The end may be just the beginning

I looked up and saw two moons—one moving quickly across the sky. The second eclipsed the first for a few seconds then careened toward the horizon. Brightness erupted, and I felt the burn.

How long does it take to die when the world’s on fire? What’s a person’s last thought when the end is this close?

For me, it was, “How long will it take to die?” and “Do I want to waste my last moment worrying about this?”

I felt an awareness of each heartbeat as a gift.

Then I woke up. I’d been dreaming. In reality, I was in a refugee camp surrounded by thin children who needed hugs and food. I went to the kitchen and found three packs of Camel cigarettes in the oven. I spoke to the woman scrubbing sinks and counters, describing my dream of the apocalypse.

The end had already come, she said. We are still here.

As I considered this, I woke up again. This time I was in a small hotel room in Ohio, surrounded by my teenagers sprawled out sleeping on the bed and floor.

This is not a dream. We are traveling across the nation, feeling its space—the heavy rolling farms and forests of Wisconsin where all of my children were born, the windy urban heat of Chicago where we tripped through the Art Institute. In mere hours, we traversed the philosophic space from realists and modernists to cubists and surrealists.

Later, we moseyed through Chicago’s Millennium Park, completed in 2004. We sat in its open-air concert hall, listening to the orchestra rehearse for an upcoming show.

The musicians looked comfortable, wearing shorts, T-shirts. At least one violinist was barefooted. The conductor interpreted the music with his whole body, jumping with the beat and waggling his hips during a merry flute solo.

I’ve been traveling since mid-May and am beginning to feel a bit surreal (and merry) myself. Last month, I hopped in my Chevy Aveo and drove 1,800-plus miles from Reno to my parents’ home in Wisconsin. Then Mom, Dad and I flew to Italy, where we explored the Vatican in Rome, saw Michelangelo’s “David” in Florence, rode a gondola in Venice and talked to people from everywhere.

After we returned to Wisconsin, the rest of my family flew from Reno to attend my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary celebration. We spent the week hiking, swimming and being nostalgic. Here’s where the Significant Republican and I met, where we first kissed, where I told him I was pregnant.

He wasn’t the SR then—just my boyfriend. I was 17 and would have no shotgun weddings. We broke up and didn’t reunite until I was in labor, heading for the hospital. We married when our son was 6 weeks old.

At the in-laws’ anniversary party last week, we ran into the minister who married us 23 years ago. After the party, we drove to the cemetery to visit the grave of my sister, who died 14 years ago. She was 38.

What was her last thought? Had she sucked enough marrow from life?

“I think I’ve been trying to live enough for both of us,” I tell my kids.

Then, as the SR flew back to Reno, I crammed teens and luggage into my tiny car. I want to see the land. I want my kids to see some places, to feel change, to experience the odd epiphany.

This morning, we woke up in a part of Ohio that’s so flat my daughter says she can see the curvature of the Earth.