Thursday, November 22, 2007

Those Fragile First Holidays After the Death of a Parent

I was driving back tonight from afternoon dinner and evening conversation with family friends, who all knew and loved my recently-departed father. It's the first set of winter holidays, for me, as a midlife orphan. Another of those big life changes I'm going through, in this segment of my own life. In the near future, I can list an aunt, an uncle, and a good family friend who will probably all die in the next year, due to various illnesses, or pining away after one's life-mate dies. The good family friend's wife passed away just over a week ago; I attended her funeral last weekend.

It's Thanksgiving Day, and I've struggled to find things to be thankful for. You know you're in trouble when you struggle to come up with even a short list of gratitudes. Even for being alive, that temporary and conditional existence universally terminated in a face-on meeting with entropy. Driving to dinner, I listened to one of my favorite John Dowland CDs: those Elizabethan blues. My own melancholic nature responds to Dowland's melancholic part-songs, especially the well-known part-song Flow, My Tears, or Lachrymae Pavan. (A piece I once arranged for male chorus; and have also arranged, or manipulated, as an ambient electronic composition.) When the CD came around to Flow, My Tears, when I had almost arrived at my dinner destination, I listened to the piece twice in a row, feeling better each time.

Sometimes, what one needs is permission to feel depressed, to accept it in the moment, and to allow oneself to be okay with it. Just for now, if not for ever. Dowland gave me that permission, today; as before.

So, I arrived not in the best of spirits, but able to find a few meagre gratitudes. At the dinner table, my host read from Meister Eckhart, the most deeply resonant, to me, of the Medieval Christian mystics: If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. A synchonicity of meaning surrounding thanks.

I've been losing time. Time falls around my ankles, a discarded robe before one steps into the bath, warmed by living flesh, soon to chill. Whole days wash off you, and disappear down the drain. A week is suddenly gone, and nothing happened: or, everything happened, and you could not record it all. The recording angel naps in those days when acedia rises in the east, the bloody and demanding sun. Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning. I'm going to wash these blues right out of my hair.

It snowed late last night, coating the gray world with white. I watched it fall in that perfect silence that new snowfall brings to the world, as blessing. Juncos, round slate-blue birds, come this morning to sit on the deck railings, kicking up tufts of snow as they land and take off again. The cardinal couple that lives here year-round is brilliant against the white land, the male a moving laser-dot of bright red against a black and white background. The chokecherry tree will still produce it’s small black berries over winter, and the birds will gather in its branches, come January, gorging themselves, and stooping down to pick through the snow under the tree for more fallen berries.

More lost time: Driving home, the clouds thin and high, an almost-full moon was hanging high overhead. I thought to myself, When did you get to be full again? Then I realized, I hadn’t seen the moon for weeks, between being ill and exhausted these past few weeks, and all the cloudy weather we’ve been having. Suddenly the moon's eye was almost round again, silver behind mottled veils.

Do I have a point, here, a grand conclusion? No. Nor do I have closure. You go on, you endure. You find a reason to endure, even a meagre one.

Where am I, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on. —Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable

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Blogger Shameless said...

Very moving piece here, Art. I totally relate. :-)

12:53 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Cool. Thanks!

9:47 PM  
Blogger Tufts of Laszlo said...

Funny how the beauty of tufts of blizzard snow on our windows led me to your site after I referred to them and my daughter saying there's no such word and my wife saying there is but cannot refer to snow only grass or hair so I googled it and found photos of snow tuft cotton flowers on tree branches and trunks and the words of poets and writers like Coleridge, Mary Shelley and Potemkin and you. As look out the increasingly snow-tufted window to our back yard and await the Cardinal pair, listening to your Dowland gift I thank you.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Great story!

Thanks in return.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Tufts of Laszlo said...

Postscript: As a result I have now set up my own blog on Google.

9:35 PM  

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