Saturday, August 25, 2007

Anne-Louise, 1923-2007

My grandmother died today, or maybe it was tomorrow, I don't know.

The last time I saw her was in 2005 in Copenhagen. I saw her half a dozen times since I moved back from Europe ten years ago, and I was acutely conscious every time I departed from her that this was very possibly going to be the last time I would see her, and I tried for that reason to make a mental image of the moment. So the last time was at her flat, overlooking the Oresund, and we sat and had tea and talked about my children and my work. She quickly became tired, so I had to go.

It's self-indulgent to feel existential when someone close to you dies. Or perhaps the self-indulgence of the existentialists was to go around cultivating as a constant personal style that feeling you have when someone close to you dies. Still, the existentialists have all the good quotes that describe the feeling of limitation that death brings home, and also the struggle to deny those limitations. One of my favorite expressions of this, which for some reason came to me today, is from Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky:
Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.
It all seems limitless, but it's not. Which is why the most important thing is to keep one's own moral compass in good order every day, and without exceptions. Because soon it will all be over, and all that will matter, really, is whether you maintained that compass. And one thing I can say without the slightest equivocation is that keeping such compass was something my grandmother did as effectively as anyone I have known, and she did so without ever being sanctimonious.

Requiescat in pace, Mormor.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Beautiful, that passage from Bowles, and your words about your grandmother. Bowles reminded me of this poem by Borges:
Límites

Hay una línea de Verlaine que no volveré a recordar.
Hay una calle próxima que está vedada a mis pasos,
Hay un espejo que me ha visto por última vez,
Hay una puerta que he cerrado hasta el fin del mundo.
Entre los libros de mi biblioteca (estoy viéndolos)
Hay alguno que ya nunca abriré.
Este verano cumpliré cincuenta años;
La muerte me desgasta, incesante.

(De Inscripciones, de Julio Platero Haedo (Montevideo, 1923)