Monday, May 09, 2016

The Gift of Life

So if anyone doubts that Life is a present, along with learning, they should visit Bryn Mawr on a Spring day.  The secret of the other meaning of "present" is what I learned from Jack-- to be where you are, your awareness fully focussed on exactly what you are going through, and being there completely.  Of course it helps when the day is a perfect one, the only clouds in the sky like a detail in a Van Gogh painting, to accentuate the beauty.  I have long had the conviction that we are held in invisible hands, and if our hearts and our minds are open, the hands will be, too.
     In the background and foreground there, of course, was the Gothic architecture, formidable, great arches, actual turrets, all the aspects that seemed as forbidding as they might have when seen for the first time, but ultimately majestic as the whole opportunity of education was and is.  Softened by the view of newly blossoming trees, at their base, dedications to students past and gone calling up remembrances.  I realize I sound elated, but elated is what I was by all I was seeing and feeling, and the gift of a perfect day.  As friends know, I have a tendency to take things personally, so just as I feel wounded when I would be better off letting go, I am lifted by what might not seem so glorious to others.  But I don't think that would be the case of my visit to Bryn Mawr.
      Everything in blossom, including the students, revving up for graduation, lining up to receive their caps and gowns, only one visibly unhappy one, her father, an educator from another place, waiting for her return from a professorial appointment, reading Hamilton.  So many languages, so many shapes of eyes.  And even as the Sunday papers headlined discouraging news, the reality of all those bright young minds heading semi-fearlessly out into the world signaled encouraging one.  And it's helped by the campus.
     We were all so lucky.  Even those who might not have thought so.  The one who went off the tower at Rock because of love unreturned.
      The day unfolded, like the gift cards in the basement at the student store, sun gilding the stone. I had a great meeting with the new president, Kim Cassidy, as tall as her spirit, and gave her two of my better books, The Motherland and Marriage, the last unfortunately marred by a couple of uncorrected typos Don Fine had been unable to change by the time of release, prompting him to threaten the printer with throwing him out the window.  What a colorful career I have had, everything seeming so grave at the time, all of it now fairly funny, or at least colorful.  It is my hope, of course, to do something before my exit, that gives a financial lift to a theatrical arm of Bryn Mawr, now apparently severed.  I can't imagine my having done anything I did without the boon of theatre and original musical that Bryn Mawr encouraged and promoted, Miss McBride having said to my mother after Junior Show, -- I'd written most of the songs and had the comedy lead, "This is the most exciting theatrical event since Katharine Hepburn was a student here."  Of course there was my mother's gazing after her, asking "Who was that?" and my saying, "The president of the college." And my mother's saying "Oh, I thought it was the washerwoman."  Never underestimate the power of cruelty in inspiring comedy.   
     I called Miss McBride from a pool party in Hollywood some years later to try and help my step-brother, Mickey, Puggy's son, get into Harvard, and as Tab Hunter splashed into the water, Miss McBride said "Well, Gwen, of all the places you might have ended up, I should have known it would be Hollywood."  I really loved her.  I don't think a lot of people knew how funny she was.
      Lunch was at the Deanery, with Wendy Greenfield, the wonderful executive director of the Alumnae Association, a loving and giving human being, which one doesn't always (or even often) expect in someone so organized.  I have always been so lucky in the friendships I managed to established, even in dining rooms.  Then I walked the campus, hung out till parting time, when the colorful driver of the taxi, friend to the college and very much in charge of the wheel took me back to the station, where I bought myself flowers to commemorate the day.
     With people standing in line waiting for the train to start boarding, I tapped into a youngish blond man and asked him to hold my place, sitting down on a bench like the older woman I now understand I am. When the train boarded, I told a woman trying to take the seat beside me that the place was saved, and when the young man passed I invited him to sit down.  And who he was, as I could not have invented, was an art dealer from Berlin, smart as a (what is the German word for whip?) and funny.  So I have a friend now in Germany with an art business, as well as some of the most interesting friendships in the galleries.  Is there room in my mind for a new subject?  Was there a reason I slept under Jackson Pollock?  Is it late for a beginning? We shall see, unless we don't.