Sometimes the pain of Hilary’s loss takes me by surprise and I find myself crying—but not often. It helps that I have a roommate, an old friend who found herself at loose ends a couple of weeks ago and needed a place to stay. I offered her what is now my spare bedroom, and I’ve felt better ever since. It was excruciatingly hard for me to live alone after fifteen years of the closest possible companionship, and it’s a comfort to share my home with someone who knew Hilary, and to whom I can talk about her.
I now find that I can recall with pleasure the things we did together, especially the countless trips we took to see shows that I was reviewing. We called them our “adventures,” and just the other day I found myself thinking of one of our very best adventures, the weekend in 2008 that we drove up to New Hampshire to see a performance by the Peterborough Players of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Grover’s Corners is generally thought to be a fictionalized version of Peterborough, and we spent part of an afternoon visiting the real-life cemetery that is no less generally thought to be the model for the one portrayed in the last act of Our Town.
As we watched the eighty-six-year-old James Whitmore play the Stage Manager that night, not knowing that he would die six months later, I was struck more forcibly than ever before by his final speech: “There are the stars–doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk…or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.”I wrote about that day, and that speech, shortly afterward:
For those of us still on earth, straining to make something of ourselves, it seems there is no weaning away from the people we love and lose: they are always there, dissolved into the completeness of eternity, waiting patiently–and, I suspect, indifferently–for the little resurrection that is memory.
These words have taken on a new meaning for me now that Hilary is gone. So, too, have the last lines of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which I ran across in a book I was reading last week and which brought me up short: “I bless you. More Life. The Great Work Begins.” I burst unexpectedly into tears, remembering how passionately Hilary hungered for more life, and how cruelly she was robbed of it.
As for me, my own “great work” is to keep on moving down the twisting path of grief. I’ve traveled a long way since Hilary died, far enough to be able much more often than not to think of our shared adventures with joy rather than hurt, and each time I do, she is resurrected anew in my memory. She will live there to the end of my days.
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The last scene from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, directed by James Naughton and performed on Broadway in 2002, with Paul Newman as the Stage Manager:
The last scene from HBO’s 2003 TV adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols: