I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sisters of the heart

DJan and Judy at Manresa Castle last summer
Last night my friend Judy and I went to the movies and then to dinner. It's so nice to have a friend with whom I can spend time and never feel like we have quite enough of it. She's got a full life and family, a husband and two grown children who have children of their own, but she always carves out a piece of her life for us to spend together. We enjoy sharing books, movies, and occasionally exercise. The things we do together are things our spouses don't have much interest in doing with us, so it works out perfectly.

We met in an exercise class at the YMCA the first year I was here, so we've known each other almost five years now. When we first met, her daughter who lives on the East Coast had her only two grandchildren, but now her son and daughter-in-law who live here in Bellingham have had three kids, so she is very busy helping out with the little ones. I feel fortunate there is still time left over for her to get out and enjoy things with me. She's my go-to-the-movies partner.

Judy recently shared with me a book I just finished by Abraham Verghese, a memoir about the time he was an infectious diseases doctor in Tennessee at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. It reminded me that there was a time, which I remember very well, before the onset of that awful virus, and how much the world has changed since then. Millions of people have died; some of them were good friends of mine in Boulder. It was more than thirty years ago, but much of that time period is still fresh in my mind. In our country, gay men have suffered more than any other demographic from that epidemic.

The movie we saw last night was called Any Day Now, a movie set in 1979 about a gay couple (a drag queen and a lawyer) who face enormous prejudice when they try to adopt a Down syndrome child who has been abandoned by his junkie mother. Although it's very clear that he wants to stay with them and nobody else cares about this child, he is shunted off to an institution. They cannot win against the legal system. It doesn't have a happy ending, and I kept waking up during the night thinking about life and wondering whether the world is any better off today than it was then. A family is certainly not always comprised of a traditional nuclear family. I had the feeling that, given half a chance, this family would have been unrivaled in love and caring for each other. But it was not to be. Is it any better today?

Love is an elusive emotion, but when you feel it, it's not to be denied. There are many related emotions that people sometimes confuse with love. I remember a short poem by Emily Dickinson that has always stayed with me. The first two lines are, "That Love is all there is / Is all we know of Love." When you allow yourself to love someone or something, you take a chance that it will be taken away through the circumstances of life. I have tried unsuccessfully at different times of my life to wall myself off from feelings when I've been hurt. Being heartbroken because of a loss is a part of my life that can cause my eyes to fill with tears before I've even identified the specific cause. Just put me in a movie theater and have an actor depict lost love, and I am weeping. I wept as I read the book last week. I cry easily, and it makes me glad, to tell you the truth, because once I've spent some time crying, I feel better. Am I weird or what?

Partly it's because I realize that life is fragile, and the people and things that I love will not always be with me. I know this because I've experienced it. Life is filled with hard knocks. Some people build a shell around them, but it doesn't really help. It's called denial, or stoicism, or something. No one would ever accuse me of being a stoic.

Life, however, is also filled with Love. In fact, if I listen to Emily, Love is all there is. She implies that love is impossible to define and that it transcends the need for definition. Is she suggesting that we can recognize love either because it fits our souls perfectly, or because we can endure the suffering it brings? I'm asking a lot of questions this morning, aren't I?

Maybe it's because I'm beginning to think about my upcoming travel to visit Norma Jean in Florida, but I'm feeling the time flowing by quickly these days. I've got a day of travel before I can spend two weeks in the sunshine. I am looking forward very much to spending time with Norma Jean, and when I come back home to Bellingham I will spend time with Judy, my sister of the heart.


Anonymous said...

Congrats! I think it's great that you have a "bosom buddy" to see movies with. It means that if Smart Guy were to suddenly pass away, you would not be bereft of a close confidante. Blessings, DJan!

Rian said...

It's true. Life is fragile. By the time you reach our age, most of us have experienced loss to some degree. So family and friends become dearer, and we do cry more easily. I have never been an emotional person (at least not that anyone would see), but I find I tear up just looking at our new grandbaby... thanking God in my heart that I even lived to see her.

And those who never know love may avoid a lot of pain, but oh, they miss that awakening in the heart.

Arkansas Patti said...

I am sure most spouses are delighted when the better half has a BFF. Someone that can do those "female" things with. It really takes them off the hook of having to grin and bear it.
It seems the older I get, the quicker to tears I am also. Perhaps because of our long life, we have lived through so many experiences that a simple reminder can cause the throat to close and tears to flow. Sometimes they are sweet tears of remembrance, sometimes tears of loss but healing tears all the same.

Jackie said...

So sweet to see and feel the love between sisters of the heart.
Sending you hugs and warmest smiles as you prepare for your trip to see Norma Jean. I pray for traveling mercy for you and a beautiful time spent in Florida.
When I read your blog about love being an elusive emotion and is not to be denied, a Scripture came immediately to my mind:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." I Corinthians 13:4-8a
Sending you love, my friend.
Safe traveling to you...

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

My best friends have retired and moved to warmer climates, and I am beginning to realize that I need to do something about that. I have other friends here, mostly people I worked with, and I need to reach out and spend a little time with them and see what develops. As for loss, I notice that I don't well up over contrived scenes in books and movies as I once did, but I do cry when something stirs a memory of a real, sharp loss in my life.

Teresa Evangeline said...

I cry very easily, too. A book, a movie, kind words over the telephone, all can turn my spigot on. It's cathartic and I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm glad you are, too. You've had far better reasons than I.

