Monthly Archives: April 2012

THE CIRCLE IS UNBROKEN

29 April, 2012      
From every sleeve I push my arm into, out flies a soggy tissue; sweaters, nighties, jackets, it’s all the same, as if every sleeve is a designated mourner: the left for D, the right for M. Two friends gone in 5 days. 

On Tuesday we sat Shiva for M. On Wednesday we flew to Paris for D’s funeral,
Flying from death to death. Days, countries, time zones all stretched beyond their limits. I grieve for my 2 friends and feel sorrow for  the widows, the children, Joel…all our lives forever changed, all our deaths a little nearer. Memories arrive like uninvited guests trying to fill the space where once a being breathed.

Life. Death. The one so complicated, the other unadorned. One so often wasted, the other laying waste to us. There is no such thing as a bargain, yet how we try. Already I’m at it, swearing to quit sugar, return to yoga, walk 2 miles a day. Anything for more life, even though more life means more loss.

It’s such a beautiful day; the sun constant in a pale blue sky, a strong breeze roughing up the surface of the Hudson River. We take our weary bodies down to Riverside Park and walk through the dappled light; light and shadow fluid, indefinable and so very alluring, the lacy pattern turning the path beneath our feet into a watery surface – even the ground is without stability. Perhaps that is the gift of death; the way it strips us of illusion. The moments when we gasp in disbelief are fleeting, a quick blast of reality that for one split second we say ‘no’ to and then, little by little, soften to, say ‘yes’ to, and move on.

For really, there is no time to waste in looking back. If I choose to look back then let me choose the wonderful memories, the life sustaining ones. Like last weekend in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with A and D, and our 3 year-old granddaughter. The cherry blossoms in last hurrah, sitting pretty pink on their branches. Couples, friends, families sitting or laying below them, looking up through all that pink chiffon to the bluest of skies. A moment of communal bliss heightened at intervals by strong breezes shaking the petals loose, the blossoms falling to the ground in a blizzard, their time on earth over.


Our granddaughter begins gathering the fallen petals and together she and I put them in her pink sunbonnet. She runs from tree to tree, “come on Nana, we need more,” and I wonder if this will be one of her memories of me, when I am gone.


In the hospital a dozen of us gather to help M make his last journey. We weep, and share memories about him and laughter fills the room like a sudden breeze. Outside the window, Central Park is lush, dressed in its spring greens, and if you wander down its paths you will be drenched in lilac perfume. We watch the pulse in M’s throat slow, and then he’s gone.


Four days later, in Paris, spring is everywhere, although the day is gunmetal grey and slightly raw. On the drive from the church to the cemetery young couples walk along the Seine. The Arc de Triumph lives up to its name.

We fling red and white roses onto the coffin, the beads of holy water still there. I toss in a handful of sand from the bay where Joel and he swam together some 500 times and feel an unexpected rush of joy.

We are all the ongoing sum of everything that ever was and is. Paltry and magnificent, our lives add to the equation even as our bodies are subtracted. There really is no end.

A spontaneous circle of family and friends forms by the grave, widening like the ripples in a pond. Into the circle a solitary white feather floats to the ground.

EVENSONG

19 April 2012             
Someone came to the studio earlier this week and said to me “hey, you haven’t been blogging much lately.” I told him it was hard to blog at the moment because I write from my own consciousness in order to discover what reality has to offer. But one’s own reality is so subjective and therefore often at odds with the realities of others and it is one thing to sit alone and write in order to experience the luxury of one’s own journey, but quite another to make these thoughts public when to do so could cause pain to others. Many a war has been started due to ill timing.

So, how does one speak of death in such a moment as this?

A friend is dying. He is Joel’s best friend for 45 years, and a brother to me for 22 years. For weeks we have watched him and his family struggle. For days we have been at the hospital watching every one do the best they can: our friend, his family, the hospital staff, us. Each of us with our own experience of reality, each of us like little boats bobbing on the outgoing tide, both straining at the moorings in order to set sail, and hugging the dock for the safety of the shore.

This morning, our friend’s wife calls to tell us he was moved to Intensive Care during the night. Thirty minutes later a dear friend in Paris calls to say that her husband died, suddenly, after breakfast. He is the other best friend of Joel’s, also for 45 years, and the other brother to me for 22. Joel always called him Brother Fish as the 2 of them spent many summers swimming side by side. 


We just spent a week with them in Paris last month, eating and strolling through that great city, laughing and crying together.

