Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 6th, part 2

With the perspective of two weeks, I want to share about the passing of another August 6th. This year marks the tenth time the date has scored my life directly, going far beyond the vaguer meaning instilled when I was a teenager in Japan. The actual day Simon died was Friday, August 6, 2004. That was the original mark. And the date has come and gone again nine times since then, with our lives growing new life rings around a jagged scar.

The anniversary effects of weather and location are diluted because we live in a different place now. Still, summer temperatures and long daylight hours work on the body and the mind surreptitiously. The night sky. The foods we choose to eat. The looseness of summertime. The season brings memories and feelings to the surface, although this year they haven't been "on cue" so much as slowly emerging. 

Yesterday, two weeks after the anniversary, I experienced my deepest crying. I occupied the living room for a yoga practice while the apartment was empty for a few hours. Lying on my back, hugging one knee to my chest, then the other, I felt a sadness squeeze out of me. It's always a relief when that happens. Why then? I don't know. I learned yoga when Simon was young, pre-cancer. Or maybe it was a muscle recollection of holding his infant body on my shins while lying on my back, thighs and knees raised in a 90-degree angle, doing post-baby exercises while he "airplaned".

I looked around me. Should I light the "Simon candle"? I drew the second knee close to my chest and let the tiny bit of moisture from my tears run past my temples, into my hairline. I looked for a photo of Simon in the room. His first grade picture, with the slightly frozen smile, sky blue T-shirt, short hair. Or another one, where's he's bald as an egg shell and playfully lifting a flap on his chest that opens the mouth of a grey wolf. I kept at my yoga.

October 2002 in Oberlin. Simon (5) was about six weeks post stem-cell transplant.
I love everything about this shot, including its view of his wide little hands (like his dad's).

Anniversaries strangely emphasize points in time. What's so important, actually, about a 50th birthday (mine was in June this year), for example? We humans are counters. We like to measure the passage of time as well as its accumulations. Disneyland Paris, which Miriam and I visited last week, is celebrating 20 years (oh, I remember how skeptical the Europeans were about that idea, back when Markus and I were living in Karlsruhe in the early 1990s). On the one hand: who cares? On the other: sure, we'll take that 20% commemorative discount on our ticket, thank you very much.

For those of us who are missing Simon, a tenth anniversary looms. Addressing a few things this year, in writing and photos, may take some pressure off how things will feel in 2014. If I were back in Salt Lake City, I would certainly want to visit his grave on the anniversary of the day he died. So, I have put together a slide show from my most recent visit to Mt. Olivet Cemetery. While visiting Salt Lake in June, I took a long, solitary afternoon to tend the grave and carefully clean the letters on the gravestone, drinking in the beauty of the cemetery and the truly perfect weather.

Here in Flein, we have a physical connection to the Salt Lake City grave. Another sculpture by Chris Coleman, the one that served as the model for Simon's sculpture, stands in our backyard. (It traveled to Germany, just like the beds and sofas and piano, in the container when we moved.) This sculpture is titled "Flying Thinking Man". It's about 10 feet tall and constructed of salvaged rusting steel and a wooden mold for a concrete footing.

Overcast morning light in August, looking at our backyard from the deck.

As every year, the anniversary of Simon's death occurs close to Markus' annual trip to the Academy of Management conference. Over the years Miriam and I have sometimes joined him, putting us in Philadelphia, Anaheim, and Boston on or near the date. Once we were with my parents in Ohio at a park with a frog pond and river for skipping stones. A few times we were together in Salt Lake. Maybe we've had to be separated once or twice. At the first anniversary, Markus went alone to Hawaii for the conference.

What to do to commemorate the day? Markus was packing to leave for Florida on August 7th, and Miriam and I were headed to Paris for 6 days on August 8th. Nonetheless, we had a worthy list for the 6th, most of which Miriam had proposed the night before. At 4:00 we'd bike along the Neckar river into Heilbronn to an ice cream shop. For dinner, we'd recreate Simon's favorite Spaghetti Factory meal (spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs plus a family favorite of fresh garlic bread). Then we'd watch a movie and eat popcorn, like the old family movie nights for Pixar flicks with Simon. At some point we'd toss dried rose petals around the sculpture, something we used to do at the cemetery. Not a bad list, only here's how it went.

At 4:00 pm, on cue, the skies opened in a downpour. We scratched the ice cream trip. While Markus and Miriam ran errands, I followed a Joy of Cooking recipe for meatballs (make the German meatballs up to step three, but leave out the capers, then add…). Miriam made fabulous garlic bread with a baguette when she got home, and I finally had the sauce and meatballs ready for an enjoyable enough dinner. By then it was late, and Markus excused himself to finish packing for his early departure the next morning. For thirty seconds we scattered rose petals in the fading light. Miriam and I, too full for popcorn, set out to pick a movie to watch. It should definitely be Pixar. Which movie? We considered watching Brave, a pretty new one, but it felt more authentic to pick a movie Simon would have seen. Right there the passage of time becomes clear. Simon knew Toy Story and Toy Story 2. A Bug's Life and Monsters Inc. The last Pixar film released before he died was Finding Nemo. He never saw The Incredibles or Cars. Or Ratatouille or Wall-E or Up. Or Brave.

We picked Toy Story 2. And also watched the special short (For the Birds) and the Outtakes (I always smile at the memory of how Simon called them "Take Outs" and how he loved their silly ironies). But it was a strain to immerse in an old favorite. Miriam had trouble keeping her hands off her iPhone. Markus wandered in the background. I sat there feeling less engaged, too. Still, it's a stunning movie. And my favorite Outtake gag is when Woody sits on the roll of packing tape and his butt falls through the hole. Simon, buddy, I laughed with the memory of laughing with you!

Having all traveled well and having made it past the ninth anniversary of the day Simon left us, we are nearing a second August milestone. Three years ago (almost--August 25 to be exact) we arrived in Germany. We're moving forward into a new year.

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