No walk in a field today. Instead, an eastward drive under a hushed gray dawn, following the undulating ribbon of southern Maine’s Interstate 95. Pockets of mist gather in the depressions along the roadside, and curl around the lower branches of dark trees, standing sentry in the dim light.
J and I watched the sun come up over the bay as we drove through Portland, on our way home after a rather epic 48 hour journey.
No camera today – only a highway shot with a camera phone. Word images will have to do.
We are still wearing the clothes we put on yesterday morning for the funeral. It hit close to 100 degrees in Boston and New Haven yesterday, and almost that high even in Maine. At 6am, once again, it is already hot.
After the funeral service yesterday we returned to T’s dormitory in Boston for a final goodbye, then we made a visit to the shiva reception before taking leave of our friend’s grieving family, then back to Boston for a dinner with members of J’s college singing group. This was the first of their group of 14 members of the senior class to die, and 11 were able to come for the funeral.
From that third profoundly moving gathering and departure, we drove 2 hours to New Haven to see our son. When we arrived he was finishing the first weekly dinner of the year with his college singing group.
Weirdly, poignantly, it is the same group that our departed friend sang with for three years. These young men were in the midst of honoring our friend with song as we arrived, and we were brought into the fold of song and embracing.
Two hours later, after unloading S’s stuff, swapping cars, and hanging out for a while in the relative cool of a courtyard, we left somewhere after midnight to get home to our daughter back in Maine. She leaves with me for her last year of college tomorrow.
Sometimes, even after only a few hours’ fitful sleep in a passenger seat, one can come awake with a sense of total clarity as the sun makes its grand entrance over the horizon. The heart, the mind, overflow with data processing.
At Yale, where J and I and two of our kids were/are undergraduates, there is an acapella singing community that is their equivalent of a fraternity/sorority system. There are many undergraduate groups from which 13 or 14 rising senior men are selected to be the Whiffenpoofs in their senior year. J tried out for the Whiffenpoofs in our junior spring, when I was abroad in Switzerland.
This was back in the dark ages of communications. I walked a mile into the city center of Lausanne, where the post office had banks of international pay phones. I called J and got the news that he had made it -- exultant and bleary-headed after an all night celebration.
That group of young men forged a lifetime bond in the ensuing year – traveling thousands of miles all over the country and all over the world, singing on Saturday Night Live, on Japanese television, in embassies and schools and venues large and small.
What I realized yesterday more than ever before is that I forged a lifetime bond with that group as well. I saw them rehearse during their first summer retreat and perform throughout the year. The next summer, I traveled to hear them sing in Greece. They sang at our wedding, and the weddings of several other group members. We have gathered periodically with our growing families, all of whom have become a part of this musical brotherhood.
I realized that one can love not only individual people; one can love an entity as well – a group that is made of many people who form something greater than the sum of their parts. I dearly love the Whiffenpoofs of 1982.
So. I have turned 50. My children have all fledged, and our nest in empty. And that larger than life college group that has meant so much to the history that my husband and I share, has lost its first link to the past. A lot to process in 4 days.
There is a line in “the Whiffenpoof Song,” written about 100 years ago, that goes like this (Louis was the owner of the bar where they often sang):
We will serenade our Louis,
While life and voice shall last
Then we’ll pass and be forgotten with the rest.
Forgotten by future generations of young college boys, perhaps. By those of us who were there, however, for whom “the magic of their singing cast its spell,” there will be no forgetting. Ever.