humble hours

On the morning of the last snow day, I stay in bed late, let the sun come up without me. All night, strange dreams of riding trains. Fitful sleep.  

I wake thinking of my father, who has been gone for many years. I am thinking of him, riding the train to see him in my dream, although this is not something that ever happened while he was alive.  

A palpable absence. The shadowy outline of a man who hovered at the edges of my childhood – just beyond the rooms of my house, just out of reach. 


The next day, M. leaves early for New York. There is silence in the house when he is gone.  

I take my son to school, a route I have not traveled in some time. He is quiet, too. We wait behind the bus. When it pulls away, I drive up to the door. There is a teacher waiting just inside the glass doors to greet the students as they arrive. He runs toward her.  


This is my life now, the dropping off, the picking up. The sitting around conference tables and sometimes, pacing a large room among flipcharts and whiteboards, clutching a clipboard or maybe staring at my phone. There is comfort in its contours – predictable, contained. Apprehensible.  

I sit at my desk, peel an orange. Sip coffee. Such quiet pleasures, this bitter coffee, this sweet fruit. There is snow on the ground and there is sun today and the bright light reflecting on the snow through the slats of my window blinds seems a reminder of some higher order, something approaching the divine. This is, perhaps, as close as we get.  


After my mother died, I called Hospice to volunteer. They gently told me no, that it was too soon. Wait a year, I was instructed, maybe two. This rejection stung. What I wanted most was to be with the dying.  

There was no comfort in being with the living. They were too vibrantly, urgently alive: My college friends were piling into cars and driving to New Hampshire for a weekend in the woods. Or pulling all-nighters studying for exams. Or playing pool and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Those were not my people. Not now. I wanted to find solace among the suffering.  

I languished. I took a part-time job at a law firm. I drafted letters and copyedited reports. I stood by the copy machine and waited while it spit out sheet after sheet of paper, warm from its machinery. I walked these pages around the office, handed them to people. Sometimes, they handed things back. I made stacks on my desk. I made labels for file folders.  


It is not something I would choose to do now. Now, I think it would be too hard. The relentless reminders of mortality. The continuous practice of loss.

We need, I think, witnesses to our final hours. And there will be others, I expect, beside whose beds I will sit as the breath leaves their bodies. But not yet, I hope. Not now. 


My mother believed that there were many more occasions than the formal holidays that were worth celebrating. We marked half-birthdays, the anniversaries of our adoptions. Report card days. Dance recitals. Some years, we celebrated the first day of spring or of winter.  

On these occasions, we ate cake for breakfast or wore crowns of paper flowers. We went for ice cream sundaes and stayed up late or we tied ribbons around all the doorknobs of our house.  

I took this from her, these impulses, or I did at least for a time. Wanting to imbue as many days as possible with an aura of celebration. Light up these simple days. Make these humble hours shine.  

I find it difficult to sit still in the humble hours. Celebrations and their attendant pleasures are seductive.  

Then after, untying the bows and discarding paper crowns, thinking next time, we will do more. Next time, won’t our pleasures be multiplied? 


I wrap a few small gifts for my family late last night and leave them on the dining room table for them to find this morning.  

We stand around for the few minutes we have when we are all back together again, before we head off in different directions. There is unwrapping. There are small sounds of delight. We embrace each other. We touch. We wish each other well.  

Outside, from the porch, we see that a light snow has fallen while we slept. It has covered over the snow that had been muddied by passing cars. It obscures, for a time, the dark ground beneath.