Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Passing....

I've lost a friend. It was yesterday (ten seconds ago? a hundred years ago?). Because it is her wish, her partner (and I) are arranging a Jewish burial. She was a Believer; her understanding was that her mother (long dead) was discovered to have had a Jewish birth mother.....and so, in recent years, she felt herself to be Jewish, all of her spiritual leanings were much in alignment with Judaic thought, and she loved studying about Judaism.

As a result, we're proceeding accordingly. Although she did not live with me, her home (and her partner's) is not a place where visitors could come.....two dogs and four cats are much of the explanation. Therefore, such "shiva" as will be observed, will be observed in my home. Especially the last few years people who saw us together, or who met me while I was with her, assumed without exception that we were sisters. By birth? No. Otherwise? As much as loving sisters leading separate lives can be, so we always chuckled and "Yes, good as."

Note: Shiva (from sheva, "seven") is the second stage of mourning; the first is the period immediately following the loss when the mourners maintain solitude for the deep outpouring of grief that naturally occurs. The third stage, Shloshim ("30") is the next 23 days, when one restore daily routine; the degree of these depends on the closeness of the relationship.)

Hers was a life of experiences. We met in the occult shop I worked in. It was the spring of 1971, and I was very pregnant. She "made eyes" at me, and we laughed, and I said that I figured, as it seemed I was probably straight, that ours would be a relative love: the love of a relative for another relative. Sisters.

We were very different in many ways. Her life had been difficult, before we met. And about seven years later, we discovered that my husband and her partner were cut from the same cloth - FEH! In time, she found her partner, L., and I found Mr. Dearling. We've all been together around 23 years, and we agreed we finally "got it right".

She never went to college....and never quit studying. She loved music - generally different from my taste. We hung out, occasionally; we talked often, even when we didn't see much of each other. She lived not far from me. She and L. and I are devout and devoted catpeople. She and L. have had a series of funny ol' cats (one was rescued as a kitten--from the warm engine block of their car!). They've generally also usually had a dog, from the Shelter, and it's been a series of gangly, mutt-y, rambunctious dogs.

In the early days, she was much a part of my children's lives. My Lovely Daughter called her Mom. She saved my older boy from a life of crime by coming up behind him in a grocery one day and whispering "Planning to pay for that, are you?" as she saw him pocket a candy bar. He put it back and never repeated anything like that. (She told me about it later......much later. Years later.)

She had children too, in a different life a thousand years earlier, and when her circumstances changed she recognized that she wasn't in a position to care for children as they should be, and found a foster home where they could remain together. For many years they were out of touch; in the last few years she's heard from them and her grandchildren, and her eldest - a dear girl about Lovely Daughter's age, has been a happy part of her life these last years. (On her part - that was an act of clear-thinking, unrestricted love for her children, and was an act of strength.)

She and L. were at my Thanksgiving table every year. And she worked for years for the Madison Metro bus company, on the phones providing information, &c. She just retired last year, and her time was her own.....although her health was somewhat fragile.

Recently, she was on dialysis, three times a week. I went often to sit and knit and chat with her; sometimes I'd collect her after and we'd "go play", which involved things like a meander to the bookstore often - and a nice lunch somewhere always. In recent weeks she'd taken to volunteering at the Senior Center, and even before that on a couple of occasions I met her there and we'd enjoy the free lunch and following movie. She really liked being there.

She heard of a program yesterday at the Senior Center that interested her a great deal: there was a Holocaust Survivor going to speak, and then sign copies of his book. She was looking forward to it a LOT, and hoped I'd be able to go with her to it...and I was fascinated too and would have loved to, but had to work at the Museum. She called Thursday and left me a message saying that she'd been able to rearrange her dialysis for Friday morning and would be going to hear the speaker - and hoped I'd somehow be able to negotiate around and join her.

I really couldn't, but I called her in the evening and said she should remember what was said so she could tell me all about it. Instead, yesterday afternoon, I got a message on my cellphone from L. saying to call right away. I did. And L. said she was at the hospital emergency room - and that our dear one had collapsed and died. I think I shouted "You're not telling me the truth!"

But she was, of course.

She did go to hear the speaker, and she was in line with her book, waiting to get it signed, when she collapsed. I hope I go that way, when the time comes -- but I just really wasn't quite ready to lose her. I wanted to hear about the program. And so much more......

The next days I mean to observe "shiva", the formal mourning period. It begins after the service (Monday afternoon is the present plan, although it needs to be finalized). I don't know if I'll be writing here during that time. If so -- you'll see it. If not --watch this space.

I'm very, very sad.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Day of May to Celebrate!

We are all affected by people, from the instant of our births. Some people inspire us, some entertain. Some nurture and love us; some live only to torment us. Hundreds of thousands of people walk past us in our lives, people with whom we share this day, this town, this state - country - continent.

There are people we encounter "in the ether" only: on the teevee, over the phone, walking around on the innerwebs. There are people who might be in our lives only briefly - and yet whose connection changes us in some profound way for all of our lives. Teachers, neighbors, friends, sweethearts. Clerks, salespeople, medical staff. We remember kindnesses, and we remember slights. The former may make US better, and we may "pay it forward"; the latter may make us angry or bitter - and hopefully we then encounter another kindness and carry on.

One of those people who has touched my life in a deep way is havin' hisself a birthday today. May 3, mark the date. May 3. I mean to honor him every year on May 3 for the rest of my life. He has given me courage when I needed it; he has delighted me every SINGLE time I've encountered him....either his image or his voice, since I first encountered him. I admired him from my initial awareness, and that admiration has deepened ever since and is now a true and abiding love. He's made me laugh, he's made me cry (with sadness, with tenderness, with joy), he's done something very few others have done in the whole of my life -- he's made me sing. Loud. In public.

Did I mention that he and I share space on this planet...on this continent...but I have never been in the same room or auditorium or open field with him?

This precious, darling, strong, brave, inspiring, poetic, gawky, homely lovely man whom I cherish so?


And thank you for every single moment I've had the pleasure and privilege of hearing you sing, or speak -- for your courage during the "blacklisting" period, for the strength you gave me and all the others during the Civil Rights movement. Thank you for saving the Hudson, for speaking out when needed, for standing tall when those of us around you needed someone to look up to. Thank you for your songs and your heart, your words and your philosophy. Thank you for writing on your banjo: "This machine surrounds hate -- and forces it to surrender"

Will I have you forever? No, not in life - I hope you sing at your 100th birthday, provided your health is good, but you will be with me until the end of MY life, in tapes and DVDs and CDs and songbooks - and in my heart. And Pete? When my time comes, the first thing I'm going to do when I stroll through that great woodland archway to the Other Side -- is find out where you're playing and singing, and I'm going to join the throngs and I'll sing along with you at the top of my lungs. (And probably - over there - I'll sound pretty good! )