All the Light We Cannot See

It’s been a bit dark in this little corner of the universe. It’s the bleak midwinter, when the Minnesota days are persistently brief and too often gray. The trees are skeletal, barren. Occasionally a beautiful and sparkling snowfall comes to settle into lacey patterns on the branches, and cover the slushy, muddy older snow piles from previous storms. Something about the angle of the sun in February, much like in November, makes me hungry, hollow. I can’t find much to recommend these months on the particularly bitter-cold, dark-skied days.

When my aunt Linda (here known and forever preserved as the beloved CALi–for Crazy Aunt Linda–in the comments of numerous posts) died in November, the regular vacuum of the darker months seemed to turn into a bit of a black hole. I still wake up some days and just can’t make sense of it. I know she’d hate for me to be here, to stay here in sadness for so long. But how do I pull myself out, when the proverbial hand that so often hoisted me from a sinkhole–Linda herself, with her humor, her wisdom and wit–is no longer here to leave me an encouraging message?

I think I’ve said here before that I absolutely believe there is something beyond the life we live and understand with our worldly senses. I have felt the presence of departed loved ones often enough to never doubt that their energy continues, even though I can no longer see them in the form that was familiar to me. I heard a song on the radio on the way to work and was convinced Linda shuffled it onto my random playlist just then. One of my children shared a memory, or just the feeling of missing her, at the moment I was silently thinking of and missing her, too. I stumbled across an older Facebook thread, and saw multiple (and, of course, hilarious) comments she’d left me. In small ways, she was there…showing me she was still “with” me. But I am human, and selfish, and it is not enough. I want to see her. Hers was an illuminating presence, like that sparkling, new-fallen snow that brings the world into a different light. She brightened the dingy spaces with her humor. She made the branches beautiful instead of barren, just by being there. I wanted her sparkle, for now and always. I was, and still am, angry that she had just 56 years to shine, even if she was so dazzling it hurt. Cancer took her away. It stole something from all of us who loved her, and it stole even more from her.

I recently read a book that I know Linda would have found just as moving as I did (if a little melancholy for her tastes). The title attracted me…so much so that I’ve borrowed it to title this post…in part because, in my way of thinking, life energy doesn’t die but somehow goes somewhere else when someone dies. I don’t know what I believe beyond that, though it gives me some comfort to know that Linda believed her energy would join all the heavenly chorus to teach them all some really good karaoke tunes. I’m glad she knew where she was going, even if I remain unclear about the details. But since reading All the Light We Cannot See, I am even more convinced that what we see is so little of what is. Those of us with eyesight can become so reliant on our sense of sight as a form of evidence, of reassurance of presence. We have to “see” to believe, we close our ears to “distractions” to focus on the words and images before us. One of the main characters of the book is a blind child, and it is clear from the very beginning that she “sees” more than a hundred sighted people around her. As the author wrote about the choice of title for his book, “Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” But there are other wavelengths–of light, of sound, of an internal compass or navigation or life-force–that can’t be seen. There are other senses that inform us when we are open to all the many kinds of light that exist, regardless of our ability to see them.

So I know she’s there. I don’t like not being able to see her and I don’t know that my selfish wish to do just that with my own eyes and hug her with my human arms will ever leave me, but I know beyond a doubt that she won’t leave me either, not really. She’s just there, on another wavelength, beyond my earthly ability to see but within my heart’s ability to feel.

Categories: Mostly Me | 1 Comment

Upon the Occasion of Your First Decade

Dear Oliver,

Today you turned 10 years old.

Every year (every.single.year! I know!) I mention how impossible your aging process seems to me. I’m not sure why; you’re a human boy, blessed with all the physical necessities for continuous growth and well-being, and yet it is somehow still so strange to me that you don’t look like this:



Or this:


With your wee little curls. Squeeeeee!

Or even this:

Cheeky monkey!

But rather, like this tall drink of water:

Colt-like. All legs. September 2015.

Colt-like. All legs. September 2015.

This year has been such an exciting one for you. You travelled outside the U.S. for the first time (sort of? what is a commonwealth or an “unincorporated territory”, anyway?) when we all flew down to Puerto Rico over your spring break. It was the light at the very long tunnel of both your parents finishing higher education degree programs, and we had a grand time together that week-and-a-half. You, perhaps, had the grandest time of all…your first flight! Swimming and almost, but not actually, being carried off to sea! Watching umpteen million episodes of Teen Titans GO! D&D! Running uninhibited along the 16th-century ramparts! You were in your element, let me tell ya.

