Monday, August 23, 2010

Surviving Nena

I am on a plane, high above tiny trees and houses, sailing through indifferent clouds…

I was meant to be on this same plane to California a week from now for a sabbatical to write my second book. Until yesterday evening, when I learned that my Aunt Nena was starting to fade.

Oh, Nena… there are none and too many words to describe her. When I lived in Los Angeles, we'd have our weekly lunches, smacking our lips and humming at the delicious food we never thought twice about treating ourselves to, talking for hours over ungodly amounts of coffee until waiters inevitably would ask us to close our tabs for the ends of their shifts. My travels and eventual move to New York turned weeks into months, still we never missed a beat, cherishing and sharing adventures through phone calls, post cards, and letters until we'd meet again.

And now… if only to sit by her side and stroke her hair…

They say that the hearing is the last thing that goes, and so I'll sing to her all of the hymns that years ago she insisted I sing at her funeral. How I dreaded that type of talk, though she'd roll her eyes and laugh at my discomfort: "Why would anyone fear death who has really lived life?"

And live life, she did. I will learn the lessons her death will bring as those from her life and our conversations still ring in my ears:

life is short
risk everything
waste nothing, particularly moments
honor your word; it's all you have
be humble and brave
cherish family
create community
never stop learning
honor age but remember its illusions
create rather than react to life
have no regrets
Forgive, and Love.

Were I to show her this list, she'd certainly roll her eyes, coffee cup shaking gently in her hand that betrayed a steadiness of mind and wit that never flinched. She might have said, "Jeeeenny (emphasis and long pause for dramatic, comedic effect), why reflect on the obvious? There's no need to talk about things that are better done than said!"

Oh, how she'd suffer my ignorance! With an unconditional but firm and almost impatient love that seemed to say "get ON with it!" she taught me perspective. Dwelling on the past and fearing the future were never judged as wrong, but simply revealed themselves to be ridiculous in the returned gaze of a woman whose life was so well lived that anything less than my moment to moment best seemed like an insult.

I'm smiling now as I consider how ironic, how beautiful, that self-expression is the subject of my second book, given that I am on my way to celebrate the woman whose love, life, and wisdom helped me to become the woman I am today. The constant voice in my head that helped me find my own…

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I'll meet you there" -Rumi

I love you, Nena. And no matter what, I'll see you soon...

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