DOES ALL CONSCIOUSNESS END?
HAVING BEEN DECLARED "CLINICALLY DEAD" TWICE IN MY LIFE, I HAVE TO TAKE ISSUE WITH THAT, BUT, REJOICE, FOR I WILL NOT ELABORATE.
I WAS TOLD TODAY, ABOUT NOON, THAT MY NEAREST NEIGHBOR AND CLOSEST MALE FRIEND HAD 'DIED' AFTER TWO WEEKS IN A CRITICAL CARE UNIT.
HE WAS 5 YEARS YOUNGER THAN I AM.
I REMEMBERED MY GRANDFATHER TRYING TO PREPARE ME FOR HIS 'PASSING'.
I WAS NOT QUITE 18 YEARS OLD WHEN HE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH HODGKIN'S LYMPHOMA.
TWO DAYS AFTER WE ALL WERE TOLD THE DIAGNOSIS AND PROGNOSIS, WHICH, WAY BACK THEN, OVER 50 YEARS AGO, WAS GRIM, HE ASKED ME TO WALK WITH HIM A BIT, AND WE SET OFF...
As we climbed over the hill behind his house, he pointed out many plants and trees and told me again about their medicinal benefits.
Our walks were always punctuated with lessons.
He paused often to face me that day ...and said nothing.
Once over the hill, we could see the fast-running stream below us, not big enough to be a river, but it flowed yearlong, never dry, even in the driest months.
It was big enough to carry nice-sized fish, mostly bream, and we'd caught our fair share of them during my life.
It widened in places, even ran underground in one spot for about 50 feet.
Here, it was narrow and shallow.
"Pa" walked ahead of me, an unusual thing, and, approaching the stream, looked back at me before he stepped in the water and across to the other side.
He walked up and down the far bank several steps, then crossed back to me.
There were huge limestone rocks scattered everywhere, as is common in that area of Appalachia, the Blue Ridge chain.
He went to sit on the edge of the largest one and motioned for me to sit beside him.
"Can you see where Pa stepped over that water? Can you see where I walked on the other side?"
"Yes, Pa, I can," I answered.
He asked me in his beloved language, "If that was Long Man, the great river?"
His eyes were sad, and I wondered if he might cry as he did when my aunt, his youngest daughter had died eight years prior.
"No, I couldn't see your tracks then, Pa, but I could see you, even across the Mississippi."
He blinked several times, a sign he was thinking before he answered, but the blinking caused a tear to slide down each cheek.
I was suddenly deeply alarmed.
Still, I was quiet and waited for his answer.
"You would know I was just across any river?"
"Yes, Pa, I'd know."
"Even if you couldn't see me?"
"Anvdadisdi," he whispered. ( "Remember [this]" )
He reached down and muttered before taking two stems of clover, handing me one. We chewed them as we turned back toward home.
At the top of the hill again, I turned to look on the little stream below.
I felt Pa looking at me.
"Anvdadisgi," I explained. ("Remembering.")
"You can ask me now," he said, placing a hand on my shoulder.
"What river are you crossing, Pa?"
He found another rock for us to sit on.
He looked at me a long time, then took me by both shoulders.
"That river is called Ayohuhisdi (Death), but a river is alive, so we will call it Vlenidohv (LIFE). Vlenidohv, nasgi nigesvna (NOT) Ayohuhisdi...for that's what lies on the other side."
I tried not to cry. I tried to accept what he was saying.
He was telling me he was going to die...
He saw the thought in my eyes...
"Tla, vtla, nasgi nigesvna ayohuisdi, Waninahi! Vlenidohv!"
(No, never, not death, Waninahi...LIFE!)
"Anvdadisdi," he gently, ever so gently, shook me. "To cross the river is to LIVE."
Tears streaming down my face, my entire body shaking with sobs, I replied, "Anvdadisgi..."
He remained 11 months with us after that...and then he crossed the river.
I could no longer look and see him.
I could only....remember.
When my spouse left this life, the family met to send those precious ashes down a mountain river, as had been requested.
It was completely against my belief system, cremation, but I had promised over and over again.
We did as we promised.
Weeks later, despondent, lost, troubled in my very spirit with doubting our doing that hateful deed, I was walking along the bank far downstream from where we poured out those ashes, picking rocks from the river bed in the shallows.
Suddenly, just ahead, I saw a set of boot tracks, crossing the river just above the wooden bridge.
I saw where the first track had stepped into the water, and, looking across the narrow space, saw where the tracks emerged and continued along the far bank, heading downstream.
"Anvdadisdi," came a whisper.
I threw back my head and shouted to the sky, "Vlenidohv! Anvdadisgi...", over and over again, until I was laughing, until I was dancing for JOY.
The old oxbow has been flooded for three days now, out past the county road, water everywhere, but, in my mind's eye, looking across toward his back door today, I could see my friend, my neighbor, standing where last he stood as we talked, could see him wave goodnight, his tall frame bathed in the copper rays of the setting sun. I saw him again, in my mind today, turn slowly to cross the driveway between our properties, a final wave over his shoulder.
Today that driveway is a 'stream' flowing out to the county road.
And I know, as surely as I know that IS the moon rising in this sky, my beloved friend IS just across that 'stream'.
I can't see him, but I KNOW he is there.
We all believe what we CHOOSE to believe, and never do I imagine all, or even most, will or should believe as I do.
For me, there is a river and its name is LIFE, not Death.
I've crossed it twice, only to return to THIS side.
When, if, I cross it again and DON'T return here, I will NOT cease to be.
I will just begin to be.... "over there"...
And so, written only for my beloved friend, a final shout across the stream...
Dendagohvhv! Hatvdasda! Sgi! Gvgeyu! Dendagohvhv ... anvdadisgi..."