A friend of mine from my first grad school days (and the wife of one of my closest friends from undergrad) died this morning, a few months after having been diagnosed with cancer. She leaves my abovementioned friend and their two children. Other friends of mine from Kentucky, where they live, have given me updates over the burgeoning of winter, and while this was the foreseeable outcome, that of course makes it no easier.
I was chatting online with one of those friends a night or two ago, sometime since the beginning of this final crisis. I mentioned that my generation is reaching that stage of life where most of us have had some experience with death — grandparents, parents, the occasional victim of accident and the like — but we know the pace will increase. Goldengrove is always unleaving, after all. And that acceleration of loss is disorienting; perhaps it’s even more strange for people of my age (the early 50s) and class (middle and up) in our era of medical miracles and greater safety. Our lives and culture have tried to keep death off the screen, both practically and in its numinous inevitability. But it is inevitable, and the world refuses to let us continue to ignore that fact. And as I said later to that same friend, we won’t learn to like it, but we’ll be required to keep enduring it around us until one day whoever’s left behind endures our departures.
But once again, as Johnson noted, philosophers may reason as angels, but they must live as men. And I’m no philosopher to begin with — I’m just an odd sort of person who occasionally converts life into words and phrases and stories and such. So it is as a man — a contemporary, a conversationalist, a friend — that I find myself thinking of what disappeared early this morning in Lexington.
Amy was whipsmart, funny, acerbic, and creative, and I think a beautiful example of who she was may be found in a short-lived business she opened with a friend a long time back. It was a bakery called “Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” and it deserved better than it got on the strength of its name alone. She was direct, passionate, and concerned about the worlds –both natural and human — around her. It showed in her conversation, her presence on social media, and the family Christmas cards she illustrated for years.
She and James married late during my time at Kentucky, and I think that they were nearly perfectly aligned, both in their common points and somehow even in their divergences. They were — are? — were? — a seeming example of what a marriage means. We could speak of James, and we could speak of Ellie (a nickname from Amy’s undergrad years), but it was always more natural to speak of James and Ellie. And it now feels forced and foreign not to do so.
They waited for their children, longer than they wanted to, but when their daughter and son arrived, they gave them as close to an idyllic childhood as I can imagine, living in “the 40-acre wood” in the exurbs of Lexington, where James grew up. The last picture I saw of the four of them was from over the holiday, at a fondue meal at home. Around that same time, the Mad Dog had some tickets for a Kentucky basketball game that he couldn’t use, and I arranged to offer them to James and Ellie in case they wanted an afternoon out. They declined, as they were having a Christmas cookie party. I’m glad that they got to do that.
In any case, the world became a little less kind, a little less funny, and a place with fewer opportunities for beauty this morning. The world has become a colder place, but a place less cool as well. If you are of a prayerful persuasion, you might want to spend a few for James and the children. Amy, of course, no longer requires them of us. She doesn’t have to hurt anymore, and she’s safe now from the world’s ugliness.