Lessons From my Grandmother

by Jacob Licht | 1/26/99 6:00am

What if Death is a vulture descending?

For the first time in my life, I am trying to understand Death. But immediately, I realize that any attempt to recognize "Death" as an independent idea is absurd; is like asking myself to understand Birth without ever having been born. I can comprehend birth because it is the beginning of something known and experienced. I can imagine opening my eyes and seeing This ; this world of illusions and realities around me right now. But Death is the beginning of a different era, one unknown and unperceived. As an idea, it cannot exist in my brain. As a feeling, I will not let it live in my heart. It is bound by nothing I understand nor anything I feel, so I will toss it aside, for the rest of my life. Death, you mean nothing to me. I can only know Life.

So, what has begun as a means of coping with my own sadness from the recent death of my friend, my mentor, my grandmother, has already turned into something pleasantly unexpected: a revelation of the essentials. Of course, this is nothing new with my grandmother. Since the beginning of me, she always managed to reshape the most worrisome and complex ghouls of my life into sturdy lessons. You see, my grandmother, believed that I can do anything. More than anything else, she has given me an undying faith in my purpose and that even though my purpose keeps metamorphosing, appearing harder to pin down and more enigmatic, it somehow manages to be the clearest faith inside of me. What a lesson.

But back to Life, and its end, its culminating experience. Picturing my grandmother in bed this past Thursday afternoon, her last afternoon, with my grandfather holding her hand and my father beside them, watching his parents say good-bye to each other, I would like to think that in the moment before death (since I can never understand anything after death), a smile appeared on her face. God, I hope it did. Because perhaps, as I imagine, this was the moment that her Life became focused and unitary; the moment of truth when all of the superfluous acquaintances, the missed opportunities, the immaterial objects, the unfulfilled dreams, when all of the "what ifs", which inevitably haunted her in those final weeks of reevaluation, disappeared beneath the surface, like luggage on a sinking ship in its last moments above the horizon, when the bow's piercing point vanishes and the liquid rushes together closing the hole in the water, and the smooth film of the ocean is restored, leavin

g a perfect reflection of who she was. She was smiling, I hope, because what she saw, as she stared at her character revealed infinitely, must have looked sublime; for she was a person of such extra ordinariness.

But, part of me doesn't buy that. I suspect that this is not the whole truth. And since I am trying to figure out this subject of death, I want to get it right, so I'm better prepared to face my moment of truth. Perhaps she was smiling for another reason. When death came to her, I bet those "what ifs" didn't vanish. No, I bet she faced her own failings head on. Large, looming monsters, like vultures, descended upon her, ready to pick her bones apart. They bombarded her with feelings of regret and loathing, squawking: "Ha! You didn't love him enough! You didn't learn enough! You didn't teach enough!" They wanted a carcass. But, not this time. No siree. She was smiling at these vultures. Those bastards. The time of self-delusion had ended and only truth remained. My grandmother faced the truth nobly because it was a noble truth to face. Even though, upon reflection, I do not know many aspects of her life, I know, solely measured by her lessons to me, that she was capable of answe

ring every charge they brought against her. She was too strong for them.

And so, the exploration comes to an end. (Yup, I've found the meaning of death). The vultures of judgment could not make my grandmother grimace. Sure, they dove into the calm sea before her, forcing her to search for reconciliation. But she won the battle of judgment, evoking a different kind of sublimeness: one of being human. At that moment, she joined the ranks of all those before her who managed to embrace the whole truth of their lives.

Even as her body lays beneath the Earth, my grandmother, my "Bub", has left another lesson. When Death comes to me and I take my last breath, I am sure that Life will appear, as it did for her. And when it does, and the vultures descend, I can only hope that my soul, my human soul, is redeeming enough, so that I can smile like she did and fly away, like a lark ascending.

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