Errol Milner Clifford 2006-2009
Errol Milner Clifford was born with a significant heart defect and a cognitive disability that prevented him from walking or talking. As we grieved the child we had anticipated, Errol’s full-bodied smile and irrepressible laugh turned our sorrow into joy, and taught us that many of the best things in life are unexpected. Inspired by Errol’s delightful spirit, friends, family, and neighbors rallied to support our family’s significant emotional, physical, and financial needs, through countless acts of selfless generosity. When Errol’s courageous heart finally failed him on December 23, 2009 we were left numb with grief. In these dark hours we listen hopefully for the echoes of Errol’s brilliant laugh. This blog is the story (starting from present and working back to Errol's birth) of the life and times of the amazing Errol Clifford.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Spring’s first attempt comes early, as the fledgling January sun pokes a hole through the winter, and warm sky fills with cotton candy clouds. Owen and I return to Hospice, and when his art therapy session is over, Owen bounds happily into the hallway, “Daddy!” he shouts. His smiling counselor, following behind, suggests Owen and I walk the labyrinth that is laid out on the floor in the conference room.
A table covered with candles, sprigs of sage, and a basket of small smooth pebbles sits just inside the conference room. Owen and I light a candle each for Errol, I slip a soft cool pebble into my palm, we slide our shoes off and walk towards the labyrinth.
The circular design of the labyrinth comes from the 15th century floor mosaics of Chartres Cathedral. There is one narrow path that twists and turns around and around itself, leading to the center of the circle and then out again. I step into the labyrinth, and follow the path through the lunations - the partial circles that form the outer rings of the labyrinth – and towards the labyrinth’s middle. The journey in is supposed to center my mind on Errol, and then after I leave my stone at the labyrinth’s center and follow the path back out, quiet my mind.
I step across the shards of light that break across the path, and Owen rushes ahead of me, tongue clicking – his happiest noise - hoping to beat me in the race he has imagined. The lane I follow coils in upon itself, snaking at once towards the center and then suddenly back out. My mind hums and crackles, alive with memories. Then Owen comes abreast of me, we are separated by only a thin line, and as he plunges ahead I hit one of the labyrinth’s 112 foils, which doubles me back upon myself, and away from Owen and the middle. The farther we walk, the farther we seem to get from the middle, but Owen doesn’t care, and skips happily onward, at triple my speed, his bobbing head catching the late afternoon light. “I’m already on my way back, Daddy!” he shouts out, triumphantly, as he passes me, returning from the middle. He skips across the labyrinth like a stone, while I sink deep into thoughts of Errol.
Long after Owen, who is already untying the knot of the maze, I arrive at the middle of the labyrinth. I uncoil my hand, and there is the pebble I had forgotten I was carrying for Errol. As I stoop to drop the stone in the basket, I see that there are already nine stones there: nine other lives, nine other deaths, nine other memories. Who are these rocks are for? I wonder. At the end of the day will these rocks be returned to the table for tomorrow’s mourners to carry with them? It all seems so futile. The maze. The circles. The rocks. Around, and around, and around we go. But Owen is smiling and running, running, down the lanes, making a game of it.
And then I drop, unexpectedly. I find myself on my knees, like a penitent. I should get up, I think. This will look odd. With the sunlight streaming through the window, and Owen hopping across the lines of the labyrinth, I think, What a silly thing to be on my knees, trapped in this web. I peer down into the basket, like it might hold an answer.
I remember a day almost twenty years ago when Cary and I were just married. It was late Saturday afternoon, the rains had left the city wet, and now, the sun had come back out for one last stand, the asphalt paths in the park steaming. Everyone had retreated inside, and as the sun returned for a moment before being swallowed back up by the evening we had the park to ourselves. I rode my bike ahead of Cary, following one pleasing sight and then another, and then I rode off the path and out into a wide green field that was bisected by gigantic power lines carrying electricity above the earth. Then, finding just the right place, I came to a stop and dropped my bike beside me onto the ground, and the next thing I knew I was on my chest, lying flat in the field, holding tight to the earth. I let go, turned over, and my eyes swept up and down the power lines, following the gray cables to the horizon where they stretched on, beyond my seeing. I imagined that the lines ran so far that they circled the earth, and met back here above me. The lines buzzed overhead, house lights brightened, the evening swelled like a wave, and I breathed in as much of it as I could. Twenty years later, back on the ground, encircled by lines, I exhale, stand up, and walk back down the path towards Owen.
Following his own rules, Owen speeds down the path like it is made of ice, heading back for a second pass. After a moment, we cross each other again as I head out of the labyrinth, and Owen, always in transit, skips away. As I shuffle forward with my eyes focused on the path, my vision narrows, and the room flattens like a horizon. The more I concentrate on the steps right in front of me, the further all thoughts fade until I find myself, back outside the labyrinth. Owen slides past me, “I won, Daddy!” and we sit beside the burning candles, put our shoes back on, and slip back into the warm afternoon.