In my mother-in-law’s house are two large black-and-white photos prominently displayed, of Secretariat with Ron Turcotte aboard, leaving their four 1973 Belmont Stakes competitors in the dust, 31 lengths behind, and of Jackie Robinson stealing home on Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford in the opening game of the 1955 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers.
She’s had them there ever since I can remember, and they’ve become all the more important to me as I think of her who died at Southampton Hospital early this morning, leaving the four children who had held her hands the last few days, way behind.
It’s not dying that hurts, it’s living, says Emily Dickinson.
These children, one of whom is my wife, are the birds that stay. And her mother, who had said, unafraid, “it’s the end of the game” when told the morphine drip she’d wanted was on its way, has, after having danced off third, stolen home.
Only one thing worried her about me, that I tended to hunch, foreshadowing, I suppose, for her a full-circle return to the fetal position. I’ve been mindful therefore in the past few days that I should keep my chin up and my shoulders back. “Don’t hunch,” I hear her voice saying in my head. “Don’t hunch.”
And so, trying not to hunch, I walked into the milky lights of Herrick Park the other night, after the morphine came, and stepped out onto the chalked line and ran twice around.
Though I knew she had been a militant atheist, I told her on heading back to the car that I was accepting her as my personal trainer.
Emily Dickinson also said that time did not assuage — if you really loved the one behind the door — though I have a hunch that the loving are, indeed, assuaged . . . that Mary Kernell, with all her keen intelligence, wry humor, and abiding love, lives, and will always live, in the birds who (for the moment) stay, until the pitying snows persuade their feathers home.
In the name of the Bee — And of the Butterfly — And of the Breeze — Amen.