This isn't remotely the post I meant to do today.
I've had so many thoughts and images I've wanted to post - and I've barely been home, or online - but what I wanted to show you was a film my cousin found: my mom, aged 15, and her kid brother, our Uncle Richard, and her parents, Sidney, who I knew and adored and was my Grandpa all my life - and her mom, who I only knew as Anna. Anna, who had died two weeks after I was born, who all my relatives swore I was the spitting image of, Anna, who I've felt has looked over me, all these years.
I can't embed the image, but if you click here you can see it. I've never seen my mom - apart from photos, of course - how she looked, moved, before I was born. It gave me chills to see how much she reminded me of me, and how much her only sibling, Uncle Richard, was just like my kid brother, Jon. Grandpa looks just like I remember him, but I've only seen photos of my grandmother. I've never seen Anna moving. Alive. And I wonder how it feels for her, to see this film now. Of her family, she has survived them all.
She's out at the family beach house now, my mom. I just got an email from her: she's arranged the latest monthly 'ladies' lunch' with her friends and neighbours. And I wished I was there, so strongly, and then I had a memory: me and my dad, on the deck of that same summer home, looking at the water, listening to the advance cd from my kid brother, who had been on tour with Pink Floyd, playing keyboards. We sat and listened to Wish You Were Here - you can't see him in this version, but at the chorus, he's doing the harmony - I'd recognise his voice, slightly dusty pink it seems to me, anywhere, and it gives me the chills, because I remember sitting there quietly with my father, and we weren't talking, but he simply reached out and held my hand.
His cancer had already spread into his bones years earlier by then, but you'd never know: he looked as young and handsome as ever. We didn't need to say anything, but we knew there's come a day - we didn't know when - when, most likely, he wouldn't be there, and I'd wish he was.
And then I started looking through old shots in Italy, with my friends, the group my NY friend BK loosely dubbed 'the Italians' - they're mostly Italian, but they're scattered round the world - this extended group of friends, practically family. A lovely tribe. And I remembered that day: we had reached the summit of a deserted island near Ponza, climbed it in the heat - Valeria, and Luigi and Guilia, and I - and all we had seen on the top was an empty house, and a donkey. It felt like the donkey - lonely and wise on the top of the mountain - was God himself. And I looked down and saw those of the group below, swimming off the boat: the little girls are teenagers now.
I was meant to be seeing them now. It is good, and right, that I didn't go, because Valeria's friend Anna did die. She is at her funeral now, possibly today. If we had gone ahead with our plans and gone to the other island, the one Valeria had booked our hotel - Ventotene - she wouldn't have been able to be there for her friend. We will have other trips, Valeria and I, but I feel that there is a reason that I am in London now. And I've vowed to make each day, each minute and hour, count. I am paying close attention to the people I meet, the strangers I pass and smile my hello. I am looking for signs: the sun breaking through the clouds. A bird. The light as I pass.
The top photo is of me, by Valeria: she recently stumbled upon it, posted it on facebook, and I stumbled upon it today. We were on Long Island; the Hamptons. And while I want to apologise to whoever you are, reading this, for being so maudlin, in truth, I'm actually quite happy. I figured out I've lost the three men, besides my father, who have been so important to me - who I loved, and love, so dearly - in a matter of months. First, my dear 'cousin Cliff' - my father's cousin, the brother he wished he had - on New Year's Eve. Major Bobby, a month to the day later. Then, out of the blue - without warning, just as he was recovering nicely from not very risky surgery - my father's best friend, Paul. I still haven't come to terms with Paul's loss yet - nor any of them. We had just had him over for dinner, in Florida, this winter: I made salmon. I can still see his sweet face, when we said goodbye. As his son said at his funeral, 'there was a glow about him.' As my husband told his best friend: 'Paul is the only man I ever hugged'. And it is uncanny what a friend I've not yet met - Jenny, the Foolish Aesthete, wrote to me yesterday:
'The last few weeks, nearly everyone I am close to has had a brush with deep sorrow, and so transitively, have I. These brushes are so unexpected and random, as you say. (My husband says it's Venus in retrograde, and I think he was only half joking.)
I was just telling another friend, as I get older, I realise that when we feel so intensely (whether joy or extreme sorrow), that is actually when we are most ALIVE. Everything in between is mere existence. It's the piercing, bittersweet moments tht really count, and make up the string of experiences we call 'our life'.'
And I couldn't say it any better - and I've said enough, so I will leave it at that.