One of my favorite songs from the play Les Miserables ( although all the songs are my favorites) is the one with these lyrics: There's a grief that can't be spoken
Now my friends are dead and gone...
There's a pain that goes on and on
When my friends are here no more.
This has been a heartfelt month for me. Three of my closest friends have died. To compensate, I have a new gorgeous grandson. As so poignantly expressed in the great novel Charlotte's Web, we are all inextricably woven into the threads of life and death. What we must do is remember and cherish the wonderful experiences we had with those who have died in order to assuage our grief.
First, my friend Sandy died after a three and a half year battle with cancer. She was the happiest person I have ever met. She brought grace and joy wherever she went. Her enthusiasm for all facets of life were her trademark, but she especially loved music. Ten months before she died she began to take banjo lessons and this classically trained musician started to play blue grass!
I have 3 special memories. Once we were riding in my car and I turned on the radio. The station was playing a concerto I had never heard before, and I prided myself on my musical knowledge. Sandy listened intently to 6 or 8 notes and declared, "That's a violin concerto by Jan Sibelius." At the end of the work, the commentator did indeed announce that he had played a very rare recording of the concerto by the great Finnish composer. Who else but Sandy would recognize such an obscure work?
On another evening we bought the cheapest seats in an amphitheater in a small town in Florida to hear Yitzhak Perlman play. Thirty seconds before the concert was about to begin, Sandy noticed 2 empty seats in the front row. She asked the usher if we could sit there. When the usher hesitated, Sandy said that Mr. Perlman would never notice if there were 2 empty seats in the last row, but if he saw unoccupied chairs in the first row, he might not want to return to our venue. The usher promptly escorted us to the front and we sat together with Palm Beach royalty. Since she neglected to give us programs, I had no idea what the maestro was going to play. I said in a very loud voice since there was a great deal of hubbub, "I do hope he plays the Bruck." Mr. Perlman glanced my way and smiled. A few minutes later, the gorgeous strains of the opening bars of the Max Bruck Violin Concerto floated through the star filled night of the Mizner Amphitheater in Boca Raton. At the end of the program, our husbands who stayed in the back row told us they could barely hear the music. Because of Sandy, I heard the concerto at its most glorious with someone who loved it as much as I did.
Later, Sandy, who did not belong to my book discussion group, asked if she could attend a discussion of the book Strapless which I was going to lead. This book depicts the history of the painting of Virginie Gautreau (Madame X) by John Singer Sargent. During the discussion I mentioned that the painting which caused a great scandal for both the model and the painter is exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The next day I asked a group of people who belonged to the group if they wanted to go to the museum to see the painting. Only Sandy wanted to make the 240 mile round trip from the Poconos to NYC with me to view the magnificent painting. She made my excursion so enjoyable even though music, not art, was her forte.
These are just of the many, many precious moments we shared in our too brief 14 year friendship.
Two weeks ago, a dear friend of ours died. Abe was a renowned doctor whom we only knew socially. We met him and his wife in our Pocono community, and when we decided to become snowbirds which is the term applied to Northerners who spend the winters in Florida, we bought a house about 10 miles away from his. One day I told him that I was able to acquire a position teaching literature at Palm Beach State College.
"What do you teach?" he asked.
"A play by Shakespeare, John Donne, John Keats, Dylan Thomas, Edwidge Danticat, Pablo
Neruda, and any other writer who belongs to the same ethnicity as any of my students. If I have a Chinese, African, or Muslim student, I discuss a story by an author from his or her culture."
"May I come to your class!
"Certainly," I replied, "but why?
"All my life I only read scientific and medical works. I have never read a play by Shakespeare or studied poetry. I feel it's a real gap in my education."
Dear reader, Abe was 85 years old, successful, wealthy, and well-respected, and he was worried that he didn't know Dylan Thomas!
He sat in the front row of my lit class and was an inspiration to the 18-22 year old students who appreciated every comment he made.
Sadly, he did go gentle into that good night recently. My husband and I will miss his sweet smile and compassionate manner.
Fourteen years ago I fell in love with the saddest, most poignant eyes I have ever seen. They belonged to a 2 pound, 2 ounce great soul who was sitting in a cage. I asked the attendant to let me hold him him in my hand, and the little dog begged me so eloquently with those mournful eyes,"please don"t put me back in that cage." I looked at the wee puppy and an electrical spark flew between us that only happens once or twice in a lifetime if one is fortunate. It was a moment in which we both knew that we would love each other completely and devotedly. Until July 2 we were inseparable. He thought his main duty in life was to protect me, and he did-all 12 pounds of him. I will not enumerate all the exasperating and wonderful experiences we shared, but he was, as Auden said, " My north, my south, my east, my west, my workday week, my Sunday rest. Bless you Macduff, who could not love enough.
But he came to me last night in my dream, and I reminded him that he
was my muse who sat by my side as I wrote my book The Conspiracies of Dreams. I composed much of it on our many walks. The world is so empty without him.