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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Witness to Your Life

One of my favorite movies is Shall We Dance with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.  It is the story of a middle-aged man who has become a bit bored with his routines.  There are many things I like about the story, the first being that infidelity does not enter into it.  The man loves his wife and family and he doesn't betray them. However, in his secret pursuit of dance, his wife has reason to become suspicious.  She hires a private investigator to follow her husband.  When ultimately she decides that he is not pursuing an extramarital affair, she terminates the investigation.  Her conversation with the much-enamored PI leads to the question of why do people marry.  His answer is the obvious one:  for love.  She refutes that and says rather it is because we all want a witness to our lives.  In marrying, in making that commitment, we promise to notice.  I like that.

The reason I thought of it tonight is that I was engaged in one of my favorite weekly routines with my husband:  Sunday evening at Mudhouse with a bottomless and a book.  I've been shamefully unable to engage with a book all summer.  Inexplicably unable to engage.  However, I picked up a memoir I purchased several weeks ago with a gift certificate given me by a couple of teachers in congratulations and goodbyes as I moved to a new school.  It is called Here If You Need Me and it is the story of Kate Braestrup.  I've never heard of Kate Braestrup.  What made me pick up the book in the first place was the gorgeous cover.  A tree branch all alight with autumn colors stretched over a lake reflecting a colorful hillside, an abandoned canoe at the shore and a single unoccupied Adirondack chair facing out toward the water and the distant shore on which you can  see the white trunks of birch.  I had to pick it up.  Had to.  When I discovered the true story was set in Maine, I was sold.

I started reading the memoir several weeks ago when I first purchased it.  Unfortunately, the first time I picked it up was in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.  Not really the time to start reading a memoir.  (More the time for reading The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog  - see a December post.)  I was too tired to focus and lay it aside, forgetting it until today.  I'm glad I remembered it.

Half-way through it now, I am considering the fortitude of this woman who, because of her conviction that genuine love means you take care of your family even in death, determined to honor her husband by taking care of his corpse herself.  He was an officer killed in a car crash.  She asked that he not be embalmed and that she personally take care of bathing and dressing him.  She also asked to be present at his cremation from start to finish (which, according to what she was told by the funeral home would take four to five hours or more for a young and fit man such as he was).  Her courage is unfathomable to me.  She writes:

"I wanted to do it not because it would help me heal - healing was both indefinable and unimaginable - but because it was the authoritative command of an authentic love."  The idea of caring for the bodies of your deceased loved ones is described as an "intimate privilege" that has been taken away from us by professionals.

I don't share these things out of horrified fascination or morbidity.  I don't say this is anything I would even consider or be able to do myself.  I'm not that strong and don't really want to be.  But, I do find the depth of commitment extraordinary and remarkable.  There's so much to be considered in regard to the link between physical and spiritual realms, the expressions of love, God's love, that is evident in creation, in emotion, and in spirit.  How far reaching His love is.  How far could my own reach if I would stretch it?

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