Response to the poem “Mayfly” by Ellery Akers. Her poem starts: A mayfly struggles in the muddy water. I tell myself not to interfere, but ....
How Much Life Have I Given Her?
How much life have I taken from her? My Aunt Helen, a once-mysterious woman whose secrets are slowly being revealed as her body breaks down. For years she did all she could to bury the messes, keep her truths from the family, carrying on like a fugitive on the run. And I pretended to believe her. How much life did I give her?
One time, when I was twenty, I went to her house unannounced and saw what she was hiding. Boxes upon boxes of old relics from my deceased grandparent’s lives. Items so inconsequential, most made of yellowed, stinking paper with ink faded, no longer legible. When I saw this, I reprimanded her. Like a disappointed mother to an ashamed child. She hung her head, and it broke my heart. How much life did I take from her?
And after that, no mention of the incident from either side. Only the added awkward silences during car trips to the airport after holidays when we shyly hugged each other goodbye, curbside at the terminal, loose arms and downcast eyes. How much life have I taken from her?
Just yesterday my father called me and he spoke with a voice that reminded me of a teenage boy, wavering but sweet. Cracked honey. I tell him that I know the news of my aunt, that she’s ill, shrinking and gray, and scared. I saw it on the last ride to the airport, I caught it in the corner of my eye, but said nothing. Oh, how I wish I could have reached out, held out that stick for her to climb onto. How much life have I given her?
The angel helped the mayfly whose lifespan was only one day. It was not one of those acts that will appear on the front page of the New York Times.
I was struck by the reflection of the angel: how she felt better helping the mayfly escape the muddy water. Was “to feel good” the angel’s stimulus, or simply something she noticed after the fact.
The other day I helped a little bug find its way from our dining room to our garden. Why did I do that? If my motivation was simply for my own pleasure I would consider myself pretty selfish. Or if it was to avoid feeling bad for the demise of the bug in a foreign environment, I would think of myself as equally selfish.
So why do we help our struggling siblings? Are we separate from them? Are there really lines in the sand where I end and you begin? My mom used to say that when we mourn, we mourn our own death. Do we feel nothing for the other?
Why does the angel first tell herself not to interfere. Is it because the bug’s life is so short? My mother-in-law is at the end of her life. Yet she probably has many mayfly life spans ahead of her. And many angels. Yesterday she was dressed in her street clothes even though she couldn’t make it to the streets. It made her angel daughter very happy to see her ready for another day in the big world. Last night she fell out of her bed and survived without an injury (talking about a cat having nine lives).
In any case… Do angels give us life by taking care of us? Is life given and taken? We see daily incidents where life is taken prematurely, either accidentally or on purpose. We are saddened when this happens. It is as if a person was meant to live much longer than they actually do. But imagine they were only suppose to live as long as they lived. And imagine the mayfly was suppose to have a longer fluttering in the muddy water. Suppose suppose. Endless thinking takes me away from making someone’s day a little easier or happier.