Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The "Flicker" of Curiosity Finds The Writer


I met my husband thirty-eight years ago under white dogwood trees. This past Sunday I visited his gravesite. Dogwood bloomed in ivory splendor against a perfect blue sky. 

Everything comes full circle. These are the things the writer notices and remembers.

At the base of his small white tombstone, I placed a smooth tan stone with the word 'joy’ penned in black ink – the word I had selected as my intention for a three-day writing and women’s leadership symposium I attended before stopping off at the United States Military Academy at West Point to visit John’s grave.

I hadn’t been back in 15 years . . . some things are too hard.

That afternoon as sun slanted through treetops, I spent close to two hours by the gravesite, talking to my husband and sharing with him things that I know he already knows; how wonderful are his sons  . . . how he has remained my touchstone to honor and chivalry and the catalyst for my three books which form a trilogy of our love. I cried, laid my cheek against the cool white tombstone, wrapped my arms around him once again.

At the symposium, writing teacher June Gould posted this on the blackboard: “Dead is what gets poets up in the morning.” ~ Billy Collins

Sadly funny, but true. I’m not a poet, but my husband's untimely death at the age of 47 from cancer has been the reason for my books. Like the English writer Julian Barnes did for his late wife, I have become “the principal rememberer" of John, most recently through A Portrait of Love and Honor.


As another writer said to me at the symposium: “Out of great loss and love, you created a body of work that touches and helps others. That’s important stuff.” 

I hope so. I hope it helps others. I know it has helped me heal and find closure.


****

Write every day and let your curiosity lead your writing. That’s what June said in her class. “Look for the flickers,” she said . . . a shadow, a woman in white quietly slipping down a side alley . . who is she?  . . . why did no one see her, but you? 

Except for summer breezes whispering through the trees, silence enveloped the West Point cemetery. Row after row of tombstones. How would I find John? It had been so long, I couldn't remember where his small marker lay. Had I blocked the memory from so long ago? That day they handed me the folded American flag at his funeral . . . had I come back 15 years ago with our son? Even now, the memory remains shrouded in fog.

A man sat in a folding canvas chair, reading in the shade of a towering elm. Not one living soul in the cemetery, but him and me. Could he help me find John's grave? 

He smiled. "I'm visiting my wife," he said. He stood up. Tall, a tanned, creased face, short blond hair; he wore a navy windbreaker. "Come follow me."  

He led me to the back of a small building near the old cadet chapel, and to an unlocked door. Inside a stone foyer, on a stand, a directory of the deceased, and above that a map. 

At West Point, the graves are set up in a labyrinth marked off by sections, rows and numbers.  He asked me John's name. "Yes. Here it is," he said, pointing to John's name in the directory.  Row VI, Section G, marker 343. John M. Cavalieri, 2nd Lt. US Army.

We walked back outside into the bright sunshine . . . and then he was gone. What serendipitous alchemy led to seeing him, that day, that moment?  A flicker, a curiosity, leads me as I write. 

What about you? Can you share a memory, a moment . . . that flicker of curiosity that led to story?
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