It was about 8:30
Tuesday morning and I was reading my article on Bill Maher that had just come
up at Online Journal. Just then the phone rang. My cousin Eddy (once removed but
as close to me as a brother) told me he had bad news. His older brother Nick�s
wife, Lucy, had died the night before. There was as ever the shock, like the
dull thud of a bullet that hits as he told me the details. Just before going to
sleep, she didn�t feel well. Nick had gone to the kitchen to make her a cup of
tea. When he returned she was slumped over on the bed, gone.
I will spare you the
details of the many illnesses Lucy had dealt with through her life, and how
Nick, who will be 70 in a week, had always, always,
stood by her, as did her grown daughter, her daughter's husband and their two
beautiful children, whom Lucy loved like life itself. Somehow, as our last
visit together only weeks before came to me, how happy she seemed to be, though
hardly able to walk without great pain, it was like a second thud: how quickly
a loved one could be swept away like the fall leaves on the long lawn of their
house on High Peak Road, somewhere in rural/suburban New York State, America.
This was not the
death of thousands of American soldiers, the million or more Iraqi civilians,
the cumulative millions of deaths of history�s half century, tragic as they all
were. This was one personal death in the family. And it stopped me
mid-sentence, reading what I had written. The loss of that friendship and love
struck me, the thought of the pain it would inflict on Nick, the best of men,
architect, great jazz musician, my favorite guy to jam with, the hub of a
circle of family and friends who loved him as they did Lucy.
Somehow that passing
was so close to home it overshadowed the other losses. It reminded me of what
must those other families might feel, those other cousins, sisters, brothers,
mothers, fathers, friends. Or even the families of innocent bystanders shot on streets
in Manhattan, the Midwest, LA. Does the bell toll with any less shock for them?
I doubt it. In fact, the morning�s local news told of a 12-year old school boy
from Brooklyn who died of a rare staff infection. It told of homeless people
unable to get into shelters in Manhattan because they didn�t �qualify.� Who on
earth would go to one unless they qualified?
But then there was
Lucy again. She knew about suffering, personally and professionally. She had
spent many years of her life as a social worker, counseling ex-convicts and
their families in Port Jervis, New York. She had seen it all, the poverty, the
violence, the hurt, incest, prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, and it
left its mark on her. Yet her persistent smile overrode her complaints of pain
and some new surgery or treatment to keep body and soul together. Again, that
smile, that person, vulnerable on her walker but there for her family, was a
And it occurred to me
how hard life was, all wars and criminality aside, let alone to have them and
catastrophe, like the recent California fires, weighed against the good
moments. Nick summed it up for me over the phone. He said, �We have to mortgage
all the beautiful days we had together against the price of a day like this.�
It was so simple, so elegant a phrase, from a man who designed and built every
structure imaginable, including the total renovation of his pre-Revolutionary
War farmhouse, which also was a love of Lucy�s life and his. There was a sense
of history that oozed out of the house, the rough red, faded brick, the thick
wood planks, the oak pillars, the black iron fireplaces of each room, the
creaks and shadows, the ghosts of settlers and Indians that lurked from the
second cellar to the musty attic.
We all know that history and its pain and triumphs.
Somehow it brought us to this day and our losses and the Indian summer�s
beauties. I could see the light shining through the backyard trees, the leaves�
colors flooding into the big kitchen. I could see the patio�s hand-made stone
wall, the flowers carefully planted, the half-mowed lawn for want of time that
rolled down to the road where pick-up trucks rolled by, and new cars sped by,
hitting an occasional deer at night, splattering the macadam with blood, like
this day in history.
I could see the dairy
farmer�s corn and feed silo down the road, the horses quietly munching their
feed in a neighbor�s corral. I could see the rustic beauty of the no-two-alike
houses planted in the mountains rolling out of sight. This was America. This
was family, a family rolling like those mountains from sea to sea, what with
its daily losses, its relatives gathering at a wake before a picture, an urn or
casket, comforting each other with memories, an occasional joke, reminiscences
that turned to tears, and wiped away.
This was America and
the world and these were the days of our time, with the good times to be
mortgaged against the rough times. And these, if the news had anything to say
about it, were tough times, real tough. Because our mortgages themselves seemed
to have lost their values and the society itself was sinking in debt. And
behind it was a misplacement of our assets and capital, including our ethical
and moral capital.
thoughts emails started to flood in from readers, either thanking me for
defending the 9/11 Truthers against Bill Maher�s attacks, or attacking me for
defending them. Yet, I responded to them all, teaching if I could, defending if
I must, thanking some, chewing others out if they seemed impossibly thick.
Yet unlike my
readers, Lucy wasn�t a political person. But she was aware. She read a lot and
always asked me to send her my poetry. Sure, Nick read all my articles. But I
had the feeling that given her own pain she took solace in the poetry, frankly
as I do, beyond the telling and the retelling of the vicissitudes of this
world. Perhaps as Plato once said, �Poetry was closer to the truth than
history.� And after all is said and done, after the funeral on Monday in Long
Island City, after the burial in the cemetery staring at the New York skyline
and its millions, after Lucy�s ashes are laid to rest beside her mother�s, it
would be a poem that I was writing that I would offer then as solace to us all.
After all was said
and done, we would all go to Eddy�s house or somebody�s house afterwards,
gather, and break bread together. And hope for the resurrection of our hope,
which would come. Though I only go to church at weddings and funerals, somehow
the central myth of my boyhood religion sticks with me: that the light will
rise over a death in the family, as over all those of yesterday, today, and
tomorrow. It is a simple enough thought, based on the movement of the seasons
and the earth. A faith built on the science and seeable reality of the
universe. And I can only hope that same light rises like consciousness in the
minds, hearts and souls of humanity to temper the death and bloodshed that
comes so easily to us.
Perhaps I ask for a
miracle that the Middle East should be defused. That Israel and the United
States back off their belligerent stands, so that Iran and others can do the
same. That all the secret and known oppressors of the world see the image of
those they oppress in the mirror. For it is themselves, their human family
members, they oppress. And the bell tolls, whether in Long Island City, New
York, Beirut, Darfur, DC, or from that white church steeple in tiny Smithville
near Nick and Lucy�s house -- that the bell tolls for all of us. No matter
which way we turn to escape that truth, we will meet it, ourselves, in the next
And so, may Lucy rest
in peace. May all in this world of darkness and light live in peace, in the
daily balance of death and Eros, walking across the tightrope of life, with or
without a net.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York.
Reach him at email@example.com.