Gigi said...

No, you aren't weird. I cry at the silliest things and always feel better afterward. I think it's a release of pent up emotions.

Cherish your sister of the heart (I love that phrase). I have some friends that I can rely on - but no one to really just hang out with and do "girl" things mainly because they are in a different phase of their lives (small children). The one or two friends that I could do those things with who are in the same phase that I am unfortunately live in Texas - for whatever reason they refused to let me pack them up and bring them with me when we moved!

Have a safe trip, DJan. I don't have to tell you to have fun because I know you will!

Red said...

As always you cover some very deep territory.
We do need a trusted friend. A go to person even if we have a spouse and other people.
I can admit that there are things that bring tears to my eyes, but men cannot show this to other males.
I think that the aids virus was here long before it was identified.

Linda Myers said...

Tears are good. I cry from time to time at movies or Facebook clips, but not usually in real life, for some reason. I'm willing, for sure.

Sandi said...

Hi DJan!
I really related to this post on many levels. I especially connected with, "I realize that life is fragile, and the people and things that I love will not always be with me."
I thought about that exactly yesterday as we celebrated my dad's 85th birthday. My sisters and I threw him a huge party, and he was so thrilled to be honored by his friends and family.
We never know when it will be our last moment with someone we love, and it's right to love and open ourselves up to the heart ache of loss.
I too cry easily these days.
Hugs to you . . .

Sally Wessely said...

I never used to cry. The kids would be shocked when I did. Now, I cry easily. I cry in movies when no one else is crying. I think it comes from being more in touch with the pain of others after one has suffered great pain themselves.

I'm glad you have a great sister of the heart. I treasure my dear friends who are girl friends. I love spending time with my hubby, but there are times when I need to spend time with my girl friends who have the same interests I do.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Great, insightful post. And the Florida weather is just about perfect.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, You are a GREAT writer. Some wonderful thoughts in this post. I am glad to have found your blog. John

The Broad said...

I have been truly blessed in my life with very close girlfriends both in the U.S. and here in the U.K. I have sometimes heard women claim that they don't have women friends, that they only have men for friends. I've always thought that these women were missing a very important element in their lives...

As I've grown older I am less and less apt to get emotional watching a film or sad situations. I am, however, more apt to shed tears at the memory of people and past events. A kind of grief, I think.

Far Side of Fifty said...

It is good to have friends who are like sisters...someone to do things with so you don't have to do them alone.
Travel safe..I think you are going soon..you will have a blast with Norma Jean:)

Far Side of Fifty said...

Oh yes, when you bawl it releases some kind of endorphin..so you feel better afterwards..just wanted you to know that you are not nuts:)

Friko said...

Love comes in all shapes and sizes. We often ask ourselves how two people can possibly love each other, we don’t understand, we ridicule their love. That is so presumptuous of us.

I too have tried shutting the door on love to stop being hurt, it doesn’t work but, if it did, we would turn to stone. Much better to allow emotions to live, and if that makes us cry, well, who said crying was wrong?

Linda Reeder said...

I always find myself envious of women who have close girl friends. I really never have. It's all part of the introvert thing, I guess.
But I am very happy that the love of my life, my husband, likes sharing experiences with me that would be typical of "girl friend" activities, even when I cry at silly movies.

LilliStJohn said...

Dear DJan - I had a couple of hours this morning just for me, so I chose to read some of your articles on this Blog, which I rarely get a chance to do. I can only say, that I have laughed, cried, felt warm and fuzzy at the same time, been in awe and leave you with this comment " Eye On The Edge" is like a wonderfully moving Novel, and I can't wait to move on to the next chapter. Thankyou, Lilly

CrazyCris said...

"I cry easily, and it makes me glad, to tell you the truth, because once I've spent some time crying, I feel better. Am I weird or what?"

If you're weird then so am I... 'cause I fell the same way!

It's so nice you've made a friend there to whom you are so close! I've been lucky enough to make a couple of friends over the years who felt like my "sisters of the heart", indeed my parents have sometimes adopted one or another as an extra "daughter"! :p
I'm not as close to some as I used to be, time and distance interfered... but it doesn't mean I love them any less than I did once upon a time. :o)

O-town Ramblings said...

I think I was meant to read this post tonight, right now, as I wipe tears from my eyes after a crying jag like I haven't had in months. It's my birthday eve and for some reason that's made me miss my sister horribly. Reading your words calmed me, made me feel less sad and alone. Thank you.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, having a friend like Judy is one of the great gifts of the Universe. I'm so glad the two of you found one another. Just as I know that you are glad that she's chosen you as a friend. And she must feel the same way.

As to love, I've never forgotten sitting in front of my computer in 1989, two days after Dulcy died, and having her give me the following words: "At the end, all that matters is love. My love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone and they will comfort her."

In my long life many of my friends have died: Annette, Mary Alice, Miriam, Jan, Charlotte among them. The memories in my heart bring them close when something I see or feel or hear reminds me of them. I am so grateful to have known their love.

I want to thank you, DJan, for coming so often to my two blogs in the past six weeks when I've been away from reading and commenting on the blogs of others--blogs such as yours, which I truly enjoy. Blogs which help me experience life beyond the walls of this house.

If you have any postings here or on your other blog that you'd especially like me to read, please send the URLs to me in an e-mail or place them within the comment box on my blog. Thank you. Peace. Oh, and enjoy your Florida visit!