I saw a butterfly on the ground in the woods. It couldn’t fly. I don’t know if it had been hurt by something or whether it was just old age (I don’t think butterflies live much longer than 6 weeks as full butterflies). I watched it clamber over leaves trying to get away from me, saw the body quiver.
I was sad because I felt that things that can fly, should fly. I’ve often wondered about the things in our lives that prevent us from flying, that prevent us from fulfilling an essential promise.
I finally got a photo of my friend, Margery, who died last week (below). One look reminded me of her style and elegance even in old age, her love of beautiful things, of entertaining friends. Flying for her consisted of all those things.
But it also consisted of acting, which she did in a playhouse in Charleston, West Virginia. She could quote me Streetcar and Hedda Gabler on a dime. I met her when she returned to New York after the death of her husband. She took me to the RSC’s Nicholas Nickelby when it came to town, 8 hours of British theater that cost $100 a pop. In those days that was a fortune for a theater ticket (not anymore!) and I couldn’t have sprung for it, but she took care of that.
And I remember meeting her for theater on August 2, 1990. I can’t remember what we saw, only that in the middle of dinner before the show the television cameras in the restaurant showed warplanes taking off and massive bombs exploding, and that’s how we knew that the Gulf War had started. Right away I lost my appetite and suggested we skip the play.
Absolutely not, she said in her imperious fashion.
It’s war, Margery. I can’t just go see a play as if nothing happened.
Darling, where would we be if we canceled theater because of war? There’s war going on all the time!
She appeared in one off-Broadway production upon returning to New York. I play the mother-in-law, what else? she groaned. After it closed, I urged her to go on: Volunteer, go over scripts, you’ve done theater all your life, you’ll find things to do! It’s not as though you have to make money from it.
No, she said, it’s for younger people.
You’re 57 years old!
She thought her flying days were over. But she urged me to fly. So just as I sent her flowers on opening night when she appeared onstage in New York because I myself was out of town, I’ll send flowers to her memorial service in Pennsylvania next week, while I’ll be in the Dakotas as part of our summer retreat with the Native Americans. I don’t think she’d mind.
You do good work, she told me. That’s what counts.