Saturday, November 9, 2013

NOW IS THE AUTUMN OF OUR TRANSITION

One of our beautiful models, Livia, with Chuck, our inspired teacher
Lou Reed died and Laurie Anderson continued even though she didn't know how it would feel to be left behind.  

A few weeks back, I attended the burial of my friend Charlie's parents at Arlington National Cemetery.  It was, as Lou Reed might put it, "just a perfect day."  A beautiful afternoon.  The sun shone and the sky was blue.  Autumn leaves showed gold and green and red. We drove our cars to the grave site, and assembled at a tent where the service would be held.  Marines folded the Stars and Stripes ceremoniously over urns, which contained the ashes of Charlie's parents.  Words were spoken.  Gun salute was fired.  A trumpeter played taps.

We are in transition.  But we take the transition in different ways.

Right now for me, there's Chuck, my sculpture teacher, who sits in his wheelchair waiting for Tom to replenish his oxygen supply.  Chuck wheels round the studio commenting on our work. "Make sure the legs aren't too short," he advises me.  'Define the hips and the waistline. Keep it loose and have fun," he says.

I try.  But today is our penultimate class with Chuck.  Next week is his last. I cherish these words of guidance. I trust he knows that in having fun and keeping it loose we say a lot more than when we have corks up our arses.

Meanwhile, another transition:  The mother of one of my oldest friends, sitting at her window and watching the birds. She's in a nursing home, living in the moment.  Doesn't remember this visitor as her son, or, if she remembers, doesn't know his name. "I know you are my son," she says.  "But what is your name?" And the love that comes forth in this simple declaration cannot be denied, because she loves the man and knows him for her son.    She doesn't remember his name.

But what's in a name?

We might understand this in some degree.  All of us are in transition, from one phase to another. The undiscovered country is death, of course, and the long goodbye is  something we don't want to think about, don't want to take on board, even though we should.

Another example: When my friend Freddy died at a nursing home in Brussels, he didn't want sentimentality.  Hated that, in fact.  I called towards the end, and he said, "Can I call you back, because the Grand National is about to start..."

Later, at his funeral, another friend told me he thought it extremely unlikely Freddy would have cared tuppence about the Grand National.  It  was just that goodbyes were so difficult. So he wanted to compose himself. And indeed the next time I telephoned he called me darling.  

Darling!

"You are an old soldier, Freddy," I said.

He laughed. "That's right. And old soldiers never die.  They just fade away."  It was the last conversation we ever had.

What will become of me after my sculpture teacher Chuck has gone?  What will become of all Chuck's students? We feel ourselves part of a studio full of like-minded sculptors, guided by the humor and wisdom of one who has led but is leaving us behind.

We feel this transition to the soles of our feet. 

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