Poof.  Gone.

We fall to our knees, literally, sobbing. And yet within minutes are laughing at how it is just like D to go on a full stomach.

We look at these two men, at their lives, and at the nature of their dying. We try to equate things. We try to choose our own perfect death, as if one way might be better than another. Only to realize and accept that not only do we have no control over this but that all is as it is. Who are we to say there is a better way?

The birds are singing, somewhere outside the window. I search for them in vain. How, I wonder, is it possible to hear such mellifluous song on the 11th floor, surrounded by concrete, steel and brick, over the almost constant drone of air traffic? I listen to them and am transported to the bathtub in our old house on the Cape, where, on many an evening the two of us would soak, the window flung open, the last of the light filtering through the hydrangea tree, the birds full-throated.

If I could ululate, I would. Instead, I whisper in one man’s ear and light a candle for the other. 

Joel and I cling to each other, grateful to have shared yet another day together, as sorrowful as this one is. We talk in clichés, the richness of each a fresh truth:

Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. 
Stay in the moment. 
Live each day fully. 
There are no do-overs. 
Act on your own behalf according to your needs and beliefs. 
Feel the sun on your face. 
Be grateful for the roof over your head. 
Take your sorrow to a park bench and sit before spring’s glory. 
Eat healthy food. 
Revel in chocolate. 
Make amends where you owe them. 
Harbor no grudges. 
Give a dollar to the beggar you judge unworthy. 
Forgive the person who cannot return your smile. 
Take a lesson from the birds that sing as fully in a concrete jungle as they do in a wooded glen.

EVERYBODY TAKE A BOW

8 April, 2012      
This time last week I was at a baby shower in Brooklyn with 12 other women one of them my stepdaughter and one, my best friend. The woman whose pregnancy we were celebrating is a woman I consider part of our family.

The room was full of love and hormones, dreams come true and perhaps some dashed. There were frittatas and grits and cupcakes and beautiful, thoughtful presents, but mainly there was joy and gratitude and support for this last minute pregnancy, the fruit of a long-held desire.

It was good to be in that room; to be amongst the sisterhood. I had a slight pang of sadness that my own 2 pregnancies had been unheralded by others, the first occurring shortly after my arrival in America, most of it spent in isolation during the winter and spring months on Fire Island where my then husband and I ran injured racehorses in the sea, morning and evening. The trace elements were thought to have healing properties. And so they did for the horses, many of them eventually returning to the racetrack. But those same elements held no trace of healing for my baby who would die two days before her due date. The element which most stays with me from those months is the bitter Atlantic wind, which turned my waist length hair into tinkling, icy chimes as I walked the winter beach in my Salvation Army fur coat.

Our second child was heralded by Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony playing on the doctor’s gramophone, which he had brought into the delivery room just for this occasion. We had just moved to an isolated house Upstate New York, so I had no sisters yet and, of course, no family on this side of the Atlantic. 

It was around that time that I read A Journal Of Solitude, by May Sarton, and from that book I learned that a woman could live a solitary life and be fulfilled…an alien notion then for a woman of my generation, born at the end of WWII when the goal for a woman was still to marry well. My mother’s dream for me was that I’d become a secretary and marry my boss. I tried the first part and was thankfully fired. Little did I know I had already embarked on a solitary life, which for the next 26 years, while intermittently peopled with boyfriends and husbands, was, for the most part, the solitary quest for my identity. It was only once I got sober that I could finally inhabit myself and thus once inhabited could both attract and invite a man such as Joel to make a home that beats with 2 hearts.

Which is basically the state of pregnancy – a home that beats with 2 hearts. And, perhaps, it is why I believe women are at their core, the most solitary of creatures: there is no experience as solitary as that of housing a baby. If only this were something that society understood and supported, how different the arc of woman’s life might be.

The entire city is full of birth right now blossoming and blushing its every tree and shrub, the blossoms heady with scent and energy, pushing beyond themselves, discarding pretty petals to make way for the breath of leaves – the way we all, in our individual ways push forth, fall to the ground; the way we bravely die back, again and again, in order to let the sap rise once more, giving birth to our own temporary blossoms.


Yesterday we saw 2 works of art that captured the solitary nature of existence. The first, a movie: Kid With A Bike,” whose main character is a pre-teenage French boy, motherless and heartlessly rejected by his only parent who is truly a deadbeat dad. The boy’s sap rising like hot syrup, anger propelling him in two directions at once: toward the doomed search for a father he can’t have and miraculously, toward the loyalty and love of a surrogate mother who obviously needs him as much as he needs her.

