Seventy-seven weathered, moss streaked steps to the cemetery. Ivy wraps the wrought iron railing and the hum of bees is a far-off, languid sound - mosquito whine is closer, intimate as the tiny mole beneath your lover’s left earlobe.
The kids run ahead, shouting, peony blossoms clutched in sweaty fists; the petals leave a trail not unlike a bride’s path. fragrant and pink and utterly vulnerable to the whims of the breeze. The women follow slowly, iris bouquets cradled to their chests.
“Do you remember Daddy and that old riding lawn mower?” Their voices are a continuous rill, energetic as bird song.
Shriek of laughter; a soft hand slaps a lady bug from a crimsoned cheek. “Didn’t he just love it?”
“Aunt Millie put sugar in the gas tank, I swear she did.”
“She was a mean old thing.”
“But” – and here is the satisfying conclusion – “She had a good heart.”
The voices overlap, memories caught in the reaching arms of the elms where they remain, nestled like robin eggs in the silvery wind-tossed leaves.
The kids have reached the summit, have abandoned their flowers and are playing tag amongst the tombstones, their laughter pin-wheeling against a heavy sky, a sky that is just beginning to forgive. The women don’t offer correction because the cemetery above the village has been a playing place for generations; here, in fact, the dead are more alive than anywhere else.
And comfortably so.
Here beneath the live oaks with the dandelions rioting and the prairie breeze pushing in the homey stink of cows. Here where grass is a thousand jeweled shades of emerald and nobody notices if you slip out of your shoes. Here, where everybody from down-the-hill comes home at last.
“Do you remember Junie?” One of the women kneels, lays her bouquet beside a listing gravestone. “The first time she came up here – and she was just a little thing, couldn’t read – she ran right up to Grandma’s stone and said how pretty it was.”
They’re off again, magpies chattering while the sky at last splits to reveal a hands-span of azure so bright it hurts the eyes.
“ . . . and he had the bluest eyes, didn’t he? Well the whole family did.”
“ . . . didn’t think Eddy could go on after . . . “
“ . . . used to bring the cows down from our hill, remember?”
Remember, remember. And the dead - while they are in a place where time matters not at all - are here as well. In words, in thoughts, in little girl’s smiles. As real as your child’s shadow darting quick as Peter Pan on the cobblestone path or the squirrel tossing acorns from the tree limb. Here, Memorial Day is not so much an honoring as a simple acknowledgement, Scout greeting Miss Maudie on the screen porch step.
That’s how close your loved ones are.
The women at last finish their task and gather at the spigot by the gate, where they cup cold water to their faces like the children they were the-day-before-yesterday, drinking and scrubbing the sweat at the back of their necks. They gather up discarded shoes and the sourball wrappers that seem to follow children everywhere and shoo their offspring towards the steps.
Early evening already, the limpid light sweet as lilacs.
Seventy-seven steps down, home on either end.
The word of the day is luminous.
Oooh, this is a peach, yes?
Writers collect words the way your grandma hoarded knick-knacks, squeezing every inch of them for meaning, beauty and usability. Here’s what the Oxford says about “luminous”:
1. radiating or reflecting light; shining; bright.
2. lighted up or illuminated; well-lighted:
the luminous ballroom.
3. brilliant intellectually; enlightened or enlightening, as a writer or a writer's works
Ha! Well, of course.
The thesaurus gives us “incandescent, shining, vivid” and a thousand more ways to use just this one, gorgeous word.
“Rush loved the way the light came up in Nicola’s eyes, the luminous, birthday candle expression.” Or “The storm stripped the trees of their new blossoms and the petals danced, luminous as pink fairies in the premature darkness.”
So much fun!
But there’s more. In 2002, Pope John Paul 2 updated the Rosary to add the Luminous Mysteries, which are by and large concerned with miracles – the transfiguration, the changing of water into wine, the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Incredible events, they could have just as easily been the “fireball” mysteries or the “wheee! Awesome!” mysteries, but that wise man chose “Luminous” instead, thereby casting a beautiful shine over those days, inspiring a sort of quiet awe.
In photometry, luminous energy is the perceived energy of light, and should you choose to research this, you’ll soon be agog in technical terms. “This type of energy can be collected from luminous wisps, located south of Sophanem at level 90 of Divination.” What? Not a clue, but isn’t it lovely? I wish I could paint the luminous wisps; this feels Dr Seuss-ish to me.
Virginia Woolf said that, “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”
Or wait – look at this song.
Admittedly, I’m not a big fan, but these lyrics:
Luminous more so then most anyone
Unapologetically alive knot in my stomach
And lump in my throat
I love you when you dance.
Fairly awesome, yes? The power of the word is amazing to me; as a writer, I never get enough of it.
So today, I’m going to take “luminous” and put it in my pocket, rub it smooth with my thumb the way you would a Saint Michael medallion or a worry stone, and make it my own.
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