Friday, April 30, 2010

Margaret Egerton: Ninety-Nine

Flowers for Margaret
Margaret loved poetry, and often quoted her favorite poems in the pieces she brought to class. The little poem that begins her piece "Ninety-nine" is from a book of poetry given to her by a friend on her ninety-ninth birthday, last October. The poem at the end is copied in the beautiful handwriting she learned as a student of calligraphy. She was very interested in people, and insisted that I bring my own writing to class, making a special effort to get there on March 30, when I had promised to read a few pages of my memoir-in-progress. The following week, we heard that she had been in the hospital. The last time I saw her, she was sitting up in bed with a beautiful barrette in her hair in the shape of an exotic flower. She had just been Skyping with some young family members. We had a lovely visit, and at the end, she said, "I think I'll see you again."

Instructions for Living:
Pay attention
Be astonished
Tell about it

—from Red Bird Poetry, by Mary Oliver

Last week I celebrated my birthday. It truly was a celebration with my family and friends and I was very grateful to keep going, but by the end of the week I was so tired. I slumped into my favorite chair and began opening my birthday cards, many loving expressions, all very encouraging about this “special day.” I could not believe that I was feeling so sad! With Sheri purring in my lap and nuzzling my hands with the cards, it was an hour of repose when I was reminded of my comfort and many blessings.

A day or two passed, I renewed my energy, but the mood of sadness continued until I telephoned my friend who had given me the book of poems for my birthday present. She and I have been friends for many years, and we have shared many thoughtful weekends together where we had learned to pray and reflect on our most deeply troubling as well as enjoyable experiences together. We had never known each other prior to our meeting in Vermont at a Christmas party twenty years ago. It was at the party that we discovered we had been working with the same agency in Connecticut, the Child and Family Services. She cared for babies born to unwed mothers and I helped the mothers make the terrible decision of choice, i.e. to keep the baby or release it for adoption. We had never met while working in different offices of the agency. However, that evening at the party began a natural and mutual loving friendship as we were both “flatlanders,” having retired to Vermont recently but ready to continue our good intentions as social workers wherever we found the need to serve. It was not many months before we were truly engaged in creating Randolph Area Hospice in Vermont. We followed this organization as volunteers until it was established as part of a national service with the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire. At the time we retired as volunteers we continued to keep in touch.

Sadly, my friend and I have been separated from our usual link of fellowship for the past year as she has been totally disrupted and engaged this past year in making a major shift in her life style, leaving her beautiful home, and placing her dear husband in a nursing home and finding her own place near enough to visit him every day. Our reunion began the day of my birthday when we lunched together and we shared her favorite book of poems.

Since our visit I have read all of the poems in this small book and can quote it with her as a new beginning for both of us. Fortunately, I have had some relief from the sadness which has hovered over me since my celebration. However, this sadness has been like a shadow which has been near me during the past decade but difficult to describe in words or to share with others. Perhaps that is why I have kept journals in an effort to communicate with something ineffable and mysterious. It fills me with being alone with a secret, something impersonal, a “numinosum” which is part of the mystery, the inexplicable, the incredible experience of living.

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