Her garden has fallen to ruin. Irene is old now, maybe ninety. Her memory has fled, leaving her eyes like lights in an empty room. I always try to say “hello” to her when I see her. She is guileless, full of wonder, a child in awe of the universe.
Her garden used to be the most beautiful around. She took such pleasure in tending its flowers and plants. She and my wife would share knowledge of bulbs and buds.
There is no such knowledge in Irene now. Her eyes are watching other worlds. When she answers at all, it is in response to questions only she can hear.
I listen to her closely. What remains alive in the dim chambers of her memory?
She thinks I am her son, goes on about her mother. A story about a little dog. It makes no sense.
But this is not about sense. She has woven other tapestries from the threads of her life. She is responsive to other colors, moved by other winds.
I would leave, but there are echoes here.
I am carried back to a time years ago when I was living in the medieval university town of Marburg, Germany.
I was 25, penniless, alone, frightened, and ill. I was living in a garret. I had no friends and I was far from family. My days were spent working in an antique restoration shop of an embittered alcoholic man, and my nights were spent wandering the streets watching the passing lives of people who neither spoke my language nor knew of my cares.
I had never been so alone.
The mother of the man for whom I worked was a very insightful woman. As a child of twelve she had watched the Nazis come into her classroom and take the Jewish children away. No one spoke of it and class went on as if nothing had happened. But day by day, night by night, she saw her friends and playmates disappear.
She became a watcher and a survivor.
For months she watched me struggle with the demons that were driving me. She would see me sitting with the neighborhood children, drawing cartoons in the shadow of the castle. She would see me staring vacantly into the distance when I thought no one was watching.
One day she took me aside.
“I watch you,” she said. “I see the loneliness in your eyes. I watch your heart running away. You are like so many people. When life is hard, they try to look over the difficulty into the future. Or they long for the happiness of the past. Time is their enemy. The day they are living is their enemy. They are dead to the moment. They live only for the future or the past. But that is wrong.
“You must learn to seek the blue moment,” she said.
She sat down beside me and continued. “The blue moment can happen any time or any place. It is a moment when you are truly alive to the world around you. It can be a moment of love or a moment of terror. You may not know it when it happens. It may only reveal itself in memory. But if you are patient and open your heart, the blue moment will come. My childhood classmates are dead, but I have the blue moment when we looked in each other’s eyes.”
I turned and stared into her lined and gentle face.
“Listen carefully to me,” she continued. “This is a blue moment. I really believe it. We will never forget it. At this moment you and I are closer to each other than to any other human beings. Seize this moment. Hold it. Don’t turn from it. It will
pass and we will be as we were. But this is a blue moment, and the blue moments string together like pearls to make up your life. It is up to you to find them. It is up to you to make them. It is up to you to bring them alive in others.”
She brushed her hand through my hair and gave me a pat on the side of the head.
“Always seek the blue moment,” she said, and returned to her work.
Irene’s mind is wandering now. A little dog. Her sister. Names I’ve never heard.
I smile and nod. She smiles back and continues. The blue moments are calling to her, filling her memories with light.
Kent Nerburn is the author of twelve books on spirituality and Native American themes, including Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce (featured on the History Channel), Neither Wolf Nor Dog (1995 Minnesota Book of the Year Award), The Wolf at Twilight, Simple Truths, and Small Graces. He lives in northern Minnesota.
Excerpted from the book, Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life. © 1998 by Kent Nerburn. Reprinted with permission.