whispers in the oaks

I think it unlikely that I will post a public chronicle of my days spent in Arkansas, for reasons that are abundantly clear in the private entry posted directly before this one, but there is one story that I wanted to tell. It was not for what I did, but for what I chose not to do.The dead cross daily with the living in Tull; it is a place in which your memories and your past confront you even during the smallest of errands. You live in their penumbra when the street you live on is named for your great-grandfather, the town for your family, and the silent etch of names in the cemetery can be easily seen from the road as you head from there to, well, anywhere.

Most of the time, their presence is nothing more than ambience, a whisper in the oaks as you pass by, but I had been gone for three years, and much had happened to me. My life is different, my friends different, my appearance different.

On one of my days there, my mother needed to return chairs to the Methodist church I attended as a child. I agreed to go with her, to help her lug the chairs back down to the basement, and as we finished up, she offered me the opportunity to take a few moments' walk past the oaks down to the slope of the hill where several of my family members are interred.

I thought of my grandfather, and remembered with a sudden sharp sadness that if my nephew is nearly ten, then my grandfather has been gone for ten years now. Keith, gone for close to twenty; my father, gone for four.

I stood there for a moment. The wind whispered a song I knew well. I'd played in that cemetery as a child, had learned and loved the names and starkly simple markers that most of my distant relatives had chosen for their loved ones. It was as familiar of territory as I'll ever find on my travels in this world. I stood there for a moment, and remembered what I said last time: three times, once for each of them, just in case the dead only hear the words we whisper directly to them:

I've been gone a long time. In many ways I've grown up into someone you wouldn't recognize, and you probably wouldn't entirely approve of. I cared a lot about what you thought of me, but in the end, I've had to make my own choices. I wouldn't be the person I am now if I'd stayed here, but you shaped my life and I remember you, and I hope that is enough.

I raised my camera to my right eye and took a photo, then turned to my mother and said, "Maybe later," knowing full well that I would not go, because there was nothing new to say.

For the dead, there is nothing but time. For me, the oaks will whisper for the rest of my days; my memories are there, but my loves and my loyalties are here.

Until there's something new to say, I'll leave them be.