In a life led mostly in the long cold hours before dawn, Jim was a person whose word I once trusted. That confidence changed later. Now he’s gone, still in the chill of an early spring that won’t let go its grip on winter.
All I really know about Death is that I don’t want to pass in the darkness of winter. I want to go out in the full sunshine. I want to believe I will sense the warmth of the good earth, still hear a bird sing, maybe even feel the final sniff of one of my good hounds. Like Jim, my mother also died in winter in snow so deep we couldn’t attend her graveside service. It was not good.
Earlier this morning, way before first light, I read a poem by Emily Dickinson entitled “It Will Be Summer–eventually.” I like to retain her own special and “charming” word order, punctuation, and capitalization or lack thereof. It is full of brightness which lifted my mood. The first stanza reads
“It will be Summer — eventually.
Ladies — with parasols —
Sauntering Gentlemen — with Canes
And little Girls — with Dolls —”
As I reflected on the poem and what had happened to Jim, I wondered about how we all live our lives in such different ways. For one thing, I’m not sure if any of today’s so-called gentlemen ever take the time to go a’sauntering, considering the busy and hectic world we live in. But I do still see little girls with dolls on occasion, so perhaps we continue to be connected a tad with an earlier time.
Sipping my morning coffee, my mind took me back to brighter times with Jim when we could laugh and enjoy some carefree moments. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t ever imagine him out on a slow stroll on a warm summer day smiling when seeing little girls playing with their dolls. He was always doing something, constantly building the new or repairing what was broken. His nervous energy left him no time for idle moments of pure relaxation and enjoyment. Like many of us, he spent far too much of his days trying to make that extra buck to buy the things he thought would make him happy. Sadly, he never understood that all the time he spent grubbing for the money would never bring him happiness or fulfillment.
When I reflect about this effort, I think of what the satirist Cynthia Heimel said, “Possessions, for the terminally frightened, bring peace of mind.”
Ironically, when Jim died, he had few possessions and little peace of mind. He had also led a tortured life toward the end, mostly itinerant, sick and alone. I hadn’t seen or heard of him for the longest time, although he continued to hover just on the edge of my mind. In better days, what I used to like to see as I drove out our little bi-way was him dressed in his waders as he cast his fly into the fast moving, cold water of the little trout run that flows to the river downstream. He looked every bit the fisherman from Izaak Walton’s 17th-century The Compleat Angler.
As I paused to say hello, I could almost see him quoting Walton: “I have laid aside business, and gone a’fishing.”
Jim’s business had been a bit of a jack of all trades, comfortable with plumbing, electricity, and carpentry. Trouble was he had gone through two or three wives too many and had grown to enjoy his beer or cocktail, especially when someone else was buying, a little earlier each day. Business disappeared and no one wanted to hire him. One day he just seemed to enter another consciousness and soon found himself tossing about like the cork on the end of his line. As his health continued to deteriorate, he slowly began to learn what it’s like to live with impossibilities. People began screening their phones when he would call. They then just faded away or became invisible to him. Later when he had no where to stay and would show up empty handed to mooch until he was ushered out, I believe he realized that even without many possessions, he was one of those strange-eyed creatures who were fast becoming terminally frightened. In the end, there was little in his life that brought him joy or comfort.
I think I actually had a feeling, before taking the call, that he was no longer of this earth. Now that he is indeed gone, I am reminded of another quote from Walton that he should have followed:
“Look to your health; and if you have it, praise God and value it next to conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of, a blessing money can’t buy.”
Despite knowing, as Ms. Dickinson promised, that summer will eventually be here, I still have my lingering doubts. I also feel a bit stifled and overly bundled up in this continuing cool and wet spring. I need to be ready to shed these wooly shirts and enjoy the sunshine when it finally pops out. Although Jim and I had long gone our separate ways, I miss him but don’t want to be in his lingering cold shadow. I crave the warm light when it finally gets here.
As I came in with Emily, so will I go out with the Belle of Amherst’s haunting poem about giving a name to the sense you feel when something is about to happen. Sad as Jim’s passing is, it is also a moment to know that this, too, shall pass. All we need to do is open our eyes to other possibilities.
“Presentiment–is that long Shadow–on the Lawn–
Indicative that Suns go down–
The Notice to the startled Grass
That Darkness–is about to pass–”