Six straight days of rain, an inherently dark nature and the anticipated arrival of a first grandchild has got me thinking about my mortality and how I’d like to get a few things off my chest before I shuffle….you know. More accurately there are things I’d like to share – low-wattage things, a few observations, maybe a nod to an old friend or two. I have no illusions about making a difference in the world, nothing like leaving a legacy – I resist putting in the requisite quotation marks here, but they are inferred – but there are things I believe we all experience and are touched by and would comment on but don’t, perhaps because they never quite gel and our observations become, at best, non sequiturs, at worst cringe-worthy, as in, oh dear, have you noticed how dotty and sentimental old what’s-it is getting? Dotty I may be, yet if you’re still reading I think I might be speaking some weird truth and you’re curious. So. Let us proceed.
Recently I was flooded with unexpected tenderness when, at a dinner party, one of the guests confided he’d once slept with a famous Canadian politician. I was mildly surprised by the revelation; the guest barely knew me and the politician, though long gone is far from forgotten. I was equally mildly surprised at how little it mattered to me. The teller of this tale and I are advanced enough in years that what would have once been scandalous and salacious was now a topic as charged as, say, where to find a really good risotto. Still, I felt compelled to ask what seemed de rigeur: “how was he?” And the teller, suddenly gracious or modest answered “I don’t really remember. It’s the intimacy I remember.” And that’s what I found touching. Whether this dinner guest was having me on isn’t the point; it’s that he produced what could have been a hot gossip item and then wrapped it in affection, compassion. It was a story about love, having loved and been loved. And I felt included in all that.
When our cultural icons die, we sometimes feel a loss as profound as if we knew these people personally. I remember exactly where I was when Marilyn Monroe died. And yes, I realize this dates me terribly, yet Monroe was not of my time; she was an icon and I was a child. Even a child in those days knew of her existence; our culture was obsessed with her. That day in August I was staying at the lakeside cottage of a friend and her grandmother. We were playing, diving from the dock when my friend’s grandmother called us in. She made us tea and solemnly announced Marilyn’s passing. Although neither of us was particularly saddened, my friend and I knew this was an auspicious passing, and we were invited to mourn in our way, with her grandmother. The summer ended then, for me. Something monumental had happened, something I didn’t completely understand but grasped at a cellular level as very significant. It remains in my memory as the moment I left childhood and entered adolescence. Do we all carry these snapshots that mark a “Before” and “After”?
Before some of my revered personages died I didn’t think often of friends I had when I was in my teens. But more recent passings find me wanting to write to people I haven’t thought about or been in touch with for many years. What is it that tugs our hearts this way? I don’t think it’s simple nostalgia for a time past; adolescence wasn’t a whole lot of fun as I recall. I think it’s something more elusive than that, something having to do with the shared idea that anything seemed possible, or maybe just imaginable. The summers were long. The popsicles melted in our hands. We played pool in the afternoons and pool-hopped in the late humid nights. We smoked and posed and imagined ourselves grown, but never truly pictured ourselves within a context where we were really adults. There’s less artifice to our laughter now, and it’s deeper than it was then. Perhaps that’s it. The laughter now is hard won, and as such is sweeter, richer.
And those long ago friends? May they be safe, well and happy. May they regret nothing, or at least may they regret little. And to keep a sparkle in their eyes and their laughter deep, may they embody that time when we were tender and guileless. And may I end this odd outpouring with this: In the 18th century the preeminent Japanese scholar Motooni Norigaga formulated the essential concept of MONO NO AWARE which characterized beauty as the transience of all things. According to Mono No Aware true beauty is found in that which does not last and includes the gentle sadness felt as it fades. (my italics). Following that logic one can conclude that many things – most things – are truly beautiful, even you and me.
Have a great summer!