Bones and dirt. Whatever happens before or after that, there is this one certainty. At some point, as abruptly as being born, we die. When I find myself looking at old photographs or reading histories, passing old houses or listening to stories, I can't help but think of those whose days have passed and how little we know of their lives. The bare facts tell so little. A photograph of my face 100 years from now will be virtually meaningless. The fact of my bones would tell little. An archeologist could tell you my age and sex, that I had a bad back, perhaps, and bore children, or that I once broke my elbow as a child. She couldn't know that when that elbow broke I lost my grandfather. That I missed his funeral, or that my mother was nursing me back to health and mourning her father at the same time, torn between her roles as mother and daughter, the injured and the healer. Even our histories tell so little, leaving us strangers to each other, free to romantisize and glorify, or critisize and dismiss.
I stare at dark-eyed photographs of long-gone ancestors and wonder what they saw in those moments, what they heard and tasted and felt. Their days so immediate and concrete, and yet so fleeting. As mine. And in the wondering I am brought into my own present and my own skin. I sat recently on a plane and looked at the faces around me. I saw them clearly and crisply, reading, sleeping, talking, waiting, the details of their rumpled clothing, tired eyes, faces smiling and frowning, friendly and distant. Yet I knew that we wouldn't remember each other the next day, as though none of us were really there, together in those minutes.
So I try harder to be present and to remember my own story. I lie quietly next to my children and I try to memorize the sounds of their young voices, the smell of their hair, the little words they mispronounce. "Ek-si-mo kisses, Mommy!" Ellie cries, and presses her soft, sweet nose against mine. I try to slow down and really listen to Lexi's stories, and to play Spencer's games. I try to remember to put aside my busyness and pay attention more. To sit on the floor. To read books aloud. To ask more questions. I hold them a little too tight sometimes, aware of how briefly they will fit in my arms just so. I listen to them laughing with Paulo, the rise and fall of his big voice and the squealing trill of theirs overlapping and I soak it in to fill my mind with those sounds when the house is empty again. I watch the way his lip juts out just so as he reads and memorize the angles, the posture. There is such beauty in the details.
And I take a few minutes every day just to feel my bones as they are now. Deep breaths. Just this moment and no others. A minute alone on the end of the dock, feeling as much as I can feel: the breeze pushing stray hairs across my face, the dull ache that always sits between my shoulderblades, the pressure of my feet on the cool grooves of the dock, the damp smells of water and wet earth, the cooling breeze on my skin, a mosquito biting my ankle, the sounds of birds and lapping water, voices from across the lake, laughing or crying or talking, the distant hum of a plane, the riotous colors of the sky reflected int he water. I do not rate them, the breeze no more or less important than the mosquito. For now, it is enough to feel them. These are my moments on earth. They are few and precious. I pause and remind myself: just breathe. I will myself to own this, my own experience, before it is time to be bones and dirt.