In the last few years of her life, in her bitterness and her narrowing, my mother recorded dates and times and medications in a smaller and smaller hand until finally when we found the cache of her spiral notebooks, in a clear plastic storage bin, we couldn’t make out a lot what she was saying except now and then a temperature, or a recipe, or something else she hated about my dad.
But I have the bin now, and going through it last year I found a 4 x 6 lined recipe card, and on it, written in her longer, loopier style, the lyrics of “Amazing Grace.”
Amazing Grace! she wrote out, carefully, this woman who never went to church and was always so cynical about churches, who often reminded me that churches are full of hypocrites, as of course they are, who said to me more than once, talking of one old friend or another, “I wouldn’t cross the street to talk to that son of a bitch”—Amazing Grace, she wrote, how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me. / I once was lost but now I’m found / was blind, but now I see.
And then, rounded and neat and clear, the last few lines, which I’ve always found so beautiful, so haunting. How precious did that grace appear / the hour I first believed–then this, this leap:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we first begun.
“There” is heaven, is eternity, so vast and unmeasurable it overwhelms us, it terrifies us, but imagined here as full of light and music and the warmth of human voices. As a single, never-ending moment.
Or Blake, in his great prophetic poem, Jerusalem.
All that is or was, he cries out, you and me and my mother, and the words she scribbled, and the letters of the words—they are not lost not lost nor vanished, even unto the end of time,
& every little act,
word, work, & wish, that has existed, all remaining still . . .
every thing exists & not one sigh nor smile nor tear,
one hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away