“If I die tonight it will be with every single thing unfinished (like, I suppose, any other night), and yet, what a gift to die on the verge of tears.” I didn’t write that. I wish I had, because I find it so beautiful. It is a quote from Pam Houston’s autobiographical novel, Contents May Have Shifted. She goes on, in this one paragraph of speculation, to ask questions like “why my best days and my worst days are always the same days.”
I read this book three months ago and yet my mind keeps returning to this passage. Because there’s something about these notions—our best days are also, often, our worst days; we feel most alive when we are on the verge of tears—that feels important to me. Especially after a week in which there were so many bests and worsts. The Affordable Care Act—upheld! Writer and director Nora Ephron—for 30 years one of my role models—dead of a rare leukemia.
This verge-of-tears week started with a funeral for an old friend, Kathy. The opening hymn, which I’m sure Kathy selected, was “Joyful, Joyful We Adore You.” She wanted us to feel joy in the midst of our sadness; joy at the wonders of love and life, whether it ends with ovarian cancer at 55 or continues for many more decades. And I did feel it; I cried but I felt uplifted at the same time.
It didn’t last. The day was dark, wet and cold, even for June-vember, and we had a nail in our tire. Our plan was to drive to Chelan, get up the next morning, take the ferry up the lake and hike the 18-mile Lakeshore Trail. The forecast for usually-sunny Chelan was pretty mixed. Shivering in the rain outside the tire store, we were tempted, for a few minutes, to call the whole thing off.
But we didn’t. And once we drove over Snoqualmie Pass, sure enough, the sun started to break through.
We talked about Kathy a lot that night in Chelan and the next two days on the trail. Kathy came to our wedding. Big deal, you might think. Our wedding was in Scotland. There were seven guests. Not only did Kathy come, she and I went to Ireland together the week before, a trip she completely arranged. When we got there, she sensed immediately that I was in a useless, romantic, pre-wedding fog and took me in hand, by which I mean she took me shopping for a wedding dress in Dublin. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about what I would wear.
I met Kathy when we both worked in TV news. She was a gifted video editor who taught me, a writer and producer, how to do my job better. She took my messy scripts and tapes and turned them into little movies. Often, I exasperated her, as did many of the producers and reporters who plonked their stacks of tapes on her bench.
Often, life exasperated her. Challenged her. There were a lot of curve balls, and she batted them with grit and grace. Cancer was just the final one.
And yet we sang “Joyful, Joyful” as we bid Kathy goodbye, on a day when the Seattle sky refused to lighten but the sun flooded over us in Chelan. It was a best and a worst kind of day. I was on the verge of tears for, well, hours. I’ll never forget it.
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Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.