From “Ignorance,” by Billy Collins
“And to think further that I have no idea / what might have uplifted me, / unless it was when I first opened / the front door to look at the sky / so extensive and burdened with snow, / or was it this morning / when I walked along the reservoir?”
This morning I did not walk along the reservoir. Instead, I used the rowing machine recently received from my uncle, whose son the poet gave this book to my grandmother, from whose shelves I acquired it after her death.
“EX LIBRIS V. WIEMAN, IN MEM.”, says the title page in the blocky capitals I use when I want to be legible later (even in Latin). Only later, when I began to read it, did I find my cousin’s looping hand a few pages in. “To Grandmother, here are some of my favorites! P. 69. P. 63. P. 47. Merry Christmas!”
An odd sort of re-gift, isn’t it? Some unknown number of Christmases later, I receive the gift of the memory of my grandmother, and an unexpected connection to my cousin. I never knew we had a favorite poet in common. I wonder if my grandmother, the minister’s wife who steadfastly did not believe in any sort of afterlife, knows that I know that now. It makes me smile to think she might.
This evening, or tomorrow maybe, when I next walk along the reservoir, I’ll offer thanks for this unexpected and uplifting gift of Christmas past. I hope that will make her smile, too.