Grandma Lily’s Mirror
By Gary Turchin
I remember Grandma Lily in her favorite armchair that day. She looked comfy as an old pillow. Her voice was windy, her eyes were two warm pools.
"Jeriluh”—she called me that—“have I ever told you how deep your brown eyes are? I feel like a deep sea diver when I look into them.”
“Is that a good thing, Grandma?”
"A good thing, yes. Deep is wise. You like thinking about things, don’t you?”
“How can you tell, Grandma?”
“Grandmas know. When we look into eyes, we see the mirrors.”
“Mirrors? What mirrors?”
“The eyes are the mirrors of the soul, Jeriluh. And when I look in yours I see your deep soul reflecting back.”
Mirrors, souls? What was she talking about?
“A soul is your deepest, truest nature,” she answered without my asking. “It’s the part of us that never dies.”
Never Dies!? Now she had my attention. I missed Grandpa.
“A part of us all never dies, Jeriluh,” she explained
“His soul still lives.”
“Where Grandma?” Maybe I could visit.
She tapped her heart.
“His soul lives in your heart?”
“Not quite in my heart, but I feel it in my heart.”
“But where does it actually live, Grandma? Is there a house??”
“There’s no house. The soul lives everywhere. And no where.”
“I don’t get it…”
“When you are ready, your dreams will reveal it.”
I didn’t know what Grandma Lily meant that day, I was only 9, but I thought about it a lot. A lot. At home, in school, while daydreaming, playing soccer, sweeping the floor after dinner, studying math, it didn’t matter what I did, the “part of us that never dies” was all I could think about.
Where does it go? Where does it live? Will my part be able to be with my mom and dad’s part? Or Grandma Lily’s or Grandpa Ben’s? Does a soul need a house to live in? Which house? There must be a lot of souls, because there’s been a lot of people in history, and they all have to be living somewhere.
Maybe on another planet? A soul planet?
It was all so very confusing.
I didn’t feel so deep.
I turned to my Mom.
“Mom,” I asked, “where does the part of us that never dies go when we die?”
She looked at me a little crooked.
“Honeybunches, have you been talking with Grandma?”
“Yes, she said we have a soul and it doesn’t die when we die. But she didn’t say where it went. Where does it go?”
“Honey, listen, your Grandma’s getting old...”
“Is she going to die soon?”
“I hope not, Honey B., it’s just, well, she’s Grandma, and she really isn’t well. And she’s always had strange ideas about things.”
“Yeah, things like life and death. Beliefs.”
“Do you believe the soul doesn’t die, Momma?”
“I don’t know, Honey B. No one’s ever come back from the dead to tell us.”
I didn’t feel any better. Grandma’s old, she has funny ideas. What does that mean?
So I asked my dad when he got home.
“Daddy,” I said, “where does the soul go after death?”
He laughed, “He he hehehe…That’s funny, Sport. You’ve been talking to Grandma, haven’t you?”
“Well…when people get old…” he sighed. “But, I don’t think too much about it myself. Just live life to the fullest and don’t worry about the afterlife. Can’t do a thing about it anyway, Sport.”
The last thing you want to tell a worrier like me is ‘Don’t worry.’ Then we start worrying about worrying.
So I worried about the afterlife, and where souls go even more, and the next day at school I worried to my friends, who ran away from me, and I worried to the guys on my soccer team, who stopped passing me the ball, and I worried to my history teacher, Mr. Miller, the one who always wears a bow tie and seems to be talking another language, though I’m sure it was related to English.
“Mr. Miller, where do our souls go after we die?”
“Well young sir,” Mr. Miller explained, pulling on his stubbly chin. “I suppose it depends on which tradition you ask. Our Western traditions…”
"Uh, Mr. Miller…?”
“Oh, yes, tradition. Traditions are the teachings of our religions. In the Christian tradition, they teach that the soul goes to heaven or hell, where you either find eternal happiness or eternal suffering. Not much room for error there, young sir, so get it right.
“Eastern religions, on the other hand, suggest the soul is reborn over and over in a different body, until it awakens to full enlightenment, until it becomes as good and pure as it can ever be, and has no need for living in a body anymore. It can just be spirit. They get a lot more wiggle room for error. But that’s a lot of lives, and one’s enough for some of us old teachers.”
I didn’t really understand what Mr. Miller meant, but I still asked, “Which do you believe?”
“I believe in science, young sir. Science tells us life evolved from one cell to many to humans. There is no proof of any kind for a soul. Therefore, it is a belief system, entirely based on faith. I am not a man of faith myself, young sir, but that shouldn’t keep you from being one.”
Mr. Miller left my brain stinging, so I stopped in the corner store for a donut. They have the best ones there. And cakes too. And pies. Leslie Bunin was at the cash register, as usual.
He spends his days sitting there, collecting money, playing on his laptop, eating, and making jokes, most of them I don’t understand, but a lot have the word fart in it. But my daddy says he’s very smart and knows a lot about a lot of things. Farting included, I guess.
“Well, if it isn’t our little monkey come back to play in our trees,” Leslie said when he saw me.
“Hi Les,” I said. “Can I ask you a question?” I didn’t realize I was going to ask him my question, but it just blurted out.
“Shoot little monkey,” he said.
So I shot.
“You’re an evolved little monkey, ain’t cha?” he said. “Listen, you want a piece of apple pie? On the house.”
“You may, but here’s the deal little monkey. See this nice fresh whole pie? Mrs. Bunin made that. That’s a good pie. Imagine that delicious pie is the universe. You know what the universe is, right little monkey?”
