Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Un-Wished-For Gift

My brother, Bobby in 2003, at home in the Everglades

Here are some photos taken from video (thus the poor quality), from our trip to the Everglades.

The day began with a family gathering at the boat ramp, everyone bundled up to face the cold.

The narrow waterways of the East/West Trail would never have been a path I would have traveled. But today was a different sort of day. The sort where you follow a reedy trail through shallow water to the place where your brother invited you while he still clutched breath and heartbeat to his chest. A place he invited you knowing he would be gone when you arrived but that you would come and know what he knew, love what he loved. Today was Bobby’s gift to us. Like so many beautiful surprises, this one came to me as an un-wished-for gift.

Swamp smells, alligators, misquitoes and sticky humid heat are the images that prompt the feelings I’ve had about the Everglades all my life. Yet whether it was because of the crisp February chill or the stark beauty of this place at the vast and open heart of it, Bobby’s gift came to stand in the face of my suppositions...

“Gliding in turn over water and land, swaying into the tall grasses as we pass, I am tossed side to side as if on an amusement ride, splatterings of swamp water playfully splashing my face. The roar of the airplane engine grabs every muscle with it’s power, the cold, hard wind taking my hair wherever it pleases, sneaking its icy chill down my neck and up my sleeves. The wonder of what is to come has my eyes wide as we round each curve, as if they are trying to get big enough to take it all in and hold the moment and the scenery close, just so I’ll remember it always.

Then as we enter a clearing, a community of white feathers rises to salute us as we pass, and a crudely built house of dull dusty red sits on stilts looking rather forlorn as it awaits its campers’ return. Brown trodden grasses lay flattened on some of the narrow trails, and blue water dotted with green growth makes a home for stray sticks trying their best to become something more while air boats force pathways where the glades want to grow. Walls in shades of green rise above our heads on either side and close in tightly like a big hug while colorful leaves decorate miles of pathway that welcomes us to the place Bobby loved. It all passes so quickly and then we come to another clearing and stop a moment to take it all in. The quiet and the diversity within the seemingly vast expanse of grass is incredible. But we move on again. We are here for Bobby.

As we come around the bend, the campsite stands nestled in a thick of trees in the distance, resting on higher, drier ground. Old Glory waves us in as Bobby might have had we been here for other less tearful reasons and yet the welcome is as eager as his would have been. The front porch has become a colorful perch, home to people he loved and laughed with. They offer smiling faces and the comfort of outstretched arms to greet us.

An interesting array of feelings seems etched in the faces as we settle in for lunch together; we don’t really feel like having a good time, but we don’t want to cry, so we take it all in and think our thoughts about our brother, uncle, son and friend and how out of place that he’s gone while we are here in his stead.

In the distance the kids watch from the roof, a backdrop for the moment.

Julie and Gerald pass Old Glory on their way out to meet us.

Some of the family and friends await Julie and Gerald.

The birds join the kids to watch from the distance.

Just west of Old Glory sits a clearing that affords little islands a place to stand out in this land of endless grasses. One such spot, which happens to be visible from the bunkhouse roof, was where Bobby wanted us to scatter his ashes. The kids were offered the opportunity to stay behind and climb a tall, narrow ladder leaning precariously against the tin roof where they would have a bird’s view of the memorial. And the birds joined them there, taking part in the scene, rising and falling, suspended in the moment with a graceful presence.

Then like a scene from a movie, the quiet in our hearts was carried by the roar of 5 air boat engines to a place where the wind could take Bobby’s ashes wherever it would. Ashes that once formed a body that held him to this earth would now fly and swim and go back to that earth they came from. With only a single engine running, Julie began to let them go in the breeze. In the distance silhouettes stood or sat or knelt on the bunkhouse roof as a backdrop to the moment and one by one each boat in turn took a spin around the open water and headed back to camp. The tears came now. There had been cheers and applause and a “We love you Bobby!” from Joe and there was once again that hollow feeling that comes from knowing Bobby isn’t here anymore. But I still see his face. I can still hear his voice and the sound of his laugh, and see that look in his eyes, the one that resembles the one I see in the mirror there around my own eyes and up around my forehead. And even though he won’t be back to put an arm around me or call me “little sis” or kiss me hello or remind me I’m someone he loved by the sound in his voice... and even though we’re here to let his body go, I won’t say goodbye. Not only was he loved, but he loved us too and he wanted to share this beautiful place with us even though he knew that it would mean he was gone. He wanted us to love it and love him and understand him more than we ever may have. And so I received the un-wished-for gift because of Bobby. The un-wished-for gift is a love for his place, and I love that he gave me such a gift to hold while I’m still holding my memories and images and the sound of his voice in my heart. So I’m not saying goodbye just now, I’m hanging on to all that I still hold of Bobby and it seems that even now his memory is holding fast to me."

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