I may be one of the most blessed of women when my blessings are counted in sisters. If you read here now and then, you probably know this already; you know that through pure good fortune and kindness my adult life has been to sisters what Willie Wonka's place is to candy. There are marvels everywhere.
By birth I am gifted with three half-sisters, all younger; two daughters of my mother, and one of my father. As an adult I have cordial but distant, intermittent connections to the daughters of my mother; sadly no more contact than one ancient, bitter letter from the daughter of my father. There's much archaeology of family here to be sifted and considered but mostly it comes down to this: we have no shared memories. Because of circumstances, we were thrown together and pulled apart like celestial objects with unpredictable orbits throughout most of our childhoods. The result is we don't understand each other very well. My extended family, however, gave me Daisy, a cousin near my own age, who began by brightening some of the long, sweet days of summers when we were young and who has been as close and connected in my thoughts these last years as she has been faraway in miles and lifetimes.
You probably know someone a little like Daisy; you may have your own sister of family or choosing who is as dear to you. She's very brainy, to begin with, and funny, and as open with her heart as a songbird with his morning love song. This is no real stretch for there's a good bit of the songbird in Daisy; it is one of the gifts of our family that most of us have music in us, as we have breathing. She is an empath by nature: that person everyone wants to tell everything to, partly for her lack of judgement, partly for her understanding and unpretentious humor and perhaps most of all, for that feeling of finding yourself and your confidences to be the most important thing in the world to her as she listens to you. But lest I paint a silly picture of some sainted being with wings and halo...well, Daisy is as human as everybody. She has issues with her own natal family, professional challenges and road-forks, she has fallen into and out of love, or thought herself in love only to find she'd married someone she hadn't really chosen for herself. In other words, Daisy is special and marvelous and prosaic and not that different from anyone else.
Last August I was caught up in the familial melodrama of Pop's death. It was a blessing, releasing him as it did from the sadness of Alzheimers and all that meant for him and the whole family. Bitterness was rekindled for me, as he had lived that long, long life, the final 15 years or so lost to the tangle of the disease. A few short years before he died, my dear old friend O'Hare had been lost to breast cancer. She was 45 years old, her youngest son only 5 years old when she died. Pop had to be buried and the sad chores of probate undertaken, and I'd been out of touch with Daisy for some while. This worried me not at all, for with Daisy I have the shared memories that knit us together for always. We would talk at the holidays, I thought, and went back to the work at hand. But it turns out that Daisy spent last August tangled in her own love and grief.
Lily had been a presence in Daisy's life for some years. They lived in a city large enough for all the amenities, but small enough for people in smaller circles to know one another. Not unlike St. Augustine, which you'll know from reading here, it's a city where, for instance, most of the people singing classical music attend one or another church or synagogue because regardless of their commitment to a given dogma, the best music directors can often be found there. And there are other smaller circles, as there are everywhere. Daisy knew Lily peripherally. They had common friends, knew of one another, finally were introduced casually at a dinner. In its aftermath, Daisy seems to recall nothing but Lily. Laughing, talking, laughing more: it seems to have been one of those moments in which, in movies, all the other characters and sounds fade to distance so that there are only the two people, falling in love. People talked, Daisy says: people looked at other people, after the dinner, and said, "What about Lily and Daisy? They barely spoke to anyone else..."
No surprises, so far: Daisy wrote in one of her brief-but-always-remembered birthday greetings of her dear friend Lily, and then later that Lily had had a recurrence of breast cancer, and later still that while Lily was sick, Daisy was helping care for her, and was herself content. No surprises, but of course, I missed it. I missed all the small mentions and the clues until after the fact. I missed that Lily was Daisy's Person. Here was the love Daisy had waited for. Here was the love we all wait for, the love some of us are actually fortunate enough to find in our lifetimes. To my dear cousin, one of the dearest sisters of my heart, my little much-loved Daisy, Love had come.
Fast forward, Spring 2010: Daisy came to Florida on business and we met for a drink and a talk; just a few hours to share between flights, but so much to say, to cover and no longer the talk of children or teenages beseet by angst or the serious intellectual talk of students. Now the hearts we opened to each other were those of grownups. Professional lives, aging parents - Rodney's father, her mother, and our common aunts and uncles, kids growing up - my near-grown sons, her growing nephews- her music, mine, our common friends and then at last: Lily. Daisy, whose empathetic nature always brought an open, affectionate expression; whose clear-headed professionalism would bring the same openness lit with bright intelligence, always warm but seldom sentimental or even demonstrative, suddenly looked up with eyes brimming and a tight expression as she struggled for control. "My dear friend," she said, her voice full as she spoke of Lily; her dear friend. Lily died. September 21, 2009. "Time," Daisy said, with quiet finality. "Time is all that really matters."
Daisy recalled Lily softly for me. Lily was one of those people everyone wants to be around, she said, one of those people everyone wants as a friend, one of those people others find themselves honored to serve. Her native generosity came back to her many times over, and as she confronted the accelerated process of dying, was surrounded by people willing to help with the burdens. They were perhaps people whose grief took a practical turn, or who loved Lily differently. Daisy surely found her way to offer Lily every comfort, but there was also this: she was frozen in a grief so profound it may have taken even her by surprise. It was difficult, so unspeakably, terribly difficult to consider life without Lily. And yet Lily herself whispered, "You know this will be fast, don't you?, and you know I want it to be fast, yes?" Daisy could only nod and agree. And it went quickly, and one year ago, Lily was gone.
I have used an image of The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt, for obvious reasons, and also because it dovetails in history with the writings of Rainier Maria Rilke. As I was driving in the car Sunday, listening to public radio, I heard a brief piece of an interview with a woman whose expertise is Rilke. I'd been thinking about Daisy and Lily as the date approached, and I kept hearing the echo of Daisy's voice, saying, Time is all that matters. Time is all there is.
And then I heard the words of Rilke, and thought I could not possibly write words of my own that would more more beautifully capture the sense of what I wanted to say here, how I wanted to remember Lily, how I wanted to honor the very human holiness of Daisy's love. And so I finish, with love to both of them and to all of you who have loved and grieved, lost and found:
"Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?"
-Rainier Maria Rilke (12.4.1875 - 12.29.1926)