You can almost always find me up in the deep early o’clocks of the morning. The darkness at that time is thick, almost viscous. It’s paired with a friendly, companionable quiet, a middle of the night symphony full of the muted hum of appliances, a counterpoint of rhythmic breathing from those that actually sleep. I crave this slightly rambunctious quiet. In fact, I truly adore it.
Middle of the night is never boring. There is always something interesting to do. When I was six or seven I would sit on the floor of my room creeping toward the slice of light that came from the bathroom across the hall. If I got there I could read. And if I didn’t feel like reading of course, there were always The Presidents.
Here’s the thing. At some point I’d been given a poster that was ornately festooned with tiny cameos of all the Chief Executives listed in the order of their terms of office. I would sit there in the slice of light, squinting at the page wondering about each of them, memorizing their faces, mulling over pertinent facts about their lives, solemnly considering the glowing accounts of their accomplishments. Lulled, I would feel calm even if I rarely slept.
These middle of the night encounters with the Chiefs were inspiring. So much so that I eventually read my way through the entire biography section of the Eagle Elementary School library. These were some of the books I read:
Anthony Wayne, Daring Boy, Amelia Earhart, Young Aviator, Albert Einstein, Young Thinker, Thomas Edison, Young Inventor, Crazy Horse, Young War Chief all eagerly snatched up by Cindy Adelman, Young Reader
These were good lives, weren’t they? These were important people whose whole lives were inspiring, uplifting. They had to be so, I knew it was so because their stories were captured for all time, printed on rag stock and double-stitched into cardboard bindings. That makes it real, doesn’t it?
But as I grew I came to know people, not just know books. To talk to people. To listen to as many people as I could. Even to love some of them. Every story I came to know was too contradictory, too complex to be committed to 249 pages of adulation. The stories I read when I was small were not the whole stories for any of those people. They couldn’t be. Because a snippet captured for posterity in a book isn’t the whole story for any of us.
Peoples lives: their messy, complicated, heroic, fearful, exuberant and sometimes perfectly imperfect lives, are lived in the light. But that’s not real the story. Instead it’s the intangibles, the space between the words of every person’s story that can truly make for a beautiful, lasting, and worthwhile existence, no matter how many years we have on earth. That’s what’s real.
Those of us who’ve lost someone dear know all of this. We remember the warm cloak of kindness. We remember the way we loved and were loved in return. We remember the understanding that filled the spaces between words.
These are the things not written. These are the things that are felt. Good lives cherished for all time.