Reflections on Jenny
I especially remember two things about Jenny. At the literature sessions I conduct in the Spring Lake retirement community’s music room she would always placidly glide into her front row seat five minutes after the hour. Jenny did not seem to live in clock time but in what the mystics might call real time. Somewhere in the course of her life she had acquired the pace of Paradise itself - which is perhaps what made her seem so ethereal to me – airy - afloat as it were - not as much subject to the grip of gravity as we are.
Nor was it only her late arrival that impressed me but the blithe way she paraded in! For Jenny was an individual parade - a pageant of simply one person - as she passed delicately through our lives always wearing a beribboned straw hat and wreathed with diaphanous shawls; clad in pastels of lavender or combinations of pink and purple, iris or rose right down to her ankles - as colorful as a rainbow - more like a child or an angel than an elderly widow. And all of this seemed quite deliberate to me, as if she were determined to live in one season only: Spring - determined to allow Death to have no dominion. As a nurse and spouse of a doctor, she knew human frailty well - had seen the shadow of Death fall upon young and old. And I think somewhere along the way she decided to confront that shadow with lavender and thereby hold it at bay while she gracefully went about her business exploring the Garden of Eden all around her. But Jenny’s pastel spirit was housed within a fragile body. One day my phone rang and a voice said, “Jenny is dying.” It was early evening when I arrived at Warrack Hospital’s intensive care unit. How stunned I was to see her so colorless, her breathing short, her eyes so vacant. And I thought, “So this is what happens to Jenny and someday to me. And what’s the use of all the lavender and lace we contrive to forestall Death.”
But what I didn’t reckon upon as I left her bedside (just moments before her death) was Nature’s imminent intention to strike up the band! To spoil Death’s intent to abort Jenny’s parade! For as I drove down Highway 12 toward Sonoma at sunset a glare in my rear view mirror caught my eye. There and in my side view mirror the whole sky had become an incandescent orange across which there stretched clouds ranging from pink to rose and , yes, to lavender. Then, looking to my left and right and directly through my windshield there were enough wisps of cloud and high mist reflecting the setting sun to make the whole valley before me - in the direction of oncoming night - glow with deeper shades of purple and violet. I mean, the whole sky in every direction was full of the colors of Jenny, as if, even as her soul took flight from that frail body, she had left her whole wardrobe behind, shawls, scarves, ribbons, skirts - scattered here, there and everywhere across the heavens in a final gesture of departure. Or could it be that God himself was laying out by way of all those splendid clouds a whole new, celestial wardrobe for Jenny composed of all the colors of the rainbow out of deference to Jenny’s taste.
I experienced my faith revived. The whole panorama seemed to be a message from Jenny herself saying, “Don’t let appearances get you down. See how gloriously amid my pastels I have survived the ravages of Death.” And I could imagine her already somewhere on the other side of that setting sun, arrived at last in that realm of real time (beyond clock time) of which she already seemed so familiar. Jenny’s son later told me that she died at 8:19 PM, precisely the moment when I beheld that sunset. Of course, then I began to think, if Jenny died at 8:19, could it be that God expected her at 8:14? It would be quite consistent with Jenny’s blithe tendency to arrive anywhere - five minutes late.