"A Great Day to Be Alive"

One summer when I was a kid, my shirt-tail cousin, Eric and his friend, Herk, came up to the cottage to study for their bar exams.  Eric was a hunk, and I was a hormonal adolescent.  Every morning Eric and Herk would go for a swim before breakfast and run back up the hill to the cottages.  Invariably, Eric would stand in the sunshine and after he’d toweled off, beat his manly chest in triumph and say, “This is a great day to be alive!”

Like all the women in my family, my aunt (who with my uncle owned the cottage where Eric and Herk were staying) shuddered at any verbal acknowledgement that life was sweet. The Bartholomew women believe that if you even whisper that you feel lucky and blessed, a dragon will slither out of his lair and remind you that life is nasty, brutish and short. 

Last night when I got into bed, I thought of Eric (whose life incidentally has been incredibly happy, filled with civilized pleasures and reassuringly long).  At any rate, I was thinking of Eric because Ted and I had one of those days that made it impossible not to realize how lucky we are to be alive.

It was a 5 star day here in Vancouver.  Cerulean skies that were without clouds, the kind of bright circular no-nonsense sun that kids draw with crayons in Grade 1, warm temperatures and a slight but benevolent breeze.  For much of the morning I sat in my dining room table at the Sylvia writing and watching the gardener who tends the exquisite Japanese garden in the building across the street from us deadhead old blooms, snip errant leaves and generally restore perfection to the already perfect garden.  Then I shifted my chair and watched people un-furl their blankets, pick up their books and catch some rays on the beach overlooking English Bay.

Later that morning our friend, L, picked Ted and me up and took us to the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club that overlooks the Fraser River.  The hydrangeas were blooming; the greens were immaculate and the club was welcoming. We sat in the sun, ate a very fine squash soup, and talked of love and loss.  L’s much-loved father-in-law died last weekend. He was 96 and had enjoyed a good life, but L’s husband was grieving, and as we sipped our wine, we talked about how, when you love someone, their grief is your grief.  L and her husband have one of the best marriages I know. Theirs is a second marriage, and their delight in one another is apparent to anyone lucky enough to be in their company. 

Like many of us, L’s husband holds his grief close. That can be difficult for a partner, but both L and her husband are going to speak at his father’s funeral, so last weekend, L and her husband sat together and separately wrote their separate words.  That image says a great deal, I think, about the nature of their love. 

Later in the day, Ted and I walked along the sea-walk and took to the ferry to Granville Island for the opening reception of the Vancouver International Writers Festival (not to be confused with the opening party that had been held at the 4 Seasons the night before).  As we were coming into the hotel, I ran into an acquaintance from Regina who passed along sad news about a mutual friend.

Our friend, too, had found love in her second marriage.  She, too, was immensely grateful for this second chance.  I saw her one stormy day at our local IGA.  She had the ingredients for a fine, private dinner for two in her grocery bag and she was carrying a brilliant bouquet of Gerbera daisies.  “Looks like you’re in for a romantic evening,” I said.  She grinned. “Oh, yeah,” she said.  “You know you are just sparking with lust” I said.  And she laughed her wonderful, deep laugh. 

Yesterday, I learned that after a brief and vicious cancer, my friend is now in something called “palliative sleep”. Soothing words for the unspeakable. I don’t want to think of my friend, a woman buoyant with hope and love, like that.  I’m going to hold onto my image of her, sparking with lust, bouquet of Gerberas in hand, anticipating a great evening with the man she loved.

Last night we had dinner with another couple on their second marriage.  We ate at the Vancouver Yacht Club – a place that manages the impossible task of being both warm and welcoming but filled with gentle reminders of an earlier, more gracious time.  Cell phones are forbidden. If yours goes off anywhere in the club you have to buy everyone in the room a drink.  That penalty is made easier by the fact that there is a room filled with small numbered oak lockers, just large enough to hold a couple of bottles of your own liquor.  The club allows you to bring that liquor to your table and share it with friends. 

The friends we were eating with have been married less than a year, and they, too, are extraordinarily happy.  The topics of our talk during our languorous and lovely dinner were varied but at the end, we returned to the truth that seemed to have carved out its Jungian place in the meaning of the day.  The new and very happy bride, C, talked about the mutual joy she and her husband were finding in marriage and then she said, “The only thing we have against us is time.” Indeed.

©2018 Gail Bowen.  All Rights Reserved.