I was in high school when I came across this quote (attributed to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky): “Be ashamed to die until you have achieved some victory for humanity.
” The words immediately stuck in my head. They made perfect sense, and gave me a sense of purpose (although I’ll confess that I placed heavy, heavy emphasis on the word “some
”). It was my personal mantra throughout my adult years…until about six years ago. I had reached a point in my life where I was exhausted physically, intellectually and emotionally. My ambitions had waned as my inner flame flickered. New words began to echo inside of me: “I will be dust soon enough, I just want to leave a little beauty in passing
.” This has been my mantra ever since.
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I’ve been reading Middlesex
by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s a masterful, delightful telling of a Greek family’s tale. I’ve enjoyed every page, but I find my mind constantly drifting to thoughts of C.
I met her in a yoga class almost six years ago. Now, I don’t wear my glasses while practicing yoga. I rather enjoy having the world in soft focus as I practice my postures. I noticed her standing at the other side of the room. I was struck by her physical beauty. I couldn’t discern any details; all I saw was a tall, lean and beautifully proportioned figure. She moved with killing grace. I enjoyed the poses that had me face to my left, for she would then fall into my field of view. The curve of her hip was simply exquisite. We never spoke. I never saw her up close, but I relished her presence. It always felt as if she filled the room with beauty.
I subsequently enrolled in a noon yoga class. Imagine my delight when I discovered that she was one of only five students! She and I stayed on opposite ends of the room, but I would always say hello to my classmates, and I smiled each time I saw her. I noticed she would sometimes gaze at me as I unrolled my mat. She made my geezer heart flutter. She looked awfully young, though. I assumed she was in her twenties. Still, she was music. She was poetry.
The instructor and I became close friends. We would leave class together, taking a few extra minutes to talk (mostly about music). One day, as he and I were leaving, I mentioned to him that I had reservations that weekend at a particular restaurant. She looked up and exclaimed, “That’s one of my favorite restaurants
!” We paused to give her time to join us. I was wearing my glasses this time. As she came close, I realized I was looking at the most beautiful woman I had ever met. Honestly. Her hair was jet black; her complexion olive, her eyes were dark and her face was finely carved. She was almost as tall as I. She could easily have had a career as a model. Yes, she was that striking.
She literally took my breath away.
So it came to pass that the three of us became friends. We talked of music, mostly. I would burn CD’s of my favorite songs for my instructor (he was a masterful guitarist); I delighted in introducing him to new music. I began burning copies for C., too. We would share our thoughts about great bands, great concerts, great experiences.
I learned she was Greek, incredibly shy, formally trained as a ballet dancer, age 30 (I was 50), a single mom with an infant daughter.
I didn’t feel quite as flummoxed after learning she was older than she appeared, but I still had trouble breathing around her. I can’t explain it…she always took my breath away…always.
I became a gym rat. I’ve mentioned that I entered my 50’s an absolute wreck. I slowly (painfully) began working my way back to health. C. often joined me in the gym. We didn’t speak much as we went about our exercises, but we would smile, exchange pleasantries, or share a thought or two about life. I guess it was a matter of self-defense that led me to mention often to her that I was old and married. She never revealed details about her personal life, other than to talk about her daughter. She was a doting mother. Her daughter was her life. I loved hearing her talk about her child and her motherly concerns. She was also incredibly quick-witted and funny. She was a delight.
Now, I need to mention something about C. that I, myself, had failed to notice for almost one year. One day, as we were leaving a yoga class, I found myself walking behind her. She was wearing a tight tube top. I was admiring her shoulders when I realized she had a huge scar that completely rimmed her left shoulder blade. It looked to be a gruesome injury. The next time I saw her I mentioned that I had noticed the scar. I apologized for my impertinence, but then remarked that she must have suffered grievously at one time. She very calmly told me that she had been diagnosed with a rare bone cancer at age thirteen. Three ribs had to be removed. For the first time, honestly, I realized that there was, in fact, a large notch in her torso, and an awesome scar that must have coursed across her rib cage and around her shoulder blade. I had never noticed it before, but I came to understand that her near-death experience at such a young formative age, and subsequent scarring, had had a profound impact on her. I should also mention that she was covered with tattoos.
Something changed in our relationship from that point on. We drew closer, more intimate. I would guess that my initial reaction may have endeared me to her. I wasn’t repulsed by her wounds, I simply grieved that she had suffered so. I suspect that my reaction may have been atypical. I noticed that she always kept her left arm cocked at her side, as if to hide the wounds. She evoked thoughts of a wounded swan. I believe the tattoos were a form of camouflage. I found her to be no less beautiful…simply more fragile…a poignant beauty.
The years passed. I saw her at the gym several times per week. There was a warmth between us that kept growing. We were kindred spirits. Much was left unspoken. We both tacitly understood that this was an unusual relationship…a deepening love that was never expressed verbally or physically, but it was obvious and palpable. We never dined together, or even had coffee together. We only met at the gym, and only spoke for minutes at a time (OK, sometimes longer...). Still, we both came to relish these moments together. Our shared thoughts were intimate. Thoughts of life, death, heartaches, joys, beauty, worries, wants and needs…conveyed in few words, but echoing in both our hearts for days on end. I let C. know, by deeds far more than words, that I loved her – not for the pleasure that she could (never) give me, but because she deserved to be loved. She unwittingly helped me to love again. It was the purest love I have ever felt. Love only for the sake of love, with nothing asked, or expected, in return. I had never experienced that before, will likely never experience it again. C. was unique.
She moved away about two years ago. We didn’t speak much about it beforehand. It was understood that she had to live her life and I had to live mine. Still, it was a bittersweet parting. My last words to her: “I hope you’ll remember me as someone who tried to leave a little beauty in passing
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Someday, many years from now, I may write about the most amazing woman I have ever met. It'll be a long, long, long while before my wounds heal...but she was really something...
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