Candles burn for the dead, for the battle lost. They burn for the living. They burn across my mantel, a line of candles to guide Evelyn to where she is going and to bring me some remnant of hope.
It's All Hallows' Eve, the first of the three days for memory, honor, and prayer, and the candles burn to hold light against the encroaching darkness. On this ancient night the Celtic people believed that the barrier between our world and the next world thins, and the living and dead can dimly see and communicate with each other. I go outside into the blackness of the backyard, stand in the slim, veiled light of a gossamer moon, and peer into the ocean of constellations, hoping that Ev is finding her way through, that she can see me, and that I might feel her close.
In the morning of All Saints' Day, I break from the silence of home and take BART into San Francisco for the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The collection includes his early experimental work with large-format photography when he was searching for a way to say what he was experiencing in Yosemite. In one sequence of a mountain with a snowfield, he took the first photo, walked a thousand feet to the right, took a second, walked further to where he crafted a [End Page 19] third shot, this time allowing more sky into the frame to see how that affected the outcome. This subtle shift in direction created a photograph that feels alive, and Adams opened the door to his life's work.
Afterward I hike the steep mile up Nob Hill for its views of the city and watch great cargo ships come in from the Pacific Ocean and flow through the Golden Gate with the lush green hills of Marin beyond. The briny smell of ocean salt permeates the cool air as cable cars climb slowly up the hill, let passengers off at destinations, and head back down clanging their bells. I push the heavy wooden door of Grace Cathedral open and slip inside its darkness, walk past the baptismal font and the labyrinth on the floor that Evelyn once tried to navigate. At the metal rack of flickering red votives, I light one candle for her, then light more to honor my personal community of saints, the people who stepped in at crucial times the last six months and held me up when I was faltering. Having been cremated, Evelyn now exists as flame.
One by one the dreams that Ev and I held are drawn into the flame and burn away, leaving ashes, the signs of sorrow and mercy, to mark my forehead. Evelyn's death was a paradigm shift. No longer do I believe that goodness is the foundation of life in the world, with sorrow an occasional visitor. Death and life are equally present, and each moment can tip either way.
Grief's river flows through the channels of an unseen labyrinth. Sometimes I am drawn forward by the current; sometimes back. At times I am pulled into a whirlpool of memories and caught in their swirling, not knowing if it's healthy to dwell on someone who is no more.
I sit in the empty cathedral being swayed by the movement of the memories. Which ones are helping me move through grief and which ones are taking me down dead ends? I sift the stories of our life together, trying to understand what they mean, moving obliquely through, unsure if I'm remembering them right or even completely, and Evelyn is no longer here to correct me or fill in the gaps. What if I remember only the happy times and forget the despair of our struggles? What if friends only tell me what I want to hear instead of what I need? I do not want distortions. There is too much at stake to settle for less than the [End Page 20] truth about our life together. If I am to move forward, I have to know what I am leaving behind.
The last few months...