The plan was to pick up Jeb from school and take him for a little treat. We could find some quiet spot, spread out on the grass, lick popsicles at sunset and enjoy a little mother/son time together.

But when he moves off the four-square court in the school yard and comes to me, there’s a shrug when I ask him if he’s had a good day. “Hmm…kinda.”

At the car, he pulls out the paperwork informing me that he was given a “refocus” in class, my signature requested at the bottom. Essentially, this is a second warning issued by the teacher that he’s close to having more serious consequences as a result of poor classroom behavior. It’s the yield sign, a kind of yellow light, you could say. He sighs, “Second one, ever.”

I’m not sure how to deal with this one. He seems genuinely remorseful, yet, under the circumstances, I question whether my plan for an after school treat is merited now.

Maybe it’s the wrong thing to do but I decide it’s ok if I make a mistake. Let Jeb buy the rainbow-colored popsicle with blue dye number 5 and, keeping it light (hah!), take him to the Japanese cemetery just outside of town.

It’s a quiet hill with scattered tombstones, most made from ancient lava rock and carved with Japanese letters. Moss grows and grass tangles at the bases, while plumeria trees bow at scattered junctures. Just beyond the fence line, the slope leads to the crater, beneath which once spewed hot lava exploding and seeping out to the sea. Today, it is long-past dormant.

I grab a beach towel from the back seat and spread it out between the headstones. Jeb’s lips drip and stain in lego-colored blue.

We’ve been here many times before. Jeb knows the story of this place. I want to keep this visit fresh and attempt an offering of sage wisdom.

“You know, Jeb, each stone you see means there is a human being buried underneath.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“And each one of those human beings was like you and I. They had a life. They laughed, got mad, fell in love, had broken hearts. They had a mother and a father. Had their favorite foods. They wondered about the world…”

“Uh-huh…”

“So they lived their life and then it was over. Now they are somewhere else. But we’re still here, you and I.”

courtesy of Juhana Leinonen

The blond hairs on his forearm are soft in the sunlight. I reach out and touch him. “I still get to touch you, hug you. Hear you breathing. Because we’re still alive, right here, on planet earth…in this life. We’ve got to fully enjoy it. We get to feel love and share it.”

He hears me but doesn’t respond much with words. His eight-year oldness is soon pulled in directions beyond mom. Toward the base of the ironwood tree or the swinging gate. He meanders among the stones.

I sit on the beach towel, my heart beating.

It seems like part of being human is living with some veil of forgetfulness. I hear my profound carpe diem plea to my son as words moving through my mouth. But I’m not sure I really grasp the depth of what they mean.

Am I forever slated to live with breath as an assumption?

As I try to impart to Jeb the sacredness of each moment, I realize that don’t fully get it. Even in the midst of tombstones, there’s some sort of filter that fools me into thinking this existence is forever.

I come here to sit in peace with the dead. Try to refocus. But I only get so far.

 

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