We have been in the Twin Cities for longer that we expected, visiting a friend who is dying. Sitting with her, I was reminded of a story, a true story, that I told in a Breath and Water newsletter (#45). I was glad to remember it again, and maybe you will be, too. It’s longer than usual, but I bet you’ll think that it’s worth it.
But before I begin: as you think about buying holiday gifts, please think about my Intention Cards. Click here to order some.
Several years ago I dropped in on a friend in his studio. He had just recently returned from his sister’s funeral. She was 50, and had died suddenly from a heart attack. This is what he told me.
Arriving back in Minneapolis after the funeral, he’d stopped at a Blockbuster store to rent a video before he went home. He wanted to be distracted from his grief. He didn’t see anything in New Releases that he wanted, so he began scanning the shelves of older movies. As his eyes passed across one particular title, he heard his sister’s voice, loud and clear — “Get that one!” Needless to say, he was stunned. It was so obviously her. “Get that one!” Still, it was a movie he had no desire to see, and he tried to move on. But her voice wouldn’t be silenced, it was adamant that he rent that one movie.
He did rent it. When he got home, he put the video in the machine, and settled in to watch it. He didn’t like the movie at all. What’s more, he knew his sister wouldn’t have liked it either. Why did her voice insist that he rent this awful movie? He wanted to quit, but he’d committed, so he watched it through. Finally the movie was over. As soon as it ended, and before the credits began, he reached for the remote to eject the movie. But before he could press the button, the credits began to roll. Then he fell on the floor and wept.
He wept because he remembered a summer day when he was a boy, walking along the road with his sister. He was 9 years old, she was 11. They’d found a dime on the sidewalk the week before, when they’d accompanied their dad into town. Now they were in town on their own, spending their windfall. Their large family didn’t have much money, nor the things that money can buy — they lived on the edge of their small town, where they had a big garden, and kept a couple of pigs, a cow, and some chickens — and a dime between only two of them was a small fortune. They had decided, after a week of deliberation, on ice cream. They would each get their own nickel cone.
Although they didn’t have much in the way of “store bought” goods, the family did have an old phonograph and a jumble box of records. A neighbor had given it to them a few months back. Every night after supper, the children got to take turns playing a song from the mix of old records. It was an exciting game, to see what the song you’d picked would sound like. But my friend’s sister never used her turn to play a new song. Every time it was her turn, she played the same song. It was a song she loved, but one which everyone else was soon quite sick of. His sister and her beloved song soon became a family joke.
As the two were walking home, replete with ice cream, they were having one of those philosophical discussions that kids like to have. They’d gotten around to talking about heaven and hell, and asking each other if they thought there really were such places. Is heaven a real place in the sky? Can there possibly be a place like hell? How could they know for sure?
My friend told his sister that, she being the older, if she died before he did, she had to come back and let him know that she was all right and, more important, that she was in a wonderful place. He insisted, “You let me know the truth!”
She scoffed, saying, “How can I do that?” My friend gave her question serious thought; then he had a brilliant idea. He told his sister, “I know what you can do, you can play your terrible song you always play.” She said, “How will I do that? I’ll be dead!” He told her that she would have to find a way.
Now there’s my friend, on his living room floor, weeping. Weeping because it was his sister’s song playing behind the credits of the movie he’d just watched. His sister’s same terrible song.