an uncommon gift
At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin…”
Maggie has been sick lately. Oh, it comes and goes. Not enough for her to keep herself down. Mainly it just comes in rumbles and coughs. A liquid movement that she rides the tide of and then goes on with her day. But in the past day or so I have insisted on rest for her recent fever. On sleep for her weary self. On medicine to move this process along.
And in this low time, this slow time, Mags and I have been reading The Secret Life of Bees. This is something we’ve done before, reading aloud, though admittedly not very often. We sit on the couch, me by the lamp, and she under covers on the other end. The book is set in 1964, just after the Civil Rights Act was passed, and the layout of the world and beliefs at that time is mind-blowing to her. Completely foreign. She stops me frequently to ask questions about life in the 1960s.
“Whoa-whoa-whoa. Wait…wait..wait, stop. So? Why can’t Rosaleen be in that church?”
Originally, Maggie asked about the book only because I made mention of the fact that Nana was reading it. I said, “Oh! That is my favorite book. I read it every year because I love it so much.” Maggie-never content to be left out of the Mom/Nana loop-said, “Well…now I want to read it!”
I said, “It’s right there on the shelf, have at it.” So she picked it up, read the back, asked a few questions, then set it down. Said she would read it eventually. But I know my girl—she’s slow to pick up a book. So I picked it up for her and began to read.
“I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.”
Maggie loves Rosaleen, and is charmed by her love for Lily that is so obvious and yet so cantankerous. Maggie laughs at their interactions, and then her poor laugh invariably turns into a cough and so I wait.
Eventually she nods. “Okay. Go on,” she’ll say. And I do.
“The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit…looking back on it now, I want to say the bees were sent to me. I want to say they showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, setting events in motion I would never have guessed.”
Maggie loves the main character, Lily, and the strength she doesn’t yet know she has. The courage she doesn’t see in herself. She has a passion for the injustices she hears in the story, and often stops me in the middle of reading to tell me how she would go back in time and just explain to these people that they were being close-minded. Surely if she could just explain it the people would understand. The people would change their minds and hearts. And I smile because I love that she believes in people, and herself, that much. Such a good thing.
But this read-a-loud. It is such an intimate thing. Such a trusting thing, in a way, though I am at a loss to explain what I mean by that. An old-fashioned thing, maybe. Yet, like watching television together, we pause. We get up to use the restroom, or to wash our faces for the night, or to get ice cream or potato chips, or a cup of tea. We stop to discuss why this is happening or that, and to get ourselves in the same head space. But then we come back to the couch. Climb under the covers, get comfortable, and begin again. It is a commitment, I guess. Moreso than a movie or a television show. It is hour upon hour. Lamplight and conversation. Pages. Chapters. Days. It is to commit to a slow time together and that’s an uncommon gift in such a fast world.
“I know it is presumptuous to compare my small life to hers, but I have reason to believe she wouldn’t mind; I will get to that. Right now it’s enough to say that despite everything that happened that summer, I remain tender toward the bees.”
After I finished the opening paragraph, I looked at Maggie, laying there cuddled on the couch, sick. And she smiled.
“Keep going,” she said.
And so I did.