Etiquette Question for Ascension Pilgrims
(Number One in a Series of Sentences for Diagramming)
stopping along the wooden path
that circles Sarasota Bay
at the new City of Light where
you then take root yourself
despite the mindless fear
of what is hidden
deep within the doubt
from which the lotus flowers
What would you do?
Edith A. Cheitman
from the chapbook, timeshare/Anna Maria Island
My friend died.
I don't know an easy way to say this. Someone I knew and loved, someone who I had not met in-person, but who influenced me unduly, is gone.
My first encounter with Edith Cheitman was when JoAn and I decided to publish her poems. When I contacted her, she said, Who the hell are you and why would I want to talk to you? Although she later apologized profusely, it served as a warning that she was as feisty as she was talented.
The woman was generous too, sending gifts for a move, a chunk of amber for a new baby named Amber. Most recently, a textile of a young girl with her black dog. Her generosity went far beyond the material world, she was psychically gifted and told me things about myself that were not only accurate, but responsible for saving me more than once.
I helped Edith publish a small chapbook of her poems, timeshare/Anna Maria Island, and when I printed the wrong copy of her work, she was very unhappy with me. I felt like a child who had failed her mother. Whenever we dealt with money, it did not go well. It changed the balance of our friendship, so we decided to never do business together.
Whens someone dies in America, we change them into saints, we round off their edges and make them bland. Why is that? In Orson Scott Card's Ender series, the author creates a new profession, Speaker For the Dead, someone who presides over a person's memorial, someone who tells the truth about the deceased. We would do well to be speakers for the dead, all of us, telling the truth about those we love.
Edith was smart. Her wit and her quick thinking excited me. She was a psychologist, but she was also a tarot reader, a psychic who knew things. Because she was empathic, she would find herself asking what she could do to alleviate another's pain. She purposely shopped in Walmart to compliment a young mother on her winter scarf or to tell a tired stranger she looked beautiful. Walmart was not to be made fun of; it was holy ground for Edith.
Edith was in pain. Something had gone wrong in her body. She never got a definitive answer to what that was, but she suffered to the point she wasn't sure she could endure. I am glad she's no longer in pain.
Edith trusted. I am still in awe of someone who dealt with humanity's frailties in her profession, who felt life as deeply as she did, and who still believed in the goodness of people. She should not have been as innocent as she was. I felt more jaded than she, and was continually startled that she knew my failings and still raved about the light she saw in me.
Edith was a poet. One comment she made was that poetry was the only thing in her life that remained pure. She intended to keep it that way. We often discussed the words, how they came to us easily, how they were representative of our best selves. At one point we both admitted that our lives had shifted and the the words were no longer everything. We were stunned and bereft together.
Edith's poetry was often about the common man, the person in the trenches, the working class that she identified with. The other poems, the ones that center on her search for God/god are not traditional spiritual poetry. They are more in the vein of Rilke, wrestling with a teasing God. I can tell an Edith Cheitman poem immediately, her cadence, her unique imagery, her particular craft like a swirling fingerprint. I love her poems.
When I found out that Edith had died, it was five months after. The loss of a friend exacerbated by my not knowing, not hearing. I had called her, had emailed, but knew from our last conversation that something had gone terribly wrong with her body. I wish I had flown to FL to be at her side. I will never not wish this.
There are friends that we socialize with, and there are people who transcend every expectation of friendship. We accept each other, we bolster each other up when no one else hears us, we quite literally hang onto each other. And when one of us leaves, nothing is ever the same.
What would you do?
Take root, dear Edith, take root.