Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Farewell to Andrew Episode 6: In Which We Really Do Say Goodbye

“It all happened so fast at the end,” says Gerry, as we stand in what will, if all goes according to plan, be Andrew’s room for the rest of his life. “We were going to paint the room your favorite color. What is your favorite color? There wasn’t even time to ask you!”

A quick glance around reveals the answer. “Yellow,” I speak for Andrew. “Pale yellow.” If it hadn’t been his favorite before, it certainly is now: this is his room at L’Arche, and for the first time in his life he will live at a different address—in a different state, even—than his parents.

I shift my powers of observation, such as they are, into grinding gear, and rev them up mercilessly. First impressions, I remind myself, are important. The room strikes me instantly as perfect.  A window in the eaves swings open to reveal a splendidly mossy roof, (how poetic, awfully glad we’re not responsible for the upkeep,) and a view of the lively street below—so many people walking so many dogs! You can tell it’s an old neighborhood by the cars lining the streets—automobiles are not destined to disappear into garages for another decade or three—as well as by the trees: great and small, conifers and broadleaves, straight and gnarled, an entirely disproportionate number of them in intoxicating bloom. This is May in Seattle, after all, and the air is heavy with the scent of blossoms.

But the pièce de résistance comes when I turn back into the room, and it is straight out of John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers: two carpeted steps about three feet wide leading to a door roughly two feet above floor level, which opens onto . . . (drumroll . . .) THE CLOSET!!!!!  Lots of coat hangers and oodles of space, I notice, as well as a nifty spot to hang out in; there is also a bookcase, a chest of drawers. We’ll have to find him a desk . . . An unexpectedly personal touch from the previous occupant: a mobile of balsa wood aeroplanes whose gunmetal grey strikes a vivid contrast with the yellow walls.

And now we’re at that awkward moment where Gerry is inviting us for dinner (they take food very seriously at every L’Arche home we’ve been to) and Andrew is telling us loud and clear, in unmistakable body language, that it’s cool, he really doesn’t need us to hang around, in fact, Mom and Dad, Will You Please Go Now?

And so, just like that, it’s over.

We embarrass him with one more hug.





Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Farewell to Andrew Episode 5:

 In which the Ordinary becomes Almost Sacred, and then goes back to being ordinary again.

Ritual is a great buffer between us and what one might term “the stuff of life.” We go about our daily lives doing more or less the same old things with the same old people in the same old way.

And then, quite suddenly, whether you were anticipating it or not, everything changes, becomes fraught with meaning. Because this is, you see, The. Last. Time.
Yesterday there was a comfortable pad of time: two whole days. Now only one remains: tomorrow will be The Last Time one of us (who will it be?) walks over to the inaptly named Guest Cottage, (so called when my English mother was its sole occupant; it’s all SoCal terracotta tile, no honeysuckle and hollyhocks twining around this door, but she loved to call it her “cottage”, it made her think of home . . .)Whichever of us has volunteered will do last battle with the impossibly sticky sliding door, last battle with an impossibly somnolent 31 year old . . . All the same old things, but with one difference.

The last time. Andrew will pick up the newspaper for the last time. Such a simple act, dusted now with sanctity. Likewise taking out the recycling. Or loading the dishwasher, four plates jammed into each slot. There will be nobody to do this anymore. Our home will never be quite the same again.

We are fortunate; we knew this was coming, have had time to prepare our emotions, to alter our life stories gradually. Not for us the sudden devastation of an accident. Not this time. Or a heart attack.

It reminds me of a poignant poem by Thomas Hardy; the last verse goes something like this: (his love, who used to take this walk with him, is either ailing or dead, I forget which. Dead. She died, thus he is returning to an empty room. Hence the poignancy): 

“I went again today, just in the former way.
“Surveyed around familiar ground,
“On my own again — what difference then?

“Only that underlying sense
“Of the look of a room on returning thence.”

Yes, Andrew, you will be greatly missed. And we know that you will be greatly treasured at L’Arche; so I think, on the whole, that it’s a good thing.

Don’t you?

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Farewell to Andrew, episode 4

Getting Andrew out of bed: a photo adventure

Here is Andrew, sound asleep:
Mummy: “Wake up, Drewie, it’s a brand new day – it’s time to go PLAY!”

Andrew: “You’re joking, right? (groan) Please, somebody tell me she’s joking . . . “ 
Mummy: "Come on boys, up and at 'em, jolly hockey sticks and all that!"

Andrew: “How about if I sit like this? You see, I really am going to get up . . . just as soon as you walk out that door and give a man a little privacy.” (Thinks: “Just as soon as she’s out that door, I am going STRAIGHT back to bed!”)


Poor Andrew – his mum is wise to his tricks! “Andrew, let me see you with BOTH LEGS over the edge of the bed . . . BOTH FEET on the floor” (this seems to be the magical point of no return: if I get him this far, he has never yet retreated under the covers.)

Another day, successfully greeted!