It Must Have Been Moonglow: Reflections on the First Years of Widowhood
By Phyllis Greene
There is a beautiful book, The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, that won the Pulitzer Prize. It was inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and until I had seen the new video with Vanessa Redgrave, the book was confusing to me. But once I was oriented about who was who, I immersed myself in the characters and the magnificent writing and similes. The end, though, did me in. Richard, the obscure but prize-winning poet is ready to give up-sick with AIDS, alone, living in messy poverty. He is about to win a prize of some sort, after which his longtime friend Clarissa is throwing a party for him, yet he, like Hamlet, centuries before, has found the world "Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow, weary, stale, flat and unprofitable," and he says, "But there are still the hours, aren't there? One and then another, and you get through that one and then, my God, there's another."
At my most bereft, I feel these hours of aloneness exquisitely, painfully. Most of the time, there is this consolation, says Cunningham, "an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined. . . ." It is because I have had those hours, too, that my down days are fewer than my up.
I can remember exactly one such hour that was perfect, and I knew it as it was happening. We had gone to Maine to visit Tim at camp. We had spent the day there, reveling in his high-jumping ability. He was such a little kid at twelve, but he could do four feet seven, and all of the visitors, not just the proud parents, were ooh-ing and aah-ing. We had come back to the expensive (beyond our means), rickety-chic resort where we were staying with friends. Bob had poured me a drink and I stood on the steps of the slightly musty cabin that we had rented that was considered the in cabin (in less need of refurbishing than the others?).
I smelled the pine smell, and felt Lake Kezar nearby. I had had a happy, upbeat letter from Bobby and Debby, who had not come on this trip. I remember that Bobby had closed his note by saying that he had to finish because the waitress had just brought him a glass of champagne-a big joke from a high school senior who was feeling lucky to have been left home without a baby-sitter! I almost felt overwhelmed by that sense of complete joy, of that perfect moment, of Cod being in his heaven and all being right in the world.
Many years later, on January 28, 1997, we were sitting on the beach on Longboat Key, and I took out a small piece of paper that I had in my beach bag and I wrote:
So this is what it comes to for a happy marriage: a perfect morning on a beautiful beach, in compatibility, contentment, and love, knowing without sorrow that the best has been and is not, as the poet said, yet to be, secure (reasonably) that the children, though not completely problem free, are better established than many, and that the grandchildren can see golden promises ahead. My father died fifty-nine years ago today. He was 52.
I carried that little scrap of paper in my wallet until I began my journal on December 31, 1998, and then I pasted it inside the front cover.
In December 1999, Debby gave me 365 Tao, daily meditations that shed a Taoist light on every facet of life. Only because she asked me to, I started reading it nightly, about aging and being and bravery and friendship and joy. I'm not that fast a religious study, but it didn't take me long to see that she had given me another guide to inner tranquility and the recognition (rerecognized, I guess) that all religion leads to the same place of grace. One day on the phone she mentioned something that she thought I would be pleased about in the Dow, and I broke in to ask, "The Dow? The Dow is down 265 points!" I had not realized that these meditations had been written by Deng-Ming-Dao, nor would I have known Tao was pronounced Dow.