I was watching a movie a few days ago when Conor, my 2-year old grandson, turned to me in his gravelly toddler voice and said, grandma, you are dying, it’s okay.
What?! I was hoping I heard him wrong, which I often do.
He said it again. – Grandma, you are dying, it’s okay.
I turned to Mika – my five-year old translator and asked her what her brother said. Mika repeated the words as if she was talking about potatoes or spider man.
Last night walking Hanalei Bay with Jane Selle Morgan, I told her this story and we laughed, really, really hard. We bent over laughing, we crossed the river laughing. Then we somehow lost her two hundred dollar key fob in the sand, while laughing.
The moon was almost full, the ocean looked more like the Atlantic than the Pacific, it was turbulent and gray, and there were only two sailboats left in the bay from the summer season. As the sun disappeared behind the back of the dragon, we took photos with the moon’s light languishing on the water. The grainy night photos suggested another era, something captured in a watercolor painting, something from yesterday.
I’ve had a long, funny dance with death, I’ve written about it plenty, and I know some of you have had that dance too. Jane talks with dead people and sometimes I do too, but then we pondered the bigger message.
When I was twenty-six I was on a flight from Mexico City to Acapulco on Mexicana Airlines with my girlfriends, and the plane dropped thousands of feet shortly after take off. We had lifted off the runway into black skies, straight into a storm. I had a bad feeling about the flight, the dark mid afternoon skies confirming the feeling.
Then the plane dropped, not a nose dive, but a straight drop.
Everyone on the plane began screaming. Luggage in the overhead fell on passengers, and when the plane leveled off, wires were hanging down from the ceiling, and my girlfriend just kept screaming.
I unhooked my seat belt and turned to her in the seat behind me. It’s going to be ok. Scream into this pillow, you are freaking everyone out.
But she kept screaming into the face of death.
Then she looked at me, out of breath and asked me to slap her.
I lifted my arm and slapped her across her left cheek.
We landed safely in Acapulco and went right to an oceanfront bar, taking in shots of tequila and laughing at the face of death, not mocking death, but saying no, not now.
As writers, it’s our job to not procrastinate – to tell our stories, to write about our tango with death, to see the character of her, the red dress of her, the smoker and drinker of her, the storyteller of death.
By writing about it, we are also embracing life.
Death flirted with me the other night again through my two year old grandson, but really she was reminding me of the work I have to do in the days ahead, by dangling the truth of her.
Mary Oliver said, “are you barely breathing and calling it a life?”
I’ve been taking deeper breaths as the political unrest in this country grows – I’ve been walking further, eating greener, writing deeper stories with all my students. Driving by the signs in Kapaa urging citizens to purchase guns and putting a loving bubble around even that message.
Instead of purchasing guns, I’m stocking up on ammunition through words and story…organizing my books, my essays, my classes.
Ursula Le Guin said “we must write to remember freedom.”
Yes, we must.
Also, there are times we must allow death in to remind us how to breathe deeply into this life we are given as a treasure, as a gift, even in the darkest times.
We are so strong, stronger than we know.
We will vote, we will never forget hard won freedoms, and those among us who are still not free. We write for them, too.
We will slap death across the face if we must and say we are not ready.
We will sail through the dark skies on the wings of life.
Yes, we will.