“Of course I do. It’s everything. All the stars, planets and galaxies.”
“Well, it’s more than that. See, the part we see, the stars, planets, galaxies, what we call the visible universe, is a very small piece of this pie. See, like this…” And Les cut me a sliver of a piece, a wedge not wider than my little finger. I guess I wasn’t going to get much pie after all.
“That’s all we know about, little monkey. The rest of this pie, about 96 percent, or 19 out of twenty slices of it, is still not understood at all. We can’t see its apples, its crust, its juice, nuttin’, we can’t smell it, can’t taste it. And that’s not fair, but we know it’s there because our measurements of gravity tell us something big is there that we don’t see. It’s like this: if you put the universe on a scale and weighed it—and scientists can do that with their math— it would weigh a lot more than it looks like it should weigh. It’s like you standing on a scale and instead of it reading 80 pounds…”
“Seventy-four pounds,” I corrected.
“OK, instead of little monkey weighing 74 pounds, the scale might say you weigh fifteen hundred pounds. Or this pie, for instance. It might weight 20 pounds instead of the one pound it actually weighs. Where’s the rest of little monkey? Where’s the rest of the pie? What are you, or it made of? Why can’t we see that part of things? We know it’s there. Scales don’t lie.
“The same is true for the universe. Something, we’re not sure what, is pushing that scale down. We call that missing part of the universe ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy.’ We think that’s what it is, but we’re not sure. It’s a great mystery. It’s all unknown. But here’s the deal…you still with me little monkey?’
“Um, sure. Sort of. I think…” I didn’t understand any of it.
“Good, ‘cause since you asked, I’d say, ‘yes, there is plenty of room in the unknown, unseen part of the universe for all the souls that ever lived, or will ever live, plenty of dark matter and energy to hide in. Or at the very least, there’s 96 percent of the universe we don’t know, 19 out of twenty parts of it. And maybe our souls do know it, and maybe it has something to do with where we go after we die. Or maybe not, who knows?
“I’m not saying it does. I‘m just saying there’s more that we don’t know than we do know. Lots, lots more. So anything is possible…in life, or in death. But you shouldn’t trouble your little head about it, at your age. Just enjoy.”
“Here, you can chew on some of this part of the pie, too.” And Les cut me a nice big slice from the “dark” side of the pie.
I gobbled it up like there was no to tomorrow.
I left Les’ feeling better, and not just from the pie. I couldn’t wait to share the news with Grandma. There was room in the universe for all the souls. Maybe we’d all end up living together in the dark part of the universe
But when I got home, Grandma was in bed not feeling well and my cousin Tommy was there visiting her and he pooh-poohed Les’ idea.
“Souls don’t take up space, Ace. They can all live on the head of the same pin.”
“Will Grandpa Ben be on that pin?”
“How do you know, Tommy?” Tommy’s all of four years older than me but acts like my teacher.
“Ace. I’ve been around.”
“Sounds like you’ve been around a pinhead…”
“Ace! That’s not nice.”
I was about to get even not-nicer when MomMa walked in.
“OK, boys, Grandma needs to rest. Honeybunches, off to bed. Tommy, your dad’s waiting.”
I hugged Momma hard. I hugged Grandma, too, but not hard. She felt weak. She brushed her lips to my cheek, and whispered,
“Jeriluh…too much thinking. Listen to your dreams. Always a great cure, sleep. Always a great cure…”
And that night my “cure” was deep. My dreams, too, like a movie in 3D glasses.
I dreamt I was swimming in a pool, a lot like the pool in the YMCA I go to. But the pool grew bigger, it was then a lake, then bigger still, and it was a sea. Soon I was swimming in an ocean that covered the whole world. It felt very warm and I wasn’t afraid even though I was the only person in all this water, swimming.
Suddenly something or someone pulled my leg, and I was dragged under the surface. Funny thing is, I didn’t need to breathe even under water. Then I saw my Grandpa Ben’s smiling face. Oh, such a nice smile! I’ll never forget it.
He made that face he made when he wanted to be silly— scrunching up his lips, nose and eyes so he looked like a fish. But at the same time he had no face. It all seemed perfectly normal in my dream, to have a face and not have a face at the same time.
Suddenly, through the water there were many faces. I saw dear Aunt Rose and Momma’s friend Fran, who died last year, and a cousin who died before I was born, even someone who looked like Grandma Lily, her grandma perhaps, and they all had faces, but when I looked closely, they had no faces.
And I was underwater with them and not breathing and I wasn’t a bit scared. No, it was warm and soothing and it was like I was alone swimming but I also could feel the presence of everyone. It was like they were all there, swimming with me. They each had a face, and yet they didn’t.
Then I felt something pulling me up. Up, up to the surface of the ocean. I awoke to Momma’s voice.
“Honeybunches, sweet honey B!”
She looked sad, but she gave me a kiss on the cheek and that made her smile.
“Time to get up, Honey B,” she reported.
“Momma,” I said, “I know what Grandma meant now.”
“Honey B.,” Momma sighed. “I have something to tell you…about Grandma.”
“She passed away in her sleep last night.”
“Passed away, Momma?”
“She died, Honey B. It’s OK, she didn’t suffer at all.”
I looked deeply into Momma’s eyes. I saw an ocean.
“Momma,” I said, “Grandma’s just swimming with all the other souls. It’s nice there. Warm. I think I saw her.”
Momma gave me a big, long, warm hug. Our eyes met. Ocean’s surged.