Not only was it Putnam Day, but the first of December was covered with snow.
I don’t know about the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston, but I suspect that yesterday it bore the same beautiful, dangerous dusting of icy white.
Today, on a different turnpike to the north, I drove alone and listened to a recording of my husband’s gorgeous memorial service–the one with love even in the not-so-empty spaces.
The first solo song sung for Jim, at a service both his healthy parents attended, was Sweet Baby James. There was a deep hum during the last verse, as hundreds of people joined in the chorus, murmuring “deep greens and blues” and reaching the lingering end of a tender, sibilant last “sweet baby James,” followed by four final guitar notes.
I do have a segue here.
It involves music, songbirds, and friendship.
In live-blogging . . . sometimes more like slogging . . . my way through love and loss I do not dwell solely upon my husband. There are many kinds of enduring love–including the love between parents and children and among siblings and friends.
Jim brought all kinds of love into my life, and each kind of love has its gifts. Now I have sisters, and a seemingly endless parade of cousins and uncles and aunts and extended families. I have friends of gold.
Carri is one, a singer who gave voice to several verses of Amazing Grace at my husband’s service. Although Carri is far more like me temperamentally (not musically: in that realm, unlike my youngest child, I am more like a distressingly off-key peeper frog than a songbird), she happens also somehow to channel Jim at a camera lens.
She takes the pictures Jim would have taken.
These scenes no longer are confined to the shelves of the Museum of Missing Objects.
I can see him as he would have looked and moved had he been here to see these four birds (look carefully) forestalling any southern travel plans and gathering in a colorful cluster at one of his bountiful bird feeders while the fall snow fell.
A movement would have captured his attention away from scrolling through the New York Times or Andrew Sullivan’s blog while he sat at his bulky wooden desk. He would have looked up through the thick, mildly distorted glass of the cream-painted paned windows and across the old New England porch, then quickly grabbed his camera and fitted a lens to it with a graceful movement of his right hand as his eyes stayed on the birds.
He would have moved with a very light step (especially for a man a full foot taller than I), so as not to make the songbirds skittish.
In socked feet, he would have slipped through the old green door into snow that had curved onto the porch in the wind.
He would have snapped away, and would have been delighted to capture an image such as the one with which Carri blessed me: bustling feathered compadres in the swirling snow.
I would have felt the cold snap from the open door and would have followed and watched Jim with his camera and tried to stay still and not do something typically klutzy to make the birds flee.
Had he captured a picture like this one, he would have come over to me and clicked through the images in reverse order to show me. He would have tilted down the camera and I would have stood on tip-toes and leaned into him from the right.
Jim never stopped stocking his bird feeders to draw in songbirds–not even when his merciless disease prevented him from being able to eat himself.
When I cleaned out his truck after he died, I opened a bag under the seat and found a golden square studded with what looked like pecans. At first I thought it was some kind of gourmet treat Jim had bought for us long ago–perhaps even in The Before–and forgotten under the seat. But the receipt told another story: very likely the last time he was able to drive himself, he had managed to pick up a special bird treat that he never had a chance to put out for them in the snow.
He would not have wanted the winter stalwarts to go without a special reward.
On the first days of this December, when Jim’s birthday soon will pass without him; while snow fell on the turnpikes and steamed away into an eerie fog, as if the roads were smothered in dry ice, I heard Carri sing:
When this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
a life of joy and peace.
I still have friends. I still have music.
And somehow, through a magical musical friend, I can still see the songbirds as Jim did.
5 thoughts on “Song of the Sky”
I am, for maybe the first time in my life….speechless..
The good kind of speechless or the bad kind of speechless? 🙂
All the Glennon cousins and aunts and Nicknairs…. we all sang the refrain to “Sweet Baby James” at the service. It felt so sad and soft and united us all as we grieved. When I hear that song, no matter where I am, I am brought back to that moment.