The second work of art was 2 dance performances by the great French avant garde ballerina, Sylvie Guillem. The first, a pas de deux of almost heartbreaking articulation the movements describing the human arc of relationship: the longing, the rejection, the coming together and pulling apart, inviting in, pushing away, the desire for connection, the fear of loss of identity, the light pulsing like breath, the shadows beckoning intimacy.

In the last piece, Guillem portrays a geek of a woman, a gawky misfit who dares to leave her gray life and come into the spotlight; her movements swinging back and forth from comic awkwardness to brave eccentricity, with moments of brilliant daring and sublime achievement: moments obtainable only by being willing to experience the solitary nature of one’s own limelight. In the end she returns to the familiarity of her gray world and its gray people. But is it the end, or merely a respite?


NOTHING COMPARES TO NOTHING

31March 2012      
This time last year we were less than halfway into our first journey to, and through, Provence…this was just about the time when Joel’s burned hand was beginning to heal and we were beginning to get a glimpse of what Provence would mean to us. Now, 2 weeks after returning from our first post-book visit, I feel I am still there in spirit, while feeling somewhat stranded here, now that the book is over. 

I said to Joel yesterday, as an artist, one must be prepared to feel the desolation of emptiness and accept the necessity for it. For I believe that in order for the next creative work to arrive, one must have vacated the space of the previous work, at least, I need to if I am not to repeat myself.

But God, I hate standing in that vast, windswept plain of nothingness. It is so tempting to teeter into depression from this sandblasted place; depression, in this case, being an action of sorts, an unconscious decision to call oneself ‘nothing’ and thereby be free to contemplate the ultimate choice.

But I know better – and that aggravates me, because knowing better does nothing to alleviate this necessary, transitional state of emptiness. And aggravated enough, I become furious at the appalling lack of worth of this knowledge. It’s a lovely mix; depression and anger, tilting at the abyss.

The pattern is always the same: days of feeling nothing and not knowing why, then days of knowing why and insisting the knowledge ‘do something’ about it, followed by a day of remote horror that the end is nigh, then about 15 minutes of dramatic confession and primal sobbing and it’s all over – not exactly raring to go, but willing to put my coat on and stroll through Central Park.

One takes nature however it comes and the unalterable fact is that it’s always bigger than us. To surrender to light and earth, trees and flowers, to watch a squirrel race and listen to birds chat, well, it does ground you; the inner desert goes to the oasis.

We sat on a bench in Shakespeare’s garden, took off our coats and basked not only in the heat of the sun but also in the glory of spring. We’d planned on visiting the Whitney Biennial, but sitting together on that bench was an experience too precious to be replaced by art. So we lingered there until our sere spirits were slaked.

The whole park had a lovely stroll to it, rare these last couple of decades when so often it is overwhelmed by skaters, joggers and bikers, all going at a speed more suitable for the street. Not yesterday. Yesterday it was relatively unpeopled, left only to those of us in a mood to meander. 


After a couple of hours we made it down to the Paris Theatre, perhaps the last cinema in Manhattan that has an aura of yesteryear; its velvet, dove gray curtains falling in quiet grandeur in front of the screen, parting only for one preview, followed by the feature. And the film, “The Deep Blue Sea,” also a relic of the past, whose main character we watch teeter on the edge of her barren interior, desperate for misguided love; anything to fill the ruin that WWII brought – not just the ruin of streets and homes, but the ruin of something worth fight for. I thought it a brave film. So much braver than the conversation I overheard some 30 minutes later where we sat at a communal table in a restaurant.

Next to us a man in his 50’s, sleek skin and a head of steely-cropped curls is waiting for the bill. His 20-ish daughter’s youthful perfection somehow null and void – too many spa sessions perhaps?

FATHER: “As a grandparent I’ll be pretty much how I was as a parent; I won’t get involved with their emotional lives, but I’ll take them places.
DAUGHTER: “Awesome.”
FATHER:  At least I have all my hair.
DAUGHTER: it’s so amazing.
FATHER: I’d be gay but I love girls… I go to musicals…
The waiter brings the bill. Not to be deterred from what he considers a really hip conversation with his daughter the father continues:
FATHER: I think your mother and I sexually fulfilled our stereotypical roles.”
DAUGHTER: Totally. More than.

Joel returns from the men’s room, his shaved head gleaming, his smile, true north. I come in from the wasteland.