Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miners Light the World

"Mining is a way of life in West Virginia"...Senator Jay Rockefeller, 4/25/10

It's all been said, and not enough has been done. Twenty-nine proud Americans died in a mountain in WV, doing the best work that was available to them, work that benefitted every American who ever flips a light switch. I will remember them every time I travel past Beckley, and I will try to remember the words of the Vince Gill song that was sung at their memorial today:

Go rest high on that mountain
Son your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20, 2010

The last time I saw my Barbara Mary, she was crying. That was four months after I said to her "Nothing worse will ever happen to you," as I tried to comfort her loss of her 29-day-old firstborn, Christian. Last week I visited their graves and was upset that the flowers I placed there on my last visit were gone. It was raining, and I had to go to the bathroom, and the flowers were gone. I stuck the new ones I had brought in the permanent vase and left. In the grand scheme of loss and misery, missing artificial flowers is bearable, maybe even a gift to distract from the actual reason for being in a cemetery.

Today is the 17th anniversary of my firstborn's death at 31 years old, just seven months after her firstborn died. I'm having a hard time, harder than usual. As I type this, I am soaking wet from working in my garden in an effort to soothe myself with planting flowers, and I have given in to the pain and disappointment. My first child was beautiful and smart, as are the three still living. The promise of a future was there in her bassinet, at her First Communion, at the spelling bees she won, at her high school graduation, but along the way her dreams for herself faded.

Not all of the memories I have of her are as adorable as the one where she said "delissa pie, Mommy" or as sweet as the note she left me on my washer the night her baby brother was born: "I hope you go to the hospital soon and you bring home a boy baby." There was also the time she screamed "Bitch!" at me in the street when I tried to stop the drug activity that was taking place where she was then living. Had she lived longer, she would probably have learned that mothering is a mixed bag.

We didn't always like each other, but we always loved, and I am so sad for everything she missed and is missing. She should be here to watch her son become a man, and to compare notes about life and parents with her sisters and brother. She should have the satisfaction of overcoming mistakes and rising above bad decisions. She should not be lying in the ground, sharing a plot with her own baby son, nearly forgotten by the world and mostly forgotten by those who said they loved her when they were really loving how she made them feel temporarily.

In the end, though, I am grateful to the child who first made me a mother, one of the things I love most about my life. I remember the feeling of running down the subway steps, knowing that I was no longer alone in my body. I hope Barbara had some moments like that too, and I hope she and Christian are somewhere at peace, maybe with my mother and father and brother and all the rest of the family who have passed on and are waiting for me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Cruellest Month

It is of course a cliché to resurrect in April the often quoted line from Part I of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, "APRIL is the cruellest month," but I swear April really is the cruellest month. For me a beautiful sight like the peaceful May River yesterday, with signs of new life everywhere, and the suggestion that God is indeed in His heaven, contrasted with disturbing personal memories of other Aprils, where death was very present, is sometimes too much to contain. And then there is Waco. And Oklahoma City. And now there is Montcoal WV.

I have been looking forward to my first Spring road trip this year and the "almost heaven" feeling of driving through the Appalachians in April, but next week as I pass through the area south of Charleston WV, I will be thinking more about what is inside those mountains than the life that is emerging on the hillsides. I can hardly stop thinking of the horror in the hidden mines now. The Scotch-Irish faces of the miners and mourners remind me of my own origins and clan. I remember that I am the daughter of a working man, a proud and dignified man, but a man who carried a lunchbox, a man who understood how his union empowered him. I wonder what I am doing behind gates on a resort island that does not really celebrate workers. I do not feel peacefully at home. Ah, cruelty. I relate to Eliot's despair.

Part V of The Waste Land is titled "WHAT THE THUNDER SAID" and it alludes to mountains and death, although more cryptographic types than I am might dismiss that simple statement in favor of Eliot's more complicated messages. For me, today, it's about mountains and death in the cruellest month.

AFTER the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.