In a town not far from where I live there are about three thousand crosses on a hill, a memorial to the soldiers lost and a protest against the Iraq War. While I pass the area fairly often, I am usually driving on an adjacent freeway, so the most I get is a quick peek before it disappears in a blur behind me.
But this weekend DH and I were out enjoying the glorious spring weather at a nearby park. We exited the freeway, Big A making silly jokes and DH and I laughing at them, and Little A joining in the conversation from time to time with husky little coos that were so gorgeous that my toes curled up in my sandals at hearing them. It was a sweet little counterpoint for all the other boring or annoying times a family inevitably experiences in the car together.
We must have taken a wrong turn at the freeway exit, because suddenly we were directly beside all the crosses on the hill. It was startling, to see so many gleaming white sticks planted in the earth. I squinted, thought of the dead soldiers for a moment, and looked away.
"What are those?" Big A asked from the back seat.
"Crosses," I said.
"For the people who died in the war," DH said.
I cringed at DH's choice of the word "dead." I held my breath and waited to hear Big A's next question -- "What's dead?" But, for once she seemed satisfied with knowing just what the crosses were, and after a few more random questions, she was on to the next subject.
While I put it off for one more day, I know the time is fast approaching when I will have to have the death conversation with Big A. She's only three and a half years old but notices so much these days. Not just physical things, like spots on a bug, or the colors of the different roses in the garden. She also figured out by herself that a high-pitched cry means that Little A is hungry, whereas a low keening cry means the baby desires company. Sometimes when I am reading the paper or making coffee I will look up and find her staring at me, soaking in ... something. A thing I can't see in myself, but she sees.
Yes, the death conversation is coming. And even though I know that at some point she has to learn that we are mortal, that this is a fundamental thing that must shape her sense of meaning in her life, I will still mourn her learning of it. How I wish there would be no more crosses on that hill -- or any hill, for that matter. What a difference that would make.