Milestones may speak a silent language but they do tell us two important things: how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Last week, I passed three more milestones on my own road to somewhere.
The first one was along the road leading from grief to recovery, from unutterable sadness to happy memory. I sat in Dar’s small apartment as I watched my wife, three of her sisters, and one of her brothers pack their mother’s long and loving life into boxes and bags, sorting out the remains of her day. There was furniture to pass along to the next generations, artwork, books, clothes, and maybe hardest of all, a thousand photographs that marked the passing years. It was a sad but necessary task as are all tasks in death’s aftermath, but at the end of the day, amid the leftover detritus, Dar’s life had been marked and thoughtfully transferred to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. There were a few tears and a great deal of laughter, new memories and stories carved out of the one that had just been told. My job was to sherpa Dar’s belongings to the cars that would carry them to new rooms in new homes, new walls, new shelves. As a family outlaw, I suppose I was entitled to claim some of the memories but I didn’t want much: I asked for an orchid that graced a sunny windowsill, a letter opener and magnifying glass with netsuke handles that came from somewhere in Dar’s travels, and a set of cufflinks engraved with the Presidential seal. They were a gift to her from Ronald Regan and if you were to tell me that I would one day treasure a set of his cufflinks, I would have laughed. But I do. In fact, I wore them to a gala event the very next evening…
That was the evening that I was witness to my second milestone of the week. Many personal milestones, in fact. Our family turned out en masse at the annual Bosom Buddies Ball in Annapolis to honor one my wife’s sisters at a black tie event celebrating women who had survived or were surviving breast cancer, along with their friends and families who made up their essential human support systems. There was a lot of pink mixed in with all the ball gowns and tuxedos—I was sporting pink socks and a pink pocket square—the bright battle flags that color the field in the fight against a fierce enemy that claims far too many victims. As I listened to the stories of survivors, it struck me that each new day was one more milestone in each of their lives and that none of these days would ever again be taken for granted. Cancer may reek of death but that night, I witnessed a celebration of life and the power of people coping with and overcoming a terrible disease, women turning tears into triumph. I was glad Dar’s cufflinks were there with me.
The third milestone of my week is the one you’re now reading. This Musing is number 156 in a string of consecutive weekly essays spanning three complete years. I call these Musings my happy discipline for in writing them, I have come to find my own voice—something every writer eventually hopes to hear. I’d like to take this opportunity to say, “Thank you!” to Dave Wheelan, editor of The Chestertown and Talbot Spies, who has graciously encouraged me to muse right along in this space since I first wrote about Geese and Groundhogs three years ago this week. And I also want to say “Thank you!” to all of you who have read these Musings and stopped to pat me on the back at the grocery store or on the street or wherever our paths cross. Your kind support means more than you can guess.
My RR cufflinks are now tucked away, awaiting their next event. My pink socks are in the laundry. And now I’ll go put one ice cube in the orchid’s pot—Dar said to do that every Sunday. Then I’ll head on down the road toward my next milestone wherever that is. But don’t worry:
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com