Monday, June 29, 2015

With This Ring...

I recently started watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix, a rather lackluster series (despite the terrific cast) about two women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) whose business-partner husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson) leave them after 40 years of marriage.  Leave them because they are homosexuals, and want to marry each other.  Ironically, I had drafted this post when I watched an episode that had Frankie and Grace laboring over wearing/not wearing their rings... 
When we finally decided to get married (after SIX years of back-and-forth dating) we did things rather quickly.  He proposed just after Thanksgiving and before my birthday. 

“Let’s not tell anyone until we’ve made some decisions,” I said.

“Like what?” he asked with a puzzled look on his face.  I don’t think he knew the production he was about to get in to. 

“Well, the big stuff…the date, the china, the silver.  Once I tell anyone in my family I’m finally getting married they’re going to bombard me with a million questions and I’d just rather have some things set.”  This was a very typical reaction on my part.  I always said: Weddings, births, and deaths  they bring out the best in families and they bring out the WORST.  I wanted to be prepared. 

We picked the date  May 10, less than six months away.   We went out shopping for china.  In those days when you were getting married, you picked china, silver, crystal.  While not crazy about such finery I did think that I would need and use such things because my mother did and my sister did and everyone I knew had these things for when "company" came. 

I chose Bernadaud Limoges Bel Ami china  a beautifully delicate jewel-toned pattern (based on a Clarence House fabric) that was first made that very year.  I love my china.  [Discontinued in 1998.]

Next, the silver.   Despite family tradition, I looked for the absolute plainest, simplest sterling silver though I knew this would be a blow to my mother who came from the family of loving the most ornate silver you can imagine.  

My mother’s silver pattern was Rose Point by Wallace (pretty damn ornate) 

but she always felt slighted not having the extremely ornate Grand Baroque below (which her sister had) 

 Neither of these patterns held any appeal for me.  Too fancy, too much going on.

Fortunately we found and agreed on the simple and elegant Chippendale by Towle.

Now we had the dishes and we had the silver.   But when it came to the "crystal," I inhaled deeply and took another leap from what was expected.  No intricate stemware, no etched glass.  Just simple, serviceable, Mikasa glassware would be fine for us.   Plain with a ribbed column stem these glasses suited me just fine.  And while our pattern is no longer available (except on eBay) and our set didn't survive the years, one of the original boxes did...

Now for the most important of all  the rings.  Getting the rings was different.  More meaningful.  More symbolic.  I wasn’t one of those girls who’d always imagined a specific style of ring.  I didn’t have a clue what I wanted, or even what would look good on my short stubby fingers.  So I worried the ring shopping was going to be a challenge.  

We headed to the Diamond District in Manhattan, to the jeweler my boss used for many things  Tom Murray.  Suddenly and surprisingly, without much of a search among the estate jewelry,  I found my ring.  An old and lovely filigreed raised setting with tiny, tiny diamonds all around.  Apparently the perfect diamond in it had been removed so we had a to buy a round-cut stone to set in its place.  I was very, very happy with my half-carat sparkle.  I felt it was completely the right fit for me.  Engagement ring, ✔.

Next, on to the wedding bands.  This was going to be a tougher proposition.  I didn’t wear much gold, not my thing, not good with my coloring, so the field was narrowed down tremendously.   We left Tom Murray's and went from shop to shop, stall to stall  looking, looking, looking.  Everyone tried to sell us gold.  I really did not want a gold band.  It was getting tedious.  It was wearing us both down.  And then, when we were both tired and feeling as if we'd have to call it a day, there it was  a thin platinum band with seven tiny diamonds.  Hmmm...3 & 4 are my lucky numbers. Seemed a good sign.  Then when I looked inside the band, good turned to great.  I saw 5-53  engraved which signified to me May 1953.  We were getting married in May of 1986  33 years after that date.  And I was thirty-three.  The serendipity of it made me smile. This ring was meant for me.

Happily I've worn these rings for 29 years and never stopped loving them. They fill me whenever I look down and see them sparkling on my finger.  I took them for granted because they were always there.  It seems absurd to say, but one of the things I’m dreading most is the prospect of some day not wearing my rings.   

