wish you were here

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.


Ana Frost said...

Beautiful post Jill, life can change, time can pass, but all good times and the ones we love , always be on our mind and heart :-) have a lovely weekend. xxx

Veshoevius said...

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'

I think you're right.

So sorry to hear that your friend's friend died.

Alexandra said...

So sorry to the sad news of Anna's passing - my heart goes out to Valeria. As you say, Jill, it is imperative that we make every moment in our lives count and notice and appreciate the little things that make up our lives. Ultimately the most important part of our lives and arguably the most important part are the people we share them with. Family and friends wherever they are. None of us could survive a lone existence no matter how many distractions we had to occupy ourselves. So I just want reiterate what I said in my comment on your previous post Jill, that your honesty and clarity of thought is so refreshing that you give me hope for the rest of the world to become so. Have a restful weekend Jill - you deserve it so much. Alexandra xxx

Lotte said...

So, so sorry to hear this, Jill. Very moving post.

Dominga Bijouterie said...

Your post is so profound it made me remember people I wish where with me. Thank you very much :)

LeahB said...

Oh, what a great film clip Jill! What year was it taken?

So sorry to hear about Anna. Her poor family. News of her sudden death certainly reminds me that I need to get going with my own life. I seem to be hearing the lyrics of the "Phone booth" song by Primitive Radio Gods in my mind tonight after reading your beautiful post. Thank you Jill.
Am I alive or thoughts that drift away?
Does summer come for everyone?
Can humans do as prophets say?
And if I die before I learn to speak
Can money pay for all the days I lived awake
But half asleep?

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I am so sad for Anna, and your friend Valeria and others who shared in Anna's life. As I am sad for your loss of your dad, and my mom, and all the other people we wish we could still hold hands with.

It's all so fleeting, and sometimes, I can't help wondering "what's it all about?" And I think how important it is to live intensely, with people we love, and to DO things we love, else we end up like J. Alfred Prufrock -- measuring out our lives with coffee spoons. We may all use different calibrations, big spoons or little spoons, but at the end of it all, we want it to be meaningful.

Your post has spun me into this reverie, but let me get back to your beautiful images. I love your dancer pose on the beach. There is something both lonely and wild about it, just like the ocean in front of you. And I didn't know your brother was with Pink Floyd! How cool is that. He must have some stories. And I think you look a lot like your mom. At least, I think that was your mom in the home movie, since she reminded me a lot of you.

Big hug from over here (and if you are ever in CA, we have lots to talk about over wine ... or coffee!) And I was touched you quoted my text. I was just rambling when I typed that comment (as I am now) - J xx

jill said...

These are such lovely, lovely comments to wake to. Thank you, each of you - from my heart.

Superficially, I've also been photographing clothes, accessories, colours and shapes.. I seem to have an appetite for blogging about fashion again. Actually, J - your post on tangerine and aqua triggered it off: colours I'm loving this season.

Isn't it strange: how our psyches can multi task. In the midst of even the saddest times, we can get happy about the simplest things.

Rosalind said...

So many beautiful and inspiring and reflective strands of thought running through these two posts Jill. There's also a strong sense of stillness in your writing too - of being very still in each moment.
I'm so sorry for Anna's family and friends and wish them some moments of peace in their grieving process.
Your observation about feeling intensely being the times when we are most alive reminds me of Forster's lines in Howards End on the theme of 'only connect'. It also makes me think of something my mum has talked about several times that she recalled from a set text she studied when she was 18 - about time that is measured not by hours or minutes, but by intensity.
It has certainly been a year of intensity in many different ways.

Stephanie Clayton said...

Very moving, Jill. We must make every moment count, for all we have is this very moment, the Now.

The song "Wish You Were Here" has special meaning for my brother and me. Long story. Remind me to tell you about it some time.

Let's get in touch soon. I miss you, my long distance friend.