(You will find the soundtrack to this story in my playlist, The Dream, no. 19 – “Stranger in Paradise”, in the right sidebar.)
June 21, 2012 — It’s quiet here. It’s the time when everybody who’s been around you during the long illness and in the days following the funeral says “Buh-byee,” and one-by-one or in twos quietly wander off.
It’s going to be 98 degrees Fahrenheit today (with 300 percent humidity, of course). I have lodged myself in a small room, my studio, at my desk about 10 feet opposite the air conditioner turned on high: a good day for finishing formatting my e-book, Begins the Night Music, for paperback, to be marketed on Amazon initially. I look at the North American dogwood outside my window; its leaves are curled on the edges, from the heat and lack of rain, I suppose. In the center of the top of the tree is a tall dead branch that has grown straight up; it has numerous short-branch offshoots with twigs shooting off them, like naked, gnarled fingers reaching heavenward. It’s existed like that for a year. I wonder what happened? Kindling. Then, dust.
I get hungry, so I venture downstairs to the kitchen to see what I can fire up to eat from the refrigerator. On the way, out of the corner of my imagination as I pass by the ballroom of my blog, I see the Phantom manning a push broom with a long flat head (the broom, not the Phantom, although sometimes I wonder) like the kind the men sweeping the streets in West Philadelphia in front of my Nana’s house used when I was a kid.
“What are you doing?” I ask him. He is sweeping party hats, crepe paper streamers, confetti, paper cups and cracker crumbs into a pile.
“The party’s over,” he says, not looking up from his work.
My Hospice chaplain suggested I have a house clearing party four to six weeks after Emma’s funeral. I wondered about it; why I would need it; what would be the effects. But figuring that she, as my spiritual guide, knows more about these things than I, I gave the party June 9. The day of the party actually occurred seven weeks after, but that was the earliest I could get everyone together. And as the date drew near, I began to feel, I don’t know – the best way to describe it is empty, a bit at loose ends even though I had plenty to do and catch up on. In that final week and a half, I felt in need of a positive boost. There was a hollowness.
The party was a potluck and those who came were my closest friends, those who had been with me through the long years of Emma’s continued decline, and my Hospice chaplain, Hospice nurse – Tess, and social worker/bereavement counselor, Geri. Tess and Geri have been with me through the wars the last three years. They patiently listened to my fulminations and supported my meltdowns; they arrived within minutes of an emergency, and later they laughed with me. Together sitting in the living room eating with the two of them and my Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche friend, among others, I could not have asked for more comforting company. Again I thought of how truly fortunate I am. The party lifted my spirits and gave me a fresh perspective on going forward; I feel regenerated; so does the house. I step outside with the last departing guests, and there, beneath my wind chimes and among my plants, lining the front of my porch boards are sand dollars, sea urchin shells along the lower rail and in the flowerbed baby blue-green horseshoe crab carapaces. Leaning against the center support post is a painted turquoise and white starfish. The angels have visited. I suppose this is the work of my friends Jean and Thumper who own the historic Maggie S. Myers Delaware Bay oyster schooner, whose story I have told here many times.
But, now, yes, the party is over, definitely over.
Fortunately I am pressed to reformat my e-book for paperback and maintain my blog. So, these activities keep me occupied.
Now is the time for me to gain a clear focus on my future, on the time remaining in my own life now that Emma is gone: to truly believe that I can fulfill my dreams. And when this angel looks homeward, she sees her love of writing. Writing is and has always been my green light across the bay. I have many stories written that I want to refine and publish and many stories to tell.
While I was working at my computer on just such, my friend R called the other day to say that he and his cousin, Pam, wanted to take me out to lunch at our local Irish pub. I walked around the corner to meet them. There we sat eating Irish stew and Irish brown bread beneath the Irish poets gazing down upon us from their photo perches on the wall – James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and others. Missing was Oscar Wilde; maybe he was in the other room, at the bar. I experienced a peak moment eating there at that pub among the world’s greatest writers. Capping all that I have been through the past decade and especially recent months – the experiences, the struggles, the spiritual revelations, the life changes – I did indeed at that moment feel like a stranger in paradise, as the Kismet song to Russian composer Alexander Borodin’s music goes.
The party’s over but life among the poets has begun. We must do lunch more often.
On June 2, Buddhists and nature-lovers gathered on Slaughter Beach here on the Delaware Bay for the fourth annual blessing of the horseshoe crabs. My Rinpoche friend organized the event. He notified me of it, yet as much as I wanted to attend, I felt too overwhelmed with the undercurrents in the wake of the decade-long storm assaulting my life to navigate my way clear. I told him I was sorry. He said he understood completely. Yesterday he emailed me the link to the online newspaper story about the event. When I viewed the pictures and read the story last night, I cried, sobbing in despair that I didn’t go. It was good that the Phantom of My Blog wasn’t around, for I surprised myself with my odd reaction.
In the news photos I looked at those compassionate humans out there on the beach blessing sentient beings. I thought of my bathtub centipede that I didn’t kill, but set free (albeit from a second story window); of the furry thing looking like a mouse wedged upside down last evening outside my closed kitchen window between the screen and storm window – most likely a bat (the creature is gone, now, probably having taken flight in the dark of night). I thought of the time I went out on the Maggie Myers helping to tag horseshoe crabs for the United States Geological Survey, dredging the 450 million year old species out of the bay, dumping them on deck, measuring them, recording their ages and sex, tagging them, then gently setting them onto the deck and watching them find the direction of the water and slip over the edge back into the bay; I thought of all the sea critters whose empty shells now grace the flower garden and green boards of my front porch.
I replied to my Rinpoche friend’s email telling him that I was so sorry I missed the event, that I should have made a greater effort. He emailed me back, “There is always next year.” I find his words comforting, assuaged of my feelings of guilt; yet at my age I have begun to wonder about next years.
The caring for all sentient beings is likened to the loving kindness of a mother, the Buddhists tell us. The mother of each of us nourished us in her dark womb from the time we were shapeless beings, endured the hardship of bringing us into physical form, fed us, bathed us, clothed us, read to us, taught us about life and the world and right from wrong – at least my mother did. And she was there to listen to me with understanding and compassion, there to support me, patiently sitting on a bench at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, at 84, with her little apricot poodle, BeeGee, for two hours while I got just the right camera angle and shot for a series of photos of the historic town.
The idea is to give what one needs most – care, compassion, love. What do I know? I don’t. Yet, hopefully, others will find useful and supportive my own experiences and feelings. Like those great Irish poets gathered round me at lunch, my humble conveyance utility is often my pen—
Oh, the Phantom of My Blog says it’s my keyboard. OK, my keyboard – the words by which I transmit the messages I hear.
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. –Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
The party’s over: we wander off, alone or in pairs, strangers in paradise.