To say that this has been an odd time is an understatement. More like a hold-your-breath, tic tock, out of the normal standards of what passes for continuum. Things stretch, they seem impossibly eternal and then run into each other like bumper cars with a case of the hiccups. And unfortunately, I am only referring to what has been going on in my heart.
A few weeks ago, I found myself sobbing, kind of in public, it's a long story. But there I was, washed over by a whole new wave of grief that had risen out of a seeming nowhere. I wiped off my tears with no pretense of embarrassment and then moved on to go shopping for a bit with my Sister, as one does. There, we ran into one of her oldest friends. I actually introduced them when I was seven years old and still fearless. We had just moved to Michigan and there were these girls about Robin's age out in the alley by the blackberry bushes. I took them up to her room and there you go. How simpler things were without personality in the way. So this same friend, Susan, invited us up to her family's little slice of personalized Heaven. We left less than 24 hours later.
Michigan - where I have been living for the past six months - is truly quite beautiful, something that is a bit of an inside secret for those who are from "the Mitten State" (take a look at the bottom half on the map to understand, apparently the residents of the Upper Peninsula smugly prefer to be left out of the equation entirely) but an area, like much of the US, where great distances are considered casually. As I still do not have my drivers license, Robin sat with a fixed gaze behind the wheel for four hours but wore the effort with the lightness of a grocery run until we pulled up under the pines in front of a true log cabin.
Her immediate spreading smile was worth...all the gold in the world? Well, not quite, mais presque. She knew what she was getting us into. We both needed this. I stepped out and stretched and could feel the pull of Lake Michigan before I could see it. Now, you may laugh - certainly if you have never seen it - for I know well it is not an ocean nor a sea, but trust me, that pull, lion-like, is there.
For two days, we settled in as Sisters. Sisters of a certain age who know each other now. We respected each others needs for respective space and togetherness. The timelessness of the log cabin walls and the somehow more seeming choice to have internet access or no let our individual current stories fall away. We read.
Coming back from one of the evening walks that we would take along the beach before sunset, we looked up just as we were arriving back to see Tupelo, or Tupy, nosing down the steps of the dock. She is Susan's 15 or 16 year old Golden Retriever, depending on who is doing the math. So that meant that Susan had made the drive up to spend a few nights with us after all. It wasn't certain, but we had hoped.
Old friends banter. I made a toast to Susan just for having known her for forty years. When you have moved around as much as I have in life, that is something worth the clink. I took over cooking when we all were too lost in the conversation and I let these two true friends be to wander down to the beach so that they could talk and I could get lost in the stars. With the waves crashing in, I craned my neck and was overwhelmed by the merciless number, far outweighing what my concerns - current or past - could ever be. And yet even there, I cried again until my ribs shook, vulnerable to the truth, that damn resounding truth that natural beauty or God (your choice) has called out to me with an unflagging voice. Under the bare gaze of a million years, I could not help but hear it.
What else happened down there on the sands is between me and...something greater. This was a few weeks ago. It is such a long process, this grief, these steps towards healing. And I have accepted that I am on nobody's schedule but my own. But those stars are emblazoned within me and if I close my eyes, I feel them not far.
As luck would have it, I slept down where I imagine the children are usually delegated, the basement level of the log cabin. But as it is built up on stilts, I was able to open my curtain every morning and see that thin line of horizon that could extend nothing but hope into my view. Breathe in, breathe out. Another day rising.
This has been such a strange time. I don't quite remember the days of the week but I am aware, often too aware of whether I am moving forward or not. And yet, for those four days, I had a taste of pure summer. Far from much, I was focused on the quality of the light upon the water (so similar to that of Bora Bora as to be laughable - why do people insist on flying to the other side of the world?), how the most basic food could taste so much better, how people seemed to have their guard down enough to talk with strangers, that it was possible to count down the sunset and even the Milky Way could break me open, yet again, to the possibility that I am learning and very much still alive. We all forget that some times but it was, in this case, nothing that a few days of summer couldn't set towards the direction of...a maybe one day beyond. Listless yet dreaming like summers do.
Thank you with all of my heart for the many incredibly loving messages and emails that so many of you have sent about Ellie's passing. Again, I feel truly fortunate to have been able to call such a woman my friend. It has been so incredibly moving to see here and elsewhere on social media exactly how far her reach was and is. Hers is a light that will never go out.