Looking back… and forward

The day before Easter. A slow and steady rain is soaking the garden. Could have been snow— how many times did I hide the colored eggs behind and under the living room furniture when snow blanketed the green shoots outside?

I hear complaining about the leaden skies, but I know the first daffodils will be opening in tomorrow’s promised sun.

I’m reminded of a Monday morning in August 18 years ago when the phone rang at 7 a.m. It was drizzling, and I wondered who could be calling at that hour. I never expected my next-door neighbor whom I hardly knew, since I’d just moved in a few months earlier.

“Have you brought everything in?” she asked.

“Why would I do that?” I asked back.

“There’s a hurricane on the way! I’m coming over.”

And so began our friendship, that morning when Lena came in her wellies and helped me move the outdoor furniture into the garage. She went back home and we kept in touch on the phone, even as we were mopping and wringing ceaselessly with huge towels as the rain battered us horizontally, flowing over the threshold. When it began to abate, it was time to close one set of windows and open another, move to the next place where the storm was bursting in under a different door, as the hurricane wound round the house. That afternoon, despite our exhaustion, we couldn’t wait to see how the world outside had fared, so we jumped into her Jeep and zigged around downed trees and power lines.

For four days we kept company and supported each other, living without power and feasting on the contents of our freezers, grilling tomatoes and mozzarella for breakfast on Lena’s barbecue. We stocked up on batteries, burned candles and went early to bed. Eventually our husbands joined us, and the four of us shared many more adventures in the years that followed.

Lena and David moved away three years ago, tearing the familiar fabric of our routine and leaving a gaping hole, made immeasurably more painful when David’s cancer took him on the third go-round almost one and a half years ago.

But, as we have all learned, change is the only constant.

We met Lena for lunch today at Bobby Van’s, where the four of us had dined more than a few times over the years. We sat in the window, toasted David, and felt he was watching us from the brand-new bench outside that bears a plaque in his memory.

Despite the rain and David’s almost palpable presence, Lena could barely contain herself. She returned to the same theme again and again, regaling us with stories of the new love in her life.

A miracle? Seems that way— time will tell.

They met when a friend asked an acquaintance of his if he knew anyone terrific for Lena. And that person, whom none of us knows, gave Lena’s name to a friend of his in Florida. Michael called Lena on Valentine’s Day. Since then, they’ve exchanged pictures, logged countless telephone hours and hundreds of e-mails, but have yet to meet face to face, not for lack of desire, but because the demands of our complicated modern lives proved impossible to unravel.

In another week the waiting will be over. “What have you planned?” I wanted to know.

“We’d like to go to the theater, but he hates musical comedy, and I don’t enjoy drama so much,” she said.

We’d seen “Guys and Dolls” Thursday night, and Frank Loesser’s incomparable score was still playing in my head. But Lena rejected my suggestion out of hand. She and David had seen the second revival in 1992, the day David had spread out the X-rays showing the cancer that had invaded his lungs and that would demand his submission to the surgeon’s knife for the second time.

They loved each other fiercely for 36 years, and now Lena’s writing the next chapter.

Unlikely as Lena’s romance certainly is, I don’t scratch it up to luck. Yes, undoubtedly luck plays a role, but the determination not to be defeated, the will to live, the strength to beat back the despair that threatens the survival of the self— these are what make us open to possibility and enable us to recognize and grab it as it dances nearby.

A chance at new life, the very essence of Easter and Passover.

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