Yesterday we celebrated a niece’s birthday. Today our celebration is of the more somber bookend. I wanted to share three thoughts and a few lines of verse—all of which I dedicate to our elder sister:
SUZANNE ELIZABETH GARDNER
We live our lives between the past and the future. Our thought is usually of the one or the other—such thought, along with everything else, takes place in the present. When the past and the future collide, there is nothing to ponder between them—the present has dissolved into what I call a God-moment—the place between birth and death where a life has been gathered in the mind of God.
The second thought is more pedestrian. From an early age we are made and become well aware of the calendar day that marks our birth—our birthday. Significantly Less thought is given to another calendar day, no less significant but rarely conjured in wakeful consciousness. Suzann Elizabeth—the lovely daughter of our memory discovered that fateful day three weeks ago, today. As her birthday will forever remain April 10, 1942–her death-day will forever remain March 3, 2014. So I submit that when we appraise the days of the year—when we note anyone of its familiar 365—that we remember that anyone one of them might be that day the when our past and futures collide—and if we find that any particular day is not that given day then it is given to us to rejoice in the day that it is and rejoice in the day that it’s not. Whitman is instructive:
Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough.
The third thought concerns the immortality of the written word. In finitude, immortality is, of course, an illusion—words and the books that they contain will one day perish along with all and any of the other products of time. But for the interim they give the impression of longevity—like the God-moment they are sandwiched between two covers—a present moment flowing down a page gathered between a beginning and an end. At the end of a book I finished writing yesterday—I had a melancholy moment. I realized this was a book that Suzanne would never read—and I further reflected that until yesterday that I been too busy living my own life to think very often of hers— so I found myself adding something simple, something suggestive of that melancholy, to the book’s final page–so now that she is gone and the book to press– I think I am destined to contemplate her life more often than I would have otherwise supposed. But before the finitude of that conclusion—the promised lines of verse. The lines are, again, as you might imagine (in this place of endless lawns) from Walt Whitman—They are taken from the beginning and the end of Song of Myself—they bookend his take on life and death as he contemplates a single spear of summer grass:
I celebrate and sing myself
And what I shall assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
A child said what is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it must be the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt.
Bearing the owner’s name in the corner that we may see and remark, and say whose?
And now it seems the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
The scud of (this) day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds
I coaxes me to the vapor and dust.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift (away) in lacy jags,
I bequeath myself to the grass I love,
If you want me look for me under your boot-soles,
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you never the less,
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Suzanne awaits me and any others at the end of the book I finished writing yesterday. It quotes Whitman yet once again:
I that was visible am now invisible.
And concludes opposite his line with the collision of a beginning and an end gathering a past and future forever fixed in the mind of God:
Susanne Elizabeth Gardner