Getting to know the dead

January 12, 2014

Yesterday Lysle and I went to a memorial.
It was held at the Picnic House in Prospect Park, so we were able to walk there. And the park was shrouded – in fog, then rain, then thicker fog.
Even the last hold-outs of snow, the real big piles from after the blizzard, were steaming. We couldn’t figure out why; it looked as if they were harboring heat not cold.

So the atmosphere was muted and mysterious. If the park could be said to hold a mood, it held sadness. The park had lost one of its lovers.
The woman who was remembered – let me call her Aura – explored the park whenever she could. She was an artist deeply inspired by nature. And she was the mother of one of Lysle’s class mates, a girl named Lark who is nine.

I knew Aura and her story only through a recent online fundraiser that was started when she knew she was dying of her breast cancer and didn’t want to leave her daughter with unpaid medical bills.

And I knew and admired some of Aura’s work – she had created T-shirts and totes for Lysle’s school that presented it as a jar full of fireflies. Both the idea and its execution poignant and beautiful.

Lysle wanted to attend the memorial. He truly feels for Lark, knowing something of loss himself. I wanted to attend, too, for similar reasons, and also, strangely, because Aura seemed like such a great person to “meet.” There was the wall of photos – done the way I had done it for Mama – in no recognizable chronology but just showing the fullness of a life lived.

At least half a dozen people spoke about Aura and made her appear out of their memories. I got to know her just a little and was able to join the mourners – not merely in empathy, especially for Lark – but with a real sense of loss of a powerful human spirit. Someone you wouldn’t want to have missed.
Her mother recalled how Aura always managed to surprise her – not least by changing her name, making her first name into her last and finding her own first name for herself.
In their speeches her parents struggled with which name to use.

Everyone who spoke had fallen hard for Aura.
Even the Buddhist chaplain who only met her two weeks before she died. He said just coming upon her house the first time had made him wonder: Wow, who is the person who created all this?

This remark made me realize that I knew Aura’s house.
Completely ignorant of Aura, I had those thoughts the chaplain had voiced every time I had walked past that narrow slice of a house through the years. It was the bookend to a row of little houses like it. But it was also the stand-out. Everything about it one-of-a-kind – from the weathervane to the fence. Of course. That was Aura’s house.
She had made jewelry for her house, the way she made jewelry for people. Another of Aura’s creations. One to inhabit. A little bit like a modern Hexenhäuschen (witch’s cottage) – in the best possible way – nature-embedded and magical and evocative like a fairy tale. You could not help but see how much love and care had been poured into its creation. I could only imagine the inside.

Tonight I asked Lysle if he would walk by the house with me. Just to admire it again, knowing now whose work it is.
It was dark already and the lights were on, so more of the house’s inside than outside was visible. And in one upstairs window I caught a glimpse. I’ll need some more time before I can write about that glimpse and do it justice.

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