Yesterday, as competitors in the Ironman Challenge raced past our apartment, pushing their bodies to the limit of endurance, I was slowly cycling toward an afternoon meant to celebrate the life of a woman who endured in a different way, who pushed her body to a different limit.
I knew about her long before we met. When she first got sick, she was the center of a buzz of activity: meals were cooked and delivered, the dog walked, company provided, magazines collected. I’ve seen this hive at work before, women swooping in and taking a slice of another woman’s burden as her own. It amazes me every time, and makes me grateful to be a part of this womanhood.
Over time, as her illness ebbed and flowed I met her in person, but it was through these pages she got to know me, and I her. Somehow these words and sentences reached out and connected us in the way that stories have been connecting humans since the beginning of time. Our shared experiences became the thread that tied us together. The knots were newer and looser than the ones which connected her to others, but no matter. Once tied, you’re forever knotted into the fabric of a life, no matter how loosely.
Recently her body reached its limit. All those binds and ties and knots were teased apart and released, but not before they came together one final time to weave a rich and colorful tapestry. Yesterday was meant to be a celebration of that tapestry–of that life–and I was honored to be included.
Yet as her husband talked to us about her wishes after death, I felt sightly fraudulent. Surely all of these people knew her so much better than I had, surely they were more deserving of this celebration. He continued, shifting between Danish and English, and I caught the song playing in the background.
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.
It’s impossible for me to associate Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now with anything other than the moment Emma Thompson faces the truth of her husband’s infidelity in Love, Actually. It’s one of those snapshots of everyday life which make you question if love–and fear and happiness and anger–all the emotions that boil and bubble together to make a life, are worth the pain of loss. The soundtrack to that scene is part funeral dirge, part broken heart. It is mournful, haunting, and rueful, the warble of a woman who has seen, lived, loved. And lost.
We’re allowed merely a glimpse of pain before the character swipes at her eyes, straightens the bed sheet, and throws open the door with a forced smile. Endurance of a completely different kind than those athletes hurtling toward a finish line.
Those sixty or so seconds of music and emotion get me every, single time. Yesterday was no exception.
Yet the day was not about mourning a death, but celebrating a life. There was food and wine, music, bright colors and funny quotes. No one seemed to be weighed down by the mantle of her death, what there was instead, present in every breath, was life. Hers, and ours, and in that moment, the culmination of the two.
Both sides now. Life and death, before and after, with and without.
At the end of the afternoon I cycled back home. The athletes were still going, doggedly pedaling by, pushing their bodies to the max. Most of them had a literal marathon still in front of them. It is a stamina I don’t possess, but then perhaps, none of us realize the strength we have until we are tested. Endurance, after all, comes in many forms.
To swipe at your eyes, straighten your bed sheets, and throw open the door to the unknown.
Is it worth it? How can it not be? I hope that when she threw open that last door it was not with a forced smile, but with the knowledge that her life, though ended, will still live on in the knots of ours., in the stories we tell to connect to one another.
I hope that as she crossed that finish line, the promise of both sides beckoned.
Fly free, Trish. May you look at clouds from both sides now.