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Amazing Kindness of Strangers

In my March 22 post, A "Micro-moment of Positivity Resonance" I promised you another story of a wonderful collision where I connect with total strangers and come away feeling happy and filled...this is it!
Last January while I was in New York I eagerly went to see the play Constellations  with Jake Gyllenhaal (not a bad-looking guy) and Ruth Wilson (whom I’d been admiring on Showtime’s series The Affair).  Only 68 minutes, this play skipped and hopped between past, present and future throughout the “multiverse” as the Playbill proclaimed  though I confess I hadn’t a clue.

Interestingly staged and meticulously choreographed, the swift-moving conversation between the beekeeper (he) and an astrophysicist (she) freeze-framed every few minutes.  It was quick, complicated and witty, and you really had to pay attention to keep up.

I was thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Deep in to this not-so-long production, Ruth Wilson’s astrophysicist announces, “I have glioblastoma.”  

The words were like a gut-punch to my abdomen.

I had just come to Manhattan to attend a dinner marking the two-year anniversary of the death of my 62-year-old, full-of-life sister-in-law  from glioblastoma.

For those of you who don’t know this disease, it’s brain cancer and scarcely 7% of the people who contract it survive it.  Robin was not one. [Beau Biden just died of it. Ted Kennedy was felled by glioblastoma.]

From the moment the actress uttered, “I have glioblastoma” I no longer saw the play.  I only heard the words and felt this visceral emotion radiate out from my belly.  

I felt sick.

I quietly sobbed inside, sucking in my cries, trying not to disturb the people on my right and left.  I was holding it all in until the play ended.  Then it was over.  The lights went up and a voice-over said there would a talkback.  "If you plan to stay, please move as close to stage as possible" the loudspeaker boomed.

For me this meant carefully standing up from my seat in the steeply-pitched-rear-mezzanine row, inching my way to the exit, down two flights and toward the stage.  I saw an empty spot  fourth row, one in from center aisle.  I remember breathing deeply, exhaling slowly, and trying to calm my shaking body as I sank into the seat with my big coat piled on top of me.

Before the actors came onstage, the young moderator was capably engaging the audience in a conversation about what they’d noticed, liked, questioned, about the production.  Then Jake and Ruth appeared and sat on two folding chairs close to the lip of the stage.  The moderator (with two admonitions: no pictures and ONLY questions about their work in this play) fielded questions from the audience and the actors answered genuinely and attentively, their trained eyes scanning the audience that had stayed behind.   

Then I raised my hand.  I spoke directly to Ruth Wilson describing my initial experience watching the play and how it changed for me after her pronouncement, and the connection to my sister-in-law’s death.

Immediately, Ruth looked at me and said, “I felt the same way when I first saw the play in London.  It started out funny and kind of a head-thing and then I got gut-punched and the play shifted and it became a heart-thing…” and I remember she kept looking at me directly and talking to me about how intense a play it was to do.  I told her that some of her dialogue was verbatim what Robin had said, about not being able to work anymore and having to leave a job she absolutely loved, and how she would know a thing but couldn’t get the words out, couldn’t say what she meant and the frustration she had with that.

The whole time (which probably was only three or four minutes but seemed much longer) I was physically shaking and fighting back tears.  I mumbled something about “Job well done.”  The moderator closed the talkback, thanked everyone, and requested that people leave quickly as they had another show to do that evening.

As people rose and pushed past me with all their winter gear, I found I couldn’t move. I was just too shaken up.  I came into that play with a certain expectation of entertainment and enjoyment and through sheer coincidence it brought me up short and forced me to feel the loss of my sister-in-law.  Feel the sadness of being in New York but not being with her.  Feel the emptiness of the holidays just past without her seasonal exuberance.  Feel the loneliness of dealing with my mother-in-law without Robin's commiseration.  Feel the foreboding of knowing I’m now the age she was when she died.

