I think, dear reader, we turn to our blogs for gentleness and respite. We want something to smile about and hope about. Sometimes, however, we have to write about what is. To this writer, in this country, it’s grief and a near-despair.
And thus, dear reader, ends February. With deadly ice and alien snowfall, with roaring winds and crashing downpours and tornado sirens and mid-day darkness and — of course — more news of suffering and idiocy. I watch the ducks and wonder what they know.
January 1983 was a low point in my life. I turned 40 and was starting over. I took a deep breath, went back to grad school, got an assistantship, and was assigned a cubicle.
My cubicle mate had different hours and we started leaving notes for each other. Give an English major a scrap of lined paper and stand back. Thus began our friendship.
A few years later, she developed a brain tumor which was initially misdiagnosed. It was a terrible fight she fought, but she survived. Not only that, but she earned her PhD at the same time.
That was Sandy. Sandra Littleton Uetz.
Almost thirty years later came the second tumor. She fought again but this time it was different.
I have lost a dear friend.
I don’t think I’m the only one who wonders. When, at some low point in life, we find ourselves sharing a desk with a stranger who becomes a dear friend, what is that? Do we call it the grace of God, the luck of the Irish, random chance, some cosmic plan, serendipity?
And when the dear friend is at her low point, and we can’t do anything, what do we call it?
She had great teaching ideas, baked a mean cherry pie, was seriously conversant with Pogo and Krazy Kat and Mark Twain, collected buttons and handkerchiefs, loved books, the St. Louis Cardinals, cats, little dogs, birds, and, most deeply, her family. She was a woman of faith and fear — to live with the possibility of recurring tumors is to be just that.
One December Sandy and I drove to Valparaiso, where the square around the old courthouse had been developed into little shops. Christmas carols — REAL Christmas carols — were piped outside. We wallowed in happy nostalgia. It was one of our best hobnobbings. I promise to remember it.
One of her favorite poems, and perhaps her most favorite, is this, by Robert Frost:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
If you are a gardener, dear reader, you know that lessons grow in the garden, some of them dismal. Yesterday a rambunctious wind announced the coming of today’s blessed, cooling rain. I tried desperately to right my gorgeous Beefsteak, but my two hands and two feet were not enough. And the thunder growled. It was with real sadness I had to abandon the rescue. If you are a gardener, you understand the feeling. It isn’t about what to DO.
I’ve been in California. Did I have fun? Was it a good time? Well, it’s complicated.
Both my sons, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren stood with me at my brother’s grave near a sun-crazed bloom of osteospermum. It was a beautiful day. As I walked away from the grave, I impulsively turned and said, “Bye, LB.” (He was LB and I was BS.) I felt awful. (Full disclosure: my brother and I spent our childhoods trying to kill each other. I do not wish to give the impression of lifetime sibling bliss.)
Then to his house so I could see it one last time. To our astonishment, the insides were being ripped out; it seemed the new owner had been granted permission to start renovations before closing was official. I think we scared the daylights out of her, a bunch of strangers led by my 6’5″ second-born. But then came explanations and introductions and a heady dose of her infectious excitement. Lots of hugs.
She invited us to go through, but I declined. I didn’t resent the changes but I wanted to remember his home in all its beigeness the way it had been. Everyone else explored the gutted insides. I visited his stalwart rose, that would live, no matter what he didn’t do.
The new owner commented on the sense of peace she felt in the place. The grave was still with me, but now also a happy sense of renewal. Complicated.
Then legal and financial complications. All confusing to me, but, fortunately, not to my younger son. I leaned on him heavily. And on my new cane. I did not feel young! In the midst of it all, he took me to two art museums. My brain, entangled in the mesh of practicalities, struggled valiantly to adjust to the abstract and erudite. Complicated.
LA traffic was worse than ever. I’ve never been a city person, and the way of the city is but dirty mayhem and claustrophobia to me. It wears me down and depresses me. I felt mechanized.
My son’s friends invited me to dinner. A group of 40-somethings on a rooftop in the hills overlooking Los Angeles with — yes! — Emmy! I got to meet Emmy! I could see that the future is in good hands — and what wonderful calm amid the treetops away from the city!
Late in the week, as we sought the Santa Monica Post Office, I spied the Pig Jig. It hit my funnybone in a most unexpected way. As a usual thing, I am not particularly drawn to pigs, let alone when they’re dancing, but these three seemed to insist that they had a place in my week.
Life goes on? No, I don’t think so. We search for words to band-aid the loss, but the loss remains. Each of us feels it and fears it in his or her own way. It’s human. And there’s nothing more complicated than being human.
Our homecoming was marked by a bracing faceful of snowy air. Ah, spring in Indiana! What a finale!
If you have read to this last, dear reader, you have my thanks. This is by far the longest post I’ve ever written. In part, I wanted to explain my absence. But, as you well understand, I also turn to words to help me.
With thanks to photographer Patrick Mesterharm for the photo of me in the Kusama sculpture at the Marciano.
And thanks also to photographer Kelley Wilson Mesterharm for the official photo of the stalwart rose.