The other day, my eight year-old daughter and I drove east of Prineville, up into the hills, eventually finding a beautiful place called Walton Lake. The dark water reflected meadows and tall conifers, also brown, furry cattails and a stormy sky. Fly-fishermen bobbed about in camo float-tubes, gear laden. We strolled the very civilized paved trail encircling the small body of water.
If you drive out that way, and if you look close, you will see a small, turn of the century graveyard off the road to the right. I spied it on the drive up, and made a note to stop, when we came back down from the lake.
The late afternoon sun chased away the intermittent rain. I smiled and pulled my little silver civic over onto the gravel shoulder, across from the old cemetery. I rummaged through my cooler and dug out a couple of pieces of sriracha-hot-sauce-laced chicken and some carrot sticks. I handed some goodies back to my daughter Sarah. We munched our little makeshift dinner in the car. While we ate, we watched the wind waving a golden sun-lit field of grass.
“Done, Mom,” she said stuffing the last chicken leg back into the empty glass storage storage container, then wiping her mouth and hands with a white paper towel, and tossing the sauce stained thing onto the pile next to her car seat.
“Let’s take another little walk,” I suggested. She swiveled her head around. Her green eyes darting around the landscape, looking for what I might mean.
“This will be different. I think you will like it,” was my simple explanation. We stepped out of the car into the deserted road. I took her small, child’s hand in mine anyway, and we crossed to the cemetery.
Moving among the graves, I noticed dates, and names and epitaphs. It looks like the earliest burials were about one hundred and twenty-five years ago. I wondered what their lives were like. Did they love who they wished to love? How hard was life back then? Did they find happiness and meaning?
I know I have the luxury to ponder such things.
Did he do, what he came here to do?
I watched Sarah wander, her lanky form moving among the grave markers. She read the headstones with her brows knitted and her hand on her chin. She walked slowly, quietly.
This particular headstone was engraved with a birth date of January 24th, 1850, and the departure date of January 26th, 1892. Funny, the final date is Sarah’s birthday, just one hundred and thirteen years earlier.
I let my mind meander. There are births and deaths of many kinds through the course of a lifetime. We welcome new life. We celebrate birthdays. We read the obituaries. We say good-bye at memorial services.
We meet new friends, then fall out of touch. We get married, then divorce. We fall in love, then step back. We believe with all our hearts, then doubt and lose hope.
At the beginning of each new day, most of us are still willing to begin again.
Traipsing slowly among those who have passed from this world, I smiled at the extraordinary resiliancy I’ve had the good fortune to witness. We are, by and large, willing to ebb and flow with what is presented, to hold on when we should and to let go when that’s all that’s left to do.
I’ve seen lovely people suffer physical trials and emotional devastation. I know this couple who were hit head-on by a drunk driver. The collision left them wheelchair bound. Miraculously, they both recovered and are grateful and in love to this day. My daughter’s daddy survived a cancer that kills everyone who contracts it. It’s been 11 years since his diagnosis. He is still with us, passing his words of wisdom (aka wise cracks) on to our twenty year-old daughter Liss.
We hope and we love. We grope and we fall down. We keep moving and breathing, fighting and surrendering, until one day we don’t.
And, I hope we each will say, with a satisfied smile, at the end of this journey: “I did what I came here to do. I loved who I wished to love. I helped. I encouraged. I made a difference.”
I lift my kombuch to the sky. A toast lovelies: To living (and loving) with all our hearts.
What else can we do?