This morning, steady rain. The tops of birch trees tousling around in the wind of a storm passing through. A big gust just this moment sets all the leaves to shivering. It's been a run of endings and beginnings, my stepdaughter's wedding, the death of a friend's mother from lung cancer, the death of my 90 year-old friend Shirley's beloved, the death of P, an artist I know, of ovarian cancer. Another friend spent a day enduring scans to see if a rare breast sarcoma had spread anywhere else in her body (it hadn't, and so she begins a second round of chemo).
A few days ago, a small group of friends and family released the ashes of P (the artist who had ovarian cancer) into the ocean. From one of those friends, I learned that P, on the last day of her life, asked her husband to go out to their garden and pick a bouquet of flowers for Shirley, as condolence for the loss of her beloved. P's husband suffers from dementia, and didn't remember the way to Shirley's house, so P drew him a map. A squiggly line from P's house to Shirley's. B followed it. He knocked on Shirley's door, presented her the flowers. She invited him inside for tea, and when he left, he left the map behind. He found his way back to P without it. The next day P died.
After hearing the story of the map, I went to yoga class. Afterward, despite the fact that my house was full of visiting family, despite my desire to be the perfect hostess and make them breakfast, despite all the pre-wedding chores on my list, I decided to follow P's map. How could I not? The flower in my own garden a bit bedraggled by all the rain, I stopped at Forget-Me-Not. The proprietor hadn't even turned the lights on yet. He hadn't even put all of the newly arrived flowers into the case. They stood arrayed in vases on the table behind the counter, and with him, I picked out stems, invoking the colors of P's paint and fiber art palette, of Shirley's watercolors. Purples, some pale, some deep. Pale blues. A sprig or two of maroon. And then I drove up the Shirley's, following that map. She was there with her son. She was still in her bathrobe. We sat in the living room, and she told me that she's two people now, the strong, public Shirley, and the private one, the one who walked over to her painting studio the other day, not to paint, but to blast a CD of sopranos singing arias, to play the music so loud, their cries of heartbreak, loss, agony, joy and despair emanated from her own body. "But I'm all right," Shirley said. "We were both ninety, we knew it was only a matter of time, one of us would go. I was hoping I'd go first. But you know, we made each other happy." And then she told me about her idea for her next play.
There's a map P left behind, not to a place, not to a destination. It's the map to a route, a way of living. It's a map drawn by a woman on the last day of her life. A day like any other day, a day of rain, a day of flowers. A day of being fully alive, not just to self, but to one another. I want to make my life a study of that map.