Coming Home: Memories help us get through tough times
When Dad was recovering in the hospital this winter, the wind howling and blowing snow across the glow of the streetlights, we took turns sitting with him in that sterile room, keeping him company throughout the night so we didn’t have to worry about him being alone.
So he didn’t have to be alone.
It was the most desolate and uncertain, scary time in our lives. I remember switching shifts with my little sister – I had 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and she took 2 to 6. I stepped outside in that frozen air, walking along the only footprints in the new snow, her footprints, to our rooms across the quiet street, and I felt like we might be the only ones in the world who could feel that cold for what it really was.We felt like we might be the only ones in the world this lucky and terrified at the same time.And so, in that room up there on the third floor, we talked about summer. We talked about this summer and all that we would do –fix the red barn, clean up the corrals, take our horses to the mountains of Montana and ride, plant the garden, put up hay, mend the fences, get more cows, find the driest, warmest spot on the top of the hill when the snow starts to melt in the spring, and just lie down under that sun and close our eyes.And then we talked about the lake, the place we’ve gone year after year since we were all 20 years younger, where my grandparents went to retire and make pancakes for the flood of family coming in from Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Arizona and North Dakota.Where the sun sets on Grandpa’s sailboat anchored and waiting in the still of the evening.Where we meet on the shoreline and forget we are teachers, writers, social workers, oilmen and ranchers with cows munching on green grass at home.In that hospital room, Dad would close his eyes and think of that shady spot where the hammock swings between two trees. He would hear the waves lap on the rocks, and his breath would even out and he might fall asleep for a moment or two.There were moments in February I didn’t believe that summer would ever come, that that promise disappeared with the naive belief that we were all going to be OK.But the sun rises and sets again, and the weather outside, like the storm in our heads, eventually pushes us into new seasons.Look here now, it’s July.Look here, we’ve made it.I believe it because I’m sitting here this morning in Minnesota on the porch with the windows facing the little lake, the smell of coffee and toast coming from my grandmother’s kitchen, the sound of my aunts laughing and discussing the news in the living room, the lap of the waves in the shade of the trees.And I don’t know why I’m telling you this, except lately I’ve been thinking about living in the moment and how we’re told to be present.It’s the best thing for us, seeing as the past and the future are out of our control.I know this. And it’s easy to do on days like today when there isn’t another moment we’d rather pick.But I hope we all have a place, a time, a moment we have memorized well enough so that when we need it, we can close our eyes and be there.Because it’s one of the perks of being human, that we can imagine ourselves in warmer weather and believe it will be true someday.That we can smell the sweet clover along the highway and immediately be home.That in our darkest moments our uncertain future can become reality simply by making plans.