Right now, the mountain where we first took flight, that is our daughter’s namesake, is visible from my cabin window only as an outline. A thin and partial corona from the Front Range cities on its opposite side define the summit, but cannot obscure a brilliant splash of stars above. Soon enough, the stars will fade and the mountain will begin to define itself, first softly, and then with increasingly sharp, rose-tinted detail. It will be capped with snow, but beneath lies a basic form that is about 300 million years old. In parts of the mountain lie veins of rock that date back to the dawn of multicellular life, more than a billion years before the first real ancestors of the trees that now line its flanks.
In short, Mt. Neva has seen some things. Dinosaurs in its valleys, new mountain ranges popping up around it, the rise and fall of a great inland sea. The upheaval of my own last few years would not even move its needle, let alone make its top 100 list. But the constellations above its dark form remind me that within its ancient rocks, within the snow and trees above those rocks, within you, me and the extraordinary woman who left us a year ago tomorrow lies the dust of long distant stars. The thought, coupled with the first rays of sun behind the peak, brings me a peace often elusive in the past year.
If nothing else, the year has taught me that grief is a force like no other I have known, as uncontrollable as those that gave rise to the mountain before me. It is not, at least for me, a relentless beat-down, and it does not prevent certain joys from still entering life. But it is there, always, a punctuated equilibrium that pushes lightly some days, and then with astounding and unpredictable force on others. Often, the explosions come when I try to control it.
I have never been a religious person, but I hold a certain draw to those of the far east. Maybe it’s my roots in Hawaii, maybe the love of nature. (Maybe only a less meaningful and more clichéd link). Still, of late I’ve found increasing comfort in ancient passages from the east that remind of us of the enduring power and peace of simply looking at a mountain. Of decorating a tree with one’s daughter. Of being kind and seeking your own harmony in the lift of others.
At times, these passages also preach a peace that should emerge from reminding ourselves that our lives are all but a blink of a geologic eye. It’s here that I depart from their theology. For while our flashes may be brief, some of them are impossibly bright. And to me, everything that matters lies in that illumination. It’s not one defined by title or possessions or on-paper accomplishment. It’s one defined by how much of your own light sparks those that lie in everyone else.
A year later, I am seeing Diana’s light still burning not only in so many people that I know, but in others of whose existence I’m still only just learning. One of those who knew her, but not me, wrote a couple months back, expressing her own grief in part by saying “how sad, for she was destined for greatness.” I wanted to return with: No, she had already arrived. One’s illumination is not measured in years, but intensity, and hers shown with both an ease and brilliance not often seen.
Over the past year, my own light has flickered frequently, sometimes frighteningly so. In a year of many upheavals, the worst moments are when I see my daughter, mostly comprised of Diana’s same spirit and iron strength, crumple under frequent nightmares that I will soon follow her mother into the grave. For a child bearing her own brain tumor, these moments are far beyond heartbreaking. But then I look at a mountain, and remember that we each have more than a dusting of the light Diana put in us, and that Neva’s is unquenchable. As for my own, I find it burns more steadily when I don’t swim upstream against the grief, but rather let it simply carry me towards the building of a new life that will still do all it can to uphold her legacy. Part of that means a relentless commitment to helping and inspiring others. Part of it means trying to question everything without ego. Part of it means doing it all with a shit-eating grin whenever possible.
And all of it means finding peace in the everyday beauty of our lives.