My thoughts have been scattered for the last week. I’m weary — anxious about death and dying. This year has been heavy with the grief of others and my own. Maybe it’s the age; I’m a fair piece into the middle years, and it is the time of life that you prepare for people to start leaving for good. It feels mean and sometimes unnecessary.
I try to take solace in the fact that for each light that is extinguished, new fires are waiting to burn. I understand that our temporal existence is limited. I also realize that the finite nature of life is necessary. We have to make space for what comes next. I find some comfort in the feminine potential of that. Even still, I feel helpless knowing that none of us can escape the inevitable. We can’t escape it but we can find joy. We can find strength and fellowship, which makes the transitions of life much easier.
A few weeks ago while seeing Patty Griffin, I reflected on this very thing. I’ve seen Griffin many times, stood by her stage in times of elation and in times not so pleasant. It is a spiritual experience for me. I often find clarity at her shows.
When the music stopped, I fought my way through the crowd of backs and shoulders — being short has its disadvantages — and made my way into the rainy night. My friends were presumably still inside making their own paths to the exit. I found respite under a tree, standing in the firing line of smokers who also found this spot palatable in response to the weather. While watching people spill from the venue, a woman started to chat with me — a bit about the weather and some about the show. Another walked up smiling. “Is your name, Erica?” I answered yes with some trepidation, “Is she a student loan officer?”
We uncovered our shared history — an old film class as JCTC students whose moms coincidentally happened to work at the same place. We spoke fondly about the class and our moms, and then about our lives. Who are we now?
She told me how she found her way to art and eventually teaching from the loss of a child and dissatisfaction with the choices for stone memorials. As she was talking, I thought of my own son. The reality that his life, like mine, has an endpoint makes me feel weak. But listening to another mom tell me how she found peace through the mission to create the perfect tribute to her son at his final resting place, I felt awestruck.
Women are goddesses. We come with reserves of power that can only be ours — the power of creation, regeneration and, ultimately, the power to keep going when we face excessive darkness.
As my friends arrived outside the venue, I wished my old mate well, hesitating for an awkward moment wondering if somehow we’d be in touch. I suspect anything is possible.
I climbed in the car with my girlfriends and we rode away giggling about the night and ribbing each other as we’ve done for nearly 20 years now.
A week after the show, my phone rang and when I answered, one of those girlfriends was in tears on the other end of the line. She was driving, crying and giving me news of tragedy that has befallen one of our comrades. I sat at my kitchen table, stunned. Here it is again — the ugliness of loss — and it gets more aggressive each time it comes. We made plans to see our friend and hung up.
Later the same night, we meet at our friend’s home. As we approach, we feel apprehensive not knowing what version of her we’ll see. But we see that she is upright, talking, even smiling. Somehow this night, even with the presence of men, takes on a glow of feminine strength. We cook, light candles and try to weave a blanket of comfort. It is warm and safe. We’re here for whatever comes. Perhaps it is because so many of us are mothers that this is the order of the night; maybe more importantly we subconsciously understand the strength that we have and know the power it has in mass.
As I drive away that evening, I sigh. Life makes only one promise and, though I struggle to understand it, I know that when I need strength it will be there, if not my own, then that of my fellow goddesses.