Today, it’s been a month since my father left us. I realize that aside from his birthday I now have a second date on which I will commemorate his life. My father’s death divided time into before and after.
A month ago, my first physical reaction was a gut reaction. An invisible hand squeezed my stomach. But this brief convulsion of my body wasn’t going anywhere. I did not throw up and no tears came. On that day, when sadness overwhelmed me, the muscles in my face contracted as if preparing for a sneeze. Was my body expressing what my mind couldn’t process? How much control do we have over our body? How does my body control me, control how I live my life and how I die? What am I to do with those signals from my body? For now, I take them as signs for the magnitude of a step for which I am mentally not prepared. Letting me feel that my father is gone, forever.
I am grateful I could comfort him before he completed his transition peacefully in his sleep. Dying isn’t easy. Not even when you’re dying of biblical age, lying in your own bed at home, surrounded by your loved ones. Dying is hard. To witness how mind and body go on their separate journeys was a gift for me. But am I worthy of witnessing the last moments of a human being? Am I worthy of my father’s life and death?
When I left to go back home to New York City I took with me a hand crank music box handed down to me by my father. It had been a gift to his mother when she was a little girl at the end of the 19th century. It’s so old that Shazam can’t identify the melody. I wrapped it carefully and carried it in my hand luggage.
It was early morning when I went through airport security. Despite the long lines the process was smooth and soon it was my turn. The officer behind the security camera flagged my luggage. I watched him carry it over to the table where I waited. He opened the first zipper. Then the next. And then he found, covered in bubble wrap, what had raised suspicion on the security screen.
“Oh, the music box,” I said and reached for it. “Careful! It’s from my father. He just died.” I was so scared he would drop it and damage the porcelain handle.
He pulled away from my reaching hands and said, “That’s what that is? A music box.”
He didn’t let me take it but honored my wishes on how to unwrap it. Seeing it for what it was, he finally handed me my precious gift.
“I can play it for you,” I said and set the box down, hoping the metal table would provide a nice resonance. Hunched over, cranking the handle in an even tempo, I listened for the melody.
“That’s beautiful,” the security guard said, signaling me that he heard enough. But I hadn’t.
I had to play this melody from beginning to end. The shuffle and murmur of the security area of the airport fell away. As I listened to the familiar sound of the hand crank, note by note I turned into a little girl. This eternal lullaby, cranking the handle over and over, used to comfort me when I was sick or couldn’t sleep.
Surrounded by travelers on socks, I imagined the notes rising up above their heads and into the sky. I was playing tribute to my father.