Funeral Blues (Song IX / from Two Songs for Hedli Anderson)
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
A Sarah Lawrence classmate gently crossed over yesterday - on a day that celebrates love in all its various forms, and the very day that marked the second date she had with her husband. Reading his words this morning - words wrought of tenderness, respect, and piercing loss -I heaved and sighed. And I am stilled. During a season of endless and unforgiving snow that blankets not just my beloved and so very missed greenness, but also any promise of warmth to come, the words hang suspended - icicles that refuse to melt.
I didn't know K. all that well...I knew the cadence of her Italian from our Italian class together, and the slight envy I had that she, with her equally transcendent voice, made the language ever more beautiful. I recall her raucous laughter, which rang down the hill to Bates (our dining hall) - a bell that jolted you into LIFE. She walked with confidence and her smile made you fall in love with her spirit. She was never lacking for admirers. She never seemed to know how not to love.
An insidious cancer claimed her life, but not her spirit. She tackled her cancer with gusto, grit, and a healthy dose of anger, confronting the "what ifs" with a candor that gripped my heart. In one post, she mentioned getting all of her kids' spring clothing ready and labeled for her husband. I thought of one of my favorite films, Tampopo, which features a memorable vignette of a dying mother cooking one last meal for her family, and then dying while they ate it. I thought of my own paternal grandmother, who, while dying of liver cancer, filled freezers full of meals for my grandfather. I thought of saying goodbye to our family friend this time last year, and that as my tears spilled into my water, he took my hand in his, gently and firmly, and HE said goodbye. He offered me grace. And I thought, not for the first time that this is how the dying say goodbye - often with much more grace than those they leave behind.
As I watched K.'s facebook posts decrease, I began the internal process of saying goodbye to another kindred soul whose ebullience helped me from afar more than I realized. Until now. And with it, I am saying goodbye to something about my time at Sarah Lawrence too. We think we are invincible, most of us. We look to that august time traipsing up and down SLC hills as pure, unchangeable, perfection in four years. At least I have. K. represents this chapter of innocence and freedom in the purest of forms because, by all accounts, she remained that unchanged through adulthood - with a boisterous and unbridled laugh, with a steely will, and with a love for this gift we so often squander: Life.
It is hard to recognize that we say goodbye to innocence in so many ways long after we leave childhood behind.
And until the days stretch a little longer...until the crocus peeps its head through the thaw...until that smell of spring wafts through a cracked window...until our hearts feel a little less heavy, Auden has it right.
Because sometimes, we just don't know what else to do.