saw her & said, "I wish she was a boy so we could name her Todd."
To lose Joey, after losing Todd -- it would make you feel beat-up on, it might make you doubt God at the time you most need God. I don't get the mystery at all. I don't understand all the bad shit that happens. I can't grasp why Joe finally finds love -- a beautiful woman who never leaves his side -- & happiness, only to end up suffering, & that beautiful woman who so openly & unconditionally loves him gets her heart broken irreparably.
Looking at it practically, it is true that none of us get out of here alive. I don't know a single person who hasn't suffered -- physically, emotionally. We struggle. We beat ourselves up over our blown opportunities, & things we should have said or done differently. We lament our terrible imperfections, our failures, our expensive mistakes. We grieve.
Really, I don't know how it works. Maybe God is watching & grieving with us. Maybe when we die, Jesus greets us with the most amazingly warm & open arms. The night before my mother-in-law Freda's funeral, my husband & I took a night walk through his old neighborhood. Gazing up at all the shining stars in that black endless sky, I was suddenly possessed of the clear sure knowledge that if anything happened to us, Freda would be waiting to hold us again.
I imagine God handing us all this Life, sending us out to make what we can of it. But there are all of these traps & pitfalls & loss! And some of us completely fuck it up. Maybe we have something gorgeous & we ruin it, or don't see it. We try to do the right thing except when we are so very tempted by the wrong thing, & then we fall onto the wrong path & have to find our way down the dark cold road to the right path, & sometimes we wander off into the woods & never find our way out.
Joe has faced a lot of tough issues. He's had to fight hard to beat down all the bullshit from his childhood. He couldn't fight the drugs that killed his once-loving dad, or that same dad's grieving voice calling him an asshole. Joe wanted it all to be okay, he wanted the pain to go away. We all want the pain to go away.
And we all tried to save him, of course, but maybe not hard enough. I can trip through & reassure myself that I am wonderful & was there for him if he needed me, but I can't get past our family trait of pretending that everything is fine. I tried to talk to his dad so that he'd see what he was doing. When Joe was little, I made him root beer floats & caramel apples & took him to movies & danced him around the room to The Nutcracker. I came to his graduations. I gave his girlfriend's dog a good home. Big shrug. No magic. Not enough.
His mom has been there for him again & again, always with that Big Powerful Mother's Love. She never ever gave up, through all the pain & shitty horrific times, & finally he got better & he fell in love & he got happy & found work that he loved. Joe has always held this kind of innocence -- even during his fucked-up period there was a sweet lost kid in there -- a kid who could never completely believe he was loved.
But now he knows.
And now we have that very small piece of hope. I am not so much lacking faith here, as I am recognizing that sometimes prayers aren't answered, or maybe they ARE answered, but in a way we don't like. Sort of like, The answer is NO.
The other day, cuddling with my grandson, he turned to me & asked, "How did you get to be so old?" I said, "Just lucky, I guess." Griffen asks a lot of questions, just like Joey used to. I watch him sleep & keep seeing Joey at age 5. I wipe away the tears, knowing Life gives us no easy rides. Through the years I have learned that even if you are the most lovely & wonderful parent, even if you're home every freaking day with your kids, you still can't save them from Life. You can pull out your magic prayers & light your candles & read to them & love them.
But at some point, they are out there. And there are evil people & evil diseases & inattentive drivers. There are lousy fathers giving sneers instead of smiles, hate instead of love, destroying the dreams of children. There are drugs & dangerously neurotic-but-gorgeous women & men. AIDS is out there, and cancer, & heart disease & red-light runners & Republicans. Sometimes your beautiful baby bird falls out of the nest & gets eaten by a cat. It is the worst thing ever in all of Life.
Really, if I was God, I would be striking bad guys right & left dead with lightning.
But I don't get to be God, I'm just Joey's aunt. I drive to the hospital, I hold his hand & read him poems which are really for me, wanting to make sense out of that whole eternal struggle bullshit, & wanting magic. I want all those offered prayers -- & there are so many kind & wonderful & loving people praying for Joey! -- to be answered with a YES.
We try, we pray, we plead, because it's all we know to do.