Labor Day. Not my favorite holiday. A holiday to celebrate work. I find holidays are usually a lot of work: Preparing, cooking, planning. It’s easy to lose the fun in the process. I want holidays to be fun. Yet, fun often seems to sit behind a thin impenetrable line. It smiles at me from a great distance. Life drops a bell jar over me. Clear glass stands between me and what I want. I await rescue. No one comes.
It’s so easy to get lost in the mind. Being present is what I want. I want a lighter heart, a more open heart, a resilient spirit, a generous soul. A mind turned inward can collapse on itself. I see an empty hornet’s nest. . .grey, paper thin. My dad crushes it with a gloved hand.
He conquers the hornets that lived inside. I feel so many things.
He waits until dusk when they’d returned home. The nest hangs under the eaves outside our kitchen window, above the yard in which I play. I watch from my swing on the clothesline, in the gathering dusk. The world is fuzzy around the edges. My father carries an extension ladder and sets it up against the house and climbs, higher and higher. He has a bucket filled with gasoline. This is exciting. There is no exciting music soundtrack. There are no other spectators. There are no words to describe what is happening.
Hornet stings hurt, really hurt. My dad is making the yard safe for children and dogs and moms who hang clothes on the line under a summer sun. I smell sun-fresh laundry. I hear it snap in the breeze. The world smells like daylight and dust. Closing my eyes, I open my mouth and wait to taste that summer again. Young. We were all so young and alive. I open my eyes again and I am surrounded by the embracing darkness. This memory taunts and teases me. I feel so many things. My head spins.
My father is thin. His hair is jet black. He climbs the ladder with ease. The fumes from the gasoline kill the hornets. They drop in the gas-filled bucket never knowing what killed them. They slip from life to death with gentle ease. Death shouldn’t be this easy. Life shouldn’t be so fragile. He shows me the bucket filled with the black hornet bodies that reek of gasoline. I feel dizzy. He whisks the bucket away. I have no memory of what came after, of how that summer evening ended. I do remember that the hornets didn’t plague us any longer as I played outside.
That night my father is a conquering hero. He smiles at the dead hornets and then at me, with pride. The happy lines at the corners of his eyes charm me. I trace them with my finger. Our eyes lock. Time stands still. We are this moment until. . . it is gone and comes again to live in memory touching a day reserved to commemorate labor and laborers. My father worked hard during his life. Maybe if he hadn’t worked so hard, he would have lived a bit longer. Work gave him a sense of self. He was rather lost without it. His body gave out under the strain of years of hard physical work, of driving himself to be better than he was, of being unhappy with himself. He forgot he was a conquering hero and that he always would be in some distant memory. Enjoying the fruits of his labors felt self-indulgent, wrong. He was mistaken.
“I remember the hornets, Dad. You did a great job. You were larger than life that night and you’re larger than life right now in my memory. You worked hard. You deserve the rest. Dying on Labor Day was amazing timing. Rest well.”
Pressing my nose against the inside of the thin glass walls that surround me, I feel so many things.