Thursday, December 15, 2011

up through the ground came a bubblin' crude

Oh my goodness. Goodness. Good. 

This is this morning's refrain, the words and sensations circulating through me as I reflect on yesterday's visit with my sister and her family. It was so much better than I expected, so good in so many ways, so simple and easy.

And oh my goodness, my niece Elizabeth is exactly like Carla was at her age: adorable, open, playful, affectionate, chatty, impish, sweet and smart. A little bubbling force of nature, happy happy happy.  It was so good to see her and to see, especially, how obviously The Kid was genuinely delighted by her. Truly, truly it was so good to see the next generation take to each other, his patience at Elizabeth's tiny-fingered attempts to pull his whiskers, his willing participation as human jungle-gym, his big and real smiles.

It's as though for two hours, we were all of us at our best, just like Elizabeth -- at our most human, our most open, our most good.

At our very goodest.

The three of us showed up around 1, as promised, with lunch. My stomach was in a knot as we waited outside the door of their apartment, hearing the sound of the locks turning. What awaited us? After so long and such recent bad news from the doctors, what would we see? Would we get along? Would there be any of the bitter, angry attacks on my parents from my brother-in-law that broke us up in the first place? Would we feel horribly uncomfortable with their religiosity, judged and mystified?

And then my sister opened the door, and all of that vanished completely. She was changed obviously, her movements tentative, her speech slurred, but she's still herself. For two hours we were in Elizabeth's world. At our goodest.

My sister and family live in a ground floor two-bedroom apartment with a little shared paved yard behind. A Christmas tree, too tall according to Elizabeth, occupies a corner by the front window. We used the four drinking glasses + two mugs of my sister's making for our lunch at the coffee table in front of the couch. A computer with a Madonna screensaver (the Virgin Mary, not Madonna Louise) dominates the kitchen table. A copy of Who's Who in the Bible sits on top of a guide to wine in a stack of books on a shelf. Rosaries and images of Jesus are all over. For most of our visit, my brother-in-law is on the phone, wrangling with insurance and doctor's office representatives to ensure that my sister's next round of chemo is covered.

We don't talk about it so much, the cancer. We eat burgers and drink Coke, laugh at Elizabeth, catch up on what we've missed. We watch my sister go through the album I've brought her, mostly pictures of herself when she was little, something I thought she would particularly love to share with her daughter.  Mostly we are entertained by Elizabeth herself, whose perpetual motion and good cheer keep us rooted in the present, stop us being swept up in any past or future concerns.  I am grateful for the opportunity to see my sister, to hear her voice, to hang around with Elizabeth, to be with their family. 

 It's good.

Everything is all at once so complicated and so simple, so painful and so beautiful.  But I realize that if I make like Elizabeth, remain in the right now right now, if I stop telling myself the story of what's happening (god damn it, my sister is dying), then everything stays simple and lovely and funny.

And good. Bubbling up through everything, goodness, like an effervescent Elizabeth, keeping us clear and present with what's right in front of us.  Good.

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