I have a great view from my desk at home. It's in the downstairs corner of the house closest to the street corner we live on. One window faces the front yard where the oak trees are and where the kids play. The other faces the side yard where the smallest pecan tree is.
From here I can see all the neighborhood kids play. I have a great view of the joggers; we're right near UT so all day long I can watch 20-year old girls jogging by. And I can watch the birds.
Right now there's a tornado approaching from down near San Marcos, so all the animals are wigging out a little, and there's this one woodpecker hopping all over the live oak closest to the window. Not pecking. Just hop hop hop...stop and stare into a crack in the tree for a minute...then hop hop hop some more.
My grandmother died in January. She was 89. Completely deaf, half blind, senile dementia...pretty much everything you wouldn't want in your golden years. But she loved to watch the birds outside her kitchen window. All her letters were about this robin, or that blue jay, or especially the cardinals. She was a devout and terrified Catholic, and I think she hoped maybe the cardinals were sent by the Vatican to let her know that everything's OK, all is forgiven, she's still in the club.
Those cardinals were all I could think about when I wrote her eulogy, but I had to pad it out to at least two minutes or so. This is what I came up with:
Eulogy for Mary Marguerite Truscello
January 15, 2004
My brother and I always called her Nana. Sometimes when I was a kid,
it seemed like every woman in that generation was called Nana. Her
sister Ruth was known as Nana to my cousins, and her sister Anna, of
course, everyone called Aunt Nana.
Then when my kids were born, my mom became Nana. To distinguish
between my nana and my kids' nana, I sometimes called my nana "Old
Nana". . .but since my kids had met my mom first, they decided that
their Nana was the first Nana and so my Nana must be New Nana which
would make my mom Old Nana.
It got very confusing. And my wife thought that referring to somebody
in their 80's as "old" didn't show the proper degree of respect, so
she suggested the kids call her "Great Nana". And before long, "Great
Nana" evolved into "Nana The Great", which is the name that stuck.
Which I think is perfect.
Because somebody named Nana the Great clearly has to be royalty. You
can't say the name without thinking of some great and imposing
matriarch, like our very own Queen Mother who keeps all of the princes
and princesses in line. Like the Queen Mother, Nana has long been a
symbol, for everyone in the family, of strength and of dignity, and
she has always been the keeper and guardian of our faith.
And like the Queen Mother, she has always been there. For most of us,
there has never been a time during any of our lives when there wasn't
Nana. She has been there since we were born. She seemed as permanent
as the ground, as endless as the sky.
When I was little, I lived in Nana's house on Dietz Road, and it used
to have a great big Christmas tree in the front yard. To my
seven-year-old mind, that tree had always existed, and would always
exist. And years later, when I visited the house as an adult, and
found out that the tree was gone, it seemed like there was a big hole
in the yard. There was something missing that should be there, simply
because it had always been there.
And now Nana, our Queen Mother, who has always been there, isn't there
any more either, and it's a hard thing to imagine the world without
her in it. But in reality, she's still here. She's all around us.
I found a poem last night while I was writing this, and I showed it to
my mom, and she said that Nana had a clipping with the same poem in
it, so I'd like to share it. I don't remember who wrote it, but it's
entitled "I Did Not Die".
Do not stand at my grave and forever weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and forever cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
We all know Nana is in Heaven now. She can give a hug to Grammie, to
her brother and her sisters, to her niece Ann, ... she's got her
health back, she's got her hearing back, she's got her dancing shoes
on, and you know the music up there has to be great.
But just because she is up there doesn't mean she is gone. She's
still here. She's everywhere, if you just know where to look. She'll
come to each of us differently, I'm sure. But for me...every time
that I see a cardinal looking down at me from up on a tree branch,
I'll know that Nana is near me, that she's watching me, that she loves
me, and best of all, that she can fly.
So I made my tough-guy cousins cry. (Success!) I got a pat on the back from Father Driscoll. I guess I did all right.
But on the drive to the cemetery, I wanted my Hallmark moment. It was 12 below zero that day in Boston (colder than it was on Mars that same day, according to the Mars Rover.) There was snow on the ground. And I was in the limo behind the hearse, thinking how great it would be to actually see a cardinal, when all of a sudden my cousins start going "Whoa! Did you see that? Cool!" and I thought they must have seen a cardinal. "What? What? Where?" And Steven says "That hawk just picked up that squirrel and started eating it and it's still alive!"
Great. Just great.
I would have to wait a few months for my hallmark moment.
It snowed in Austin last month, which it *never* does, and while we're out in the street with all the neighborhood kids, having snowball fights and frantically trying to cram in a whole winter's worth of fun into one morning, two cardinals flew by. Landed in the tree in the yard and watched us for a while. Just like my grandmother used to watch my brother and me play in the snow when I was the same age as my daughter, when we lived with Nana up in Boston. Just exactly like that.
They flew off, and I was sad for a minute.
And this week, as it turns out, two cardinals, a mama and a daddy (the same birds? I have no idea) have decided to raise a family in the bushes right outside my office window. Which is all very lovely. And neat and tidy. And circular. Or cyclical. Something like that. I like to watch the birds, and my grandmother can be a bird and watch me and also be watched by me, and she made it snow just to make sure I got The Point.
And someday I will be very old and will have grandchildren and greatgrandchildren who live very far way and I will still watch the birds, maybe even from this very house, which is almost as old as my grandmother was. But I will not be deaf and blind and senile and scared of dying. Because I am immortal. I'm quite sure of it.