I was born. I died. And the dash between only a blink. I’m not afraid. I wasn’t afraid. It’s happened before and it will happen again. But, I am so tired of watching! I want to live a whole life. A life within that dash. That, oh so simple symbol evoking a sense of a life well-lived.
The angels come for me every time. They bring Grandma and Grandpa from both sides. They always wait. They always wait until my grandparents are ready for me. I wonder if that is always why I get a little taste of life. Because the angels are patient.
I was four the last time it happened. I saw the angels months before, and again, I didn’t realize. I didn’t know, didn’t understand. Even the day it happened, the day Brian came. I thought the angels were dolls, so my parents thought I was hallucinating.
I shouldn’t whine so about leaving, it’s special to be escorted by the angels and even more special to be escorted by your guardian angel.
He gave me a gift that day. My guardian angel. I held it in my hand. He said it was a birthday present. It’s in her jewelry box now. My Donald Duck necklace. I don’t know why she keeps it. It isn’t hers and I can’t wear it. I thought by now I’d understand. It’s strange to age on this side and to still not quite grasp things. Maybe that’s why I keep getting sent back. To learn until my heart heals. To understand why pieces of it are gone every time I arrive. This last time was triple trouble. How I ever made it to age four is still a mystery…
Wait, she’s opening the box! Who are those girls with her? What have I missed? I thought I was paying attention, but my mind wanders so easily over here. What’s she saying?
“I’ve had this necklace for years. It was given to me when I was a little girl. Guess you could say…someone thought I needed it. But, now, well…I don’t really need it anymore. Somehow, I think you do, though.”
What?! That’s MY necklace! Not yours! What are you doing?
Why isn’t she listening? Can’t she hear me anymore?
“I feel caught between two worlds. I’m in this one, I guess, but not fully. There’s another part of me…somewhere else. Sounds crazy, I know. But, I’ve felt like this since I was a kid. I felt it most strongly after my surgery. I was four years old. And the day of the surgery, well, it is the strangest story…
Our house smelled of Pine-Sol and lemon. Clean and sterile like a hospital. The only thing to break through; Jimmie Lee’s cooking. I breathed in a mix of Pine-Sol, lemon, freshly baked biscuits, fried apples, black-eyed peas “for luck”, and ham in the oven. I got a headache from all the smells, but it didn’t stop my mouth from watering. It was Sunday. Three days before I went into the hospital. Sunday supper with all my favorites. “Soul food for the body and spirit,” Jimmie Lee said.
I didn’t know it then, but Jimmie Lee had a secret. Her father and his father before him and so on as far back as she could remember had been tombstone makers and cemetery caretakers. She had watched and learned in secret their craft and one clear, starry night; her father had caught her watching them. He had a secret, too.
When she came to the hospital to visit me, three days later and on my fourth birthday, she stopped and watched me awhile from the doorway. I watched her, too. “You feel it, don’t you? You’re four years old….but, your eyes….they’re different.” I watched from the other side as the little girl on the bed nodded in understanding. An understanding of confirmation well beyond her years. Jimmie Lee’s brow furrowed in a confusing array of worry, doubt, consternation, and love. She’s too young, her heart whispered. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Brian came. He knew it was my birthday and gave me a present… Today is his birthday, too. But, I didn’t have a present for him.”
“What’d he say when you told him?”
“He said the best present I could give him would be to be brave during the surgery and to be good.”
Jimmie Lee smiled, “Sounds like a good thought to me. Did he say anything else?”
“Well, he just looked at me holding Donald Duck and it felt like he said something, but his mouth never moved. Do you believe me? Mommy and Daddy were just outside the door and said they didn’t see anyone….” Jimmie Lee and I watched as her mouth trembled a little. “I believe you, little one.” I believe you, too. I am you and you are me. One day soon, you will see.
I’m gonna live to be 102! I knew it to be true, from the age of 12. How did I know? That is the year, Jimmie Lee told me her family’s secret.
“Come here, child,” Jimmie Lee motioned with her whole hand to come sit beside her. She had always been a big woman and though old age had her in its grip, it had done nothing to diminish her size. That was fine with me. She still looked strong and capable, but she knew her time had come.
“You feel it, don’t you?” She asked. I nodded, “I’ve had the necklace too long. It’s time to give it to someone who needs it.”
“Good girl. You’ll know in your heart who’s ready for that necklace.” Jimmie Lee smiled as I held her hand and sat down on the floor. “I’ve got a story for you, little one. Keep it secret for me, ok?” I patted her hand again and nodded.
“The day of your first open-heart surgery on your fourth birthday was no accident. I had a dream the Sunday before and it was confirmed when I came to visit you. Do you remember me telling you secrets can be shared, but you have to wait for the right time?” I swallowed hard and nodded again. That day was one of my first memories and still as clear as if it had happened yesterday.
“When I was about your age, my father caught me watching him and my grandfather work on tombstones. I thought I was in trouble. Big trouble. But, he wasn’t angry. He just said he hadn’t realized it was time to tell me his secret. That I’d grown up so fast and he’d been so focused on his work, he almost missed it. “You felt it, didn’t you?” He’d asked me. Without him saying anything else, I knew what he meant. I already knew his secret in my heart.
We sat on old stone bench in the cemetery and he said, “Tell me what you see.” So, I looked around and all I saw were tombstones marking the final resting place of so many lives. I opened my mouth to tell him, but before I could, he said again, “Tell me what you see.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes tight and opened ’em again. There were lights all around. So bright! Then I saw and understood.
“There’s a whole life in a dash,” my father said. “We only mark the beginning and the end with dates, but there’s promise in the dash. The dash means friends, family, love, marriage, children, promise and potential, mistakes and triumphs, trials and tribulation, joy and sadness. Life!”
In my dream, child, I saw your tombstone. I saw your birthdate. Two fours. Then I saw something else. Three fours. Age four on four four. That is the language of angels and you are one. There are two of you. One in this life and one in the next. Like my father and his father before, I can see the promise in the dash. We can see the lives that were lived and those that are meant to be lived. Both my father and I saw yours…my father’s name was Brian.