I remember the last time we spoke.
On the phone, your voice already weak
They keep telling me to repent,
You whispered, or go to hell, forever
Grandmother, who says that?
The cousins, banging their books
I felt ire rise; who would say such thing
To my brave, sweet grandmother,
Laying, weakened, on her deathbed
There was a robin on the window
Tip-tap-tapping did you hear it?
Grandmother I am too far away to hear
The robin, it had things to say, tip-tap-tap
What did the robin say grandmother?
The robin? It said I would be just fine.
Who do you think I should listen to?
Grandma, I would go with the bird.
Yeah. She replied. I think I would too.
Grandmother, I remember when we spoke
Moments before you left, and died
Still, I pray that we all might remember
Sometimes, we need to follow that robin.
When I graduated from seminary, my family gave me a gift. When I opened it, I was surprised to see the cover of “Earth Prayers.” My family said “Your grandmother’s library. She had quite a range, spirituality, earth spirituality, theology. Did you know she was very spiritual?”
I had to laugh. I had given her the book Earth Prayers. As I looked through the box, finding Spiral Dance, Rumi, other poetry, I laughed harder, deeper and looked up at my family.
“Actually I did know. She and I spoke about spirit often. In fact, I gave her many of these books…”
There was silence for a moment. I lifted Spiral Dance out of the box. It was marked through with sticky notes, highlights, underlining. The pages were heavily creased and well read. The cover bent and worn. I took the books out of the box, one by one, and saw how worn they all were. Especially the ones I had given her. I could not hold back my tears.
“She read them. She read them all. This is an incredible gift. You have no idea…she read them…”
Every October, as the month draws to a close, I make a dish for my grandmother and sit out in the still, dark of night. I sit with the plate for a spell and I listen. There is an old country tradition of a dumb supper; to contact a deceased loved one, you set a supper with extra settings for those you wish to reach. Set the table in reverse order, forks on the right, knife and spoon on the left. Serve the courses backwards, dessert first, main dish, appetizers or soup last and eat in silence, for in the realm of the dead, it is unkind for the living to speak. I do not usually follow the whole tradition, just a plate, and setting, in the chill autumn night, and silent welcome whispered willfully on midnight winds.
Often as I sit, I can hear her, still feel her touch my hand, almost hear the rhymes she used to sing, see the twinkle in her eye. Grandma has been gone well over a decade now, but thanks to old ways I still see her, feel her presence and share her wisdom. There, in the dark of night I whisper that I still love her, that I was inspired by her strength, and that still, I listen to the robin.
I find her presence particularly comforting this year. I watch the madness in the media, the thumping and clamoring and threatening, and I remember how my grandmother asked me, even on her deathbed, whether I would listen to fear, or the whisper of a bird. Her memory inspires me to seek a deeper voice, so that I may draw away from the screaming into my heart and soul.
I love this season, when the veil is more thin, and my grandmother’s presence offers a stronger guide. Certainly this year, her wisdom is needed. May your season be blessed with similar depth of heart and soul.