after. language. stops.

Across phone lines, I can barely make out my father’s voice.  ALS has eroded all of the sharp edges; consonants crumble into sand.  What is left are mounds of vowels.  Undulating dunes of sound.

He is trying to tell me a story.  He puts down each sentence deliberately, as though marching knee-deep through drifts.  I shut my eyes and try to follow, but the dimpled footpath of words is flattened beyond recognition.  He’s moved on, mapping the next hill of words; and I am lost, feeling the space grow between us.

But then, over the phone line, I hear a burble and splash; laughter is bubbling up.  The story, whatever it is, amuses him; he is chuckling at himself, or maybe at the morning nurse, or at the strange detritus that marks a day in the life of an ALS patient.  Laughter rushes in, now, like an ocean tide, spraying up through words; he is taken over by it, as I am, too. The story doesn’t matter anymore.  I’ve got the message, the foaming freshness of it lapping me.  My father is okay today.

Walking on Folly Beach last weekend in the early light, I can’t ignore the bite that stormy Irene took out of the coastline.  The fishing pier is almost down, and patches of beach simply disappeared.  Tides will win.  Dunes shape themselves to grander rhythms than to our own.  And what we build, in time, will break.  I take note of this, and jump into the ocean anyway, letting that infinite stretch of gray rise up and roll over me.

What I never would have imagined, as my father’s words crumble like castles in the sand, like piers that lose their pilings, is the undertow of laughter that returns them to the sea.  I hear it more and more now, across the phone lines, swelling even in the simple tales of the day – his laughter.  I jump in with him, out beyond the story, where there is only the joy.  And why not?  A little glee, it seems, can sneak up through any day, anywhere, anytime, right in the middle of our sad stories.  It can wash us clean, and return us, in a silly moment, back to the teeming sea.

Out there, after language, who knew?  That in the beginning, before the word, and in the ending, after the story, there is the gift of laughter. Covering the face of the deep; yes, playing on the breath of god.

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~ by Susan on 09/08/2011.

6 Responses to “after. language. stops.”

  1. Wonderful how laughter can cut through all the other issues and bring peace and joy. Thank you for sharing this journey you are all on.
    Susan, I tried to send you some pictures of Laura’s wedding, but a message said it couldn’t be delivered. Did you change your email?

  2. Returning to a simple state of innate joy. I’m moved by that…

  3. As his words are garbled and silenced, yours are ever clearer, sharper, more poignant. After your father’s spoken language stops, your written word speaks louder and lovelier than ever. The sea calls deep unto deep, until the water is one body, one ocean absorbing many dunes, leveled into the rising tide.

  4. Oh, dear Susan, This is very truly beautiful. Love, Harriet

    • Harriet, your words carry a lot of weight. Thank you for leaving your wonderful notes. love, Susan

  5. The promise of laughter, and its occasional twinkling in the threatening abyss, is such a gift. Thank you for reminding us of this. Your words weave together so eloquently, so honestly. They are a balm and an inspiration. Thinking of you all with love and wonderful memories – Danette

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