There is a strange man sitting across from me at the table, in a flash I see him again. In a flash there is another hint, a frozen frame of a man very familiar to me, who is familiar no more. This strange man is a small piece of everything I remember about my grandfather. It’s like watching a puff of smoke disappear right before your eyes. He is running, dancing, walking and crawling away from himself one deep breath at a time. Always a little bit closer, inching forever away from me and toward the inevitable. I will keep these pieces. The parts that have been left behind. Laughing eyes, dancing feet, big spirit. Energy enough to fill a whole room. When he sits, what concept of time exists as he sits? The minutes marked by new aches and pains and how much he has forgotten.
“Trying to remember, it comes with great difficulty. I remember a piece of myself. Something I’ve done, somewhere I’ve been. A memory. Usually about me and the woman I love. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten, but sometimes remembering makes me so tired.”
Exhausted from a life of trying to remember everything. Dance with me; hold my hand one more time… Let me sing you “Happy Birthday”, let me see you smile, while you love my grandmother with your great big old heart until the day you die. My Papa. If I sit on your knee now I would probably break it. Brittle old achy bones that creek and crack and crumble. Crumbling to dust all wrapped up in swiftly evaporating memories. What does it all amount to in the end? The end. The end. Do you fear it? As her large dark feathered wings wrap around you, this last breath of life vanishes out into the air. I will pray to the dark angel that she cradles you with a mother’s love, when it’s time. When it’s time I hope you suffer no pain. I hope you like what’s on the other side. That it really was all about light and love and that good souls get to rest in eternal blissful peace.
No regrets. He sits in the silence of the rest of his days. He sits in who he was and everything he has become. He fades but I will not let go of the pieces. His memories are mine and I refuse to forget, even if he does. Freezing this frame, catching this glimpse, loving my disappearing grandfather.
We found the bus station by chance. Well not by chance I guess, we went right instead of left and there it was somewhere through the smog. We sometimes forget that the guide book is in fact that, a guide, and the directions it provides sometimes aren’t as holy as we would like them to be. “The bus stop is towards a piece of the old city wall, once you get out of the subway.” But where the hell is the old city wall? Why didn’t they say, “Turn right when you get out of the subway?” They also never mentioned that you would have to cross a major highway in order to get there. We figured it out though. We always do. As we made our way out of the sprawling mass that is Beijing, we started to see some remnants of the mighty wall crumbling behind the cliff tops and rocky enclaves of the mountainous terrain. “How the hell did they build the wall there?” I said under my breath. My heart started beating a little faster in anticipation of getting my first look, signs littered the highway for the main attraction that was to come and I wondered how long it would be before we got to see our piece.
We got off the bus and followed the English signs directing us to the entrance. We still couldn’t see it and walked with a little more pepper to each step. I had my camera in hand, ready to capture my first glimpse of this wonder of the world. After making our way through the ticket booth, scampering up the stairway onto the spine of the great beast, our eyes finally feasted on what is, “The Great Wall of China”. I never did take that picture as I had planned; we just stood in awe as the giant serpent slowly slithered off into the distance. The Great Wall is an amazing structure; it sticks seamlessly on top of whatever terrain that is set underneath it. Parts that we climbed were almost at what seemed a ninety degree angle straight up, and then inevitably straight down. Obviously The Wall wasn’t built to be the tourist attraction that it is today. Although it never really did what it was supposed to do on the grand scale of which it was built, the idea alone of building a wall that is some five hundred kilometers long is an amazing achievement, and I would say a little bit crazy. Climbing The Great Wall was a slow tedious process and maybe even a little bit dangerous. Its steep staircase over somewhat impossible terrain was relentless. We finally reached the peak of the less travelled side and from the lookout point you could really see for the first time the enormity of the structure. It seemingly went on forever. At this point we finally stopped to take that picture but as always it never does a wonder like this justice, you really just have to see it with your own two eyes. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “You’re not a man until you’ve walked The Great Wall.” Finally my time had come.