Today was a bit of a comedown from the long, good, weekend. I had a day like I think a lot of you had, with a little regression and sadness. This morning was dark, starting with those early moments between waking up and actually getting out of bed. Lying in bed I was thinking about all of the good things that feel like have maybe ended.
Before we went to Herndon on Saturday afternoon we took Melissa’s (and my) seven-year-old nephew in to Washington DC to meet up with my (and Melissa’s) seven-year-old niece for some sightseeing. The two are from different sides of our family and are only about a month apart in age. This weekend was the first time they ever met. Melly and I had forever joked about how great this moment would be, but did not expect it to be under such circumstances. As expected, they hit it off right away the way kids do.
During our visit to the city we walked through the sculpture garden at the national gallery. My Mom wanted to show everyone Roxy Paine’s “Graft”. While Graft is breathtaking, a different sculpture caught my attention. I broke away to look at Barry Flanagan’s “Thinker on a Rock”. It generated a very visceral and raw reaction in me, causing me to cry on the spot. After staring at Thinker for a while, I caught back to my family with them none the wiser to my tears. It was 100+ degrees outside with 95% humidity and everyone thought I was just sweaty.
The thing about this is that it takes control of our emotions at the most inconvenient and unexpected times. I was having a great time that morning, but for about ten minutes there I was a wreck. Even now, looking at pictures of that sculpture I choke up a little. I can’t quite say why.
Coming home to an empty house full of Melissa’s stuff generated the same reaction in me. Only this time with a longer tail. I was lost most of Sunday night and Monday morning. I finally got out of the house to grab lunch with a friend to try to start to feel better. I have found that this works as a good cure for most everything. Getting up and moving, getting away from this ‘black hole’ for a few minutes works wonders. Even just talking on phone with someone seems to get the endorphins going again. Every moody teenager wants to be alone like Chris McCandless. That is until you are forced in to it. Even McCandless learned being alone is not all its cracked up to be.
Melissa and I used to watch the movie About Schmidt every Christmas. Whenever we would watch it we would laugh at the comedic aspects of Schmidt’s reactions to his grief. The thought of road-tripping through this, without any self awareness, has occurred to me as well. There is a philosophy to the movie that I missed the many times I've seen it. Coming back to it again after everything has made the film that much richer. That's one thing I can say with certainty, everything has deep meaning right now.
The final scene of About Schmidt is Schmidt coming home to an empty house after his daughter’s wedding. In an act of late night decision-making Schmidt decided to sponsor an orphan in Tanzania. in addition to sending money, the orphanage suggested that he become pencils with his orphan, Ndugu. Like Schmidt, I am also pen pals with a 2nd grader, my nephew.
Now, Schmidt is a 65-year-old man a out of touch with the mind of a six-year-old. As a result he maybe over shares his thoughts a little. Watching this before my grief I thought it was funny. Now I think it is a bit tragic, and also a bit cautionary tale to ‘keep it light’.
The redemptive, and relatable moment comes after he finishes his last letter and gets his first letter back. Schmidt realizes there is hope, that he has made a difference and can continue to do so.
For me, that Ndugu letter was the one I received in the week or so after Melissa’s passing. My nephew wrote to me to explain in his own way that she is not gone. As I said at the Phoenix and Herndon events, she is where we chose to remember her. The people we lose live on in memory and laughter, in joy and wonder. If that means shooting stars to a seven-year-old, then bring on the Perseid.