Waking up from dying was not at all what she had thought or feared it would be. There were no gates, pearly or fiery or otherwise. No floor of clouds. There was just a gorgeous clean air smell in her nose, and a sound that was like music only it wasn’t, it was a sound she felt rather than heard because it emanated from inside.
It is so beautiful, she said to no one in particular. How can it be so beautiful?
That is the sound of your understanding, a voice told her.
Does everyone hear it? she asked.
Yes, but everyone experiences it differently, depending on how they lived their life. Some have always heard it to a small degree. Some have never heard it at all, and find it unbearably beautiful, and spend their first decades here just listening to it.
Goodness! she said.
Some have called it that, the voice said.
She never knew how long she listened to the sound of her own understanding. She couldn’t judge by looking down at her husband – he looked more or less the same age as when she’d died, but that didn’t tell her anything because time was measured differently where she was now. She just knew that, without being told.
She didn’t know how long she had the strength and desire and will and time only to listen to it, but there did come a day when she looked up and had an impression of people all around her. She called them angels though they just looked ordinary, if a little shiny.
Certainly they had no wings or halos. And though they all looked pretty much like the people she might see around her in a shopping square when she was alive, they were all beautiful. Gorgeous, even. The woman with the ivory skin no less so than the man with the buck teeth or the old man with the liver-spotted head.
Words like old and young and up and down and sleep and wake and tall and short had no real meanings any more but like every one else she used them out of habit. She had a vague sense that when this habit fell away something would happen, she’d go to a different place or level or something, but it wasn’t something anyone felt the need to worry about.
So when she finally looked up from listening to the understanding within her, it was really not so surprising that, when she discovered she could see her husband, could actually be right next to him, with him, this is immediately what she did.
She wanted to tell him everything but of course those in her state had no words. It was ironic (a state she experienced as a gentle happy understanding) that she’d spent her life ‘communicating’, as she put it – talking and gesturing and shouting and crying and stamping her foot and glaring and smoldering in silence – and had no understanding, and now when she had all the understanding that was ever required, she had no way of communicating, no voice at all.
For days she walked by her husband, glowing with everything she knew, her understanding of him riffling past her eyes like some magical deck of cards, each with a scene played out by her husband at different ages: the small boy sitting silently while his tipsy father boasted of his athletic gifts, unmindful of the hurt of the pale sensitive son who could play violin but not throw a football. The teenager sitting next to a lovely young girl, he with the secret sweat in his palms and armpits, his voice a steady stream of desperate jokes and anecdotes. The earnest young man in the office, head bent in the glow of a computer screen, his face a mixture of miserable hope and resignation when the phone rings and it is her, demanding to know when he would be home.
She is twirling up around him in a perfect gaiety of happiness, which he experiences on the edge of his depressed musings as a small puff of wind on his face, an eddy of leaves at his feet.
Now he is sitting on a bench in the small park near their home, and though his face is impassive to the people hurrying past (it is 5:30 and rush hour is underway and here at the tail end of November the evening comes on cold and quick), she sees that he is worrying a thought over and over, much as her beloved terrier would worry his rubber toys.
She glimpses his thought – I shouldn’t have worked so much I should have listened to her and come home earlier and been nicer about it – and puts her invisible head on his shoulder and laughs (at which the leaves dance faster) and tried to give him some relief.
She understands all and wants only to wrap herself around him like a web, give him the gift to be free.
It is so lovely, my love, she thinks toward him. So beautiful to know all that doesn’t matter, to find it has all flown away of its own accord and all that is left is the one thing that ever mattered. She does not know what to call this thing – none of the old words seem to do. Love is perhaps the best word., because it is also beauty and peace and comfort and knowledge and gentleness. It is compassion and forgiveness and generosity. It is kindness and happiness and beautiful sadness.
She is pouring the thought toward him that she loved him, oh, yes she did, loved him then and loves him now as never before and everything he remembers, no matter how brown or dull, no matter how crusted with anger or sticky with the secret dust of hiding, everything he remembers makes him more beautiful to her, makes her love simply expand to greater warmer proportions until she feels herself losing her boundaries, no longer able to hold the ethereal old shape of self, she is now above him and around him and next to him all at once, a membrane woven of understanding and the joy of a forgiveness that needs no forgiving, not for herself and not for him.
She does not even think, oh, if I could only speak. Her understanding has encompassed even this. She only pours her love toward him, some thing he experiences as a break in his reverie, something like the indrawn breath of a songbird, something like an ocean that pauses between one wave and the next, something like a memory of color in a dream.
And in this break, there and gone before he can recognize he has recognized it, he experiences a sweet yearning sensation and hears, in the space between two heartbeats, the sweetest music he has ever heard, music that makes him think of a great endless azure sky and a million faces of loved ones turned toward him. The moment is there, and then it is gone, and the leaves swirl at his feet. He wipes his eyes and glances around him; it has fallen full dark.
With a sigh he rises and begins the long walk home. His heart is still sore within him, but for some reason it is lighter now, something he carries within him like a palmful of water that reflects the face of his beautiful dead wife.
And then the feeling is gone, his heartbeats marching on, and she watches him from above and round and beside him, continuing to pour herself toward him, this great tide of love born of understanding, wanting nothing from him, not even his understanding, that would come in time, wanting nothing but for love to lift him and carry him, a sweet moment he can ride like a tide to whatever love was waiting for him.