A Couplet and Complicated Compassion

Mill Pond, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
(c) June 2012

Yesterday it did not seem as if today it would be raining.”

Last night actually did give just a hint of rain, after a glorious evening outside at Prescott Park in Portsmouth.   This time Shawn Colvin was not driven from the stage by lightning.

And today it is not raining; it is a perfect summer day, and one of my sons is leading a pack of children up a magnificent mountain.

But I don’t believe Edward Gorey was speaking of the weather.  I think he was addressing those unpredictable, turn-on-a-dime reversals in life that almost all of us will experience and witness with the people we love most.

Today is an odd kind of anniversary, which left its mark like only a handful of other days has.  The word “anniversary” itself seems too inherently festive, because there is nothing celebratory about this day.

It is not the day we found out that my husband’s condition was decisively incurable.  That came a handful of months later.   But on this calendar date, after several hours of waiting for a CAT scan at a hospital outside Boston, a surgeon pointed to the image of Jim’s pancreas on her computer screen in a windowless room and said, gently, “This is your tumor.”

Continue reading “A Couplet and Complicated Compassion”

My Baby Blue

Prescott Park
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 2011

“Well I’d like to visit the moon, on a rocket ship high in the air.  Oh, I’d like to visit the moon.  But I don’t think I’d like to live there.”

These lyrics make me shamelessly wistful for days with my young children, listening to Elmopalooza (I kid you not) on what was, back in the day, known as a cassette player.

Twice I have heard Shawn Colvin sing in person.  Once she opened an acoustic  set on a rainy night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.   My husband Jim had just rushed into town from a typically long day at work.  I was soaked from waiting outside the theater in the rain in a bright pink floral print sundress that could not have been less suited to the weather.  It was another triumph of hope over reality, though the hope then was merely for a pleasant late spring night.

It was a rare evening out without our children, and Jim and I held hands and settled into our seats.  The skirt’s rain-soaked cotton squished as I shifted (Laura Ashley was never one for skimping on yardage).  It was then we realized why the seats were so affordable:  we were wedged behind a wide support pillar.

But the music was gorgeous. Continue reading “My Baby Blue”

Skirting the Infinite Void

An oil painting of her father (and our beagle, Brady)(c) 2011 Emma E. Glennon

A man my friend loved died very suddenly and, like my husband, far too young.

“I wish I had spent every second with him,” she said.

“But you can’t live your life like one of you is about to die,” I told her.

I reflected only afterwards that that is exactly how Jim and I and our children lived our lives for the better part of a year.

It is the knowing—not just the earlier, arguably premonitory flashes–that made those months so surreal.

I identify with the professor who wrote, “If something distasteful or painful lies ahead, it poisons all the time in between.” He quoted Julius Caesar, in which Brutus mused that “between the acting of a dreadful thing/And the first motion, all the interim is/Like a phantasm or a hideous dream.”

The “upcomingness” of that professor’s own dreaded occasions “festers in [his] mind, envenoming” the preceding days.

As Tim O’Brien’s semi-reliable narrator put it in The Things They Carried, “In some respects, though not many, the waiting was worse than the tunnel itself.  Imagination was a killer.”[ii]

That professor’s dreaded occasions?  Faculty meetings.  I am a professor’s daughter; I understand each of us has his own dreaded events.

I always have been irritated by use of the term “being present for” something, which I take as a bastardization of the popular conception of being “in the moment.”  (I’m not particularly enamored of that phrase, either.)

Unlike my husband, I am easily irritated.

Years ago, at a concert in a Portsmouth church, the young woman sitting on the bench a few rows in front of Jim and me loudly and repeatedly announced to a friend she evidently had not seen for some time that that she was trying “to be present for” significant events in her life.

“Where else did she plan to be?” I whispered in Jim’s ear, to which I always had to crane my head upward. “Is she prone to random bouts of teleportation?”

Continue reading “Skirting the Infinite Void”

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