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A root, a rock, a reminder to pay close attention to each life

  • Author: Heather Lende
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published August 21, 2014

Is it a coincidence that I have walked down the same path nearly every day for 15 years or so, and have never seen the root holding the big rock, bigger than a bowling ball, skyward, just a few feet off the trail, until two days ago? And now I cannot miss it. Even odder, my dog-walking friend noticed it the same day -- and we even wondered if high tides could have tossed the log up. Or the wind. Or a bear. But when we investigated, it clearly has been on that spot a long, long time.

There's that and then there's the news about George Edwards, who died yesterday, apparently by his own hands. Edwards lived a hardscrabble kind of life, very close to the bone, and was crippled from what, I don't know, but will learn writing his obituary. He was always so upbeat; he waved and said hello. He was small and hunched over and walked dragging feet, with two aluminum crutches gripping his forearms. He had those thick glasses, the dark boyish hair and a smile. He was often tinkering with a car amid all the old parts and spares in his yard when I jogged by his place.

The last time we spoke was at the clinic about two weeks ago. George was coming out of the physical therapy office as Chip and I were going in. He stopped and told Chip how sorry he was to hear of his accident, and encouraged him, saying he was sure he'd be better in no time. Then he hobbled off. Chip was moved -- shaken even -- more by George's kindness and courage than anything else that had happened during his whole accident and recovery. I could see it on his face. He said later, out of the blue, and has repeated it since: "That George Edwards is such a sweet, sweet guy." Chip is not usually sentimental. But George had a way of doing that to people who paid attention to him. He helped them see the good.

This morning, walking on the beach, we talked about George and all the people who did pay attention and who cared for him, and wondered what had happened, what we may have missed. Dr. Feldman hadn't heard, and we told him. He, too, paused in shock and sorrow.

Which brings me back to that rock. Sometimes we don't see what's right in front of us. Sometimes we miss stuff that's been there a long time. But I don't think it is a coincidence that I noticed it right now, or that the rock is not pulling the roots down into the earth. Rather, the roots are holding it up, tightly, like hands, almost.

Also, I don't think it is a coincidence that I have been re-reading Richard Dauenhauer's poems ("Benchmarks, New and Selected Poems," 1963-2013, University of Alaska Press) this week and that he, too, died Wednesday. I read Chip a funny one about how not even bifocals could help him see the centerfold anymore, and how glad he was to be married to the same woman all those years now that love really is blind. That would be Nora, the current Alaska Writer Laureate; he was a former one. Richard often called himself "Mr. Nora" anyway. In the poem I opened at random this morning to read with my coffee, Richard, a true scholar, had translated from a medieval poet: "Oh where have all my years of lifetime disappeared? Was all my life dreamed up for me... or is it really true?"

I think the best lives, like George's and Richard's, are both dreamed up and really true, don't you?

The priest at my mother's funeral said each death should shake us – and, in a way, waken us. I think that's true, but I also need to pay more attention to each life, you know? Life should shake us awake more than death should? In a good way, I mean, with encouraging words and attentiveness and gratitude, like George did and Richard did -- an unlikely pair to share a death day. I don't think that's a coincidence either, do you? I aim to do a better job of holding on tight to the heart of the matter, like they did.

That root and the rock will remind me everyday.

Haines author Heather Lende's third book, "Find the Good," will be published in the spring of 2015. Until then, check her blog or Facebook page

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