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‘If only but not yet’

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“If only this bannister could talk,” my wife, Lori, mused as she walked down the stairs of our home.
“I know,” I responded, “if only.”
“If only,” I said again, repeating her own words to myself, rolling that thought around.
“If only.”
Then I added, “but not yet.”
The “not yets” have a way of butting their way in as in, “If only I could revisit those memories, but not yet: some are still too painful.”
The “not yets,” have a way of finalizing the “if onlys,” the more pleasant memories.
If only the bannister could tell us once again how our kids would go up and down those stairs, each with a hand on that rail.
Mary, our oldest, would quietly come down in her fluffy, pink robe on Saturday mornings, looking for my brew of strong java. She was the soft- footed one, gentle on the stairs, hand barely touching the rail.
Then there was Dave, bomp, bomp, bomping down. We knew when he was coming, and Lori and I would grin at each other when we heard him, especially during fall and winter when Dave would bring added life to ESPN College Game Day.
Harrison kind of long-stepped down the stairs, skipping one every now and then, not quiet like Mary, but not like a bull, either. And he seemed to hold the rail tighter than the rest, so much so that at times, it made a faint, squeaking noise as he trudged down, then letting go of the railing, he would make a beeline to the fridge or cupboard where he would gaze for what seemed like an hour, studying what was on the shelves, deciding what he wanted to eat.
Now Madi would almost hop down the stairs, and given how quickly she arrived at the bottom, I was amazed at how quietly she landed. She was more like a deer, gliding down the steps with agility and speed.
Yes, if only. If only we could relive those moments.
But, life brings the “not yets,” along with the “if onlys.”
Like Mary’s last stay before she walked down the stairs and out the door to get in our car so we could take her to the airport where she would fly to what would become her new home, New York City.
And Dave’s descent down the stairs as he moved on to a new career, further from our home.
Then there is Madi, dashing down the stairs, flying out the door, fast-forwarding to college, career and family.
I watched Harrison’s last trip up those stairs, telling him for the last time, “I love you, sleep tight,” glancing his way as he held that bannister for what would be the last time.
The “not yets” weigh heavily.
They come quite unannounced, and even if we sense their presence approaching, it’s usually not until we watch their shadows passing us by that we realize too late what’s happened, that it’s impossible to grasp them once again.
But then, the awareness of the fleeting moment is not the end of the story.
For I believe there is a “but now,” in our biographical vocabulary as well.
Mary does come back, and when she does, I am proud to be her porter, carrying her suitcase up those stairs when she visits, holding on to that rail myself, steadying my steps, grinning all the way up, for our Mary is home again, at least for a while. 
And there is the sight of Dave, bringing his new bride home, introducing his “old home place” to Kayla, careful that she doesn’t stumble up those stairs as he follows close behind.
It would be Madi who brought new life to our home, and with it, the pure joy of watching her carry first Eli, and then Emersyn, up those stairs, followed by the protective eye of her husband, John.
And that leaves Harrison.
In the “but now” of my mind, I see him climbing those stairs, getting to the top, and disappearing into a cloudlike mist, as if he simply stepped up one more stair, one hidden from human view, gone from my sight forever.
And it’s beautiful.
I didn’t seem to notice that I had been standing alone there at the foot of the stairs, Lori having walked into the next room.
I touch the railing once more and looking up, smile.
Contact David Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidwhitlock.org., or visit his webpage, davidwhitlock.org.