Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Fall Descends

They say everything can be replaced,
Yet every distance is not near.
So I remember every face 
Of every man who put me here. . . . .
Last month, I went to a memorial service for a woman I met 27 years ago, when she was the administrator of the graduate writing program I was in—the very first person I met on the very first day—and whom I last saw in 2003. 

At the outdoor service in Rock Creek Park, we were led in sing-alongs of a few of T's favorite songs—"Blowin' in the Wind," "I Shall Be Released," "Forever Young." Lovely and moving, and some of my favorites, too. The only problem was I found myself singing Peter, Paul, and Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind," Bette Midler's "I Shall Be Released," and Joan Baez's "Forever Young" while the song leader, the printed lyrics, and the rest of the obedient crowd followed Dylan's locutions and beats. 

See, I like Bob Dylan's songs a lot more than I like Bob Dylan's singing—and the renditions that came out of my mouth were the ones that have resided in my head (and music collection) for years.

T. might have appreciated that story. She had a wry (occasionally caustic) sense of humor, a big laugh, and a welcoming manner. It helped that she seemed to like me. A lot of people probably had the same thought (that she liked them, I mean, not me). She managed to pull off a rare, felicitous blending of "get over yourself" and "how can I help?"

That was more or less the gist of all the speakers' reminiscences at the memorial, and I would have joined in with my own if the open period for stories had lasted longer. But almost all the speakers seemed to be designated as such, even those who weren't officially listed in the program. Then it was over. 

It's probably just as well I didn't come forward because I couldn't have said much more than the general, abstract characterization of her I've given here.

Other than my affection for T., my memories of how well she ran the office and supported people like me (a somewhat nervous 26-year-old returning to school after four years away), a memory of one dinner party at her house a few years later, and another at my apartment long after grad school (the last time I saw her, in fact)—coupled with my regret at having fallen out of touch over the last 11 years—I have virtually no specific memories of her at all, in the sense of stories, particular times she did this and I said that and she came back with this bon mot. Nothing.

She's not the only person I could say this about—I who, according to some, have such an amazing memory. (I just happen to remember different things than they do.) More often than not, what I retain are the little things, inconsequential details: music that was playing, food people "et" (to quote the pronunciation of the British actress reading the British book I'm listening to), what grade I was in when a particular movie came out (sometimes when I never even saw the movie—I can often remember what grade I was in when the stars appeared on Merv Griffin or Dinah Shore.)

I wish I could call up more interactions with those people who may not have been major players in my life but affected me nevertheless. Who in sometimes small, daily ways made me feel valued, respected, interested, engaged, inspired to return the favor of their ways.

"Fall Descends on Rock Creek Park" by Matthew Lehner

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