It was the field right out of that Blue Rodeo song, Side of the Road. Hidden somewhere between Macklin and Provost, in the R.M. of Eye Hill #382, I stood knee deep in grass, eyes closed and head back, waiting for revelation.
One year earlier, in a field not far away, we huddled in the bitter cold and said our good byes. That year, winter hit early; there was already snow on the ground and in the air, and it hurt to bury Chris under that frozen, barren soil, knowing it would be months before the warmth would return. He had always hated the cold.
Today, the sun beat down like it was mid-summer. I pulled a few stray blades of grass from around the marker on his grave and left some flowers. I sat there for a long time, letting the sun soak deep into my soul before getting back in the car for the drive home.
Three hours later,
I pulled over to the side of the road,
I was feeling kind of sad, I was feeling kind of blue
I walked across this farmer’s field and I looked up to the blue-white sky.
Between the white clouds, the sky was the same calm, faded blue as his eyes.
And your eyes, they were in my mind.
I just want to hold on to you.
The restlessness that had hounded me over the past year was almost unbearable. What was it that I was trying to hold on to, and why did I think I would find it here, in the middle of this field by the side of the road?
I don’t know how long I stood there under the late autumn prairie sky, but slowly I felt layers of cobwebs gently being unwrapped and carried away in the warm, insistent breeze, exposing what was there all along.
I knew it wasn’t Chris I was trying to hold on to. In fact, he would be the first one to tell me to get over it and move on. I couldn’t help missing him, and it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t here. He missed the weekend our daughter graduated from high school and our son finished college. He would have loved that we spent all last Christmas doing puzzles. He’ll never see his kids get married or get to be a grandfather.
But griping wouldn’t change that (I could hear him saying). It was his way of looking at life that drew me to him from the very beginning. It was almost as if he knew his days were numbered and he didn’t have a lot of time. And instead of doing as much as he could in the time he had, in a desperate attempt to find the meaning of life, he took the life and the time he had, and found the meaning that was already there.
The truth is that being part of his life and death struggle for 17 years was a gift to me. Everything had meant something to him, because it was all he had. When it became clear that every day was starting to bring him a little less of what we tend to value most – less time, less strength, less independence, less dignity – then it was easy to make the most of what there was. That’s how we got through the last few months: the day he had his worst fall and we couldn’t ignore the growing unsteadiness anymore; the afternoon his doctor confirmed that the chemo wasn’t working and the tumour was squeezing itself around his brain so tightly that there wasn’t much time left; the look on his face the day a nurse asked him to spell his name and he couldn’t do it; the weeks of helping him in and out of his wheelchair; the days of sitting by the bed just watching him breathe, because there was nothing else either of us could do. It had all meant something.
Now, it was hard to find meaning in anything. Facing the frailty of human life and the inevitability of death every day had made life more intense, more beautiful and more painful than anything I had ever experienced. And I didn’t want to let that go. I had been given the gift of facing my deepest fear of all and accepting that I was utterly powerless against it.
So that was it. I knew what it was I needed to hold on to. That feeling of bringing meaning to life, not spending my life looking for meaning. The knowledge that I was completely powerless in the face of death, but completely in control of accepting it. Being free to feel the intensity of both beauty and pain in life, knowing they are both there for a purpose. All the lessons I’d learned from the life and death of one quiet, unassuming soul.
Revelation, in a field by the side of the road. I understood everything and it was all a mystery to me – the way it had always been, and will always remain.
Making my way back to the car, I started singing this song in my head, just because the sun was high and shining bright. It must have been this field they were singing about. They must have been here.