The voice

Because I’ll be visiting Ireland with our daughter, I searched out Irish writers whom Eleanor Wachtel of “Writers and Company” may have interviewed. I listened to a delightful conversation with Nuala O’Faolain, which led me on to O’Faolain’s memoir, Are You Somebody: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. The book is engrossing, and the memory of her physical voice enhanced my experience of her voice in print.

Halfway through the book I googled Nuala O’Faolain about something and was shocked to discover she died in 2008. I tried to believe it through the rest of the book. How was it possible, hadn’t I just heard her speak? I have no trouble reading the words of dead writers, that wasn’t it, but there’s nothing so alive and living, so uniquely another person, it seems to me, as their literal voice. And so I’d believed her alive as I read, though she wasn’t any more, and I felt sad about that and had to adjust to it.

Something similar happened a few days ago when our granddaughter showed me a special storybook her other grandmother, who recently died, had recorded some years ago. Hearing that wonderful, vital-sounding voice again was, as our son puts it, “surreal,” for in it she’s alive. But actually she’s gone, and immediately grief plunks into the space between those two realities.

Most of us dislike our voices when we hear them recorded. We’re not used to hearing them as others do. Then along comes thinning, drying, and loss of flexibility in the aging voice box. But never mind all that, today I feel gratitude for voice, for the livingness in the voices of others and the aliveness of me in mine.

How much does an angel weigh?

We’re home again, now reflecting backwards on our trip to see family and friends in Paraguay. One woman we met there, soon to celebrate her 65th birthday, said she finds herself “meditative” now. I like the word: of, involving, or absorbed in meditation or considered thought. Travel, reunions, aging — all can open us to this state.

I was caught by the following. When you spend two weeks steadily with people you haven’t seen for many years, you hear a great deal. Good stuff like what children and grandchildren are doing, and progress and satisfactions of various kinds, but tough stuff too, involving illness and death, difficult memories, ongoing challenges, fractured relationships.

The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg“We don’t want to burden you,” one person said after a complicated tale involving the last on the list. I didn’t know how to say that they were the ones who were burdened, but that now we would carry it nevertheless.

During this time I happened to see, in someone’s Facebook status, Hugo Simberg’s beguiling painting, “The Wounded Angel,” and one night, sleeping poorly, a question flung itself around and around my head: “how much does an angel weigh?” There was no answer, just the question, repeating itself. I also found a feather, tiny and perfect, on the verandah, which I picked up as if dropped especially for me. I encountered “wings” (mine and God’s) in the Psalms.

IMG_6864These items aren’t a narrative. I’m setting them side by side because they remind me how much we’ve heard by the time we’re old and how, day by day, we’ve had to carry. How we have to keep learning to carry.