The Living

When I was a kid I was afraid of lava. I felt it was an imminent danger. At any minute I might encounter lava. Lava has recently come into my four year old son’s life, probably the same way it must have come into mine: school. Somehow he found out about lava and now when we cross the street he decides that he must jump over the lava. It gets pretty exciting when he’s pausing to jump from non-crack to non-crack and I’m trying to walk at a normal even pace holding his hand across a busy intersection in DuPont Circle.

I don’t think I learned about Pompeii until later. Teachers must be driven by some sense of moral propriety after all. I had to bite my tongue to not tell my son about Pompeii. The educational system wants to make sure you know about lava as soon as you possibly can, just so they can later spring on you Pompeii, like the ultimate, “You see?”

My in-law’s vacationed in Antigua, Guatemala some years ago and we visited them. The smoking volcanoes made me feel hot an uneasy. My husband and his mother relished in the – dare I call it – excitement of being so close to an active volcano; just like they relish eating spicy food (greenish eyes flashing, throwing their dark heads back in careless laughter and easy smiles). Black crushed pepper makes my throat close up sometimes. The mountains were beautiful and that was confusing. I would glance surreptitiously at them, not quite making out in my fear whether the danger was imminent. I did not want the others to think I was not as careless as they. So, I acted like I did not care.

Only lately have I begun to notice that certain things take a certain amount of time. Years ago, I heard it takes two years to acclimate to a new place. I would say it to people, as though I had direct experience of this, as though it was my own saying. I wanted to comfort myself with the knowledge I imparted to them.

Now, I know it takes one month for my kids to get used to a new au pair. I know it takes three months for us to not even notice anymore. I know it used to take me decades to get over something. Now it takes me just a few days. My sister was born when I was almost 4 and I did not get over it until we were grown up and became friends. My son and infant daughter were playing tonight on our bed. I was tired and felt grumpy that they kept jostling me.

It feels like something’s happening this year, a changing of the guard. The people in charge are dying or slowing down. I’m the lead on a big deal. I keep looking to give updates to the lead person in charge, but since it’s me I don’t give the updates. I look out the window instead, except the blinds are drawn. I instant message the associate with lots of instructions. She performs them to a “t”. I feel safe.

My dad had skin cancer on his back. For maybe a year before he knew, he would ask my mom to scratch his back where he had the cancer and she would tell him it did not look good. It got worse and worse until she refused to scratch his back anymore because she was concerned. He did not believe her until she thought to use her camera phone to take a picture of it. He saw it and went to have it biopsied the very next day. He put an expedite on the results and had it removed within the week. He’s fine.

If there is a connection between the living and the living, there is a connection between the living and the dead. Relationships exist independently of the people in them.

My mother’s brother died when he was four and she was six. The crypt holding his little bones was destroyed in an earthquake 45 years later. Last year, almost 15 years after the earthquake, my mother discovered his little bones were lost and tried to move heaven and earth from a tiny town in Georgia to find them. Later that year, she went to the church, by the name of the Sacred Heart in Armenia, Colombia, because she had to. His specific bones have not yet been identified. One day, she will paint us a painting of the common ossuary at the Church of the Sacred Heart where his remains are thought to be.

I have tried to have relationships with status, achievement, jewelry, alcohol and other things like this. They were all one sided. They did not exist independently of me.

An ossuary is a chest, box, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. Armenia, Quindio was known as the miracle city because of its fast growth in early 1900’s. It was named after the Armenian massacre by the Ottomans. People went there to get rich. The Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic devotion, an external act of piety popular with the masses. Its image is a burning bloodied heart surmounted with cross and thorns.

Bonaventure, a medieval saint devoted to the Sacred Heart, wrote:

“Who is there who would not love this wounded heart? Who would not love in return Him, who loves so much?


The featured image is “Family Feast” by Niko Pirosmani painted in 1907. Works by Pirosmani (1862-1918) are in the public domain

2 thoughts on “The Living

  1. As a geologist and former geography teacher, I loved the way you started this by talking about lava, then Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii and lastly Antigua. I really enjoyed how you used this as an introductory example of human relationships with various emotions and aspects of life – and coming to terms with them. I think I need to read it again to get the finer detail, so If I’ve misinterpreted your meaning, I’ll soon find out! A great post.

    Liked by 2 people

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