Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Omnia Sol

“I think you left your necklace there,” said my fellow Row 26 seatmate, as we stood up and crouched, ready to leave the plane after our long flight from Minneapolis to San Diego. I looked down. My knee was wedged against my rosary, which, about two hours earlier, I had fished out of my purse and quickly abandoned for the mouth-open, drooling stupor of a woman who had not slept very well since, well, since I’d heard that my pal Joel had died, about two weeks before.

Forgive me, I thought. Not that you, Joel Norman Hershey, would have particularly cared for me to say a rosary for you, nor that you needed me to, but I really did intend to make the effort. It’s just that I’m so tired.

Here’s the thing about the rosary: I grew up in a nominally Catholic family and attended public school. I had never said a rosary in my life before about ten years ago, when I began a serious yoga practice that led me to the mala, the mystery of the 108 beads, and to a desire to sit, to be still, to count out something that seemed to have no purpose except as an offering of time and spirit. My rosary was the gift I requested for Mother’s Day that year, and it was purchased on eBay.

When my daughters and their friends were old enough for me to relax my constant vigilance, but young enough to need rides and some chaperoning, I used to sit at Lake Harriet on a summer afternoon, saying my rosary while they pelted each other with wet nerf balls. One of those days, I  left it behind, and I returned on a search mission at dusk. It was glittering in the sand, easy even for me to see. That rosary has been through a lot. Me too.

Last weekend was hard. Last weekend was good. It was something that I felt I needed to do, and so I did it. I had not met anyone at that memorial service before. I knew about them and their lives, all second-hand. I had asked after them frequently. “And how is Al?” “How is Terry?” “How is James?” Now, there we all were, without him. We were raw and tired and utterly miserable, but we were determined to tell Joel goodbye in a way that honored the man he was and the friend he was. And if no one exactly called him a flibbertigibbet, a will o’ the wisp, or a clown, well, we might as well have, as we stood there eating our ice cream sundaes at the end of the service, our faces red with tears, but with smiles, all with smiles, because we couldn’t help but smile, even then.

I gave a eulogy. I did my best to do justice to our friendship, from the way he had humored my intolerance of movie violence by taking me to see Beauty and the Beast (we both cried), to a memory of the last night we spent together, at a show, of course. After I spoke and sat down to listen to everyone else, I made generous use of the black lace hanky that had been the favor at a friend’s recent 60th birthday party (“for good times and sad,” she had said). It was only after we were milling around that I saw Jodi and Lindsay at my table, peering intently at the hanky. “We were sure it was a pair of underpants,” Jodi said. “A thong,” Lindsay added. I wish he had been there, because he would have laughed so hard.

And here’s the strange thing about the way that weekend started: when I got to my hotel, my room wasn’t ready, so I left my bags and walked around Old Town. I came upon the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and thought, here’s my chance to make it up to him, since I fell asleep on the plane, and I ducked in, intending to say that rosary. The church was full. There was a funeral Mass in progress, for, as I found out later, Rose Ybarra Reyes (1935 – 2012). I slipped in just as they were concluding the service with Amazing Grace. I sang along. And then someone said, “For those who want to stay, we are going to be saying the rosary.”

And so I stayed. As I counted off the beads, I thought of the song that Hugo, the exchange student with the voice of an angel, had sung the night before, at the concert for the Southwest High School Singers: Omnia Sol, all things are tempered by the sun. I had arrived late to the concert, and had crouched on the floor, watching and hearing the boy I love as he sang:
Omnia sol temperat
O stay your soul and leave my heart its song
O stay your hand; the journey may be long
And when we part, and sorrow can’t be sway’d
Remember when, and let your heart be staid.
It was a long weekend, like I said. I had changed from my heels into flats at the service on Saturday, and on Sunday morning, when I started to gather my things from the heap where I’d left them the night before, I realized I was missing one shoe, like an old and tired Cinderella. I left an urgent message for Joel’s brother and sister-in-law, to ask if it had perhaps fallen out of my bag in the back of their rental car. Then I left, for a vinyasa yoga class and a long, long walk down the beach. I met a friend of Joel’s for coffee. When I got back to the hotel, I asked at the desk, and the clerk handed me one black shoe. And a DVD of Beauty and the Beast. “Joel’s copy,” said the note that was attached.  They'd been cleaning out his apartment that day, I realized, and Terry, always thoughtful, had set it aside for me.

I am sure the desk clerk at the Marriott Old Town San Diego has seen a lot of things, but the sight of a woman bursting into tears at the sight of a shoe and a Disney movie must have been a first. It’s okay. It was just that kind of weekend.
The sun warms everything,
even while I am far away.
Love me faithfully,
and know that I am faithful.


  1. Beautiful, Julie. Powerful. (I cried at the shoe and DVD too.)

  2. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

    {And ohmyheart, you wrote this so very beautifully!}

  3. Really lovely -- brought me to tears. It's so hard to say goodbye and so very important to hang on to memories and mementos...