This photo by my friend Steven Hyatt just landed in my inbox, solving the question of what image to accompany the post that I’ve been percolating today. My post was tentatively going to be titled “Achy.Little.Salutes” — but in flew the seagulls, and out flew the title.

The “salutes” I wanted to write about are the sometimes small and often not-so-small flutters of sadness that catch me off guard frequently these days. Emotions that I need to salute, to acknowledge, and then I march on with my duties, my day.  Grief is a Salvation Army bell-ringer who’s there constantly jangling in the periphery — a clanging reminder, a nudge that can lift my spirits or tweak my conscience, depending on whether I toss in a coin or walk quickly past, loaded down with purchases and guilt.  Grief is the blinding flashbulb flash of Christmases past — of what we were doing this time last year, of ordering a sweater that Mom had picked out and wondering if she’d ever get to wear it, of remembering dear Lynn Brooks wrapping gifts that my mother had bought for us and numbering the boxes (#14, Black Turtleneck, youth medium) so the “To” mystery could (hilariously) be solved once Mom got out of the hospital after a pre-Christmas pneumonia scare —  fleeting moments that flare up and leave dark spots in your vision. Grief is a gull that soars gracefully overhead, then swoops in, squawking haggling for crumbs and tidbits of whatever memory I was savoring.

Grief, like the gulls scavenging on our Charleston beaches, seems ever present this season, and it is hardly mine alone. At church yesterday, the choir’s acapella  anthem totally undid me.  At last night’s Christmas Parade, amidst the cheesy lights and chilly wind (and no fewer than 4 confederate flags in the mix), boy scouts marched behind their float, but all I could see were the rows and rows of uniformed scouts who packed the choir pews at Stuart’s funeral.  We pull out our decorations from the attic and I think of Andrea and the kids hanging ornaments, how the glittery balls must droop more heavily on the tree this year, and I bow to the ache again. I think of two Leslies in High Point feeling deep loss amidst the merriment, I think of my friend Suzy whose mother died right before Thanksgiving, of my cousin Bill who made beeswax candles for our church’s Christmas Eve service this year and will light his own candle on the 24th without his wife Ann.  Beyond my circle, there’s Joan Didion slouching through her blue nights and Dominique Browning, who recently wrote so piercingly about this same topic here….

Yes, the gulls are flocking, lots of them. They dive and dip into the waves; they land and tuck-in their wings; they circle overhead blending in with winter’s dirty gray sky. They laugh in the wind. They fly away.

~ by Stephanie on 12/12/2011.

8 Responses to “aches.longings.seagulls”

  1. Oh, you take me there. The flutter, the ache, the dirty gray sky. The heaviness of the merriness. How beautiful that you are there in it all. And with all of these you name, who must feel your words light upon them, like the feather of a gull.

  2. You write remarkably. I’m so glad we met.

  3. Oh, yes. I think often of my own chronic sorrow — how one lives with it, covers it with anger and sometimes bitter humor and sometimes soft humor but often, even, with great joy.

    Thank you for your beautiful writing and aching way with words — they sustain many of us.

  4. I was truly moved by your words. The holidays are melancholy times for me. Seventeen years have passed since my father passed, yet I still ache the same way each year. You captured those feelings in your beautiful prose! Thanks! Made my day!
    Jenni in Philly

  5. Your words create such achingly accurate pictures of past and anticapatory grief. I find myself flying with the gulls giving them my fear to spread over the cloudy skies until it lands home to roost.
    Thank you.

  6. All things cosnideerd, this is a first class post

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