Kelli Woodford's meditation on her grandmother's hands reminds me of the words of Isaiah: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace. This is an extraordinary essay - luminous even, and with lovely photographs, too. Please note there is a reference to miscarriage.
You can never tell from which direction it will come, y'know? The grace.
Monday was one of those that fit the stereotype. Spilled milk and tears on pillows and toilet seats that failed to be lifted. Glass that shattered at the breakfast table while I was in the shower and that not one of the children decided to clean up before I came downstairs and discovered it the sharp way. It was a day of second guessing this home-schooling-thing. This staying-home-with-the-children-thing. This whole thing.
But Tuesday I took a trip with my mother to see my ailing grandparents 3 hours away. She wanted to greet me upon arrival, but her back is so bent she can only see her shoes. She bustles about the kitchen anyway (well, "bustling" is I think what she would call it, although it is really much slower than constitutes the proper sense of the word), asking who wants a Pepsi and would I like ice? Seven children, twenty-two grands, seventeen great-grands (and counting) does that do a person, I guess. She's so very used to it.
Mom and I tell her to sit. That we've got it. We've come to help them get dinner.
And we stay 2 hours. There are albums brought forth from the back recesses of some dark upstairs closet. We flip through black and white photos of grandpa in his military uniform, old girlfriends on the beach, and babies. Lots and lots of babies. We had seven, you know, they remind me over and over, because of course, I have seven, too. Somewhere between the turning of pages and the recalling of names long since forgotten, it hits me that they not only have these stories, but in some sense,
they are these stories.
They are the years of toddlers a-splash in the baby pool. They are the moving across the country to take the promotion and then moving back shortly thereafter because it just wasn't home. They are the making love and the making lunch, the ear infections and the algebra homework, the humdrum all bound up in the everyday life that brought them such a rich return. All these sixty-four years of together they have spent. The days of teacher conferences and everybody home for Sunday dinners slowly gave way to college papers and the house staying clean for more than an hour at a time.
The years, they pass in seconds through their eyes and their lips.
She reaches over to take her glass. And I notice her hands.
They are skeletal, skin sagging, purple in the valleys of age. But I see them wiping fevered brows and slicing apples for her famous pies over many a Thanksgiving Eve and turning socks right-side-out and smoothing fresh sheets on a bed abandoned for the day. They are the ones responsible for the polish that winks at you from the surface of the coffee table and the flawless, smudgeless hallway mirror where I used to stand and squint at my battered skin as a teenager, wishing it as flawless as the reflecting surface. Their strength has held so many babies, but they have also felt their own weakness as two pregnancies ended by watching the lifeless form afloat in the unholy waters surrounded by the toilet seat.
These are beautiful hands.
We entwine fingers, the young and the old. I gently draw them close as we say a misty goodbye. It very well could be the last time. I breathe air heavy with holy as much as with grief. For their lives, nearing their close, have been well spent. Just as that virgin mother has stood peaceful over their kitchen table all these years, they have lived many sacred breakings of bread, spilling of love with the wine. It is the close of a season;
they have ministered well.
And on the long drive home I look at my own hands. What beauty they bring in all my dailies. What memories they make and what nightmares they survive. I see vestiges of her service, even some similarity of form, in these hands. Mine wear a scratch from the Monday morning glass. My skin, though wrinkled, doesn't sag tiredly around the edges of bone. The muscle tissue is still strong, firm. Overworked, even.
There are days of plenty and days of scarce, and we never know, do we? which will it be today?
I watch the last of the day's light slowly bleed out of the sky. Purples and brown and orange, undaunted. They don't know they are the color of a bruise, of the dying of day. I think it's appropriate, somehow, to mourn the death before me as I celebrate the life that was. The lingerings of light in one final hurrah from the triumphant sky.
A long, slow goodbye.
And before the first star winks or the moon's tresses gild, that bony, conclusive finger of sunny-day-remains shoots up from its source, now beneath the horizon.
Grace coming from the direction of the setting sun's last ray.
About Today's Contributor
Kelli Woodford scratches at words in the corners of her day. If they make sense it is more in spite of her than because of her. And because of that Mighty Mercy who is the greatest Word Weaver of all. She blogs somewhat regularly at Chronicles of Grace and can be found on facebook and twitter.
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