Last week my Someone and I took a walk around a graveyard just before the South Carolina line on I-95 while we waited for our clothes to dry at the laundromat. I spotted a familiar last name on the gravestone closest to us, and called out–
“Look, it’s Dave.”
“Oof,” said my Someone, but then he spotted another last name, and added– “…and Megan!”
And off we went, naming our very living friends while walking among the very dead. We were halfway when I thought better of it.
“Is this morbid?” I asked.
“Maybe a little,” he said.
But then we continued, calling out Laurie and Brian and Amanda and Sandra Bullock. Then I said,
“Mallory,” pointing to the lone stone with GRAHAM etched across the front.
“No,” said my Someone suddenly. I paused. “Why did you pick yourself?”
“Because,” I said without thinking, “I felt left out. I wanted to be with my friends.”
With our recent road hiccups– another major break down on a tour we’ll be lucky to break even on– and the illness that has saturated our friends’ bodies, and the emotional despair that stamped me down to almost breaking last month: the isolation was stifling. As we walked and named, I felt myself become lighter. By the time we reached the gates, it was as though we’d gone to a full party. Le Danse Macabre worked its magic, and I was leveled again with the delight of death’s equalizing force.
Today, I am 37. I am one step closer to someone calling my name above a lone stone etched with GRAHAM, and the reminder brings me an unprecedented amount of life.
I am heavy with gratitude, as texts pile in from friends I made a decade and a half ago. What a miracle it is, that in this short sprint of living– where I can barely manage to keep track of where I last set down my phone or the postcard I wrote to my niece last week that needs a stamp but now I can’t find it– that I have managed to keep anything at all, let alone people who have equally shifted and become new people each seven year stretch when their cells revitalized and their thoughts on god morphed into an abyss of more questions than answers. They lose their keys and their favorite lighters and their bad habits, but have not managed to lose me. And the work it takes to manage the keeping of one’s friends far exceeds that of keeping one’s favorite pen. How do we manage keeping even one person orbiting our atmosphere at all, let alone multiple?
I am heavier with gratitude this year than years before. I’ve formed the opinion this week that friendship doesn’t quite blossom until at least 15 years, and I am in the thick of spring in my friendships, with new seeds germinating as I watch the petals unravel on the others.
I’ve become recently obsessed with the French tune Cou Cou, the Django Reinhardt avec le Quintette du Hot Club de France version, particularly this line–
Eveillez-vous, Eveillez-vous– le monde est transformé.
I’m very early in my learning of the language, but I was confused by this particular line. I knew reveiller to mean wake up; but this, this was spelled incorrectly. A quick google search showed that the meaning is the same– both are to wake up. But taking a look closer, the meaning is subtly changed. Reveiller is to wake up habitually– the habit of every morning when our alarm goes off or the sun shines in our eyes. But Eveiller— this isn’t your average wake up call. This is a deeper, nearly spiritual sense of waking up– this is awakening. The singer isn’t asking us to wake up to see that the world looks different, she’s asking us to awaken ourselves, our deep cellular selves, and see that the world is transformed– which inevitably means we are changed, too.
And this is the ordinary miracle: It takes years of habitual waking up– of putting in the phone calls and the texts and the happy birthdays and the showing up– to arrive at a place of awakening. There I go, reveillez-vous, reveillez-vous for days, and one time I wake up and I’m 37 and voila– I’ve awakened to a plethora of love I can recall in moments with my monthly book club meeting, or in the middle of a cemetery surrounded by my friends’ names. It is an accumulation and luck of the draw, hard work and stupid chance that I have aligned myself with friends and fellow artists and acquaintances that fill my timeline in such a way as to transform it, one waking up at a time, until we wake up no more and keep one another’s bones company as some young 36-year-old walks above us, placing their friends lives upon our own, transforming the world with their heavy, deliberate steps around and around again.
I enjoyed your fanciful exploration of the cemetary and your naming game. Since I plan to be scattered instead of buried, I won’t have a headstone to lend to the cause. However, since I plan to be scattered, and since I have 40 years on you, you can wave to me whenever you see a dusty field or a sandy beach.
I practically do that already since you are rarely far from my mind these days. 😉