June 19, 2013
All Great Books
I just returned from my grandmother's memorial service.
I am shattered.
I have stored in my hippocampal cells more lovely and loving memories of my grandmother than I can recall in a day. She was one of the more grounded members of my family: a well-educated teacher of English at Rutgers University, an avid bicyclist, a connoisseur of fine foods, a lover of the written word, a corrector of the family's grammar.
A lot of people like to think that their grandmother is (or was) perfect, but they are in error.
Only mine was.
It's the truth.
My fondest childhood memories all revolve around our times in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Each summer I would go away for a week or two to stay at "Gam's House," my grandparents' cottage on Stone Court. It was just a block north of the Stone Harbor bird sanctuary, a few quick blocks from the ocean, and a dozen or so blocks to Bob's Bikes and Stone Harbor's main strip.
I would spend hours each day boogie boarding and swimming in the Atlantic there. She would soak up the sun while reading a book. Often I would be out swimming so long that I would come back to find her asleep, her tiny, bunioned feet buried in the sand. In later years we would talk about Shakespeare (which she loved) and Star Trek (which she hated).
We had a wonderful times in Stone Harbor, always. Whether it was time on the beach, time spent bicycling with her up to Avalon, time spent catching hermit crabs in inner tidepools, or hours spent just sitting around the cottage and reading my silly sci/fi books in the shade, we always had fun.
Even the best books eventually come to their conclusions and run out of pages.
The best thing about the festivities of this weekend had to be the post-Memorial-Service Memorial Service...we wandered to the south tip of Stone Harbor with a portion of her ashes. Each of us picked up a small sea shell from a collection gathered at her other ocean home and filled it with said ashes, then walked into the ocean to dispose of them as we saw fit.
I was practically paralyzed at this. I grabbed the first shell that my hand came upon. The bag of ashes came my way. They were so white, with small fragments of I could only assume bone. I felt uneasy.
I am not religious or even particularly spiritual. I know that her views were fairly similar to my own. My unease was primarily over the idea that this was, two weeks ago, the material that composed my grandmother's then-living body. Flashes of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land entered my head. Thoughts of eating the dead out love. Touching the dead out of love, at least. I cast aside notions of grossness because...well...I love her. The idea of scooping her up into my hands is a bit odd, but carries an intimacy that I will cherish always.
I collected a small portion and began to walk into the surf. My eyes watered. I stopped being able to breath. This was, in a weird way, going to be the last time I went swimming in the Atlantic with my grandmother. I dwelled on this thought for a moment. Part of me was tempted. Oh so tempted. To. Just. Keep. Going.
My jeans were soaked. So was my face.
Breath, I remembered.
I sank my hands into the Atlantic, and I watched my grandmother go, off to swim on her own.
The shell, I thought. If I keep it, does it become a white elephant? Some silly memento of this moment that I spend too much time of my life futzing over?
All things are impermanent, just as my grandmother was, and just as I shall be. Perhaps I should let it go. Cold waves continued to lap up my jeans, soaking me from the bottom, while hot tears kept coming, soaking me from the top.
What would she do, if our roles were reversed?
I guess that's not important now. What would I do?
I decided to keep the shell. She is gone now, but not forgotten. I held the shell in my hand for a while, and walked down the beach in hunt of something interesting while hoping that my face, maybe even my pants, would dry off.
Honestly, I'm actually not looking forward to a time that I can think about our last swim together without getting wet.