It’s almost sultry here in Oregon as I type these words, sitting outside listening to the temple bells make their music to my ears. I’m alone this week with J. down in Corvallis. And I’m thinking more about Cynthia, and how much I’ve missed her wise e-mail counsel and conversation and daily updates. It’s a week since she’s been gone.
Cynthia and I met in a community chorus in Corvallis. The serendipity of two altos ending up standing next to one another to sing everything from Agnus Dei to songs of Bob Marley and the musical, Hair, became an eleven-year friendship of ladies lunches and art house movies and book swapping and even passing along my New Yorker subscription on a regular basis. Whenever we met, we had interesting, surprising conversations that left me with more food for thought. A
smart and wise writer, she regularly wrote letters to the editor about what mattered to her—the environment, alternative health care options, peace and justice. She tended our cats and watered our flowers when we traveled out of town. She didn’t have much money—including no car and
a subsidized apartment in low-income housing—but she lived one of the richest lives I have ever seen, splendid in its emotional generosity, its good humor, its peaceful and exuberant grace. She was making art—cards and letters to send her wide circle of friends—until the week before the tumors that had spread to her brain laid her so low she could no longer get out of bed.
In this week since Cynthia’s leave-taking of this earth, I have fumbled around a lot. Words I’ve used include rattled. Shaken. Out-of-sorts. In spite of knowing for months that her end was near, and
her death very much conscious and by conscious choice. I suppose some of this is that, in spite of my own middling middle age, I am not yet ready to face mortality, the finality that is both the blessing and blessed curse of our humanity, in the way my dying friend joyfully was.
Yesterday afternoon at the Sunday Parkways event in Alberta Park, there was a gospel choir. All women, all filled with song and praise and the holy. From their first notes, I could do nothing but weep. The group’s leader, Prophetess Gloria, hugged me afterwards. You could feel the power of her faith coursing through her after that hour of glorious hosannas. I felt grateful for the music, its soulfulness, but also the reminder that too often I forget what is under my nose, ripe for my picking, ever eager for embrace. And that something as life-changing and profound as a true friendship can begin simply because two people end up standing next to one another to sing alto in a community chorus, just for fun.