We were saying our goodbyes. The packed van lumbered down the quiet highway on a Saturday evening. Most people were already where they wanted to be: home, already in the routine of school and fall, or away for one last splash of summer leading up to Labor Day.
We danced in that in-between world, headed south for the long trip home, twilight falling, memories dancing in those happy places in our minds -- the kind that keep you warm and make you smile in the midst of a gray November day or deep New England freeze. The echoing of loons off the lake as night falls. The hum of a motor boat far in the distance; someone fishing, slowly, thoughtfully. The sight of looking up, up, up at trees that dwarf us. Happy shrieks and splashes as someone jumps off the dock. Just-picked berries staining fingers. Ice cream dribbles. Crickets chorusing.
We were on Interstate 95 heading faster and faster away from Maine and back to the real world, when we noticed people gathered on one of the highway overpasses, looking south. A few miles down, there were more. Some had flags. On some bridges, there were ambulances and fire trucks; first responders with their lights flashing. Down not far from the Maine border, two firetrucks had a giant American flag hoisted from the middle of their raised ladders. On another, a family hung a large flag over the side of the overpass.
Then I remembered: the week before a civilian contractor from Maine had been killed by a bomb in Afghanistan. He was my age, with a family. This was going to be his last tour in Afghanistan, and he had planned to return home to become a state trooper. Now he was coming home for the last time, and as darkness fell, Maine gathered to say goodbye and pay their respects.
We drove and looked up again and again at the solemn crowds and I marveled at the melancholy that is summer, that is life. No sweet thing lasts, not in this world. There are always goodbyes. There is always something precious in the dark, if we look hard enough.
I thought of summers long ago, of driving home on this very highway at the end of summer and seeing people on the overpasses, waving to the travelers, waving summer goodbye.
I thought of the friend last year who lost her fight with breast cancer; about her three children starting another school year without her.
I thought of this man, as we saw the hearse, the processional go by, and wondered if his family felt any measure of warmth, any comfort as they saw so many stand to pay tribute in the growing darkness.
I looked ahead towards home and the promise of new teachers and soccer and books and challenges and how there are very wonderful things about fall in our little corner of the world.
We reached the green bridge and the last of the light illuminating the Piscataqua River and the smokestacks of Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Anna didn't see the smokestacks. "It's so beautiful!" she oooed.
Chloe caught sight of the moon, full and orange, and began to laugh. For miles, they kept up a game of peekaboo as the moon disappeared behind trees and when we changed direction. "Moon! Moon!" she kept calling out.
On the radio, Coldplay was singing "The Speed of Sound:"
Look up, I look up at night,
Planets are moving at the speed of light.
Climb up, up in the trees,
every chance that you get,
is a chance you seize.
And I tried not to cry at the people saying, at summer saying, goodbye. I tried to remember that love and loss and change are part of this finite world we live in. I tried to remember it is fruitless to hold on to the past or fret at the future. I don't, in the end, have the control I thought I had.
What I could do, I knew, was to listen to the sound of Chloe laughing at the moon. To love every memory, to make all my plans, without holding so tight that I couldn't fully see what was right in front of me.
Godspeed, Corey Dodge.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
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