Monday, January 31, 2011

Cape Cod Words

Dan, Long Beach, Truro, Mass.

They have only gone out ahead of us
And do not want to come home again.
We will find them on those heights
Up there in the sunshine!
It is a beautiful day on those heights.

The summer that Dan was ill, we had been scheduled to take our vacation on Cape Cod the last week in July, as usual. We had found a promising new rental in Provincetown the previous winter, and we booked it on New Year’s Day. To say that Dan loved the Cape doesn’t really describe it; as soon as Christmas drew near, he would say, isn’t it time to reserve a place on the Cape? 
While Dan was in the hospital that summer, I succeeded in one thing: I change our Cape reservation to the last week in September. Dan’s chemotherapy would be over and he might be well enough to go. 
I’ll drive us out, I told him. You’ll see land’s end again. 
He didn’t look as if he believed me. The brain cancer had left him speechless, with little movement, but we understood each other. On my side, I didn’t know how I’d get him out there, but if I could, I would.
Dan died on August 26. About a month later, the two basenjis and I headed out for Provincetown. I’d missed a lot of work, but it hadn’t been vacation. I need one more week, I told my office, and I did. 
After a summer spent in the car, I now walked everywhere. I took the dogs to the beach: the waves frightened Lulu, but Cooper’s nose and feet found the sand and water familiar, so we made her come with us. 
I did things that Dan would have considered too hokey. I went on a whale watch, which was really fun, and I took a literary walking tour of Provincetown. 
The walking tour ended near the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. In  front of the building was a bench with a plaque: 
They have only gone out ahead of us
And do not want to come home again.
We will find them on those heights
Up there in the sunshine!
It is a beautiful day on those heights.
Oh, I thought. 
Is that what happened
I was incredibly—yes, unbelievably—comforted. The idea that Dan was just a little ways beyond us and was having such a wonderful time that he didn’t want to come home made me happy for the first time in months. The thought that we would find each other one day on those heights was tremendously reassuring. 
A woman was sitting on the bench right next to the plaque. “Excuse me,” I said, rustling in my purse for notebook and pen, “I’m just going to copy down that quote.”
”It’s a free country,” she said. 
I sighed, sat down next to her, and wrote. The notebook page, its ink fading, still hangs on my bulletin board. 
I sent 80 Christmas cards that year and, seeking to comfort us all, I wrote that verse by hand on every one of them. One recipient said that she and her husband had discussed my obvious nuttiness. Everyone else seemed to understand.
You may say, the dead are dead. Dan’s remains were cremated and his ashes rest in a ceramic urn in the cemetery at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York. That’s it. There is no more. 
And I will say, as those words probably comforted the families of hundreds of missing seamen, so they comfort me. 
Dan and Cooper, Long Beach

2 comments:

  1. so moving. Deb, you always hit the right note. Thanks

    ReplyDelete