- At the Border
Back in the spring of 2013, when Nina, my wife, was eight months pregnant with our first daughter, we made a plaster cast of her torso and belly. At around that same time, my mother was just recovering from her first cancer surgery. When we visited her in the hospital, she put her hand on Nina's pregnant belly and I snapped a photo of the three of them together: my mother, my wife, and our baby inside. When my mother saw that photo, she was inspired to write a poem about the remarkable moment captured there. She titled the poem "At the Border."
Four years later, after fighting for her life with all her heart, and all her soul, and all her might, my mother died. I wanted to honor her, so I built a wooden frame for the plaster cast and painted that poem onto the wood.
Like so many of her poems, this one too is packed with double meanings (look closely at the words guard rail, grace, and just). And, like many of her poems, it understands that polar opposites often meet, face to face, across borders that are indistinct. My mother stared across the border at death, looked it in the face, and refused to look away. And at the same time, she looked at her granddaughter, not yet born, and saw the distant future inside her.
That courage, that resilience, was a quality my mother purposely built inside herself, from the ground up. It encompassed the way she lived, and the way she chose to die. It was her wish to come home from the hospital, to lie in her study overlooking the garden, with her family around her. At the end, she found the strength to give up her strength.
What I have is who I am: that was her maxim. I would amend these words to better capture the person she was: what I have is who I have made myself into. Over the course of her life, she made her own self into a beautiful place for her to live. And it's precisely because she actively chose to exercise that muscle every day, right up until the end, that her resilience didn't die with her, but passed into me—and it makes me who I am. It was her greatest gift. [End Page 76]
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 78]
Jonathan Bloch is the younger son of Chana Bloch. He had several careers—artist, environmental scientist, and carpenter—before switching into the field of mental health, shortly after her death. He currently works as a mental-health counselor in a school for children with trauma histories, is planning to enter a graduate program in the field next year, and hopes eventually to create a therapy practice involving physical movement in the outdoors. He lives with his wife, Nina, and two young daughters in Oakland, California.