When the woman I thought I was going to marry me left me, the world fell silent. For some reason, that silence urged me to listen. So, one night, between muffled tears, I started listening to the silence. First, the crickets chirped slowly, methodically. Then cicada-sounds wound up like a propeller then faded away again. Hard winds glided through the trees and a coconut plunked onto the tin roof. The world was calm. It was still and it was begging me to listen.
I called my grandfather in tears. A man of 85 years, strong in his convictions, soft with words at his age, but it wasn’t always so. I like the man he is. He hushed my tears and told me it would be okay. I thought he would swipe my heartbreak underneath the rug, dismissing it. He didn’t. “Do you know what the great lesson in life is, Lady Julie?” he asked.
“No, Grandpa. What is the lesson in life?” I said.
“It is what it is, and that’s all there ever is. And do you know what the meaning of is is?” he asked again.
“No, Grandpa. What’s the meaning of is?” I asked.
“Life is what you have and where you are at this exact second. And before you know it, that moment has passed and then that previous moment is gone. It’s no longer what is. So, you see, you cannot try to fight with what was. It has passed and it no longer is. But you have now, and that is what is is. Do you see?”
“I do see,” I told my Grandpa, remarking on the beautiful wisdom and simplicity.
He cleared his throat and started to talk about when he was my age. I settled into my chair, eager to hear his stories, one after the other. Through the phone, the closer I listened the more I could hear his rough voice, almost feel his aged hands. The world begged me to listen. Stay quiet, for now. He told me the story about the woman from the East Coast that he loved dearly but left in pursuit of his dreams. The stories about how he wanted to go to law school but fell in love with this beautiful, strong woman, my Grandmother. The stories about how his friends always wanted the prettiest ladies but he felt certain there had to be something more to the right woman than a good looking body. Then he told me a love story.
“Did I ever tell you what happened with me and your Grandmother?”
“Um, I’m not sure, Grandpa. You’ve told me a lot of stories, but I don’t know if you’ve told me the one you’re talking about.”
“Well I’m going to tell it to you anyway. And if you’ve heard it already, well just shoot me dead at my old age.”
“I promise not to shoot you dead, Grandpa.”
He laughed. “Back before your Grandmother and I were married she went down on a trip to Florida to visit her mother. Now, I just thought this was any old trip, a girls vacation of sorts, but she went down there and she came back up and she looked at me and said, ‘Momma thinks we should wait a year to get married.’ Now, your Grandmother’s mother wasn’t really very fond of me and I knew this. I’d already started saving money for a ring and I didn’t see any point in waiting as it was already decided, but I said, ‘Okay, we’ll wait. Then, if in one year you still want to marry me and I still want to marry you then we will.’ So a year went by and your Grandmother had every opportunity to find another man or leave or change her mind, but after a year we still wanted to be together so we got married. That was 58 years ago.”
“Grandpa, that’s not the same. You weren’t living in two different countries,” I stated.
“Well, no, but I was away on a job in Cleveland for most of the whole year and rarely home. She could have messed around with someone else or decided she wasn’t going to put up with my crap anymore, but she didn’t. You see, lady Julie, you must take care of yourself right now. You are the most important person to you, and if you’re meant to be with someone, by God you’ll be with them, but you have very little say in that. But what you do have a say in is putting Julie first. Maybe you’ll get back together with this woman, if she knows a good person when she sees it, or maybe you won’t. But if you take care of you, then the rest will take care of itself.”
I sniffled and took it all in. I knew what my Grandpa was saying was true. Mixed emotions of sadness, from the heartbreak, and happiness, from having that moment with my Grandpa, swam around somewhere inside my chest. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The crickets started to chirp, loudly, then louder and louder. The propeller-like cicadas started their engines again, and when they faded away I inhaled the silence, knowing that the thing I needed to do, more than anything, was listen.
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