The sunset was especially brilliant last night.
I had spent the day with my group of best friends, art buddies, sitting around the table in my studio, each of us working on our own projects. Diane was practicing watercolor techniques, Sally was stitching a Halloween banner (it’ll be ready for next year!), Janet was preparing a sample for a class she’ll be teaching in December, and I was working on a Day of the Dead project, with the word “Los recordamos—We remember them” inscribed on it. As we worked, conversation flowed, bit s and pieces of our daily lives: Did your kids have fun on Halloween? How is the remodel project going? We are going to Mexico in two weeks – woo hoo!
Sally started talking about her aunt. She had seen a message from a family member on Facebook, “Your aunt would really like to talk to you.” Sally called. The news was shocking: “Sally, I have cancer.” Sally told us, “If they could have seen me, I just froze—I couldn’t believe it.” She went on to tell us how she went to visit her aunt after getting the news. Suddenly there was the urgency to reconnect, to spend time with her aunt and her aunt’s family.
The ending of a life can move us this way—to reach out, to remember how the years and relationships, the moments we’ve shared, are all intertwoven. We have not lived this life alone. Each of us affects the other in some way, great or small, and it all adds up to a lifetime.
After my friends had gone home, I washed the tea cups, put away the gingersnaps, the paints and water bucket. With the table nearly cleared I suddenly noticed a warm glow coming through the big, westward-facing windows in front of me. The colors of the sky had come down just low enough to beckon me to look closer. They were like the watercolors Diane had been playing with during our art day: crimson melting into gold, with patches of cerulean blue. The colors spread across the page of the sky, filling all the spaces. I ran to go tell my husband, then walked outside to take it in, to breathe in the colors.
I always hate to tear myself away from such moments. I want to linger and lose myself in time, but some nonsensical sense of duty pulls me away: Work to do, gotta get things done. I needed to check my email.
Right away I noticed several messages from one of my textile art groups, regarding one of our members. I looked for and found the original message and opened it. When I read it I let out an audible gasp and started weeping unconsolably: Jan Duke had passed away.
I haven’t been in this group very long. It has a large membership and I barely know anyone, and I feel a bit like an odd duck when I attend the meetings because it seems like everyone else knows each other well. Jan was the one who reached past my shyness, and with her warm smile and friendly greetings, made me feel suddenly at home. Her welcoming gesture told me that I would be able to find kindred spirits here.
The truth is that between my interactions with her in this group and another quilt group we were both in, I barely knew Jan, but I knew that I wanted to be her friend. I wanted to be able to spend time with her and share our passion for color and textiles. I had heard rustlings in the group that she wasn’t well, knew that she had stepped down from her position on the leadership team, but I had no idea that she had a brain tumor, that she had only a very short time left to live. On the few occasions that I saw her and asked how she was doing, she only replied, “Oh, well, you know.” But I didn’t know. She was still participating in several of the group activities with no outward signs of anything being wrong. We visited several members’ studios together, just chatting about how much fun it was to see how other people work. When we left the last studio, each of us to go to our own car, we said “Good-bye, see you at the next meeting,” and I completely expected to see Jan again.
I woke up in the middle of the night last night, unable to fall back to sleep. My anxious brain was connecting all the dots from the day: I realized I understood better how Sally had felt when she got the news about her aunt’s cancer—completely shocked. I thought about the importance of friends, the time we share together; about the generosity of kindness, when one person reaches out to another in a moment of vulnerability. I thought about the recognition of potential friendship in a person we’ve yet to know deeply.
I thought about that glorious sunset with its deep and glowing hues, and understood that it may have been all the more beautiful because Jan’s spirit was there, in the sky, in heaven.