One of my favorite pieces of wisdom was given to me inside a walk-up pizza shack in Abiquiu, New Mexico called Mamacita’s. It’s a one-woman shop run by a New York transplant who does everything from take your order to make your pizza and count your change. Warm and fuzzy she is not. Yet, when my now ex-partner and I spent part of our first winter together in Abiquiu, she and I bonded over our shared East Coast chapters.
One day, after our bond had started to form, we shot the you-know-what while I waited for my pizza to bake. I told her it was back behind Bode’s (Abiquiu’s general store, well really only store), just on the other side of the Chama River. The river has been here for about 10,000 years, dating back to when big mammoths called the southwestern United States home.
“Sometimes, when I have a really good day or a really bad day,” the pizza lady said, “I go and just stand at the banks of the Chama. And I think to myself, ‘For 10,000 years, people like me have done exactly what I’m doing: Stood here, right here. To celebate a victory or mourn a loss.'”
I never looked at that river the same way again.
Often, as that winter turned into spring and I’d sit outside, I’d look at the river and, in its flow, see the stories of all who have come.
And will come.
I’ve thought of the pizza lady’s wisdom quite a bit these past few weeks as I begin the process of selling and shutting down my old family home in Plano, Texas.
In particular, I think of it every night when I turn on the alabaster lamp you see here. It’s an old lamp, bought by my Gran in 1961 when she and her third husband (the man I called Grandaddy) lived in Spain. From 1961 until 2000, when Gran had the strokes that moved her into skilled nursing, she turned this lamp on every night. She turned it on the first night she and Granddaddy moved back to the states. She turned it on the night he retired from the Air Force, following twenty years of service. She turned it on her first night as a widow and, whether she knew it or not, her last night living in her own home.
When Gran moved into skilled nursing, the lamp and the marble top table (it has never set on anything else) moved to the family home where Mom became the one who turned it on every night, until October of 2018, when she turned it on the night before the major surgery that would result in her moving into assisted living.
Since then, it’s been my job to turn the lamp on each night. Each night when I do, I usually have the front door open (so my old shelter dog, Gartholomew, can watch puppy t.v.). I like the door being open because I think, that way, it can somehow reach Mom in her assisted living community.
Reach Gran wherever she is.
Turning that light on (and off) each night is one of my most cherished and sacred rituals.
It is my continuation of Gran, Mom.
Yet, now the ritual is coming to an end. The lamp and table will be sold soon after I close on the house. Together or apart, they’ll become part of new homes, new rituals.
But the continuation? It will not end.
Because, while the last four years have been, for me, about honoring the specific continuation of two women I hold dear, the truth is that every time Gran, Mom or I have turned on that lamp, we are joined by everyone else who ever had or will ever shine a light.
Into the darkness of the night.
And, sometimes, the darkness of their lives.
All of us reflecting our light off each other. Like the jewels of Indra’s net.
A reminder that we are all connected.
We are all, each of us.
The Practice of Being Alive is a collection of stories about getting through this thing called life.
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