For Remembering Mary

Another day is cocked and ready to fly
Yesterday another somebody died
but this somebody knew me when I was young
She saw you come into this world
and held your father’s hand to help him cross the street
when he was a child
Those were the days before

The sky, appropriately somber, greets another desperate dawn
where soldiers fight the same old fight
and those who know better lie to our face

Soon I will put my head down again
and watch the sidewalk slip past
but I will take this slice of time
for remembering Mary
before beginning the days after

 

mary2

Memorial – Ruth Detjen

I recently went to a memorial service for the mother of a friend.

You can tell a lot about a person by the things people say about them when they’re not around, and by the memories of the people who love her.

They talked about strawberry shortcake and Volkswagens; falling trees and fireworks; telephone calls and Pretty in Pink. But what they were really talking about was love.

You can also tell a lot about a person by the memories and thoughts she shares through her art.

Ruth’s family offered her paintings to the gathering, an invitation to take a piece of her home with us.

The colors and mood of this one grabbed my attention:

ruth1

Ruth was also a poet, and we went home with a book of her poems, written over all the decades of her adult life. Here are four of the ones that found a place in my memory:

Secrets

There are no secrets.

They are plainly seen

in the pain and sadness

of a woman’s eyes.

Old Cup

The gossamer veins in the porcelain cup

Reveal a pattern,

like the crinkled folds in a love letter

impulsively crumpled, then rescued, smoothed.

The cup comforts my hand, warming, loving –

its healing roundness a balm of

honey mint and tea.

If this cup was carelessly dropped,

Shattering into fragments like falling stars,

if this should happen,

Falling, shattering, scattering china amidst

dust and crumbs on the floor –

I would sweep it all up, then carefully select

Just one piece – the largest, smoothest curve

of pure white china –

and place it gently on the window sill

in the warm pristine morning light.

Ladies of the Day Room 1956

tired of searching for a wandering,

feisty old person singing

Christmas Carols to herself and

muttering in German, they put her away.

They took me to see her in the

state hospital.

I saw patients being

led through the halls with staring

opaque glass eyes and silly smiles.

A beaming round faced colored woman

padded over to us on swollen feet and ankles

spilling out of her green institutional

slippers

told me in her lilting voice about the fish

she caught last night, cooked it

at it and it was so good,

smacked her lips, praised the Lord

laughing showing a

gold tooth.

And she was led away, humming to herself.

My grandmother – think, boney – paper-skinned

complexion as white as her hair,

fire barely flickering in her pale blue eyes

looked blankly at us.

she was hell on wheels, once.

Agitated, she asked “where’s Mama?

there’s something I have to ask her

when are we getting off this train?”

Grandma gripped my had so tightly,

I thought it would break.

Lost Dream

Waking with a delicate thread of a dream

just at the fringes of memory –

I should have grabbed a pencil, jotted down

the elusive thoughts and tied them

to paper before they slipped away.

the longing sensation lingers in my consciousness

somewhere under the busy-ness

of the day.

If only the thoughts had a name –

ruth2
Ruth Detjen and her daughter Amy

The Queen of Soul

“At the Grammys in 1998, the legendary soul singer stepped in – at the last minute – for Pavarotti, who had been due to sing his trademark piece, Nessun Dorma. So obviously she went ahead and performed that aria.
Nessun Dorma is one of the most impressive of tenor arias – with an astronomically high top B at the climax of the aria.
It’s also an operatic tenor role. Aretha Franklin is, clearly, neither an opera singer, nor a tenor.
But that did not stop her performing the aria at the Grammys in 1998. Well, it would have been a shame to send the choir home. 
This might be the most Aretha Franklin thing that has ever happened. 
Here she is performing the piece a few years later, at an event in Philadelphia in 2015. Just **listen** to how she ad libs on that top B.”

Marie Jeannotte Enger – Rest In Peace

People die
Of course
We all will
But the loss of some people is harder to take than others.
To a child, the world is filled with a confusing array of people – those who are like us are called kids, and those who are not like us are called adults. Then there are people like my Aunt Marie who are both. She was an adult – firm, strong, indomitable – but she was also one of us kids – kind-hearted, curious, and fun-loving. A sense of humor is a hard thing to quantify but Aunt Marie had one of the most impressive I’ve known. She was able to poke fun at others without being mean-spirited and able to poke fun at herself without damage to her dignity.
Love is another thing that is hard to quantify but when you feel it you know what it is.
I was talking with a friend tonight about love and how hard it is to capture such feelings in words. The conclusion we reached is that the all the people we love will be alive as long as we are alive to carry their memory. 
Until we meet again, dear woman, you will be alive in my heart.
 

L-R: Aunt Marie, Uncle Henry, Mom

This picture was taken at my wedding, 28 years ago this week.

The Maximum Cat

 

When a cat knows he’s done, he stops eating. It’s not just that he refuses food, he’s forgotten what food is. Muscle memory leads him back to the bowl at meal time but even if you put the food in his mouth he won’t swallow.

As mammals, we share some things in common with cats: live birth, lactation, and a beating heart, to name a few. As animals, we all share mortality. 

My cat max stopped eating three days ago. His heart stopped beating today.






Life is full of beautiful moments and flowing sources of inspiration. It is also full of inescapable pain and death. Cats sense things that we cannot. They anticipated hurricanes and earthquakes long before humans had satellites and Richter scales. They hear notes at pitches beyond our perception. They know when they can’t trust someone. They know when they’re dying.

There are momentous events going on in this world that tower in significance over a dead cat, or a dead human. Unless the death takes someone you love. Then there is nothing more important. A unique variation of love exists between ‘pet’ and ‘owner.’

We named our roman-nosed tuxedo Max because he was the maximum cat.

 

Phyllis Sachs (1930 – 2017) "Lev Tov"

A teacher said to his five students: Go out and see which is a good path for a person to attach himself to. 
The first said “Ayin Tovah” (a good eye). 
The second said “Chaver Tov” (a good friend). 
The third said “Shachen Tov” (a good neighbor). 
The fourth said “One who foresees the outcome (of his actions).” 
The fifth, Rebbi Elazar said “Lev tov” (a good heart). 
The teacher said to them, “I prefer the words of Rebbi Elazar, for included in his words are your words.”

I first heard this story from the Torah at the funeral of my friend and neighbor Phyllis Sachs. She was a woman who had all five qualities, but whose good heart outshone her other virtues. Life unfolds at a frightening pace and people who are an important part of it one day can be gone the next but a person with a good heart will stay with us forever if we take inspiration from her and work to make that quality our own.

Two years ago, Phyllis’s husband of 50 years died. Their love was a joy to be around. When she read my obituary for Aaron, she asked me to print out a copy that she framed and hung on her wall. I’ve never received a higher compliment. Now, they are together again, even if only in the memories of those of us lucky enough to know them.
 
At her request, one of Aaron’s students played a poignant version of George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush on You” at the service. Rest in peace, good heart.

How glad the many millions
Of toms and dicks and Williams
Would be to capture me
But you had such persistence
You wore down my resistance
I fell and it was swell

You’re my big and brave and handsome Romeo
How I won you I will never, never know
It’s not that you’re attractive
But, oh my heart grew active
When you came into view

I’ve got a crush on you, sweetie-pie
All the day and nighttime, hear me sigh
I never had the least notion
That I could fall with so much emotion
Could you coo!
Could you care?
For a cunning cottage
We could share
The world will pardon my mush
Cuz I’ve got a crush, my baby on you

Could you coo!
Could you care?
For a cunning cottage
We could share
The world will pardon my mush
Cuz I have got a crush, my baby on you