Saturday, December 12, 2009

Final Journeys

In late October, while my father was dying, the maple leaves were falling.

A small yellow leaf fell on my windshield one night and got lodged in the wiper. It fluttered cheerily on the way to dance that morning and was still in my wiper when I got home.

I thought that was kind of amazing, and resolved to let it stay there until it was ready to leave.

The little leaf rode with me to San Francisco the next time I went to visit my father. As I drove away from the nursing home where he was, I was thinking of what to say to my mother, who was in New York, about how my dad was doing. His health was deteriorating rapidly, and I was wondering what I could say to her to prepare her for the difference in his condition over a period of a few weeks.

The leaf caught my eye as I drove, and I thought “Some things never are made right. He's not going to get better. He's just withering up and getting ready to drop off, like my faithful leaf there.”

We always think things are going to get better. It's difficult to face down the situations where they're not, where all you have to look forward to is a release from the pain and prison of the body.

The leaf fluttered determinedly in the wind, reminding me of my father's tenacity of spirit. All through his struggle with brain cancer, he never wasted time or energy on resisting was was. He accepted the situation and put all of his energy into making the most of it, like the methodical engineer he was.

The leaf stayed with me for about 6 weeks, getting thinner and browner and smaller as the days went on. My dad died, but the leaf hung in there, reminding me of him every time I drove my car.

This morning, I drove to dance in the rain, my leaf bearing me company. I stopped with the windshield wiper in the up position and decided to photograph the leaf from that angle.

I snapped the shot after dance, put the camera away, fastened my seat belt, and started the car.
The windshield wiper started where it had left off, and... leaf

...fluttered away.

“My leaf!” I cried, feeling bereft and abandoned and betrayed.

How could it leave me? After all we'd been through together?

Then I noticed that it had plastered itself to the far corner of the windshield.

I turned off the car, unbuckled my seatbelt, got the camera out again, and got out of the car.

I photographed the leaf in its new position:

I very carefully peeled the leaf away from the windshield. I gently opened it up flat, uncurling the edges that had folded over one another. I held it there in my hand for a moment, in the rain, then I got back in the car.

I spread it out over my pack and took another picture:

It's so delicate and translucent, so fragile.

I brought it home like a rare treasure, somehow completely different from any of the other many maple leaves from the same tree that litter our driveway. I folded it up carefully in a dish towel and set it to press under the bird encyclopedia.

My leaf.

I'm going to immortalize it, either between sheets of waxed paper or laminating plastic, and place it on the life altar at my dad's memorial gathering.

To others, it will just be a nondescript brown leaf, completely unremarkable.

To me, though, it speaks volumes about my father's final days, about his spirit, and the way he faced his death. It even speaks of the way he hung on for us, caught in our windshield wipers, ready to die but willing to be there a little longer for the ones he loved most. Knowing, maybe, that we'd need the windshield wipers to clear the rain from our eyes this El Nino winter.

Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville.