The tears finally came at Café Maude the other night, as my old friend Therese Linderholm sat with her longtime partner Mary Beth Gossman across the booth from me and my wife Jean. We’d all just come from our friend Rita Pucci’s mother Nat Welch’s wake, and Therese had spent the afternoon with the fresh ashes of her friend Cathy Fejes and Cathy’s longtime partner Cindy Kaiser. Death had come quickly for both Lyndale neighborhood women, and now death was the topic on the dinner table.
After many stabs at philosophy and various attempts at making sense of our own creeping mortality, Therese finally said something that brought my quickly-becoming-inured-to-death system to its knees: “All I know is that I like the sound of Mary Beth coming in the door at the end of the day.”
Which may not sound very romantic or exciting, but the simple act of loving the ones you’re with while you can may be the truest gift and best take-away lesson that death affords us. Cindy and Cathy were together for 28 years; Nat and her husband Tim were together twice that long. Now two lonely souls are out there hurting, wishing for the simple sound of the clack of their partner coming in the door, and so we hurt along with them.
But we also learn with them. Since I heard it a few years ago, I’ve subscribed to the idea that the world is a bus station and that the people who come in and out of our lives should be regarded as passengers waving as they pass by, not saying goodbye. Tell that to yourself enough times, after enough deaths or disappearances, and it makes it easier to miss the living and the dead who’ve checked out from your day-to-day life because, per every religion known to man, it promises you’ll see them again at another bus station down the road.
That said, I’ve spent the last couple months getting hit with an inordinate amount of deaths of friends and acquaintances and heroes. It has flummoxed me, I must say, so a couple bromides have been rumbling around in my head. Namely, Mark Twain’s “Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry,” and the old proverb, “A man is known by the company he keeps and how well he keeps it.”
Nat Welch and Cathy Fejes didn’t know each other, but both daughters of South Minneapolis lived lives that epitomized all the above. I knew both women, but what I know best about them is that they leave behind some of the finest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, and it is them who I will remember, and celebrate, today and for the rest of my days.
After all, it’s almost spring, and as the cold brittle earth gives way to new life, it’s finally time for rebirth, healing, and the sort of wisdom that can only be gleaned from truly living. Which is why the week’s sorrows are slowly being replaced in my head by the sound of fellow passengers breaking into a chorus of “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel:
And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.