Here / by Sarah Schwartz

I.

I walk through the door, sporting black yoga pants and a ratty tank top, and throw my gym bag down the hallway before heading to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine.

With my phone lodged precariously between my ear and shoulder, I pour the Zinfandel I found on sale at the grocery store last week into a clean glass. The number I am dialing is saved under Grandparents in my contacts, which is a little unnecessary, considering it is one of the few phone numbers I know by heart. As I swirl the wine around the glass with my right hand, it occurs to me that the name attached to the number is no longer correct.

Grandparent, singular. Grandmother, to be precise.

She answers on the third ring, and I identify myself with, "Favorite granddaughter speaking," the way I have with every phone call since I moved to California nearly seven years ago, from the home I shared with her, my Grandfather, my parents, and my sister, since the first grade.

I ask about her trip to the beach, and she inquires about my weekend with friends. I am tempted to open my mail or sort through my laundry as we speak, but decide against it, and settle into the corner of the large navy sectional in my living room.

This year is the busiest I have ever been, what with a full time job and a heavy graduate course load, and in order to survive, every minute is accounted for.

Get up, take a shower, go to work, come home, work on research paper, finish reading chapter on ecumenical councils, wrap up lecture on dispensationalism, put in a load of laundry, maybe exercise, empty the dishwasher, attempt to eat something not out of a fast food bag, sleep, repeat.

On the rare occasion that I find myself with a few minutes that have not been designated to the accomplishing of a task, I get antsy.

Surely, surely there must be something I need to do, achieve, or produce with this idle time, my mind spins.

II.

Growing up with my Grandparents taught me, among other things, the art of being present, slowing down, and making spaceβ€”a skill I am in desperate need of rediscovering.

The summer I was 8 or 9, my Grandpa cleaned up a little plot of earth next to his vegetable garden for me to try my hand at growing California Poppies. My tiny fingers and short attention span could never quite rid my small garden of the weeds that sprouted there, but Grandpa? His quarter acre kingdom would be covered in weeds in the morning, and by that afternoon, boast nothing but dirt and vegetables.

And after weeding, pruning, and watering, he'd take up his post in a green plastic chair, a watered down glass of whiskey in hand, and admire the snow capped silhouette of Mount Hood in the distance. As I grew older, I made it a point to join him from time to time, hoping to share in whatever magic he had found in that moment.

Summer nights growing up often began with my Grandma shouting from her kitchen, "Come and get it!" which was our signal to gather plates and utensils from our kitchen, and walk them over to dish up in hers. The six of us would then make our way to the patio, where we'd swing legs over benches found on either side of the dining table made of refinished barn wood, with the perfect view of the sloping south field, sprinkled with fruit trees.

We'd sit and eat, recounting our days, or listen to Grandma and Grandpa simultaneously argue and tease each other over the details of a story from some summer past, long before the rest of us were around. And we'd linger, after plates were clean and bellies full, just to watch twilight settle over the clover.

III.

I returned home six weeks ago for my Grandfather's funeral, a mere three weeks since I had been there for his 90th birthday party.

That's another thing I learned growing up with my Grandparentsβ€”life is fragile, and so are we.

Go home for birthdays and Christmas and summer, call every Tuesday, put cards in the mail, and from time to time, make space to sit in silence for a while.

Memorize the way your people smile and smell and laugh, tell them you love them, and don't be quick to get up and leave.

You don't want to reach the End and find yourself aching over time spent, rather than savored.

And so in the hours following his service, we made our way out to the patio, and the table made of barn wood. We surveyed the landscape and made predictions about next year's blueberry crop, lingering until the sun extinguished itself in the inkwell of the horizon.

β€œ...And we pray, not for new
earth or heaven, but to be quiet
in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here.”

Wendell Berry