Sunday, May 27, 2012

Here's to Life

Just before I left for Nicaragua, I saw Ed, my 91-year old friend at the Jewish Home, being wheeled off to the hospital. He had been declining and just the day before, sat by the piano while I played with his head bowed. When I finished a song, he lifted his head up, looked me in the eye and said, “Beautiful.” That turned out to be my last moment with him and one I cherish. His sense of humor reminded me of my own father, he often drummed along while I played and I finally fulfilled my promise of bringing a snare drum with brushes one day for him to play. He also had danced the Lindy Hop back in the day and was so sweet giving pointers to the dancers from my jazz class a couple of years ago.

Mortality is lurking in the shadows these days. Besides Ed’s passing, two school staff members lost their mothers recently, my cat Chester is limping around on his last arthritic 18-year old legs, my 105-year old Zen teacher is recovering from an illness and most difficult of all, my mother-in-law Pam has made a conscious decision to check into Hospice and stop eating. This is new territory for me and I’m not doing well understanding it. She is uncomfortable with the various aches, pains and indignities an 87-year old can suffer, but there is no one obvious thing that is signaling the end.

Her talk about this idea coincided with the anniversary of her husband’s death and the idea of re-uniting with him on the other side has been mentioned. Meanwhile, we had all planned a big family reunion in early July and in my fantasies of the orchestrated end of life, that would be the perfect time to gather and say goodbye. But I’m not in her body and mind and she has other plans.

Behind the confusion and disappointment, the grief lies waiting and its gates opened unexpectedly and the tears fell as I listened to Shirley Horn sing a beautiful ballad called “Here’s to Life” (by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary). The lyrics without the music lose most of their power, but here they are. (Those curious can find the song on Shirley Horn's album of the same title.)

“No complaints and no regrets.
 I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But I have learned that all you give is all you get.
So give it all you’ve got.

I’ve had my share, I drank my fill.
But even though I’m satisfied, I’m hungry still.
To see what’s down another road and down the hill.
And do it all again.

So here’s to life, and every joy it brings.
So here’s to life, to dreamers and their dreams.

Funny how the time just flies,
A love can go from warm hellos to sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized.
To keep your winters warm.

For there’s no “yes” in yesterday,
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away.
As long as I’m still in the game, I want to play.
For laughs, for life, for love.

May all your storms be weathered.
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.”

Still in the game myself, still hungry for more, still chasing dreams and giving it all I’ve got, it’s hard to imagine the moment when it feels finished, when the only dream is for the unknown on the other side of my last breath. There’s a dignity and honesty and a musicality to feeling when the cadence has arrived and when to release the pedal as the last piano notes echo. From the cold heights of philosophy, I admire Pam’s decision, but down here on the ground floor of this earth, there are her grieving children and grandchildren and a great-grandchild who may just miss meeting her and it’s just plain hard.

But I understand this is her time to decide, she has certainly fulfilled her duties as a mother and has other voices to answer to. So Pam, in hopes that your hope for a life beyond this one and a love that will re-unite be true, I offer the last lines of this most beautiful song (while still holding on to a sliver of hope that I'll see you in July):

May all your storms be weathered.
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.

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