MawMaw and Pop, on their 50th wedding anniversary. Today marks an anniversary of a much different sort.
In my grandmother’s house is a little brown desk. It sits in front of two windows that look out on her front yard and the cars that race precariously by on Lenora Church Road. The desk is what you might call charming – a polite Southern word that means it’s old but not antique, nice but not expensive. My grandmother has topped it with a handmade lace doily, a little lamp, and her laptop computer.
Of all the things that I thought I would never see in my grandmother’s house, a sleek black laptop had to be near the top of the list. And yet there it sits, closed and reverent, an electronic monk just waiting for its daily exercise.
Each night, when she’s tired of tossing and turning in her bed, my grandmother gets up, turns the computer on, and visits the world of Cyberspace. And the little computer goes to work.
Mostly it takes her to Facebook, where she can look at the faces of the people she loves: her sons, her daughter, all of her grandkids and great-grandkids too. Sometimes she’ll leave a comment, a little verbal graffiti to let the world know she’s watching, but mostly she just glides silently through the gigabites of information like a tourist: interested, but far from home.
She’ll play a game or two – puzzles mostly – and the little computer moves with enough speed to let her get engrossed, sparing her the tiny but aggravating frustration of having to wait for refresh. Blocks will fall into place, words will go in their correct spaces, and time will pass unnoticed, which for her is a gift. Lost in an entirely different world, the pains of this one seem smaller somehow.
After a while she’ll go back to bed to toss and turn some more. Soon enough the sun is up, which means that the day and all of its regular worries and chores and minutes awaits. She gets busy so the day can get lost.
Others encourage her to get out, to travel, to live. And MawMaw does; she’s not cloistered herself away by any means. Her spirit, her will to live, is simply too strong for her to just lay down and do nothing. But after 62 years of routines – work routines, home routines, garden routines, health routines – it’s not easy to just throw the rhythm of your life to the wind willy nilly.
And without your companion of those 62 years to share life with, it’s sometimes downright impossible.
That’s what makes the little brown desk, with its sleek black portal of escape, such a comforting place. It’s a way to connect, to get out, minus the hardship.
If that were all to the story, it would be enough. But there’s more.
I hadn’t thought about it until I went to visit my grandmother last week. We were sitting at the kitchen table, which is on a diagonal across the room from the little brown desk. We chatted about everything under the sun – family, her garden, some upcoming trips – but spent most of our time talking about today, August 29th.
The first anniversary of my grandfather’s death.
As we talked – well, as she talked; I just listened – the pain and anxiety came up into her face, and I knew that today would be the hardest day she’s faced since the same day last year. She would have to say goodbye all over again. She would have to relive her greatest heartache, and in a life full of painful memories, that’s saying something. She would be powerfully reminded that she is now alone.
And as she was saying all of this, it hit me: the little brown desk and its sleek black computer sit in the exact same spot where my grandfather’s hospice bed stood. In the middle of the night, when she can’t feel his body next to hers in bed, she retreats to the last place his presence was felt, the last physical space she occupied with the love of her life.
And as she sits there, connected to the Internet, she connects to him too.
I’m no fool. I know that one day in the future that little brown desk will stand empty, the sleek black computer unused. One day, she will leave us too, and when she does I believe with all my heart that she will find herself in his arms, dancing across eternity, in a place where death is a powerless dream.
God help me, I hope that’s years from now.
But when that time does come, my heart will simultaneously weep and laugh, because that small spot in that small house on Lenora Church Road will radiate with memories, will radiate with both of their presences. When she is gone too, I’ll stand in that spot and feel connected – with her, with him, with my entire history. I’ll stare at the little brown desk and think of her, whiling away the hours in an imaginary world while dreaming of seeing Pop again in a world that exists beyond our imaginations.
Today, on a painful anniversary, that blessed hope of connection to loved ones present and passed is what makes the day bearable.
And it is enough.