|Ellen Newmark in the Himalayas, 2009|
My friend and writing sister, Ellen, died last month. I got home from Europe and took a flight down to San Diego so we could say good-bye. She taught me so much about living life -- really living it -- and then she taught me about dying -- bravely, and with gratitude. She was my friend but so much more...too much, I've decided after many failed attempts, to convey in a blog post.
We have all lost people we love. We have all felt the spreading void of their absence filling the rooms, the streets, the fields, the very sky, until we find ourselves pressed out on the ground underneath the weight of all that emptiness, wondering how? How can this be? And how will we possibly get up and face a world that feels so different now?
But we do get up, eventually, and we go on living -- really living -- because that is the best way to honor the dead, and ourselves. It is what Ellen insisted on.
She is gone, but still I feel her here. I feel her like I feel the scarf she gave me -- light, warmth, comfort, a hint of her perfume. How can this be? And yet it is.
Back in March, I wrote the following post, but I didn't publish it. There were a lot of scary things going on in the world, as there always is, and I was trying to wrap my head and heart around the fact that Ellen was not going to recover as we had so fervently hoped.
There's a storm hitting us, and it's ferocious. The rain and wind batter away at our Barngalow, so loud now that our dog, Stuart, and our cat, Bob, keep looking up from their naps to the ceiling, then planting their eyes on me, asking What the hell?
Through the window, the tree branches have transformed into a crowd of rioters, going at each other in a panic, throwing the weakest to the ground.
But it's only a storm, not a tsunami, not an earthquake, not escaping steam from a nuclear power plant, not a war-zone. We are warm and snug and safe in the moment, something I wish were true for everyone in this world.
My friend Diana and I had plans to drive an hour south and hike Mount Tamalpais today, but you know what they say about plans. Instead I'm still in my pjs, nursing an extra cup of coffee, thinking about all that's happened this past month. As Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
My own dream in my own little corner of the world, finally realized. And yet, as more good news from my agent came in emails and phone calls, I watched the nightmare unfolding in Japan and then Libya, watched unfathomable devastation wreaking its havoc on people who had woken that morning much like I had woken, thinking about whatever it is we think about in those first moments when we're on autopilot. I'd like to say I always wake with gratitude, but sometimes my mind is bent on the need to get the coffee going, take the dog out to pee, pay this or that bill, and get this done or that done. We wake as if it's just another day, ho hum, la-tee-dah, as if we have all the time in the world. But the truth is, none of us have that kind of time. We're all going to die, but most of us don't know when or how. Most of us, myself included, would rather not think about it.
Someone I love very much is teaching me about dying. It's a privilege to talk with her. She knows things the rest of us can't know until we're willing to sit face to face with our own mortality. I am learning how to listen. I am trying to learn to quiet the NO that keeps shouting through my head so I can truly hear her. I am trying to learn how to someday say good-bye to her with acceptance instead of fear or denial or a clutching heart.
Today's storm will move on, leaving the sun to do its thing. The trees will rest in peace again, raindrops like crystals on a chandelier will sparkle from their calmed, harmonious branches as Mother Nature takes a deep breath, decides to return to civility. Yes, the sun will shine again, gloriously, but as always, keep casting its shadows, too.
It's such a mixed bag, this life. The sorrow -- we all know it wouldn't be so hard if the joy wasn't so damn sweet. And good-byes wouldn't be so difficult if the love wasn't woven through our core, connecting every part of us. But what can we do? Go ahead, I say. Love with utter abandon, drink up the joy with lip-smacking gusto. And when it's time to cry, let it rain. Let the raging storm have its way.