M. Melissa Elston Lace on a Table on All Saint's Sunday

The tables today were covered in lace. Just like the lace you used to lay out on the dining room table, on holidays. Or when we were having company.

Atop the lace, there were framed photographs. Candles. Remembrances of loved ones. I brought no such mementos. Truth be told, I rolled out of bed late, tore into the church parking lot at 10:13 a.m., and came creeping in at the back of the chapel, fifteen minutes after the first peals of organ music had kicked off the service. Just like I used to at 17. I remember how my visible lack of enthusiasm for all things church-related used to embarrass you. Back then, I used to drag in late—hair mussed, eyes bleary— because I’d stayed out drinking on Saturday. Or listening to music with friends. Sometimes, I brazenly nursed my hangover on a back pew in the choir loft, sporting an obnoxious pair of sunglasses that made the old ladies gossip. (I secretly enjoyed this. I admit it.)

Far fewer things change between ages 17 and 41 than you’d think.

But in another sense, so many things have changed, drastically. Sometimes, I wonder what you would think of the person I’ve become in the thirteen years since you took your final road trip. Wherever you are . . . do you know you wound up raising a college professor? Have you kept up with that? Hell, do you see your granddaughter—the mischievous, brilliant girl who I, in turn, raised?

I think of you often.

Sometimes, I worry I don’t think of you enough.

* * *

I still remember your singing. Most people who heard you remember. You were a classically trained alto, one whose voice people were constantly gushing over. I used to cringe back then. I was embarrassed at having a mother who sounded operatic when she opened her mouth. (The vibrato. So. Much. Vibrato.) I don’t know why I had that reaction. Nor do I know why I didn’t figure out how similar our speaking voices are, until I was well into my thirties.

* * *

A room full of people gathered to sing today. Twenty-seven of them . . . didn’t leave. They were executed, in their own house of worship. Witnesses said it took about 15 seconds to mow the majority down.

I don’t know what to do with the fact that we live in a country where this kind of thing happens on a regular basis now. But the incident stands out to me as a disruption in the narrative. A rupture in the story we often tell ourselves about faith. Protection. Safety.

* * *

Safety doesn’t exist. Inside or outside buildings with steeples.

It didn’t exist the day you shuffled off this mortal coil. There were no padded helmets, no nets to keep you from hitting the ground, nothing to counter the effect of the pills you swallowed sometime between midnight and sunrise on a different Sunday morning, 12 long years ago.

It didn’t keep my chest from being swept hollow when I realized you weren’t coming back. In some ways, the experience made me bolder. More focused about going after what I want in life, while there’s still time. But it broke me, too.

Right now, 27 other families are broken.

On All Saints’ Sunday. The day we commemorate the dead. Their collective grief—a screaming, howling torrent of names and sudden absences—is more than I can contemplate.

* * *

Are you singing now? Sometimes, I think I hear your song in the tiny things you taught me to observe: in people, in the rhythms of life, in the energy around me.

Somewhere, deep down, I am still three years old, seated awkwardly on a too-big-for-me piano bench. I am squinting at a page of sheet music, eyes darting down to the keys—where you’ve helpfully written the notes in crayon.C. D. E. . . . C. D. E. . . . D. C. D. E. C. C. I peck them out, then look up, beaming in expectation. You break off a small piece of a plain Hershey’s chocolate bar. My reward. Our daily ritual, during these early lessons. My feet don’t touch the pedals yet. You tell me not to fret, that it will come when I’m older. Right now, I need to focus on learning the notes. What they look like on paper. How they sound when I press the keys down, with small, pudgy fingers.

My brow furrows in concentration as I memorize the musical phrasing. There are words to this song. They, too, are written on the page.

Behind me, you are singing them. In your deep, sonorous alto voice.

“Here we go, up a row . . . ”

* * *

I am also still six or seven years old—somewhere in the recesses of my mind, as the scene changes. We are alone together in your dim bedroom. The curtains are drawn and the lights off, even though it’s the middle of the day. I’ve walked in on you, only to find you laying on your back, in the dead quiet. Alert but still. Lips moving in an unfamiliar, nonverbal pattern. I ask you—in a small, yet plaintive voice—what you’re doing.

“I’m meditating. It’s something you can do when you’re older.” Your voice is different than its usual booming nature. Softer. More peaceful. It draws me in.

I had been planning on watching cartoons, but I’m instantly intrigued by this activity. The one that takes place in the dark, and the quiet. I ask you to teach me. I’m old enough, I tell you. My feet even touch the piano pedals now. Surely, I’m old enough for this. You protest that it may bore me. That children aren’t meant to do it—but once I wear you down, you give me a phrase to use as a focal point, and we begin. Your breaths, my breaths. Your song—the silent one, measured in moments that feel like eternities. Now my song.

* * *

This morning, I found myself descending into meditation as I knelt before an altar full of votives. I lit one for a friend, and for others who have endured losses. Then I lit one for me—and you. A small gesture. But one imbued with love.

Just like meditation, love is a song. One that death does not hush or cut short. And one that I will be singing for the rest of my days, it seems. Few things change between 17 and 41. Maybe few things change between 41 and the rest of it, too. At some point, I suppose I’ll find out. In the meantime, I still hear you. I still love you. Sometimes, I still cover my own tables at home in lace. And sometimes, when I sit down to enter my own silent moments—tiny, wordless eternities in the dark—I realize it’s a space we both still share.

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