This morning I went to a funeral.
In my customary white, I quietly attended a “celebration of life” gathering for my friend Karen, who died way too young and way too soon. Though we didn’t know each other terribly well, and didn’t see each other very often, I felt somehow compelled to be there to say my farewells. Standing in a sweet little Lutheran church near the Venice canals, inching my way past the overflow of people who, like me, felt compelled to be there, I squeezed into a spot against the side wall. The morning sun streaming through jeweled prisms of glass depicting Saint Francis feeding the birds, Mother Mary bowing to her babe, bathed us in joyous baptism. As the stories about this incredible woman flowed from her husband and daughters, her friends and family, irreverent laughter filling the tiny church, it began to dawn on me why I was really there. Though I could count on one hand, the number of times we were in the same room, Karen had deeply and profoundly, touched me.
Most of the art in my home is original, and there was a period in my collecting, when I was deeply drawn to portraits. Consequently I have quite a few. On moving to this new house, my daughter was very concerned about which “faces” went where, not wanting to be scared by “ weird eyes” on her way to the bathroom at night. Consequently almost all the art in her room is of her own creation, with one exception. My daughter approved a beautiful painting of orange cannas in full summer bloom, on the blue porch of a Venice bungalow. It hangs over her bed. Karen painted that scene.
She was a magnificent painter and a lovely woman. When I wasn’t looking, Karen planted her gracious, gentle spirit so deeply in my heart and mind and bones that she is now eternally a part of me. It’s like I can identify exactly where she lives in me. Standing there, I became aware that the predominate emotion surging through me wasn’t sadness, but awe. I had been seen by Karen. She had the uncanny ability to see people and make them feel both seen and cherished. Unbeknownst to me, this quiet life artist had given me a lovely gift. She gave me herself. And standing there in that church on a Saturday morning, I opened that gift.
Dressed in black, I was escorted to another pew, at a different church. In the oldest Armenian Church in Hollywood, a radiant young bride, glided down the aisle, into the arms of her beloved. With her mother on one side, and her father on the other, she was transcendently radiant. As the Armenian priest intoned the traditional vows, I knew those words had been spoken decades, centuries, ions ago. Standing at the alter, their crowned heads bowed to each other, I was bearing witness to rituals and traditions that reached back to the dawn of Christianity. Two people linked by generations of elders, and ancestors, stood pledging their lives to each other, and their families, past, present, and the ones they would create together. Life. Death. Birth and Rebirth. And for the second time this day, I knew the awe of being alive.