Tribute To A Lady

I first met J when she was a little younger than I am now. She was brought to an Airth class by another “older” lady, who had been dancing with me for some time. J was small, dark and energetic, with a tendency to nervous chatter. The chatter was well-meaning, enthusiastic – often complimentary of her teacher, but not always appropriate to a dance class. J came to be a regular in my Sunday afternoon class, and I grew accustomed to her inimicable presence. 

Each class I taught evolved in a gradual way – from the delicate swaying, attentive to the breath and its circular path, through the series of increasingly demanding exercises done in a stationary circle – to the walking, skipping, running and leaping. J loved to leap, and from that first afternoon when she surprised me with her sprightly bounding, I looked forward to seeing the pure joy that radiated from her: body and soul. I can see that great room at sunset time – dimming slightly as night approached. J would spring easily from her cushion on the floor beside the other students and be instantly airborne. Her face, childlike, reflecting delight in the limitless freedom of the moment, lit up  the room.  Then came improvisation. J’s musical knowledge was expansive, but it was the classical genre that she favored: Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms. She was willing, but less that charmed by my occasional experiments with the new age stuff. J was a classicist, I guess, quoting nineteenth century poets, novelists, and philosophers. I have thank you notes from that time, each one demonstrating lively intelligence. Tastefully chosen, they exude old-fashioned elegance.

J never reproached me when I withdrew from teaching, though I knew she missed the Airth classes and the freedom of the dance. Living near to me as she did, inhabiting a postcard pretty cottage with the “love of her life”, I often saw her when I walked my dogs. If she happened to be outside, just leaving or returning from one of her own still vigorous walks, or tending to the circular flower bed in front of the house, I would pause for a visit that could tax the patience of my little dogs. She always hearkened back to the classes, claiming I saved her life at the time. She had undergone surgery that had left her fragile and depressed. She would hold up an index finger and say: “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” Apparently, I was that teacher for dear J.

It was good to be remembered fondly – and good that the dance we shared stayed alive beyond the cessation of the classes, but occasionally I would walk away feelling the tears of regret well up in my eyes from a tight, sad place in my heart.

About two years ago, J lost her beloved husband to prostate cancer, and in the months following I watched her visibly diminish. I saw the vines grow rampant and consuming, shrouding the cottage in greenery once controlled by her handsome partner. Weeds now shared the circle with her tired perennials.  She still made the effort to call out: “Bonjour, mes petites…” But visits grew rare, and almost before I realized it, she was gone, whisked off to be near her daughter, grand daughters, and son-in-law somewhere in Michigan. In the last few weeks I have noticed that the cottage has been tidied up; looks well-kept if not loved. The sign of a local real estate agent is thrust into the lawn. This morning as I set out with the little dogs, I saw numerous cars lining the side of the road. I almost turned back. Perhaps I had to see the hordes moving in and out of of J’s sanctuary, strangers attracted to a sign announcing an estate sale. Otherwise, I would not be sitting here now recalling a lady who played a surprisingly large part in my life for someone so petite in size – for someone seemingly on the fringe of my existence. Dear J, I miss you. My heart is acheing with the knowledge that your physical presence is forever lost to me. But I pray that your heart remembers, now and then, what it was to leap with limitless joy in a room that remembers your light as I do your courage.

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2 Responses to “Tribute To A Lady”

  1. Kendall Says:

    A beautiful tribute, Leif. I sit here weeping with appreciation and loss for a woman I have never met before and know only through your words. I see her leaps. I want to leap too. I want a world full of more leaping.

    • leiflife Says:

      Dearest K,.. It meant so much to me to write it – surprised me with its fullness and the power of my remembering. I didn’t realize how much it had affected me, passing that house day after day, seeing all traces of her slowly disappearing. J was also a lover of Paris and all things French. So we shared that, too. When I went the first time, she gave me the map that she and her love had used on their last trip there. I always sent her a postcard. When I returned last June from my last trip, she was gone. But her leaps are still with me. Yes, darling, more and more leaping…

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