On The Exquisite Nature of Being Alive

I walked the mud-drenched trail around the frozen lake that madly sunny, winter-warm afternoon. That’s the beautiful part of living in the Front Range of Colorado’s rocky mountains. It gets frigid and snows. Two days later, its melting and you hike in a t-shirt once again. So I walked in the warm sun. And at this point walking looks more like waddling. And a consistently ever slowing waddle at that.

Ankles bare and getting slightly muddied, my mind made winding traces and tracks back to the memory of the last time I saw my grandmother with my own eyes. 

It was June 2013, in the late afternoon, just after my bridal shower. She was too frail then to come out for the party and I knew she would not come to our wedding across the country here in Colorado. So I went to visit her clad in my white bohemian bridal outfit so she could see it and feel part of the festivities. My grandmother never liked it when I dressed “shlumpy” as she called it. 

She was drifting in and out of sleep when Elliot and I arrived. It took all her effort to sit up and sit straight in between us on the bed. I was dressed in that white dress my mother bought me for the occasion. Too which she said was just right as a beautiful bride. 

I was dressed in that white dress but my grandmother was the angel that day. You see, she bore with her own eyes more than any human being should ever have to endure. She hid for her life, birthed three sons (and one in a camp mind you), crossed and ocean with diamonds sown and smuggled in her skirt, buried her husband as well as a son and watched four granddaughters fly on with their lives. And nothing brought her more joy than the happiness of her granddaughters. 

That day I sat next to her she held my hand tightly and she held Elliot's tightly too. She drank us in with what remained of her sight. She knew that we were already legally married as we had told her some months before of our quiet ways—of which she seemed to approve. If she didn't I would never know. She was good about that. She kept things to herself if she didn't think her disapproval would help you or make a difference. 

By the time we sat with her on this hot June day, she had been rather frail and failing for some time and the sense I always got from trips past was that she just wasn't ready yet to let go. She didn't feel at peace to leave her body just yet and ninety-some years old. So she held on. And I have never seen anyone cling to the exquisitely poignant and painfully beautiful manifest world the way she did for those long few years. 

But on this day something about her was entirely different. She was so happy, so at peace. She held our hands tightly. She kissed us. She cried. And she told us she was okay now. She told us she knew everything was good now because I had someone to love and take care me. Elliot smiled and cried. She told us she was very proud of us. And that she was at peace knowing I was happy. I knew in that moment this would be the lat time I would see her. So I just smiled and twinkled my eyes at her in that white bohemian dress she told me I looked like a true bride in. I didn't want her to see how sad I was. We both knew were saying goodbye. 

None of this could have been very long in real time. She got tired rather quickley. And just like that she rather ushered us out the moment she got weary. She was done. And that was it. 

We went home. 

I wept. 

Four month later we had our wedding. 

A week later she left her body. 

Anyone on the trail that day who saw me must have thought I was in the middle of some crisis as the tears rolled like a mud slide down my cheeks. The way they are streaming now as I put these words to page. But something about the slow walk around the frozen lake that day—something about being 8 months pregnant— and something about that golden sun—made me think of her. 

Beauty often makes me not sad but melancholy. It is in these moments I feel all life as an ocean inside. I feel the joy and the deep sadness. I feel the gratitude and the longing. I feel the happiness and the deep well of sadness. I feel the fullness of being so human—so imprinted in a body—so marked by lineage and life. 

Perhaps the most painful part of being pregnant and bringing my child into the world, is that I do it without any of my own grandparents. For me, the saddest part about living in the world at this very moment is living in a world where my grandmother does not. This child whose time is coming rapidly now, would bring my grandmother the joy she truly always deserved to see in the world. My grandmother always placed her faith in the hope of the future. So she could leave once she knew I would carry on the torch. 

In this moment I laughed to myself, rounding the corner of the trail, as I realized something that perhaps we might call a bit TMI or (too much information) to share with you. But I will. That dress—that white dress I wore to the shower and that she loved—according to my calculations—I wore to a wedding the day I conceived my child. 

Funny how the universe plays these little cosmic jokes on us. Funny how she keeps on winking and batting her big bright eyes and long eyelashes. In love. In light. In death and loss. In birth and life. In it all she is with us. She is weaving all the parts of our lives into a bigger tapestry we could ever imagine. 

Livia ShapiroComment