At Castillo San Felipe del Morro, our favorite outing of the trip.

At Castillo San Felipe del Morro, our favorite outing of the trip, April 2015.

It was such a good time, in fact, that I knew you were more than ready for your next travel adventure: the long-awaited pilgrimage to NYC. For the first time in probably your whole life, you got both of your parents all to yourself for an entire long weekend…AND you got to see New York! I could (and should!) write a whole separate post about that trip, but suffice it to say, you are now a most seasoned man-of-the-world, and it was my absolute privilege to make your horizons a bit broader this past year.

At One World Trade (in its opening month, even!) with teeny Lady Liberty in the background, June 2015.

At One World Trade with teeny Lady Liberty in the background, June 2015.

In the Lion King lobby, Times Square, NYC June 2015.

In the Lion King lobby, Times Square, NYC June 2015.

You learned to swim, you played tennis all summer long, you started piano lessons and really enjoy playing. You found books you love (finally!) and can’t get your fill of manga. You’ve read all the Yu-Gi-Oh that the local libraries have in their collection. We also did a lot of work together this past year to get your busy body and your busy mind into better alignment. You felt comfortable in school for the first time in awhile, in large part because of the effort you put into your extra-curricular work. You still don’t love handwriting, but you found muscles you never knew you had, you found (some) persistence. You found a calm center, somewhere deep within, that had been hidden by all the ceaseless movement of your younger years.

If things get too quiet, this is where we'll find you.

If things get too quiet, this is where we’ll find you.

While you left some things behind, the very Ollie-est parts you carried along with you, still. Your humor. Your caring heart. Your innate curiosity and openness to the world. Your fiendish cleverness, now honed into keen strategy. Your mind is full of facts, and while they are mostly pertaining to Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh characters, you have a knack for memorization that puts your old folks to shame. Your current D&D character is a wizard and you play its backstory with compassion, while adroitly recalling spells (in all their minutiae) to suit each challenge the team faces. And speaking of “teams”, you really understand what that’s about, how to listen to another’s perspective and share yours in the hopes of reaching a peaceful consensus.

Even though you’re the peacemaker, you still tussle with your brothers, though. Constantly. You are, after all, a ten-year-old boy and a middle brother, so it only stands to reason…

Since we tend not to take pictures of you all fighting, please accept in lieu this photo of you and the other fellas being silly at Mickey's, July 2015.

Since we tend not to take pictures of you all fighting, please accept instead this photo of you and the other fellas being silly at Mickey’s, July 2015.

We lost some beloveds this year, too, unfortunately. It was the first time you’ve been old enough to really understand death, and as a parent it’s one of the most terrifying things about parenting: how do I explain the temporal, fleeting nature of life to my young children in a way that is meaningful, but not frightening? How do I navigate the process when my own heart feels so broken? Your response was, simply, remarkable. When your pet hamster, Wilbert, bid his farewell to this plane you accepted the tender condolences of your brothers, but had a remarkable frankness about the passage. “All things must die, sometime,” you said, with a touch of awe and sorrow but a more impressive measure of quiet assurance. You have a faithful heart, an antidote to my own angry and questioning spirit in the face of death. You humble me. When our family recently lost two incredible, amazing, utterly indescribable matriarchs, you were reverent and steady. Your great and great-great aunts adored your heart, and you continue their legacy of peace and love and cheerfulness in every step you take in this world. Great-great Aunt Betty always got a chuckle out of your antics, but your great aunt Linda pinned no less than the fate of the world on your more-than-capable shoulders:

"This guy. Right here. May save the world or just make it a lot nicer place to be," she wrote on this picture, posted on your first day of 4th grade, 2015.

“This guy. Right here. May save the world or just make it a lot nicer place to be,” she wrote on this picture, posted on your first day of 4th grade, 2015.

And I’m more than inclined to agree with her. I saw it in you the very first moment we met, that your heart was sent to teach me, and all who know you, what goodness is all about. It’s fitting that you were born with the sunrise, my sunny child. Stay gold, Ollie-Bear.

Meeting the sunrise.

Meeting the sunrise.



Categories: Ollie | 3 Comments