Friday, July 15, 2005
As for the category it belongs in, I'll let you decide. My subject, besides sunrise, small s, is how you feel when someone you knew quite well, but didn't really like dies, and why death--as mundane and common as the bread we eat or the grass on which we walk still has the power to shock us.
C. was a former co-worker, with whom I struggled to get along, but frequently failed. Unkind words were said, grudges held, hours spent rehearsing comebacks to her next rebuke. Once or twice I scored petty victories, which I retold eagerly to friends and allies on the job.
But there were pleasant times, too. I sat outside and drank coffee with her on breaks. The inevitable plume of smoke encircling her head, she reminisced about the many boyfriends she'd had and the way heads had once turned whenever she walked into a room. We also shared a mutual love of children and animals. Though C. was not a mother herself, she had a relationship with the son of a former boyfriend that exceeded many mother-child bonds in affection and generosity. A couple of times I attended the annual themed birthday party she threw herself, laughing as she said "no one else was going to do it." She always served Mexican food, her favorite, and posed with me for pictures. Her friend who was not quite a friend.
Once she told me her favorite month was July; and she usually took the whole month off to bask in her love of beach and sun. It seemed meaningful that I would hear of her death on a bright July day.
I hadn't seen her in a couple of years, not since I left the job. Last summer when another former co-worker called and told me C. had been diagnosed with lung cancer, my "good intention" reflex was activated along with my sorrow.
I carefully chose a card--one that was neither too falsely cheerful, nor too gloomy--and stared at the blankness inside for fifteen minutes. I could not think of a word to write. I would send the card tomorrow, I said, putting it in the drawer where it still sits. Every time I drove past her street, I thought of dropping by--maybe picking up some Mexican take-out for us to share, bringing a potted plant. But I didn't.
Yes, I knew she was ill. I knew she was terminal, but I was still surprised by the phone call this afternoon. In the end, our common humanity transcended all our petty differences. Why didn't I know that before?
So now I will open my desk drawer and throw away the card I never sent. Then I will go out and buy another one to send to her brothers. On Monday, I will pay the visit I never had the time or generosity of spirit for--to the funeral home.
If I'm lucky, I will wake up tomorrow to another July morning and see the sunrise, small s; and probably sometime during the day, yet another opportunity for kindness will pass me by.