Happiness is a form of courage. –George Holbrook Jackson
Last night, after spending hours yanking cheatgrass and other invasive weeds from Monarch Spur Park and along the Salida Trail, I was worn out and sore all over. So much that, thinking of all I had left to accomplish before diving back into the work-week and manuscript revision, I let self-pity in.
Richard Cabe (1950-2011), swimming in the Arkansas River on his 60th birthday.
Once there were two of us, working together on everything. And then Richard died, leaving me on my own. The rational side of me knows he didn't choose brain cancer, much less to die only two years and three months after his first symptoms. But still….
"Darn it!" I said out loud. (Only the word I used wasn't "darn.") "I need you!"
Even as I let myself wallow, righteous in feeling wronged by life, I realized that the self-pity was only a distraction. Beyond it was something much deeper and stronger. A chunk of real grief so powerful that as soon as I felt it, the pain poured through my body like a flood. It almost pulled me under.
I missed Richard so viscerally, so keenly that I almost let myself go. But I didn't.
I hauled myself up off the couch, walked to the window and looked out over the side yard, where in daylight the Lewis flax in the mountain grassland I restored there bloom in jeweled profusion.
It was just dark enough that I couldn't see the meadow and its wildflowers, but when I lifted my gaze to the western sky, one bright planet glowed. My eyes watered.
"Oh," I said. (I talk to myself all the time. I live alone; there's no one to hear.) "Venus, the evening star. Our planet, symbol of love."
Richard's no longer with me, but the love we shared for nearly 30 years is here still. It wasn't a perfect love: we were sometimes clueless or mean or oblivious, we argued and fought, we hurt each other–deliberately or not. But that love remained, deep and lasting.
We held hands–always. When we kissed, it wasn't perfunctory. We said we loved each other every day, and we meant it, even in the middle of a fight. We never walked away from each other for longer than it took to cool off and figure out where we had gone wrong. We always figured it out, and then went back to holding hands and loving in a way that endured through growth and changes, though challenges and sorrows, as well as delights and joys.
Richard and me admiring "Paula's Find," one of his sculptures
Seeing Venus in the evening sky last night reminded me that grief is part of having loved. I ache for Richard because of what we shared and tended.
Realizing that didn't make the grief go away. But it did remind me of the quote at the beginning of this post, which came to me on a birthday card from my friends Maggie and Tony, who have helped me figure out how to find that courage to continue to be happy after losing Richard.
I'm fortunate in having a strong and nurturing circle of friends, family and community. Maggie and Tony stand out for being there in small and huge ways, from replacing batteries in the smoke alarms at the top of the scary-tall ladder and hauling flagstone, to patiently teaching me trim carpentry when I needed to finish and sell the big house. (They agreed to build this website too, and they're probably sorry about that now!)
Tony and Maggie, on an expedition to see the Orient Mine bat flight
And for finding quotes that remind me of the person I'd like to be. One who is happy, and able to live her life in a way that helps restore this world and all who inhabit it. One who lives with her heart outstretched as if it were her hand.
That takes courage. And family and friends. And lots of love.
Thanks for doing your part. I'm determined to continue with mine, too.