I parked in the library lot on Saturday just as a KPFA program ws kicking off an hour devoted to Nanci Griffith, and they began with “Across the Great Divide,” her cover of Kate Wolf’s signature song for those who listen to KPFA on Sundays. We are always en route to our weekly visit to the ocean, and I swear I cannot listen to the beginning of the 11-1 program without (1) singing harmony and (2) shedding tears. I was not prepared to feel receptive to a cover, but it was an instant heart-meld. I had come for an errand, and I didn’t open the car door until the song had completed. Weeping, I thought about the odd experience of hearing two magnificent women at the same time through their music, knowing that both of them had crossed the great divide.
I think about the magical women I have lost. Camilla, who was our theatrical partner for many years as we built our theatre in Lancaster, PA. We went our way, she went hers, spreading joy wherever she went. When I learned that cancer was about to take her, I made a long journey to her home in upper NY state, knowing that I might only have fifteen minutes — her stamina was fast waning. We had four hours. Laughing, weeping, hugging, telling dirty jokes, all the time knowing it was the Last Time. I felt so blessed.
I think about Erica in Zurich, who had fought off cancer before and seemed home free the last time I saw her—trim, vigorous, energetic. That was September, and by Christmas, she and Peter knew it was time to marry and forbid the bureaucracy to part them the way it had happened to Erica and her late partner Zbigniew in the years ago. I found out the time of their ceremony, and lit an altar on our table to join in. She left us at midnight of New Year’s.
I think about Conrad’s mom, the most loving exuberant person ever to grace my life. She always loved going out dancing, way into her elder years, and in those years she had a man who loved to please her. When her health began to fail, the doctors all told her no, it wasn’t leukemia, but it sure acted like it. Transfusions would give her a couple of weeks of rebound, and then the fog rolled in again. After intermittent hospitalizations she began to sense that the docs were selling her a bill of goods and she would never go dancing again. The family had one hospital visit near the end, and she did her dying in three days.
I’m startled to realize that yes, indeed, I too am a magical woman who will be lost.
I remember from long ago a science-fiction story telling of major cities that no longer used vehicles. Instead, there were multi-tracked conveyor belts at graduated speeds and people got on at the slow track, made their way across to high speed ones until it was time to go back to a track from which they could descend to their destination. I’m beginning to scan across the tracks to wave at fellow travelers, knowing that none of us know who will descend first.