Recently I experienced Ann Randolph’s performance of her most hilarious and inspiring one-woman play, LOVELAND. Afterwards, she invited the audience to stay and write. Ann is also a most dynamic teacher and encourager. She travels the country leading writing workshops. Improvisational acting and various movement activities are used to get everyone’s creative juices flowing. Another teaching technique of Ann’s is to give the participants a “prompt” which they are then to write about for 12 minutes. If you can’t think of what to write at any point during the 12 minutes, you’re to write “What to say, what to say, what to say” until something comes. The idea is to not edit yourself but rather to allow ideas to flow freely.
On this particular evening, after her most outstanding performance of LOVELAND (yup, hated it! Not. : ), she led a short meditation for those who chose to stay (around 15 to 20 people), asking us to think about a time of grief. I closed my eyes and focused on her guidance; nothing came, nothing came, nothing came.
Then she said, “Go.” And suddenly I knew what I was going to write about.
The prompt? A moment in time when we felt grief. And here’s what came (with some slight after-the-fact editing):
What I remember most about this moment is the grass under my feet, toes, and legs. It was damp and a bit sticky just having recently mowed. As I thought of him standing by my side, watching me, I wept.
Then I remembered him opening a coconut, leaving a trail of husks in his wake until he sat down chewing and slurping, coconut water running down his spotted tongue. I simply watched and laughed, enjoying his excitement, his pleasure at opening that coconut and watching me watch him — savoring the moment, the grass, the breeze, the smell. The smell of coconut all over his face running down his noes to his toes.
I remember. I remember. I remember.
And then I realized how I’d been waiting. How I’d been holding my breath waiting for him to turn. To change. To rise up and become a boy. My boy. My little boy. But it never happened. It never happened. And yet I loved him. Adored him. Cherished him as we sat together and watched the sunset. I placed his body on his bed and carried him to the rock wall just steps away from the van. Careful. Careful. Easy. Not to drop him. Not to slip. But to gently set him down so together we could watch the sun set — a fire-ball on the horizon laced with the gentle lap, lap, lap of the waves.
What to say? What to say?
This time with him as he was dying was a gift, and yet I didn’t realize then that he was also giving me a second gift. Cracking my heart wide open, so I could begin to see life for what it really was. Is. The gift it IS to be alive, to breath. The gift that it is now and forevermore. For life doesn’t end with death but simply transforms into another.
So, Fido, to you I give thanks. And always, I give my love, my appreciation that you chose me to be your *caretaker into death. To be there with you, for you, so that we could each cherish the moment as we sat together in silence and watched the tomatoes grow until their plump red bodies were juicy enough to bite into. Fido Tomatoes, I called them. Magical tomatoes born in grief and yet comforting all the same as the juice dripped down my chin, and the taste brought me back to that mid-summer day sitting together in the sun, dirt on my fingers, seeds in my hands, and you watching with complete focus, as these magical seeds spoke of hope and life continued.
Fido Tomatoes on the Vine
*Fido’s Papa, Tony, was also his caretaker, but when writing this, I was thinking of the time Fido and I spent alone.