My family has this thing that we do when we are out somewhere in public and can’t find each other. We whistle. Not just any whistle, it’s distinctly the “kajlich” whistle. It’s pretty rad. It originated back in Piestany, the small town in Slovakia where my father grew up. He and his swim team friends used it to alert each other from outside their windows when they were ready to go swimming. Ahhhh the days without cell phones. My dad’s family had an African Grey parrot name Koki who heard the whistle so often that he began to whistle it back. It all came full circle when my family adopted our own African Grey named Baby, and he too picked up the family tune(as well as a dozen other things that house guests would stand by his cage and murmur repeatedly.. and we’re not talking common pleasantries here.).
I distinctly remember being lost as a child in a rather large department store and looking frantically for my mother, who probably assumed I was contentedly hiding in the middle of the racks. I loved hiding in racks. I would make up a magical mythical world in the dark crevice surrounded by a perfect circle of winter coats. I loved when a shopper would come and peruse the clothes, completely oblivious to the silent child watching from within, making up stories about who they might be and what they were looking for… Once or twice I actually vaulted myself out at someone, scaring the bejesus out of them. I guess I deserved to get lost, feel a little fear. I recall the growing sense of dread as I looked this way and that, down every aisle, around every corner… where in the hell was my mom?? And then I pursed my lips together best I could, and squeaked out those three familiar notes. Wait for it, wait for it… ears cocked, straining to hear… please, please…and relief at last!!! The mirroring of the kajlich family whistle sounding from across the store! After which it closely resembled a game of “marco polo”. Whistling back and forth until the precise location of the other could be targeted and I was once again within my mother’s safe clutches. The whistle was so popular that friends began to use it as well, although never really to the complete satisfaction of any one Kajlich; more likely to be met with a “get yer own” than an actual pinpointing of our location.
One definition of the word whistle when used as a verb is: to summon, signal or command. When I think of whistling, I of course think of the response. For me, it has always been a means in which to find where a loved one may be. I whistle a lot lately. In the middle of the night, when I wake up with my heart pounding and missing my father so much that I can’t believe such a missing exists. I inhale and purse my lips, blow out those three lovely notes and pray that somewhere, somehow, maybe in my sleep, they will return to me as only my father could reply. His was the most beautiful whistle.
Much like my younger self, wandering lost within that store, I am truly out of sorts without my father. I always wondered what grief was like; probably a little too much to be considered normal. I can now say it is nothing I could have ever imagined. I found this quote by William Hazlitt, which is why I started thinking of our whistle in the first place. To me, these words express much of where I find myself to be in moments of longing and sorrow.
“If from the top of a long cold barren hill I hear the distant whistle of a thrush which seems to come up from some warm woody shelter beyond the edge of the hill, this sound coming faint over the rocks with a feeling of strangeness and joy, the idea of the place about me, and the imaginary one beyond will all be combined together in such a manner in my mind as to be inseparable.”
There is beauty in the grief. There is so much love to be found in the pain. When I observe the constant flow of emotion around me I am awestruck by it’s connective tissue, by it’s ability to be all but one, and yet be one through all. I am grounded and rooted by the belief that our life is still the most magnificent of stories, and unique in it’s ability to be what we choose it to be. Every day is a new opportunity to learn and to love. Every hour. Every second. And if the going gets too tough…. you have permission from the Kajlichs to give a little whistle.
My love to you all. xxb