Watching the World Go By

It’s dusk and the laptops come out. Brooke corresponds with other families fighting cancer from the desk in the office, Gracie is curled up in a chair in the living room with her latest Harry Potter book and I’m at the kitchen table writing about the latest adventure or creating an estimate for work. Nothing new – it’s been almost four years now.

Two weeks ago a friend asked me how we cope. After all, we’re happy, right? I told him we force a smile and stay busy – very busy. Between just Brooke and I we hold the equivalent of 6 full-time jobs, running two businesses and a charity. There’s little time for sleep, no time for coffee breaks and barely enough time to realize you’ve skipped lunch for the fourth time in a week. Up at 4:50 am and to sleep at 11:45 pm we know of no other life. Then again, we know that we have all the time in the world. We’re no longer fighting. Still, having just lost his daughter months ago, I’m not sure if my words were of any comfort. It was the answer he feared – still it was the only answer I could offer. And in the end, it’s how you do it. Staying busy means you can’t think, you can’t get depressed, you’re too tired to remember, and you can’t run away.

Lazy weekends used to be wonderful. Today we live in fear of two days with nothing planned at home by ourselves. And now we finish our second weekend at home alone since the beginning of the year and I hate it still the same. I wanted to go away – anywhere but here. Brooke disagreed but by the second day I think she’s thinking the same. And although we probably still did more than most people do on their busiest weekends, we had too much time to think. And we thought too much.

Four, five, six – even nine years ago it was different. I remember the first night. Elena was starting to walk for the first time and I had just gotten home from a day which I figured was the last for my fledgling company. In time, whatever crisis I was concerned with at the time would pass, but the memory would remain. And as I held her hands walking to the deck in the backyard she stopped to sit on the edge, enjoying the peacefulness of the first summer night. But rather than continue to the playset in the backyard, we sat for what seemed like hours, watching the bees fly from flower to flower, the squirrels chase each other from tree to tree and the wind blow through the trees. And for that moment, we were calm, we were happy and we watched the world go by. From that day on, not a day went by that we didn’t sit on that deck or look out the window from the back of the couch when the weather turned cold, listening in complete silence to the orchestra of our backyard.

In time she would grow older, yet still our tradition continued. Gracie was born a little over a year later, but she was far too loud for our evenings. Preferring the company of her mother, they had their own ritual, often laughing from the comfort of the kitchen table inside while offering accompaniment to our experience outside as we listened to the sounds around us.

Even as she fought cancer, we still had our nights. Although not as frequent, they were still special, this time moving from the backyard to the front steps of our new home where instead of bees and squirrels we’d listen to the sounds of the nearby street, fire trucks and trains announcing their presence, and the neighbors going about their own rituals. A departure from normal life, it was a chance to stop. It was a chance to do nothing. It was a chance to connect without so much as a word.

Since her absence our ritual has continued in the backyard. This time with me standing at her tree in the darkness, listening to what I hope she too hears. Sometimes minutes, other times seconds, it is none less a ritual which I will never forget. And today my memories are prompted by a photo that rests on the shelf next to our mantel taken that first night as Elena and I sat on the deck in silence.

Two weeks ago, just minutes after my conversation with my friend about the loss of his daughter, the memory returned. I touched the frame of the photo, clearing the dust that had collected on the glass, consciously aware of the dust that had also accumulated on my memory of her. And then I returned to the front porch, joined this time by a sleepy eyed Gracie, too hot to sleep in the wake of an early summer night in spring. A cold glass of milk in hand, we enjoyed a new ritual – listening to the fire trucks and trains, the neighborhood children engaged in a contested game of basketball and the sound of televisions drifting through the open windows. And while Gracie was not quite as quiet as her sister, it was a blessing to finally find peace in doing nothing as dusk settled on our home.

We’ve met on the front porch many nights since – sometimes by coincidence, other times when I sneak up to her bedroom and coax her from bed to join me on the porch with a glass of milk while her mother types on the computer at the front desk. And each night it is special – our own little rebellion of doing nothing as the world passes by. Laptops not allowed.

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