Sunday, March 9, 2008

Parting Thoughts

Who was this guy? Bob Nash in Big Sur, 1958
An early morning phone call occasions this response from Toby, “That’ll be Bob,” and we sigh together. Yes, he’s calling for a propane tank change or needs my “pale purple eyes” to interpret a bill. Where he is he’s warm, has no bills to pay, is young and strong again, laughing with all his loves, playing with his cats in the garden. We don’t need to worry about him any more.

One night last week I spent an hour in Bob’s cabin, which we have re-christened the “Nash Temple.” The house is still filled with flowers from Bob’s memorial, gifts from loving neighbors. Imagine the décor developed by a blind, elderly person, and the changes we’ve wrought: organizing books, the ceramic pieces Bob and his wife Rosa made in the 70’s and 80’s, re-hanging some of his framed drawings. An altar to Bob is behind the wood-burning stove, complete with a bright orange candle, ceramic casts of hands, and photos from decades ago.

The Nash Temple is currently a social / meditation space, where we can go to be alone or with others to commune with Bob’s spirit. Now that our lives have been interrupted by his death, we are more willing to pay attention to his life, a sad irony. In reviewing Bob’s photos, stored in a rusted metal box neither he nor I had opened in the past ten years, I got another shock. Why didn’t I open this, and talk to him about these images, hear his stories?

Bob lived in the moment, and never asked for this kind of attention. But standing in front of the altar, as a mezzo-soprano voice on the CD player fills the temple with luscious sound, I look at Bob standing amid the geraniums of his garden, or with an unidentified smiling woman, and it hits me. The real sin of how we treat our elderly: We’re not interested. Enough. Or not until it’s too late.

Perhaps part of the reason we farm out our old people to strangers for care in their final days is to disconnect from the possibility of error, of doing or not doing something (out of the ignorance of those of us caught up in the storms of life) that makes all the difference to a frail, dying person, The guilt of that, piled on to whatever family dynamics are in place, could be too much.

Bob and Rosa, newly in love, in 1969
Rosa and Bob met on Partingon Ridge, where Rosa was on retreat with another nun from her teaching order. Yes, Rosa was a nun, of the Immaculate Heart community, who had to write to the Vatican for permission to marry Bob! Interviewed for a lovely book, Big Sur Women (once available at the Phoenix Shop, now available from the Big Sur Historical Society) Rosa talks about meeting Bob in 1965:
"One day that week he asked us up to see where he lived, so the two of us hitched up our navy blue skirts and followed him up the dirt pathway. In front of the shelter was a slab of redwood and on it was a vase with a single daffodil, a book of poetry and a copy of the daily New York Times. The absolute simplicity of his life was a revelation to me."
They courted for a few years, via correspondence, and on long walks and talks on the Ridge. Our monk found his lady in Rosa.

Hands, like faces, become more beautiful as we age, because they tell a deeper story. Eventually, like Dorian Gray, we get the faces we deserve. Looking carefully, so much can be seen behind our masks: happiness and ease, grief and struggle. Most of all, what has triumphed—joy or pain. Open face, open book. Think of all the loving and working that hands do, touching the world outside of us at all phases of life. Hands too, by both look and feel, reveal our truest natures.

I'm so glad I held Bob’s hand often, hugged him every time I saw him, and told him I loved him every day for at least the past year! Worrying that I hadn't done "enough" early one morning just waking up, my palm remembered the cool softness and strength of Bob’s hand squeezing mine and saying "I love you." With the accent on the you. And this morning I hear him saying softly to me, "Don't be sad, all is well."

Bon voyage, dear Bob...
Bob and Rosa, 1984


oakland heidi said...

I love this! And that's Benji with them!!!!

lindarosewood said...

holding hands--ordinary and publically intimate. Yes, think of all the loving and working that hands do,performing for us both the most private and public acts. We extend our hands to strangers and then can hold in them our lovers' hearts.