Courage at Twilight: A Grimless Reaper

December 17.   Twelve degrees Fahrenheit.  I am hiking to Bell Canyon Falls.  But I am not alone this time.  My son John read about my December 4th loneliness and invited me to hike with him today.  Dad slept still when we left, but Mom asked his questions for him, about whether we had water, food, good boots, warm gloves, our hiking poles.  We pushed past where I had turned around two weeks before, pushed up to where the slow lay three feet deep beside the trampled trail.  We talked about life and love, relationships and challenges, joys and dreams, and I rejoiced quietly in his conversation and his character.  Cold in my bed two nights before, I had dreamt of death, a peaceful dream in which the presence of Death descended gently to touch those whose time had come to return—a soft, benign touch, not threatening, but caring and compassionate, possessing a perspective large as a universe about our journey through an eternity of time in an infinity of space.  Still, when I awoke in the dark, I felt compelled to check on Mom and Dad, to see if the dream had been prophetic or merely a macabre play on my anxieties.  As I stood in their bedroom doorway, the nightlight on the wall behind me cast an enormous human shadow on the wall before me, and I thought of the grim reaper, only I was grimless, and guileless, and I was not a messenger or a harbinger, but a steward and a servant and a son.  Dad snored calmly, and Mom’s sleep had sunk beneath his snores.  Throughout the week, groups of neighbors and church members had stopped by to wish Mom and Dad a merry Christmas.  A group of six young women and their adult advisors came to carol.  Dad had wanted to greet them in the formal living room, but he could not walk that far—he may never walk that far again.  So he smiled and joined in the singing from where he was, holding the large gift basket in which lay a loaf of cranberry walnut bread, wool-blend socks (even a pair for me), and mint truffle hot cocoa mix.  A bunch of boys with their adult advisors came to deliver a puzzle and oranges and blonde brownies and Andes mints.  Couples delivered a pineapple, whole wheat bread, peach freezer jam, a poinsettia, ornaments for the tree, and green bananas (because Mom told them Dad likes green bananas, not the brown blotchy sweet ones she enjoys), each gift an expression of love and regard and caring.  This is what I thought about as I slipped and rolled clumsily but harmlessly down the steep snowy mountainside, snow sticking to every inch of me, still with no spikes on my boots, still in the mountain’s cold shadow, my knees complaining loudly, the moisture from John’s breath frozen stiff on the whiskers of his mustache, my water bottle frozen in my coat pocket.  And then sunlight struck the tops of the snow-laden trees and worked its way warmly down to the snow-covered sagebrush and the deep snow drifts and the path and two hiking men with their poles swinging in easy rhythm.

Young ladies caroling to Mom and Dad.

John posing before the frozen Bell Canyon Falls.

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