Sunk in that melancholy, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and the voice of a woman in the row behind me softly saying as she leaned near, “I am so sorry about your sister-in-law.  That must’ve been hard for you to deal with during this play.  I got so much out of the talkback; I didn’t understand that she was dying.  I missed that completely!”

“Thank you,” I said as I turned my head and saw a woman with gray hair like mine whom I judged to be slightly older, maybe sixty-nine, and then next to her, a man kindly asked, “Would you like to go for a drink or something?  A cup of coffee or a glass of wine?”

In the void suddenly a connection.

“I know I can’t have any coffee; my ulcer’s going ballistic at the moment.  I just feel so shaky.  I can’t seem to get up.”

“Well that’s alright,” the woman said, but the usher came down to our row and firmly asked us to vacate as they were waiting to clean the theatre, so I stood up, put on my coat and braced myself to trudge up the aisle and out into the freezing cold.

“Where do you have to go?  I’m Janie and this is my husband Vincent.”

“Well, I was planning to go to an exercise class further uptown at the JCC and but that's not until 7:15.”  It was about 3:45 pm at the moment. 

“We know where the JCC is,” she said firmly as she steered me out the theatre door.

“I could go to a friend of my sister-in-law’s around Columbus Circle.  I told her I’d text if I wanted to stop by but,” I hesitated not knowing what I felt like doing or even could do without falling apart at the seams.

I cropped me out of this shot :)
“You should get a picture,” Janie said as we walked in front of the people waiting at the stage door.

“Well, I was thinking that too but they said, no photos and now it’s too cold to wait.” But the stage door opened and out stepped Jake Glyenhaal making his way along one side of the crowd, signing autographs, posing for photos, and as he got to the end of line and was about to cross over to the other side I said aloud, “Oh I don’t know if I can get a shot with him,” and he put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Oh yes, you can” and I said something stupid like I wasn’t sure my arm was long enough for a selfie, but then I pressed the button and sure enough got this shot, and off he went.

“Well that was great!” Janie smiled, “Now you have to get a shot with her!” but the guy on crowd control told us she’d already come out and gone back in, so we knew that wouldn’t happen.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stop and get something?” Vincent asked.

“Honestly I don’t know what I want.” I said dejectedly so they took me in tow as we headed for the subway and we walked and talked and got on a train and changed at Columbus Circle.  As we exited the subway car one of them said, “Would you like to come home with us?  Have a cup of tea; pull yourself together before heading on?  We live very close to here, just another stop away.”

Suddenly I stood still and just looked at them. Looked at them with astonishment and perplexity at these two individuals who didn't know me from Adam.

“I can’t go home with you.  I’m an emotional wreck!  I’m like a stray dog.  I can’t just go home with you.  It’s Saturday afternoon  you must have better things to do!”

Janie looked at me and said, “No, we’re free until later tonight.  It’s no bother.”

Vincent looked at me and said, “She’s a therapist, she’s used to these things, it’s no problem to come home with us. Come home with us!”

I looked at them both, thinking how lonely I was for a connection and how crazy this was but I simply said, “If you really mean it, I could use the company.  I’d love to come with you.”

And so we went.  Changed trains, went another stop, left the subway and entered their apartment filled with things of beauty and most of all, their openness to letting me spill my sorrows.  Janie and Vincent sat patiently as I told them about my past, my present, even divulged my difficult decision to separate from the life I’d been living for 30 years.  I spilled it all.  They listened caringly and patiently; gently shared their thoughts, their advice, their encouragements.  Slowly my heartache lessened and I felt lightened from the weight of my grief and sadness.  Hours later (refusing their offer to stay to dinner!) finally I left  stuffed with tea, smoked salmon, cheese, crackers, wine and so, so much more.  

I don’t know if it was God, my sister, Divine Intervention, or simply the serendipity of the moment but I felt lucky, lucky, lucky.   A guardian angel bestowed upon me these two charming, compassionate, wise, and generous strangers who took me in, gave me comfort and support, and in three hours, filled me with the emotional sustenance I was craving.    

Amidst the January snow and the cold and my deep loneliness, the constellations aligned and the universe sent me exactly what I needed  the utterly amazing gift of their friendship.