As those of you who read this blog regularly know, 2011 was a hard year for my husband, me and other members of our family: loss of siblings and friends and an aunt piled up. There were other deaths, too, of classmates of mine. One classmate wrote, in response,,
"Our class list can be a wonderful thing, but given the very heavy news of recent deaths, I am concerned that it burdens us all too much. I wish I had a solution to suggest but I do not. Perhaps we should see how others feel. It has gotten so that I do not want to open the class news.¨
One of the classmates who died I’d known well in high school and college: Claire Harnan. She died of copd. I’d always assumed I’d see her again, that we’d pick up where we’d left off. Claire and I hung out with a lot of the same people both in high school and in college. In fact, I was always envious of her: she seemed more attractive to the friend I idolized in high school and she always had a flock of boys around her in college. She had the big breasts I Iacked and an air of cocky and humorous confidence. And in truth, she was terribly likable. Her father and mother were far apart in years. Her father had been a pony express rider, which seemed to me the essence of a romantic past. He ended his life as a “super” in a Greenwich Village apartment building. Her mother was a bit fey, a bit of a hoarder, and always fun to be with. They lived on the ground floor in a place filled with all kinds of interesting stuff. Claire and I both went to Barnard. Claire had a boyfriend, a tall, skinny guy, from some upper class background who trailed her like a puppy dog. I was always troubled in college, never sure of myself, never sure of who I was or what I wanted. I was always, I thought, in the shadow of Claire´s self-confidence.. After college and after a year working at Time-Life, I found, much to my surprise, that I was accepted into the Peace Corps. I never saw Claire again.
Another person in my high school class who died this year was Margie Gamso. I barely knew Margie in high school. She was a pretty, serious girl. And it turns out she started on the road to becoming a dancer and choreographer just as I gave up dancing after high school. Because of her death, I learned about her. I am terribly impressed with what she made of herself, her willingness to sacrifice comfort and predictability for her very adventurous art. It was through her death that I learned about her life. You can learn something of her in this piece from Dance Magazine. hand here.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons I doubted whether I could keep living in Mexico was the ominipresence of death. And suffering and death approaching. Not just human deaths, but animal deaths. A starving horse on trembling legs who saw Jim and John and me and thought we might be bringing him sustenance; a little black dog unable to move from the middle of the road, foaming at the mouth. As days past, we saw his corpse at the side of the road, saw its entrails pulled out, saw it reduced to bone and then nothing. Another dog recently lay dead at a fork in a trail, skin almost intact, eyes and guts missing, smell overwhelming. And today, twenty buzzards alight on the corpse of a newly-dead cow in a lush green pasture on our normally peaceful and uneventful walk. The other cows didn't seem to notice, except for one who stood near it, watching it, lowing.
For a long time I thought the trick was to learn equanimity in the face of death. To accept that death and life were partners in existence. That death was not so bad. I thought I could learn not to feel so terribly sad, to accept that those feelings were not useful if there was nothing I could do and so let them go fast. So far, that’s not exactly what has happened. This is what I think at the moment. Death and life are partners in existence, they are entwined, life depends upon death. Every time we eat, we must be thankful for death.
Life isn’t always good, death bad. Death is omnipresent and frightening, but sometimes seems to be a release. Loss and pain are everywhere, in life. I try to follow the example of Mexican friends: you never know what will happen. Seize the good moments, keep going even as you carry along your sadness. Contain the sadness since you can’t get rid of it. Celebrate when you can, even in the presence of death.Mourn with restraint. Celebrate with restraint. Offer comfort, but don’t overwhelm with it. Don’t run from bad news, it will always be there anyway. Make what you can of it. Ni modo.