That Saturday, from four o’clock in the afternoon, sunlight illuminated a patch on the floor of my grandfather’s office where the carpet ended and the scratched hardwood boards were exposed. The light was low and pointed, yellow and soon-to-be-waning. Dust danced along the edge of the carpet, rising and twisting and settling as I moved across the room. The office was walled in wooden panels and built-in bookshelves stained a shade or two darker than the floors. Clocks were staggered in front of the books lining the shelves, and each of their hands moved to a different rhythm. A pendulum swayed, the inner workings of one clock unhidden by the glass dome that delicately sheltered its face. I wondered why he needed so many clocks, and which, if any, told the right time. Visible behind the glass of the small dome clock was a collection of books on death: The Hour of Our Death, The Death of Death, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Regulating How We Die, Culture of Death, The Last Dance.
Inuit sculptures—gifts from his patients—were in conversation with one another and with the sketches my cousin drew years ago. I grazed the smooth features of each soapstone face with my fingertips, never moving them from their place on the shelf. Photographs of family members and unfamiliar friends inhabited the space. Peering back at me were my mom and her siblings as children, and then as college graduates. Interspersed among the books, pictures, and clocks were decorative gifts, plaques, and an old-fashioned tin declaring, “Kellogg’s Relief for Spasmodic Asthma.” A newspaper tribute hanging on the wall read, “Jewish General Hospital physician-in-chief is philosopher on the go.” I wondered what kind of philosopher he might have been, having known him only after his thinking and memory had become impaired.
His office chair sat pulled out from his desk as if he had gotten up in a hurry. Stacks of newspapers and envelopes cluttered his desk. A thick old computer monitor occupied space in the center. Displaying a diploma, a class picture, and his wedding portrait, the wall above his desk was bare compared to the crowded bookshelves across the room. I imagined him sitting there, reading histories of medicine, filing taxes, paying bills.
That Saturday afternoon had been silent, and brilliant. In the absence of knowing my grandfather, I knew the warmth of the sunlight. I was alone in his office, pressing my bare feet into the heated spot on the ground where the sun shone in.