An indeterminate gray spread out against the sky, providing relief from the record highs of the week prior. It wasn't a perfect reading day; that would require even cooler temperatures and the caress of raindrops against a half-opened window. But it was close enough, and I spent the workday longing for the embrace of my sofa and to lose myself in a good book. Thanks to a friendly tip that my local library makes home deliveries, I had stacks of books and CDs waiting when I finally escaped.
I stretched out on the sofa, a piano piece played on the stereo. I drank a cold beer, savoring its spicy hoppiness. And, as planned, I read. It was Merwin's "The Shadow of Sirius." Something about the moment and the way his words blend light and dark, and past and present, put me in a reflective mood. And a thought came to me, too familiar to lament its melancholy, its pages dog-eared, its spine bent and haggard, but proud enough in the truth it held.
I hope that I die before my wife.
And for some reason I remembered a photo taken on our honeymoon. We'd awakened early that morning to watch the sun come up over Machu Picchu. We arrived just in time, and I held her hand as the rising sun slaughtered the morning mist. Perhaps it was the proximity to the clouds, but I understood an ancient magic in those moments. We snapped a few photos. We were thankful for what we'd witnessed. And then we left to hike a nearby path that doesn't seem to exist in the guidebooks.
In hindsight, it's easy to pluck the metaphor collected on the mountain. I carried the heavy pack with our water and equipment. She encouraged me when my head reeled and the heights conspired to drain the last of my courage. I steadied her as her footing gave way on the loose rocks. At the top, we were rewarded with visions of the snow-capped Andes challenging the heavens. Solitude was ours. And it was somewhere on this climb that I took the picture of my recollection.
When my wife came home, I put my book away, and we discussed our day. There was nothing particularly intriguing about the conversation. Just the humdrum of life. And then she looked at me in this way that she has, a look that says she's taking careful measure of things. She waited a beat and said, "I hope you outlive me. I don't think I could bear to lose you."
"We'll get drunk and drive off of a cliff on our seventy-fifth wedding anniversary," I said. I didn't tell her that I'd had her exact same thought only moments before. Sometimes it's easier to be clever.
The problem with clever is that it cannot explain love.
She fell asleep before me that night. And I thought of the future again, of our aged skin like crinkled origami paper, of loss and loneliness. I imagined a life without her, and I thought of the photograph once more. I have no expectations of eternal reward, but if there is something after this life, I hope it looks an awful lot like the photo.
Her silhouette only a few short steps ahead, a radiant light bleaching away the sins of the world...