Saturday, January 21, 2012

dear Nell

on sunday when we heard the news, your fellow writers gathered around the large table and talked. about your yellow suit. we read your stories, finding particular meaning in your words, especially now. how in 2006 you wrote about how afraid you were to live alone when Mel's Alzheimer's required that he live away from you. how you loved nothing more than to do his laundry in those days, and found joy when for a fleeting moment he knew your face. how you used to be a 'ready, fire, aim' kind of person (your words), then one day you reversed the order of your day, placing 'aim' in the middle, and oh my, what a difference it made. 

we heard about your trips, and how at 80 you took yourself on a pilgrimage to Scotland of all places, lugging your heavy suitcase across the whole country, it felt like, and then subway and ferry, to get to a place you weren't sure you really wanted to go. and even though your body didn't feel like climbing the rocky hill to the ocean, damn if you didn't do it. 

and we got the metaphor, all of us wondering, could we? 

at the end of your climb, you found a rock to throw into the ocean, the whole thing weighing you down. 'what rock will you throw away?' you asked us four years ago, and again on sunday. and we thought of how, not a month ago, you stood before us and told us all about other rocks. choosing love over science when you were young, but now that the love of your life is gone, you are giving back to science, and to a young man who wants, as you once did, to be a doctor. 

'many blessings have come to me through my family, my friends, and especially my church,' you wrote this fall. 'what else could I possibly want and wish for? even though there are times i regret i did not pursue my dream, i see that God can bring many blessings out of disappointments and help us find peace as we take a different path.'

your words.

of course by then we'd heard the story. of the heart attack, and how, caught away from the phone, you dragged yourself across the floor to get to it. and it took you hours. and then, you got better, then worse, then better again, and we all knew come Lent you would be sitting in your chair to the right of me, writing only part of the story with the rest of us captured and waiting to hear the rest of it, as is your way. how many times did i say it: Nell, you have to write your story. or at least let me come and sit at your knee and listen as you tell it, and i will write it down for you.

we knew, knew, you were not done yet.

when we last spoke you told me stories of your life i had not yet heard. and i found myself thinking: will i ever be able to look at life as Nell does? will i ever stop mourning dreams i've lost and think, as you, instead about dreams yet to be?

you changed things. i remember the first time i knew who you were, when i walked into the room with the giant table we would gather around together for two years, searching for someone to lead our church. and you prayed a very Methodist prayer (which was not a bad thing at all, but different) and i wondered how you would get along with some of the folks in the room, how we would all come together to find one leader, but you implored us to approach the whole thing in prayer, and well, we did as you asked. and it worked.

i remember, too, how when our group of varied folk finally settled on that name, and he came to visit, climbing into the pulpit, you and i stood in the back of the church and you said: doesn't he look good up there? and just this week, you would have said the same, except this time, he spoke about you.

last year when all the women gathered for this new idea nobody really knew would work, you gathered the women in your age group and you stood in front of everyone, looking out at the 30s, 40s, 50s, the 80s and said: isn't this grand?

nell, you are grand. 

and oh, you would have loved it. the whole thing. how every single pew was filled (even the new seats). two bishops, not as celebrants, but sitting there in the pews with us, missing you. how we sang O, God Our Help in Ages Past, which i have been singing since i was a child and know every single word. as i sang, imagining you singing with me, i looked up at that big cross that you sit closest to, thinking oh my, she is there.

and all the words said about you that were just right.

and that most beautiful Goodall arrangement of the 23rd Psalm which is not sad at all, but promising, and as i listened it was clear to me you were with us, too.

i was sad, nell, we all were. we sang I Sing A Song of the Saints of God, a child's hymn, really, but you always considered yourself a child of God. and you have been a saint among us.

i watched as greg sprinkled dirt from the garden over the pall. watched as your handsome grandchildren clutched each other, wondering what part of you each of them takes with them, listening as just then, a breeze blew through the wind chimes in the garden and it just felt like you, all over the place. 

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