I participated in a show last night at the Continental Club Gallery. It was a variety show - Austin style. Artists, musicians, and writers all convening to share their view of the theme: Uninhibited/Inhibited. It was a beautiful night with some soul bearing, laughs shared, songs sung and some habits revealed. Here's my piece. Oh My Soul...
We are on our knees on the stone dry creek bed. Heads held up to the shining blue sky. Deep guttural moans emanating from way down in our bellies. From our core. From the source that makes us us. Like a prayer from the very center of our being we chant. Both of us in harmony. Tears streaming down our faces. In agony. In ecstasy.
Our children have run ahead. They have no time or patience for the mortification of this public display of adoration. My own father would leave the house at midnight to attend nocturnal adoration. But that was different. Sanctioned by the church and all. Midnight prayer. This was my prayer. An unearthly cry. On my knees. On the dry creek bed. Head held high to the luminescent blue sky as if waiting to be carried away in rapture.
As we chant, we are aware of nothing other than the resonance in our chest. The moans that echo within us. And seemingly without us. A force of their own. Not ours. Just through us. A family coming down the trail gives us a wide berth. We don’t see them but we’re told later by our children, “they thought you were crazy.” Perhaps. That’s kind of how it feels. This grief of ours. This missing of our dear soul. Our Alma. And I am on my knees next to her partner of 23 years on the dry creek bed. Both of us calling her name. AAAALLL-MAAAA. It is like an ohm. But more. More complete. More of everything. AAAALLLL-MAAAAA.
I have tasted sadness before. This was not it. Sadness can be sweet. It can be comforted with a soft cheek. A cup of hot tea. Or a shoulder to lean on. Like when my dad died. No anguish. That was the natural order of things. We were there. We were waiting for the moment when life became death. We held him until the very last minute as we gathered around his bed looking out at the lake through the big picture window in the room we called the library which no longer held any books. Just a hospital bed and all the accoutrement of the sick and dying.
My dad used to pray out loud during every storm, “From thunder and lightening deliver us oh Lord. From a sudden and unprepared death protect me oh Jesus.” His death was perfect. Not overly lingering, just long enough. Not much pain. No thunder or lightening. Visits from friends and family to say a final hello and goodbye. Eggplant parmesan the night before he died made by the old Italian lady that lived next door. We might have wished for a few more years but his life was complete. To him and to us. A loving wife of 50+ years. Nine children who cherished him and a giant damn in North Jersey built from the visions of his own mind.
Alma’s death was sudden. No illness. No time for final hellos or goodbyes. Not conscious ones anyway. Though I talked to her the night she died. She got up from bed to go downstairs. For something, who knows what? She fell and never got up. For a while we said aneurism because it made us feel better but really it was just a fall. On steps she had gone down a jillion times before. In her own home. On steps that made life become death.
My phone rang at 4:30 a.m. on the east coast where I was up, at 4:30 a.m., saying goodbye to my mom after a week alone together. One on one. A rare treat for this 8th child of nine. Ready to walk out the door I saw my niece’s number. A drunken teenage pocket call, no doubt. Crying on the other end, “Alma fell. She’s not gonna make it.” And I fell to my knees. On the cold wet New Jersey driveway. Moaning. WHAT? NO!! Crying on both ends. My Alma. My number 2 of 9.
Still I headed to the airport to be with my own family of six who needed me there after a week on their own. All the way I moaned. Bawled. And questioned the reality of this news I had just heard. In my own row of three seats I heaved great heaping sobs with one very nervous man in front of me. Let me ask you this, if you were on a plane and the person behind you was so completely and physically distraught, would you ask them if they needed help? I didn’t wonder then but I wonder now. Would you ask someone if they were okay? I buried my head in my sobs and my scarf. No one dared reach in. Not even the flight attendant with the cart full of drinks. My 3 ½ hour nonstop public display of anguish too much to handle. Apparently this was not in the training manual.
This sadness holds no semblance of sweetness. A cup of tea couldn’t even begin to touch it. (Though I did bring a 2 pound bag of Buddha’s Bliss to the house of my dead sister as if it would somehow help us all.) But this feeling doesn’t even deserve the same word. It is more physical. A pain from the center of my being. From down in my belly rising up into my chest and spreading out to every cell. Pounding like a dull resounding ache. I thought I knew heartache.
It is months now. 5 days shy of 3 if anyone is counting. Which I am. Like counting the time from a baby’s birth. First days. Then weeks. Then months. And so I know the years will follow. And still I’ll count. And still I’ll chant. And call out to her in unrestrained prayer. Every month on the eleventh I will remember. Alma Regina Noll. Born and died on the eleventh.
Her ashes sit on the altar we have made. I want to spread them somewhere. But I don’t want to give them up. I want to hold them to me. I want to taste them. And so I do, as I sift through them. Now she is in me. Like never before. AAAAALLL-MAAAA!!!