A friend called me up on Thursday.
“It’s three years since Bernie died today,” he told me. “Are you okay?”
“Fine. A little glum, but fine.”
“What are you doing? Wasn’t there a meeting of his successors online to pay their respects?”
“There was. I didn’t attend. I was his wife, not just a student. I find it easier not to mix the two.”
“So what are you doing today?” friend asks.
“I lit a long stick of incense for him in the morning. Had a good heart-to-heart with Kwan-yin in the back though it was freezing. Walk the dogs, do some work, and sometime in mid-afternoon will drive out to Stockbridge.”
“What’s in Stockbridge?”
When I hung up I found Aussie staring up at me from where she lay on the futon. “Did you say a date? You’re going out on a date on the evening of the Man’s third memorial?”
“You want me to gather up the wood for suttee, Auss?”
“It’s not too late, only who’ll walk me if you burn up?”
“I didn’t jump into the crematory oven three years ago and I’m not about to now.”
“You’re a selfish, greedy human.”
“You humans always want more. You had a rich marriage, you lived and labored day to day with a remarkable teacher, you loved your work, you have a fabulous dog, life doesn’t come much better than that—AND YOU WANT MORE!”
She’s right, I thought to myself. I want more. More of what?
More inhalations and exhalations, for one thing. Bernie used to say that if we knew ahead of time how many times we’d have to inhale and exhale over our lifetime, some of us would give up at birth. I want more of them.
More springs and falls, even as, looking around me at the multitudes of yellow leaves on the ground that my housemate is blowing together, it hits me that this fall could be the last here, the last for me, the last anywhere, how can anyone know?
More walks with dogs. Especially clear today when I couldn’t walk them on account of a pinched nerve in my back. Henry lies in bed alongside me, pawing me repeatedly, wondering why I won’t throw his turtle for him to catch, while Aussie comes up occasionally to check me out. When she’s not yelling at me for something, telling me I’m a yucky human, she’s concerned.
More writing, More blog posts. More stories.
More reflection of light.
And more intimacy. Sharing the hours, telling someone what I did earlier that day, asking him what he did, “Want a cup of coffee?”, “Who’s driving?”, the dance in the kitchen when both are cooking, making those stupid sounds couples make that no one can decipher but them.
More life, more journey. There are two contradictory things that happen when someone you’ve been close to for 35 years dies. On the one hand, he’s part of you. You embody many of his qualities, keep them going even in his absence; you do that with no choice. And on the other hand, you have your own separate journey to continue.
Bernie plunged into life—I saw him do that day after day—and he also plunged into death when it was time. He didn’t hesitate long enough to say goodbye.
“I think you need to hesitate,” says Aussie.
“My pinched nerve causes me to hesitate plenty.”
“Think of all the people who texted and emailed you condolences that day. And what were you doing? Going on a date! Didn’t you feel like an idiot?”
“This morning I went to the zendo for a memorial service for Bernie, Aussie, pinched nerve and all.”
“How was it?”
“THIS LIFE IS TOO COMPLICATED! Now if you could only stay focused on one thing, go in just one direction, you wouldn’t get hurt.”
“What direction is that, Auss?”
“Stay on your own. Stop trying to bridge one life with another. Do the things you always did, that you know how to do. Stop with trying something new, you’re no Huck Finn.”
If I don’t do something new, I’ll die.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.